Monthly Archives: July 2011

A Few Days of Creek Fishing

You’ve probably noticed I never talk about the nuts and bolts of fishing. I guess that would be the hook and tackle (hooks and tackle?) of fishing. Whatever it’s called, I don’t do it.

Twelve or so years ago I gave it a try, but noticed that I was constantly repeating myself. That happened in a little over a year. The 10th time I caught myself talking about how to fish current breaks in rivers, I gave up. Since anything you want to know about fishing is somewhere on the internet, now if anyone asks I give them key words to plug into Google and tell them to look it up.

I give virtually no thought to the equipment I use. A couple of friends taught me what good equipment to use and I use that good equipment they taught me. Rod types, guide types, reel types, gear ratios and the wide variety of lines available to use all mean nothing to me. I never mention lures, lure manufacturers, what kind of hooks I’m using, how to sharpen them or whether or not I attach my treble hooks to my hard body lures with or without a split ring.

That kind of obsession with mechanics probably comes from the same area of the brain where the obsession for the details of sports statistics comes from. I don’t watch or pay attention to any sports so I have a feeling I’m simply missing that part of my brain. Frees up a lot more time for fishing.

There once was an outdoor writer I liked to read, then one day he disappeared. Articles by him stopped appearing anywhere. About a year later I ran into him and asked him why he quit writing.

“I ran out of ways to tell guys how to rig and fish a plastic worm.”

I found it interesting that I ran into him at his new job. In a fly fishing shop. I don’t recall him ever mentioning that he fly fished.

In Illinois, if you fish rivers and creeks you’re primarily fishing for smallmouth bass.

You could fish for catfish, but why?

There are no trout here in Illinois, whatever those are out in Lake Michigan don’t count. As soon as you start fishing for smallies it’s assumed you’re after the pigs, hawgs and bombers of that species.

I just like to catch fish, species and size don’t matter.

That’s the benefit of fishing creeks, you never know what is going to wind up on the end of your line. Sometimes there’s some size to them, most of the time not.

Fish that you normally think of as lake dwelling fish will suddenly school up and that’s all you catch.

My friend Bob Long, Jr. once told me that I was a bass angler with a trout anglers sensibilities. I’m assuming he meant my penchant for not caring about fish size. Trout anglers seem to have no problem showing off their hand sized catches with pride. Though I have noticed that even they talk more and more about trophy trout and the pursuit of stream hawgs. Even Bob’s revered trout sensibility seems to be getting replaced with the bass neanderthals pursuit of big meat.

I still prefer the pursuit of anything willing to hit.

My friend Ed Schmitt sent me an email recently with a simple question and comment.

“If you had to pick the Fox River or the creeks to fish the rest of your life which would you pick? You can only pick one and fish nowhere else.”

Creeks, was my simple answer.

I like to think I have a certain sensibility in conveying what it takes to seek out and fish the smaller creeks. The search alone takes you down roads easily passed when pursuing larger waters.

Once out on a creek you have no choice but to pay closer attention to your surroundings. You’re surroundings are right up on top of you. Standing tight against one shore to make the short 20 foot cast to the opposite shore forces you to look around and possibly notice what is normally unnoticed.

With no where to go but down stream, everything eventually goes there. The force of water through narrow channels, combined with massive downed trees, makes sculpture that looks effortless.

A little distraction from the surroundings is always welcome. Another tug on the line and another species caught.

Of course there are those that think they own the creeks. They think they have the right to keep the wading angler from wandering down the waterway along their property.

He’s just a private citizen now, but you would think that during his years in Congress someone might have brought up the federal river laws. I’ll assume the sign on the edge of his property means no fishing while standing on his property. There really is no need to contact the United States Capitol Police Chief if I happen to feel like wading down the creek. As I said, he’s a private citizen again and, he should know better.

Two creeks fished 3 times over the last few days. My fascination with them never seems to end. Around each bend is a whole new creek to learn, each small stretch is completely different from the last one.

Ed’s comment didn’t say I could only fish Fox River creeks. In the collection of junk on my computer I recently came across a list of creeks with detailed directions on how to get to them. I have no idea where this list came from. Maybe whoever made it and sent it to me will get in touch.

There are over 30 creeks listed, spanning an area from Chicago to the Mississippi River and from the Illinois/Wisconsin line to about I-80. Considering how long it’s taken me to cover the amount of miles on the creeks I’ve covered so far, I would need a second life time just to cover what’s on this list.

I guess I should get started soon. Time’s a wasting.

Match the Hatch 2

My wife and I were out over the past weekend doing our usual walk around Silver Springs State Park. This one was just a leisurely stroll around the lake and ponds, cameras in hand and in search of nothing in particular.

Most of the flowers around the lake are gone now. The few left seem to sprout much smaller flowers. Might be the heat that causes that. Perhaps the usual drier July weather makes what little that blooms that much smaller.

We comb the milkweed for monarch caterpillars and the tall grasses for spiderwebs.

Though the caterpillars are welcome to come home with us, the spiders are not, regardless of my pleading. For someone that wipes asses for a living, her fear of spiders seems absurd. What oozes out of old people that she has to clean up seems far more disgusting to me than a little old spider. I’ve seen her try to scale walls to get away from the errant spiders that try to make a living in our home.

It never works out well for the spiders.

A wide variety of beetles and bugs were crawling all over everything this day. When bright orange beetles pick dark green plants to play on, you have to assume they have no predators. Orange on green is hardly the best of camouflage choices.

I’ve always wondered if the taste of the bug has a direct relationship to their ability to hide. The better the camo, the better they taste.

The most prevalent critter among the plants were grasshoppers. They were everywhere.

As usual there were a number of fishermen around. The regulars were sitting in lawn chairs dunking nightcrawlers under oversized bobbers. One angler was throwing around a spinnerbait. Another had two rods, one with a crankbait tied on and the other had a scumfrog tied on that he was throwing on top of lilly pads and weeds.

None of them were catching anything.

I noticed one angler methodically working the shore. He would flip something out about 10 or 15 feet and wait. He would occasionally haul in a nice sized largemouth bass. As we passed each other, I had to ask.

“You’re using grasshoppers aren’t you?”

He held up his lure. A small aberdeen hook with a grasshopper hooked on through the collar.

“Match the hatch. I figure there’s about two weeks left.”

With all the rain that’s been tracking through the area, almost all of the rivers are high and muddy. I was just getting used to wading any where I wanted to go, the first time I’ve been able to do that in 5 years. The Fox isn’t in that bad of shape, but I don’t want to walk along the shoreline. I want to get out to the islands, cross the river at will. I don’t want to have to think about current flow and getting knocked on my ass if I make the wrong move.

This weekend I may break down and walk the shores of the lake and ponds at Silver Springs.

I’ll bring a cup, with a lid. Gather up some grasshoppers. I think this time I’ll finally get out my fly rod. Little bit of a hook and some light line. A grasshopper hooked through the collar. Some light tosses not far from shore, see if the grasshopper can handle a light back cast.

A couple of the ponds are long and narrow. One whole side is inaccessible from shore, but I can cast that far. If the collar on the hopper holds, I’ve always wanted to find out what was living over there.

It’s Lunch Time my Friend 7.28.11

I know, it’s early, but getting re-acclimated to a regular 9 to 5 job is kicking my time management ass.

I don’t have any time. Was barely able to go read a few myself this week so I’m glad a few reliable bloggers have stayed reliable. And well worth reading.

Looks like another hot one today so you may as well hang out in your own little air conditioned nightmare, relax and do a little reading.

Beats sweating bullets running around for lunch.

We’ll start off with my friend Bob Long, Jr. and take it from there.

How Does it Feel?

Dale somehow mixed together fishing and Bears camp.

Have time for some outdoors, Bears fans?

Erin always seems to come through with something.

Highcountry Lakes Revisited (after I grew up).

Quill Gordon always comes through with a touch of humor.

Flashback Friday: Got a Light?

Got to remember Gretchen now and then.

Good Intentions

Since you’re probably hanging out eating you may as well go read about eating, or cooking. Off on the right scroll down a little. You’ll see a heading called Favorites. Check out the venison chili. I’m sure you can substitute something else for venison, but I have some and will be trying it soon. I have a feeling a certain orifice is going to regret this.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

All right, that’s it, gotta go.

The river had been looking good…

I was able to get out fishing on Friday and at 6:30 PM I found myself wading the Fox River in North Aurora. The last few hours of the day are my favorite time to be in the water. If I fished till dark, I would have over two hours of fishing under my belt. Perfect way to end the day.

Forty five minutes later I was done. The sweat was pouring down me so bad, down into my waders, that I thought I had pissed on myself.

To make matters worse, violent storms had been tracking through the area all day. They were mainly staying just to the north. I had heard that one of the storms may have dumped 6 inches of rain further up stream. It all had to flow down stream sooner or later.

While I was out there for that brief time, I could see the water level rising. A bare set of rocks on the river bottom when I started was now covered with a couple of inches of water. It’s very disconcerting to be standing out in the middle of the river while it’s rising. I know too well how fast the river can come up. I didn’t care to find out whether or not I was going to make it back to shore if I stuck around just a little too long.

I did manage to catch one dink smallmouth for my troubles.

By Saturday afternoon more storms had come through, all of them north of where I am in Yorkville. Down here it drizzled, not enough rain to even get the ground wet underneath the trees. The river was now high, fast and muddy. The plan had been to go do some exploring of sections I’ve never waded before. It will have to go on the back burner again.

I had noticed that the bulk of the storms had missed the two small watersheds of the two small creeks near me that I like to fish. Of course I had to go check on them and they were in perfect condition. Came up a couple of inches, but were running crystal clear.

Rather than go fishing the last light of the day, my wife and I went caterpillar hunting at Silver Springs State Park. We found our first 3 monarch caterpillars of the year. Last year we raised well over 50 of them.

We also came across a slew of white furry caterpillars that loved chowing down on milkweed leaves as much as the monarchs. We brought a number of them home to see what happens. Distant vague memories tell me that furry caterpillars tend to turn into moths. This could be interesting.

One other caterpillar was found, but it blended in well with it’s surroundings and looked so intimidating, that I decided to leave well enough alone.

Around 11 PM Saturday night a very small violent storm blew up directly over the two small watersheds of the two small creeks I like to fish. Lightning flashes could be seen off to the north. A quick check of The Weather Channel showed storms appearing out of nowhere directly to the north of me. Not a good thing. Hopefully the ground would suck up that small amount.

I was up before sunrise for the possibility of fishing one of the creeks. Out on my picnic table was a 6 inch tumbler. It now had an inch of water in the bottom. Not a good sign.

As a just in case I stopped at an old abandoned bridge that crosses the creek far downstream from where I wanted to fish. Why drive further if things were no longer perfect.

Things were far from perfect. They must have had a lot more rain just a little further north. The creek was much higher and had turned to mud, unfishable.

I had checked the radar before leaving the house. Two storms were converging to form one huge one and I only had about an hour and a half before it started blowing through. I considered going to a nearby fishing spot, but decided that fishing mud wasn’t all that appealing.

I hung out around the bridge for awhile. Wandered off down the little road that once was the purpose for the bridge.

Back in my artist days these old bridge structures were an attraction. I did a few pieces a long time ago made of concrete, wood and rope. Then I would put them out in the open and let them rot away.

I’d like to see the Picasso face in downtown Chicago left to rot away. The surrounding buildings made of the same steel are meant to last 75 years. They can all go at once.

There was no point in going home, may as well watch a storm blow through.

Back at Silver Springs I sat on a bench facing west. Clouds were swirling over head from all directions. A black squall line was off in the distance trying to get through. I sat it out till the lightning was hitting a little too close for comfort.

Back at home I sat just inside the garage with the big door open. Perfect seat facing north. Before the rain started I had emptied the tumbler.

Two hours later I measured 4.5 inches of water in the tumbler.

It had come down in buckets with an excellent light show. For an encore, the storm dropped half of my neighbors tree on his front lawn. I don’t know if trees don’t make noise when they fall in the forest and no one is around to hear it, but they make one hell of a noise when you’re standing only 100 feet away and you watch it come down.

This storm also broke the water gauge in Montgomery. It’s been stuck at the same spot since Sunday morning so there’s no way of knowing how much the river came up.

The gauge up in Elgin shows the river flowing just shy of 3200 cfs. Down in Montgomery it tends to flow a little faster.

Tuesday after work I thought I would stop to fish. Before putting on my waders I wandered down the steep bluff to the rivers’ edge. Definitely still high, fast and muddy and I decided I wanted no part of it. Less than a week earlier the river was at the lowest point I had seen it since 2005. I had just waded all over this section of the river with no regard to water depths. I had no interest in wading just a few feet out from shore. I knew I could catch a few fish, but I was tired of fishing like that. I could wait. Water has to come down sooner or later.
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The two little creeks near me that I like to fish don’t have USGS gauges on them. They have to be checked visually. Based on the speed at which other waters are coming down, I can make a pretty good guess on how they look. It’s 10:30 PM Tuesday as I finish this. I have a flashlight in the car. The spot where I make my visual check of the creeks is only 8 minutes away. I can be there and back before I finish one of my cheap crap cigars.

I’ve estimated that I can get to one of the creeks after work before 7 PM. That leaves over an hour and a half for fishing. Just enough time to cover about a quarter mile. This is starting to sound like a plan for Wednesday evening, isn’t it.

A Citizen’s Guide to Preserving the Fox River

About 5 years ago I walked away from all of the river conservation issues I used to be involved with.

I started with the Salt Creek Watershed Network back in the 90s’ since I was living in Elmhurst at the time and not that far from Salt Creek.

As the turn of the century approached I found myself spending most of my fishing time out on the Fox River. I decided to concentrate my conservation efforts and time doing what I could for the Fox. It was slow going at first since my approach was through fishing and anglers didn’t show much interest in conservation issues. It took awhile and I had to branch out away from the angling community, but I eventually found a wide variety of organizations doing what they can to help preserve and protect the Fox River. Over the years I’ve had contact and worked with The Fox River Ecosystem Partnership, The Friends of the Fox, The Fox River Study Group and The Conservation Foundation, plus a wide variety of others.

It wasn’t just me that seemed to walk away from all things Fox River conservation. At the beginning of the year I spoke to Brook McDonald of The Conservation Foundation and Becky Hoag, who seems to be involved with everyone. Both of them admitted that after the big initiative of dam removals on the Fox, things seemed to die down.

This is where A Citizen’s Guide to Preserving the Fox River comes in. They’re hoping the guide will get the public interested in conservation issues on the Fox River again. I think by having this guide out in the community, both online and in print, a slow and steady interest in all things Fox River can be sparked. The guide does a good job of outlining conservation initiatives we can all take advantage of in our daily lives, as well as covering many of the recreational opportunities available up and down the river.

I think the guide could have a snowball effect in getting people interested once again in the conservation issues and recreation opportunities available in all of the local watersheds.

There are conservation and recreation groups around for virtually all of the watersheds in the Chicago area. A Google search on the Chicago River, Des Plaines River, DuPage River and the Kankakee River will get you all kinds of information. Eventually, when time allows, I’ll have a page up here on my blog for all of the organizations I know and have been involved with over the years.

Since my blog was accepted by ChicagoNow, besides writing about the fishing, hunting and wandering opportunities available so close to Chicago, one of my goals is to push local river conservation issues harder. I’d like to see if I can get back to my roots. We’ll see how that goes.

It would be nice to see all of the watershed groups in the area put out guides similar to A Citizen’s Guide to Preserving the Fox River. I think it would be beneficial to them all. Their individual websites have a lot of info on them, but I still think there’s something to be said for the printed piece. Without a printed piece after all, most people would never know where to go online to even begin to start looking. Guides in well placed locations, business or government locations, can still foster a fair amount of attention.

So go here and start clicking. There’s even an online version of the guide, but I highly recommend getting a printed piece. It’s very well done.

A Citizen’s Guide to Preserving the Fox River

I was surprised at how many of the people featured in the guide I knew and have worked with in the past, or are names I’ve heard passed around for many years. The hard core participants in any conservation effort are few, so you can’t help but running into them time and again. When you get to the fishing section of the guide, that would be my smiling face pictured on a head with far too much gray hair attached.

For me, it’s an honor to be included with all of the others that have worked so hard to preserve and protect the Fox River. Maybe this will be the kick in the ass I need to get motivated again. As I said, we’ll see.