An introduction to Hyde Park’s fishing scene

By Dave Kaiser

First and foremost, living in Hyde Park doesn’t require one to abandon outdoor sports (and when I say outdoor sports, I mean fishing, hunting, camping and hiking, although I mean no disrespect to skiers, rock-climbers, and the like). There is great fishing right here within walking distance, and good hunting, camping and hiking within a one- to two-hour drive.

Promontory Point, for example, has some great fishing, as do Jackson Park Lagoon and the pond in Washington Park.

But wait a minute, you might ask “Why fish at all, especially in urban Chicago?” Well, it’s fun and relaxing, for one. Spending a day at the Point watching the waves play with a bobber can be nice—doubly so if you actually catch something. Luckily, our mayor likes fishing, too, and arranges for some nice events like match-fishing leagues and classes for kids.

Second, it gives you perspective you can’t get from your classes. You interact with the world of water, fish, weather, and tide in a very personal and meaningful way. You get to know the environment, not as an armchair activist, but as one who knows why the Round Goby is a threat to Lake Michigan, and can judge the quality of the perch run and what that means for other Great Lakes species.

You also get a great human perspective. You will meet other anglers, some black, some white, some Hispanic, a lot of working class guys, some immigrants from Bosnia or Poland or Arkansas, and a lot of other nice people you wouldn’t necessarily talk to or even meet on campus. You can always start off with “Catch Anything? What are you using?” Then trot out your best fish stories and talk about something other than Plato’s Republic and deconstructing gender identities.

Finally, you can eat the fish, although there are some caveats to this. Depending on the species and where you catch it, some fish are safe, some should not be eaten, and still others should be eaten less than once per week. This info is available at the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Website:

I’ve eaten perch and bass from the Big Lake a few times—although I don’t make a habit of it—and I have yet to grow a third eye. Breaded and deep-fried perch, dipped in egg and beer, is excellent. Salmon is also really good, especially if marinated before grilling either in lemon juice, dill and honey mustard or in Jack Daniels.

Before cooking, however, you need to catch some fish, and before doing that, you need to iron out some logisitcal details. You can easily obtain your fishing license online at:

Obtaining bait requires a bit more creativity. Unfortunately, the sign on the Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop is an unfortunate example of false advertising. They don’t really sell bait, unless you want to use leftover gizzards to chase catfish in Washington Park. Dixie Kitchen’s chicken-fried steak, however, is about as good as you’re going to get in the city.

Real bait can be obtained at Henry’s, at 31st and Canal, over by Comiskey Park. Henry’s will also sell you a license, equipment, and pretty much anything else you need. Some of the guys who work there are good for advice, but not all of them. For those of you without a car, you have to be a bit more creative. Find nightcrawlers or other bugs after it rains and put them in a container with some soil and Frosted Flakes. Store in a cool place. Make sure your roommate knows what’s going on, since you don’t to lose your bait to a vicious attack of late-night, beer-induced munchies. Some bait shops sell dried bait. I don’t like it as much as the real stuff, but it keeps a lot longer and it doesn’t stink as much.

If you’re creative, you can find alternatives around the house. Depending on what you’re trying to catch, hot dogs, canned corn, cheese, marshmallows, and all sorts of readily available stuff can be had. This stuff can be highly effective on the right kind of fish. For reasons I don’t understand, trout, the aristocrat of fish, love mini-marshmallows. Go figure. And you can use just about anything, the stinkier the better, on catfish

So get your license, get your rod, get your bait and tackle, bring a sandwich and a cooler (for taking drinks out of and putting fish into) and head out to thePoint some morning or late afternoon. You’ll have a great time, get a bit of sun, and you’ll get to enjoy the jewel of the city, our beautiful lakefront (current construction notwithstanding). You’ll meet some nice people and you may even come home with dinner. Just make sure you don’t fish near the ducks or the swimmers, since they make a lot of noise when hooked and scare the fish away. And if some overly sensitive soul tells you it’s wrong to use worms to catch fish, gently remind him or her that a fish caught on a nightcrawler makes a much better meal than forgoing the fishing and eating the nightcrawlers themselves.