MARQUETTE PARK — Early one recent Saturday morning, Donald Miller left his Englewood home and walked to Marquette Park to partake in one of his oldest hobbies: fishing.
“I’ve caught some nice fish right at this spot, man,” Miller, 54, said from a sandy patch on the north side of Marquette Park’s lagoon. “I feel good about today. If they bite, I’m going to catch it.”
Thanks to the Chicago Park District’s lagoons, as well as spots on the Chicago River, Lake Michigan and the Lake Calumet region, generations of Chicagoans have lived lives as urban fishing enthusiasts, often without access to anything but public transportation, like Miller.
With summer's arrival and with help from the state, now is the perfect time to revisit an old pastime or take up a new hobby.
Of the 19 man-made lagoons in Chicago parks, 12 either have naturally occurring fish populations or are stocked regularly, according to the park district’s website.
The ones that need stocking just received fish in early June, said Steve Palmisano, co-owner of Henry’s Sports and Bait and an expert on urban fishing.
So strike while the iron is hot, Palmisano said. Even though there is a four-fish catch limit, Palmisano said demand can sometimes exceed supply.
“When they know the fish are there, everyone tells everyone,” he said. “They can go pretty fast.”
The city’s lagoons naturally contain bluegill and bass, but Palmisano said the state will generally stock the lagoons with channel catfish once early in the season and then another couple times throughout the summer.
“You’d be surprised what you can catch at some of these places,” Palmisano said.
Getting outfitted for a fishing trip is easy and cheap enough. At Henry’s bait shop, 3130 S. Canal St. in Bridgeport, Palmisano said you can get all the essentials at any price, starting around $30 and sometimes going well past $300, he said.
Here's what you’d need to start fishing in Chicago:
• Fishing license. You can get one at Henry’s and a number of other vendors elsewhere throughout the city. Bring an identification card, $15 and know your Social Security number, and Henry’s can provide a license on the spot.
• Rod and reel: Prices vary, Palmisano said.
• A tackle box and some bait: Henry’s or other bait shops can help tailor your bait and lures to the spot (lagoon, river, lake) where you plan to fish most.
• Items to make your day more enjoyable: Palmisano suggested a towel, some gloves and a bucket.
“Some sunscreen, some beverages,” he said. “Things you need to enjoy the outdoors.”
Standing on a concrete block built into the lagoon at Marquette Park, Miller tended to one of his poles while the other leaned against an iron post.
A bell attached to the pole resting on the post began to ring. Then it stopped. The fish didn’t get hooked. As someone who's been fishing since age 12, Miller knows how this goes.
“If you got no patience, you’re not a fisherman,” he said.
Besides, both Miller and Palmisano said catching fish is beside the point.
The point, really, is to experience nature and get a little peace and quiet in an urban environment.
“Peace of mind,” Miller said when asked why he goes fishing twice a week. “No one to bug you, and you only meet nice people out here.”
Not only are the fisherman nice, they’re as diverse as the city itself, Palmisano said.
“You see all backgrounds and ages,” he said. “That’s the beauty of fishing, anybody can do it.”
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