HUMBOLDT PARK — When urban angler Jarrett Knize cast his line at the Humboldt Park lagoon earlier this month, he was expecting — and hoping — to land a bass or a catfish, one of the game fish the lagoon is stocked with.
Yet Knize’s big catch was anything but typical. He came away with a 72-pound-plus bighead carp, possibly the largest anyone’s ever caught in Illinois.
Photos of Knize with the enormous fish — including one of him pushing it across North Avenue in a shopping cart — lit up Twitter last week, bringing back memories of Chicago’s favorite wayward alligator.
But unlike Chance the Snapper, who experts quickly determined was an illegal pet released into the pond, Knize’s catch raises environmental questions: How did an enormous carp — an invasive species — get into the manmade lagoon? And what does its presence mean for the urban pond and vulnerable Lake Michigan?
While Knize waits to see if his record is verified, state environmental officials plan to visit the lagoon this week to ensure the colossal carp is the aberration they suspect it is and not a sign of trouble for local waterways.
‘We Think It’s A Rare Fish’
The big catch happened Nov. 6. Knize and his neighbor went fishing in Humboldt Park, thinking it would be a typical two-hour outing.
Using a 25-pound Seaguar Abrazx line and a lipless crankbait, Knize set up at the lagoon and landed a bass right out of the gate. But less than an hour later, he hooked another fish that changed the course of his evening, a fish that was so big he had trouble moving it.
“I’m watching my line just zing across to the other side of the lagoon, and I’m thinking, ‘I’ve gotta get my eyes on this.’ If I lose this thing now, it’s going to haunt me forever, not knowing what it was,” he said.
Knize and his neighbor fought to get the beast out of the water, maneuvering it toward them as it tried to swim away. After 30 minutes of wrangling, they finally got it to shore, but it was so big they could barely lift it up. Knize’s neighbor had to run home to get a net that was large enough.
A lifelong fisherman, Knize said he knew right away the fish could break the state record for carp in Illinois. As curious people stopped to take photos, Knize came up with a plan to get the fish certified.
Knize loaded the fish into a shopping cart from his alley and then into his truck, hauling it from Fish Tech in suburban Morton Grove to Henry’s Sports & Bait Shop in Bridgeport. The carp weighed in at 72 pounds and 9 ounces, more than the state record of 69 pounds, according to the Sun-Times, shocking shop owners.
“There was a very large one caught out of Humboldt Park about 12 years ago in the 40-pound range. I thought that was the last one of that,” Henry’s co-owner Steve Palmisano said.
When Knize returned home that night, he was greeted with cheering neighbors.
The state record is not official, as the fish is under review by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, spokeswoman Jayette Bolinski said last week. But Knize is confident the fish is a winner.
As someone with a deep appreciation for fishing, Knize said he’s focused on what the catch means for the lagoon. Knize grew up in suburban Wilmette and has fished in the Chicago area since he was a kid.
“It certainly would be cool to have a state record. … I just want to make sure that if we’re bringing resources here to do any surveys on the lagoon related to the catch that we’re making it better, that we’re taking care of it,” he said. “I cherish it so much, and I think everybody in the community does.”
As for how the carp got there in the first place, Kevin Irons, assistant chief of fisheries for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, has a theory.
Irons, who managed the department’s carp program for a decade, said carp were accidentally introduced to the lagoon about 20 years ago. When a state-contracted fish hauler dumped a bunch of game fish in the lagoon for urban anglers like Knize, some carp found their way into the batch, he said.
Three bighead carp from the lagoon were taken to the Shedd Aquarium in 2012.
Although it hasn’t been confirmed yet, officials think Knize caught one of those 20-year-old carp, Irons said. The department is still evaluating the fish, so its age hasn’t been confirmed.
About five years ago, Irons and his team went on a carp removal mission at the Humboldt Park lagoon, along with several other ponds in the city, as part of a larger effort to keep the invasive species out of Lake Michigan.
During that outing, Irons said they only removed a few carp from the lagoon. By comparison, they removed more than 20 from Flatfoot Lake at Beaubien Woods.
For that reason, Irons said he doesn’t believe the Humboldt Park lagoon has a carp problem. He said it’s likely only a few remain — and Knize caught one of the stragglers.
“We didn’t see a lot of [carp] there. But if all of a sudden, that’s changed, there’d be a new source. We don’t expect that. We think it’s a rare fish,” he said.
After Knize’s catch, Irons and his team are going on another carp removal mission at the Humboldt Park lagoon this week, mostly as a precaution.
Though carp are highly invasive, Knize’s catch doesn’t spell trouble for the lagoon, Irons said. A few carp won’t harm the lagoon — or any other ponds, for that matter — because carp only reproduce in flowing bodies of water like the Illinois River, he said.
But it’s critical that anyone who catches a carp in the lagoon or any other city pond disposes of it, so it doesn’t somehow end up in Lake Michigan, Irons said.
Carp pose a great danger to the lake’s native aquatic environments because they consume much of the food that native fish normally eat. They have a ravenous appetite — they can eat 120 percent of their body weight in a day — and reproduce at a high rate: A single fish is capable of laying over 1 million eggs every year.
“I don’t see this being a major impact at all to the Humboldt Park lagoon,” Irons said of the upcoming mission. “We want people to fish … so we won’t tear it up. We’re just trying to prevent a calamity from our lakes.”
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