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updated: 6/12/2013 4:33 PM

Happily, the big lake's demise has been greatly exaggerated

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On a calm day, I would feel very safe in my new 17-foot fishing boat working the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

And a 17-footer is the minimum length I would use for the big lake.

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Lately, that notion is getting more and more tempting.

So here's the real story, the secret no one wants to talk about.

Lake Michigan is a vastly improved fishery compared to what the skeptics predicted it would become about 10 years ago.

I recall a DNR biologist practically sounding the death knell of this amazing body of water. He told writers, anglers and anyone within earshot that perch fishing will be a mere memory because there just wasn't enough food around to sustain that species. He based his claims on scientific research while refusing to listen to anglers who were on the big lake seven days a week.

I'm not claiming the perch fishing is anything like it was 15 years back, but it certainly continues to open the eyes of skeptics.

No one wants to talk about the smallmouth along the rocks at 95th St. You won't hear anyone raving about the schools of smallies gorging themselves on round gobies in back of the old South Shore Country Club. Nor will anyone tell you about the smallmouth congregating around the 77th St. breakwalls.

The same kind of action is going on just inside Indiana, specifically East Chicago, Hammond and Gary -- where those infamous shoreline boulder fields are magnets for crawfish and smallmouth bass.

The South Siders know what I'm talking about. They can pick and choose between brown trout, coho salmon, a steelhead now and then, and smallmouth bass.

Alas, at the north end of the beach, Uncle Sam keeps chasing us away from the rocks outside the Great Lakes Naval Training Center before we can harvest some of the gold that awaits a lure or two -- smallmouth bass gold, that is. It's all about the bureaucratic hyperbole coming from Homeland Security (and now I'm watching my telephone and waiting for my doorbell to ring with an official visit).

The Waukegan smallie bite is even more difficult. The smallies travel from the inside of the Northpoint Marina to the outside rocks on a daily basis. But in this case, we are at odds with DNR police, who shoo away all anglers from the harbor.

You can have all the walleyes you want. Just give me smallmouth bass action, especially on Lake Michigan.

Walleyes, you ask? Sure, especially on the south end and Wolf Lake.

Some years ago a handful of well-intentioned walleye fishermen decided the Illinois DNR was never going to plant walleyes in the big lake, so they took it upon themselves, without any fanfare, to do the deed themselves.

The result has been OK -- not great, mind you, but OK, with a few 8-pound fish caught on the south end. But the smaller catches seem to continue with a slower pace.

Please don't get me wrong. I have a high regard for many of the DNR's biologists. The first time I visited the Jake Wolf fish hatchery I was blown away by the work the folks were doing there on walleyes and bass.

Much of the results of that groundbreaking work can be seen in lakes like Shelbyville, the Fox Chain and a few other hot spots -- but not, unfortunately, in Lake Michigan. There still seems to be a mindset that Lake Michigan must remain a salmonoid fishery, with all those alewives waiting to be gobbled up.

The bigger question is when, if ever, will the bureaucrats in state tourism realize that the state can make a bundle promoting Lake Michigan as a destination for world-class angling?

•Contact Mike Jackson at angler88@comcast.net, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and live-streamed at www.mikejacksonoutdoors.com.

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