BRIDGEPORT — The boys, all 15 of them, clamored for spots along the galvanized metal ramp leading to the cool waters of the quarry pond, their fishing hooks spiked with maggots.
Their lines tangled. Their poles fell down.
Nevertheless, they were fishing — and for most of them, it was their first time ever casting a line on anything other than a video game.
"As you can see, we stock this pretty heavily. I mean, they're getting one [fish] after another. If they didn't, they'd be throwing rocks," said Bob Sadowski, a longtime volunteer with the Henry Palmisano Memorial Fishing Foundation that leads fishing camps at Palmisano Park in Bridgeport.
Founded by brothers Tom and Steve Palmisano, co-owners of Henry's Bait Shop in Bridgeport, the nonprofit group brings more than a thousand kids each summer to the nature park at 2700 S. Halsted St., named after their late brother Henry. The foundation also hosts fishing camps for the mentally disabled and the blind.
"It could be church groups, birthday parties, it doesn't matter. We just do it because we like to do it," Tom Palmisano said.
Casey Cora shares his experiences getting a chance to watch many kids fish for the first time:
This week, the fishing hole was visited by two groups — the boys from the Valentine Boys and Girls Club, which sends kids three times a week, and a big youth group from Eden Place, a nature center in Fuller Park.
There are kids like Ryan Silas, a 7-year-old Bridgeport boy whose only exposure to fishing came through a video game. Wide-eyed, Ryan reeled in — well, more like jerked into the air — a small bluegill.
Nearby, another boy caught a bluegill, grabbed it with his hand and stared at it.
"This is soooooo cool," he said.
The pond is stocked with bluegill and largemouth bass through a program of the state's Department of Natural Resources that supplies fish to urban lagoons using money from the sale of fishing licenses.
For every fish the state stocks, the Bridgeport Foundation pays for two more.
And the Palmisano brothers have successfully lobbied the state for a "catch-and-release" designation, meaning fishermen must toss their catch back into the water.
"Otherwise it's stocked, but gets fished out," Palmisano said.
Henry C. Palmisano Park opened in 2009 as Stearns Quarry Park after an extensive renovation. The Chicago Park District converted the former “clean construction” landfill — which was once a giant quarry — into a 27-acre public park, complete with native plant life and prairie wetlands.
The park was built using mostly construction debris. There are recycled timber boardwalks, concrete walkways and a crushed stone running path. Some of the larger stones along the walkways are construction waste from the Block 37 project Downtown.
As one morning session ended and another began, Ryan, the Bridgeport kid, said he caught eight fish. Then he paused, looked at another boy who just reeled one in, and like any good fishermen, revised his answer.
Interested in setting up a group outing? Contact the foundation's fishing hotline at 312-225-FISH
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