Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Catfishing on the Chicago River

Ping Tom Park, Chinatown, Chicago
Friday morning I headed downtown early to get in some fishing in before work. I had a recording session to get to at 9am, and found a nice spot on the Chicago river just a few minutes from the studio. Ping Tom Park is in Chinatown, and features a cool looking pagoda and a lot of open grassy space. It also has a whole lot of riverbank to fish.

Leo left me with some nightcrawlers last week, so I figured I'd put them to good use. Ever since I caught that nice bass while leaving a crawler on the bottom, basically unattended, I've been intrigued by that whole style of fishing. Let the fish find the bait, and you just reel them in! Almost all of my fishing has been casting and retrieving lures, so this is new to me. I figured I'd soak some worm on the bottom of the river while I cast some lures, hopefully maximizing my chances of hooking up with some fish.

I rigged it up with some weights on the bottom, and a circle hook about a foot up the line; I tossed it out in the middle of the river, then leaned it on my rod holder while I went to rig my second line.

I started tying on a lure (don't remember what it was... spinner? twister? who knows..) when I noticed my other rod was bouncing and wiggling wildly. I had a fish on!

I dropped my rod, ran over to the first rod, set the hook for good measure (Jeremy Wade style) and began reeling it in. What was on the end of my line might have been the cutest little thing I've ever caught. But please don't tell any hardcore outdoorsmen I used the word "cute" to describe a little baby catfish.

A little kitty
I didn't know what kind of catfish it was (bullhead? channel? I was thinking bullhead...) but I was so happy to catch something on the first cast! [Edit: thanks to the internet and other fishermen, this fish has been identified as a bullhead catfish] And really, you have to admit... this is a cute little fish. Thankfully he was hooked cleanly in the jaw, and was released completely unscathed.

What a great start to a Friday morning. At this point, I was totally satisfied- I'd been dealing with a skunk, and it was nice to get rid of it. A fish is a fish is a fish- normally I don't go for the biggest fish, I just want to catch something. Today I won at catching the smallest fish.

I re-baited the hook, cast it out to the same spot in the middle of the river, and continued preparing my other line. Then it started to rain a little, but not too much. I put up my hood and continued fishing.

This time I watched the rod carefully, trying to figure out if it was getting hits or it was just wind or current. It was difficult, because the rod tip on this particular rod broke off during a previous fishing outing. Difficult, but not impossible- a few minutes later, I had another fish on. This one felt much bigger than the first one, but I had an idea what it was... And I was right!

Another cat
I was starting to really like these catfish. I knew I should learn how to tell them apart... I was pretty sure it wasn't a blue catfish, maybe a bullhead. A yellow bullhead? I'd have to look it up later.

This one was quite feisty, and did it's best to chomp down on my fingers while I got the hook out. I respect that- way to go fish; if somebody hooked my in the lip with a hook, I would also try and bite them. It would serve me right anyway.

After some pictures, I returned catfish #2 to the water, where it swam away gleefully. Maybe not gleefully; catfish seem more grumpy than gleeful, but that's just me.

Soon after that, one of my students showed up. He'd stayed up all night preparing his music for the recording session, and for some reason decided to come fish with me before the session. You may remember Pick from a previous outing at Ogden Slip, where he caught a bunch of fish!

I look angry, but that's my concentrating face
This time we weren't so lucky, as we didn't get any more hits. I worked a twister tail, spinner, crankbaits, and some other stuff while Pick manned the nightcrawler. It started to rain again, harder, and we decided to go get some food before our session.

And just in case you're wondering, I made sure to wash my hands very well so the recording studio didn't smell like river or catfish. I was wearing flannel and hiking boots however, but I think it was assumed I was being a hipster, not coming from a fishing trip.

A nice friday morning Chicago river cat


  1. i love to lazy fish every now and then, sometimes its nice to not have to chuck bait. cant beat a lawn chair and a couple brews with this type of fishing (just not before class)...

  2. Channel cats have a deeper forked tail bullhead dont. That was always how i would tell. Also you can add a small float between hook and weight to get you bait off the bottom a few inches. You should try making home made stink bait the wife will love it


  3. Nice bullhead, I used to catch tons of them when I was a kid. Glad you had some luck.


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