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Breadth of perch fishing in Chicago: From water to the table, time by the water to time by the stove

Sampling the full experience of perch fishing in the Chicago winter, from getting to the water to finishing on the table.

A worthy breakfast of perch fried rice with a red-beet egg, orange juice and walnut-banana plain yogurt. Credit: Dale Bowman
A worthy breakfast of perch fried rice with a red-beet egg, orange juice and walnut-banana plain yogurt.
Dale Bowman

Gary Bloom sent the kind of message last week I expect from a famed lakefront angler.

After 3 1/2 hours of perch fishing from docks at Diversey Harbor, he messaged: ‘‘Started from the farthest end in 24 feet of water. After half an hour, started moving toward shore. Fourth finger west, found the perch: nonstop action. Took my 15 of 8 to 9 inches. Saw one large perch caught, over 14 inches. All caught on a jigging spoon and maggots.’’

He was using his MarCum sonar to mark fish.

Bloom’s message made me change my plans for New Year’s Eve day from trying DuSable Harbor to trying Diversey.

Notice my use of ‘‘trying.’’ I’m not in Bloom’s class.

After dropping our youngest Friday to skateboard at Grant Park, I arrived at Diversey to find word had spread. Bloom’s dock was packed. I wasn’t in the mood for a crowd, so I did the one to the south.

Diversey has six docks — D, E, F, H, N and O — open during the Chicago Park District’s Fishing Pier Pass Program, which runs Nov. 15 to March 31. The program opens 31 docks at six lakefront harbors: Jackson Park, Burnham, DuSable, Diversey, Belmont and Montrose.

The $6 pier passes can be bought at Henry’s Sports and Bait (cash only) and the Northerly Island Visitor Center (credit card only). When I bought mine at Henry’s, I also made sure my parking pass ($10 for two months) was updated, in case I changed my mind and went to DuSable. The parking pass allows anglers access to small fishermen’s lots at Burnham and DuSable.

It was one of those gray winter days on which fog and mist shrouded the downtown skyline. That view is one of my favorite parts of fishing at Diversey.

In the grayness, the majority of the anglers blended in with camouflage. A couple dotted the grayness in bright orange and red snowsuits.

An angler brightly clad on a gray day of perch fishing at Diversey Harbor. Credit: Dale Bowman
An angler brightly clad on a gray day of perch fishing at Diversey Harbor.
Dale Bowman

Catching perch on jigging spoons is my favorite way to fish for them. But with only a couple of hours available, I went with a more certain method: double perch flies (with maggots) tied directly to the line above a heavy split shot on the bottom. I wanted to use a pencil weight, but I couldn’t find mine.

I slowly retrieved or snapped and retrieved and, perhaps the key, kept moving east on the dock until I found willing fish.

The bite was very light and I missed my first few (too much rust), then went 4-for-5 in the final hour. Three were keepers. I’m pretty sure I could have pecked out a limit if I had fished until dark.

I saw some good keepers caught on the other dock. Our dock produced mostly smaller ones and fewer numbers.

When I caught my biggest of 10 inches, I called it a day.

It was time. I needed to pick up our youngest.

The next morning, I chunked the perch fillets, then made fried rice with garlic, mushrooms and green onions in olive oil for breakfast.

Happy New Year.

My biggest perch of 10 inches caught on New Year’s Eve at Diversey Harbor. Credit: Dale Bowman
My biggest perch of 10 inches caught on New Year’s Eve at Diversey Harbor.
Dale Bowman

Wild things

With waters locking up, I expect to hear more reports of bald eagles. . . . I must have a neighborhood Cooper’s hawk. I haven’t seen a woodpecker at my suet feeder in weeks.

Illinois hunting

Upland-game hunting ends Saturday in the north zone. . . . If updated numbers for deer harvest come, they will be posted at chicago.suntimes.com/outdoors.

Stray cast

Alabama and Georgia in the College Football Playoff final is as expected as catching gobies in the summer at Montrose Harbor — and just as welcome.