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Chicago’s Fishing Advisory Committee: Waiting on mayor’s representative, first meeting in eight months

Chicago’s Fishing Advisory Committee met virtually Thursday morning for the first time since February; again without a representative from Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

File photo from April 2019 of the Chicago’s Fishing Advisory Committee; Tom Gray is sixth from right in the back row. Credit: Dale Bowman
File photo from April 2019 of the Chicago’s Fishing Advisory Committee; Tom Gray is sixth from right in the back row.
Dale Bowman

Chicago’s Fishing Advisory Committee met Thursday for the first time in eight months. It was a virtual meeting, naturally, because of the pandemic.

“Welcome, it’s been a while, not since February,” said Carl Vizzone, program and event coordinator, fishing, for the Chicago Park District, who chaired the meeting. “It’s a strange way to meet.”

It was strange and I missed the opportunity to talk off-handedly with people (one of the great benefits of the meeting for me). But major topics were touched on. There was a lot of updating to be done.

I will do a kind of inverted pyramid of items in terms of importance.

  • Vizzone has been chairing the meeting since the administration change. During the reigns of both Mayor Richard M. Daley and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the meeting was generally chaired by someone from the Mayor’s Office of Special Events. (Usually it was Tom Gray.) There was much discussion about trying to get a representative from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration to at least come or chair the meetings. Stacey Greene of Park Bait and Ed Bohn had written a letter in pre-pandemic times. I think it is going to be finally delivered in some form to the mayor. The advantage of having the meeting chaired by someone from the mayor’s office is because many of the discussion points involve the Chicago Park District and it makes more sense to have an outside viewpoint.
  • Vic Santucci, Lake Michigan program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, had some of the most encouraging news. “We were able to complete our stockings,” he said. “Our hatcheries workers were designated as essential workers. Actually had a really good year this year, stocked all the species.” . . . There was even a slight increase in the Chinook stocking from 150,000 to 180,000; and in the steelhead/rainbow trout from 50,000 to 75,000. And the steelhead stockings added a third site, North Point Marina, to the usual stockings at Waukegan and Diversey Harbor. . . . News was not great on perch. They got 35 perch in the young of the year surveys. “Not what we were hoping for,” he said. The last OK survey was in 2016, the last good one was in 2015, the class that is pretty much holding perch fishing in southern Lake Michigan. In 2017-19, the returns were only 0-2 annually. . . . The IDNR was able to do summer and fall return (electrofishing harbors, which is going on now) surveys. Encouraging news came on the surveys in the harbors with good returns and year classes of largemouth and smallmouth bass. . . . Long-time fisheries biologist Steve Robillard, moved to southern Illinois to be the Region 5 regional manager. Santucci said they hope to fill that position at some time (I am less hopeful than he is of that happening.) . . . Charter captains got out late so the numbers for permits were down in the 70s. . . . In a classic statement of 2020, Santucci said, “Cluster at the beginning with everything shut down and nobody knew what was going on.” That about sums it up.
  • Brenda McKinney, of the Urban Fishing Program, said there were no bluegills stocked in May, June, July or August in the Chicago lagoons, but there were catfish stockings, same as previous years, in June and August. . . . The summer program was basically canceled. She was not allowed to hire any staff. “I was only allowed to do it and nine maximum,” she said. She did 72 kids in nine presentations. . . . “During the fall season, I am not able to go into schools,” she said. “I do not know what it is going to look like. I know schools are talking about coming back to the buildings. Maybe I will be able to Zoom in. Hopefully something happens in January or February.”
  • As to fishing program at the Chicago Park District, Vizzone said the parking and pier passes programs were shut down; however, the pier passes program, including with some additional piers Ok’d by Westrec Marina, is all set up and ready to go if the OK comes from City Hall. That could be true even if the piers are only accessible by those walking or biking in. . . . All his fishing programming was canceled for 2020 and he did not get a staff or budget.. . . He is tying to get some parks on board with a gear-loaner program. So far, nobody has really taken to it. . . . Special Rec did do some programming. He let them use some special rods. . . . They are working on different and safer programming for 2021. . . . He and Matt Renfree are working on creating a new Chicago Fishing Guide. It has been years since one of those was printed. I think it would be a good idea. . . . Lakefront is still closed, including all parking lots and drives, but people are getting in and fishing.
  • Renfree, senior program specialist, outdoor & environmental education, Chicago Park District, said, “A lot of what we were doing was put on hold. In a typical year, we would have nine field trips or outings every day. Trying to figure out going forward for next year.” . . . “Finally launched paddling program this year,” he said. They quickly filled two programs, but one was postponed by weather and another by a possible COVID contact. “There has been overwhelming demand and we are trying to accommodate them,” he said. “Challenge is to get it off the ground.” He noted something that I think applies to many of us, “This has been a great opportunity to catch up on things that got pushed back.”
  • Steve Silic, fisheries biologist for the Forest Preserves of Cook County, was wiped out after being up most of the night before overseeing the stocking of trout at the FPCC sites. At FPCC sites, fall trout opens on Wednesday, Oct. 21. . . . He said the forest preserves have been operating fairly normally over the last six months. The grounds were open for the last six or seven months and rarely were the lakes shut down, though spring trout was delayed. . . . Other stockings—catfish, bluegill, walleye—were as normal; the one exception was there was no muskie stockings at Busse Lake this year. . . . A new accessible canoe launch is going in at Busse Reservoir.
  • Ben Alden, director of operations for Westrec Marinas, noted that though they had a late start in the harbors because of the pandemic, the weather afterwards was pretty good. Now people are pulling out of the water already at 31st and Montrose. . . . “It was a pretty quiet summer: No Bears games, nobody driving,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was a resource we didn’t get to use much.”
  • Conservation Police Officer Nicholas Kusta filled in on the CPO side and relayed some complaints from Wayne Hankins that the Jackson Park area was not receiving the same attention that North Side sites were.
  • NOTES: Navy Pier was discussed. The marina and hotel projects appear to be on hold. But, at least during the pier closure, there is no parking for anglers at Navy Pier and the only fishing access is at the west end of the north side, by the bus turn around. Fishing will be revisited if Navy Pier reopens as operating staff hope in the spring. . . . The lakefront is officially closed with parking lots and drives closed, but people are exercising (biking and walking) and getting in and fishing. Don Dubin noted the Diversey Harbor (officially open because it is west of Lake Shore Drive) has parking nearby by the driving range. Vizzone noted the underpass had been shut down, but people are fishing on the lake side. . . . Bohn wondered about perch fishing at 87th. Technically, that is still closed (east of LSD), but boaters can go in (and I think people exercising as in walking or biking will be able to fish, too). . . . Greene said they were putting up new no-parking signs on lakefront that there will be no parking through Dec. 31st. . . . There was a discussion about parking around Recreation Drive, but every time I have been by there, there were people parked there. . . . The pros and cons of trying to get a Fish Bus, an idea Capt. Don Enright brought up before the pandemic came, was discussed. . . . Chester Kropidlowski looks like a very serious man, but he has a wry sense of humor. He asked, “Is it a legal state record if caught on the lakefront during the closure?” No one gave a definitive answer. Discuss among yourselves.