Like camping, hiking and other outdoor pursuits, the age-old pastime of fishing is often associated with rural life. But thanks to some fun, free programs for children and families, fishing is catching on in Chicago as a modern urban sport.
One such program, Mayor Daley's Fish 'n' Kids Program of the Chicago Park District, offers free fishing clinics at a variety of city harbors and lagoons throughout the summer. When Bob Long Jr., "The Fishin' Guy!" (yes, that's his job title), began working with the program in 2000, it served 2,700 children. In 2009, the number was 11,500 and keeps growing.
"Our immediate goal is to help each participant catch at least one fish right then, right there," Long says. His hope is that a positive initial experience at an early age will spark a lifelong enthusiasm for fishing. The clinics are free, but reservations are required; visit fishingchicago.org or call (312) 742-4969 for dates and locations.
The Fish 'n' Kids Program also includes a family fishing headquarters at Northerly Island, which gives parents the opportunity to learn some basics for fishing with their children. Kids under the age of 16 don't need a license to fish, but adults can buy one online at dnr.state.il.us for $15 ($7.75 for seniors).
Families who already have some experience with fishing from a pier may enjoy taking a rowboat out on a pond or small lake. Both the DuPage County Forest Preserve and the Lake County Forest Preserve offer boat rentals in the summer.
The Trailside Museum of the Cook County Forest Preserve District, meanwhile, offers an introduction to the ecology of fishing through its Fish Camp, a three-morning program for children age 8-12, which teaches participants about fishing safety, native and non-native fish, and the preservation of natural resources needed to keep Illinois waters healthy for fish.
Beginning anglers of all ages can enjoy free, instructed fishing through the Urban Fishing Program of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which holds clinics at locations throughout the state. In addition, the Urban Fishing Program makes fishing rods and tackle available to borrow at selected Chicago libraries. For a list of loaner tackle sites as well as an online guide to family fishing, visit ifishillinois.org.
For fishing enthusiasts like Long, watching a child's eyes light up with the excitement of catching a fish underscores the importance of sharing his knowledge with a younger generation.
"If a child doesn't fish before the age of 12, that child probably will never fish," he says. That would be a loss, he adds, because in fishing, "you don't have to be big, fast, strong or smart to have success. And unlike in many sports, where someone will be the loser, in fishing, no one has to lose for everyone to succeed."