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A fish is more than a fish: Larry Green & Kankakee smallmouth

Fishing the Kankakee River is more about life than the fish for Larry Green, here with an early smallmouth bass on Monday.
Credit: Dale Bowman

KANKAKEE — Larry Green and I climbed through tangled branches and roots of a tree ripped out in the flooding last year. We came out the other side in a small opening along the Kankakee River.

“I swear this kept me alive,” Green said.

While he waited on a kidney transplant several years ago, after Green’s regular dialysis, Charlie Mack would bring him to the Kankakee to fish. That’s a true friend.

“So many people are afraid to go out and do things [while on dialysis],” Green said. “I’m sorry, but that doesn’t fly. You have to think about priorities. What makes you feel good? It’s not about economics. I know it is a cliche, but the clock is ticking.”

The clock is ticking toward spring (at least in the air if not yet the water) in fishing.

Around noon, I met Mack, facilities manager for Park West Theater, and Green at a community hole–the area around Soldier Creek in Kankakee.

Charlie Mack set the tone Monday, catching the first fish, a fat northern pike, on an outing on the Kankakee River.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman
Charlie Mack set the tone Monday, catching the first fish, a fat northern pike, on an outing on the Kankakee River.
Credit: Dale Bowman

Mack set the tone when he hooked a thick northern pike.

Both of them were using a basic live-bait presentation: a golden roach on a hook below a small split shot under a Thill float.

“Some people think if you use live bait, that you’re cheating,” Green said. “No. Sometimes that is the only thing you are going to catch a fish on. It is a matter of catching fish. That is my theory. I know guys who would never fish bait. Good for you.”

Green caught another fat pike, but we could not raise any smallmouth bass.

So we moved to what Green calls a touring spot, the semi-secret spot.

Green is one of the most eclectic Chicago fishermen. From Indiana, he came to the Art Institute, where he graduated in 1975. He continues with art and photography, which heightened during his dialysis days. In 2007, he published “Water Tanks of Chicago: A Vanishing Urban Legacy.”

He belongs to a tiny subset of African-Americans who seriously fish for muskie. A few years ago, he founded the most eclectic fishing group in Chicago, The Humboldt Park Fishing Society, now with 475 members.

“The Humboldt Park fishing Society isn’t about Humboldt Park, it is about fishing,” Green said.

As befits spring, at the semi-secret spot we fished shoreline eddies. In the summer, they spread out, wading far out, upstream and downstream, casting Rapalas and lipless crankbaits, especially the XCalibur Xr50.

“It is nice out here by yourself, it is peaceful,” Green said.

Precisely why the Kankakee is my getaway. The only unnatural sounds were occasional rumbles from trucks on a nearby road.

Green and I split downstream, Mack went upstream.

“My routine is to go from spot to spot, then sometimes it is the second or third time before they bite,’’ Green said.

I caught the first smallmouth, bouncing a small chartreuse jig and crawler piece.

Then Mack texted us with two catches, including an 18-incher he caught a foot off shore and had to finesse out of tree roots.

Green pulled out a quality smallmouth.

“They are starting to move,” he said.

Green and I converged again with Mack. Cellphones came out and fish photos were compared.

It was time.

“Hope the rain doesn’t mess this up,” Green said.

STRAY CAST: Hiring Lovie Smith as Illini football coach is like catching the bull shark that made it to Alton in 1937.