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Braidwood open for business



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Indoor Fishing Flea Market: Saturday, Rolling Meadows High School, chicagolandmuskie Note: Accompanying Chicagoland Muskie Hunters’ raffle includes a GoPro camera and brushed steel muskie art.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sports Show: Wednesday-Sunday, Wisconsin Exposition Center, West Allis, Wis., Note: Fishing to shooting to grilling.

Canoecopia: Friday-Sunday, Alliant Energy Center, Madison, Wis., Note: Largest paddlesports event in the world.

Rob Miller was most interested to hear Brian Pentecost say he caught a 5-pound hybrid striped bass Saturday on the opening day of fishing at Braidwood Lake.

‘‘A 5-pound hybrid already? I am happy,’’ said Miller, a veteran district fisheries biologist. ‘‘They’re getting to be 17 inches after one year, which is crazy growth.’’

The experimental stocking of hybrid stripers at the cooling lake in southwestern Will County began in 2011. The annual stockings are generally about 25,000 1- to 11/2-inch fish. There was another stocking in 2012, but there was no stocking last year.

Braidwood is the great mystery of the northeast Illinois cooling lakes. An increased thermal load and a loss of aquatic plants altered the lake early in the 21st century.

The bass fishing almost disappeared, but it has rebounded in recent years with regular stockings and the introduction of artificial structure. And, other than in the summer of 2012, there has been a run of good luck with the lack of summer fish kills.

Miller was glad to hear faithful readers such as Pentecost and Pete Banach caught bass on opening day because he and his staff found far fewer bass than expected during the biannual survey last year. Miller thought it might have been a statistical anomaly because of the style of electro-shocking boat used by fellow biologist Frank Jakubicek.

The experimentation with different species has added excitement beyond bass. The introduction of hybrids is interesting because that is one species more susceptible to summer fish kills. So far,
so good.

The introduction of blue catfish, which began earlier than that of the hybrids, has been successful. Miller and I both heard unsubstantiated reports of blues weighing up to 50 pounds.

‘‘Spawning requirements are similar to channel catfish, so there is a good possibility for natural reproduction,’’ Miller said. ‘‘But I have not seen any indication yet. There is the potential. We haven’t stocked flathead [catfish] in forever, and we still find small guys from time to time.’’

They also find big ones, including a 44.39-pound flathead in the fall survey. The biggest blue they found was 27.7 pounds.

‘‘I would think there is potential for a 40-pounder,’’ Miller said.

Prospects for big bluegills aren’t good. The usual small channel catfish abound. The forage base remains good and varied, though Miller is watching low numbers of threadfin shad, which was introduced several years ago.

Opening day featured challenging weather and water cooler than usual. Banach found 49 degrees on the cold side, 53 degrees mid-pool and 60.1 degrees on the warm side. Pentecost found one hot spot of 66 degrees.

I maneuvered through the ice-encased shoreline in the early evening but only lasted an hour. Cold wind, rolling fog and something indescribable and frozen chased me. I was the last one out of the south parking lot.

It was time.

We have an open-water fishing option again, and it eventually will warm up.

Braidwood is open daily from 6 a.m. to around sunset (about 6 p.m. right now).

Stray cast

Like a Cooper’s hawk plucking a sparrow off a feeder or a kid catching a trout-pond fish is how I feel when I jab Cubs fans.

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