SETTING A HIGH GAR
No, it wasn’t spotted, but it was still plenty special
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.’’
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.
Rachel Hill (right) celebrates after converting a penalty kick against OL Reign in the quarters.