Winter Perchin'
Outdoors with Mike Norris - December 11, 2002

A silhouette of the John Hancock building mirrored brightly atop the calm waters of the North Channel at Navy Pier last week as Lansing (Ill.) crane operator Dan Grapenthien and I tested our luck for wintertime perch.

For Grapenthien, the day had a special meaning.

"It's my birthday today," said the 30-year old Grapenthien,"and I couldn't think of a better way to spend the day than catching perch. I've been pursuing them down here at Navy Pier since 1992."

Grapenthien was first introduced to Lake Michigan perch fishing by his father-in-law, Joe Goetz, a 74 year-old retired fireman Harvey. Joe fishes here at least three times a week from November until the lake freezes and he's been doing it for more than 60 years, Grapenthien said.

Navy Pier is famous for its perch regulars. There are some guys who go there every day when the perch are biting. They have their spots, and if you are in it, they are not real happy.

One Navy Pier spot Grapenthiens father-in-law likes is along the west end of the south channel at Navy Pier. There is a concrete wall there which he believes the perch use as a travel route, and it holds some big fish.

"Personally I don't care where I fish the Pier; I'm just out to have a good time," said Grapenthien. "But like my father-in-law, I believe there are bigger perch on the south side of the Pier."

Rigging for lake perch is fairly simple. Grapenthien ties a one-quarter ounce bell sinker to the end of his six-pound Berkley XL monofilament, and then loops two Eagle Claw snelled gold hooks up the line, each a foot apart, to which he adds fathead minnows. He prefers a seven-foot medium action Fenwick HMG AV spinning rod so he can feel light bites. The length of the rod also helps him make long casts.

"Fathead minnows cost more than the river shiners most perch anglers use," said Grapenthien, "but I think they catch perch more consistently. They are more native Lake Michigan than the river shiners most anglers use."

The size of the perch caught can vary from day to day. On our outing we caught perch up to 10 inches. On some days Grapenthien said his smallest perch are anywhere from 11 to 14 inches.

Navy Pier is a really unique area to fish, with one of the most beautiful skylines in the world as your backdrop. If you get cold, you can go into the mall at Navy Pier, where you can warm up or eat at the McDonalds which opens at 6 a.m.

"Navy Pier perchin is a great way to fill the lull time between the Illinois River sauger and white bass run, and ice fishing," said Grapenthien.

The creel limit for perch in the Illinois waters of Lake Michigan is 15 per day. There is no size limit.

To get to Navy Pier from the western suburbs, take the East-West Tollway and Eisenhower Expressway into Chicago's Lake Shore Drive. Turn north on Lake Shore Drive and follow the signs directing motorists to exit at Navy Pier. Enclosed parking is available along the north side of the Pier. Under a special arrangement with the City of Chicago, anglers who fish the Pier, show their Illinois fishing license, and leave the parking lot before 10 a.m. only pay a $3 parking fee.

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