Chicago Fishes: Catching 160 fish in the Chicago River in two hours - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Chicago Fishes: Catching 160 fish in the Chicago River in two hours

The second annual Chicago Fishes group fishing event drew crowds and caught more than twice last year's total

Over 100 Chicagoland residents and visitors tossed fishing lines into the Chicago River between Franklin on Lake on Friday, October 19 as part of the second annual #ChicagoFishes group fishing event. Organized by the Metropolitan Planning Council, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Friends of the Chicago River, Shedd Aquarium, the Illinois Environmental Council and the Chicago Park District, the event encouraged the public to celebrate the improving ecosystem health of the Chicago River and teach them about the aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals that depend on it.

This year, anglers pulled up more than 160 individual fish over the course of the 2-hour fishing event, more than twice last year’s total. The most common catches included bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) and green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus). Participants used a range of bait, including bratwurst, pizza, French fries, maggots, and worms.

Today, scientists estimate that more than 70 species of fish live in the Chicago River. This is a vast improvement from the 1970s, during which the river was home to fewer than 10 species.

“We’re at a tipping point—some people walking by thought it was the most natural thing in the world to have a group of people fishing, because it’s a river full of fish. Others were skeptical‘Cool, but are you catching anything?’ was the common refrain. To which we get to say, ‘You bet, bass catfish, blue gill… want to grab a pole?,’” said Josh Ellis, Vice President of the Metropolitan Planning Council. “As our community works toward cleaner rivers and more vibrant riverfront spaces, like the Riverwalk and elsewhere in the city, urban fishing is a joy, an educational experience, and a community building activity.”

Today, scientists estimate that more than 70 species of fish live in the Chicago River. This is a vast improvement from the 1970s, during which the river was home to fewer than 10 species.

The event comes after decades of efforts from community advocates, scientists and policies like the Clean Water Act, which all looked to improve the Chicago River’s health. Events like Chicago Fishes invite people from all walks of life to use the river, which embodies the vision set out by Mayor Emanuel, the Metropolitan Planning Council, Friends of the Chicago River and others in Our Great Rivers, a comprehensive vision for the Chicago, Calumet, and Des Plaines Rivers released two years ago.

"Chicago Fishes is a terrific event that gets people right down to the water where they have a ball catching and releasing fish," said Margaret Frisbie, Friends' executive director. "And not only do the people fishing with us learn about the incredible diversity of fish that live in the river, hundreds of passersby do too."

Scott Willis liked last year’s Chicago Fishes so much, he was sure to attend again. “This is a great event that can really help open people’s eyes to the joy that the Chicago River can bring and how far it has come water quality wise,” Willis said. “To be able to cast a line in the heart of the one of the biggest cities in the world with an actual possibility of catching a fish is pretty unique. We plan to keep participating in this great program and help the river become even better!”

Ayesha Omar was strolling along the Riverwalk on Friday, Oct. 19 when she spotted a crowd along the waterfront. She decided to join and try fishing for the first time in her life. “The Chicago Fishes event was a great experience learning how to fish,” Omar said. “I definitely didn’t think I’d catch a fish in the Chicago River. The awesome part is that it was free!”

Last year’s inaugural Chicago Fishes also included a crowdfunding campaign to purchase new fishing equipment which was donated to area youth fishing programs. The Chicago Park District used the 75 donated poles it received in 2017 to help approximately 2,000 Chicago children from all corners of the city go fishing. In 2018, Chicago Fishes will donate 75 additional poles to the Park District, and 75 more to youth outdoors programs elsewhere in the river system.

Update: Please consider a contribution to Chicago Fishes. As of Nov. 1, we're $75 short of our goal to raise $1000 for fishing equipment that will be donated to the Chicago Park District for youth fishing programs. 

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