Monthly Archives: June 2011

Waterdog Journal on ChicagoNow

After a month of false starts and delays, the New and Improved ChicagoNow is up and running.

And I’m part of it.

Waterdog Journal on ChicagoNow

SO, you ask, what the hell’s the big deal.

I don’t know. We’ll see.

In 1996 I started fishing. I was 40. I didn’t do much fishing before then. Within a couple of years I started leaving stories on the internet. I wanted people to see that they too could do something like this. I wanted them to find those beautiful spots I was fishing that were so close to Chicago.

I also got heavily into conservation and preservation of open space, river systems, lakes and anything else that I was interested in. I talked about it endlessly back then. That all fell by the way side a few years ago.

I’m hoping a new venture will rekindle that interest. It’s been sitting on the back burner too long.

Besides, in a metropolitan area of nearly 10 million people, conservation and preservation isn’t just important, it’s critical. Things can disappear and get destroyed far too fast.

SO, you ask, what the hell you going to do with this blog?

I don’t know. We’ll see.

The original blog will be where I get to go off on my many tangents that have nothing to do with the outdoors, which is considerable at times. I have my doubts that many reading Waterdog Journal on ChicagoNow care about writing tips to other outdoor bloggers. Or a writing contest to win a pair of windproof fingerless gloves. Or my own economic doom theory. Or how ancient aliens will be back in 2012 to start all over with the mistake they made.

I may let the original evolve into something totally different.

We’ll see how that goes.

In the mean time, bookmark the ChicagoNow blog, drop by now and then and let me know what you think.

Closer to the City, They’d try to Kill Them Off

There’s a massive bug hatch drifting around my neighborhood this morning. The morning sun streaks right down the middle of the street in front of my house and the bugs are lit up in gold.

The birds are going nuts and flying erratically, not knowing which way to go to suck down more bugs for breakfast.

This happens fairly often. Not quite sure where they’re coming from. I’m a couple of hundred feet from a heavily wooded ravine that has a creek and large, swampy flood plain.

I’m a few blocks from the river in a stretch that has an A rating for biodiversity.

They could be just coming out of the trees. Our dead end street is filled with them, especially old oaks. A couple of the oaks came down in the past few years. One by wind, one died standing. My neighbor started counting rings on one of the slices. He gave up at 200.

In the evening, sitting and watching the bug hatches by way of street lights is a form of entertainment.

We’re easily entertained.

Around here, the topic of spraying the streets to reduce the bug population never comes up. People will never win that battle here, so why even try.

The majority of the bugs are harmless and for the others, that’s why God created Deet.

Now and then a new comer to the neighborhood will start whining about the bugs, something must be done about the bugs.

We all nod, placate them with agreement we don’t mean.

When they walk away, we laugh.

They won’t be living around here very long.

Hectic Schedules, Summer Doldrums and Fishing Ennui

I think I first noticed something was up in the first week of May when Quill Gordon ended a post without placing a fly on the water.

Opening Day!

It took a little while, but slowly things began to build. I have no doubt there are others that have been writing about this, but the first week of June, Mike had Writer’s Block.

It was nice to see recently that he wasn’t letting the Dog Days of Summer get to him too much and he still found the energy to wander off and fish. I would be hard pressed to call the paragraphs he wrote about it writer’s block. Maybe he was referring to quantity rather than quality.

One of these days I’ll learn how to write like that.

Then Ed from The Four Season Angler kept getting out fishing, but his constant whining about being busy, lazy and uninspired was starting to get to me, so I convinced him he owed an explanation to his millions of readers as to why there was a lack of posts. He finally sat down and wrote something after sitting around listening to The Sound of Crickets.

It didn’t stop the whining though.

Next, in a phone conversation, Dale Bowman of the Sun TImes tells me how busy he is. An hour later I go to his Sun Times Blog only to find that he’s Gone Fishin’: Sorta.

I know the project he’s trying to finish, it will be worth the wait till he gets back.

Then, the other Mike went out fishing and Just Wasn’t Feelin’ It.

What’s up with all of this?

I know sitting on my own desktop are a good half dozen half finished stories that I keep meaning to get to finishing. My wife keeps reminding me that if I don’t sit down and hack them out that day, I never go back. So I say hmmmmm, get a beer from the fridge and grab a cheap cigar. Then we go sit out in the yard for a couple of hours. Or we go for a walk, where we take a bunch of pictures, I formulate another story in my head and I never sit down and do anything with the pictures or the story.

(Here’s a brief synopsis, it’s grasshopper time).

Around 10 years ago I heard that we, as humans, have hit our information saturation point. We can simply no longer take in and process all that is coming into our heads. Our brain cells start randomly dumping the excess information. This info overload was determined before things like facebook, twitter, blogs and the wide variety of instant access capabilities that we have now even existed.

I have no interest in going on and on with examples, you won’t read them anyway. But think about how you’ve come to deal with all this information? How many friends have you hid on Facebook? What do you completely ignore? How many things do you get that request a response and you never bother responding? How much do you guilt trip over this?

15 years ago I started going out fishing, coming back and leaving posts about my adventures on fishing forums. In the past 15 years I estimate that between the original post, the comments to the post and general posts on fishing that had nothing to do with actually being out fishing, I’ve left at least 6,000 things out there floating around on the internet.

Give or take a few.

I never thought of myself as a writer. I’ve never taken a writing class. I used to paint and before I stopped I was writing short paragraphs on top of my paintings. I must be compelled to write things down for some reason whether I know what I’m doing or not.

This starts to touch upon the problem. I go out fishing, I come back and I feel compelled to write something down about it. The brain is just a muscle and that process has become part of my muscle memory. With blogs this problem becomes compounded. I have to put something up there after every fishing trip or my page hits will go down. Nobody will come visit my blog. I’ll become a fishing non-entity.

I’m beginning to envy people that just go out fishing, have a nice day of it, or not, come home and go to sleep.

Instead, while I’m out on the water, I’m composing stories in my head. I’m taking pictures and thinking about what I’m going to say about them. The whole day is coming together in my head with words and images, I just have to put them down when I get home.

And that’s the part I would like to have the ability to shut off now and then. Not every outing is all that important. Not every outing has some meaning to it other than I went out fishing. Maybe I caught a fish. I went home and had a beer.

That’s it, ’nuff said.

I know at times I have those moments like Mike and I Just Wasn’t Feelin’ It.

It had nothing to do with not wanting to be out fishing. It had everything to do with not wanting to think about being out fishing and feeling like I had to go home and write about the experience when I was done. Kills the enthusiasm. Kind of like talking about sex before actually having it. Unless, of course, that’s what you’re into.

I also envy those that wrote about the outdoors in pre-computer days. They went about fishing and hunting and wandering around, then on a day shitty enough to keep them inside, they sat down, gathered their thoughts and wrote things down. Eventually, if they were lucky, what they wrote would get published in something.

There once was a lawyer, apparently a very good lawyer, named John Voelker that made his home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He liked three things, the ruffed grouse, the white-tailed deer and the brook trout. During the long UP winters he would sit and write, there wasn’t much else to do, under the pen name Robert Traver.

Eventually he wrote a little book called Anatomy of a Murder that gained him some attention. He also wrote a couple of books that I’ve been told were possibly the best fishing books ever written, Trout Madness and Trout Magic. I don’t have those in my collection, but I will be fixing that issue soon.

I’m sure these little details about Voelker are old news to most, but the point here is that he apparently once said that if it weren’t for the long brutal UP winters and if he could have fished all year round, he might never have written a line.

Part of me longs to have that kind of attitude. Go live your life, go have a life and when you have nothing better to do, give it some thought and jot it down.

Because of the muscle memory of our brains, my brain, I’m not sure that’s a possibility. I’m sitting here looking at the half dozen folders of half started stories and wondering if anyone really would care anymore about my trip to the Apple River the first week of June. Would it have any real interest to anyone RIGHT NOW.

That trip was so yesterday.

Instead, I’m sitting here thinking about doing a sunset fish. Checking the USGS river gauges every couple of hours. Checking the radar every couple of hours since they are calling for severe thunder storms. First thing this morning I had already put something up on Facebook regarding my mental gymnastics on the possibility of going fishing:

Wife wakes up and says, looks like it didn’t rain. No, it did, but the big one is moving south. Unless I go fishing. Then it will come this way and try to kill me again. I should test that theory later.

There’s a good chance if I go I’ll leave something on Facebook that I think is witty about how if you don’t hear from me, look for a lightning fried body floating down the Fox River.

Within the next 24 hours if I don’t write something down about the experience and put it up on my blog, does it make any sense to even bother at that point? Two months from now if I get around to writing something down, will what I experienced matter?

I wonder if this sense of responsibility to our followers, our subscribers, to keeping our unique IP count from plummeting is what keeps us, or me, from going out at all. Gives us, or me, the doldrums about fishing in general. It becomes an overwhelming responsibility rather than simply doing something we enjoy. In order to stop the brain muscle memories, we in turn do nothing.

Kind of sad, really.

Well, grin and bear it. It is what it is. Either go along or move along. Can’t have your cake and eat it too. Shit or get off the pot.

In the mean time, while out for a walk with the wife the other day, I never noticed before that milkweed flowers smell a lot like lilacs. Never knew that you could actually eat the things. Learned that when I got home and Googled “is milkweed edible.”

Starting to look like I’ll be heading out fishing later. The river level isn’t bad and the radar shows that the storms are either tracking to the south or are nonexistent.

If you don’t hear from me. . .

God and Lawn Care

Another from my friend Tom down in Florida.

God said: “St. Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.”

It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

Grass? But, it’s so boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it-sometimes twice a week.

They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

Yes, Sir.

These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It’s a natural cycle of life.

You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch.. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

And where do they get this mulch?

They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

‘Dumb and Dumber’, Lord. It’s a story about….

Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis

Fox River Creeks

In the 15 years I’ve been fishing the Fox River and it’s creeks, I can’t recall a time when they’ve both behaved the way they have for the past few weeks.

At the end of May it rained hard and the river came up fast. The current flow jumped from around 2500 cubic feet per second to 7000 in a few hours. The 7000 cfs mark really is not that big of a deal on a mid sized river like the Fox. It happens pretty much every year. But what the rain did was blow out the creeks I like to fish.

Somewhere in this post are a couple of pictures that show the comparison between normal creek levels and what happened after this rain. I’ve only seen the creek do this one other time. It’s been high in the past, but not like this.

On June 10th it rained hard again and the river went from 1000 cfs to just over 3500 in a couple of hours. The creeks, though not as high as the previous time, were once again a mess.

What I’ve come to rely on over the past 15 years is that when it rains, the river floods and takes its time coming down. The creeks on the other hand are back to normal and clear within a week. I go fish the creeks. This hasn’t happened throughout all of June.

I drive over the creeks all the time. They’ve been running high, fast and muddy ever since that first heavy rain. The river has been the one that has been coming down quickly and trying to get down to normal levels. I’ve been out wading the river a few times with no problems.

The other day I fished a stretch of the river and described how the fast spikes in water had pushed around some trees that were good fish holding spots, and had made one long standing landmark disappear completely. The same has happened on the creeks.

On the first creek I went to there is only one way in and out. It was nice to see no other foot prints any where. As I walked along the creek it was high and muddy with barely a foot of clarity. I know this stretch too well and knew to stay out of the water. When I got to the first reliable fish holding spot, the trees that created the spot were gone. They had been laying in the water for at least 3 years. Now the trees were pushed tight along the shore.

Apparently when they started moving, they took a couple of other trees with them. The perfect place to stand and fish this hole was now covered by more trees.

This continued around the bend as still another spot to stand was now buried under still more trees.

For years a tree had been half in and half out of the water. I’ve caught numerous big smallies from the eddy that used to be behind the tree. Past tense is a necessity here. The tree doesn’t even touch the water any more.

After an hour of fishing and not a single hit from a smallie, I gave up. At least I was getting a lot of taps from Illinois Creek Chub Trout. Shows that they weren’t blown out by the flooding.

As I headed out across the flood plain to get back to my car, I kept running into flood debris. It was filled with the corn stubble from the previous years’ corn harvest.

The corn fields were a pretty good distance from where I was, so this stuff traveled pretty far. I was also over 100 feet from the edge of the creek and on a part of the flood plain that was easily 5 feet above the surface of the water. And that was part of the problem why the creeks won’t come down.

I came across what is normally a nearly dry ditch. It had a fair amount of water flowing through it and draining directly into the creek.

This was probably happening all up and down the creeks. Driving down the narrow 2 lane roads around my house, passing the massive fields of corn and soybeans, I’ve been seeing large new ponds where there are supposed to be the corn and soybeans. They formed after the first bout of rain we had and have been slow in draining. They’ve been around long enough now that the herons, geese and ducks are starting to treat them as permanent fixtures.

All this water has to go somewhere and it’s taking all the dirt with it back to the creeks.

I hit one more creek on the way home. Same condition as the other. This one was nice enough to give up one dink smallie on the first cast.

I noticed an old guy walking across the bridge. This road doesn’t get a lot of traffic so there’s no worries about cars. He had to be pushing 80. Stopped to talk fishing. He tells me he lives at the house down the road, I know the house. He tells me he just walked from town, his wife drives him there on her way to work and he walks back for the exercise. I size up the distance in my head. A good 3 miles and it’s not flat around here. I was impressed, I can only hope to do that some day.

He used to fish a lot, loved going to Wolf Lake in the city. Now he doesn’t even fish. Doesn’t even own a fishing pole, but he’s been meaning to get one. He’s never fished this creek even though he lives a short walk away. I showed him how to get down to the creek shore. Showed him where to walk the shore for the next half mile.

“On a good day, you’ll catch smallies and gills. On a bad day you’ll get catfish,” I told him.

He got that look of just-bit-into-a-lime on his face. “I hate those slimy bastards.”

I was impressed again. I hate those slimy bastards too.

A few more fishing notes and stories and he headed home. At the end of the bridge he turned, flashed me a peace sign and said, “God be with you.”

One last impressive parting shot.