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Remembering Ralph Grasso’s impact on Chicago fishing and the Chicagoland Bank Anglers; plus Stray Cast

Remembering Ralph Grasso, who died last month, and his impact on Chicago fishing, especially the Chicagoland Bank Anglers; plus the Stray Cast.

Ralph and Barb Grasso at a shore fishing event in Chicago, circa 1990s. Credit: Ken Schneider
Ralph and Barb Grasso at a shore fishing event in Chicago, circa 1990s.
Ken Schneider

Ralph and Barb Grasso knew each other well.

‘‘We met in Beverly,’’ Barb said last month. ‘‘We lived down the street from each other.’’

They went to Morgan Park High School and were headed to their 52nd year of marriage before Ralph died of a heart attack in November.

Mr. Grasso owns significant parts of Chicago fishing. He founded the Chicagoland Bank Anglers in 1994 and was on Mayor Richard M. Daley’s first Fishing Advisory Committee in 1996.

The CBA, which grew to national interest, focused on match-fishing from pegs (designated areas).

‘‘Ralph and Barb and Rita and Steve Somen were the backbone of the [organization],’’ said Steve Palmisano, a proprietor of Henry’s Sports and Bait. ‘‘They promoted sportsmanship and camaraderie but competed fiercely, yet they always remained friends. They believed in competition, family and friends. Those were probably some of my most memorable years in the fishing-tackle industry.’’

‘‘I think [my husband] was kind, witty and so damn smart,’’ Barb said. “He knew everything. People would come to him and ask questions.’’

My favorite example of Mr. Grasso’s wit came in June 2003 at the first public event at Northerly Island, which had been converted from an exclusive airport just months before. A fishing event hosted by Henry’s opened up the airport.

‘‘This is the Harrison Ford Fishing Derby, isn’t it?’’ Mr. Grasso cracked.

Ford is the kind of environmentalist who is all-in until it interferes with his private planes.

That was more than Mr. Grasso being his witty self.

‘‘I caught my first fish, a bluegill, here in 1956,’’ he said as he stood with his wife by that bend in the sidewalk. ‘‘My dad used to park his Studebaker over there and take me. Then the bastards won’t let us in.’’

Mr. Grasso worked at Masonite until he retired in 2010 and they moved to Champaign. Earlier, the couple lived for more than a decade in Washington, where he worked for Weyerhaeuser.

I found the pairing of Mick Thill and Mr. Grasso interesting. The effusive Thill was an obsessed evangelist for European-style match-fishing and fishing floats. Mr. Grasso was different in his personal life, appearing at fishing events with his wife, but he followed the fishing tenets taught by Thill.

‘‘They got along,’’ Barb said. ‘‘Mick was the one who got him into the long poles. Needless to say, Ralph does not own any bobbers.’’

Mr. Grasso converted his wife to fishing, too.

‘‘He is out there fishing, and I thought, ‘I’m going to give it a try,’ and I actually enjoyed it,’’ she said.

L-R Showing the drawing power of the Chicagoland Bank Anglers, most of the crew of the late Frank “Pan Man ” DeFrancisco, Frank Brzycki, Ron Bridges, Ken Schneider, and the late Chuck Thompson sported Chicagoland Bank Anglers shirts before a presentation at Henry’s Sports and Bait.
Showing the drawing power of the Chicagoland Bank Anglers, most of the crew of (L-R) the late Frank “Pan Man ” DeFrancisco, Frank Brzycki, Ron Bridges, Ken Schneider, and the late Chuck Thompson sported Chicagoland Bank Anglers shirts before a presentation at Henry’s Sports and Bait.
Provided by Henry’s Sports and Bait

Illinois hunting

The harvest of 50,300 during the first part of the firearm deer season was up 3,153 from 2020. The second part is Thursday through Sunday. Click here for a fuller breakdown.

Showtime

It’s a long drive, but the St. Paul Ice Fishing and Winter Sports Show (stpaulicefishingshow.com), which runs Friday through Sunday at the St. Paul RiverCentre in Minnesota, comes recommended by several readers.

Stray cast

Weekends without the Bears are like the fish fry after perch-fishing the South Side slips or a sambuca after a good Italian meal.