The beginning of November, the weather was still unusually balmy. Was out a couple of days earlier and caught a 19 inch smallmouth. I knew there was something from that day that told me what I should go do. So, where did I leave off. Oh yeah.
A few more casts produced a couple more fish, baby brothers of the big one. Then the sun went off the water and the bite died. On the other side of the river were more bluffs sitting drenched by the sun. The slow moving pool in front of them was inviting. Getting across the river was impossible, unless I felt like swimming. I estimated in my head how long it would take to drive and walk to the other side. The sun would be gone by then. Another day perhaps.
In that two day hiatus, the sun levels changed. A mix of clouds and haze kept the sun from beating down on the bluffs like it was 48 hours earlier, but I was hoping there would be just enough warmth to attract a few fish.
I parked my car a few feet from some railroad tracks. The rest was woods. I like to scan the woods for signs of life. This can sometimes be an indicator of activity in the water. Don’t know how or why, it just works out that way at times. There was a dead raccoon next to the tracks. Another dead one a few feet away. Between the two of them, they never heard the train coming?
It was a good half mile hike to the put in point and the birds and squirrels were everywhere. Down the narrow path to the river I had a coyote cut across the path a few feet ahead of me. This may be a forest preserve, but it’s surrounded by suburbs and their homes. Coyotes howl, I’ve heard them here in the past when the sirens are being tested on a Tuesday. Being surrounded like this makes me feel sorry for the coyote and I hope he lets out the occasional howl on purpose, just to creep people out.
A great horned owl was talking on the other side of the river. A red tailed hawk let out a screech over head. Blue herons were wading the shallow riffles and a few ducks and geese flew by. This all had to be a good sign and I expected excellent fishing. Almost a half mile and one fish later, I felt I that I appropriately debunked that theory.
At the end of the hike there was an angler on the other side of the river. I shouted across asking if he could hear me. A positive answer. He was fishing where I was just a couple of days earlier, but he was fishing the wrong spot. I let him know that and he switched positions.
A minute later I hear . . . are you Ken?
I always hesitate in answering that. People must think I don’t know my own name. But admitting to it in the past has not always resulted in friendly banter.
He introduced himself and I already knew him. So I gave him even more details on how to fish that spot. While I struggled to land 3 or 4 more dinks, I watched him land quite a few more and miss a couple of good fish. “You need to come over here,” he shouted across. Yeah, great, it’s 8 feet deep between us and the ride around to get there would have put me there too late. I settled for dinks while wishing I was on the other side of the river.
Which brings up a point as to why those fish were there.
Many years ago in the fall I noticed a lot of bluegills mixed in with baifish all around in the river and in the creeks and ditches. A fisheries biologist told me that the gills and baitfish migrate up the river and creeks in the fall.
Many years ago I read a fishing tip from the river god Dan Gapen. In the fall fish the lift before a set of riffles, this is a typical fall holding spot. So, bluegills and minnows outside the mouth of a creek because they are migrating. A lift before riffles in that same spot outside the creek. Game fish stacked up in the area. All makes sense when you get it all figured out. I did, but was on wrong side of the river. Brad now knows and he was in the right spot. Luck of the draw.
On the way home I had to stop at a ditch where I used to seine baitfish in the fall. This was where I started figuring out the fall fish migrations. It wasn’t unusual to come here, dip in the net and have far too much bait for the day.
The ditch was in excellent shape. Clear, a little bit of fresh water running through, but devoid of life. Not a single fish of any kind was swimming here.
A couple of days later I thought I would try another one of my spots. The conditions were perfect for the stretch I wanted to fish, only I wasn’t convinced the results were going to be worth the effort. The evening had been getting colder and the water temperatures were dropping.
When I pulled into the parking lot, a father son team were in waders preparing to go out. I asked them which way they were going so I wouldn’t get in their way. They had fished further upstream, but had never fished this stretch. So I gave them the details of the stretch I didn’t plan on fishing. They were very thankful.
A minute later . . . are you Ken?
There was that hesitation again. They waited for an answer. I must look like an idiot when I do that. Winds up, I once fished with the father of the team. Chuck was a member of a fishing club I had spoke to and I had their group out on the river many years ago. We’re both older, grayer, but there’s no forgetting the penchant for a decent cigar while fishing. I gave them more details and watched them head for the river. The kid was smoking a cigar too.
I headed further up stream and hit the stretch with the sun drenched rocks.
Six missed fish later I was pretty much fed up with the whole outing. Then I landed one. Then I foul hooked a carp so bad that the only way to get the hook out was to hug the thing to my chest to keep it still while I untangled the line and unhooked the lure. The reason carp stay active during the winter when all other fish slow down is because of the thick layer of slime they develop as the water gets colder. Which was now all over me. Since it’s somewhat waterproof, I had to pick up some shoreline sand to help scrub it off my hands and waders.
Note to self, lip carp in winter months.
At some point I was just going for a walk. I watched a decent buck navigate it’s way across a river channel.
They bed down on the islands during the day where it’s safe.
At sunset, they head for shore and the nearby woods and farm fields. None of this area can be hunted, as far as I know. But that might just be my assumption.
Cut across an island and spooked the biggest doe I’ve ever seen when I came close to walking on top of it where it lay bedded. This island is privately owned, but I fish along here so much that I’ve got to know the owner. He has no problem letting me wander around out there. His kids have turned it into a camp with most of the comforts of home.
Including a sometimes welcome respite for a wandering angler.
I made it to the duck blind at the end of the island as the sun was starting to set. With it’s due west vantage point, I’ve timed this fishing hike to end here many times, just in time. If I’m early, I stretch out on the bench and struggle not to doze off while waiting for the sunset light show.
Not that it would matter if I did pass out here for the night. I had everything I needed just down the path.