June 15, 2011

The Horseshoe Pier "JUMBOOOOOOOO"

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent

The Horseshoe was one of my favorite places. I used to fish there, when it was just a pile of large jumbled rocks. We had to jump from rock to rock in order to get out a distance from shore, then wedge in our trolley poles and fish. Sometime in the early / mid 40s, the city came in and added more rocks and paved it all over. They even added little metal slots on the sides, every 10 feet or so. This was to accommodate the metal rectangle that we added to our trolley pole. Now we could really fish.

Trolley fishing is very unique to the horseshoe and the lake front. I have fished all my life and the horseshoe is the only place I have ever seen it done. We would get out there before sunrise and fish until late afternoon. We bought our bait at "C. Berry for Bait," a green shack just east of the Harbor. "Shinners" were at 10 cents a dozen, peelers were 25 cents. I could catch 50-60 nice perch. Still today, the best eating fish is Lake Michigan Perch.

Herring would come in twice a year, spring and fall. We had herring due to the opening of the St. Lawrence seaway. You had to use a real small hook for herring, but the herring eventually went away.

When fishing the Horseshoe, you were obligated. when catching a big perch to holler out, JUMBOOOOO. It became automatic .

The trolley fishermen were a strange bunch. We all had our own personalized, modified gear.You couldn't go to the store and by a trolley fishing outfit. You could buy some components, then make your own. I still have mine; as junk, it's worth $2.00, but to me it's priceless.

For those of you who don't know what trolley fishing is, take a leaded claw type anchor, attach a sturdy cord, wind up and let her fly, then pull back on the cord. Set the anchor and tie it off to your pole. On the cord that runs from the pole to the claw, we attached a large lead weight that has two brass pulleys. T his was the "trolley" to which you added a length of line that had 7 hooks hanging spaced every 12", this line was let out into the water after baiting.

After you found the best guesstimated depth., the line was attached to a spring bell., the fish bit, the bell rang, you pulled in the fish.

I went out to the Horseshoe a few years ago;  it isn't the same horseshoe I used to know. They fish differently today.

Trolley fishing is a thing of the past, a lost art, so to speak. One of my greatest desires is to make a documentary on the Horseshoe and trolley fishing. I have sent letters and so far no takers

I'll never forget the shout Jumbooooooo.

One day a few years ago, when I was fishing on a pier in Boca Raton, Fla., another fisherman caught a fish and yelled "Jumbo." I turned to him and said "Horseshoe," he smiled and gave a thumbs up. My granddaughter said, "What's that all about?" I just said, "You wouldn't understand."


old guy said...

Oh man that really brings back memories, I never trolly fished but my grandfather used to take me down to the rocks when I was a kid and watch the guys fish. I also remember when the smelt were running.
It was a big deal and a lot of people would set up tents and have grills going.
when I was about 5 years old some of my aunts and uncles dicided to make a party of it and had all us kids come down and join in on the cookout and what a treat. The fish were cooking 15 minutes after being caught. that would have been in the mid fifies.

old guy said...

Oh one more thing, If memory servses me correctly nets were used for the smelt.

Unknown said...

My friends and I. Trolley fished on the pier in the early 50ties. My mother let me take her shopping cart filled with our equipment. We took the cart onto the first northwest highway bus in the morning (318 am) from the end of the line in edison park. There was a transfer to the Clark street green hornet street car and finally a long walk to the pier. We usually threw our anchors out for ourselves, but there were a few older guys who could really throw them far and we often got their help. Getting the cart on the bus and streetcar was always difficult but coming home with a stringer of perch during rush hour was always an especially interesting experience, One Saturday morning in June of 1954 we cancelled a plan trip at the last minute because of the forecast of thunderstorms. Six hours later around 9am the famous siech swept several people off a smaller pier on mount rose harbor to their deaths. I don't know if there were any casualties from the big pier.

Anonymous said...

I'll never forget in 1963 when my dad took my friend, Bob and I trolly fishing on the horseshoe for the first time
We were 13 and got down there at first light. Dad had his own rig with a long rope with a six pronged sort of grappling hook on it. When we were all set up he had us stand back while he slung the rope and hook around over his head letting out the rope more and more until he finally let it fly.

It was a mighty toss, and would have been most impressive if he had tied the end of the rope to the pier. Oops! All he could do was shake his head a d shrug his shoulders. "Well thats that, let’s go get breakfast." He said.

I'll have to admit the bacon, eggs and hash browns he bought us at the diner at Lincoln, Damen and Irving Park was pretty good.


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