Lagoon near science museum a respite from city life

Categories: Chicago Tribune

Anglers cast lines, buffered from sounds of traffic, museum-goers

By MARK GUARINO | Special to the Chicago Tribune

July 15, 2009

The science of finding fish and the industry of catching them is on exhibit this summer on the banks of the Museum of Science and Industry.

“Here, fishie,” Maceo McBride says to a bluegill, which heeds the call as it lifts out of the water and reels to land on the 7-year-old’s line.

“There you go! You’re keeping us in the game,” says his father, Fred.

Hidden from traffic on South Lake Shore Drive and largely from museum-goers confined to the front doors, the museum’s south side opens to the interlocking lagoons of Jackson Park, which on weekends and evenings become a refuge for anglers who may or may not be interested in the catch.

“I put them back,” says Mike Turner, 49, a tuck-pointer from Hyde Park. “I fish to really relax.”

Turner sits on top of his cooler and gazes across the lagoon at the museum’s Greek columns and domed top. Two of Turner’s lines wade in the water. A habitat of mulberry, elder and poplar trees mutes the nearby traffic.

On this spot, the view is unchanged from the landscape originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. A hundred years later, the view is still agreeable. “You stare at the building, you can’t help but chill out,” Turner says.

Though he appreciates the view, Curtis Flournoy, 58, of Hyde Park prefers to hide amid the lagoon’s brush where, he says, bass gather to lay eggs.

Although it’s common for a community of anglers to visit and talk shop, Flournoy says he likes to remain by himself and not get caught up in conversation.

“I turn my cell phone off and keep it in my pocket,” he says.

After a long day as a maintenance worker in the Dirksen Federal Building, he is able to slow down in this peaceful spot, where his only concern is keeping the geese from catching his fish before he does.

Not that there isn’t action. Two weeks ago, Samuel Ellis, 49, of Englewood caught a bigmouth bass, a 5-pounder so big he could fit his fist inside its mouth, he says.

Ellis settled deeper into the park, atop a bridge, where he scouted the fish for weeks until he got to know its pattern: It swam under the bridge between 10 and 10:30 a.m. every Saturday. He dug out the biggest night crawler he could find.

It worked: “When he hit it, I knew it was him,” Ellis says.

Aside from the trophies — whether in fish tales or a meal — there is more to learn from fishing Jackson Park’s waters. Ellis says his mother first taught him to fish in the park when he was 8 and he since has learned that “even if you leave with no fish, you went away with something.”

Ellis is so calm, nothing makes him flinch: Not the revelry of a nearby barbecue party, not the snarling engine of a motorcycle that tears through the park, not the thumping bass from the speakers of a car passing over the bridge. A postal worker, he says fishing taught him patience. On days when the stress is so bad, he ends his shift at 4 p.m. and heads directly to the park, sometimes while still in his uniform.

Decades of this helped turn him into an amateur ecologist: He knows when fish mate, the names of local birds, when the geese lay their eggs.

“What you get from this is peace and the tranquility of being outdoors. You don’t see the same picture twice,” he says.

Nearby, Maceo and Fred McBride are camped yards apart from each other amid the reeds and brush.

“My fishing buddy,” is what McBride, 49, calls Maceo, who held his first rod when he was four. Despite the bass that keep slapping the water’s surface, almost begging to be caught, the father huffs to his son’s spot to watch him haul up bluegills — three in five minutes.

But the day’s not over yet. “These babies are active,” says McBride, baiting his son’s hook for another pass. “This is the best thing in the whole world right here.”

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