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BOWMAN: In fishing, size does matter

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Updated: June 9, 2013 6:36AM

Back then, Vietnamese
potbellied pigs were something of a rage. So looking at Deva Vranek’s freak brown trout in 1997 in the parking lot of Henry’s Sports and Bait, I thought, ‘‘That thing looks like a potbellied pig.’’

Vranek caught the 36-pound, 11.5-ounce brown on June 22, 1997, east of Burnham Harbor.

It’s the Illinois record that most sticks in my memory. But it might be surpassed because Lake Michigan and its tributaries have produced two world-record browns in recent years.

Drought and all, 2012 was a good year for record fish in Illinois.

Most surprising was that the walleye record, which had stood for more than a half-century, was broken twice within months. Jim Zimmerman caught the record (15-1) on March 11, 2012, from the Pecatonica River.

For years, I thought the next Illinois record for walleye would come from Lake Michigan. I am less sure of that now, especially because Zimmerman raised the bar to more than 15 pounds.

I was even more certain the next Illinois record for smallmouth bass would come from Lake Michigan. As each spring passes, I become less certain any will surpass the record smallmouth (6-7) Mark Samp caught March 26, 1985, from a Fulton County strip pit.

My hope is fading for a record yellow perch from Lake Michigan, too. Even with all the jumbos caught in recent years, none was close to the state record (2-8.75) caught by Joseph Grega on Jan. 5, 1974, from the Arrowhead Club in Will County.

Several record muskies swim in Illinois. Biologists have handled muskies topping 40 pounds. Whether they ever end up as state records is another matter.

One of the more disgraceful moments in Illinois muskie fishing was the abuse heaped on Matt Carmean when he caught the
state-record muskie (38-8) on
April 20, 2002, from the Lake Shelbyville tailwaters, then kept the fish to verify it.

For records, fish need to be caught legally, then weighed on a certified scale with independent witnesses. A biologist needs to verify the species.

In earlier times, weighing fish on a certified scale wasn’t a big deal. Just about any grocer or butcher would do it. In recent years, they have become more squeamish about that.

I know of three bait shops that keep up certification on their scales: Henry’s in Chicago, the Salmon Stop in Waukegan and the Kankakee River Trading Post in Altorf.

The thing about record fish, especially for more established records, is they are genetic freaks, the Yao Mings of their species.

Take the other records from 2012. Joseph Vaughan caught the record skipjack herring (1-10.3) on June 28 from the Mississippi River in Calhoun County. Mike Stopa caught the record northern hogsucker (1-12.3) on March 22 from the Little Vermillion River. Improbably, Capt. Tim Wojnicz caught state records in the same year for two species — burbot
(8-13.6 on April 27) and lake whitefish (2-7.8 on May 8) — both from Lake Michigan off Waukegan.

I bet the next Illinois record will be something similar to those records, not walleye, muskie or smallmouth.

Morel update

I found my first morel mushroom Friday. It’s time.

Stray cast

It’s the kind of Chicago baseball season where my mind doodles: Chris Sale, whooping crane; A.J. Pierzynski, pileated woodpecker; Robin Ventura, mourning dove; Dale Sveum, game-preserve quail. The season will drag enough to work on another 50.

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