Lucas Mason, who walks the Chicago River every morning, had a surprise June 5. Around 8:30 a.m., he spotted what looked like a tiger muskie downtown while he walked Napoleon, his French bulldog.
“That one looks different than the spawning carp,” he remembered thinking.
It appeared healthy and in the 30-inch range, hanging out under some Riverwalk structure near the staircase for the Wells Street bridge.
“I was really excited,” he said. “I grew up fishing muskie and northern pike.”
As to whether a muskie or a tiger muskie (a hybrid of northern pike and muskie), Philip Willink, an academic researcher for the Illinois Natural History Survey with a history in Chicago-area fisheries (Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum), thought it “could be” a tiger muskie.
“They are around, as you know,” he emailed. “Some pure musky can have bars as well. It is the spotting that sets the tiger musky apart, and there are some spots. I would like to see rounder fin edges, but that is hard to tell with water distortion. He needs to catch it and get a better picture! . . . That is cool and a great sign for the river!”
Vic Santucci, Lake Michigan program manager, agreed it was a tiger muskie and emailed, “Not that surprising since we have seen an increase in reports of large northern pike and muskie in Illinois waters of Lake Michigan and the CAWS [Chicago Area Waterway System].”
He guessed it did not come from Illinois, which hasn’t stocked tigers in many years. An escapee from Wolf Lake is a possibility.
For Mason, who grew up in Hoffman Estates, his muskie experience came from Wisconsin. His parents have a place on the Chippewa Flowage near Hayward. He’s caught his share of pike but not a muskie, though he’s had dozens follow his lures and not finish.
So he texted his dad, Jerry Mason, the photo and video.
“He immediately replied back, `Unbelievable,’ “ Mason said.
That seems the right response.
He knows the river well enough that when I asked if he thought it might have been relating to forage attracted to the nearby floating gardens, he mentioned the bluegill, sunfish and small largemouth bass there.
“And the carp were spawning, that might have had something to do with it,” said Mason, who has fished the river for bass.
It’s not insignificant that higher education for Mason came by Lake Michigan. He earned a master’s in communications from Northwestern and a bachelor’s in marketing from Loyola.
“The lake and the river are why I live in Chicago,” he said. “I am really happy that Chicago is starting to embrace it more.”
Last week, I saw my first cicada killer wasp of the season and my wife spotted her first hummingbird moth of the season.
More remarkably, a swarm of dragonflies came across our lawn Friday evening.
“Small swarms of a few dozen to a hundred can be common this time of year,” emailed Jim Phillips, an aficionado of dragonflies and damselflies. “It is most likely a feeding swam. Several species are out now and some are starting to migrate. Not sure what species you had. Size suggests they may have been meadow-hawks but that is only a guess. . . . Hope they took care of any mosquito problem you may have had.”
Last at-bats are to the Sox what last casts are to most anglers.