October 28, 2019
By Ned Kehde
Joe Capilupo of LaGrange, Illinois, is 29 years old. In 2017, he became afflicted with a mild case of what is proverbially called fishing fever. Since then, it has become quite acute.
In fact, he mentioned in a telephone conversation on Oct. 19 that nowadays he wants to be fishing whenever he is not working. He works from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays as a correctional officer for the Department of Corrections of Cook County, Illinois.
When he is not working and the water is not covered with ice, he fishes a variety of waterways in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. One of his favorite urban and nearby waterways lies along the shoreline of Lake Michigan at Monroe Harbor, which is part of the Chicago Park District. There are spells throughout the year, when he ventures to this shoreline two to five times a week.
And as the winter of 2019-2020 is approaching, he is hoping to pacify his fishing fever by becoming an ice angler.
During the third and fourth weeks of October, we exchanged several emails and telephone conversations about his piscatorial endeavors. And in an email on Oct. 20, Capilupo noted that “the fishing around here is a grind and tough. We never keep track of how many we get in a hour or how many we average per hour. We just try to catch fish throughout the day. Which is pretty hard to do… .”
We also talked about his Oct. 14 outing with Jonny Pitelka and Myles Cooke, who also reside in LaGrange.
This threesome spent part of the day fishing in their kayaks at Busse Lake, which is situated in the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois.
Then, they ended their day at Monroe Harbor by walking along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. They plied this shoreline from the Shedd Aquarium to south of Buckingham Fountain. They made their first casts into Lake Michigan around 7:30 p.m. At 10:40 p.m., a police officer reminded them that Grant Park would close in 20 minutes. Their last casts were executed in a dramatic fashion at 10:50 p.m.
Capilupo is not a Midwest finesse devotee, but when he pursues Lake Michigan’s smallmouth bass, he regularly uses a standard Midwest finesse rig, which is a Z-Man Fishing Product’s Finesse TRD. And as he plied this shoreline during the night of Oct. 14, he used a Z-Man’s California craw Finesse TRD. He wielded it on a seven-foot, one-inch St. Croix Mojo spinning rod with a medium-heavy power and a fast action. His reel was a Daiwa 3000 Legalis spinning reel that was spooled with 14-pound-test monofilament line. He affixed the Finesse TRD to a black 1/6-ounce Z-Man’s Finesse ShroomZ jig. The jig is attached to the monofilament line with a palomar knot.
He noted that either a California craw or a green-pumpkin Finesse TRD affixed to a either a 1/6-ounce or 1/5-ounce Z-Man’s Finesse ShroomZ jig have become his favorite rigs to use when he is in pursuit of Lake Michigan’s smallmouth bass.
The water’s edge of this shoreline is lined with a concrete retaining wall that supports a sidewalk and bike path. The depth of the water immediately adjacent to the retaining wall ranges from 10 to 15 feet. At times, Capilupo employs a vertically presentation along the side of this wall with his Finesse TRD rig. While employing his vertical presentation, he will walk slowly along the edge of wall, using a slow strolling tactic that is highlighted with a hop-and-pause presentation or a hop-and-deadstick presentation. He executes the hop by slowly lifting his rod from the three-o’clock position to the two- or one-o’clock position and then lowering it back to the three-o’clock position. In addition to his vertical and strolling tactics, he will make a series of short casts that are perpendicular to the wall. The first cast will range in length from five to 10 feet. The second one will be 10 to 15 feet long. The third one will be 15 to 20 feet long. After the cast is executed,he allows the Finesse TRD rig to settle to the bottom, and then he uses either the hop-and-pause retrieve or the hop-and-deadstick one.
From 7:30 p.m. to 10:49 p.m., Capilupo found the fishing to be a grind again. During that spell, he caught one rock bass. He also tangled with one smallmouth bass that liberated itself. But on his last cast, which occurred about 10 minutes before the lakefront park was to close for the night, he made a 15- to 20-foot cast from the retaining wall. He allowed the Finesse TRD rig to settle on the bottom, and as Capilupo created the initial hop, a gigantic smallmouth bass engulfed the rig.
Upon landing it, he and his friends were wowed by this creature’s stature. They carefully weighed it on a handheld scale, which provided them with two different weights. One was seven pounds, one ounce, and the second one was seven pounds, five ounces. Thus, they concluded it looked to be a state record.
They quickly searched the Internet to determine how to keep this treasure alive and eventually weigh it on a certified scale. Then, once it was weighed and certified as a state record, they would return it to its home waters in Lake Michigan.
To implement this endeavor, two of them hurried to a nearby Walgreens and purchased several large plastic garbage bags. They filled the bags with water and gingerly placed the smallmouth bass into the bags and water.
Then, they transported it about 17 miles and 21 minutes to Capilupo’s residence in LaGrange, where they placed it in a large cooler that was filled with water.
Capilupo gave Cooke and Pitelka some money to purchase an aerator at a nearby Walmart. And while they were on the road to purchase the aerator, Capilupo worked on keeping the smallmouth bass upright in the cooler. When Cooke and Pitelka returned, they installed the aerator in the cooler. The aerated water eventually allowed the smallmouth bass to regain its equilibrium and strength, and Capilupo did not need to hold it upright.
During much of the night of Oct. 14 and early morning hours of Oct. 15, Pitelka continued to seek more information about how and where to weigh the smallmouth bass and get it certified. Ultimately, he made a telephone call to Henry’s Sports and Bait, which opens for business at 6:00 a.m., and he asked them if they had a certified scale on which to weigh the smallmouth bass. The staff at Henry’s said yes.
And straightaway, they transported the smallmouth bass in the cooler to Henry’s, which is located at 3120 Canal Street in Chicago. Upon arriving there, Steve Palmisano, who is one of the proprietors of Henry’s, placed the smallmouth bass in a container of water and weighed it on the certified scale. Along with Palmisano, Ernest Blackman, who is a Henry’s employee, officially witnessed the weighing. And this 22 1/4-inch smallmouth bass with a girth of 16 1/2 inches weighed seven pounds and three ounces. It weighed 12 ounces more than the Illinois state record that was caught in 1985.
Then, Palmisano contacted Vic Santucci who is a fisheries biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Lake Michigan Program Manager, and Santucci certified Capilupo’s record-breaking catch.
Before Capilupo carefully carted his prized smallmouth bass back to Lake Michigan, they decided to allow it to continue recuperating from the stresses that it had endured since 10:50 p.m. on Oct. 14. To accomplish this, they placed it in one of Henry’s large fish tanks, where it convalesced until the morning of Wednesday Oct. 16, which was when Capilupo removed it from the Henry’s tank and reverently returned it to its home waters.
(1) Here is the link to Henry’s Sports and Bait’s Facebook site that has more details about Capilupo’s catch : https://www.facebook.com/henrysbaitshop/.
(2) Here is a link to the Chicago Sun-Times story about this spectacular catch: https://chicago.suntimes.com/2019/10/17/20919187/really-big-illinois-smallmouth-bass-record-history-back-stories-notes?.