Monthly Archives: April 2011

Illinois Creek Chub Trout Fishing

This had nothing to do with anything, I found it interesting at the time.

I’m a voracious reader, but the caveat is that I can’t read books. I learned a long time ago that I don’t have the attention span required to make it through a book from beginning to end.

Instead, I read articles and short stories. Preferably ones that are 3,000 words or less. More than that and my mind starts to wander. The bulk of the things I read have something to do with the outdoors. Fishing articles and stories are what I read the most with hunting second. I’ll read a good travel article as long as they’re traveling to go fishing or hunting.

The internet has fed this addiction. Blogs and blog posts are perfect for my short attention span. Simple searches on key words like – trout fishing small creeks – will get you a couple of hundred things to read. This is good and bad. It cuts into my fishing time.

The bulk of the articles and stories I read tend to be more about the experience of being outdoors. A good yarn or a little story telling thrown in is even better. Any article about the nuts and bolts of fishing and hunting gets passed over quickly. Any article that starts to refer to hawgs, pigs, beasts, trophies and any number of nick names outdoor writers like to impart, get thrown in the garbage. An appropriate place for that kind of writing.

The majority of the articles and stories I read tend to center around trout and trout fishing. The bulk of what bass, catfish, bluegill and crappie anglers write are the things I generally toss. That right there is kind of odd considering that I live in Illinois. There are no trout in Illinois and I don’t travel to go looking for them. I obsessively pursue smallmouth bass while wading rivers and creeks. Which makes me a bass angler I guess. But I’m also not that picky. I’ll fish for anything that’s willing to bite. As long as it lives in a river or creek.

A creek I fish quite a bit resembles descriptions and photos I see of trout streams. This one has the miles of lush wooded shore lines and the occasional high embankments that contain the creek as it runs through fields. There are nice runs and riffles, plunge pools and lots of cover and structure. When the canopy is thick, which is often, there’s no need for sunglasses even on a cloudless day. Like the descriptions I read of trout streams, this creek is always cold.

I used to religiously take water temperature readings while out fishing. These would go in the obsessive compulsive logs I kept of my fishing adventures. I have no clue what I was trying to prove by doing that and eventually I quit with the record keeping. Now I put my hand in the water, yep, that’s warm or, yep, that’s cold, is good enough.

I noticed that this creek I like to fish was getting a lot of cold comments. I was surprised that this was happening at the end of August, a time when all the other rivers and creeks in the area were running warm. Old records show near 80 degrees. So one day at the very end of August I dusted off the old thermometer and took a reading in this creek. It was 60 degrees. That I didn’t expect.

Since their are no trout in Illinois, the IDNR stocks them. They stock around 60,000 rainbow trout in 45 different locations around the state. Only 6 of the locations are rivers or creeks, the rest are ponds and lakes. This is a put and take program and I assume those trout that don’t get took, die off in the warm water of summer. There is one river in Illinois’ small driftless area, the Apple River, that stays pretty cold. The trout tend to survive here and I’ve caught them in the late fall, long after all they’re lake bound siblings have died off.

A couple of years ago I took all of the info I’ve outlined above and sent it off to a couple of IDNR fisheries biologists I know. After all that info there was a simple question, is there any chance of stocking trout in this one creek.

I got a simple one word answer.

No.

I’ve noticed that in March, April and May when the creek is much colder than all the other creeks and rivers in the area, the creek chubs become extremely active.

They are next to impossible to keep off a hook. And they fight hard. I also noticed over the years that they are sitting in water that perfectly fits the description of where trout anglers are catching early trout. There diet is also exactly like that of trout. During the spawn, the males will take on a bright orange color.

Which is why I call them Illinois Creek Chub Trout.

Granted, trout are much prettier, but in Illinois, you take what you can get.

What I’ve read of trout anglers, they are perfectly content combing small streams for small trout. I’ve seen hundreds of pictures of anglers proudly holding colorful little trout that barely fill their hand. The commentary that goes with the pictures generally say that they had a good day trout fishing. Maybe they’ll mention a bonus big trout that was pushing the 12 inch mark.

Illinois Creek Chub Trout are supposed to average 4 to 8 inches long. But the ones I’ve been catching have all been in the 10 to 12 inch range. From what I’ve read, trout anglers would kill to have days where they can consistently tie into 10 to 12 inch trout.

Based on all of this, I’ve decided to change the focus of my fishing guide service. I’m going to become probably the only river and creek river wading fishing guide that targets the Illinois Creek Chub Trout. Besides this creek, I know of two other creeks in the area that consistently produce these hawg Illinois Creek Chub Trout. For the real pigs, I’ll take guys out to the Apple River where the trophy Illinois Creek Chub Trout live.

Of course I’ll have to warn them about the by-catch, those pain in the ass smallmouth bass beasts that can run up to 18 inches.

If they’re lucky, I’ll show them one of my favorite by-catch catching methods.

Take a 9 foot, 5 weight fly rod with the appropriately balanced reel, line, leader and tippet.
Catch an Illinois Creek Chub Trout.
Swap out the hook for a wide gap 3/0 Gamakatsu hook.
Hook the Illinois Creek Chub Trout through the tail.
Put a 1/16th ounce piece of split shot on the line about a foot from the hook.
Roll cast this baby into the deepest, darkest pool in the area.

And hold on tight.

Video showing this technique coming soon.

Didn't have anything to say about this other than I liked the way it looks.

People Target these Things?

I decided to go fish a creek. I knew it would be a little high, I assumed it was going to be muddy. I’ve fished it under worse conditions, if the fish were in there I’d be able to get a few.

With the unusually cold and cloudy April we’ve had, we’re about 2 or 3 weeks behind where we should be when it comes to things growing and smallmouth bass moving into the creeks. There were surprisingly few wild flowers littering the forest floor. Rather than spend the time fruitlessly looking for things in bloom, I concentrated on the fishing.

The creek was a little high like I expected. The surprise was the clarity. Hardly any mud at all with a good 2 foot clarity. With the increased depth there were more places for smallies to hang out. I had my hopes up.

In the first 5 minutes I had two fish on. I knew they were both smallies by how and where they hit. The first one didn’t stay on long before it tossed the lure. The second one hit hard and had a fair amount of weight to it. It came to the surface to spit the lure out. Would have pushed the 18 inch mark for sure.

If this was how it was going to be, I was looking forward to a good day of fishing a little creek.

An hour later and not another hit. I was in the process of giving up, making a few more casts before moving on. With 8 feet of line out I saw a decent sized fish come up and nip the jig and twister. I set the hook and realized it was either a small pike or muskie. I pulled it up on shore. It was a pike a couple of feet long. It barely put up a fight.

They look menacing, but that's about where it ends.

People target these things? . . . was went through my head. The most uneventful landing of a fish I’ve ever had. I’ve had smallies take a lure with that much line out and they fight like hell to get away. This thing rolled over and gave up. I’ve fished the Fox for 15 years and have landed maybe a half dozen pike. I’ve hooked more muskie in one year. It seems like this year I’m going to land every other species in the river before I tie into a quantity of smallies.

Could have got a few good dinners out of this.

I considered keeping the pike. I’ve eaten pike before and this one was good for quite a few filets, but since I don’t keep many fish I never read the limits of the different species. If I’m targeting a meal of smallies, I have to go back and read what the limits are. I can never remember. Since I couldn’t recall reading anything about pike, it was lucky this day.

I decided to go fish a more urban area I don’t fish much anymore. Now I remember why I’ve given up fishing the more urban areas. I can’t stand them. Too much noise, too many people and nothing visually interesting. I half heartedly threw a lure around, but I could tell at that point I could care less.

So I started to follow the geese around. I wanted to see how many goslings were out and about already. There were quite a few.

At first you didn’t notice them, there were just a bunch of geese bedded down on the ground. But then I noticed that a few of the geese were sitting with their wings slightly spread out. The wings were being used as blankets for the goslings.

Didn't notice till I looked at the pictures at home. This one has a band on it's leg.

For all the geese and goslings I’ve seen over the years, I’ve never seen them do this. Some had just a couple of young ones while a few others were trying to cram up to a dozen of them under their wings.

WIthin 10 feet of this was a lone goose bedded down. I’m assuming the male, but I could be wrong. All I know is that if I got too close, I’d get hissed at.

Don't even think about it.

I’ve been chased down narrow paths on islands by pissed off nesting geese. The hissing is the warning sign. I kept my distance.

I was surprised at how quickly I gave up on the fishing. I guess I’m not cut out for fishing like this anymore. I’d rather be skunked in an area that is inherently beautiful than put up with this. Not worth it to catch a few fish.

The creeks are coming down before the river, like usual. I think I’ll be heading back up them to wait for the smallies to come to me. While I’m waiting, I’m sure I’ll find other things to keep me occupied.

A Little Exploring

The exploration began as a search for ponds.

Somewhere back behind a wooded area, down through a ravine and across a no name ditch, were supposed to be a couple of ponds, maybe four.

It took long enough to figure out where to park. The only road is a two lane. It doesn’t get much traffic, but it winds its way down one side of the wide ravine and up the other. A couple of blind turns and no shoulder to pull onto makes it difficult to stop along the road. Would be just my luck to get side swiped by one of the few cars to come this way.

I decided to pull into the abandoned drive of an abandoned farm.

This was a mistake. I knew immediately that going to find the ponds would have to wait till another day. There were abandoned buildings to be explored.

I’ve had a fascination with exploring abandoned buildings all my life. Growing up in Chicago, even as a kid fences and barbed wire didn’t keep me from this quest. Houses, apartment buildings, office buildings and warehouses were all fair game. There was always a way in.

I think the fascinating part of this exploring is partly due to the things found, but also due to the fact that I don’t understand how people can get up and walk away from buildings. To let them slowly rot into the ground makes no sense to me. Even now when I drive through old Chicago neighborhoods that have seen better days, I’ll come across a boarded up building. I have to fight the urge to hop out of the car, go pry plywood from a door or window and go wander through the building.

For now, I have nothing further to say about this area. I never made it very far. I kept wandering around the buildings, remnants of old walls and climbing over piles of stuff.

The thing I was struck by the most was the old fading red paint of the barn. It wasn’t going to disappear quickly and clung to wood and metal tenaciously.

For now, just pictures of the ruins. I never even took any of the surrounding area.

Eventually I’ll go find those ponds.

Well, at least I didn’t get skunked.

One of the drawbacks to keeping all of your fishing gear scattered throughout your SUV for 8 to 9 months out of the year is that when you go to pick up one of your daughters, the first comment out of their mouths is usually “Oh my God, DAD.”

That’s usually followed by an endless comparison of the smell to a variety of dead things. I’m sure the aroma of cheap cigars adhering to the interior doesn’t help. Besides all the tackle I’ll ever need, I carry around everything a wading and walking angler needs.

For the walking, I have a pair of waterproof boots that I wear when I’m working in my back yard. The grooves in the bottom are impacted with mud and dog shit. The dogs came with the woman I married. They aren’t my dogs and I’m certainly not going to walk around a yard picking up handfuls of their crap. Eventually the mud and crap will go away as I trudge through enough puddles and grass surrounding lakes and ponds. They sit on the floor in the back seat, an appropriate amount of newspaper under them so the carpet is semi protected.

For the wading there are a couple of pairs of long johns, you never know how cold the water will be. A couple of thick socks for the same purpose. Every now and then they get taken out and washed, but it’s rare.

Of course there are the breathable waders and the wading boots. Why let them sit around outside drying when they can dry out in the SUV, eventually. A ratty sweatshirt or two and a coat only used when out fishing. Somewhere in the SUV are 3 pairs of fingerless gloves. Air temperature dictates which pair gets used on any given day. I think I wash them once a year, if I remember.

All of the above items are covered with layers of fish slime from a wide variety of species. Catfish and carp are the most insidious of the fish slimes. Once you let it dry, it’s like having freeze dried slime. Get a little water on it and it’s as good as new, stench and all.

To cover all this equipment I have a 6 foot by 8 foot, thick cotton throw rug. I also use it to throw on the ground when changing in and out of my waders. Keeps rocks from puncturing the neoprene booties, but it also protects me form the goose shit that seems to be everywhere. It also absorbs all of the river smells as I stand on it still dripping wet from some wading. Once a year I try to remember to take it out, hang it over a fence and hose it down. My wife won’t allow it in the house. Then there’s an identical rug on the bottom of the pile to protect the carpeting. It absorbs everything. That gets a good hosing now and then too.

The obvious benefit to having all of this in your SUV is that at any given moment, you can go fishing. Driving past a pond, along a creek or crossing a bridge over a river, the only thing keeping you from fishing is finding a place to pull over.

I think the stench of a well seasoned SUV is a small price to pay for endless possibilities.

I took advantage of one of those possibilities today as I passed the river at the end of the day. When I won’t step in the water, you know it’s high. Even standing shin deep in water on the shore was making me a little nervous. Carp swimming around on shore, at your feet, will do that to you. I was certain I knew where the beginning of the 3 foot tall undercut bank began, but I was suddenly not that certain.

I did what I could for an hour before I gave up. But, like the title says, at least I didn’t get skunked.

Okay fine, a bit of an exaggeration. My daughter sent it to me today. I told her this was still another good reason to never go swimming in the ocean.

It does resemble me a bit, think 30 years ago.

Fine, here’s the more realistic pictures from today.

Kiss me, baby.

If I actually tried fishing for these, I would probably stop catching them.

High, Fast and Muddy Creeks

Some pretty heavy rains made their way through the area Monday night and took their time passing up into Wisconsin. Because of this the water level on the Fox River has been going up all day. Same with the creeks.

My suggestion to anglers after a rain event like this has always been to give it 24 hours before you bother going out. I’ve always noticed that the bite was usually off as the water rose. Only waiting 24 hours this time was only going to bring more rain.

It wound up being a nice day though a little windy. So with the river and the creeks all on the rise, I decided to ignore my own advice and go fishing.

I figured since the fishing was going to suck wherever I chose to go, I chose to go get lost on a couple of creeks. They were high and fast when I got there, but not quite as muddy as I expected. There was still a little visibility left, but only about a foot.

The first creek still had a big pool that was some what unaffected by the high water. What I noticed right off was that the spring carp and sucker run was on. Usually with the crystal clear water you can see them all running up the river. Today you could only see them when they porpoised on the surface. If there were any smallies here, this carp and sucker run would pretty much shut them down.

When I noticed all the fish, I took a look around for the wild flowers. When the carp and suckers start their run, the bluebells start to bloom. I have pictures of the woods the first week of April when the forest floor is a carpet of bluebells for as far as you can see. And I remember the fish already running up the creek. This year only a few bluebells were up. Looks like a good week before the woods are covered with them. I don’t know what normal is, but I keep saying these fish runs are all temperature driven. Same with the flowers it seems.

A small ditch of water that usually trickles into the creek was letting in a steady stream of muddy water.

I knew between the mud and the fish run there was going to be no smallie bite. I had my hopes up at one point when a fish hit and a good fight was on, but it was a sucker that decided to eat the lure.

From fish IDs’ I found, it appears to be a golden redhorse. That’s a good thing. The redhorse species are a good indicator of a healthy water system.

After doing a cursory search for some morels as I wandered through the woods, I have a feeling it will be quite some time till I get the hang of finding any, I headed to the next creek. More of the same conditions with a lot of fish porpoising. I quickly gave up trying to catch anything from the creek.

A short distance through thick woods was a pond that got virtually no fishing pressure. Now bushwhacking isn’t so bad, but later it becomes virtually impassable with thorns and poison ivy. Since I seem to be immune to poison ivy and thorns are the price you pay to get to the best fishing spots, it doesn’t stop me. Based on the complete lack of signs of other anglers, it obviously stops them.

The forest floor here was practically devoid of bluebells. Not many other flowers in bloom as well. If the sun ever does come out, there is going to be an explosion of color.

The pond wound up being the place to fish. A few largemouth bass cooperated as well as a handful of bluegills.

I stuck with a small jig and twister because it worked. I have anglers tell me all the time that I should be throwing big baits for big spring fish. I don’t care about catching hawgs, hogs, monsters, trophies or freshwater denizens of the deep. I like to catch fish. I’m not picky about size or species as long as they’re hooked. And I got what I wanted.

Another fruitless search for morels entailed as I wandered through the woods back to my car. I hear that once you find your first one, finding them after that becomes easier. For all know, I’m standing right on top of them. The areas I wander through fit the descriptions of where they can be found.

I imagine I’ll find my first one when I trip on a log, wind up flat on my face and it will be staring me right in the eye.

________

When I got home, my wife was wandering out to her car in her lounging garb . . . one of my grungy t-shirts, a pair of my gym shorts, her bright purple Grumpy (the dwarf) robe, a pair of bright purple ankle socks and my slippers.

She wanders around outside like that all the time. The woman has no shame.

I tried to capture the fashion moment, but she was too fast.