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Chicago River: Lunch, catfish, camaraderie & stories

Fishermen provide some of the ambiance along Chicago's Riverwalk on a beautiful fall day on Nov. 5.Credit: Dale Bowman

Jeff Williams drew a crowd when he caught an eater-sized channel catfish Thursday from the Chicago River under the State Street Bridge.

Jeff Williams caught a nice channel catfish with a jig and minnow along the Chicago Riverwalk and immediately drew a crowd.

Credit: Dale Bowman

“People hook into something, people gather around and whip out their phones,” said David Jakubiak, who netted it.

By now, people should know there are fish to catch in the Chicago River, but there’s still a fuss when someone hauls one in along the Riverwalk on the south bank of the main stem downtown.

I think fishermen add ambiance to the Riverwalk.

Jakubiak, media relations manager for the Environmental Law & Policy Center (once the Sun-Times hip-hop writer), and Ryan Williams, development officer for ELPC, started fishing lunches over the summer. They’ve caught channel catfish, carp, rock bass, white bass, bluegill, bullheads (yellow and brown) and gobies.

“Mostly this is about getting out, talking to people to and showing folks that there’s life in that water,” Jakubiak said.

They had a flurry of social media interest with a 15-pound carp caught on July 2 and with their technique of using McDonald’s french fries.

The fries came on advice from veteran fishermen. The technique is basic: weight with eight inches of leader below and a No. 6 hook with the fry hooked like a worm.

Rachel Granneman caught her channel catfish from the Chicago River on a McDonald’s french fry.

Credit: Dale Bowman

The technique works. As I met them and other ELPC workers, attorney Rachel Granneman (left) was landing a channel catfish, caught on a fry.

There’s something about the home cooking of Oak-Brook based McDonald’s because Jakubiak said they tried frites from a Riverwalk establishment without success.

The channel catfish are no accident. On June 10, 2014, 20,000 one-year-olds were stocked in Chicago Area Waterway System, half of them across from Wolf Point, in a cooperative effort of Friends of the Chicago River and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

I have reservations about stocking them instead of other natives. Channel catfish are more likely to turn up “hot” (contaminated) in annual studies by the Department of Health than species that feed higher in the water column.

That aside, they are easily caught.

Jeff Williams was using a traditional jig and minnow because he was trying for crappie, too.

For an experienced fishermen, he awkwardly held his catfish for photos. He explained that he had been shot in the left shoulder a few weeks earlier.

What killed me was the nonchalant shrug with which he explained, “Wrong place, wrong time. Doc told me I shouldn’t fish until it healed more. But fishing is my passion.”

DEER: The rut is here. Through Sunday, bowhunters harvested 31,205, slightly ahead of the 31.043 last year. Notably, in the seven days through Sunday, 59 percent of harvest was antlered bucks.

OPEN RANGE: From 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday is the annual Open Range Day hosted by the Illinois State Police and the Department of Natural Resources. For District 5 in Joliet, contact Keith Malek at (815) 726-6377.

STRAY CAST: Zach Miller’s catch reminded me of sturgeon found occasionally at Chicago water intakes.