Illinois hunting and fishing

New Illinois pumpkinseed record

July 26, 2009 at 12:20 AM

Illinois hunting and fishing

Want a record fish?

Chances are slim you can set out to catch a state record largemouth bass or muskie. Odds are much more in your favor when it comes to smaller sunfish.

Several of Illinois’ 13 native sunfish species have no entry on the state record list. That includes the pumpkinseed, longear sunfish (pictured above), redspotted sunfish and orangespotted sunfish.

And though that may change soon for pumpkinseed thanks to Peoria angler Todd Kent’s 0.41-pound catch, there are larger pumpkinseeds swimming in Illinois waters.

Prime public pumpkinseed destinations include the Emiquon Preserve, the Mississippi River (particularly Potter’s Marsh), the Illinois River above Starved Rock, Little Sister Lake in the Fulton County Camping and Recreation Area (with a fish from there pictured below), Mount Olive City Reservoir and the Fox Chain O’ Lakes.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Registering a record is relatively easy. One key is to weigh your fish as soon as possible on a certified scale in front of two witnesses. Get several pictures. And measure the length and girth of the fish.

All that information must be recorded on a form that you submit to the Department of Natural Resources.

There are also junior angler awards for youngsters under 16 who catch their first Illinois fish. And there are several other award categories for Catch and Release, Big Fish, Master Angler and Grand Slam awards.

Click here for information and forms for all award categories or call (217) 782-6424.


Chef Todd has a way with the fish.

Out of countless examples, my favorite came a few years ago while angling for lake sturgeon on the Mississippi River. With moments left in a frustrating two-day voyage, we had no sturgeon and no sturgeon pictures. Then Chef hooked into an ugly bottom-dweller that made the trip an instant success.

So there was a strange sense of deja-vu last Tuesday. With moments left in another oddball outing, Chef Todd ended Pumpkin Quest in dramatic style by catching an unofficial state record pumpkinseed.

First an explanation. Over the past few months we cooked up Pumpkin Quest for two reasons: 1. To publicize a less-known native Illinois sunfish; 2. To take advantage of a loophole.

You see, there is no pumpkinseed entry. So all we had to do was catch one to establish a record. While sipping drinks at Crusens that seemed simple, particularly since pumpkinseeds are billed as “aggressive little sunfish that are easy to catch.” What’s more, all accounts indicate they have thrived in Emiquon Preserve’s weedy waters since being transplanted from the Mississippi River.

At one point we even talked about setting a minimum standard of 12 ounces — a silly idea that reality soon crushed.

First The Farmer and I spent a morning fishing Emiquon. Though we landed 80 bass, we never caught a panfish.

Adding insult to injury, researcher Nerissa Michaels showed us some of the hundreds of pumpkinseeds she netted that day as part of a study. “We catch them all over the lake,” she said, hoisting a fat pair that looked like they might push a pound.

We did not catch them. Nor did we catch them last Tuesday, despite Chef Todd’s impressive preparation. He found articles featuring huge pumpkinseeds. He bought special perch rigs and an orange-and-yellow tube jig he called “perfect for pumpkinseeds.”

Despite all that, our outing mirrored the first: bass on every lure but no panfish. We fished deep and shallow. Nightcrawlers and redworms. Bobbers and no bobbers.

All we caught were bass.
Finally, soaked by steady rain, we headed for shore. But an amazing thing happened 200 yards from the boat ramp. While casting that orange-and-yellow jig along weed edges, Chef hooked into what he first called “just another bass.”

Only after reeling in did we realize the enormity of this 7¾-inch fish that weighed 0.41 pounds on a certified scale at Presley’s Outdoors and had a girth of 7½ inches.

“Dude, I got the state record,” Chef bellowed. “I got the state record.”

The unofficial state record, mind you. And the smallest state record, a cause for ribbing by the Presley’s gang. “I’ve got bait that big,” somebody cracked.

Yes, there are bigger pumpkinseeds in Emiquon and elsewhere. No doubt this record will fall. Probably soon and ideally to a youngster.

Illinois hunting and fishing

And that will be great. The point of Pumpkin Quest was to raise awareness, as Bob Henson of Bartonville did by registering a record silver redhorse sucker in 2001. That Henson’s record has been broken twice makes him happy.

“I don’t expect the record to stand,” Henson said at the time. “One of the reasons I turned this is in is because somebody somewhere is going to look at this and say, ‘There’s a record for this.’

“To me it’s a wonderful fish that’s being passed up.”

The same is true of pumpkinseeds and of longear sunfish, arguably the prettiest freshwater fish in Illinois. Both are attractive, hard-fighting fish that deserve recognition.

Oh by the way, there’s also no longear state record — not yet, anyway. But that will change soon. So stay tuned for the next chapter in this summer’s Saga of the Sunfish.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Illinois hunting and fishing