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updated: 5/2/2013 4:26 PM

Warming up to new friends on an old pier

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  • Nadine Thompson and her daughter Savannah warmed to the opportunity to try for brown trout along Government Pier in Waukegan.

    Nadine Thompson and her daughter Savannah warmed to the opportunity to try for brown trout along Government Pier in Waukegan.
    Photo by Mike Jackson


It's almost as if I flipped the switch on the wall and transformed the day in to miles of smiles.

I no longer have to be content with keeping warm in my home. No longer will I make a raft of excuses just so I could avoid driving to the grocery store.

And because we figuratively live and die with extreme weather changes in this area, we can rarely rely upon traditional weather patterns.

And so it went the other day when I suggested to my wife that we should truck on up to Waukegan Harbor and see what successes fell upon the pier regulars.

Government Pier is that extra-long stretch of concrete separating the transit channel to the big lake from the hundreds of moorings and big boats.

The Pier is pocked with years of wear and tear. Ice and cold have slathered the hard surface into a texture like mustard on a Chicago hot dog.

And in my many trips to this fabled fishing spot, I'd been fortunate to have met interesting folks who, like me, always manage to find the time to fish and ponder one's lifetime of accomplishments.

On one outing two years ago I met Henry, a newly retired welder.

His fishing partner passed away, and with his death, so went the boat to a grandson. Henry had subsequently resigned himself to staying on shore. When I met him, he admitted he was content with being on the pier during the warm months.

He also confessed that he tries to hide his catches from the others nearby because he didn't want anyone "encroaching" on his pier territory.

My trips to the pier were fueled by my desire to fly fish for carp and brown trout. I was fortunate to have caught both species with my home-brew bug imitators.

But for a moment, fishing aside, I present to you some whacky, maybe mystical tellings regarding the coming of spring.

The Chicago-metro area is loaded with scads of anglers who hardly ever look at a calendar but rather depend upon wive's tales to guide their hand.

"The crappie angling will be the best when the buds pop out on the flagonga trees." Or, "once pike shed their teeth and forgo their annual visit to the dentist, these babies just can't be caught."

There is the ever-popular, fable-like superstition that goes something like this: "When the willow branches reach to the surface of the water, then and only then in the spring will the bull bluegills go after surface poppers."

Go figure. I grew up with this stuff.

Chicagoans love folklore and thin-crust pizza. They go together like Lake Michigan perch and old man Mathon and his predictions for the severity of the coming winter season.

But now we're fishing gain, on the Waukegan Pier and other watery locales.

Nadine Thompson appeared to be a happy angler, even though she has yet to catch a fish, let alone a typical spring cold.

This 29-year-old Jamaican transplant enjoys the sport despite the fact she's brand new and has only been out twice. Her daughter Savannah and husband dutifully observed her efforts while a brisk breeze zipped across the pier.

"I have to admit the winter here was much more than my family anticipated," she explained while getting ready to leave.

I didn't want to burst her bubble and tell her us native Chicagoans often go into a winter coma and then awaken in time for the once great, spring smelt run and jumbo perch catching mad house. Better she should find out for herself.

It's the brown trout that have drawn the minions to the pier.

The browns have decided to park themselves in shallow water while also becoming more readily catchable to those pier die-hards who seem to be drawn to the magical traditions of springtime breakout.

•Contact Mike Jackson at, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and live-streamed at

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