The fish are biting and people are hooked. Welcome to the 2022 Lake County boating season.
“Memorial Day has always been the unusual start of summer, especially in northern Illinois,” said Rob Bowman of Lake Villa, Fox Waterway Agency’s (FWA) Field Superintendent of Operations.
“Barbecue and boating,” said FWA executive director Joseph S. Keller. “Everyone is preparing for this.”
But as gas prices rise, seasonal use will impact the 7,100-acre waterway. Boaters can limit excursions, staying in scenic spots, or docking in slips for a marina picnic.
“Our average boater is like everyone else, he’s money conscious,” said Keller, a 1992 graduate of Carmel Catholic High School who grew up in Waukegan, lived on the lakefront in Antioch and owns property in Lake Villa.
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted people to rediscover local waterways and “appreciate the gems in our own backyard, and this is one of them,” Keller said. “There is no place like it.”
Boat sales are going well. A boat show in February that Keller knew about was scrapped “not because of COVID, but because they had no boats to sell.”
However, he said: “User permits have been selling like hotcakes since the weather changed. In the last few years we have sold around 23,000 stickers. We hope to do the same this year.
“People get the itch to want to be on the waterway, and they flock to our office,” Keller said. “Last year we just had an amazing summer which continued into the really special autumn.”
The Chain O’Lakes scheme benefits from grant money for FWA improvements, Keller said.
Coastal rock walls to protect against erosion encourage “restoration of natural areas as habitat for flora and fauna,” he said.
Fish habitat species include perch, catfish, pike, musky and walleye.
Keller hopes to “bring Adler back. So this is an exciting thing. We believe very strongly in protecting our precious resources and truly passing them on to future generations.”
Decades ago, pollution and “not the greatest zoning” would have harmed the waterway, he said. Routine dredging is necessary to preserve the lake bed sediment.
“If you neglect your child for years, you will see the effects later,” Keller said. “And that system has been neglected for many years. These are mistakes we have learned from and are trying to fix.”
At Bauske Boat Basin in Fox Lake, Brock Bauske of Island Lake and his brother Brice of Ingleside, both owners and operators, report that all 100 of their boat slides have sold out.
“I wish I had more,” said Brice Bauske. “It’s very rare to have this demand for notes. And it is also becoming increasingly difficult for boats to find spare parts. That’s another problem. Now when I order one part, I order two because you don’t know if you’ll get another one. It will be obsolete.
“It’s weird,” added Brice Bauske. “Before you didn’t care because you could get it. Now you can’t believe it.”
Bauske Boat Basin sells used boats by word of mouth or by posting signs, but had no stock Tuesday.
“As soon as we get a used boat, it’s gone within a few days,” says Brock Bauske.
Nearly 80% of the boat slips at Waukegan Harbor & Marina on Lake Michigan are full, which is “a good percentage” by June, said Lake Villa’s Max Pekcan, who will be spending his first summer in Waukegan as the marina’s general manager.
“This will be my first all-on experience,” he said.
For Memorial Day weekend staffing, he said, “We’re going to have all hands on deck.”
The marina features new lighting, hanging baskets and a shady boardwalk where annuals and colorful impatiens surround arbor bases.
“It’s a beautiful place to spend time,” Pekcan said. “We’re trying to make this place more magical than it is.”
Amador Vazquez of Waukegan is the marina’s Master Gardener.
“What’s better than planting flowers?” said Vázquez. “We’re going a little bit beyond what they had before.”
WindyCitySalmon Fishing Charters Libertyville boat Captain Rick Bentley, a formerly of Waukegan and a 1989 graduate of Libertyville High School, welcomed two regular customers (of a decade) on Tuesday on his charter boat Independence.
In the afternoon, the trio returned with a catch of coho salmon and a king salmon, and filled two large plastic bags to later share for the freezer.
“They took a good bite and we limited ourselves,” said Mike Loyd of Downstate Monticello, who fished on Bentley’s boat with Mike Lonergan of Downstate Jacksonville.
“One of these fillets will feed two people,” Lonergan said, noting the wild-caught ruby quality.
Bentley expects charter bookings to be stable despite a “rather aggressive” rate increase at the end of last season.
“I didn’t think gasoline would be so expensive right now and we’re probably looking at further increases this season before hopefully hitting the benchmark,” Bentley said. “I suspect the higher prices across the industry will deter some of our customer base as they personally tighten things up and inflation affects their purchasing decisions.”
Robert Allan Kutzler, Director of Marketing and Special Events for Waukegan Harbor & Marina, promotes the marina’s seasonal calendar. Numerous events are public and free for the community.
“It’s so important to use social media today,” Kutzler said, adding that social platforms have helped “connect and engage with potential customers.
“Boating is fun,” he says. “And who doesn’t like to have fun?”