SPRING GROVE – Seconds after 9-year-old Ben Vlasak dipped his fishing pole into the water, he pulled out a 10-inch bass.
“Where’d you get it, right under the dock?” Ben’s father, Joe Vlasak, said. “What did I tell you? There’s a whole lake full of fish, you guys.”
Just as soon as he had another worm on the hook and the line back in, Ben pulled out another fish – this time a bluegill.
“That was like three seconds!” he said.
Autumn Fest was held at Hatchery Park in Spring Grove on Saturday, with attendees encouraged to bring their fishing poles.
It was the first time at the hatchery for the Vlasaks of Lindenhurst, who have family in Spring Grove.
In the past, they’ve attended other events around the small village, Joe Vlasak said.
“We’re out here all the time for the Fourth of July parade and any other events,” he said. “It’s a nice, family-oriented town.”
The Vlasaks brought along Ben’s friend Josh Raimondi, gifting him a pole as an early birthday present. He used it to reel in a bluegill before tossing the fish back into the pond and trying again for a bass.
Developed by the Illinois Department of Conservation, the first fish crop at the hatchery was produced in 1914. At its peak, the hatchery spawned more than 35 million fingerlings per year.
Production continued until 2004 when the state closed the operation. The building was in disrepair, pond walls were crumbling, and the ponds were overgrown.
Ownership of the property was eventually turned over to Spring Grove, with the village receiving the deed in 2007. Restoration has been underway since.
With three of his own kids and three more from the neighborhood along with him, Joshua Roberts toured the visitors center for a bit of hatchery history.
“Tens of thousands of fish would be in here until they were big enough to go outside,” he told three of the kids as they pointed out fish in the raceways, or rearing tanks, inside the visitors center.
About a year ago, Roberts moved in to a place only about a block away; it was his first time at the hatchery.
“In walking down the path down here, they had all the different bays and each sign with what was in there,” Roberts said. “They had like 100-pound sturgeon. It’s really cool that this place has been open that long. There’s a lot of history to learn about.”