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Illinois hunting and fishing

A state-record muskie quest

April 12, 2009 at 03:49 AM

Evergreen info

Anglers in search of big muskie or saugeye will want to consider Evergreen Lake this year. Surveys again show strong populations of both species at the lake northwest of Bloomington in McLean County.

April is a prime month for muskie, which typically come off underwater wood, points or humps in the spring.

Saugeye are best in May and June and huge fish have been netted right off the docks at the main boat ramp.

One sobering note is that crappie are not as strong as they were two to four years ago. Numbers are OK, but there is an abundance of short fish.

Anglers who launch a boat at Evergreen are also required to purchase a stamp. Cost is $45 per year for non-McLean County residents and $35 for residents. The daily launch fees are $16 and $12.

State-record fish fascinate me.

I enjoy the drama, the intrigue and the rumors that swirl around every big fish. I like staring at the pictures of fat-bellied freaks from the past and laughing at the way they cooperate with casual anglers while diehards can only look on, gritting their teeth.

And after years of writing stories about anglers and their big catches, I’d finally like to hold a record in my own hands.

That explains my trip to Evergreen Lake this April Fool’s Day. Understand, I’m a realist. There’s almost no chance I’ll ever catch a record on pole and line. The biggest muskie I ever hooked stared me in the eye before slashing my line years ago in Wisconsin. Last year alone I lost a huge walleye and my best bass.

So it goes.

But when the trap nets are raised at Evergreen Lake each spring during the annual population survey, they almost always contain something huge.

In recent years the spring sample at Evergreen has produced a string of state-record muskie and saugeye. The biggest haul ever came on April 1, 2005 when biologist Mike Garthaus measured a massive 49 3/4-inch muskie weighing 43 pounds, 5 ounces. Nets that spring also yielded a 12-pound, 7-ounce saugeye — nearly three pounds better than the record of 9-10.88 that came out of Evergreen in 2001.

Even so, the muskie is the one everybody remembers.

“I can still remember seeing her in the net,” Garthaus said. “That net had a lot of fish in it. Some were big fish. Then all of the sudden you saw her.”

She was one of two 40-pounders sampled at Evergreen in recent years and one of three 40-pounders netted in Illinois. The others are a 50.5-inch Evergreen Lake fish from 2007 and a 49.5-incher from Johnson-Sauk Trail in April of 2002 that weighed 42.9 pounds.

All three toothy rascals topped the state record 38-pound, 8-ounce muskie Matt Carmean caught below the dam at Lake Shelbyville back on April 20, 2002. Worth noting is that all three
were netted in April.

The lure of seeing something that big was strong enough to draw Chef Todd and me to Evergreen, where we joined Garthaus, lake honcho Mike Steffa and Normal angler Loren Peters.

No question this record quest made more sense than our last epic failure. That came in October of 2002 when the Chef and I spent a day at Johnson-Sauk Trail trying to locate that huge 42.9-pounder.

At least we ate well that day.

This year we were so sure of seeing a record that we didn’t bring a morsel. You can predict what happened. No, a record never materialized. But the outing was not a failure.
Three of the first six nets we raised held muskie weighing more than 30 pounds. The largest, a pretty, spotted 46-incher went just a hair over 32 pounds and earned raves from all of us, even from bass angler Peters who normally has less kind words for lure-stealing muskies.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Seeing a fish that big in person, watching the power with which it thrashes is impressive, almost humbling. As she swam away into the relatively small Campground Cove, Chef Todd started sputtering.

“Dude, how can you not catch a fish like that in here?” he asked, gesturing at the nearby flooded stumps, ever the optimist.

I pondered just the opposite. To think you can catch a fish like that and haul it into your boat seems preposterous. And yet it happens. Every year, anglers catch huge fish.

It will happen this year, too. Maybe not a muskie, but somewhere this year in Illinois, some lucky angler will land a record.

And so the quest continues.

Illinois hunting and fishing

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