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Capt. Bob White, early lakefront charter captain and prolific fisherman, dies at 78

Capt. Bob White booth which he shared with Capt. Dave Fors recent outdoors show. | Dale Bowman photo

Capt. Bob White at a booth, which he shared with Capt. Dave Fors, at a recent outdoors show. | Dale Bowman photo

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Updated: April 18, 2013 7:19AM

Capt. Bob White planned to go fishing Saturday morning, like usual, in the western suburbs. But one of the early charter captains on the Chicago lakefront died unexpectedly late Friday night at home in Montgomery.

Mr. White, 78, grew up in Detroit and maintained life-long affinities to Motor City sports teams. Stephanie, his wife of 54 years, said they collected baseball stadiums on their travels, trying to see Tigers games at away stadiums.

“Our 50th wedding anniversary was the Detroit Tigers at Kansas City,’’ she said. “He took me out to a nice dinner the next night.’’

But his favorite sports were the outdoors: hunting and fishing. Stephanie said their back porch was stuffed with salmon, rainbow trout, lake trout, brown trout, crappie, bluegill, “just about everything.’’ And deer antlers. She put her foot down and would not have deer heads. He just had an arctic grayling mounted.

Mr. White served in the Navy in the Far East, then was an air traffic controller for nearly 20 years. He became a charter captain in 1980 and retired 27 years later from his Kingfisherman charter at Diversey Harbor.

“He had a memory like a safe,’’ Capt. Dave Fors said. “He remembered every spot he ever fished. He remembered everything.”

Fors, who runs Full Circle Charters also out of Diversey, was Mr. White’s closest friend in the outdoors. They had just fished together a couple days earlier. They were familiar faces at winter outdoors shows, selling a fishing-knot device.

“He taught me almost everything about the business and he taught me how to catch more fish,’’ said Mike Okoniewski, a former fellow captain at Diversey. “I remember fixing his boat every time he broke it, because you did not want him handling a screw driver or he would screw it up.’’

Mr. White was a crusty character suited to the waterfront.

“Bob was one of kind,’’ Fors said. “Some people he rubbed the wrong way, probably everybody at one time or another. But he was a helluva guy. Everybody had their day with him, But it always blew over.’’

“He would get over it,’’ Stephanie said. “He wasn’t one to carry a grudge. He would get into it with someone, then turn around and help them out.’’

“Although Bob was gruff at times, he was always willing to give tips and advice about where and how to catch fish on Lake Michigan [to both experienced and inexperienced fishermen],’’ emailed Capt. Randy Schmidt, president of the Chicago Sportfishing Association. “He also loved fishing — whether from the Kingfisherman on Lake Michigan, from his ‘fold-a-boat’ in Alaska, or in the pond by his home (which I am told he did every day including [Friday]).’’

Stephanie said crappie had become one of his major targets recently and he had just bought a fishing kayak he planned to use soon.

“Bob was a frequent speaker at [Trollers Unlimited] meetings and showed slides and video of him on his 14-foot collapsible boat, that [was] tied to the back of his camper, fishing in Alaska, British Columbia and Nova Scotia, trolling with a tiller and two dipsey rods,’’ TU president Scott Wolfe emailed club members.

That small boat struck a lot of memories.

“His love for fishing was enormous, he fished the Bering Sea in a foldable boat once,’’ Okoniewski said. “He was always trading charters with other captains he met at shows just to fish other lakes.’’

The outdoors was everything to Mr. White. Last year, he and his wife did a six-month motor-home trip with two months in Alaska. He would see a spot and decide to fish, so she would pull out a book to read.

They planned to leave for a trip for Louisiana in a few weeks. Their summer trip was going to be to Maine with a stop to add a Tigers game at Yankee Stadium.

His wife said there are indefinite plans for a gathering for friends, likely later this week.

He is survived by his wife; three daughters — Caroline Calvin (Rick), Mary Maher and Catie Harrison (Jeff); a son, Mark White (Denise); five grandchildren and two great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by daughter Johanna White.

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