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September to remember: Jonny Pitelka experiences big fish and wrenching memorial along Lake Michigan

Jonny Pitelka experienced the highs of a personal-best smallmouth bass and the gut-wrenching experience of catching a 9-11 memorial.

Jonny Pitelka holds a 22.75-inch smallmouth bass caught on southern Lake Michigan, just part of his wild September of fishing the lake. Provided photo
Jonny Pitelka holds a 22.75-inch smallmouth bass caught on southern Lake Michigan, just part of his wild September of fishing the lake.
Provided

Jonny Pitelka knows record smallmouth bass.

He was fishing with buddies Joe Capilupo and Myles Cooke on Oct. 14, 2019 at Monroe Harbor when Capilupo caught the Illinois-record smallmouth (7 pounds, 3 ounces), measuring 22.25 inches.

On Sept. 22, Pitelka latched into a smallmouth even longer, 22.75 inches, while fishing a pier he discovered a couple months ago.

That wasn’t his wildest catch this month. On Sept. 13, he hooked a 9-11 memorial.

The big smallmouth came as evening was ending without a fish and Pielka was slow walking back.

“The hooks I am using are a little small for the trailer,” he said. “After I set the hook, the reel was screaming. I wish I had my GoPro going. The drag was screaming and I thought, ‘Holy Cow, this is a big smallie.’”

After the smallmouth dove several times, Pitelka grabbed his net, holding the rod in his left hand. He bruised his right tricep leaning over to net the fish. Then a husband (Dwayne) and wife walking the pier helped him.

“If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if I would have got it,” Pitelka said. “I knew it wasn’t fat enough [for the state record]. It didn’t have the complete shoulders.”

The 5-pound-plus smallie was his personal best smallmouth. His previous best was a 4-4 from Burnham Harbor.

Pitelka was fishing a Googan Squad watermelon red-flake Bandito Bug, his hot bait recently. He puts a glass bead between the bullet weight and the bait, which makes a tick.

Pitelka’s other story—exploring Lake Michigan and hooking a 9-11 memorial on a Ned rig—is harder to grasp.

“I felt something along the wall,” he said. “I set the hook, but it was not really moving.”

So he handlined the plastic bag in. It had laminated photos, documents and rocks; a memorial to Gerald Hardacre, an avid angler, who died when hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 was flown into the World Trade Center.

“It gives me the chills,” Pitelka said.

Part of the 9-11 memorial Jonny Pitelka hooked while fishing in southern Lake Michigan. Provided photo
Part of the 9-11 memorial Jonny Pitelka hooked while fishing in southern Lake Michigan.
Provided

WILD THINGS

McHenry County Conservation District tweeted to leave hummingbird feeders up because, “While your local birds may have left the area, birds from farther north will be passing through and could use the extra food on their journey.”

STRAY CAST

Cubs and Sox are World Series bound and the 3-0 Bears and Steelers are Super Bowl bound; must be the year I get a 10-point buck.

Jose Abreu and the White Sox are on the rise.
Jose Abreu and the White Sox are on the rise.
Mark Black/AP