Ken Schneider holds one of the perch doubles caught on the main stem of the Chicago River.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

More than perch, more than a boat ride: Winter perch fishing the Chicago River

SHARE More than perch, more than a boat ride: Winter perch fishing the Chicago River
SHARE More than perch, more than a boat ride: Winter perch fishing the Chicago River

TomPalmisano slowed in the middle of the Chicago River downtown and said: ‘‘Marking all kinds of fish. We should give it a try.’’

Smartest words of the day.

Bam. In a half-dozen drifts through the school, which stretched nearly bank to bank for a hundred yards, we finished our limits in less than an hour Wednesday.

It’s hard to explain why the school was there. There’s no defining structure or cover to draw and hold perch. We figured the only reason is that one of the major discharges on the main stem was nearby.

Wednesday was for friends, perch and the Chicago River.

It was the annual boat ride for Palmisano, Ken Schneider and me. As I age, I value friendships and time even more than a good day of fishing. This trip was special because we didn’t get a ride in last year. It was delayed this year by physical rehab for Schneider, which ended Monday.

In midmorning, we launched Palmisano’s Boston whaler — named DON’T EVEN ASK’’ — from the Daley Boat Launch at Western Avenue and the Sanitary and Ship Canal. Paul Yambrovich was the only other person at the launch. On a beautiful December day, he had his canoe one last time. Palmisano, a marine expert, noticed the folding 1969 or 1970 4-horsepower Evinrude Yambrovich used to power the Alumacraft square stern.

Fishing the Chicago River system has a special ambiance.<br>Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Fishing the Chicago River system has a special ambiance.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

As we started toward downtown, Palmisano talked about how much more convenient it was to navigate the river with a couple of boathouses — as well as Lawrence’s, the fish and shrimp house on the South Branch — for human comfort.

The Chicago River evolves quickly in more ways than one.

Downtown, only four guys were shore-fishing from the Riverwalk late in the morning. We decided to poke around Ogden Slip. It took awhile, but Schneider got us going with a perch. The bite there was extremely light, making Palmisano ask, ‘‘Is this what ice fishing is like?’’

Schneider was using a double Mini-Mite jig setup with maggots. But he pointed out it wasn’t the setup as much as his experience and good gear. Palmisano and I caught perch — fewer than Schneider — with a variety of methods (jigs, crappie rigs, jigging spoons, plain hooks) and baits (soft shells, minnows, wax worms). We caught perch on everything.

Paul Yambrovich motors around in a canoe while Ken Schneider perch fishes the Ogden Slip.<br>Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Paul Yambrovich motors around in a canoe while Ken Schneider perch fishes the Ogden Slip.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

In three hours, we pecked out 15 small keepers, enough that we started back.

As we motored, we slowed by the all-glass Odyssey Chicago River near the William P. Fahey Bridge and watched waitstaff gather before dinner to go over specials and the menu. That an upscale cruise is based on the Chicago River is special — almost as special as finding the school of perch a block downstream.

As evening came, more fishermen were gathered on the Riverwalk, including four doing well on the school we worked from the boat.

Finishing on a good fishing note made the ride back come alive.

I noticed lots of construction along the river, a good sign. Even so, I wondered about the construction pushing out the homeless, who for years had a sort of tent city at a former brushy area along the South Branch.

By Ping Tom Memorial Park, I was struck again how organic the park design was with the South Branch.

It was time.

Darkness settled as we loaded DON’T EVEN ASK.

Just in time to sit in rush-hour traffic on the Dan Ryan.

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