Jenny Valle caught and released the first of several bluegill and round gobies at the Chicago Riverwalk’s “Fishing at the Jetty” last Friday.
A colleague told Valle, who works across the river at the Merchandise Mart, she should fish it. That worked out well.
After her first fish, she talked on the phone with her husband, then laughed and said, “He said, ‘I didn’t think there are fish in there.’ He thought it was way too polluted.”
“Fishing at the Jetty” teaching fishing is good, even better is its role in educating people on the revival of the Chicago River.
“One camp is people who look it as water and see water,” said Matt Renfree, senior program specialist. “Second camp know fish are in water, but they think the Chicago River is [too polluted]. But every day we’re catching all kinds of fish. Nearly everybody catches fish. Most days, we are at 80 or 90 fish. [The first weekend] we had 484 people out.”
All species when first caught are logged. In 2019, when nearly 7,000 people participated, a high of 21 species came. American eel is the rarest fish so far.
Bluegill and gobies are most common, but there’s the usual other sunfish, crappie, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, common carp and channel catfish. Fish are released, except for gobies. They are put in clear plastic bins to become a teaching tool about invasive species.
“We’ve been able to offer the first experience to, probably, over 4,000 people who never caught a fish before, just that one program over four years,” Renfree said. “Fishing is a big part, but we also do macroinvertebrate sampling and talk about the floating gardens.”
They collect and post daily data on the river (water temperature, water level, weather).
The program, on the west end of “The Jetty: Floating Gardens” part of the Riverwalk between Wells and Franklin streets, runs Thursday and Friday 2-6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“Unless there is thunder and lightning, we are out rain or shine,” Renfree said.
Funding comes from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. The Chicago Park District does the programming.
“We were really lucky this year, we got our permit back from the state that covers licenses because we are more of an exhibition for teaching people,” Renfree said.
When I walked up Friday, Marcial Garcia was sanitizing waiting rods and reels. Allison Maysonet was unhooking a bluegill caught by Sucharitha Bose.
Destiny Berry worked with the next two women, helping the less experienced handle a fishing rod. Hannah Zhang, more experienced, caught a small bluegill with good joy around.
William Fitch, the fishing leader, has a basic setup of two small split shot with a No. 10 snelled hook with two or three spikes as bait. The snelled hook is used because it is easy to replace if snagged.
Zebco spincast reels (push-button) are used. More experienced anglers may use spinning gear: Fenwick rods with Pflueger reels. Only side casting is allowed, no overhead casting.
Soon clinics will begin after work at 5 p.m. on Fridays on such things as how to get started, how to set up rods and reels, and different baits for different fish.
In its first four years (last year the program did not run because of the pandemic), “Fishing at the Jetty” basically ran the summer break of the Chicago Public Schools. This year it will run through the end of September.
“We’re hoping to catch a little of the salmon run,” Renfree said. “Think about that, what a first experience for a kid, how amazing it would be.”