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The evolutionary stages of powerlining: Surviving & thriving in the 21st century

Some of the paraphernalia in the evolution of powerlining on the Chicago lakefront.
Provided by Ron Wozny

The way Ron Wozny remembers it, “I threw my first powerline out in `68 or `69. That was for perch off The Shoe [Montrose Horseshoe]. You would mostly toss underhand since you didn’t need the distance as much, pre coho. Coho powerlining started early ’70s.”

When a Chicago Fishing Museum comes–may I live to see it–the history of powerlining in Chicago would be Exhibit A or 1A.

`I don’t think it is used anywhere else in the country,” Wozny noted.

Powerlining involves propelling out a weight and rubber band, then connecting floats, a bell and fishing line with multiple hooks. Park Bait has a good YouTube video on setting up a powerline.

Powerlining started with railroad spikes as the weight to be tossed underhand or whirled overhead.

“There were so many fights and arguments about guys throwing out spikes that crossed four or five other fishermen’s lines of old timers trying to toss out lines between fishermen’s buckets, you could be entertained all day,” Wozny described. “Just think about the guys on The Shoe whipping spikes around with 20 or 25 feet of rope. It was really dangerous.”

Next evolution was using a plumber’s helper.

“I remember the first time the guy with the helper set up next to me at Montrose,” Wozny emailed. “He was a plumber and used it for his bizz. Big silver pump and he only had about a 2-foot pipe attached. He shot out the homemade leaded weight and it went about as far as a good throw and he could put it where you wanted it to go. It took about a year before the lakefront had 50 to 60 percent of the guys shooting out.”

Back to the much-needed Chicago Fishing Museum. Wozny is the best collector of photographs of the history of Chicago fishing I know. He also one of several serious collectors of Chicago-based fishing memorabilia and paraphernalia. Ken “The Lakefront Lip” Schneider and Don Dubin are others with extensive collections.

The next evolution in powerlining came with the weight being propelled from a pipe attached to a fire extinguisher.

“When it comes to innovation, we have to have the most creative bunch of guys,” Wozny emailed. “It was the next season and guys were trying out their new set-ups. You had to pour your own weights until guys saw a way to make good money selling full package of powerline stuff or lead and bells and homemade line holders.”

Local shops now sell set-ups.

“The best part is still watching the TOURIST watching everyone unload a big-ass extinguisher to the waters edge and try to figure out, `What the hell are they doing?’ ” Wozny concluded.

I thought powerlining would fade into history, then Luis Gonzalez started a Facebook group, ‘`Chicago powerline and lakefront fishing (powerlining),” a few years ago. Members more than doubled in the last year to 1,741 by Monday.

As winter eases, powerliners again return to the lakefront.

Powerlining began earlier last winter on the Chicago lakefront; here is Juan Luis Gutierrez’s powerlining rig on the south side of Montrose Harbor in February in 2018.<br>Dale Bowman/Sun-Times
Powerlining began earlier last winter on the Chicago lakefront; here is Juan Luis Gutierrez’s powerlining rig on the south side of Montrose Harbor in February in 2018.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

ILLINOIS HUNTING: Over-the-counter sales of remaining spring turkey permits, delayed by technical issues, will begin Tuesday, March 19.

WILD THINGS: Silly-goose season–geese standing forlornly on ice–is here. But soon wind and rain will turn punky ice (not to be confused with Punky QB) into open water.

* “The snow piles are all but gone except for in the deepest shadows, the maple trees are beginning to run, the redbuds are starting to swell, the daffodils are starting to poke through the ground and I expect to see my first robin in the next few days,” Ed Buric emailed on Monday.

STRAY CAST: The demographics of the Cubs pitching staff mirrors that of regulars on The Shoe.