We stood Tuesday along the bank of the Garfield Park lagoon, no place better to be on this late summer day as a thunderstorm bore down from the northwest.
“We’re going to get wet,” I said to the young man in a white T-shirt and blue jeans.
“It’s coming,” he said, barely shifting his gaze from the scene before us where construction crews were clearing debris from beneath a bridge on Central Park Avenue.
The bridge crosses a narrow stream that separates the west half of the lagoon from the east half. We were on the east side. The police were on the west.
“I assume they’re going to block off the lagoon here before they start pumping it out,” I said, and the others agreed, although we couldn’t figure out why that would involve first dredging the spot.
The sky grew darker. Two kids rode past, sharing a bicycle. Across the lagoon from us, men gathered along the road that runs through the park to talk or do whatever it is men do with no place better to be.
A cell phone chirped. The man in the white T-shirt answered. I turned my attention to the couple watching from behind us.
“What brings you here?” I asked, assuming I knew the answer, surprised when the man answered: “Fishing.”
“I fish out here every day,” said Michael Rodriguez, 40, a bag slung over his shoulder that I didn’t realize held his broken down Shakespeare rod and reel until he told me.
“We were here yesterday, and they didn’t mind if I fished. But today they said I couldn’t,” Rodriguez said. “I asked first.”
I told Rodriguez I was looking for the men who regularly fish the west half of the lagoon. He said he sticks to the east half.
“Less people on this side, more criminal activity on that side,” Rodriguez said.
“Lot of fish in here, too,” chimed in his companion, Marianne Dedman. “Lot of fish. Lot of turtles.”
“It’s a good place to fish,” agreed Rodriguez.
He said he mostly catches carp, catfish and bluegill.
I asked if he ate the fish.
“No,” Rodriguez said, wrinkling his nose at the thought. “I just throw them back.”
“He feeds the fish. I feed the squirrels,” Dedman said, holding up a bag of what I presumed to be squirrel food.
For bait Rodriguez uses corn that he buys for 30 cents a can at the nearby Aldi’s.
The carp also like to eat the berries that fall off a tall bush that hangs out over the water, Rodriguez said. He scavenges the berries that hit the ground and puts them on his hook.
“The carp just come up and suck them in as soon as they hit the water,” Rodriguez said.
“Something you learn when you’re out here,” Dedman said.
Rodriguez, who lives near Summit, said he has been fishing Garfield Park for five years. There are other things he has learned from being out here.
“I found a gun two years ago over there,” he said, pointing over my shoulder to a spot in the water.
Rodriguez said he tried fishing it out, but it sank back below the surface and out of reach.
“I’m sure there’s more stuff in there,” Rodriguez said. “They’ll find more stuff.”
RELATED: Garfield Park lagoon being drained as search continues
It is the urban fisherman’s lot in life to find things in the water that don’t belong there. Tires. Garbage. Guns.
Some say it was a fisherman who found the first of the child’s body parts, before the skull was recovered, before the decision was made to pump the water out of the lagoon to look for the rest.
I wouldn’t have wanted to be that fisherman.
Suddenly, the wind picked up, and the temperature dropped 10 degrees. I’ve heard that can be a good time to fish.
“Time to go,” said the man in the T-shirt, and the four of us hurried out of the park as the first lightning flashed.
“They’ll find out who did it,” Rodriguez said. “They won’t get away with it. I hope.”
As we reached our cars, the skies opened up.
Follow Mark Brown on Twitter: @MarkBrownCST