Monster Mississippi River walleye short of state record

Dale Merchant with the giant walleye he landed while fishing with his uncle in Mississippi River Pool 14.Cordova, Ill. — For a period of time early this month, it appeared that the state walleye record was in jeopardy once again.

Dale Merchant and his uncle, Charlie Sexton, fishing on a cold day in Pool 14 of the Mississippi River, landed a giant they thought could challenge the Illinois record walleye caught two years ago.

“Uncle Charlie had set his hook on his rod and lost a giant, so we were getting pretty fired up,” Merchant explained. “I had another bite, set the hook and the battle was on. When she came up next to the boat, Uncle Charlie got it in the net, and it was so big it hung over both sides of the net – and had a really big belly.

“We got really excited thinking it could be a new Illinois or Iowa record walleye, so we called Rudy at R&R Sports to bring his most accurate scale and meet us at the ramp as quickly as he could.”

Merchant and Sexton put the large walleye in the livewell and went directly to the ramp, where the fish was weighed – it was 13 pounds, 8 ounces.

“We measured the length to be 29 inches, took a couple of photos and released her back into the Mississippi,” Merchant said.

On March 11, 2012, James Zimmerman, of Beloit, Wis., caught a 15.08-pound walleye on the Pecatonica River in Winnebago County. That state- record fish was measured at 31.5 inches. DNR certified the new record walleye the next day.

Two months prior to that, 15-year-old Nick Tassoni, of Rockford, had caught a 14-pound, 12-ounce walleye on the Pecatonica between Rockton and Harrison in Winnebago County.

That fish broke a former state record that had held for more than 50 years – a 14-pound walleye caught on the Kankakee River in 1961.

How did Merchant and Sexton hook the giant walleye?

“We hit our usual spots below Dam No. 13 – areas where we’ve caught walleye over the years,” Merchant said. “We were using 3-way rigs with minnows and tube jigs for bait.”

Only slightly disappointed, Merchant and Sexton figured the fish they caught was worth a shot. The pair have been fishing partners for most of their lives. Angling for bass in spring through fall and walleyes

in colder weather and water, the duo have amassed a wealth of fishing stories, including the 1995 account of Sexton catching a giant 13-pound, 11-ounce walleye.

As both noted, the walleye population in Mississippi River, especially in Pool 14, is excellent. For many years, biologists at the Cordova Exelon nuclear plant have been operating a walleye hatching, rearing and stocking operation that, on an average year, will add 200,000 or more fingerling walleyes to the natural population in that pool.

Pool 14 female and male walleyes are captured via electroshocking in the early spring, the eggs and sperm stripped from females and males, the fish released, eggs hatched in a laboratory, fry released in a 200-acre canal on Exelon property.

“So now Uncle Charlie and I have both caught huge walleye, just a few ounces in weight and 19 years apart, and we were just a couple years apart in age when we caught the fish,” Merchant said.

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