Poking south on Michigan Avenue through Taste of Chicago traffic, conversation with Dan Bernstein turned to eating blackened drum at Paul Prudhomme’s in New Orleans.
There was magic in that discussion of drum.
Actually, come to think of it, conversations with Bernstein veer more than turn. They end up in all kinds of places, as they did on our fishing outing on July 10.
It began with him sprinting from the WSCR-AM (670) studios with a pair of fishing rods after the close of The Boers and Bernstein Show he does with former Sun-Timesman Terry Boers. I popped the trunk. Bernstein tucked rods in, then jumped in.
He was on the street quicker than I expected. He and Boers don’t do post-show wrap. That on-air spontaneity may be one reason the pair are the longest running sports talkers in Chicago with their afternoon show (1-6 p.m.).
The thought of a big shooter media personality like Bernstein riding the L to work with a pair of fishing rods just makes me smile, even now. July 10 was chosen because it was the opener of the Sox-Cubs series and Bernstein only had to work to 2:30 p.m.
My plan was to start south, then work north to be closer to drop him off at his North Side home at day’s end. My plan was complicated slightly by the glut of Taste of Chicago traffic.
Even so, we were fishing near the Museum of Science and Industry before 4 p.m.
Bernstein was set up right for this kind of hit-and-run urban fishing. He had a faded blue T-shirt, brown cargo shorts and hiking boots. He also had a small in-pocket tackle box with small crankbaits and spinners.
Fishing started deader than could be. I was about to call it after half an hour when ducklings, followed soon by a hen mallard showed. Then fish moved in. First a lone smallmouth bass, then redhorse suckers and freshwater drum.
But we couldn’t get them to bite or even pay attention to presentations. As I switched to a live-bait drop-shot variation, all of a sudden, I heard Bernstein say, “I got him.’’
He had hooked a good drum.
He had light enough line that I leaned over the wall, got my hand under the fish and flipped it on shore.
“That’s a gaspergou,’’ he said, dropping the name more commonly used in the south.
He caught it on a small crayfish-imitating Rebel crankbait (a classic lure).
“One flick, and he turned and nailed it,’’ Bernstein said.
He had seen a drum at a 45-degree angle, which meant it was feeding. He got the crankbait close enough to catch the drum’s eye.
And the day was made. We had our picture fish. Bernstein is acquainted with media and outdoors media to understand picture fish.
What made it special is both that he appreciated catching a good-sized fish and that it was his first drum. Some snotty fishermen would have treated the drum with disdain. Bernstein gave the good-sized fish its due before releasing it.
We veered off on a discussion on whether there was some learned behavior with the ducks and fish. Were fish learning that ducks were fed from shore, so they followed them to be part of a feeding frenzy?
With a smile, I told Bernstein the sample size was too small to know for sure. Not sure he was amused by me as I was.
Other than the gobies I picked off too regularly, we added nothing more.
Oh, one more thing. Bernstein dropped a “Thoreau-ian juxtaposition’’ on me. That’s a first in 20 years of doing this column. In retrospect, his usage was spot-on in describing the cars whizzing by on Lake Shore Drive 100 yards away while we fished a secluded semi-natural area.
We moved on.
Rather than wait through the traffic jam around the Taste, I jumped off LSD and parked at the small fishermen’s lot on the east side of Burnham Harbor. It gave Bernstein his first taste of Northerly Island.
Bernstein spotted a big pile of really big carp stacked under one dock. We only raised a few rock bass and one yellow perch. And ran into a few faithful readers, who were special in their own right.
Oh, and Bernstein, who is a bit of birder, spotted a Canada goose with neck band, a story I followed up on this week and posted here.
We backtracked through the city trying to avoid Taste traffic and headed north to my favorite spot on the North Shore Channel in the near north suburbs.
On the drive, I asked if he was playing a character on the radio show or was it mainly him.
“It is a Dan and a half,’’ he said. “The airwaves eat energy. If I had to be like that all the time, I would have a heart attack.’’
Once we arrived, the problem was it had changed since the last time I was there and we couldn’t find a way in. But finally, we found a hole in the fence, climbed rock piles and slid down a bank.
Only to find the water surging and high, leaving us only a spit of land to stand on. And mosquitoes tried to carry off Bernstein as the night neared.
But we worked lures through eddies and swirls, same sort of fishing spots whether they are at an urban discharge or below a Canadian waterfall. Bernstein eventually latched into a decent largemouth bass. It was a fairly typical Chicago River largemouth of 14 or 15 inches.
In between, we discussed the resurgence of green herons on the Chicago River and saw a couple. We also spotted one great blue heron flying over and had swim-bys by resident mallards.
It was time.
But we made half a dozen more casts because Bernstein rolled two more bass.
On the way, we handed rods back and forth, pulled each other up the bank, and found another way around and over the rock debris pile.
“I need stuff like this,’’ he said.
We all do.
Here are my takeaways after a week to mull on it.
Bernstein is both skilled in and understanding of public relations. If you are a regular listener, you know that. I got nothing noteworthy or earth-shattering on other media members.
But the part of himself he opened up to me in seven hours of fishing and driving around Chicago is the guy who is on “The Score’’ every afternoon during the week. He really is as smart as he seems. He can’t help himself. “Thoreau-ian juxtaposition’’ is just one example. Hell, I had to look it up (What am I, a Ring Lardner character?) to decide whether he said “Thoreau-ian” or “Thoreau-vian.”
His brain really does fly around on subjects and topics. He was the one who wondered at our first stop if the fish had learned to follow the ducks around for food. I think he is right on that being learned behavior.
As to fishing, he is a fishermen. He understands fishing, understands the equipment, understands techniques and understands whys.
I truly loved that he embraced our final stop. I guessed he would enjoy the wild spot in the middle of an urban area and saved that to be the day-ender. It was the right choice. He truly got into the whole experience, including the difficulty of getting in and the difficulty of fishing the fast high water at our final stop on the North Shore Channel.
That made my day, that’s my kind of fisherman.
And he really he is the family guy he seems on the show. When I dropped him off that night, I stopped in for a quick beer. His interaction with his son showed somebody who spends real time with his family. That’s something I find more important than all the fame or infamy–both in his case–in the world.