MONSTER CATCH puts spotlight on Illinois Lake Trout COMEBACK

Capt. Shawn Keulen’s monster lake trout, held here by Jordan Keulen, was within short reach of the Illinois state record. It also drew attention to the remarkable restoration of successful lake trout spawning on the reefs off the Illinois shoreline.

By Mike Pehanich

  • Shawn Keulen’s 36-pound laker reported as 2nd largest fish taken from Lake Michigan so far this season
  • Lake trout reproduction on Illinois reefs best on all Lake Michigan
  • Goby addition to diet touted as key to natural laker reproduction

 Capt. Shawn Keulen’s 36-pound lake trout was a big fish that shed light on an even bigger story — that lake trout are spawning successfully off Illinois shore and creating another world-class fishery.

On Sunday, July 29, Lake Michigan guide Capt. Shawn Keulen brought a giant lake trout to boat. The head looked menacing and atavistic, a throwback to some species of prehistory. Its weight registered over 36 pounds on at least one scale, according to local reports.

But to long-time followers of the Lake Michigan fishery saga, the catch was big beyond its physical dimensions.

Keulen’s laker is believed to be the second largest salmonid caught by hook and line this season, and it came within short reach of the Illinois state record lake trout of 38 pounds, 4 ounces, caught by Theodore Rullman in August of 1999.

More significantly, the catch highlights the revival of successful lake trout reproduction in Lake Michigan following decades of failure and disappointment.

“Illinois waters are loaded with lake trout,” said Rob Wendel, manager of the Lake Michigan Angler bait and tackle shop in Winthrop Harbor (www.lakemichiganangler.com ; phone 224-789-7627). “You can catch as many as you wish. It’s that good.”

First mate Jordan Keulen holds Capt. Shawn Keulen’s monster lake trout. The 36-pounder is believed to be the second largest salmonid taken from Lake Michigan this season.

Laker comeback

The monster laker, the largest reported from Lake Michigan this season, stirred recollections of the bold efforts of Great Lakes biologists, anglers and volunteers to establish or reestablish viable populations of salmon and trout to Lake Michigan 60 years ago. The lake trout was the species impacted most heavily by a devastating sea lamprey invasion and locust-like alewife propagation in the middle of the 20th century.

Angler conservation with catch and release can help populations survive.

The resultant program brought exciting Coho and Chinook salmon populations to the lake and buttressed fading steelhead numbers. But extensive efforts by Great Lakes states to bring back a self-sustaining population of the lake trout, a native predator, showed little success for almost half a century despite substantial annual stockings by the four Lake Michigan border states and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

That story line has changed dramatically in recent years, and, to the amazement of most, Illinois waters have staged the greatest lake trout comeback on the entire lake.

Careful release and life continues for a once endangered Lake Michigan population.

“We’re seeing high rates of non-stocked fish, wild lake trout, in our samples,” explained Vic Santucci, a Lake Michigan biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “Anglers are also seeing more wild fish showing up in their catch due to our mass marking project in which we mark stocked fish with adipose clips and coated wire tags. We are seeing probably on average over 40 percent wild fish in our population since 2012.”

Reef madness

Lake trout are spawning successfully on reefs located off Illinois shores, most notably Julian’s Reef and Waukegan Reef. In fact, reefs from Chicago to the Wisconsin state line may host the most active and successful lake trout spawning grounds on the entire lake.

“As far as we know from annual samples, our percentage of wild fish is highest here in the southern basin,” continued Santucci. “We are seeing the highest percentage of wild trout in our samples. There are a lot of trout on the Midlake Reef in Wisconsin…but the last numbers I saw were in the high teens and 20- to 25-percent range (for wild fish). They go lower than that as you survey waters farther north.”

Light tackle lake trout angling is becoming popular sport throughout the Great Lakes. That’s Jeff Slater of Seaguar showing off a handsome specimen.

For bedding lakers, the cobble composition of the reefs is part of their charm. The chunk rock and small boulders comprise a lake bottom “where eggs can get into interstitial spaces and be protected from predators yet still get oxygen,” according to Santucci. Ironically, shells of dead quagga mussels, an invasive mollusc, may also factor to lake trout favor in the evolving structure of the reefs.

Going goby!

Forage mix also seems to be working to lake trout favor. And the lowly round goby, long viewed as an ecological nemesis, may be the unheralded hero of the wild lake trout revival.

“The prevailing theory is that our lake trout suffered from a dietary deficiency when they were eating alewives almost exclusively,” noted Wendel. “Now their diet has switched over to goby and other forage species as well. The diverse diet is healthier for the lakers, and the results are evident in lake trout catches today.”

Santucci acknowledges the theory and finds it credible. He noted that gobies are rich in thiamine, believed to be the long-missing yet critical nutrient for successful lake trout reproduction.

“Lake trout feed on just about anything they can catch,” he said. “In past decades, their diet consisted primarily of smelt and alewives, especially alewives. The gobies they consume today are quite possibly adding more vitamin B, thiamine, to their diet.”

Wendel reports fabulous and consistent lake trout fishing off Illinois shores, though anglers often need to plumb triple-digit depths to catch them in late summer. But ballooning lake trout numbers in Illinois waters have reinvigorated angler interest in the species. Spring shore fishing along the Chicago lakefront is now popular sport, and light tackle techniques have brought out the fighting best in a species often berated for its performance at the end of a lead core line in 100-foot depths. Many are finding the fish can fight!

So, welcome to Illinois, lake trout mecca!

Follow the Illinois pages of Share the Outdoors for more Lake Michigan news and how-to fishing information throughout the year.

Berkley® Choppo is Smash Hit Topwater Lure

Chef Todd’s first Choppo bass could be an Illinois first!

  • Strip Pit Largemouth Bass LOVE ‘EM
  • Choppo Plopper Action is NEW and DEADLY
  • Designed by Bassmaster Elite angler Justin Lucas

The Berkley® Choppo, one of 10 lures introduced with Berkley’s new topwater line at ICAST 2018, played to smashing reviews from Illinois strip mine bass…and a prominent Peoria angler/chef.

The Berkley® Choppo is an easy-to-use top water lure with a durable, cupped, propeller tail that produces maximum surface disturbance and swims straight at a variety of speeds. This is the MF Frog finish.

By Mike Pehanich

The “Plopper” lure concept took the fishing world by storm a few years ago when River2Sea’s 2008 introduction, the Whopper Plopper, suddenly factored into big tournament and TV-host catches. The excitement it generated hasn’t dimmed yet.

Ploppers feature a thick single-arm propeller that produces a plopping gurgle that drives fish nuts and, better yet, draws them from a distance.

If there’s a downside to ploppers, it is price. Original River2Sea Whopper Ploppers generally cost from $12 to $22. That’s why tackle junkies with an ear to the rail got itchy with rumors that Berkley would enter the plopper category with their own iteration.

Berkley’s hardbait strategy has been relatively cautious, but quite successful to date. The simple formula is this: take a proven concept, let pro anglers modify and tweak it to proven performance, and then finally produce and market it at an angler-friendly price.

That marketing formula is in evidence again with the Choppo 90 and 120 – the two sizes of topwater lures filling the “plopper” niche in Berkley’s new 10-item topwater line that made its debut at ICAST 2018 (Orlando July 11-13). The Choppo will retail for $9.99 in both sizes.

Choppo Works the Pits

A coveted Choppo bait arrived at my door under cardboard cover in advance of ICAST 2018. Would it prove to be the real deal? I headed to central Illinois to test it on strip pit bass.

Chef Todd launches at Lake X, the perfect spot to test a topwater lure.

I consulted with Chef Todd Kent, multi-species angler and head chef at Jim’s Downtown Steakhouse in Peoria. For Choppo’s Illinois debut, he suggested Lake X, an unmanaged private lake accessible only with purloined map, secret handshake and promise of first-born grandchild, or in this case, agreement to let him fish the Choppo that day.

I opted for the latter.

“I’ll catch a bass on the Choppo within the first 15 minutes on the water,” Chef Todd predicted.

A weak cold front had pushed through the night before, but I took the bubble trail in the wake of Chef Todd’s first cast with the Choppo to be a good omen.

“I like it,” said the chef, a few casts into the day. “The propeller produces a little deeper ‘plop’ than R2Sea. It’s a little different.”

The strip pit featured a long, steep-sided, main lake with two narrow arms running perpendicular to the main lake. Deadfall and sunken timber provided cover shallow and deep. Algae mats sat in protected pockets between wood.

It seemed a prime topwater setting, so good, in fact, that we were surprised when our first 10 or so casts drew no response.

A washtub explosion ended the drought. Todd leaned back on the bite and his fish went airborne.

“Ten minutes,” he said as he hefted his fish, just a tad under three pounds. “I said I’d have a bass on the Choppo within 15 minutes. Amen.”

The chef let the thought simmer for a few casts. Then the prospect of fame – however fleeting, took hold.

“I’ll bet that was the first bass taken on a Choppo in Illinois,” he said. “Yeah. I’ll stake my claim to that,” I responded.

The worm bite we expected to flourish that morning never developed, but finesse jigs and flippin’ jigs with craw-style and beaver-style plastic trailers drew a flurry of action. A swim jig with swimbait produced nice fish as well.

But we missed the topwater bite and despite the bad omen of high cloudless skies, we pulled out the high-riders again at 11:00 A.M.

The Choppo went down in an angry spray within minutes. Another well-muscled bass hit it a few casts after that. The unexpected mid-day topwater bite was on. Choppo would prove to be the day’s MVP.

Chef Todd’s first Choppo bass could be an Illinois first!

“I’m really impressed with this Choppo 120,” said Chef Todd, high praise from an angler with a healthy stockpile of the lure that pioneered the category. “It has a more defined plopper tail sound. The head design is a little narrower, and it has a nice side-to-side roll. The tail rides a little higher, too. And it has great hooks.”

Designed by Bassmaster Elite angler Justin Lucas, the Choppo 120 is just under 5-inches (120 mm) long. Weighing a full ounce, it casts a mile, allowing the angler to cover water quickly. Six weights in two belly chambers and a tapered nose deliver the tantalizing roll that helps convert tail-plopping fish attraction into hard strikes.

And, yes, it has extremely sharp Fusion 19 hooks.

The Choppo 90 is the 120’s little brother. Its smaller dimensions of 3-1/2 inches (90 mm) and ½ ounce weight, add to its versatility.  It makes for an easier meal for a wider range of predators. Justin Lucas testifies to its effectiveness on smallmouth bass in particular.

Current colors are Sexy Back, Perfect Ghost, MF Shad, MF Frog, MF Bluegill, Maverick, Ghost White, Ghost Bluegill, Bone and Black Chrome.

Unlike many topwater lures, the Choppo does most of the work for you. Just cast and wind with rod tip raised to maintain a high-riding, waking movement. Vary your speed until you dial in the fish’s preference for the day.

You’ll likely be mesmerized by that plopping sound and tantalizing spray until the inevitable explosion awakens you from the spell!

Read more at http://www.berkley-fishing.com/berkley-bait-hard-bait-berkley/berkley-choppo/1454439.html.

OUTDOOR GEAR: The Hunt for 4-Season Weather Gear

  • Hodgman H5 Storm Jacket and H5 Storm Bib
  • Hodgman Core INS Jacket and Core INS Bib Liner Pants
  • No-Nonsense, Easy to Use
  • Comfortable, Essential, Affordable and Effective

By Mike Pehanich

To choose the right gear…if you’re an avid four-season outdoorsman, the hunt for foul weather outerwear is never-ending.

Hence we return to the sportsman’s eternal quest for reliable weather protection in a selection of relatively lightweight apparel that satisfies a range of temperatures and conditions – and fits in a single suitcase or travel bag!

In late winter, Hodgman released an ambitious 4-piece mix of outerwear that just might simplify the packing decisions of many outdoorsmen.

Hodgman designed its new H5 Storm Jacket and matching H5 Storm Bib to team as needed with the new Hodgman Core INS Jacket and Hodgman Core INS Bib Liner Pants.

  • The 3-layer V-Tech™ H5combination provides comfort and versatility as an effective shell layer in inclement cold and delivers free movement and breathability as temperatures rise.
  • The latter Core INSjacket and bib combination comprises an extremely lightweight quilt style Thinsulate layer designed to zip and snap into the Storm Jacket and Bibs.

The modular foursome offers sportsmen comfort through a wide range of temperatures and storm conditions and the option, too, of wearing each item separately.

My first run with the H5 Storm Jacket proved ideal for testing basic comfort and design features. I ice-fished on a day that began below the freezing mark but warmed to the lower 50s before day’s end. With the H5, I wore the Hodgman Core INS Jacket and the matching Hodgman Core INS Bib Liner Pants. (The H5 Storm Bib arrived later, so I substituted a bib of comparable thickness to the H5 Jacket during this initial trial.)

The H5/INS combination was ideal that winter morning. I lugged gear and cut and cleared ice holes without chill or sweat.

Hodgman H5 Technology and Design 

My H5 Storm team still awaits the ultimate test of a brutal all-day rain. But simulated storm tests have given credence to Hodgman’s tech claims.

Will it keep you dry in a downpour without generating so much sweat that it negates the value of a “waterproof” outer layer altogether? Every protective garment has its tipping point, but Hodgman likes how it has tipped the odds in the wearer’s favor with the H5’s 3-layer V-Tech material and salient design features.

Hodgman states that its 3-layer V-Tech™ material employs “ultra-breathable vapor transfer technology with a hydrophilic membrane to pull moisture aware from the body.” The outcome is an outer layer with “breathability, abrasion resistance and waterproof protection.” Hodgman credits a “durable water repellant” (DWR) outer coating for one-way moisture passage – from the inside out. Simply put, sweat escapes to the external surface of the garments, but, like the rain, snow, and sleet trying to enter, it can’t seep back in.

Hodgman H5 Storm Jacket Features

Weather exposes the best and worst in outerwear. Flaws in design, material or manufacturing execution at pressure points, pockets, seams, zippers, and openings can create tiny leakage funnels. Hodgman’s design safeguards these junctures with fully taped seams, watertight cinch cuffs, and an adjustable dual draw-cord hem. The most critical design component is the 500-denier Cordura seat and sleeves.

Disclaimer: Our assessment of this new storm wear comes without the test of time and the effects of many wear and wash cycles on the garment.

The new Hodgman storm set provides some nice angler-friendly features that walk the line between functionality and amenity.

Face Shield Hood

Chief among these is the ventilated adjustable wire-brimmed hood and “easy stow” face and nose guard. The former facilitates air passage in the face of wind or 60 mph boat speeds without turning the hood into a ship sail; the latter provides effective face protection with a unique and secure design that permits unobstructed vision.

During a storm years ago, the zipper failed on what was then the most stormproof jacket in my outdoor wardrobe. The storm exposed that otherwise faithful garment’s – excuse the metaphor – “Achilles heel,” the absence of a back-up means of closure. My single-handed grip on my jacket was not up to the task of keeping me dry against a blinding sideways rain and desperate boat run to shelter.

The 3-layer V-Tech™ H5 combination provides comfort and versatility as an effective shell layer in inclement cold and delivers free movement and breathability as temperatures rise

Hodgman heads off such crises by adding a critical redundancy. The YKK Aqua Guard center front zip has a double rain guard, a series of effective loop-and-hook fasteners.

What’s a YKK zipper?

YKK stands for the company founded by Tadao Yoshida, Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha. Yoshida earned his fame creating customized zipper machines. YKK reportedly manufactures in excess of 7 billion zippers each year.

Hodgman designed its new H5 Storm Jacket and matching H5 Storm Bib to team as needed with the new Hodgman Core INS Jacket and Hodgman Core INS Bib Liner Pants.

Other features include low chest-positioned tool accessory D-rings for forceps, pliers, line clippers, etc.; a soft low profile anchor point for kill switch or small tools; a pair of YKK zip hand pockets that offer easy access to underlayers; two YKK Aqua Guard vertical zip chest pockets; and an inner security pocket.

MSRP Hodgman H5 Storm Jacket: $299.95

http://www.hodgman.com/hodgman-outerwear-jackets/hodgman-h5-storm-shell-jacket/1447400.html

Hodgman H5 Storm Bib Features

In its H5 Bib, Hodgman aimed to reduce or eliminate water seepage to inner clothing and the skin when sitting on a wet carpet or boat seat or kneeling on wet ice.  The bib incorporates a waterproof shell fabric with a 20k waterproof rating, selected to be effective in all-day rains. The 500 denier Cordura material used in the seat, knees and hem protects against leakage or absorption. The same hydrophilic laminate used for the jacket draws sweat away from the body.

What does a 20K waterproof rating mean?

In static-column waterproof testing, a one-inch tube filled with water stands vertically over the test material. The water’s height in millimeters when leakage begins determines the rating. A 20K rating indicates that the fabric can withstand a pressure of up to 20,000 mm before leaking.

I wear bibs most of the time in cold weather whether precipitation is in the forecast or not! (I’m a strong believer that keeping the lower back warm is critical to maintaining comfort when wind and a short column of mercury are in your forecast.) That’s why I place a premium on a bib that is easy to don, remove and wear all day.

I was impressed with the “articulated R.O.M. fit” that Hodgman boasts. In fact, I wore the bib at my desk and around home and office to test range of motion. I even did some high knee lifts and other calisthenics. Credit a tailored blend of breathable 3-layer waterproof/windproof V-Tech fabric and 500 denier Cordura material for seat, knees and hem for comfort and protection against the elements.

Two-way YKK leg zippers make access to pockets for phone, wallet, and car keys a breeze. These are particularly important features in this age of minute-by-minute photos, videos, text messages and business calls. The H-back elastic suspenders with Duraflex buckles are there for standard bib adjustment. But right and left draw-elastic waist adjustment straps secured by (“Super Grip”) hook-and-loop fasteners all but eliminate shoulder fatigue. Snap leg hems offer three adjustments.

A welcome feature in the Hodgman H5 Bib is its relief zipper. Ancient wisdom holds that when you’ve got to go, you gotta go! A bib that binds you like a straightjacket and takes more time than a mummy’s wrap to unpeel when the bladder is begging for mercy is hard to befriend. Thankfully, the way to relief is simple with the H5. No need to remove jacket, unhinge suspenders, and perform a balancing act on accordion legs when Nature calls. A series of quick zips and…hey, you’re good.

MSRP Hodgman H5 Storm Bib: $299.95

http://www.hodgman.com/hodgman-outerwear-bibs/hodgman-h5-storm-bib/1447399.html

Both the H5 Jacket and Bibs are currently available in Digi Camo Charcoal color in six sizes ranging from Small to 3XL.

The latter Core INS jacket and bib combination comprises an extremely lightweight quilt style Thinsulate layer designed to zip and snap into the Storm Jacket and Bibs.

A note on Hodgman Core INS Jacket and Bib Liner Pant

The cold weather versatility of this outerwear combination comes to fruition with the addition of the Core INS Jacket and Bib Liner Pant to the basic H5 Storm Jacket and Bib combination. These lightweight quilted layers, which can also be worn separately, feature Thinsulate Platinum Insulation fibers that Hodgman claims “are up to 10x smaller than fibers of other synthetic insulations,” and deliver double the warmth. Tune in for a detailed review of these companion garments.

MSRP Hodgman Core INS Jacket: $129.99

MSRP Hodgman Core Bib Liner Pant ; $129.99           

In its H5 literature, Hodgman invokes its “Grit Gear Commitment” – “Gear with grit and an iron clad development process that yields performance day after day for years to come and adds “…we don’t sell our gear until we’ve field tested it and beat it up to the point we’re absolutely sure that you can’t find a better protective garment.”

 

Hodgman gear is now being shipped to retailers across the nation and is also available online for ordering.  To learn more about new Hodgman gear now available, please click to visit http://www.hodgman.com.