Dear Mr. Bowman

Dear Mr. Bowman,

I have been following your writing on the outdoors for a bit over a decade. The Chicago Sun Times should consider themselves lucky to have an outdoor writer of your caliber contributing to their newspaper.

Unlike many outdoor writers, your approach is more what I prefer. You don’t bore us to tears with product placements disguised as outdoor information. No excruciating details about the lures you use when fishing, down to the color scheme. No mention of rod name and model number. No reel mentioned with the inclusion of how many ball bearings are encased in the housing. You don’t go into detail about the type of camera you are using for your photographs. When hunting, you go hunting, again with no clever product endorsements disguised as hunting info.

Instead, you give us the experience. What it’s like to be out on a specific body of water, in a rag tag duck blind on the Kankakee River or sitting patiently up a tree in search of an elusive deer. You put us in the moment with you. We can feel the cold when you do. The tug of a fish on the line. Your aching muscles are ours after you go wandering through fields in search of birds and bunnies.

Now with your blog, Stray Casts, on the Sun Times website, we get to immerse ourselves in your world of the outdoors. On one end we get strictly informative details of fishing shows, deer harvest numbers and fishing and hunting regulations and opportunities. On the other hand, we get Ramble with Storm, the musings of a middle aged guy making sense not only of his place in the outdoor world, but the world in general. Your recent addition of a radio show on the outdoors adds more to the complexity of your approach. It is a show that has no rivals in the local outdoors milieu.

Sitting on a shelf within arms reach of where I am typing this is a book called A Voice in Our Wilderness, by John Husar. Years ago I read everything he wrote for the Chicago Tribune and his passing was far too early. I’ve heard people say that Husar set the standard for what outdoor writing should be like here in the Chicago area. And yet, I’ve heard fishermen say they couldn’t read his work because it was too flowery.

Comments like that only prove to me why there is a big demand for outdoor writing that is no more than product placements and reviews. To me nothing is more boring than reading still another article about catching big fish or anything to do with tournaments. But I do believe that makes me a minority.

I believe your writing has matched and possibly surpassed that of the venerable Husar, but that’s just my opinion. Bob Maciulis of the Outdoor Notebook can give you a run for your outdoor writing money, but that’s a different story. I hear there is a private stash of Bowman writings that I hope some day will become public. It would be a shame to not share those ruminations with those of us that appreciate your every word.

Each week I look forward to your Midwest Fishing Report: Expanded Online Version on your blog. Even though this time of year I don’t get out much anymore, I refuse to ice fish, I’m always looking for reports from those hard core river waders that get out even in the harshest winter weather. Imagine my surprise when I checked your report for January 26, 2011, scrolled down to the section that normally covers rivers and I find this:

I did not do individual river reports. They are really locking up.

What? Did I just not walk along the Fox River the day before? This is down the hill from my house in Yorkville and I thought I saw quite a bit of open water for as far down stream as I could see. Didn’t you just publish an article about the esteemed Mr. Chuck Roberts and his fly fishing adventure in open water along a crap plant discharge?

This had to be some kind of misprint.

I know from experience that in past years many of the other rivers in the area remain open. Salt Creek in Hinsdale where it might be possible to pick up a walleye or Northern should be open. It always has been. The East, West and Main Stem of the DuPage should be open. I’ve been on all three in January. I’ve been hearing rumors of some pretty good sized smallies being taken out of the main stem recently. Along with handfuls of rock bass.

I even tried the Chicago River once near Ashland Avenue, with a certain degree of success.

I recall sending you an email a couple of weeks ago that links to a post on my blog that explains all the open water available for the hard core waders. Did you not get this memo?

There is open water you know.
A wise outdoor writer would realize that and cater to desperate open water anglers needs.
The creeks, chunks of different rivers, Indiana creeks for steelhead.

Besides, ain’t no one else doing it. Once a week you could link to this post till all the safe ice is gone.

For my Fellow Iceaphobes – The Plan

Ken G

Apparently you forgot about this. A simple link to that post is all you need to do till the ice fishing season is over. It will keep those hard core river waders from harumphing in disgust at being blown off after reading your latest misguided comment.

But then I began to think, do you know something I don’t? Did the Fox River lock up overnight and I missed it?

I had to be in Aurora on Wednesday. I brought my camera with. The ride home would take me along the river. Imagine my astonishment to find miles of open water. My heart sank as I thought of your credibility regarding winter river fishing going in the toilet. I realize you live down near the Kankakee River and that river does freeze almost solid, I’ve been down there to see it. But up here, these rivers and creeks aren’t the Kank.

I decided to document my journey home, taking photo’s along the way of all the open water. The river should stay just like this for the rest of the winter. While all those ice fishing sissies are sitting in heated shanties staring into holes, there may still be some hard core waders out there that want to venture out and brave the real elements. Following is documented proof of at least open water on the Fox.

Starting at the Montgomery dam, the river was wide open. I stopped at a footbridge that crosses the river, this is about a mile and a half from Montgomery.

There may be some ice along the edges, but for as far as you could see up stream the river was pretty open.

The same could be said of the down stream view.

I kept driving along the river, eventually crossing the river in Oswego. It was impossible for me to stop, but the river here was wide open for as far as you could see both up and down stream. I kept going to the next bridge, Orchard Road.

This is about 5 miles down from the Montgomery dam. Bridge piers are notorious fish magnets and this bridge is no exception.

When I got to Yorkville, I stopped at the dam.

I already knew this was going to be open, I go past it practically every day. Nice spot under the bridge.

I decided to keep going. Many miles down from Yorkville is the next bridge, at the end of Silver Springs State Park.

A ribbon of open water through the pool on the river, which is still worth fishing, then it hits the riffles and opens up again.

At this spot, Big and Little Rock Creeks come together and flow into the Fox. I decided to check them out.

The view down Big Rock Creek from an abandoned bridge. On the right it's hard to see, but Little Rock Creek comes in and is open too.

The view up Big Rock Creek from the same bridge.

Another view down stream on Big Rock from another bridge. You can see the mouth of the creek where it enters the river. Over the weekend a couple of anglers were standing out there casting for muskie.

While I was sitting in my car trying to decide whether to continue my journey down stream, a couple of bald eagles came drifting north. They were following Big Rock Creek. A few years ago I had found their nest along the creek. I know they are up there again somewhere, but I haven’t found the nest yet. I decided to cut my down stream journey short. The eagles cemented my point.

I know many take my reports with a certain amount of disbelief, but pictures don’t lie and neither do the eagles. If there was no open water, they wouldn’t be here.

A few days earlier I had done some exploring of Big and Little Rock Creeks much further inland. I wanted to see how much open water there was on these creeks.

Little Rock Creek far up stream, that's all you get. The holes where the big fish live were accessible.

Up stream view of Big Rock Creek taken from a bridge south of Plano.

Down stream view of Big Rock from the same bridge.

Back in 2001 I set a goal for myself. I was going to fish the Fox River year round and try to catch a smallmouth bass every month of the year. I was going to keep doing this till one month I didn’t catch one. This will attest to the inaccuracy of your lack of open water statement. Following are pictures taken in winters past, either January or the first week of February. After around 54 straight months of catching smallies out of the Fox, I gave up. Not because I didn’t catch a fish, but because I had burned out my neoprene waders and didn’t feel like replacing them. Besides, I had proved my point.

A befuddled look, but it's still a fish. From January 2002.

A little walleye from the first week of February 2003.

Nice little smallie from the first few days of February, 2004.

A few days later in 2004. A little more ice, but enough open water to keep pulling out smallies.

In January, 2005, the Legendary Cory Yarmuth came out and got this 16 inch smallie. Those waders were once voted Best Camo Pattern Ever.

A few days later in 2005 the best I could do was this chunky carp. Wish I had that dark hair back and thank god I lost a few pounds.

After four years of not fishing in January, last year I decided to give it a try again. I hadn’t lost the touch.

Size never matters and in January, it matters even less.

So Mr. Bowman, as you can see there is plenty of open water to be had. You owe it to your faithful readership to continue to provide them with nothing but the best and most accurate information. If I had the inclination I would head over to Salt Creek and the DuPages to continue to document the possibilities for those that need to wade, but I’m no longer so inclined. I observed those rivers for that past 15 years, this year shouldn’t be any different.

I apologize if this comes across as a harsh reprimand, who am I to admonish one of such talent, but I had fun hacking this out.

Postscript: I took a break while typing this up to go smoke a cheap cigar out in front of my house. Along the river, not far down stream, a couple of coyotes started howling.

I love this stuff.

5 thoughts on “Dear Mr. Bowman

      1. Travis

        I took 25 south from North Aurora on purpose on my way to watch the game Sunday, To check out the water on the way.

        The drive down to Oswego is not that far, and open water was plentiful. Small patches are locked, I couldn’t canoe it. I could fish it.

        1. Ken G Post author

          31 degrees today. Would still give me ice on my guides. I hate ice on my guides. I’ll have to think about this.

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