Travis Strickland knew what he had.
I suspect many of us would not.
Good thing he did since he caught the pending Illinois-record skipjack herring midday on May 11 from the Illinois River.
“I was going for white bass and herring,” he said.
He freezes the herring for catfish bait. Vince, his late older brother, used to send stories of their catches of blue catfish.
“So, I was pretty sure what it was,” he said.
He had thought about fishing the Vermilion River but it was kind of high, so he switched to the Illinois at Starved Rock State Park.
He caught a couple white bass on a spinner, then a skipjack that was over a pound, bigger than the ones he caught last year.
“They call them Tennessee tarpon,” Strickland said.
That’s a cool new term for me.
Then he decided to switch to a double-jig rig with a heavy jig below a Bobby Garland crappie jig, which caught the pending record.
“I knew it was bigger than the ones I was catching, but I had no idea what the record was,” he said. “When I looked it up online when I got home and saw it was 2 pounds, 8 ounces. I thought, `Shoot, this one is bigger than that.’ ‘’
James Chapman caught the current Illinois record skipjack Jan. 28, 2013 from the Des Plaines River in Will County. His fish was 18 3/4 inches.
Strickland’s measured 19 1/4 inches with a girth of 11 3/4, one reason he was sure he had a state record.
So Strickland called Henry’s Sports and Bait to set up weighing his fish on their certified scale the following day, Thursday, after he got off work at the Chicago Transit Authority.
His skipjack weighed 2.65 pounds on Henry’s certified scale.
Ernest Blackman, who also witnessed the state-record smallmouth bass, and Brian Caunter witnessed the weighing. Illinois records require two witnesses for the weighing on a certified scale and notification of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The record is official when the paperwork is signed by IDNR fisheries chief Mike McClelland.
IDNR streams specialist Tristan Widloe verified it was a skipjack, his first state record, at Henry’s Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m saying sure,” he said as he examined the mouth. “[The keys] are the protruding lower jaw and the tongue with 2-4 rows of teeth.”
The closest similar fish, an Alabama shad, only has one row of teeth.
He said skipjacks like the big rivers in Illinois, such as the Mississippi, Illinois and Wabash.
After verification, Strickland, who has not had a fish mounted yet, was uncertain whether he would have it mounted or use it for catfish bait, something his brother Kurt had jokingly suggested before verification.
Jay Damm, a serious morel mushroom hunter, summed up the compact season this spring in an email that included, “It’s bizarre how the shade was your enemy a week ago, to being the morel hunters’ salvation this week following an unprecedented string of 90s. There’s a bottomland patch I knew would hold adequate moisture during even the hottest of years, and sure enough, I found some nice ones.”
I love running waters as rippling as Warren Zevon’s line, “ Little old lady got mutilated late last night.”