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Launching right into two openers

The clumping point opening day Heidecke for shore fishermen has long been around bridge. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

The clumping point on opening day at Heidecke for shore fishermen has long been around the bridge. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 1, 2013 3:10PM



I have two words for boaters fishing the opener Monday at Heidecke Lake: Be patient. And two words for those checking smelt nets on the Chicago lakefront on opening night Monday: Be social.

Heidecke

First about the launches at Heidecke, the former cooling lake near Morris. Much-needed work is being done on the ramps.

Site superintendent Joe Giacone said the temporary launch will be switched to the east, near the old concessionaire spot. It will be 40 feet in the water, 30 on land, with about 28 inches of water at the end. The usual flow of launch traffic will be flip-flopped.

‘‘If everybody takes their time to get out of the bay, everything should be good,’’ he said. ‘‘It will be a little slower. Use courtesy and be ready.’’

There will be docks by the launch and to the side. All launch work should be completed by late June. The new ramps will have 10 feet longer in the water.

Fishing prospects look good enough to be worth the wait.

Walleye, the featured species at Heidecke, look good again. Fisheries biologist Rob Miller said their fall electroshocking produced walleye at four times the long-term average. The average length was 19 inches, the longest going 26.

‘‘Eight-six percent of the collected walleye were legal [16 inches or longer],’’ Miller said. ‘‘They had very good body condition. This is not a stressed population. They are not hurting for forage.’’

Hybrid striped bass, the other featured fish, also look promising. The fall survey was at an all-time high, three times the long-term average. Hybrids of 16-20 inches made up 76 of the netting. The average was 18.2, the biggest 27.

White bass looked strong, too, averaging 12.6 inches.

‘‘Yellow bass took a nosedive,’’ Miller said. ‘‘I don’t quite get that.’’

Largemouth bass are recruiting, but it will be ‘‘nothing to write home about,’’ Miller said. Largemouth from three years of stocking through 2010 are surviving and recruiting.

‘‘Smallmouth bass spawning success has not been good the last couple years; the numbers are depressed,’’ Miller said. ‘‘I am not 100 percent sure why that is.’’

The fall survey is not a good indicator of the muskie population, but the spring nets had muskie to 46.5 inches. Fishermen report some quality muskie.

Channel catfish, after a few down years, look better, averaging 21-22 inches. Not much to note on crappie (though good if you find them) or bluegill.

Lake is open daily until sunset. Launch opens at 6 a.m.; bank fishing at 6:30 a.m.

Smelt

While the tradition of smelt netting in Chicago lingers, the fish barely do.

‘‘According to the latest USGS forage fish assessment: In terms of total biomass (weight of all the smelt), smelt are only 1 percent of the long-term average going back to the 1970s,’’ veteran Lake Michigan Program fisheries biologist Steve Robillard emailed. ‘‘It appears that there still has been some reproduction; however, the loss of adults from predation has been greater than the recruitment of juveniles to the adult population, resulting in a net loss.’’

When I asked if that was long-term reality, Robillard said it was difficult to predict.

‘‘Lake Michigan has undergone large-scale foodweb and fish recruitment changes over the past two decades and needs to find some balance before we will likely know what the end result will be,’’ he wrote.

Nets may go in at 7 p.m. on the Chicago lakefront. Netters must be out of the parks by 1 a.m.



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