When floodwaters started rising along the Iroquois River and Sugar Creek early in the third week of February, Mark Rinehart, of Papineau, headed for Watseka, where three of his four daughters live on streets known to flood — Oak and Hickory.
As the water rose to near-record levels in the Watseka streets and again flooded at least 200 homes, Mark and daughters Samantha Rinehart, on Hickory Street, and Bridget Rinehart and Rachael Rinehart Walwer and family, on Oak Street, were out in canoes, helping neighbors and strangers. Daughter Morgan Rinehart also had come over from Morocco, Ind., to join the family and countless others in flood relief efforts.
By Feb. 22, Mark had taken photos of the flooded and closed intersection of U.S. Route 24 and Illinois 1, with McDonald's in the background, flooded for the third time — 2008, 2016 and 2018.
Mark decided to try to lift spirits and, at 4:53 a.m. Feb. 23, posted a Facebook photo of a huge bluegill and the flooded intersection with the message: "Record bluegill caught on the corner of Route 1 and 24 in Watseka."
"My point was I wanted to post something positive that people could be amused by — the idea of someone fishing at Route 1 and 24, at McDonald's," he said.
As of 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, the post had generated 53,159 shares and more than 3,000 comments. "I've had over 500 friend requests on Facebook because of that picture ... people from all over," he said at midday Tuesday. Most comments on Facebook were positive, but a few challenged the authenticity of the photo, which had come off the internet.
The bluegill, of course, had not been caught from the floodwaters. Information posted online with the Timeline photo stated that the fish was caught in California and weighed 3 pounds, 14 ounces. Some of Mark's Facebook followers already knew that and posted that information or challenged it on other grounds — that it looked like a mounted fish or Fiberglas copy.
"One said it would make a great sandwich," Mark noted. "People invited me to go fishing at their resorts."
The "Watseka floodwater bluegill" is still the California record bluegill caught on June 22, 2008, by Michael Holoubek, of Elk Grove, Calif., at Rancho Murieta Reservoir at Sacramento. It was 14.3 inches long and 18.5 inches in girth.
The Illinois record is a 3-pound, 8-ouncer, caught on May 10, 1987, from a farm pond in Jasper County, east of Effingham.
The national record has held since May 9, 1950 — a 4-pound, 12-ouncer, caught from Alabama's Ketona Lake by T. Hudson.
If Rinehart's name and face seem familiar, you might have seen him and his daughters on horseback in Rinehart's Wild West Show. Among other things, he a is farrier and horse trainer and is building "Fort Rinehart" Wild West village and Native American camp at the don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it village of Effner, on U.S. 24, 11 miles east of Watseka and just inside the Illinois state line.