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July perch closure on Illinois waters of Lake Michigan rankles fishermen

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Updated: July 9, 2013 8:40PM



Perch fishermen aren’t stupid.

Politically active or aware? Not really. But not stupid. They know when they are shut out of the process.

Everybody has their breaking point, and fishermen in Chicago have reached theirs on the July closure for those 16 and older for yellow perch on the Illinois waters of Lake Michigan. After more than 15 years of being shut out, perch fishermen stir unsteadily toward activism on several fronts. They see potential in the 2014 gubernatorial race for competitive primaries and a competitive general election.

No, the July perch closure isn’t as important as settling the state debt or solving the crisis in retirement benefits. But how it came to be is something perch fishermen who vote understand.

An informal letter campaign has begun, with perch fishermen writing Illinois Department of Natural Resources director Marc Miller to say what the July closure means. The hope is that the IDNR finally will include sportfishermen in the process and that it won’t be necessary to go to legislators or gubernatorial candidates.

But make no mistake: Political action is the big stick behind the quiet stories of perch fishing.

On an unconnected front, another perch fisherman is tapping a politically connected and tech-savvy relative to build a broad-based online and social-media strategy in case the process doesn’t change.

Perch fishing is more than just the tastiest of fillets. It’s the soul of Chicago outdoors. It’s family traditions of fishing the lakefront from the South Side to the North Side. It’s boating spots from the reciprocal waters of Calumet Harbor to the weed beds off Navy Pier and the filtration plant. It rolls together the ethnic, racial and economic mixes that make Chicago unique.

Nobody denies the perch population in Lake Michigan collapsed in the 1990s. Few complained when the daily limit was dropped by a draconian amount. Now it is 15 daily in Illinois when the season is open.

But Illinois sportfishermen have shouldered the brunt of regulations. The daily limit in Michigan is 35. Indiana has no July closure.

The problem isn’t just the July closure itself; it’s the lack of considering input from fishermen about the regulations. When salmon stockings or regulations are altered, detailed explanations are given by Illinois’ Lake Michigan Program on the why, what and who from each state. That doesn’t happen with perch.

At some point, if you get a hand clamped over your mouth long enough, you take a bite.

Program

Forest Preserve District of Cook County fisheries biologist Jim Phillips talks to the Riverside Fishing Club about walleye propagation at Tampier Lake at 7 p.m. Thursday at the La Grange American Legion.

Wild things

Wild raspberries near peak are a bonus in the brambles for any outdoors ramble. Fireflies flicker.

Stray cast

That Cubs-White Sox makeup game Monday was like smelt netting.



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