Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The Walleye and Yellow Perch
Nature Bulletin No. 717   May 11, 1963
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
David H. Thompson, Senior Naturalist

The Walleye is king of game fish in the eyes of many Illinois sportsmen. To find, hook and land this fighting fish challenges the skill of the most expert anglers. Some fish the fast waters below dams and rapids on the rivers of their home state the Kankakee, the Rock, the Fox and the Upper Mississippi where it forms the boundary with Iowa. Other Illinois anglers, by the thousands, spend their vacations fishing for walleyes in the cool lakes and streams of our neighboring states to the north and in Canada. Unfortunately, Cook County has no swift rivers nor cool, clear lakes. The north end of Lake Michigan has good walleye fishing but this south part of the lake has none.

The walleye is not only a superb game fish but it is also one of our choicest food fishes. The flesh is white, firm and fine-flavored -- whether baked, broiled or fried. Commercial fishermen using nets catch and ship them by the millions of pounds from the waters of the Lake States and Canada. Over three million pounds of them are sold annually on the Chicago wholesale market and more than a half million pounds of a smaller species of walleye called the Sauger.

Other common names for the walleye -- such as wall-eyed pike, pike- perch, yellow pike and jack salmon -- are misleading because this fish is neither a pike nor a salmon. The name walleye refers to its large glassy eyes which, like cat's eyes, allow it to feed in dim light at night. The jaws and roof of the mouth are armed with numerous needle-like teeth. Like other members of the perch family, the yellow perch and the little darters, it has two separate fins on the back -- the one in front supported by sharp, bony spines and the other by soft flexible rods.

Soon after the ice melts in spring the spawning fish come into shallow water at night. There the female scatters her eggs at random, perhaps 100,000 of them, over rocky reefs, sandbars or gravel bottom, then leaves them unattended. In about two weeks the tiny young hatch and, after the yolk sac is absorbed, begin to feed on microscopic animal life. As they grow they shift to a diet of water fleas, insects, crayfish and minnows. The adults eat large quantities of fish.

Most of the catches, both hook-and-line and commercial, range from one to five pounds in weight when they are 14 to 24 inches long and 3 to 7 years old. Twelve to fifteen years is extreme old age. The world's record walleye weighing 22 lb. 4 oz. was taken on rod and reel from Lake Erie at Fort Erie, Ontario in 1943.

The Yellow Perch is the darling of those disciples of Izaak Walton that relax on Chicago's lake front and breakwaters from the warm days of spring until the frosts of autumn. They fish with poles and lines, hand lines, or little trolleys which carry their hooks into deeper water. The preferred baits are small minnows, crayfish tails and worms, in that order. Fishing is best in early morning and late afternoon when the perch come near shore to feed.

The yellow perch is also called Ringed Perch because of the seven dusky bars that cross the yellow or brassy green sides. In early spring the females lay eggs in long, flat, ribbon-like masses on sandbars and submerged vegetation. Their life history and growth follow about the same pattern as the walleye. Seven years is a ripe old age when they are about 13 inches long and weigh a pound.

The Fox Chain O'Lakes, just north of Cook County, offers good perch fishing but they are scarce in other Illinois waters. Like the walleye, the yellow perch reaches its greatest abundance in the lakes of our northern states and Canada where they support a large-scale commercial fishery. Over a half million pounds of these, weighing 1/4 to 3/4 pound each, are shipped into the Chicago markets. Few dishes can compare with a mess of perch fried to a golden brown.

Allah does not deduct from man's allotted time those hours spent in fishing.

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