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Perch by the dawn’s early light

Ray Hintcaught first jumbo 39th Street near dawn Monday when perch fishing reopened lakefront for those 16 older. | Dale

Ray Hinton caught the first jumbo at 39th Street near dawn Monday, when perch fishing reopened on the lakefront for those 16 and older. | Dale Bowman~For the Sun-Times

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:21AM

All the gates were down to all the parking lots near the lakefront at Jackson Park early Monday morning. Grrrr. New mayor same as the old mayor.

“This city is so wishy-washy,’’ said Ray Hinton, who made a quick switch for us to meet for perch fishing at 39th Street.

As I parked, Hinton pulled gear from his Suburban. “Hey, Curtis,’’ he shouted to another fisherman. The banter flowed from there.

“Who opened the gates?’’ somebody asked in the half-light of 5 a.m. Another voice shouted gleefully, “It’s perch time.’’ Perch fishing on the Illinois waters of Lake Michigan reopened for those 16 and older Monday after the hated July closure.

I fished the South Side lakefront with Hinton. The construction worker from Chatham fishes all over but particularly knows the South Side and south suburbs.

He has nicknamed the regulars. There was James ‘‘the Electrician’’ Garrett, who taught Hinton much, and Eddie ‘‘the Artist’’ Hudson, who had a Fish of the Week a few months back. ‘‘Lakefront’’ Mike Henderson caught the biggest perch Hinton ever saw. “It had to be 21/2 pounds,’’ he said.

Hinton started off throwing a white twistertail on a 1/4-ounce jig with no bait and popped the first perch of the morning in our area.

“I caught the first one of the season,’’ he said, then added in an aside, “I have to give that to them.’’

When it became obvious the perch were in, food fantasies blossomed.

“Five red potatoes and one onion,’’ Hinton said down the wall. Between gull calls, somebody answered back, “You have to have the onion.’’

I popped a keeper on a Gumball jig with a white Mini-Mite body tipped with a wax worm. Hinton, who works a twistertail beautifully, had schools of perch follow it in. He landed a jumbo with a belly so stuffed it was either prespawn or gorging.

He was using a stiff 10-foot B’n’M rod with 6-pound Trilene line. “An all-around universal rod,’’ he said.

I loved that he got excited when huge smallmouth bass — submarines of dark beauty — swam past us along the wall. I caught a sheephead of 14 or 15 inches.

“Ask me personally,’’ Hinton said, “I don’t think we need the moratorium on these perch.’’

He speaks for many of us on the July closure of perch fishing.

I think Hinton gave me a break. He could have outfished me 3-1, but he switched to a silver bladebait and caught a quick double. Then went to a double-jig rig and caught more.

The sun lifted over the cloud deck on the horizon. A duck, with ducklings so tiny I blamed a late hatch on the cold spring, swam past. Fishing slowed. Heat built.

It was time.

Hinton mentioned the passing of crappie fisherman Charles Randall last month.

“It gets funny when older people leave us,’’ Hinton said. “I call them teachers.’’

That’s the tradition of fishing, passing it on. In Chicago, that’s perch fishing.

For dinner, our family lived the simplicity of summer perfection: battered fresh perch fillets plated with baked beans, cole slaw and flavored rice.

Illinois hunting

We start the Illinois Hunting Report today with a surprisingly strong squirrel report. . . . On Saturday, Lake County Pheasants Forever and Northern Illinois Conservation Club host a youth event at the NICC grounds in Antioch. Go to

Stray cast

Bighead carp are to Lake Calumet what Greg Olsen was to Mike Martz’s system; Martz’s system is to offense what Lake Calumet is to natural waterways.

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