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Fishing adds to lure of Navy Pier

Anthony Capitani (fourth from left standing right his father Dino) w‘‘Perchin’ Pier’’ event Saturday with coaching from lakefront veteran Jimmy

Anthony Capitani (fourth from left, standing to the right of his father, Dino) won the ‘‘Perchin’ at the Pier’’ event Saturday with coaching from lakefront veteran Jimmy Bagdonas (foreground). | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 25, 2013 9:20PM

As Glen Middleton fished Navy Pier on Saturday, he said: ‘‘Tourists came to ask, ‘What are you catching?’ A guy with a briefcase was asking what we were catching.’’

Fishermen are one of the greatest ways to add ambience to the Chicago lakefront, be it at Monroe Harbor across from Buckingham Fountain, at the point off the Shedd Aquarium, by the Adler Planetarium or in front of McCormick Place.

I think it is doubly vital at a water-based anomaly such as Navy Pier. Nobody seems quite certain if Navy Pier is a tourist destination or a piece of city life. My gut says it always will be a juggling act. Fishing merges those two sides.

That’s why the inaugural ‘‘Perchin’ at the Pier’’ on Saturday was so important. Yes, it was a fishing event staged by Navy Pier and Henry’s Sports and Bait. It drew 115 official entries. Some of the old-timers didn’t officially enter; they just did their usual fishing. More important, thousands of joggers, tourists and sightseers observed intently.

Frank Knight of Country Club Hills fishes Navy Pier regularly at a favorite spot (a hole he found) for much of the year.

‘‘Sunday mornings are a triple threat,’’ he said. ‘‘You have the tourists. You have dates coming off watching the sunrise. And the joggers.’’

Navy Pier fills those divergent roles.

On the fishing side, Paul Novak said: ‘‘I am usually here or Montrose. It is nice they opened this end up.’’

He was talking about the east tip of Navy Pier. Quite a few people sat and watched the fishermen. Fishing and Lake Michigan are part of what makes Chicago special.

One of those doing best for perch Saturday was Jared Lord, a transplant from Washington while his wife attends school. In D.C., he said he fished the Potomac River regularly.

‘‘I learned salmon fishing this spring and perch now,’’ said Lord, who learned quickly enough to fish minnows on a crappie rig.

Overall, perch fishing was tough, but a lot of species were caught. I walked the fishing area from the north-south wall connecting to the filtration plant to Navy Pier’s north wall and around the east tip. Besides perch, I saw or heard of rock bass, bluegills, two channel catfish (both around 5 pounds), white perch, smallmouth bass and freshwater drum.

Anthony Capitani of Oak Brook Terrace, who was fishing with his dad, Dino, won (2 pounds, 14 ounces on five perch) by fishing a combination of minnows and soft shells. The 24-year-old was coached by lakefront veteran Jimmy Bagdonas, who said, ‘‘Yesterday, I limited at Montrose.’’

Brandon Legreid, 16, was second (2-8.5). He fished a drop-shot rig with minnows.

Minnows were the theme of the day. Gianna Moyer, 8, caught an 8.5-ounce perch on minnows. Charles Kirian was third with 2-5.

‘‘Jumbo Jimmy’’ Baczek caught the big fish (1-1.5) using his usual soft shells and talked about fomenting political perch action before the 2014 gubernatorial election.

‘‘We live in this city, use this pier,’’ Steve Palmisano said as Henry’s staff announced winners and divvied up prizes.

Fred Rhodes might have had the right idea for another event to enhance Navy Pier’s place in fishing. He was a pioneer in Chicago for European-style carp fishing. He used those techniques for perch fishing. He pulled out a telescopic 6-meter Bolognese rod.

‘‘You fish it like a cane pole,’’ he explained.

History circles back on itself.

Stray cast

Has the Chicago Police Department made the call to the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame for somebody to come from Hayward, Wis., to overestimate the size of the crowd for the Blackhawks’ celebration?

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