Bill Wesolowski’s cremated remains are in an oak box appropriate for a man nicknamed “Catfish Bill.”
Etched with a fish, the container is engraved with the Fisherman’s Prayer:
“God, grant that I may live to fish
Until my dying day.
And when it comes to my last cast,
I then most humbly pray
When in the Lord’s safe landing net
I am peacefully asleep
That in his mercy I be judged
Big enough to keep.”
Mr. Wesolowski’s idea of heaven was sitting on a boat on the Kankakee or Rock rivers, catching catfish. He liked the fight in the whiskered wonders.
His Midlothian tavern and restaurant, The Edge, was the longtime home to the radio show “Let’s Talk Fishing,” featuring the late Daily Southtown columnist John “Duke” O’Malley. Mr. Wesolowski, 64, who collapsed May 28 at his home in downstate Rock Falls, used to donate the money from tavern raffles of minnow buckets and tackle to O’Malley’s junior fishing derbies.
“If it wasn’t for Catfish Bill, Duke O’Malley would never have been able to do what he did: He took over 100,000 kids fishing over 20 years,” said Bob Hicks, a friend of Mr. Wesolowski.
The Edge tavern, at 4810 W. 148th St., was a dark and cool strip-mall hideaway. Before Mr. Wesolowski re-christened it The Edge, it was under different ownership as Corsi’s. Playboys of the southwest suburbs used to say, “Meet your divorcees at Corsi’s.”
“Everybody knew everybody, and if you didn’t know everybody, by the time you left, you did,” said Hicks, who helped host the radio show for a time. The Edge smelled of cigars, cigarettes and alcohol, and the chili and pan-European sausage Mr. Wesolowski made by hand: Polish; smoked Polish; Italian; bratwurst; liver sausage; German summer sausage, and Swedish potato sausage.
He crafted a smoker out of an old metal catering case, using it to make delectable smoked catfish and coho salmon.
Mr. Wesolowski also produced deep-fried feasts out of the tasty 4-pound channel catfish he liked to catch. He dusted them with flour, breadcrumbs and his own spice blend. They can taste muddy without proper cleaning, but his were sweet.
“I only liked his fish, because he knew how to clean them,” said his wife, Carolann.
He also enjoyed catching and releasing the elusive flathead catfish, which can grow to more than 100 pounds. It’s sometimes called “the fish of 1,000 hours” for the effort it takes to land one, Hicks said.
Catfish chasers are known for concocting smelly bait out of ingredients like putrified chicken livers. Mr. Wesolowski’s favorite was shell-on shrimp his wife bought by the 60-count package.
When he showed up on a river, his wife said, other anglers jokingly groaned, “ ‘Oh, no, you’re going to take all the fish out of here.’ ”
He wrote articles and appeared in videos for Midwest Outdoors magazine.
“He was a real good writer,” said Ray Hays, owner of Bunny’s Bait Shop in Dixon, which displays pictures of Catfish Bill. And he didn’t get territorial about his favorite spots on the river, said Denny Halgren, a Rock River flathead catfish guide, who has heard “That’s my spot” from other anglers more times than he’d like.
After an 18-year run, the Wesolowskis closed The Edge and moved eight years ago to Rock Falls, near Dixon, so he could be close to his favorite fishing spots. He wasn’t able to fish during the last four years because health problems including congestive heart failure and three hip replacement surgeries. But “he still enjoyed hearing about everybody else going fishing and what they caught,” his wife said.
He switched from fishing to backyard gardening, tooling around in his wheelchair to tend to his tomatoes, green peppers, beets and squash. Catfish found a way into his new hobby: He ground them up and used the result as a potent fertilizer.
Before opening The Edge, Mr. Wesolowski was an auto detailer and painter for about 25 years. He also played guitar and toured with Johnny Spence, a top Elvis impersonator who played Las Vegas in his heyday. Mr. Wesolowski performed under a less ethnic name: Billy J. Weston. Once, “They were at Conway Twitty’s house down in his recording studio, just met up with him and I believe they recorded a record,” his wife said. He was a graduate of Tinley Park High School.
He enjoyed watching hunting and fishing shows on TV, especially anything about Alaska.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Wesolowski is survived by his daughters, Sheri Liberatore and Kelly Varma; his son, William Wesolowski Jr.; his stepchildren, Susan and Chris Tucker; two sisters and four brothers; and nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Services were held.