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Anglers net a huge honor: Fishing Hall of Fame

It was the greatest I-don't-believe-it-moment of his life. The type of phone call seen only in the movies, bearing news that a man only dreams about.

"It's the biggest thrill of my life," Don Dubin said. "It's the biggest thing that ever happened to me in my life. To be elected to such a thing blows me away. I'm still flying."

Last month the 68-year-old Lincolnwood, Ill., resident was selected as a "Legendary Angler" for enshrinement in the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wis.

And in another coup for Illinois fishermen, Jim Chapralis, 75, of Skokie, was chosen as the recipient of a Hall special recognition award for developing international fly-fishing.

"It was a surprise and a nice tribute," Chapralis said.

Although the Hall of Fame invites inductees to Wisconsin for a ceremony, enshrinement proceedings also take place on location. Chapralis was honored at the recent Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo in Itasca. Dubin will be honored Saturday at a Chicagoland Muskie Hunters Club flea market fundraiser.

"When we get people in town for it, we do it," Hall of Fame executive director Emmett Brown said of the Hall's procedures. "We don't have the money of the Baseball Hall of Fame."

Sometime this spring portraits and biographies of Dubin and Chapralis will be mounted on the Hall's walls, said Brown, who added that all categories of enshrinement are considered equal.

"I'm very proud," Chapralis said.

Chapralis, the reigning national casting champion in the over-60 age group, has fished in 40 countries and pioneered group fishing in Latin American countries in 1962 for anglers of lesser means. Chapralis set up camps in Mexico and Costa Rica that increased accessibility for the average angler.

"Before, it was a rich man's game," he said. "We had average, blue-collar guys. I think my best contribution was helping these camps get going so people could go to these exotic places."

Whenever he is able, Chapralis still packs his passport for a fishing trip.

Last summer, 55 years after his only previous visit, Chapralis returned to Kishkutena Lake in Ontario.

After reconnaissance, hiking and memory probing, in the same fishing spot, Chapralis again hooked a muskie on his fly rod.

"That fish fought all over the place," Chapralis said. "This thing fought like a steelhead. That was a thrill."

Maybe not quite as big a thrill as going into the Hall of Fame with Dubin. The gentlemen anglers admire one another.

"Jim's a great guy," Dubin said.

"Don has done a lot of things," Chapralis said. "His contributions have been immense."

Dubin was a founder of Salmon Unlimited, the group that spearheaded Lake Michigan salmon stocking in the 1970s. A former president of the Chicagoland Chapter of Muskies, Inc.

Dubin helped jump-start the creation of the Spring Grove fish hatchery. Those activities required close cooperation with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

He has been an avid fisherman for more than 50 years and has the photographs to prove it. Dubin also has done prize-winning taxidermy work and is a noted fish carver.

He was one of the anglers who helped raise money to establish the Hall of Fame, too.

Still, Hall of Fame recognition came as a surprise for Dubin.

"Being a fisherman, this is a culmination of a lifetime's worth of memories and the greatest honor I've ever achieved," Dubin said.

Dubin said he always tried to share fishing knowledge. It is important to give back, he said.

"We've all learned things from other people," he said. "I've always wanted to share. I like to teach people things I've learned. I liked to be involved. You have to fight for what you believe in."

Salmon Unlimited did more than that. The organization proved its point that Lake Michigan could become a genuine salmon fishery by buying young fish from Michigan and stocking Diversey Harbor. The group invented a new fishery. Similarly, over the last two decades, the Illinois muskie fishery has mushroomed from zero on a scale of 10 to one pushing Wisconsin hard for a No. 1 rating.

Chicago-area fishermen lament a decline in aspects of the perch and smelt fisheries, but they can't say that about other species.

"A stone's throw from Chicago you can get into all kinds of fishing," Dubin said. "Fishing has never been as good as it is today."

And Dubin is one of the people anglers can thank.