The right way and wrong way to find a tasty dinner

This is a great time of year to be fishing. I’ve mentioned eating tasty filets before and that may seem wrong to say for someone who believes strongly in the principle of catch-and-release. I don’t think that is true.

I like to think about catching and eating fish as being “selective harvest.” I think it is fine to catch and eat any fish that you legally catch if you don’t over-harvest. Just keep what you need for a meal or two and let the rest go. I also think that the fish you catch that are the ideal size for spawning and creating the most new fish, should also be released.

Sure, it is much easier to filet a 10-inch bluegill than a 6-incher, but I think the bigger fish should be put back to reproduce. Let the fish with the better genetics help create the next generation of fish.

So what is biting that is tasty right now? The 2024 Illinois spring rainbow trout season opens Saturday at 58 ponds, lakes and streams throughout the state. The daily harvest limit for each angler is five trout. All anglers must have a fishing license and an inland trout stamp, unless they’re exempt.

These trout are delicious. Please don’t take more than you can use. You can find the locations that are stocked with rainbows at

These trout are stocked for the taking. Use light line, very small weights, small floats and tiny hooks. These trout are brought in from hatcheries where they are fed nutritional pellets as their diet.

Berkley makes bait that comes in tiny bottles in a paste form. You just scoop out a dab and roll it into a small ball and put it on your hook. Yellow and orange are the best colors because that is what the feed at the hatcheries looks like. It works.

I’d say that over half of the planted trout are caught the first weekend of the season. After the second weekend, most of the trout have been taken home. What I’m saying is to get out there and fish for these trout as soon as the season begins so you don’t get shut out.

Most fish are putting on the feed bag these days, although this wacky weather has really played havoc with their feeding patterns. Even so, crappies and bluegills are biting, and you won’t find many better tasting fish than these. Don’t get hung up on what you see happening on the fishing shows. Nine-inch crappies and 6-to7-inch gills are nice fish.

In Northern Illinois you’ll rarely see the foot-long crappies or 10-inch bluegills they catch on the television programs filmed in the south.

One of the best tasting fish around is the coho salmon. The record for coho in Illinois is 20 pounds, 9 ounces. That’s not a misprint. That fish was caught back in 1972 when Lake Michigan was overpopulated with baitfish. The salmon gorged on them and grew to monstrous size. For the past 40 years, a 5-pound fish was a rarity. Recently, the 10-pounders are on the rebound.

Coho salmon are stocked in the big pond, so don’t feel guilty about taking some home. There are many charter captains on Lake Michigan who do a great job of putting their clients on fish. I’m a “safety first” guy, so I’d advise anglers to never go out on Lake Michigan on a boat that isn’t built for big water. It’s too dangerous.

In the spring the coho swim close to the shoreline, so an excursion in a small boat is possible, but I still wouldn’t recommend it.

I’ll talk about salmon and trout fishing on Lake Michigan next week. Go get some rainbows for dinner.

• Daily Herald Outdoors columnist Steve Sarley can be reached at

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