LA GRANGE – Johnny Wilkins has lost 38 pounds for this.
He’s been lifting weights and rehabbing a torn shoulder. He’s lining up witnesses, getting the word out and practicing whenever he can.
And it’s all about one thing: getting you to go fish.
The La Grange resident isn’t only interested in breaking the Guinness World Record for the most fish caught by an angler in a 24-hour period, which he will attempt at Lake View Nature Center in Oakbrook Terrace from 7 a.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday. He wants to do that – and he thinks he will – but what he really wants is to debunk myths about fishing.
Wilkins, 46, is a fishing instructor and founder of the Chicago Fishing School. He also is a member of the United States Fishing Team, which has taken him to places like Portugal, Belgium and Italy for competitions. But his goal is to prove that you don’t need to go on a far-off adventure – or even to Wisconsin – to find quality fishing.
“Fishing shouldn’t be something that is done far away,” said Wilkins, a La Grange resident and 1984 Lyons Township High School graduate. “It should be something people do because it is inexpensive and close to home – not just on vacation.”
To broadcast that message, Wilkins will try to break the world record of 2,649 fish caught in 24 hours. He will need to catch 1.83 fish per minute for a full day.
“To try to get people to sit up and listen,” he said. “you’ve got to do something crazy like this.”
Want crazy? Wilkins needs to fill 48 slots for witnesses who will record the types of fish he catches and sign affidavits, one of many requirements set by Guinness World Records, which has approved the attempt that took Wilkins two years to plan.
Wilkins will have two witnesses logging his catches at all times. He also must have an atomic clock to time the attempt, two minutes of recorded video for every hour and waivers for all children present.
During the attempt, Wilkins will drink water and a low-calorie sports drink and eat protein-rich snacks. The bathroom is a decent walk from the spot where he’ll fish, so he might set up a makeshift bathroom nearby.
He’s been training since winter, working out and fishing in the evening and on weekends. He is on pace to break the record, he said. His best mark is 203 fish in a half-hour. If he maintained that pace for 24 hours, which he said isn’t sustainable, he’d catch 9,744 fish.
“There’s kind of a speed below that where I’m more controlled. I make fewer errors,” Wilkins said. “If it gets too crazy, it’s counterproductive. The water kind of boils like piranhas in a horror movie and it’s just chaos. The fish get so excited.”
Wilkins doesn’t think many people attempt to break the record, set by Jeff Kolodcinksi in July 2011 on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota. He could go all out and try to shatter it, but he wants to make this an annual event to promote fishing – and to raise money for two charities, Ronald McDonald House and the Wounded Warrior Project – so if he breaks the record, he might just stop.
He’ll use a basic pole without a reel and 8 to 10 feet in length – far different from the 42-foot pole he used at the 2011 World Freshwater Angling Championships when he tore his shoulder. To Wilkins, it’s more proof that fishing doesn’t have to be expensive.
“You don’t need a $200 reel or $50 line and $1,200 tackle box,” he said. “You can get it done for $20 and go. You can break a world record with $20.”
Wilkins was turned down by some park districts that wouldn’t allow him to fish at their ponds throughout the night. But he found a taker in Oakbrook Terrace. The pond at Lake View Nature Center contains hundreds of thousands of fish, though many people don’t know it, Wilkins said.
He’ll be fishing for an array of fish, including blue gills, bass, a minnow species called shiner and large goldfish. Wilkins will released all of them back into the water, with his bait serving as protein that will benefit the underfed fish.
“A lot of the urban ponds … they’re surrounded by either concrete or grass,” Wilkins said. “There really isn’t a lot of food for urban fish.”
Wilkins will bring 20,000 grubs for his attempt. He prefers live bait to the artificial type, which many of the fish in urban ponds aren’t able to eat, he said, causing people to give up because they aren’t catching anything when all they need to do is use different bait.
“I’m going to attempt to fix that,” he said.
And maybe break a world record in the process.