Our Pledge To You


Collecting and organizing the stuff of Chicago fishing: Don Dubin’s collection

Don Dubin takes joy in a meticulously realistic carving of a pair of steelhead on a spawning run.
Credit: Dale Bowman

As we walked down the stairs to the most remarkable monument to fishing around Chicago, Don Dubin said: ‘‘Everything has a story. Fishing has been my life.’’

True, though he also has a family and was once one of the great salesman around Chicago. But it’s the fishing I am concerned about.

Dubin’s collection of fish carvings, fishing books and diaries, thousands of lures, hundreds of fish mounts and fishing equipment should anchor a Chicago Fishing Museum.

‘‘Here’s my problem: I’m 80 years old,’’ Dubin said during a visit last month. ‘‘If I kick the bucket, my wife wouldn’t know what to do with it.’’

He has a point. My concern is that his collection will end up in a small museum in northern Wisconsin noted for a discredited muskie. Instead, his collection should form the basis for a Chicago museum.

‘‘The problem I had is I ran out of room,’’ Dubin said.

Now he hangs some things from the ceiling. That’s new since the last time I toured his collection 12 years ago.

His collection is remarkable for its bizarre oddness, including such things as 33,000 mini barrel swivels.

‘‘A lot of these things were donated to me,’’ Dubin said. ‘‘When you give me stuff, I have to organize it.’’

Organization is one of Dubin’s notable skills. His collection of articles and stories about fishing are meticulously organized. His fishing dairies go back to black-and-white photos.

Organization and collection are major reasons Dubin has been inducted into multiple halls of fame: the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame (2007), the Illinois Outdoor Hall of Fame (2008), the Muskies Inc. Hall of Fame (2012) and the Illini Muskies Alliance Hall of Fame (2017).

Involvement would be the third leg of Dubin’s life in fishing. He was the third person in when Salmon Unlimited was formed and was prominent in the start of stocking muskie in Illinois.

On the artistic side, I marvel at his taxidermy, but his wood carvings really catch me.

There’s a reason he’s good at that kind of work: He has unique hand-eye ability. He said he could duplicate my signature after seeing it once.

Don Dubin has fun with some of the more striking mounts in his museum-quality collection of fishing history.
Credit: Dale Bowman

He owns a ‘‘Best in the World’’ award for a bluegill carving in natural wood. Another one of his carvings, a pair of bluegills, is my favorite of the thousands of things in his collection.

I like Dubin’s collection as a thing itself, but it’s more than that. It’s part of us. It deserves better than that small museum in northern Wisconsin.

His collection belongs as the start-up for a Chicago Fishing Museum. The ideal location would be on the Museum Campus on Northerly Island. My second suggestion would be in the Bridgeport Art Center by Bubbly Creek, where the Chicago Maritime Museum is.

I’ve talked with many people through the years, and there would be more than enough exhibits and pieces of history to make a Chicago Fishing Museum jump.

‘‘I accumulate a lot of stuff,’’ Dubin said.

His stuff and that of others deserve a prominent place in remembering Chicago.

Follow me on Twitter @BowmanOutside.

Don Dubin in what is about half of his museum-quality collection of fishing history in his basement.
Credit: Dale Bowman