Sarley: Who said it's not worth fishing the Chicago River?

Pat Harrison fishes from the bow of his boat with Navy Pier in the background.
Pat Harrison fishes from the bow of his boat with Navy Pier in the background.

I’ve wanted to hook up with Pat Harrison for a day on the water for a number of years. It’s my fault that we have never been able to settle on a date. I am glad that we were finally able to get together Monday. Harrison is getting to be so popular as a guide that he may not be able to squeeze me in next year.

Harrison runs a unique guide service. He is the only Coast Guard-licensed fishing guide who plies his trade on the Chicago River. He may venture out into the harbors of Lake Michigan, but the Chicago River is where Harrison spends most of his time.

The river is actually loaded with fish, particularly in the area from downtown Chicago to the lock separating the river from the lake.

Harrison told me, “When I started guiding, people would yell down at me from the bridges saying, ‘Hey what are you doing? There are no fish in there.’ Now they holler, ‘Hey, what did you catch today?”

Harrison, 61, a Park Ridge resident, is married to Daria and is father to two adult boys. He has three grandchildren and is known to them as “Fishing Grandpa.” He owned a general contracting business until he shut it down four years ago to become a full-time guide.

Harrision guided many different waterways in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin for seven years. During that time, he fished the Chicago River recreationally and learned all of its many nuances. Four years ago, he decided to guide on the river exclusively.

Does the Chicago River hold fish? I give that question a decisive “yes” for my answer. On Monday, we caught bluegills, crappies, catfish and largemouth bass. We never saw any smallies, trout, salmon, walleyes or northern pike, but they have been caught there, although less frequently.

I really enjoyed fishing in Harrison's boat. He runs a G-3 V-19 model with a 200-horsepower Yamaha and a matching 9.9 Yamaha kicker. The motor runs as smooth as silk. The rig has everything you could possibly ask for in a boat. He’s got a canopy with side panels for winter fishing or inclement weather. His boat has a top-of-the-line trolling motor, three sonar units and power anchors will be installed shortly. It’s super clean and set up perfectly for comfortable fishing. Lake County Watersports did a marvelous job rigging this G-3, and Harrison is their best spokesman.

We spent 11 hours on the water, and the time never seemed to drag. Harrison is one of the finest human beings I know. He is an interesting host and a good listener, as well. He really teaches well. His knowledge of the history of Chicago and of the river is incredibly deep. He's a funny guy who always has an upbeat attitude. Harrison is a pleasure to be around.

Now, back to fishing. We started catching fish as soon as we arrived at our first spot. It was a small bluegill. We caught so many bluegills it was amazing. I will admit that most were small, but we did get into enough bigger 6.5- to 8.5-inch fish to keep our interest. The fish were healthy and their coloration vivid.

Due to the torrential rains last weekend, the Chicago River was up 4 feet higher than the normal levels. The water dropped a foot while we fished. I know that changing water levels are a bad thing for fishing. The change turns off the fish. If these Chicago River fish were in a negative mode, I’d love to go back when they are aggressive.

It was astounding to be able to fish in the shadow of the Sun-Times building, beneath the gigantic “Trump” sign, along the magnificent riverwalk and outside of the giant Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. Every fish we caught was as if it came on a postcard from Chicago.

We caught some 12-inch bass, a crappie and a nice channel cat. We used tiny jigs tipped with waxworms or crappie minnows. A couple of Harrison’s sponsors are Grandt Rods and Pflueger reels. I was impressed by the fluidity of the Pflueger reels. I have always been a fan of the strength and sensitivity of Grandt rods. The sensitivity of the rods for chasing panfish was important, and the rods performed with excellence. We used the Grandt All-American rods that run about $150. I was lucky to also be able to fish with a $400 Grandt Payara rod. It was unbelievably lightweight and sensitive.

The day ended as we were tired of hooking and releasing so many fish. The ride back to the Richard J. Daley boat launch at 31st and Western was as pleasant as our initial trip. It was a perfect day.

Harrison fishes the river 52 weeks a year because it only ices over infrequently. A winter trip in Pat’s G-3 will be quite comfortable with his enclosed boat being warmed by his electric heating unit. I think that sounds like a blast and a great way to cure a case of fishing fever in January and February.

Call Pat Harrison at 847-980-4640 or check his website at


Northern Illinois: Dave Kranz from Dave’s Bait, Tackle and Taxidermy in Crystal Lake reports: “The dams at McHenry, Algonquin and Carpentersville have higher water due to the latest rains. Water temperatures have also cooled and walleye, white bass and smallmouth bass are eating hearty to put on weight for the winter. Minnows seem to be the best bait.

"McHenry County Conservation Area’s Lake Atwood in the Hollows has bluegills and largemouth bass and is a great place to take kids. Waxworms and nightcrawler pieces will work well for you. No minnows are allowed here for bait.

"Crystal Lake has Vulcan Lakes in the Three Oaks Recreation Area and the boat rentals are only on available on weekends now. This is a catch-and-release only and no minnows are allowed for bait. This spot can be great for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Try throwing a variety of crankbaits or try a black spinnerbait.

"For info on northern Illinois fishing, call 815-455-2040 for an updated report.”

Fox Chain O’ Lakes: Chris Taurisano of T-Bone Guide Service ( – 630-330-9090) sends word, “The crappies are schooled up and the bite is getting good. Jigging spoons and minnows are a good bet. Muskies are hit-or-miss, but it's a good time to find some big heavy fish. Bluegills are good in shallow water. White bass are fair in deeper water “

Lake Michigan: The Lake Michigan Fishing Report is provided by captain Caleb Weiner of Migrator Charters – 815-338-8093. The Lake Michigan reports are done for 2017. I’d like to thank Weiner for great fishing reports all season long and for the best day I’ve ever had on the big pond. I hope to go out with him again in the spring, and I recommend that you all do, too.


Archery deer hunting: Through Sunday, Illinois archery deer hunters have harvested a total of 7,793 deer, compared to 7,738 for the same period in 2016.

The harvest to date has consisted of 69 percent does and 31 percent males. The top five counties were Jefferson (219), Fulton (201), Pike (201), Franklin (169), and Jackson (156).

The totals for some selected northern Illinois counties are McHenry (58), Lake (35), Winnebago (67), Kane (42), DuPage (5), DeKalb (33), Boone (14) and Cook (17).

Watch out for deer: How is this for a catchy slogan that was created by our IDNR? “Mating time is here. Don’t veer for deer.” Both IDOT and IDNR remind motorists to drive cautiously during fall breeding season. Autumn brings shorter days, cooler temperatures and calls for a new set of driving habits. Please be vigilant during mating season as deer will be more active and visible throughout the state. The risk for deer vs. vehicle crashes greatly increases in October, November and December, especially at dusk and dawn.

Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn warns, “Deer can dart in front of a vehicle in the blink of an eye. It’s instinctual to swerve out of the way, but in doing so, drivers could lose control of the vehicle and cause a more severe crash. If you’re attentive and watchful for deer encounters, these safety tips could make all the difference.”

• Be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to deer crossing signs.

• Scan the sides of the road for eye shine – the reflection of headlights in the eyes.

• Slow down if you see deer. They travel in groups, so more are likely in the area.

• Prepare for the unexpected. Deer can stop in the middle of the road or double back.

• If a collision is inevitable, try to glance the vehicle off the deer and avoid swerving into the opposite lanes of traffic.

If you do hit a deer, pull off to the shoulder and turn on the hazard lights. Call 911 to report the accident so the appropriate law enforcement can assist. Do not get out of the vehicle to check on an injured deer or pull it from the road. You can visit the IDNR website for information on how to claim a deer that has been involved in a crash.

• Steve Sarley writes about the outdoors for Shaw Media. Write to him at Steve does a weekly podcast about fishing called “WeFishASA.” You can find it at

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