Monthly Archives: May 2011

Do as I say, Not as I do

When the Fox River is flowing above 4,000 cubic feet per second, I don’t recommend that anyone go in the water unless they know the water when it’s flowing at 750 cfs, which is normal. I learned the hard way that you should never try to go around log jams when the water is flowing at 4500 cfs. Log jams tend to want to suck you under them. And yet, I’ve stood 50 feet out from shore on a gravel bar when it was flowing at 5500. The water was barely up to my waist.

There really is no reason to be out there wading when the water is up. My wife claims I have some kind of odd death wish. I like testing my limits, hopefully they won’t kill me.

At high water the fish are all pushed up against shore and a lure dragged tight to shore structure will likely get hit. But there is always that one spot that is barely knee deep when normal, now it’s just above my waist. There’s a pile of upstream obstructions creating a big, long slow moving eddy. Of course I had to go walk around in it.

When I think I’m crazy for being out there, a boat goes by to prove I’m not alone. He did have the perfect set up for a river with what looked to be a Go-Devil Engine on the back. Only he was riding in style with a high backed plastic lawn chair for relaxing while driving.

This was going to be a strictly fishing outing. An hour and a half in high water and hope a fish could be caught. Oncoming storms had fallen apart when they got near, so the threat of severe weather was gone.

The river was high, fast and muddy. I think it’s the muddy part that should make the casual high water wader cautious. I can walk this area with my eyes closed, I know it that well. With the water clarity less than a foot, if you don’t know the river bed, you have no idea where you’re stepping. Not something you want to experience with fast water pushing on you at the same time. I was able to move around pretty easily, only once having to back out of a deep spot.

All the upstream casts proved fruitless. It wasn’t till I turned around to work the current seam and slow moving eddy that I got hits. The one fish I landed nailed the lure hard.

The other two hits were more tentative. The only thing that got them interested was hanging the lure in front of their faces and letting it swim around. You can’t do that with upstream casts.

After working this area over thoroughly, I considered finding more spots. When I got to the top of the bluff overlooking the river, I surveyed the flow one more time.

I was done. The places I wanted to fish were few and far between. Not worth burning off the gas. I got a fish, that was good enough.

As the day waned a small cold front came through. All the clouds, heat and humidity were pushed out. It was suddenly a beautiful day. The sun was lighting up the high branches of the neighborhood trees. Because of all the trees, it seems to get dark around my house a little early. I headed down to the river. The sun sets practically down the middle of it and lights up the river valley.

The sun was fading fast when I got along the shore.

One minute the tops of the trees and the edges of the shore were all highlighted in gold. The next minute it was gone.

I can take all the pictures of this I want and some will turn out all right. What’s not captured is the smell. I don’t even know how to describe the smell of fresh air. All I know is that when down along the river, you can tell the difference.

When I lived in the city and the closer in suburbs, the air didn’t smell like this. You can’t help but sit along the river with your nose up like a dog. You know you smell something different, but you don’t know why. It’s just there.

Too Hot to Wander, Too High to Fish

Within 60 seconds of leaving my house there are nothing but farm fields for as far as you could see. That’s one of the reasons I’m reluctant to move away from this area.

If the work gods were kind to me, they would find me more work in the west and southwest Chicago suburbs. Joliet and Plainfield are barely a half hour away. Naperville is another half hour to 45 minute drive, depending on which side of Naperville I have to go to. On a good traffic day, I can make it to Elmhurst in an hour. Relatively short commute times to me, a small price to pay to go home and be on perpetual vacation.

I’ve figured out a number of different routes where I would drive on nothing but back roads all over the state. Basically seeing nothing but farm fields and small towns for the whole ride. From what I can tell on the map, the majority of the roads would be nothing more than, well, a road. No shoulder, grass grows right up to the edge. No lines down the middle indicating a lane or a passing zone, just a road.

One route goes all the way down to Cairo. I have a few that will take me to different locations up and down the Mississippi River. Some day I’ll have to start venturing down these routes.

As I headed down this one, a deer was running across the field well ahead of me. It cut across the road and then made a high graceful leap as it continued running along a tree line. When I got to its crossing point the reason for the leap was evident. It had to get over a 4 foot high fence. How something weighing over 150 pounds can look so graceful on such a high jump is fascinating. My wife calls me a klutz when all I’m doing is walking through the house.

The plan was to go out and do some exploring on new forest preserve land near where I live. It’s completely undeveloped and has no real access points. I was able to find a small spot on the side of the road to pull over. I was warned by the head of the forest preserve district that finding a spot to park would be difficult. The only stretch of road that borders the new preserve is narrow and winding.

Luckily the road doesn’t get much traffic. I wasn’t parked that far off the road.

Based on a loosely drawn map I was given, I had a vague idea where the property lines were. One of the main reasons for this exploration are the ponds that are out in the middle of the property some where. They could be ponds that were once used for agricultural use only or they could hold fish. Only one way to find out.

Only finding out will have to wait. By the time I got there around noon, the temperature was already approaching 90 degrees. I scoured the edges of the road looking for ways into the property. I eventually found a well worn deer path that disappeared into a wall of green.

Down in this little valley, protected by the walls of trees, there was practically no wind. The heat was already repressive. This exploration would have to wait till after the next cold front. Based on the map I had there was about a half mile of woods to wander through. Just because I had found a path means nothing. I’ve been down these paths before. I wasn’t up for crawling through the woods.

With the weekend rains finally over, I did a little scouting along the Fox River and a couple of its creeks. I already knew that the Fox was a mess. I had checked it out the day before and the new whitewater course in Yorkville was overflowing its banks.

I crossed the river on the far west end of Silver Springs State Park. On the north shore sits the Farnsworth House designed by architect Mies Van Der Rohe. The same genius that brought us office buildings. Why anyone would want to live in a house that resembles a one story office building is beyond me, but what do I know.

The building is up off the ground a couple of feet and the water was lapping under its floor. Only the water wasn’t coming from the river, it was coming from Rob Roy Creek, which runs right next to the house.

The house has flooded in the past and I hear it cost $250,000 to restore just about every time. When it was being purchased around 8 years ago to be turned into a museum of sorts, I had written a letter that stated part of the condition of the sale should be that they move the thing off the floodplain and up into the cornfield at the top of the bluff. No great loss from an architectural standpoint and cheaper in the long run.

They didn’t listen. I’m hoping some day a good flood wipes the thing out. That will teach you to build on a floodplain.

When I got to Big Rock Creek, I knew it would be high, but not like this. The adjoining fields had turned into a lake. The 4 foot high banks of the creek were gone. I went through my photo archives to find a shot of the creek at normal levels. The best I could come up with is a winter shot, but that’s pretty much the way the creek looks at normal levels.

Notice the tree in the foreground.

This is what it looked like today. Same tree in the foreground.

Not far down stream is the mouth of the creek. You can see it as you cross over on a bridge. In the water was a bass boat with a couple of guys standing and fishing. The creek was rushing out into the river like a torrent. The river itself was a boiling mess of mud colored water. At some point these guys had to notice these things and yet, they still thought this was a good idea. I’m sure if they got themselves killed we’re supposed to show some kind of sympathy for the poor anglers.

Not me, I have no sympathy for deaths resulting from sheer stupidity.

What is it about water, particularly running water in creeks and rivers, that’s such a mystery to people. What is it about floodplains that make them such a difficult concept to comprehend.

In the mid nineties Naperville got 8 to 10 inches of rain in less than a 24 hour period. Of course, there was flooding. If you lived in a floodplain, you basically lost everything. The next day the phone calls flooded WGN, a Chicago radio station. The DJ was being polite as people would go on and on about nothing being done, about what can be done to prevent this from happening again. I don’t recall anyone suggesting, well, why don’t you move to a place where it doesn’t flood.

At one point the DJ had pretty much had it. He hung up on a caller and said, “What do you expect when you pave everything over, waters’ got to go somewhere.”

Sounds simple to me.

Pond and Lake Fishing, Seemed Simple Enough

A few days earlier I had gone for a walk with my wife around the lakes and ponds at Silver Springs State Park. There were hundreds of bass fry swimming along the shore line. In the small ponds, largemouth bass were cruising. At least a dozen of them were milling around with a few well worth catching. Lots of bluegills were swimming around with quite a few of them eating size. There was a school of gills building beds along one shore.

As we were leaving there was a stunning sunset event. At least I thought it was stunning.

I made a few jokes about the failed rapture, the spiriting away of fish instead of people and I thought I had pretty much laid that joke to rest. Or so I thought.

In a write up from the other day, I had the arrogance to announce the following:

I was going to hit another high water spot on the way home where I’ve been having a fair amount of success, but decided to just go home instead. Saturday will be another day. The creeks will be blown out, the river will be high. I’ll need to go out fishing, but I can’t do that again.

Instead I’ve decided to test my limits. I’ll be heading to a crystal clear lake that gets a tremendous amount of fishing pressure. I’ll walk the shores and fish, and I’ll catch fish. I know I will.

I was so confident in this arrogant stance that I decided to use the most inefficient means possible to put a lure in front of a fish, my fly rod and some kind of fly.

My reasoning behind this was sound, I had watched other anglers throwing all kinds of lures in the water. Lures that probably had names like Lucky Craft Sammy 100, or Strike King spinnerbait 3/16oz, or Terminator T1 spinnerbait 3/8oz Bright White Shad, or Strike King Series 5 Pro-Model Crankbaits Color: Blue Gizzard Shad.

They got nothing for their efforts.

Instead, I thought I would throw lures at them with names like spider, bumble bee, hellgrammite and minnow. I thought for sure I would clean up.

4 PM rolled around and in spite of the spotty rain, I headed out. Fishing in the rain is not a problem. Waving a stick around in the air with lightning in the vicinity, that was a problem. Luckily the lightning had moved off and I thought for sure the overcast skies and continued sporadic rain would make things that much better.

The first stretch of the lake and a pond I had to skip. I don’t care how good a person is at a roll cast, that wasn’t going to happen here. Not with any real success. As I moved down the pond I noticed a decided lack of fish. There were a few small pods of a few small bluegills and that was it. I put a spider on top of their heads.

The result was a major disappointment. These normally hyper aggressive predators that attack anything that touches the water swam up, stopped and stared. A couple would come up and nip at the fly.

No, no, no, these are supposed to be hits with abandon from fish that have no fear. These are the fish that if they grew to two pounds, people say they would quit fishing for bass. They’re not supposed to sniff around nipping at things. I kept wandering down the shore line making perfect casts to pods of gills with the same lack of interest shown every single time. By the time I got to the end of the first pond, I realized there was a complete lack of bass milling around.

I headed back to my car for my spinning gear. Drastic measures were required for the next pond.

The next pond was even bigger. The opposite shore was in reach with a little more effort than usual put into a cast.

I was nailing all the likely fish holding spots.

Now why wouldn't there be fish hanging out here?

This was where gills and bass cruised just a few days earlier. Beds full of gills were supposed to be lining the shore. Only they were all gone. There was not a single sign of a fish anywhere. I threw my homemade topwater lure, nothing. I dredged the bottom with worms and crayfish, still nothing. I went over to the lake side, all the bass fry were gone.

I gave up.

Back at the car, gear all stowed away, I looked out across the lake. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Still another sign of the rapture occurring directly over the lake. Probably back for any fish that might have got missed. I like to have a little fun at the expense of those with such zealous religious fervor, but even I like to think I know when to stop.

Whoever is in charge of the universe, I’ll meet you half way. I’ll quit making jokes, you quit doing shit like this.

It’s not funny any more.

As I stood taking pictures of this, a guy turned around to see what I was taking pictures of. I believe the direct quote is "holy shit." Yeah, no kidding.


Waterdog Journal Blog is Moving

In about 2 weeks the Waterdog Journal Blog will be moving to a new home.

I’ve been asked to bring my blog over to ChicagoNow and it will show up under the Outdoors Category.

As they say in About ChicagoNow:

ChicagoNow is an online community created by Chicagoans for Chicagoans.

More than 10 million of us call ourselves Chicagoans. Some of us live in the city proper, many of us live in the suburbs and more than a few live a plane ride away. Our stories vary, but all of us are connected to Chicago. ChicagoNow is where we connect to each other online and share our interests.

Every day, our bloggers post more than 100 entries about all things Chicago. One day you might read about CTA fare cuts, see photos of a new bar in Pilsen or watch an interview with Jay Cutler. The next day you might read about Blago’s latest stunt, listen to a podcast streaming live from Boystown or watch Miss Illinois work out.

ChicagoNow launched in August 2009 and is owned by the Chicago Tribune Media Group. The site is run by a team of community managers and web developers based in downtown Chicago.

I sent them my info and a link to my blog and thought of it as a long shot. I was floored when given the news. This is a great opportunity for me to see if how I write about the outdoors goes beyond the local fishing and hunting community. Something I’ve always wanted.

If my posts dwindle or links fail over the next 2 weeks, it means we’re in the process of moving. I’m not sure how that’s going to go yet. I know the blog will have an all new look (I’ll miss my grunge look), but we’re not sure if all my posts will migrate over or I’ll basically be starting fresh. That remains to be seen. I’ve been told it should all be pretty seamless and existing links will just be redirected. Sounds easy enough.

The nice part is, I don’t have to change a thing I do in terms of what I write about and photograph. I was a little concerned that I might have limits to what I can do, but there are none.

I’m looking forward to this. I’ve been leaving my stories about my wanderings all over the internet since 1998. It will be nice to have a new home.

Another Chapter of
“They Walk Among us and Reproduce!!”

I don’t go cruising the internet looking for stuff like this, I don’t have the time. Or much interest.

Instead, I rely on my friend Tom down in Florida to send me about 15 of these EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Since I used to do computer support a long time ago, I like this one. I don’t even know if this stuff is actually true.


This is a true story from the WordPerfect Helpline, which was transcribed from a recording monitoring the customer care department.

Needless to say the Help Desk employee was fired; however, he/she is currently suing the WordPerfect organization for ‘Termination without Cause.’

Actual dialogue of a former WordPerfect Customer Support employee.

Operator: ‘Ridge Hall, computer assistance; may I help you?’
Caller: ‘Yes, well, I’m having trouble with WordPerfect …’
Operator: ‘What sort of trouble??’
Caller: ‘Well, I was just typing along, and all of a sudden the words went away.’
Operator: ‘Went away?’
Caller: ‘They disappeared’
Operator: ‘Hmm. So what does your screen look like now?’
Caller: ‘Nothing.’
Operator: ‘Nothing??’
Caller: ‘It’s blank; it won’t accept anything when I type.’
Operator: ‘Are you still in WordPerfect, or did you get out?’
Caller: ‘How do I tell?’
Operator: ‘Can you see the ‘C: prompt’ on the screen?’
Caller: ‘What’s a sea-prompt?’
Operator: ‘Never mind, can you move your cursor around the screen?’
Caller: ‘There isn’t any cursor; I told you, it won’t accept anything I type..’
Operator: ‘Does your monitor have a power indicator??’
Caller: ‘What’s a monitor?’
Operator: ‘It’s the thing with the screen on it that looks like a TV. Does it have a little light that tells you when it’s on?’
Caller: ‘I don’t know.’
Operator: ‘Well, then look on the back of the monitor and find where the power cord goes into it. Can you see that??’
Caller: ‘Yes, I think so.’
Operator: ‘Great. Follow the cord to the plug, and tell me if it’s plugged into the wall..
Caller: ‘Yes, it is.’
Operator: ‘When you were behind the monitor, did you notice that there were two cables plugged into the back of it, not just one? ‘
Caller: ‘No.’
Operator: ‘Well, there are. I need you to look back there again and find the other cable.’
Caller: ‘Okay, here it is.’
Operator: ‘Follow it for me, and tell me if it’s plugged securely into the back of your computer..’
Caller: ‘I can’t reach.’
Operator: ‘OK. Well, can you see if it is?’
Caller: ‘No..’
Operator: ‘Even if you maybe put your knee on something and lean way over?’
Caller: ‘Well, it’s not because I don’t have the right angle — it’s because it’s dark.’
Operator: ‘Dark?’
Caller: ‘Yes – the office light is off, and the only light I have is coming in from the window.’
Operator: ‘Well, turn on the office light then.’
Caller: ‘I can’t.’
Operator: ‘No? Why not?’
Caller: ‘Because there’s a power failure.’
Operator: ‘A power …. A power failure? Aha. Okay, we’ve got it licked now. Do you still have the boxes and manuals and packing stuff that your computer came in?’
Caller: ‘Well, yes, I keep them in the closet..’
Operator: ‘Good. Go get them, and unplug your system and pack it up just like it was when you got it. Then take it back to the store you bought it from.’
Caller: ‘Really? Is it that bad?’
Operator: ‘Yes, I’m afraid it is.’
Caller: ‘Well, all right then, I suppose. What do I tell them?’
Operator: ‘Tell them you’re too stupid to own a computer!’