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updated: 7/2/2014 6:10 PM

Watch what you eat, but enjoy the urban fishery

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  • This smallmouth bass was recently caught in the Chicago River.

    This smallmouth bass was recently caught in the Chicago River.
    Photo courtesy of Patrick Gorney


My late father was cut from old-school fabric. He called it how he saw it. And what he saw when he looked at the Chicago River spawned comments I dare not publish here.

I've come to realize that I'm much like him in this way.

Now, though, I remain open to a number of angling experiences in order to broaden my scope of understanding, without any restrictions on what I am able to see and absorb.

Take the Chicago River as one example. In my view, this once great waterway was and still is a distillery for garbage and government nonsense.

I recently wrote about the addition of 30,000 channel catfish fry put into the Chicago River as well as the Little Calumet River. I decried that move for one simple reason. Those two rivers are polluted and there are people who fish those bodies of water for sustenance. And it's that group of people who may or may not understand that those game fish, as well as rough fish species, swim their hearts out in quasi-cesspool conditions.

I grew up in Chicago. I attended college in the city. I also fished various stretches of the North Branch of the river.

I used to gaze upon the filth and greenish surface water from my observation point on the Devon Avenue bridge. I was told by one of my high school science teachers the only species able to survive those desperate conditions were carp and suckers. Maybe there were a few channel catfish in the mix, but I never took the time to find out.

Even though I explored the not-so-famous but thrilling rivers in northern Wisconsin and Michigan, all solo mind you, I never had the guts to inch my way down the slopes of the North Branch and throw a line into the morass. It was only after a friend and I challenged each other that I tried fishing the Chicago River.

Speeding the clock and calendar up some five decades or so, I took another peek at the surface water from Devon Avenue. Surprise, surprise -- it seemed to be a tad more clear, but not pristine enough to allow an expensive Dacron fishing line to soak itself in who-knows-what.

Bump the calendar some more and we have the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, the elder, proclaiming the Chicago River would be clean enough to support sport fishing, especially for coho salmon.

Maybe a salmon or two or three, along with an equal number of Chinook salmon, managed to sneak through the Randolph Street locks. Remember, I said maybe.

But hold on. There are game fish in the mighty Chicago, as evident by an email from Loop worker Patrick Gorney.

"I read your articles in the Daily Herald and you were talking about fishing in the Chicago River. I work in the Chicago Loop so I decided to try some fishing during lunch. Well, yesterday I caught sunfish, crappie, smallmouth and a striped bass. Here are pictures of yesterday's catch."

Like river maven and Chicagoan Ken Schneider, I already know there are some decent game fish in the river, but eating the "haul" is just not in my cards.

So I end this liturgy with one final statement. Fish for it, but don't eat it.

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

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