SET­TING A HIGH GAR

No, it wasn’t spot­ted, but it was still plenty spe­cial

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - DALE BOW­MAN dbow­man@sun­times.com | @Bow­manOut­side

When Robert Hughes sent his gar pho­tos, I was root­ing for it to be a spot­ted gar. ‘‘On July 13, I saw and pho­tographed a gar species in­side Mon­trose Har­bor in Chicago,’’ emailed Hughes, a North Side birder (the­o­rniphile.info). ‘‘I think I’ve nar­rowed down the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion to long­nose or spot­ted gar. Can you help with the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion?’’

I looked at the sur­pris­ingly good into-wa­ter pho­tos, then mes­saged Solomon David. I met him when he was a re­searcher at the Shedd Aquar­ium. He’s now an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in bi­o­log­i­cal sciences at Ni­cholls State Univer­sity and is renowned for his gar puns/ac­tivism on so­cial me­dia and for #GarLab.

‘‘Nice shots! Def­i­nitely a long­nose gar!’’ David re­sponded. ‘‘Snout length and slim­mer body are key char­ac­ter­is­tics here. Spot­ting doesn’t help much in clear wa­ter, as both species have spots in clear wa­ter. Cool to see them there as I never got to see one in the har­bor dur­ing my time there!’’

Here’s why I rooted for a spot­ted gar: In the fall of 2014, Chicago had its first mod­ern re­port of a spot­ted gar. Illi­nois De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources staff cap­tured that 31-inch gar while elec­trofish­ing on the North Shore Chan­nel dur­ing a reg­u­lar sur­vey for Asian carp.

‘‘We would ex­pect a long­nose gar,’’ fish­eries bi­ol­o­gist Frank Jaku­bicek said then. ‘‘It was a lucky catch, and we were able to get it in the boat.’’

Bi­ol­o­gist Andy Plauck, who had ex­pe­ri­ence with spot­ted gar in Mis­souri, net­ted it.

The near­est known place with spot­ted gar is Ma­zo­nia Fish and Wildlife Area near Braid­wood.

Long­nose gar are com­mon in area waters but more rare in south­ern Lake Michi­gan. The Kanka­kee River pro­duced sev­eral Illi­nois records for long­nose gar, though the cur­rent record (22 pounds, 1 ounce) was caught by Nathan Merideth of Ken­tucky in 2006 from the Ohio River in Mas­sac County.

Hughes’ long­nose gar didn’t look that big, but his sight­ing and pho­tos are now part of lake­front and 2020 lore.

‘The Playpen’

Since the Chicago har­bors re­opened, en­ti­tled sliphold­ers and guests have not en­deared them­selves to an­glers, pic­nick­ers, swim­mers and sunbathers, for whom the Chicago lake­front re­mains of­fi­cially closed.

Take Satur­day at ‘‘The Playpen,’’ the noted gath­er­ing spot for boaters near Olive Park.

‘‘Ac­cord­ing to my anec­do­tal ev­i­dence, this is the most boats I have seen in the Pen since the hard lock­down ended,’’ Larry Hamel mes­saged from his walk along the lake­front. ‘‘If you look across the cars on the inner and outer Lake Shore Drives, you will see what looks to be more than 100 boats in ‘The Playpen.’ ’’

As noted May 22 in the Sun-Times, Mayor Lori Light­foot said in re­open­ing some ar­eas that ‘‘The Playpen’’ would re­main closed for the du­ra­tion of the sum­mer. But I don’t think she has that author­ity in open wa­ter.

‘‘I won­dered whether this might have been an or­ga­nized ef­fort by the boaters to send an FU to Light­foot,’’ Hamel mused.

Not sure if it was for­mally or­ga­nized, but yes.

ICAST

In another sign of what kayak fishing means, the high-tech Old Town Sports­man Au­toPi­lot earned Best of Show hon­ors out of 30 Best of Cat­e­gory se­lec­tions at the very dif­fer­ent 2020 ICAST On­line (icas­t­fish­ing.org).

Wild things

Read­ers send firefly spec­u­la­tions and finds of Chicago chanterell­e, be­gin­ning-to-ripen black­ber­ries and un­ripe paw­paws. (More to come.) Sweet corn (OK, not wild, but a treat) is on farm­stands.

Stray cast

Thank God base­ball is back, but mind your mounds and bumps. Lu­cas Gi­olito dom­i­nates from the mound, not a bump. Say­ing other­wise is as awk­ward as cast­ing with a spin­ning reel up.

Red Stars coach Rory Dames has been preach­ing pa­tience since the first week of the NWSL Chal­lenge Cup.

The fo­cus hasn’t been on win­ning the tour­na­ment, per se, but on this new-look team fig­ur­ing out a way to win with fresh tal­ent.

De­spite their of­fen­sive strug­gles and the COVID-19 sit­u­a­tion, the Red Stars credit a gritty iden­tity as the rea­son they’re mak­ing their sixth con­sec­u­tive semi­fi­nal ap­pear­ance.

“It’s in our DNA to find a way to win,” mid­fielder Danielle Co­laprico said. “What­ever the game calls for, we’re up for it. I think the coolest thing about play­ing for the Red Stars is that we don’t have one type of way of play­ing.”

De­fen­sively, the Red Stars haven’t skipped a beat with a stout back line an­chored by Julie Ertz, Casey Short and Sarah Gor­den.

Head­ing into their semi­fi­nal Wed­nes­day against Sky Blue, the Red Stars are still work­ing to es­tab­lish an at­tack that re­sem­bles last sea­son’s of­fen­sive pow­er­house.

Their two goals be­fore the knock­out stage were scored by Short and mid­fielder Mor­gan Gau­trat. The Red Stars ad­vanced on penalty kicks (4-3) af­ter a score­less draw in the quar­ter­fi­nals against OL Reign.

It won’t be easy to score with Kailen Sheri­dan in goal for Sky Blue. Sheri­dan leads the tour­ney with 20 saves and three shutouts through five games.

“It’s very clear we need to score in the run of play,” for­ward Rachel Hill said. “We’ve been an­a­lyz­ing our at­tack and how we can go about do­ing that with dif­fer­ent runs, de­ci­sive runs and play­ing balls for­ward. I think in the com­ing game, we’re go­ing to do a good job with that and put some away.”

Gau­trat will re­main side­lined af­ter in­jur­ing her right leg in the last game of the pre­lim­i­nary stage. Co­laprico was listed as ques­tion­able, but she said she’s look­ing for­ward to the semi­fi­nal.

The Port­land Thorns’ quar­ter­fi­nal win against top-seeded NC Courage, the reign­ing NWSL cham­pion, has left a wide-open path for the Red Stars to se­cure the ti­tle.

“We have so much mo­men­tum,” de­fender Bianca St. Ge­orges said. “Our adren­a­line has been go­ing since the PKs. We have one goal in mind, and that’s to make it to the fi­nal and bring the cham­pi­onship back.’’

PRO­VIDED BY ROBERT HUGHES (ABOVE), IDNR

Above, a rare long­nose gar swim­ming July 13 at Mon­trose Har­bor. Right, bi­ol­o­gist Frank Jaku­bicek holds Chicago’s first known mod­ern spot­ted gar in 2014.

GETTY IM­AGES

Rachel Hill (right) cel­e­brates af­ter con­vert­ing a penalty kick against OL Reign in the quar­ters.

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