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One man’s list of Chicago’s best fishing spots

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Updated: March 20, 2012 8:19AM



As Illinois’ fisheries chief, Debbie Bruce, outlined top spots in Illinois for various species, I realized I define favorite fishing spots by place more than species. I doodled a list of favorites while Bruce talked at the Tinley Park Fishing and Outdoor Show last weekend.

Montrose Harbor south rocks: It was the south rocks before recent revetment civilized the south side of Montrose Harbor. When I came to Chicago after college, I learned to fish the lakefront by reading the late John Spehn’s reports about Montrose in the Sun-Times. It’s one of my two favorite views of Chicago. I’ve caught yellow perch, rock bass, coho and chinook there.

Illinois River at Starved Rock: Part is personal — I married my wife, Karyn, on Starved Rock. But it’s also because of an unholy alliance with the late guide and rabble-rouser Dominic ‘‘Big Knobs’’ Culjan, who popularized that stretch of the Illinois River. With ‘‘Big Knobs,’’ I caught catfish at night, shot ducks at dawn and fished sauger and white bass many times. And there’s something wonderful about being able to type ‘‘Big Knobs’’ in the Sun-Times while the late legend John Husar groused because the PC editors at the big, floppy newspaper deleted it.

‘‘The Waterfall’’: The confluence of the North Shore Channel and where the North Branch of the Chicago River spills over a dam is one of the most scenic spots in Chicago outdoors, also one of the top fishing spots. It holds a place in my heart because I earned my second front page in the Sun-Times when Ken ‘‘The Lakefront Lip’’ Schneider and I caught a bag of largemouth bass and mixed panfish there.

Kankakee River State Park: It’s where I disappear. I have favorite spots, but that’s not the point. There are times when I simply wade in, then try to learn a new area with my feet and by fan-casting. It’s here I achieve communion with my favorite fish, smallmouth bass. I will not live long enough to wade the 10 miles of the park.

Barren Creek: The Ohio River feeder in far southern Illinois is not only a step back to wilderness but a step back in centuries. It’s where former fisheries chief Mike Conlin once said he could believe ivory-billed woodpeckers lived. Our second boy caught his first fish off the Barren Creek Cottages docks.

Northerly Island: My other favorite view of Chicago. And what a fishing spot: salmon to rock bass to smallmouth to perch. But mainly I love it because this is one time the little guy won out over the elitists who used to fly out of the former small airport.

Rend Lake tailwaters: As many times as I fished Rend Lake, it wasn’t until 2004 that I disappeared below the dam with guide Todd Gessner. That’s when I truly learned to love Rend Lake. It felt like being in Canada or the Boundary Waters.

Lake Shelbyville coves: One of my most memorable evenings of fishing came walking the shorelines of a cove before camping by myself. I stopped fishing before I landed 100 fish in a couple of hours . . . while a whip-poor-will called.

Chain O’Lakes Spring Lake: It’s here that I cemented one of my greatest friendship to come out of doing the outdoors for the Sun-Times. Art Frisell, longtime counterman and reel fixer for Triangle Sports and Marine, forced me to learn how to truly work a frog across slop for largemouth. And we learned to bare our souls and talk life.

That’s what matters.



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