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Chicago fishing: A species list

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A reader asked me to post online the list of species caught from Chicago waters.


Navy Pier (above) is one of those special fishing spots in Chicago, from shore or boat.

I originally started the species list for a Sun-Times outdoors column six years ago in response to Eric Sharp of the Detroit Free Press saying Detroit ``stands alone'' as an urban fishery. And I came up with 50 species caught by modern fishermen.

I updated the list in Sunday's column in response to a publicity stunt next month--the 30/30 Fish-A-Thon--by some Michigan guys.

Tony Hansen, deputy director, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, and Gabe VanWormer, video producer for MUCC, will begin a 30-hour fishing marathon in an effort to catch 30 different species of fish in Michigan.

It's about more than Michigan fishing, as the online site makes plain: ''The 30/30 Fish-A-Thon is a fishing marathon to prove a point. Asian carp and other invasive species threaten our way of life.''

I gathered the implication that Michigan fishing was somehow more special than in Illinois or Chicago. That's silly. Asian carp have been impacting our fishing for years. And we both fight the spread of Asian carp and have adapted.

In updating the species list for Chicago fishermen, one of the fishermen I checked with suggested posting the list online, so any updates could be made.

To count for the species caught in Chicago, the fish needed to be caught from Lake Michigan, Wolf Lake, the lagoons or the Chicago river systems.

Originally, I started by cross-checking and combining the species lists kept by Rita and Steve Somen and the one kept by Carl Vizzone. Originally, I had 33, but I made it 34 on second thought, by giving both yellow and brown bullheads.

1 alewife
2 black crappie
3 bluegill
4 brown trout
5 buffalo
6 & 7 (yellow and brown) bullhead
8 channel catfish
9 Chinook
10 common carp
11 drum
12 emerald shiner
13 gizzard shad
14 goldfish
15 golden shiner
16 green sunfish
17 largemouth bass
18 mirror carp
19 rainbow trout
20 pumpkinseed
21 rock bass
22 round gobie
23 smallmouth
24 warmouth
25 white bass
26 white crappie
27 white perch
28 yellow perch
29 yellow bass
30 sculpin
31 golden roach
32 chub
33 smelt
34 coho

Then add
35 northern pike and 36 walleye from Chicago harbors in recent years

37 sauger from the rivers

Boaters have added an interesting batch of species over the past couple decades:

38 lake trout
39 tiger trout
40 pink salmon
41 Atlantic salmon
42 brook trout

And there are more 43 pacu and 44 piranhas caught than I really like to think about.

The lagoons have given us 45 bighead carp and 46 grass carp.

Wolf Lake has added
47 tiger muskie
48 muskie
49 sturgeon

The Chicago River gives us a broad group, which could probably count as several species, 50 hybrid sunfish, dubbed ''idiot fish,'' by Vizzone and Ken ''the Lakefront Lip'' Schneider.

In the past few years, we have to add 51 northern snakehead caught from Burnham harbor and 52 bowfin from the Chicago River.

There's a couple species--gar and flathead catfish--I think have been caught but I just haven't been able to confirm them. And I think there is a rare hybrid of carp and goldfish caught too from the Chicago river systems.

If you have species to add, post below or e-mail me at

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Hi Dale, I caught a prime musky-bait-sized white sucker in the North Branch about a year ago. Can we call that #53?

Absolutely. In fact, that should have been on the original list.

Several readers called or e-mailed with other possibilities.

Tilapia? from the North Shore Channel and Montrose. I did not include them because I couldn't remember if it was just biologists finding them or if fishermen caught them.

Whitefish? I know they have been caught in the northern suburbs and in Indiana, but couldn't recall one confirmed in Chicago waters.

Hybrid striped bass? There was quite a run several years ago, but I thought they were being caught in Indiana waters off Cal Park and didn't include them. But a reader thought his buddy caught one right outside of Lake Calumet, which would be countable.

Burbot. Should have included that on the original list. They have been caught from shore and boat.

Dale, sounds like a challenge in the making! You've got a pole, I've got the camera and we've got a lot of expert fishermen in Chicago to assist. Sounds like fun too!

Bob Coine

Bob, that thought had crossed my mind, that we just do that on June 8. Enlist some of the boaters and charter captains to get some of the deep water fish, and have a go. 30 might be a reach though in one day.

Outstanding, tough but not impossible! We could enlist your readers help to pre-fish ahead of us on the lakefront, rivers, lagoons & Wolf. Let's talk...

I am not sure but are their black bullhead in Chicago. Additionally you have buffalo on the list, is this smallmouth, bigmouth, or both...I don't really know.

I have heard there are gar in the chicago river, and I have personally witnessed carp-goldfish hybrids in both the river and in the harbors.

Also you have mirror carp, which while awesome are the only a strain of common carp, if you want to keep them then you can also add leather carp (scaless) and koi which though even rarer than the hyrbrid have been caught in Chicago (though most often at a now defunct venue)and also strains of the common carp.

Not a bad idea, but a lot of those fish listed are either invasive or not sport fish(goldfish, shad?). I would suggest narrowing it down to just the accepted sport fish - i.e. the ones the State of Illinois keeps records on. Otherwise you just have a list of random fish that doesn't really show the true angling potential Chicago has to offer.

As far as expanding the list to reflect biodiversity one could definitely add Ninespine Stickleback, others could include Ruffe, Lake Herring, Ruffe, Bloater and Lamprey...
In regards to the suggestion of creating a list of "accepted sportfish" I'd have to say create your own since the public will definitely have a wide spectrum of opinions on that matter and thus such a list would no doubt be debatable...

An update: Our Fish-A-Thon ended. We did not catch 30 species in 30 hours.

We caught 32.

what are they doin about the lack of smelt in lake michigan on your invasive species list you say they shouldnt be there but ive know them to be there for ever am i wrong are they tryn to get rid of em or tryn to restock there population or what. thanks patrick h

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This page contains a single entry by Dale Bowman published on May 30, 2010 6:01 AM.

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