Notes From the Dockside: Fishing in the Windy CityThere is a reason that Chicago is called the Windy City. The wind is always blowing there. It is January and The Bass Queen and I are in Chicago to celebrate The Bass Queen’s brother Tim’s birthday.
By: By Mike Yurk, Hudson Star-Observer
There is a reason that Chicago is called the Windy City. The wind is always blowing there. It comes off Lake Michigan and whistles through the streets clogged with cars and trucks and buses and pedestrians scrambling along the sidewalks. It cuts between the glass, steel, marble and cement buildings, whipping flags and posters, scattering paper and trash through this urban land. This wind coming off of Lake Michigan is cold and damp. It makes people huddle in their winter jackets with hoods and collars pulled up.
It is January and The Bass Queen and I are in Chicago to celebrate The Bass Queen’s brother Tim’s birthday. He is turning fifty-eight and any birthday deserves a celebration.
The Bass Queen and Tim’s wife Susan had been conferring on the telephone a lot, the Internet was searched and more calls made. It was all arranged. They would take the train down from Milwaukee and The Bass Queen and I would fly from Minneapolis to Chicago.
We would be staying at a place called the Palmer House. The Palmer House is an institution in downtown Chicago and takes up most of an entire city block. When I walked into the lobby it reminded me of some of the castles of Europe that I have seen. It was that ornate. The service is impeccable as you would only expect from a hotel that has survived and thrived for over a hundred and thirty years to become such a landmark.
I have never been to downtown Chicago before. I have been through its airport often through the years and driven around it on the tollway numerous times but never visited downtown Chicago. Tim has been there several times for business so he is the guide and is leading us to a place called the Navy Pier. Although I had never been to Chicago I have heard of Navy Pier but as we get off the bus I am surprised at how large it is.
The Navy Pier was once a huge docking place for ships of all kinds when Chicago was considered a Great Lakes port city. Today Navy Pier is a huge amusement park and shopping area coupled with a couple of unique museums. On this dark, overcast day with a raw wind roaring off the lake the Ferris wheel rattled in its desolation, waiting for sunnier skies, warmer temperatures and the hoards of kids and tourists that summer would bring.
As we walk over from the bus stop I can see men huddled on buckets sitting on the pier with fishing rods in hand. It is hard to believe that people were fishing in such on such a harsh day in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world.
I have to check this out so I walk over. Broken chunks of ice have washed up against the pier and frozen in a jagged layer of ice that covers the water along the pier. As I look further out into the lake I see that Lake Michigan is still open and its waters look blue with huge waves rolling on the surface topped by frothy white caps.
I watch as one man quickly snaps his spinning rod up and the tip began to bounce as a fish fought against it. A moment later he is pulling a squirming perch through a small hole in the ice, fish twisting in the air as he reels it in to where he sits higher on the pier, grabs the fish, jerks out the hook and drops it in a bucket.
“Just trying to get enough for a meal,” he tells me as I walked up to him.
I look in his bucket and he has about eight to ten perch swimming in it. He drops his line back down through a small battered hole in the ice. Lying on the cement next to him is a mushroom anchor tied to a rope.
He used the anchor to batter a hole through the ice by dropping it on the ice and retrieving it with the rope. It is ingenious. As I walk around, the other fishermen all have some sort of battering ram to break through the ice. One guy just had a bunch of scrap metal tied together.
Most everyone had fish and all the fishermen seem happy regardless of the weather. Most everyone is using a multiple hook rig. Some have two or three small streamer type flies attached to their line while others have two or three hooks baited with minnows. At the end of the line is a bell shaped sinker that drags their rig through the small ice holes to the bottom.
Regularly we see fishermen raise their spinning rods and they would be bent with the tip bobbing as fish is racing off. Although each fisherman is in his own little world there is a commonalty to them and they all seem to know each other. Coffee cups steam in gloved hands and it looks like thermos bottles are part of the mandatory equipment. Occasionally I see a pint bottle protrude from a jacket pocket. Anyone who has ice fished could relate to that.
On this cold, brutally windy day in January traffic surged through the streets and hordes of people scurry along the streets. An urban world of cement, glass, marble and steel surrounded these fishermen. It is a far cry from what many of us would imagine fishing to be. But for these fishermen it didn’t matter. They are catching fish and some of them are going to have a fish fry that night. It is a good day and a good place to be fishing.
Editor’s Note: Notes From The Dockside is an exclusive feature appearing in the Hudson Star-Observer on the first and third issues of each month.