fox river sunset

Why I Quit Fishing

There are a few reasons why I quit fishing, but the main reason is pictured above.

My favorite time of the day to go out fishing was always the last three hours of the day. Sunsets seem to last longer. Now I still go out for the last three hours of the day, but with a camera rather than a rod.

I didn’t fish much and never a river before I turned 40. After that, fishing the Fox River and the creeks that feed it became an obsession. For 19 years that’s all I really cared about doing.

It was all about the fishing and even though I was out on the water during hundreds of sunsets, there were fish to be caught. If I stopped for a second I might get off a half way decent shot of the sunset, but I had to get back to fishing. I was losing my light.

19 years later and 10,000 smallies caught, give or take a couple of hundred, enough was enough. This would have been my 20th year, but I didn’t see any point and going out to catch one more fish.

Now I go out at those same hours of the day and pace back and forth in one of many areas where I know the sunset could be spectacular. It doesn’t always happen, but the anticipation is worth it. I get to watch the light slowly wane and change and glow and reflect off my surroundings. Something I never did when catching a fish was the point of being out there.

To me, being in the right spot to photograph the sunset pictured above, along with the 70 or so other photo’s taken that evening, was much more important than being on the other side of the river, behind the island, drifting lures in the fast and slow running water. All to catch smallie number 10,000 and one.

Standing and pacing and watching the play of light is much more rewarding.

Over those 19 years I’ve also cruised many, many miles on back roads all along the river and to it’s creeks.

back road

It was rare that I ever stopped very long, maybe long enough to get off a quick shot. I had a fishing spot to get to, fish to be caught.

Now, I cruise those same back roads during those same last 3 hours of daylight. Only now I don’t hesitate in stopping if something catches my eye.


Now I go out looking for the perfect sunset clouds.


the barn

Or I’ll head out if it looks like a good storm will be passing through.

the barn

I think it’s time better spent than chasing still another fish and letting my surroundings go ignored.

I have no clue if my photo’s are all that great. I don’t know if I care one way or the other. But like fishing once was, I now can’t imagine being out there and not trying to capture something.

For those that have followed along with all that I’ve written over the years, why I quit fishing probably seemed inevitable. My writing and the photo’s that went with them never really had anything to do with fishing. At least I tried to give that impression, but in my head I had to be there for the fish. Now I want to focus on the photo’s and all those spots I walked and drove right by.

If anything comes of that, that would be nice. If not, that would still be nice.

In an effort to take this new direction seriously, I’ve already started a Facebook page for Ken Gortowski Photography where photo’s have been going up.

I also have a website up and running called that is still under construction as I figure out the design and then populate it with all the photo’s I’ve taken over the years.

I’m looking forward to how this all pans out.

In the mean time, in my spare time, I’ll still be out wandering around those last few hours and minutes of daylight. Revisiting back roads I breezed down in the past, heading out to the river and creeks and concentrating on the details I passed up over the years.

And, just like when I used to fish, I’ll stay out to the very end, for that last little bit of light, for the perfect conditions.

And, just like fishing, you have to stay to the very end.

The very end tends to produce the best results.



First You Have to Get There

First you have to get there, that starting point upstream on the creek.

That’s what the picture at the top shows. Sure, there are other ways in, but after years of getting to the starting point, this is the easiest way in. The path is there, right down the middle. See it? If you ever see me put up photo’s like this, I always try to make it easier on people by putting the path dead center.

See that little spot of sunlight back there? Head for it. After that, you’re on your own.

Once in the creek it seems like nothing has ever changed, probably for hundreds of years. Quiet, sound of water over well worn rock, trees that look like they’ve been standing there forever and you wander down without a thought or care in the world.

Till you get to the spot where Mother Nature decided to rearrange the furniture over the last few months.


I’m at the point when I’m confronted with this need to rearrange things, the only thing running through my head is… I’m getting too old for this shit.

Stuff to climb over, all of it dumped in the best spot on the opposite side of the creek. If you look, no point climbing up there to shore fish. Not much of a shore to fish from.

This used to be such an easy wade.


After a couple of hours or so, you’re at the end of your trip. You’ve gone nearly three quarters of a mile down the creek and now it’s time to leave.

Good luck with that.


The path, it’s right there.

Right down the middle.

I’m assuming this explains why I never see anyone where I go on the creeks. I rarely see another set of footprints. It should also explain why I never wet wade. First you have to get there and when you get back, do you really want to be bleeding profusely and be covered in a poison ivy rash?

I didn’t think so.

After all these years I think of these creek adventures as normal. When confronted with a wall of woods when I want to get to a creek, I just look around a little bit and there it is.

The path, it’s right there in front of me.


Old Back Road Cemeteries

Heading west and south of where I live, it’s not unusual to come across old back road cemeteries.

Some are now tucked away next to subdivisions and shopping centers. Twenty years ago, those things weren’t there, but the cemetery was. Probably for well over a hundred years.

Most of the time these old back road cemeteries sit at the highest spot, surrounded by pretty much nothing. Corn and soy bean fields, maybe a farm house nearby, otherwise nothing.

Came across one while out wandering, don’t even know the name of the road. I just know where it is, now.

Of course I had to pay a visit.

This one is really well kept. Somebody does a nice job of maintaining the grounds.

The oldest head stones date back to the mid 1800’s and when they get that old some of the stones collapse and there is no way to prop it back up. Who ever is taking care of this cemetery goes to a lot of trouble to trim back the grass on even the fallen stones.

I came across one stone that looked old and was in with others that date back over 150 years. I found it interesting, intriguing and disturbing all at once.

There was a name on it, a first name only.

That was it.

No birth date, no death date like all the others.

Just a first name.

Having been raised Catholic, I have a respect for the dead and where they lay. As kids we were told to watch where we walk so we weren’t walking on somebody’s grave.

To this day I have that in the back of my head.

Oops, sorry, scuse me, sorry…

Even so, when I found this head stone I had to fight the urge to take it with me.

What are the chances of ever coming across something like this again.

I think it would look good in my yard.



A Minimalist goes Wandering

A minimalist goes wandering is a nice summary of what I wound up with in terms of photo’s, but that’s not how things started.

The sky was filled with fair weather clouds when I headed out the door. Skies, anytime really, but around sunset is better, and water are two subjects I go purposely out to shoot. Then things change while I’m out at times.

This day the clouds weren’t cooperating. I guess that’s a way to say I was uninspired.

But the mostly blue sky and the intensity of the late spring green had me searching out other things. I don’t look for anything in particular. I let the colors, objects and surrounding space determine if I find something interesting. Nothing predetermined goes into this thought process. That looks interesting… is enough to get me to raise the camera. A lot of failures, but others that I find intriguing.

Since the sky failed me and I didn’t feel like scrounging low down to find fungus and there was no water around, I settled for everything mid ground, mid view, whatever you feel like calling it.

Basically, I walked around and looked at stuff till something caught my eye.


A Much Needed Walk in the Woods

Took a much needed walk in the woods today. Since I quit fishing I don’t get out for long walks through woods and down creeks. I’m woefully out of shape.

During the winter and early spring I don’t think twice about blundering through the woods that you see at the top. A few feet in reminded me of the stinging nettles that are mixed in with the ever thickening undergrowth. From the knees down my legs quickly felt like they were on fire.

I stuck with the paths this time, for the most part.


The sun cooperated a bit and the new growth this time of year has an intensity that quickly wanes come June.

A feast for the eyes.

If you like lots of green.