Mick Thill’s plaque at the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of fame.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Mick Thill: The Hall of Fame complexity of life, fishing and death

SHARE Mick Thill: The Hall of Fame complexity of life, fishing and death
SHARE Mick Thill: The Hall of Fame complexity of life, fishing and death

Mick Thill was an evangelist, at times a barker or a shill.

Think Joel Osteen with a touch of Tony Robbins. True believers and haters followed.

Thill was one of the great modern fishermen from Chicago, a Hall of Famer. I put him with Al Lindner and Spence Petros as the trinity of Chicago greats.

But even in death, Thill was an enigma. He died Nov. 18 in England. Rumors floated for days afterward.

Dan Ferris, one of the few who kept in contact with Thill regularly over the years, couldn’t confirm it for days. Ferris, the publisher of MidWest Outdoors, had spoken with Thill a few weeks before his death. He confirmed a few details from Thill’s fishing friends in England but no exact cause of death.

Of the greats I’ve met, Thill might have been the hardest to pick up on personally. He grew up on the North Side but sounded British from his time in England.

I knew him well enough to be invited to one of the best fishing-related parties, which Thill held two decades ago in his apartment in Skokie. Fishing people such as Ferris, Arden Katz and the late Carl Fatz were among the attendees. Thill and his friends pulled out cheeses and drinks I never had heard of for the gathering.

Stuffed into the small apartment, Thill had a museum-quality collection of floats and bobbers from around the world. If you wanted to trigger Thill, all you had to do was compare a bobber to a float or suggest they were the same.

Thill is acknowledged for developing the pre-eminent system of floats, the Thill Floats.

This is one time when promotional copy was spot-on: ‘‘Thill Floats are known for the kind of super-sensitivity that immediately alerts you to bites. With a vast array of styles and sizes, there is a Thill Float that will help you catch more fish no matter what species you’re after. With Thill, you can perfectly match species, bait, weight, depth and water conditions in all seasons, day or night.’’

Beyond the genius of his floats, his evangelism of European-style bank fishing and match-fishing made him special. He fished at the international championship level in the open-water and ice-fishing divisions.

Mick Thill.<br>Myspace photo

Mick Thill.
Myspace photo

Thill was the impetus and inspiration for Ralph Grasso and the Chicagoland Bank Anglers. Thill brought an appreciation for carp in urban areas and any and every fish, big or small, targeted or tangential.

Even in that, Thill was an enigma. His emails or letters on match-fishing events were so confusing and wandering that I would end up contacting him to wonder who the hell had won and with what.

But he was a great fisherman. I watched him in action both as a fisherman and a coach. When Henry’s Sports, Bait and Marine held its inaugural bank-fishing event at what became Origins Park at Bubbly Creek and the South Branch of the Chicago River, Thill leaned over my shoulder and showed me how to pluck small bluegills from a rock by my peg (allocated spot on shore) well enough to be among the top finishers.

In 2005, efforts by Grasso and others paid off, and Thill was inducted into the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame.

His influence lingered, even after he returned to England, in such places as the match-fishing leagues at Marquette Park and the skills he taught many of us.

Mick Thill in 2000 Chicagoland Bank Anglers’ U.S. Open Championships at Lake Arlington in Arlington Heights.<br>From CBA

Mick Thill in 2000 Chicagoland Bank Anglers’ U.S. Open Championships at Lake Arlington in Arlington Heights.
From CBA

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