Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Interpretive Digital Essay : Water in Chicago
Essay: People and the Port
Photo Essays:
Solitary Lives
City of Bridges
Chicago Harbors
Essay: Using the Chicago River
Photo Essays:
Goose Island
Indiana Dunes
Essay: Sanitation in Chicago
Photo Essays:
The Sanitary and Ship Canal
Water-Related Epidemics
Essay: Water and Urban Life
Photo Essays:
Houses and Water
Shoreline Development
Growing Up Along Water
Growing up along the Water


Chicago-area residents have fished for hundreds of years. Beginning in the 1830s, commercial fishermen fished along the shores of Lake Michigan, later moving to ships to fish further off-shore. Into the 1940s, commercial fishing on Lake Michigan remained an important industry. Then pollution, declining fish stocks, and the introduction of nonnative species all combined to end large-scale fishing. At the same time, Chicagoans of all ages have fished as a leisure-time pursuit that could also provide family meals. Children fished with grown-ups, but also found in fishing an escape from the adult world.

Fishing, Lake Michigan, 1906

Although fishing might seem a way to escape the urban environment, it often was part of it. Seen here in this 1906 photograph is a pier built out into Lake Michigan with wood timbers and broken rock. Despite this not-so-pastoral setting, several adults and one young man appear to be fishing intently.

See also: Lake Michigan; Waterfront; Leisure

Fishing, Chicago River, 1917

Children also fished far from the watchful eye of adults. By 1917, the main stem of the Chicago River and for miles up and down its North and South Branches, was lined by industrial sites. But along the far reaches of its North Branch, the river became more like a stream and traversed areas that were soon to become part of the Cook County Forest Preserves. Here three boys stand in the ankle-deep water of the North Branch of the Chicago River, near Forest Glen, engrossed in an adventure worthy of a Mark Twain story. Two of the boys are holding fishing poles made of sticks and string.

See also: Forest Glen; Chicago River

Fishing, Fox Lake, 1926

To the northwest of the City of Chicago, dozens of small lakes dot western Lake and McHenry Counties. Much of this area was devoted to farming and recreation well into the twentieth century. Children on holiday from the city, or rural residents, took advantage of ready access to these small lakes for a variety of pursuits including fishing. Here two young fishermen walk down a dirt path in Fox Lake in 1926.

See also: Fox Lake; McHenry County; Vacation Spots

Fishing, Fox Lake, 1926

Fishing was not just the province of boys. This photograph shows two young women in a rowboat on Fox Lake in 1926. One woman holds up the large fish she caught. While many children made fishing poles of sticks and strings, these young women have more elaborate equipment, including the boat, finer fishing poles, and nets.

See also: Fox Lake; McHenry County; Sporting Goods Manufacturing

Fishing, Des Plaines, 1926

While children fished along urban piers in Lake Michigan and at rural retreats like Fox Lake, many also found spots somewhere in between along the many rivers and creeks in the region. The Des Plaines River, Fox River, Thorne Creek, Calumet River, Salt Creek and DuPage River are among the waterways to which boys and girls flocked. Here a group of boys sit and fish on the banks of the Des Plaines River to the northwest of Chicago in Des Plaines in 1926. A dock is visible on the opposite side of the river, in an area filled with picnic groves and summer camps.

See also: Des Plaines River; Des Plaines, IL