Illinois Catchable Trout Program or
Fishing in Hell

“Our Catchable Trout Program is a perfect example of a program that is completely self sufficient and funded entirely by sportsmen. This program is enjoyed by thousands of youth, families and experienced anglers and I wish everyone a great spring season,” said IDNR Director Marc Miller.

My friend Bruce and I have been talking of going out to one of the local trout stocked lakes in order to catch a limit of rainbow trout. There are few fish that taste better than rainbows. Sunday morning bright and early he called to let me know he was heading out to try Spring Lake.

On the drive out I had to rummage through the pile of junk on the seat next to me. My sunglasses always seemed to wind up at the bottom of the pile. I took my eyes off the road for a couple of seconds and a bright flash blinded me briefly. When I could see again I was still heading straight down the road. Nothing worse than straying out of your lane on a two lane road. Must have been a reflection off something. These bright sunny days will do that.

I pulled into the parking lot near the lake. It was already filled with cars and pickup trucks. Every one of them must have had some kind of sticker somewhere on the car or truck that let everyone know what kind of fish the owner liked to pursue. I took the last empty space. I didn’t see Bruce’s car anywhere, so I got my usual gear together and headed for the path. I thought I would just use what I normally use on a river in order to try to catch these trout. No reason I could think of why the fish wouldn’t hit what I had. I tied on a black and white rooster tail as I walked.

The trail was well worn and went straight from the parking lot and up a slight hill. Just enough of a hill to block the view of the lake. The opposite side of the hill was a little steeper, but the trail followed the same perfectly straight line. At the bottom of the hill there had to be 100 guys lining the shore of the lake. It seemed like they were evenly divided on either side of the trail, 50 going off to the left and 50 to the right. There was barely a foot of empty space between them. As I approached I noticed there was just enough space to fit one more person.

“Hey buddy, c’mon up and make yursef comfortable,” said one of the anglers as I approached, “plenny a room.” Well, almost. I got up next to him and I was suddenly shoulder to shoulder with him and the angler on my left.

“I’m Joe,” he said, “putcher bucket down and make yurself at home.”

My bucket? I don’t carry a bucket. I suddenly felt a heavy weight in my left hand. I looked down to see a 5 gallon white bucket hanging from my arm. It was filled with fishing gear, most of which I had never seen before. Big bobbers, a spool of 20 pound test fishing line, huge hooks, about a ton of lead, a ruler, a fish scaler and a filet knife that looked about the size of a machete. Startled, I opened my fingers and dropped the bucket. It made a loud thud.

“Hey ace, you wanna be a little quiet, yur scarin’ away all duh fish,” someone said from further down the line. All the anglers laughed, almost in unison.

Joe poked me in the ribs with his elbow and chuckled, “donchu mind dem,” he said, “dere ain’t much dat’ll scare away dese fish.”

What was this all about? I don’t ever carry a 5 gallon white bucket around with me, so where did this one come from? And what about the gear? I don’t use stuff like this, it’s all way too heavy, I like light gear. My right arm was aching a little. I held up my rod. What was a six and a half foot medium light fast action St. Croix rod matched with a 2000 series Shimano Spirex spinning reel with a front mount drag system, was now a Shakespeare Contender spinning combo.

The rod was 7 feet long and rated medium action, but it looked much heavier. The spinning reel was massive. The combo was rated for up to 25 pound test and that’s exactly what it looked like it was spooled with. A five inch long Little Cleo was tied onto the end of the line. The reel was being held to the rod with the cable ties that were probably put on back at the factory. The reel seats had been completely ignored. I heard a sickening groan start somewhere deep in my gut, rumble its way up and out my mouth. My fingers opened and I dropped it on the shore line.

What happened to my gear? I can’t fish with this stuff. I never could understand why guys bought this stuff and I always hated the fact that the sales people never bothered to show them how to mount the reel in the reel seats. I could feel a sense of panic building up. I wanted to turn and run but all I could do was turn at the waist. My legs felt like cement posts embedded firmly into the ground.

“Dis is duh stuff you use when you go out fishin’ for meat,” Joe said. “Dat light weight stuff ain’t gonna do you no good. One a dese big ol trout would bust dat little stuff right in half.”

“How did you know what I was thinking about?” I said.

“I could sees it in yur face,” he said. “All you newbie meat hogs ask duh same ting anyways. Dis ain’t none a dat catch and release crap. We’re here to catch meat and dere ain’t no apologizin’ for it. An if you wanna catch meat, ya gotta use meat catchin’ tools, dats duh way it works.”

I looked to my left and slowly around to the right. All one hundred of these guys were using the exact same setup that I now had. All their lines were about the same distance out into the water. At the end of each of the lines was a red and white bobber about the size of a baseball. They bobbed gently in the slight roll of the water. Every now and then a guy would reel in his line, lift it out of the water and examine the dead nightcrawler hanging from a massive hook. He would then cast it back into the lake and it would land right back where it started. The younger guys stood in front of their buckets holding their rods, while the older guys sat on their upside down buckets with a rod holder staked into the ground in front of them. Half of them had cigarettes tucked into the corners of their mouths. No matter how hard they sucked on the cigarette, it never got smaller and none of them ever had to get a new smoke.

“I hate fishing like this,” I heard myself say. “This isn’t fishing, you’re just hanging out because you don’t want to be at home puttering around the garage or the basement. You’re wives probably constantly nag you about all you’re unfinished home projects and the only way any of you can think of to shut her up is to say you’re going fishing. This isn’t fishing and what’s with the floating baseballs?”

“Dose little wimpy Thill floats don’t cut it when yur tryin to tie into dese babies,” Joe said, and he pulled his stringer up out of the water. There were at least 50 rainbow trout hanging from it, none of them longer than 4 inches.

“Don’t you believe in limits,” I said.

“Dere ain’t no limits here,” he said. “When tings slow down, we call dem on our cell phones and dey come out right away wit anudder truck load a trout. I’ll betcha we getta new batcha fish every udder day.

Besides, when duh action dies down, it gives us duh chance to talk sports.”

“Who do you call and where is here?” I asked. He ignored my questions.

“Besides, I hate sports and especially the way most guys talk about sports,” I said.

I could feel I was aching for an argument. I didn’t get this and I wanted answers. My feet still wouldn’t move. Joe was busy rehashing the 1993 Bear season with the guy next to him, playing that “what if” game that drives me nuts. What if this poor shmuck wouldn’t have dropped the pass in that fourth quarter and they won the game, you think they could have gone all the way to the Superbowl? They started talking at length about all the details of all the players on the team that year. I started listening up and down the line. They were all doing it. This group was playing “what if” over the ’87 Hawks. Further down it was the ’94 Bulls. There was a heated discussion going on about this years high school football prospects and a couple of guys were talking grammar school basketball.

I could feel the blood pounding in my head. Then the catch phrases started, trying to pass for conversation.

“Dey just didn’t have duh stuff.”
“Ya gotta give it 110 percent.”
“Ya gotta step up to duh plate.”
“Pull yourself up by duh bootstraps and get back on duh horse that trew ya.”

I was going to need a lot of aspirin to get rid of this headache.

“Will you guys knock it off and tell me what the hell’s going on here?” I screamed at them.

“Exactly,” said Joe.

“Exactly what?” I said.

“Donjew get it, haven’t you figgered it out yet?” he said.

“Get what, what are you talking about?” I grabbed him by the front of his coat and shook him.

“Hey, don’t kills duh messenger,” he said.

A laugh came from down the line, “but Joe, you already dead,” and he laughed again.

“What’s he talking about? What does he mean you’re already dead?” I screamed.

“Hey buddy c’mon, lighten up and let go a duh coat,” he said, “I could tink a worse places tuh wind up.”

“No, no way,” I screamed. “I am not in hell, I am not going to spend eternity doing the thing I hated most when I was alive. This isn’t happening. I’m going to wake up soon.”

“Suitcherself buddy,” Joe said. “Likes I told ya, I could tink a worse.”

I tugged violently at my feet. I could feel them breaking free. I pulled so hard that I thought my legs were going to pull apart at the knees. My feet came up and I turned and ran up the hill. I kept telling myself, don’t look back. It’s just a dream. I’m going to wake up at the top of the hill.

At the top of the hill the path went into thick dense woods. I don’t remember this. The parking lot is supposed to be here. This is just part of the dream. It’s just making it harder for me to wake up. I just have to get through the trees and its over. I pushed my way through the dense under brush to the clearing on the other side. There was Joe and the other 99 anglers and I was back on the banks of the lake.

“Hey, yur back,” he said. “I saved yur spot. We was startin’ ta worry. We tought you mighta got lost. Next times jew gotta go just use one a dese.”

He handed me a coffee can.

“No point missin’ out on all a duh action.” He grinned and winked.


I wrote this in June of 1999. My sentiments about and opinion of fishing like this hasn’t changed much. Once upon a time I actually cared what people thought and I didn’t want to offend other anglers so it never appeared on the web or in print. I no longer have that problem. One of the benefits of age. Or blows to the head as my daughters claim . . . remember that time you were jumping up and down in that space THAT WAS TOO SHORT FOR YOU!!!

3 thoughts on “Illinois Catchable Trout Program or
Fishing in Hell

  1. bob long

    An old time, caucasian, bridgeport irish and northside polish chicago dialect. City works, cops, delivery men, cubs fans. I can hear it everyday. Only ‘tings missin’ wuz da stogie anna beer

    I went once – catchable trou fishin’; at axehead. neer again. I didn’t know such savagery and coarseness could still exist in this time. We were like the “predator” hunting weak humans without mercy.

    I once caught a rainbow on a hook under a bobber the size of a beach ball. The fish jumped, saw the beach ball to which the fly was attached, flopped back down and went belly up. Die of shame, I reckon.

    1. Ken G Post author

      A few hours back home on the southwest side and I revert back to that. You can take the Polack out of Chicago, but . . .

      As my dad says, wudever.

      Except for some hidden streams in the Illinois driftless area, there are no trout in Illinois. It should remain that way. Fishing for them out of swimming pools is even worse. I understand the fund raising aspect of it, catching and eating relatively fresh fish . . . may as well electroshock them and be done with it.

      There are all kinds of water stocked with “preferred” game fish . . . pike, muskie, largemouth, smallies . . . why can’t we go out and senselessly butcher them?

      What’s the difference?

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