My personal savor it
2020 has been such a brutal year that being able to enjoy Chicago’s Beauty again provides an emotional lift
Bronzed Greek God Guy elevated, larger than life as his eFoil lifted from the water, then circled the south end of Burnham Harbor like the Green Goblin on a hoverboard. That wasn’t the strange part.
Years ago, lakefront fishing advocate Ken Schneider, Tom Palmisano of Henry’s Sports and Bait and I began making annual trips on Chicago waters. Our only holes are a small one on the upper Illinois River and the northern Lake Michigan lakefront.
On Monday, we met with hopes of finding rumored yellow perch around Jackson Park. Reality was it was just a gorgeous day to be out.
Palmisano decided the chop was low enough that we should launch from 31st Street Harbor, best launch on the Chicago lakefront.
One reason for going was to check the lakefront. Because of the pandemic and lockdown, the last time I was on the lakefront (other than meeting Stacey Greene-Fenlon at Park Bait at Montrose Harbor) was fishing for coho on March 25, the day before Mayor Lori Lightfoot shut it down.
Several readers messaged, texted and emailed about a launch change at 31st when the harbors began reopening.
There used to be a dozen vehicle and trailer parking slots, now there are four. Also, the launch is only open Monday to Friday (5 a.m. to 8 p.m.) and closed Saturday and Sunday.
We were the only boat at the launch. A lone shore angler had not seen or caught fish.
As we left the harbor, the lack of boats struck me. Fewer boats were in all the harbors we checked: 31st, 59th, Jackson Inner and Outer, and Burnham.
No matter the crap that descended for months as 2020 wore on, I found it stunningly beautiful to be out. I never grow tired of the Chicago skyline. I felt more maudlin than usual to see it from the water for the first time this year so late in the summer.
I wasn’t alone. “First time on the lake this year,” Schneider said.
He kept a face mask on most of the day, so I generally did, too. That made me glad. Early in the pandemic, I yelled at Schneider to take the coronavirus seriously. Sometimes he breezes through life with a sense of invincibility. But he takes the coronavirus seriously, in part to protect his wife. He really limited his contact, so getting out the first time was special.
Palmisano had been diving a couple of times since the harbor shutdown lifted, but not boat fishing since looking for perch in the Chicago River during the winter.
It has been that kind of year.
We fished a couple of spots around Promontory Point with only round gobie bites. This year has made me savor moments and people more than usual. It was uplifting to see Promontory Point, even more striking to see the Museum of Science and Industry, just north of 59th Street Harbor.
That was the only harbor we caught fish in: a mix of bluegill, rock bass and gobies. We didn’t see another boat until a few personal watercraft and a pleasure boat were going out as we entered Jackson Park. Later in the afternoon, we saw a few sailboats off downtown.
Because of the lack of boats, we fished under the Jackson Park bridge, which is loaded with current and bottom cover. At first, the current flowed in so fast that Schneider and I couldn’t even reach bottom. Then it shifted dramatically the other way, sort of a miniharbor seiche. Stunningly, we didn’t catch any fish. Jackson Park is one of the better fishing spots on the lakefront.
With wind building cross-hatch waves, Palmisano switched from going to Calumet Harbor to running to Burnham, where perch often stack in the weeds on the south end.
First, we had to go around a big yacht, Caltara. Soon we saw why. Bronzed Greek God Guy was going around on his remote-controlled eFoil. When he came by us the second time, he said he was shooting a video. Such is life on the Chicago lakefront. But there’s more, we saw a guy on the back of Caltara with a hockey stick firing pucks at Bronze Greek God Guy, who attempted to catch them with a goalie glove.
He eventually got the money shot, and they motored off. (Look up the meaning of Caltara on your own.)
After they left, Schneider broke off a big fish in the weeds on 4-pound line. (We had only planned to fish perch.)
It was time.
We checked the flooded walk around the south end of Northerly Island and flooded walk-outs at the Burnham launch.
Back at 31st, we were still the only trailer in the lot. ✶
A view of downtown from the south end of Burnham Harbor.
The Museum of Science and Industry as seen from Lake Michigan.
The view of downtown Chicago at takeoff Monday.