Heidecke, smelting & coho fishing: Snapshots from Chicago fishing

SHARE Heidecke, smelting & coho fishing: Snapshots from Chicago fishing
SHARE Heidecke, smelting & coho fishing: Snapshots from Chicago fishing

Three snapshots come pulled from Wednesday of spring fishing around Chicago.

This is the expanded online version of my Sunday column on the Sun-Times outdoors page.

MORRIS, Ill.–Sandhill cranes krooed and red-winged blackbirds trilled in the wetlands below Heidecke Lake. On the lake, which reopened to fishing Wednesday, rafts of ducks whistled and wheeled. Canada geese honked and walked the center dike.

That was usual. But Ralph Kintzele did something unusual on the east side. He fly fished with an old 8 1/2-foot Ugly Stik fly rod (“I need a longer one”) with No. 8 forward tapered line (“I probably should have gone to 10.”)

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“When I was a kid, it was something I did quite a bit,” he said. “It is something I haven’t done in many years.”

He hoped to catch anything with his streamer fly, but especially a hybrid striped bass.

“I hate to think what would happen if I hooked into one of those,” said Kintzele, manager of the pond department at Alsip Nursery. “It is just good to have it back in my hands.”

It was good to fish Heidecke again as the sun rose on a stunningly beautiful spring day, even on a opening day with a tough bite with water temperatures in the low 40s.

“Hopefully, we will see more people doing it [fly fishing],’’ Kintzele said.

That’s an interesting thought.

CHICAGO LAKEFRONT, 39th STREET: A kayaker bobbed in whitecaps. On shore, couples cuddled, parents ran kids, families sprawled, bikers biked and joggers jogged; and five fishermen beside myself cast for coho on a truely beautiful spring evening.

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Four guys south of me had caught two already (“Mornings are better.”). To the north, Stanley McClure caught an eater-sized coho on a classic green and silver Little Cleo spoon he was casting from his motorized chair.

“I couldn’t wait to get out today,” he said.

It came from a special blessing. McClure, 67, was clean and back into fishing.

“Tell anybody who loves fishing, don’t get high,” he said, catching me by surprise.

As we talked we realized we had a mutual friend, South Side fisherman and fishing ambassador, Ray Hinton.

McClure had a different perspective, from his chair, of reaching the lakefront. He brought CTA . Once on the redone revetment, he could easily get down to the water’s edge. Life is on the water’s edge.

“Write this: we need a concrete path from the stop to [the revetment],” he said. “Mr. Mayor, I don’t care which one it is, we need a concrete path.”

The problem was the soft ground between the sidewalk and the revetment.

To our backs, the sun painted a final stroke on the day.

MONTROSE HARBOR: Vehicles entering the park dodged lighted bikers and unlighted runners crossing Montrose on the lakefront path. Lights blazed on a soccer game. People rambled into the gentle warm spring night or ambled arm and arm.

Fires in perforated trash barrels dotted the harbor. The tradition of netting smelt lives.

Jef Walczak had 20 or so family and friends for his annual gathering on the south side of the harbor.

He grilled brats, hot Italian sausage and cheese brats. Smoke and sparks, from the fire all stirred for the sheer joy of sparking, blew over us. His cousin John Bickel had brought a huge stack of split oak.

“I have been doing this since I was 4,” said Walczak, 34, a restoration plasterer from Evergreen Park.

As a kid, his father took him to Burnham Harbor, where a boom net Walczak still has was used from the north wall. Walczak now uses the nylon mesh “Filipino” net.

“Back then, Connie’s and Falco’s would bring pizza out,” he said.

His words hung there as music from an open car door, the chatter of kids, wood smoke, flying sparks and grilled meats swirled back to memories.

“Just keeping the tradition alive, fish or no fish,” he said. “I hope my girls do the same.”

He and his wife Andrea have five girls: Kendra, 9, Aubrey, 8, Izabella, 4, and 3-year-old twins Ireland and Brooklyn. With joy, they ran in the night.

The first pull of the nets came in empty as the twins, “Double Trouble,’’ looked on expectantly (photo at the top).

The joy of Chicago’s smelting tradition lives on.


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