Fish tales and other stories of the Kankakee

Sandy Vasko

    I guess if you have lived around here long enough you have heard fish tales, usually about the one that got away.
    Then there are other stories about fishing trips gone good or bad, or the weird blue frog you saw, or the time your friend jumped into the river up to the armpits to catch the giant catfish. It's all good and fun.
    Here are a few from over 100 years ago; just as much fun as today's tales.
    The first story that gave me an “Ah-ha!” moment is from the Aug. 18, 1905 Wilmington Advocate, “Friday last W. H. Hulshizer brought to the news office a water lily bud culled from Channahon but not native to this clime. It is a specimen of the genuine Egyptian lotus and its family seed was cast in to “the meeting of the water,” at Channahon several years ago by a missionary named Lewis.
    “Last summer a few matured, this year there are hundreds of this classical and decorative flower sitting proudly on their yards of stem, surrounded by lily pads as big as bushel basket and themselves nearly as big as dinner plates in full bloom. It is a great sight and Channahon is in this distinguished above its rivals.”
    Those of you who have seen these giant lilly pads near what they call “the backwaters” or out on the river near the Des Plaines will now know who deserves the credit or blame for those beautiful, but prop-twisting plants.
    Our next story takes place in a Joliet saloon. From October of 1905, “The peculiar fish caught last week at Wilmington was the cause of a dispute last evening in Eric Rygg's saloon which came near reaching the serious stage. It did lead to the arrest of William Bingham and efforts to have him indicted for assault with a deadly weapon.
    “The trouble was due to a misunderstanding. The fish frozen in a cake of ice was the subject of discussion. Some one said it was a black bass and Bingham, hearing the remark, thought that an opprobrious epithet was being applied to him because of his color.
    “Going out he is said to have gone to Fred Douglas and borrowed a razor.  Armed with this he returned to the saloon in search of trouble. No one was injured but the police were called and Bingham arrested on charges of being drunk, disorderly conduct and carrying concealed weapons.
    “He was fined $8.50 on the first two charges and then a state warrant charging assault with intent to kill was issued in order to hold him until the evidence could be presented to the grand jury.
    “The above-mentioned fish was caught in the Kankakee River last Friday by John Phillips, of Custer, on a throw line baited with a crawfish. The fish weighed 22.5 lbs., and was dark colored, tinted with red, and had a mouth like a bass. The fish created quite a little excitement on our streets Saturday.”
    Just a week later we read of another oddity was caught locally, “Fred A. Brockman was with a party Sunday fishing in the Kankakee River, near Prairie Creek and made the record catch of the season. It came in the shape of a monster eel, that when taken from the water measured three and one half feet in length and weighed 6.25 pounds.”
    From the May 6, 1915 Wilmington Advocate, “Joliet - A huge fish, with a beak like a bird extending a foot from its head, which barked like a dog as it attacked a rowboat with sufficient fury to capsize it, was described here as the “monster” which fought a 20-minutes battle with Arthur A. Lennon, Joliet merchant, and Lem Northern, proprietor of the Hotel Monroe. The fishy fight was witnessed from the bank by Harvey E. Wood, mayor of Joliet, who declares he saw the creature leap from the water half way into the boat, bite Northern on the leg, and heard it bark furiously.”
    Our last story, more amusing than strange, has to do with hunting, and a game warden that lost his gun.
    From October of 1909, “Frank Graper and Arthur Weiske, two residents of Custer Park, were arranged before Judge McCullock in Joliet last Tuesday afternoon on the charge of shooting prairie chicken. The men were taken into custody by Constable Wilke of Custer and according to the officer, he was armed with a rifle at the time and the two men took it away from him. During the mix-up Wilke took a chicken away from one of them. A compromise was effected, Wilke giving up the chicken and the men returning his gun.”