Death, snow, remembering J.R. Black, and ice fishing stuff: WWW Chicago outdoors

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Biologist Blake Bushman tells a fish story while J.R. Black (white hat right) and others listen on tagging day for the 33rd Kankakee River Valley Fishing Derby in 2016.
Credit: Dale Bowman

I’ve been to too many damm wakes in the past couple years.

And this evening, I do another visitation, snow or no snow.

J.R. Black died a week ago.

Mr. Black was a lion when it came to conservation issues on the Kankakee River. He went into the Illinois Outdoor Hall of Fame in 2004. He was the driving force behindthe Northern Illinois Anglers Association, the Kankakee & Iroquois River Clean Up (35 years), the Kankakee River Fishing Derby (34 years) and was long the chair of theKankakee River Basin Partnership.

I interviewed Mr. Black many times over the years, both for the late and much missed radio show, “Outside” on the late and much missed WKCC-FM, and for columns and articles for the Sun-Times.

I admired him for his enthusiasm staying strong. He was just as fired up for his last fish-collection day for the Fishing Derby as he was at the first one I covered; same for how he would be running around on River Clean Up days in September. Our kids and our church youth group helped in many of the clean-ups. Building community support is vital in building for the future and he understood that well.

One of the most instructive things in dealing with Mr. Black was how he worked with anyone. He and I had quite different political views, but he was very practical in his politics. His aim, his focus, was the river and the conservation issues surrounding it. To that end, he worked with Democrats and Republicans alike because what mattered to him most was the life of the river, not the partisan politics of the river, though he had views.

For a while, Mr. Black and I attended the same church, so I had regular contact with him if something came up. I most enjoyed him after tapings of “Outside,” when he would speak off the record. Some of the best stories were about the early days of the river clean-up when they sometimes did things to get stuff out of the river, which might not quite meet modern standards of operation.

J.R. Black after a taping of “Outside” in 2011.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman

J.R. Black after a taping of “Outside” in 2011.
Credit: Dale Bowman

And I loved talking to him about his days at athletic director at Kankakee High School. He was a teacher and football coach, beside being an AD. He did much for the Kankakee athletic fields and his off-the-record stories of that centered around focusing on getting the job completed, not worrying so much about following every nicety of formal approval.

We have lost a major voice, perhaps the most important one, for conservation issues on the Kankakee River.

Mike Clifford and I were messaging this week about how much we have lost in terms of people who fought the good fight for the Kankakee. Ed Mullady is still alive, but he has been quiet for several years now. Norm Minas, who might have done as much as anyone to popularize fishing on the river and the river itself, died way too early in December.

Clifford, once a very active conservation director for the Illinois Smallmouth Alliance, said he is thinking of what he can do now as an independent voice for the river.

He messaged:

Pretty sure I’m gonna tear some [stuff] up. Yep. It’s time. I love this river.

We need strong voices on the Kankakee.

Visitation for Mr. Black is 4-8 tonight at Schreffler Funeral Home at 1900 W. Court, Kankakee. Click here for driving directions. Click here for the obit.

* * * *

Other than visitation for Mr. Black this evening, my weekend is very crunched with non-outdoors stuff. I am covering the opening weekend of sectionals for Beat the Champs for the Sun-Times and the snow will not help my travel times. Saturday will likely end up being a 12-hour or more day.

Sunday morning I have a window, barring the snow being too ridiculous, where I should be able to catch the opening hour or so at the Tinley Park Fishing Show. At least I hope. I have tentative plans to meet a couple people, including Ken “Husker” O’Malley.

Now to the regular stuff of the Wild Weekend Wandering.


The Walk on Water Ice Fishing Derby is 7 a.m. to noon Saturday on Bangs Lake in Wauconda. The event raises money for the Andrea Lynn Cancer Fund. Click here for details.

The Northern Illinois Conservation Club’s 58th annualIce Fishing Derby and Winter Festival is Saturday and Sunday. It is headquartered at Turtle Beach next to Thirsty Turtle on Channel Lake. It is the oldest event of its kind around. Click here for details.

SHOWTIME:The big one is the Tinley Park Fishing Show at Tinley Park High School from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It is family friendly in many ways, including a base ticket of $6; seniors are $5; 6-13 are $4; younger than that is free. Click here for more.

Rick Steves is among the headliners at the Chicago Travel & Adventure Show, another major show, at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont on Saturday and Sunday.

DRiFT’s 24th annual auction begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Villa Park VFW.

The Milwaukee Muskie Expo is at the Washington County Fair Park & Conference Center in West Bend, Wis., today through Sunday.

Click here for the complete general list of shows this winter. If you have any adds or tweaks for the master list of shows, please let me know.

ICE FISHING: To the north, ice fishing will be snow-covered, but should have plenty of ice. To the south, conditions are much trickier or even deadlier with the snow cover in particular. Know your lake or pond and use the usual precautions (buddy system, spikes, spud bar, common sense, etc.).

Click here for the update on ice-fishing regulations for local waters.

FREE DAYS:The Field Museum has free days through February for Illinois residents. Click here for details. . . .The Shedd Aquarium has a free day for Illinois residents on Wednesday, yes, Valentine’s Day (sounds like my kind of day).Click here for more information.

POWERTON LAKE: The cooling lake near Pekin has been on fire for big blue catfish. The lake reopens to boaters on Thursday.

RABBIT HUNTING: Rabbit hunting in Illinois runs through Thursday. We got the snow, now to see if I can carve out the time to get some in before the end.

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