First night meeting of the Chicago Fishing Advisory Committee draws new voices

For the first time in more than 25 years of the Chicago Fishing Advisory Committee, there was a night meeting on April 20.

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View from above of the first night meeting of the Chicago Fishing Advisory Committee on April 20 at the Northerly Island Visitor Center. Credit: Dale Bowman

View from above of the first night meeting of the Chicago Fishing Advisory Committee on April 20 at the Northerly Island Visitor Center.

Dale Bowman

Carl Pickett clutched a slip of paper with questions. Mike Jarvis, Wayne Hankins, Dale Rehus and Ryan Whitacre came with questions filling their heads.

The Chicago Fishing Advisory Committee, started in 1996 as Mayor Daley’s Fishing Advisory Committee, held its first night meeting on April 20. Mammatus clouds sweeping past at sunset, vivid through the glass of the Northerly Island Visitor Center, made it more memorable.

The committee usually meets at 10 a.m. the third Thursday of the month from September to May, recently at Northerly Island or 31st Street Harbor.

The first night meeting started with the usual reports.

Carl Vizzone, who heads Chicago Park District fishing programs, said family fishing dates and the day camp schedule are nearly full (expecting 8,500 kids).

Matt Renfree, who manages the park district’s nature oasis program, said they are working, though it goes slowly, on options for selling pier and parking passes since Henry’s Sports and Bait closed. He said a grant was approved for the Riverwalk fishing program and he is looking for family photos over the years to decorate the new cabin/shed there.

Ben Alden, director of operations for Chicago Harbors, said harbors were opening to boaters slightly early Saturday (April 29).

Illinois’ assistant fisheries chief Kevin Irons said they are in the process of hiring two people to replace Brenda McKinney, who retired last year, with plans to expand the Urban Fishing program; hybrid bluegills will be stocked in the Chicago lagoons but not channel catfish; and he reminded about the fishing equipment loaner program that about 150 libraries are doing statewide.

Steve Silic, fisheries biologist for the Cook County Forest Preserves, said spring trout season was successful and included some additional fish, an early impact of the referendum passing last fall.

Stacey Greene-Fenlon at Park Bait said, “Best coho season I’ve seen.” She added that the bathrooms at Montrose were expected to be open by last weekend. (We’ll get back to that.)

David Jarmusz, head of park district security, outlined issues and reiterated the 24-hour security line at (312) 747-2193.

Then came Q&A.

Chicago Park District’s Matt Renfree (center, gesturing) chaired the first night meeting of the Chicago Fishing Advisory Committee on April 20 at the Northerly Island Visitor Center. Credit: Dale Bowman

Chicago Park District’s Matt Renfree (center, gesturing) chaired the first night meeting of the Chicago Fishing Advisory Committee on April 20 at the Northerly Island Visitor Center.

Dale Bowman

Hankins asked about catfish stocking. Irons said they can’t get catfish. The IDNR even called Texas and Oklahoma. “The longer term remedy is raising them in Illinois,” he said.

Pickett wondered about grass clippings blowing into harbors and the same with cut aquatic plants, making fishing tough. Alden said that should be getting cleaned up as a matter of course.

Then Pickett asked about more portable toilets. so it is easier for those getting older.

Rehus chimed in that along the lakefront there are no bathrooms in the cold, “You invite people to come to the lakefront, you have to have facilities.”

This has been a topic, shamefully, for decades with the committee. Anglers are actually a minority of the people who need open facilities (bikers, runners, walkers do too) in winter. Just shameful that one of the world’s great cities can’t solve as issue as basic as restrooms in cold weather.

Whitacre expanded on that, noting he pays $29 to launch and there is no portable toilet at Burnham. Alden said now they are at 31st and Diversey. “If we need to move one, we will,” he said.

A file photo of a portable toilet, an issue on the Chicago lakefront for decades, at Steelworkers Park. Credit: Dale Bowman

A file photo of a portable toilet, an issue on the Chicago lakefront for decades, at Steelworkers Park.

Dale Bowman

With climate change, boat fishing has changed in Chicago.

“People are coming here from Michigan and Wisconsin, it is a year-round fishery now,” Jarvis said.

Whitacre noted that lake trout are on all winter, then coho and smallmouth bass start (usually in March).

Hall of Famer Don Dubin said the biggest concern for the great fishery is the terrible parking, “Costs a lot of money. This should be free.”

William “Code Red” Pike led a raucous round of call-and-response applause.

Rehus, who praised the parking and pier pass programs (which have been around now more than 20 years) and suggested adding more spaces at DuSable Harbor in winter, “They would make a ton of money. There are people who would love to come down here and fish.”

Pickett told of flash swimming events mornings at Montrose, when young people illegally dive en masse into the water and tangle lines. Jarvis said car kids are drifting at the Daley Launch.

Rehus asked about kayaking, fastest growing part of fishing, and where to put in. Renfree said he is applying for grants for more kayak launches and suggested the map by Openlands,org on launch spots.

Whitacre and Jarvis advocated for a flat year-long launch pass, instead of the current one for about half the year.

Whitacre and Silic sorted out launch details at Beaubien Woods.

“The committee has been around a long time, some of us are getting old, we need some younger men and women,” pleaded Ed Bohn, who has been representing boaters/tournament anglers on the committee more than 20 years.

Multiple committee members noted anglers could help themselves a lot by talking to their alderpersons and attending park district board meetings.

“We have a new mayor and we should get him involved,” Dubin said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot never sent a representative to the committee, even though the committee sent a letter asking for a representative. Previous mayors, Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel, had a member of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events chair meetings.

Joshua Silver, who is working on another documentary on Chicago fishing, had Kendra Lee Sanders and Avery LaFlamme filming. Others in attendance included Larry Conn, a surprisingly quiet Ken “Lakefront Lip” Schneider, Brian Fenlon, Jason “Special One” Le, Frank “Cat Daddy” Smith and, from the Shedd Aquarium, were Austin Happel and Maggie Cooper

Top takeaways were dealing with cold-weather portable toilets; no swimming signs/efforts at Montrose and a letter to mayor-elect Brandon Johnson.

View of downtown Chicago after the first night meeting of the Chicago Fishing Advisory Committee on April 20 at the Northerly Island Visitor Center. Credit: Dale Bowman

View of downtown Chicago after the first night meeting of the Chicago Fishing Advisory Committee on April 20 at the Northerly Island Visitor Center.

Dale Bowman

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