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Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Pete Mavrakis of Mokena wrestled a nearly 40-inch northern pike through an 8-inch hole in the ice Sunday.

‘‘He gave a tussle,’’ Mavrakis said.

Mavrakis pulled the pike, estimated at 18 to 20 pounds, from J.C. Murphey Lake at Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area just across the line in Indiana to earn Fish of the Week honors.

Maybe northern pike should get the honor in a broader sense. Pike, which are great native predators of our area, are underappreciated. But ice fishing brings more interest and focus.

Last week, the Westchester pair of ‘‘Bass Ron’’ Antinori and ‘‘Musky Ed’’ Potocki of Midwest Musky Hunters sent a note and photo about a nice pike caught and released on a public lake in Lake County during first ice.

Others target pike in forest-preserve lakes, especially Wampum, during ice fishing. Wolf Lake gave up the biggest pike of recent note in Chicago fishing. Jim Saksa caught his 22.83-pound pike while ice fishing with a golden roach on a tip-up on the Illinois side of Wolf Lake on March 2, 2008.

The Illinois-record pike — Walter Klenzak’s 26.15-pounder — came from a Kankakee County strip pit on Nov. 9, 1989. Jack Barnes caught the Indiana record (30-2) from Clear Lake in Steuben County in 1992.

Mavrakis targets pike year-round, but especially during ice fishing, at Willow Slough, the Chain O’Lakes, Wolf Lake and Wampum.

On Sunday, he was among friends fishing at Willow Slough. He was jigging for bluegills and had a tip-up out with 9-inch suckers targeting big pike.

Willow Slough, one of the great bluegill spots near Chicago, is in a dangerous spot. Because of the extremely dry fall and ice coming with lake levels down more than a foot, site staff anticipate a winter kill. Right now, there is 8 to 10 inches of ice and another 4-plus inches of snow.

''Barring a miracle thaw, it is not looking real good,’’ Dave Spitznagle said.

Anticipating a winter kill, Willow Slough reverted to Indiana’s statewide regulations earlier this month, including no limits on bluegills. (Crappie and redear remain at 25 daily.)

Bluegills are the main draw, but pike are the stars at Willow Slough.

While the sun was out Sunday, ‘‘The Slough’’ gave up a slew of big pike, the biggest being Mavrakis’. But there were others of 35 inches and longer in the last several days.

‘‘I caught it about 11:30 or 12:30,’’ said Mavrakis, who works at Barraco’s Pizza. ‘‘It was still sunny. As soon as the clouds came, the tip-ups shut off.’’

While ice fishing for pike, he doesn’t use wire leaders. Instead, he sticks with 14-pound PowerPro line and suckers on Gamakatsu hooks.

Asked why he fishes for pike, he said, ‘‘I just like to see them take that big bait, how aggressive they are.’’

This is his biggest pike. It will go on his wall.

Wild things

With rivers freezing heavily, reports of bald eagles are increasing throughout the area, particularly near open water below dams. Regular sightings are coming from the Fox and Kankakee, an encouraging sign about our natural state.

I checked Tuesday with the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center about eagles at Starved Rock. Ranger Bob Petruney said the Illinois River isn’t iced in enough yet to concentrate the eagles fully. He said there were about 18 last weekend. There should be at least some eagles for viewing for those doing holiday time near Starved Rock.

More spectacular eagle numbers are being seen near the Mississippi River dams, according to reports on IBET, the birding network.

Stray cast

Expecting Mike Murphy to replace Ron Santo on Cubs radio broadcasts is like expecting the IDNR to lift the July closure on perch fishing. It makes too much sense.



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