Angler joy: July perch fishing is back

Chicago — There is joy in Bud-ville.

Actually, Bud Gillespie likely won’t be on Chicago’s lakefront come July 1, when hundreds – quite possibly thousands – of anglers kick off the first yellow perch season to be held on Lake Michigan since 2001.

“I’m one of those guys who thought it was a big mistake to kill it to begin with, so I’m ticked that it took this long to get it back,” Gillespie, 89, of Skokie, lamented. Gillespie has been a regular letter writer in favor of the July season.

Alas, “I can’t do it anymore,” he said after DNR announced June 16 that it was bringing back the season. “But at least my grandkids will get to experience it.”

Unfortunately, this new generation of anglers won’t be able to re-live Lake Michigan’s glory days of perch fishing, which took place in he 1980s. In its announcement, DNR conceded that perch numbers are way down and that the agency is making changes to season regulations “to reflect the wishes of perch anglers while continuing to protect the lake’s perch fishery.” The concession comes with a trade-off: Starting in 2015, perch fishing will close from May 1 to June 15 to further safeguard the spawning stock, DNR noted. 

During the July season, the number of fish allowed per angler remains at 15 per day.

“Perch anglers told us they want to be able to fish during the month of July, and this regulation change is intended to provide that opportunity,” DNR Director Marc Miller said. “We listened to anglers and experts alike during the Lake Michigan Yellow Perch Summit held in Chicago, and this rule change was developed as a result of that meeting.”

That summit was convened by the Lake Michigan Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. It was hosted by DNR and the GLFC. The purpose of the meeting was to update anglers and stakeholders about changing Lake Michigan ecology and the status of yellow perch populations, fishing and management. The program included presentations by experts and a breakout session where smaller groups provided comments and input.

Among the many things learned during the Summit:

  • yellow perch constitute about 17 percent of the total lakewide angling effort in Lake Michigan, trailing only salmon and trout in popularity;
  • sport fishery success for perch was two to six times higher in the period 1986-1993 than in the period 2004-13;
  • all states have declining trends in yellow perch sport fishery effort over the past decade on the main lake.

DNR, considering findings during the Summit and the ongoing call for a return to July fishing, made an administrative rule cange to bring it back. At the same time, the agency pointed out that the once-thriving perch population basically crashed in the 1990s.

“The number of yellow perch available to anglers and commercial fishing operations peaked in the mid-1980s, declined precipitously in the early 1990s, and has remained low since that time,” DNR noted.

Young perch tend to feed on zooplankton and small aquatic insects. They also become food for larger predator fish. Small perch are often eaten by adult perch, which also feed on aquatic insects and crustaceans.

Fisheries biologists report that invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels have altered Lake Michigan’s food web, speeding the decline.

“Illinois’ regulations are part of a multi-jurisdictional approach to managing yellow perch in Lake Michigan,” DNR Lake Michigan Program Manager Vic Santucci said. “We work with other state natural resources agencies to develop policies that promote recreation and protect this valuable resource. We also take into account the local abundance of yellow perch, spawning habitat available, and the number of anglers in the Chicago region with access to the lake when we set season dates and daily limits for Illinois.”

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