Opening day: Wandering Chicago lakefront hoping on perch, more enjoying the morning than catching

Opening day: Wandering Chicago lakefront hoping on perch, more enjoying the morning than catching

Sunrise over the waves crashing around Foster Avenue Pier on Wednesday, reopening day for perch fishing. | Dale Bowman

Perch fishing reopened Wednesday on the Illinois waters of Lake Michigan; but, at least for this shore angler, it was more about enjoying the morning and wandering the Chicago lakefront than catching perch.

In the half-light before dawn Wednesday, I was virtually alone on the south side of Montrose Harbor.

Not a good sign on the reopening day for perch fishing on the Illinois waters of Lake Michigan.

Few anglers were at Park Bait when I checked in for fatheads and spikes around 4:30 a.m. I had a half-hour before the meters on Montrose Harbor Drive went to pay — just long enough that I would know whether perch were around.

They weren’t.

‘‘There are yellow perch out there, for sure, Dale,’’ Vic Santucci, Illinois’ Lake Michigan program manager, emailed that morning. ‘‘However, their abundance remains well below historical levels, and my guess is that the fishery will be pretty similar to what we have seen in the past five to 10 years. It’s the ‘new norm’ that we have discussed in the past, likely related to declining lake productivity and invasive species (round gobies and quagga mussels).’’

I drove north to Foster Avenue Pier, where there is free street parking. But the waves were crashing from the north winds too much to fish it, so I sat and watched the waves as the sun rose. That made my morning.

I was not alone. Plenty of walkers and joggers were on the rocks and the path. And at least two professional photographers were set up with the lively waves.

The view of downtown Chicago from outside of Diversey Harbor on Wednesday, reopening day for perch fishing. Credit: Dale Bowman Dale Bowman
The view of downtown Chicago from outside of Diversey Harbor on Wednesday, reopening day for perch fishing.

But I really wanted a perch, so I drove to Diversey Harbor, where whispers had come that perch were in on the lake side. Others must have heard the same because a number of bike anglers were there. Parking in the Diversey Driving Range lot is $5 for an hour, $9 for four. The perch weren’t out, but lots of walkers, joggers and bikers were. At least I caught a big gobie.

Before I walked out, a bike angler on the other side caught and released a smallmouth bass. He fished like he was using a Ned Rig.

My next stop was at Henry’s Sports and Bait to get a new permit for parking at either of the small fishermen’s lots at DuSable and Burnham harbors. They are $10 for a two-month permit. I was the only one in the lot at Burnham, which wasn’t a good sign. I only had the peck-peck of gobies on Northerly Island.

‘‘I don’t anticipate any big changes for this summer regarding shore angling due to the ultra-clear water and the changed distributional patterns we have observed of late,’’ Santucci emailed. ‘‘Years ago, perch congregated at shoreline structure during the summer and were readily accessible to anglers. As you know, that’s not the case anymore. Now it seems that good catches can be had from shore or boat occasionally during summer as schools of perch move around in our portion of the lake. The bigger fishery these days in terms of harvest is the fall/winter fishery off Chicago, especially in Calumet Harbor and the Cal River area.’’

That area was my final stop. I hopped south on Lake Shore Drive to 87th, where there is free street parking. I worked my way around Steelworkers Park, but I had only gobies to show for it.

Dale Bowman caught no yellow perch on the Chicago lakefront Wednesday on reopening day for perch fishing, but the round gobies were active. Credit: Dale Bowman Dale Bowman
Dale Bowman caught no yellow perch on the Chicago lakefront Wednesday on reopening day for perch fishing, but the round gobies were active.

It was time. I wound my way to 95th, then home.

‘‘Catches of adult perch in the IDNR gill net survey this spring were similar to what we caught in 2019,’’ Santucci emailed. ‘‘We did catch some smaller individuals in our smallest meshes this year, which hopefully bodes well for perch fishing three to five years down the line. Of course, these little ones need to survive and grow to harvestable sizes before they contribute to the fishery.’’

Waves crashing around Foster Avenue Pier on Wednesday, reopening day for perch fishing. Credit: Dale Bowman Dale Bowman
Waves crashing around Foster Avenue Pier on Wednesday, reopening day for perch fishing.