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Catch of the day: Rock Islander makes his living fishing Q-C rivers
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Photo: Gary Krambeck
Commercial fisherman Ken Schroeder of Rock Island checks his fishing equipment on his boat as he waits for open water to return on the Mississippi River. He uses the plungers to create shocks in the water and drive fish into his nets.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Commercial fisherman Ken Schroeder of Rock Island checks his Trammel nets.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Commercial fisherman Ken Schroeder of Rock Island checks his Trammel nets.
ROCK ISLAND -- Since high school, Ken Schroeder has tossed fishing nets into the Mississippi and Rock rivers, catching thousands of pounds of fish, likely seeing another thousand sunrises.

A part-time commercial fisherman, the Rock Island man navigates the Mississippi and Rock rivers, familiar territory for a lifetime profession and hobby.

"I like to get out right at daybreak," Mr. Schroeder said. "I like to be off the river at latest by noon so everything is done early."

Mr. Schroeder, 70, comes from a fishing family. He spent many years fishing with his brother Rob, who doesn't get out as often because of other commitments. Their father, the late Kenneth "Whitey" Schroeder, was a Rock Island firefighter who taught his boys to appreciate the great outdoors.

Ken Schroeder talks about fishing with the enthusiasm of a man who appreciates the outdoors. He usually goes out a few times during the winter, but has been homebound due to the cold weather this season.

"I'm just dying to get out," he said recently from his home. "I think I've taken the snow off my commercial fishing boat 95 times this winter, and I haven't been able to get out."

He knows the rivers, knows the spots to look for fish. He doesn't use depth finders or markers, just a visual familiarity with his surroundings.

"I've had eagles follow me and come within five feet of the back of the boat trying to get the fish out," he said. "Once in a while, when I do take fish to market, I'll throw the sucker fish on the shore up on the ice.

"They'll (eagles) just feast on them."

The best catch of the day, he recalls, was 3,700 pounds of buffalo fish. Asked how he brought the nets into the boat, Mr. Schroeder said, "Very carefully."

Mr. Schroeder takes the fish he harvests and puts them in containers that can carry up to 1,000 pounds. The containers are filled with river water. He runs two aerators inside the tanks to keep the catfish alive.

The rough fish, such as carp, buffalo and perch, he puts on ice.

He drives up to Schafer Fisheries in Thomson and Fulton, Ill. He takes in so much per pound of fish.Pay is based on the type of fish he sells them. Catfish can yield 50 cents per pound, for instance.

Commercial fishermen are becoming fewer in number, Mr. Schroeder said. Back 50 years ago when he was going with his dad, he guesses there were about 10 commercial fishermen in the area.He said that number is half that today.

"The problem is the markets have disappeared," he said. "My only market now is Schafer up at Fulton and Thomson.If something happened to them, it would be too far to take my fish somewhere else."

An avid duck hunter, Mr. Schroeder's home is decorated with some of the birds he has hunted. Outside are bird feeders where he can sit and watch them feeding in the sun. On his footstool is an outdoors newspaper with a picture of a walleye being lifted out of a hole in the ice.

"I duck hunt every day," he said. "I've seen a lot of beautiful sunrises and sunsets."

When he talks, there's a smile on the former school teacher's face. It's as if he wants to take a piece of the outdoors and put it in his home. At the front door, hanging on the wall is a picture of a river setting.

He still appreciates a good fish fry at home.

"People don't take the time to fry fish anymore," he said. "They'll just buy things that are very simple to fix, quick to purchase.My favorite fish is the smaller catfish -- maybe 15 inches. They're delicious. Channel cat and small flatheads are really good eating, too."

As Mr. Schroeder displays his boat out in the snow and sun on an extremely cold winter day, he picks out something normally used in the bathroom.He uses toilet plungers, popping them in and out of the water to create shocks and vibrations in the water. The fish react and swim into the nets. He doesn't keep game fish, such as walleye or bass.

There isn't any secret to Mr. Schroeder's continued relationship with the river.

"I like being on the water," he said. "I like seeing the fish and I like the beautiful scenery -- everything you see out there, especially in the morning.It's another world."

For fish eaters, he offers a tip.

"What I like on a whole catfish is the tail," he said. "If they're real crispy, I love 'em. If it's fixed right, they will crumble up just perfect."










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  Today is Wednesday, April 23, the 113th day of 2014. There are 252 days left in the year.

1864 — 150 years ago: Some persons are negotiating for 80 feet of ground on Illinois Street with a view of erecting four stores thereon. It would serve a better purpose if the money was invested in neat tenement houses.
1889 — 125 years ago: The Central station, car house and stables of the Moline-Rock Island Horse Railway line of the Holmes syndicate, together with 15 cars and 42 head of horses, were destroyed by fire. The loss was at $15,000.
1914 — 100 years ago: Vera Cruz, Mexico, after a day and night of resistance to American forces, gradually ceased opposition. The American forces took complete control of the city.
1939 — 75 years ago: Dr. R. Bruce Collins was reelected for a second term as president of the Lower Rock Island County Tuberculosis Association.
1964 — 50 years ago: Work is scheduled to begin this summer on construction of a new men's residence complex and an addition to the dining facilities at Westerlin Hall at Augustana College.
1989 — 25 years ago: Special Olympics competitors were triple winners at Rock Island High School Saturday. The participants vanquished the rain that fell during the competition, and some won their events; but most important, they triumphed over their own disabilities.




(More History)