Monthly Archives: October 2011

Fishing the Fox in the Wind and the Rain

You got the river, a relatively thin strip of shoreline, a bike path, sometimes a guard rail and the road. It goes on like this for a couple of miles, at least. This day the road was empty so I moved along at a nice 20 mph clip even though the speed limit was 40 mph. I do this all the time. It infuriates my wife when she’s with me. You’d think she’d be used to it by now.

The same refrain goes through my head every time I drive along this stretch.

Should I stop here? Should I fish there? Stop here? Fish there?

The opposite shore is the most productive shore and this day the guy in the boat was out there. He lives along that stretch, I see the boat in his yard, right along the shore, all the time. He has a Go Devil motor on the boat, one of those motors that lets you motor through water as shallow as a few inches.

Today he was anchored about 10 feet from shore. In water that I knew to be about knee deep. About 100 yards from his house. You would think by now he knew all his neighbors and could easily get permission to walk the shore and fish. But then, I guess it would be a waste to have a boat with such shallow water capabilities. I thought of fishing that stretch and sneaking up behind him, but decided to leave well enough alone.

The wind had been slowly picking up all day and by the time I got in the water, it was howling pretty good. Casting accurately became impossible. I would cast in what I thought was the general direction I wanted to fish and considered myself lucky if I came within 20 feet of my intended target. A few times I was glad the lure hit the water and didn’t wind up on shore somewhere.

The wind was also putting a huge bow in the line, making it next to impossible to detect a hit. I’m pretty sure I got a couple, I think. Through no real skill on my part, I somehow hooked and landed a couple from the first spot.

I have no doubt I was getting more hits, but the wind was blowing a lot of leaves into the water. I set the hook on a lot of leaves that hit pretty hard. When I got tired of doing that, I would refrain from setting the hook if I thought I got a leaf. Generally I was wrong and the line would start moving out into the middle of the river. By then, setting the hook did no good. The twister would come back yanked down off the jig.

I spent most of my time questioning the sanity of being out on a day like this. I had the day free. I knew I would. I had planned on getting out. There was no point sitting around the house. Conditions be damned.

In another stretch I cast toward some shore line structure. The lure landed about 20 feet out from shore. The lure then got hit immediately. Turns out to be the big fish of the day sitting in less than a foot of water. No real thanks to anything I did intentionally.

Further down stream is a big gravel bar, lovingly called the flats. I see a couple of guys in ATVs’ driving on it all the time. I don’t recall ever seeing them fish it.

This isn’t far from the guy that likes to fish from his Go Devil equipped boat. These guys have to know him. I think they’re all part of a club that in order to be a member, you have to pick the most inefficient way possible to fish a river. I think the ATV guys win this one. As they fished, I caught a couple of more behind them.

I remember an old saying, if the boulder is wet, then it’s raining out.

And it started coming down pretty good. The advantage of the rain starting was that the wind pretty much died. The disadvantage of the rain starting was that the bite pretty much died too.

I’ve never understood that on the river. It happens all the time. It starts to rain, the bite dies. I can understand why I would stop, pack things up and go home, I don’t feel like getting soaking wet. But why should a little rain matter to the fish?

I continued on till I couldn’t take being damp anymore and called it quits. It doesn’t matter how good your rain gear is, eventually you get damp. During the summer months, no big deal. On a day when the high was only 50 degrees, enough was enough.

The quickest way back to the car was to cut across the river and a couple of islands. I’ve learned the hard way that cutting across most of the islands on the Fox quickly puts you up against an impenetrable wall of under brush. These two islands were just low lying enough that the yearly high water washes over them and keeps them clear of that impenetrable wall. The bulk of the trees on the islands are silver maples. The pictures don’t do it justice, but both of the islands were covered in a carpet of leaves for as far as you could see.

Before this area became semi urban, people used to have seasonal camps on a lot of the islands along here. The river was known for it’s hunting and trapping. Every now and then when cutting across these islands, remnants of it’s past can be found.

When I got up on shore, it started to rain again. I still had a quarter mile hike back to the car. Back at the car, all the soaking wet gear was thrown all around the inside of the car. Half way home, I could smell it. That unmistakable smell of fish and river water.

Based on past experience, I knew I was going to have to put up with that for at least a couple of weeks.

Up a Creek

For the second straight year, Field & Stream has partnered with Trout Unlimited on tours of America’s Best Wild Places. The Best Wild Places is a joint project and offers a unique look at some of the country’s best hunting and fishing destinations, as well as the challenges these amazing places face if they are to remain intact and functional for years to come.

As a writing prompt, Outdoor Blogger Network has asked that we post about our own Best Wild Places.

The following would be one of mine from here in Illinois.
____________

In theory, the creeks that feed the Fox River empty of game fish for the winter.

I already knew that wasn’t quite true.

Granted, the bulk of the game fish do leave, but enough hang around to make catching a smallmouth bass in winter a welcome surprise. I’ve caught them in the past within the first mile of a creek, but now my goal is to see if I can get one nine miles up a creek.

For the past few years I’ve gone out in mid March and caught a small number of smallies from this nine mile spot. They’ve included the usual dinks all the way up to some 18 inchers. I can’t believe that within the first two weeks of March these fish have already migrated this far up the creek. I guess that’s a possibility, but I have my doubts.

This past January the Fox River was pretty well frozen over. There weren’t too many open areas to be found. But I’ve always noticed that this creek and another creek I like have always had open water. I already know they’re spring fed, I just can’t find the springs.

This past January I went to the nine mile spot. Half the creek was covered in ice, but there was still a fair amount of open water. The holes where I catch the mid March smallies were half open. In the shallows swimming around were the usual Illinois Creek Chub Trout. That day, for some reason, I didn’t bring along a fishing pole.

I won’t make that mistake this coming January.

Anyway, this Friday found me with the usual nothing to do and I found myself at the nine mile spot early in the afternoon. I’ve fished this area often. Even though it’s a forest preserve, it’s rare that I run into another person here, so rare that I can’t remember the last time it happened.

And yet, on an early Friday afternoon there were another half dozen people milling around. They were the seed collectors, the people that go around collecting the seeds of native plants so they can distribute them to other locations that are being restored.

All of them were older than me, considerably. I was impressed that they were going to go wander through the woods into areas that aren’t that easy to access. I already knew what they were up against. It’s turned me back a couple of times. I was invited to join them, but I politely declined. I explained to them that my role is to wander down creeks and document what I find in pictures. They actually appreciated my efforts.

On the hike in I came across an old deer stand. It’s been here ever since I started exploring the area, before it was bought by the Forest Preserve District. You’d be a fool to climb it, it’s seen better days.

As I walked away I came across another one. Brand new, hardly looked like it’s been used. I could have swore I was still on forest preserve property where hunting deer is illegal.

Let’s just say it’s under investigation.

The creek was low and crystal clear. The trees along the shore were surprisingly devoid of leaves and color. That’s how this fall has gone it seems. A lot of leaves fell without a show of much color.

The first cast to a slow moving run got me a feisty Illinois Creek Chub Trout.

These things will hit just about anything. They were also all over the creek. Every cast had them following the lure pecking away at it. I considered scaling down the lure size, but I wanted them trophy Creek Chub Trout, not any of those little dinks.

Okay fine, the big one was only eight inches, but when you expect nothing you take what you can get.

I could feel through the waders that the water was pretty cold. This didn’t seem to bother the Creek Chub Trout at all. They were as aggressive as hell. The clarity and the cold had me doubting the chances of tying into any smallies. I would imagine they could see me coming a mile away.

The first of the deeper holes proved me wrong. Deep is relative on this creek and it was actually a long slow run that was about four feet deep. The bite was tentative till I set the hook.

Under these conditions, I’ll take even the little guys.

On the very next cast another smallie made an attempt to grab the lure. But the hit was so tentative that I completely blew setting the hook. The next deep pool was a distance away, so I humored myself taking pictures of things that I’m sure I’m the only one that finds them even remotely interesting.

I found myself fascinated with the reflections on the water while still being able to see the bottom of the creek bed. Gave me a slight sense of vertigo when it was hard to tell the difference between the two as I walked.

The next pool is the deep pool where I think the smallies are spending the winter. Here you can’t see the bottom. I’m estimating it’s at least eight feet deep, which is rare on such a small creek. Sure enough, they were in there, but again the bite was so tentative I kept missing.

I made a cast to the opposite shore. I didn’t feel a thing, but my line started to move upstream. The fish never really took off and didn’t jump, but catching a 16 inch smallie out of a cold creek at the end of October was a nice surprise.

Another cast to the opposite shore and again the line starts heading upstream. I never felt the hit, they were just swimming away with the lure. This little guy didn’t feel any different than the bigger one I had just landed.

I kept wandering down stream trying not to fall over in the reflection laden shallow pools. I kept expecting the bottom of the creek to be closer than it was. I’m sure I looked like a drunk trying to wander down the creek.

By now, even though those wonderful Illinois Creek Chub Trout were still being cooperative, I had pretty much given up on the fishing. For the next 15 minutes I stood in the middle of the creek watching the light change. I had got lucky. One shore was lined with oak trees and the oaks were being extremely reluctant in giving up the last of their leaves. They were also showing off with a multitude of colors.

It was greatly appreciated.

Some Days aren’t all that Exciting

This is a bastardized version of what I sent to Dale Bowman as a final follow up for his Wednesday fishing reports. Not much to say, not much to look at.

But some days are like that.

__________

With the usual screwed up work schedule, I found myself on a balmy Tuesday afternoon with nothing to do. So I went fishing.

Overall it was a pretty uneventful day. The light was all wrong for the pictures I wanted. The wind was brutal with casts aimed one direction and going pretty much where ever they felt like.

Combed a three quarter mile stretch of the Fox that took about 3 hours. Was only able to land five smallies and miss eight more.

Took awhile to get this first little guy.

With the change in the seasons the bite continues to drop off. I miss September when there were more fish this size and some bigger.

One of the landowners had a nice leaf fire going. Since the wind was blowing so hard and changing directions, it was impossible to avoid the smell. Smoke was drifting everywhere. One of my favorite fall smells.

I considered continuing to go down stream, but the wind had won. I was done and there was still a fair amount of daylight left. At the downstream end of an island sits a duck blind where I’ve been known to stop, lay back and doze off for a few minutes.

Today I just stopped by to see if the view from the blind looked interesting. The clouds had rolled in along with the wind so everything looked a bit gray. I was hoping something would come in and land on the water, but the birds weren’t being very cooperative. I guess that’s how it goes some days while hunting.

A few views from the blind. Those that hunt waterfowl will appreciate the look.

I like the shapes.

The 10 day forecast shows temperatures barely making it to the mid 50s during the day and the nights getting down into the low 30s. The bite should continue to die off. Not sure how much more I’m going to bother getting out. I proved to myself a long time ago that fish can continue to be caught in that kind of weather, I don’t feel any real need to continue to prove it.

Besides, I’d rather go chasing squirrels and rabbits. The frosts have come to kill off some of the bugs. The leaves are almost all gone. Next weekend shows a couple of 50 degree days on the weekend.

My favorite for that kind of hunting.

I think a little nap propped up against a tree might be in order for one of those days.

I’m just about out of Words

That happens whenever I have to concentrate on finding work in a job market that chooses to ignore men over 50. Plenty of minimum wage offerings out there, up to $10 an hour. Usually part time. Doesn’t quite cut it.

But I am still going out and about, taking pictures, doing a little fishing. Might get out on a squirrel hunt or two soon.

Till I’m in the mood for it, the pictures will have to do.

I think I finally figured out what attracts me to take certain pictures. I have a feeling the reasoning will only be interesting to me.

This one has some words. Part of a fishing report I send off every week to Dale Bowman for his Chicago Sun Times reports. I have one more, after that they’ll mostly be pictures. I’ll do that till things turn around, they usually do, sooner or later.

_________

I had no choice but to get out on Sunday, it was far too beautiful, the wife was sleeping between work shifts and I had nothing else to do.

I was in a tremendous amount of pain from my leaf blowing, raking, burning endeavors the day before (I told you everything is related somehow), which caught me off guard. That shouldn’t have happened. I’m not in that bad of shape. The only way I’ve found to feel better whenever that happens is to keep moving. So I walked on shore and in the river for almost two miles. Some standing around looking at my surroundings. Some sitting just for the hell of it since I had no place else I wanted to be.

I decided to fish the north side of the river not so much because it was the sunny side and I thought the fish would be hanging out there, but because it was the sunny side and I wanted to be in the sun.

I didn’t care if the fish liked it or not.

For those that think October is the month to get in on a voracious river smallie bite as they begin to feed for the long winter ahead, think again. You missed it. You should have been out fishing in September. The same could be said for the white bass in the river. You missed that too. I’m working on the assumption that the walleye bite will be going strong soon, but I wouldn’t know. I don’t fish for them on purpose, but have caught them all the way into December, in years past, on accident.

Years past is how I’m basing what I said. I did a quick check of my past records and September was always the best month for smallies, white bass and a few other varieties of fish that don’t look like walleye.

The only two 100 fish days I’ve had on the Fox both came in September. This past September, just last month, may have been the best September I’ve had since I started fishing the Fox 15 years ago.

The smallies are still biting, you just have to work a little harder.

The white bass have disappeared.

This day, 18 smallies were caught and another 14 were missed. They were hitting hard when you could find them and the only place I was finding them was directly on current seams in 2 feet of water or slightly more. More or less water than that on the current seam and it was barren.

The only way to entice them to hit was to go back and forth across the seam, holding it still in the current got them to come up behind it and nail it. Moving it through the current, in other words, reeling, didn’t work. They were hitting hard though. Even the little guys got the drag humming a bit on impact.

One of the fish landed did look like it came close to the 20 inch mark.

Based on the fight of that one, a couple of the other fish I had on would have given it a run for its’ money. Heavy, drag humming, temporary fish on. I hate when that happens.

The long range temperatures show a long string of temps in the low to mid 50′s. A wise fisherman would start using minnows if they really wanted to catch fish. A wise fisherman wouldn’t give up just yet, either.

I finished this day standing in the middle of the river watching the light change. I like doing that. I only wish there were a tree that had got washed down river and lodged in the shallow water where I stood. Would be nice to have something to sit on to watch the light show.

Some shore line sitting and staring off into space.

Same sitting spot, different angle.

Why you find Osage Orange trees growing along the river banks.

My garbage pile, debris pile sitting on a gravel bar tomato plants.

Enough to carry around and snack on for the rest of the afternoon.

My mode of river transportation for next year.

I think the rest of these speak for themselves as to why I hang out in the middle of the river at sunset.

I believe it's all the dust in the air from crop harvesting that causes these golden sunsets this time of year. You can see it off on the western horizon in the open areas.

If I knew how to write, I’d write like Bob

I think from now on I’m just going to go wander around taking pictures and put them up.

Then I’ll peruse the writings of Bob Long, Jr. and borrow little snippets here and there.

String them all together and see how they sound. Maybe rearrange them a bit, change the order of lines or words.

Then I’ll be done.

Of course, I’ll give him credit for the words no matter how I rearrange them.

And they’ll still always sound good.

Autumn Silk #3

__