My per­sonal sa­vor it

2020 has been such a bru­tal year that be­ing able to en­joy Chicago’s Beauty again pro­vides an emo­tional lift

Chicago Sun-Times - - OUTDOORS - DALE BOW­MAN dbow­man@sun­times.com @Bow­manout­side

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. ✶

DALE BOW­MAN/SUN-TIMES

A view of down­town from the south end of Burn­ham Har­bor.

DALE BOW­MAN/SUN-TIMES

The Mu­seum of Science and In­dus­try as seen from Lake Michi­gan.

DALE BOW­MAN/SUN-TIMES

The view of down­town Chicago at take­off Mon­day.

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