Paul Wells, top Midwest carp angler, dies at 55
BY MAUREEN O’DONNELL Staff Reporter October 1, 2013 1:12AM
Paul Wells, one of the Midwest's best-known carp fishermen, died at 55 on Sept. 21. | Provided photo
Updated: November 2, 2013 6:26AM
Paul Wells was a carp-bait mixologist.
Breadcrumbs, bird seed, molasses and a touch of cayenne pepper were just some of the ingredients he combined in his blender to lure the carp, a once-denigrated fish that has become the center of a huge angling industry.
Mr. Wells adjusted his bait recipes depending on the time of year, the temperature and whether the water was tannic or clear, or fast-moving or calm.
It worked. Mr. Wells had a roomful of 200 fishing trophies, medals and plaques.
“Some people can just see through the water and know where the fish are,” said Paul Pezalla, owner of Wacker Bait & Tackle in Broadview. “He had that.”
Mr. Wells was one of the most respected carp anglers in the Midwest, and he helped popularize the sport in the U.S., which is catching up to Europe and the rest of the world in its fascination with the fish, said Wayne Boon, a director of the Texas-based American Carp Society.
Even on the coldest days of winter, Mr. Wells was able to pull fish out of the water. His reputation as a gifted fisherman was so strong, others copied him, Pezalla said. “Whenever Paul would get [equipment] from me,” he said, “immediately, a big crowd of other people would come in to buy the same thing.”
He wasn’t just respected. He was also well-liked. When he took a wrong turn and was late for a fishing tournament, other “carpers” delayed the start by two hours so Mr. Wells could compete, said his brother, James Wells.
He won the tournament.
Mr. Wells, 55, who had a kidney transplant 18 years ago, died Sept. 21 of kidney failure at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, according to relatives.
The Old Irving Park resident was an early adaptor of carp-fishing in the U.S. Carp are probably the No. 1 freshwater sports fish in the world, Pezalla said. They are catching on in America because pricey equipment and boats aren’t necessary. Most carp-fishing is done from the shore or riverbanks.
And the carp has a reputation for being a smart, strong fighter that takes two hands to reel in.
“Many folks consider catching a 10-pound bass to be a fish of a lifetime,” said Boon, but “a 20-pound, 30-pound and bigger carp can be caught by an angler with a little experience and know-how.”
The record catch from the Chicago River is about 40 pounds, Pezalla said.
Though the carp — a relative of the koi and goldfish — is edible, most anglers catch and release.
Mr. Wells whipped up varied concoctions to guarantee bites, even in murky water.
“He knew they may not be able to see the bait, so you want them to smell it,” said Tracy Jourdan, a staffer at Wacker Bait & Tackle.
Mr. Wells grew up in Englewood and attended DuSable High School, said his father, Wilbert Wells, who took him fishing for catfish at the McHenry Dam when he was a little boy.
He met his wife, Nanette, in the late 1970s, when they both worked at Stouffer’s Restaurant downtown. She was a cashier. He bussed tables. He also had mastered the trick of whipping off a tablecloth off without disturbing the plates and silverware. He asked her out to see George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. They wed in 1981.
“He knew these waters from Montrose Harbor to Jackson Harbor to Ping Tom Park,” his wife said. He also fished for carp in Indianapolis, Michigan, the Carolinas and Texas.
“They are the monsters, and he loved the challenge,” she said. “He loved the fight.”
Though kidney issues caused problems for Mr. Wells, his fishing community helped keep him going, his wife said.
“They talk philosophy,” she said. “They sat on the banks and talk about what it takes to lead a good life.”
Once, he saw a little boy who was learning to fish “and he gave him a rod,” said his daughter, Tatiana.
He had two favorite poles, which he nicknamed Luke and Puke, his daughter said. Puke was purple, pink and black.
A science fiction fan, he loved anything “Star Trek” — especially episodes with Capt. Jean-Luc Picard.
Several years ago, when fire broke out in his apartment building, he gathered up family photos while directing Tatiana and another daughter, Marilyn, to escape and alert the neighbors, his wife said. “He told one to take the left side and one to take the right, and ‘You knock on everybody’s door. . . . You help get them out. Tell everybody get out.’ ”
Mr. Wells also is survived by his sisters, Gloria VanHorn, Malicia Nicholson and Sandra Hill; four other brothers, Wilbert Wells, Jr., Joseph Wells, Johnny Wells and Randy VanHorn, and a grandson, Jayden. Services have been held.