Monthly Archives: January 2012

I should have been here a few hours ago…

At least the sun was out.

I have no doubt the fishing would have still been nonexistent, but at least there would have been light. A blue sky, streaks of gold on one side of the trees with some deeper shadows. Instead, the clouds had rolled in as I rolled down the back roads to go fish a creek.

At least the wind died.

I could have increased my fish catching odds by going to the river. I know the places to go during the winter, they were once my winter go to spots. My rule in the past was to never go fishing when the air temperatures were below freezing. And yet, here we have the mildest winter in 78 years and I got out once in December, the last day of the month and year. Here it was the last day of January and I was getting out again. A far cry from years past.

I have no excuse other than this winter has been getting to me. Despite the balmy weather, we still have a lack of light and sunshine. It seems to have drained me differently this year, taking a physical and mental toll. The other day we had a bit of snow, just enough to turn everything white. I went out and took some pictures that day. When I opened them for viewing, it looked like I had opened them in black and white mode, I had to check. If not for a bit of gold in the grasses in one corner, it was black and white.

On the days where the sun has shone, if I’m not in the house my wife knows where to find me. I’m out around the corner of the house, where the afternoon sun beats down and I’m protected from the wind. I stand there basking in the sun, absorbing the heat coming off the house.

Instead of the river, I went to the creek because it’s out in the middle of nowhere. There’s an off chance of catching something, I know the fish are there year round, but patience isn’t always rewarded.

Here I can park on the center line of the two lane road, if I wanted to, change into my waders and not worry about a car coming by. That kind of solitude is what I needed.

I followed a deer path toward the creek. Deer always take the easiest routes and I knew it would lead me to a low point on the creek bank.

I entered the creek in the middle of a long stretch of shallow riffles. It took a few steps, quite a few steps, to get my wading legs. The rocks were foreign to my feet after such a long absence. I would pay for this later with cramped calves and sore hamstrings, but that would be later. With the wind gone, all I could hear was the song of water over rock, the different pitches giving away the different depths.

The pool downstream is wide and long and I decided to go stand in one spot that let me cast to all of it. I would stand there till my feet couldn’t take the cold water anymore and my shoulder was sore from casting practice.

It took almost two hours.

There was nothing to look at of any real interest, more grays and monotone browns.

I let the sound of the riffles, one at the head of the pool to my left and another behind me off to my right, lull me into a simple, slow casting routine. The sound was like a drug, like tranquilizers pumped directly into my brain. I was surprised I wasn’t drooling as I stood there slack jawed casting and casting.

An owl hooting off behind me somewhere broke my trance. I guess my feet were cold, I should probably leave. Other than the owl there were no other sounds except the water. No other birds, no road noise off in the distance. The kind of silence that makes you put your fingers in your ears and wiggle them around a bit just to make sure your ears are still functioning.

I have friends that wonder what I’m going to do when others figure out where I’m fishing. How am I going to deal with running into other anglers. How will I react when they disturb my solitude.

I don’t worry about that.

Apparently I have friends in high places, the sign clearly says so.

A simple phone call will make those other anglers go away, possibly forever.

View from the Porch –
Where’d the Wildlife Go

Don’t even try talking to me before I’ve sucked down a couple of cups of coffee. Coffee must be sucked down while I’m out on the front porch, with a cheap cigar.
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When I walk out onto my front porch to enjoy that first cup of coffee or two, I’m usually greeted by the neighborhood squirrels. Around a dozen of them. They’re usually in the tree directly in front of the house or in the one off to the side, taking turns picking corn kernels off the cobs I have spiked to the trees. More are off in the distance running around through the bare winter branches.

A variety of birds are usually at the feeder not far away and I particularly like to watch the handful of doves that have decided to stick around all winter. I like the sound they make.

Today there was nothing. Not a squirrel or a bird or a sound from any of them.

Odd indeed.

Then from a tree a couple of hundred feet away, a big dark shape lifted off a branch. The bald eagle glided expertly through the trees, heading down to the Fox River.

That would explain things.

Within minutes the doves stopped by, then a few more birds. They were cooing and singing again.

Still haven’t seen a squirrel though.

A Walk in the Park a Source of Revenue for the IDNR – Repost

This is the third time I’m referencing this post. The first time I put it up was August of 2011.

I normally wouldn’t do this, but over the weekend I came across a couple of blurbs in different outdoor magazines. Each one mentioned the elimination of site superintendents and the closing of some of Illinois’ State Parks. Never was it mentioned that Illinois should start charging a fee to visitors of the parks.

Kentucky, Missouri and Iowa don’t charge fees to get into their state parks. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana all do. I know a considerable amount of people that travel to the four states where there are state park fees and they have all said that they gladly pay the fee in order to get into the parks. I don’t hesitate in paying the fee when I head up to Devil’s Lake Wisconsin to go camping.

I think the time to start charging visitor fees at Illinois State Parks has come.

In 2010, one of the places I like to hunt had such limited hours on the weekends that it was no longer worth going there. I’m sure the average non-hunting user of our state parks knew nothing about this. One way to drive home the point that there are staff and revenue shortages would be to shut down Starved Rock State Park at noon on both weekend days. Maybe close it on Sunday altogether. This could be done at a number of state parks that are popular to users other than hunters and anglers.

I wonder how loud the resulting uproar would be.

The fees probably wouldn’t stop the financial bleeding of the IDNR, but if all fees collected are earmarked for the state parks, then maybe none will have to be closed and they can be fully staffed.

It’s better than doing nothing, which is what we are doing right now.

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My wife and I went for our usual walk around Silver Springs State Park on Sunday. Living only a 5 minute drive away, we find ourselves there 2 to 5 times a week.

Sunday the parking lot on the east end was full, we got the last spot. What a change from our weekday walks here when we have the whole place to ourselves. People have become weekenders when it comes to getting out, they should consider changing that.

A number of families were hanging out having picnics. A half dozen boats were out on the lake being paddled or rowed. A few fishermen were hanging out dunking worms.

We ran into one family and compared notes with them on how many monarch caterpillars were being found. We suddenly didn’t feel so odd walking up to milkweed plants and checking the underside of leaves. We’re not the only ones out here doing it.

On our walk we ran into a Cub Scout Den going for a hike, almost 50 kids and parents. More people were walking the shore along the Fox River. From our vantage point we could see a few parking lots on the west end that also looked full.

Off in the distance the sound of shotguns could be heard at the shooting range. Based on the shooting, there were quite a few up there. I have no doubt there were a few taking advantage of the archery range, there usually is.

We didn’t see any horses out here this time, but there are times when a couple of parking lots off the main road are full of horse trailers.

Did I mention the few fishermen? Couldn’t have been more than 10.

And yet, they were probably the only ones that paid something in order to take advantage of all the different things available at this state park.

You have to have a fishing license.

I think it’s time to change this.

Over the past 10 years the general revenue portion of DNR’s budget has fallen over 50% – from $100M to $48M – and this is the portion of the budget that funds state parks, law enforcement, museums and regulatory functions. I think the average user of the states parks doesn’t know or notice this. It’s only a matter of time till that changes with the cutting of services or the closing of some facilities.

I remember reading not too long ago that Illinois was considering charging entrance fees to state parks much like what is done in Wisconsin. If you’ve never looked, they’re not unreasonable.

Wisconsin DNR Park Fees

I already buy over $50 worth of fishing and hunting licenses every year. If Illinois implemented a fee structure like that in Wisconsin, I would gladly pay another $25 for a sticker that would allow me into any of the state parks for the year. Based on how often I go to fish and hunt, and how often my wife and I go just for a walk, it comes out to less then 50 cents per visit.

I’m sure it would take a few years to implement a program like this, a lot of work would need to be done building check in gates at each of the parks alone. I’m sure there are some park properties where this simply won’t work, but over the long haul, revenue would be coming in from people using the state parks that goes above and beyond just anglers and hunters.

To me it’s a very simple question that needs to be put to those that don’t fish or hunt, but like to visit the state parks.

What is Illinois’ natural resources worth to you?

If you’re like my wife and I and it comes out to less than 50 cents per visit over the course of a year, I would say that’s money well spent.

A Walk in the Park

I guess I do spend a lot of time there.

The Potential for a Train Wreck

Photo above courtesy of Larry Granat. The photo was taken soon after the recent train derailment in Yorkville.

Whether or not fishermen and hunters should be wandering along railroad tracks in order to gain access to where they want to fish and hunt along the Fox River is a discussion that can be had some other day.

Suffice to say that we do it all the time. For the last few years I’ve noticed that we aren’t the only ones doing this. Some of these railroad right-of-ways have been around forever and they make wonderful natural corridors for viewing wildlife.

I’ve noticed others wandering along the tracks looking for birds. Still more are out for a stroll, camera in hand, looking for things to photograph.

Doing this has inherent dangers, but then so does walking down stairs in your house while carrying too much stuff. You can hear the trains coming and it’s simply a matter of getting out of the way. I’ve been doing this for nearly 50 years with no mishaps.

In September of 2010 a train derailed at the bottom of the hill near my house in Yorkville. The train did a pretty good job of tearing up a couple of hundred feet of track.

Keep in mind that this train derailed right where a culvert runs under the tracks. There are numerous ravines all up and down the Fox River and to have culverts under the tracks is pretty common, the ravines all have running water going through them at some point. It took a week or so for everything to get cleaned up after this derailment, there were parts of trains all over the place.

To this day you can walk down there and find bits and pieces of train along with piles of silica sand on the edge of the woods.

The other day, about a mile further west, another train derailed. This has caused a big discussion here in Yorkville about the safety of the tracks running through town. I couldn’t find the date, but not long ago another train derailed just east of Yorkville along these same set of tracks. An article in The Beacon-News written by former Yorkville Mayor Valerie Burd mentions that the recent train derailment occurred after the train cleared a small trestle over a creek.

I find this close proximity to these small creeks when the trains derail interesting.

In August 2009 I was walking down the railroad tracks east of Orchard Road. These are the same set of tracks that eventually run through Yorkville. About 150 yards from Orchard Road is a small ravine that sometimes has water running through it. During heavy rains, sometimes quite a bit of water. It all flows through a culvert that goes under the tracks.

I noticed that there was a good sized hole forming under some of the railroad ties directly over the culvert, the rock was getting washed out. Part of the railroad tracks were sitting on the ties with nothing underneath to support them. Down the hill, even more of the rock was disappearing. You could see further down that the culvert was broken and the water was creating a washout.

This can’t possibly be a good thing. I contacted somebody in Oswego to let them know what I found. I assumed since they were the closest town that they would be the best ones to contact. When I checked back with them a few days later I was told that the information was passed on to Illinois Railway. I figured it was just a matter of time before someone was out there to fix it.

Two and a half years later nothing has been done about the broken culvert or the hole under the railroad ties. Every time I go past there I take a picture of it so I can compare them over time to see if things are getting worse. I walked down there this morning to check it out and it’s still there. The hole was filled with snow so I didn’t bother getting a new picture.

One of the other things I’ve always noticed in this stretch are the condition of the tracks, especially in the stretch between Orchard Road and this culvert. There are quite a few crushed and shattered railroad ties with chunks of them sticking up.

One of the possible reasons given for the most recent derailment was the soft ground under the tracks. I’ve always noticed along this stretch that the railroad ties are sinking into the ground and on wet days when the ground is saturated, mud is all over the place after it comes shooting out from under the railroad ties from the weight of a train.

I have no doubt someone will tell me I shouldn’t be walking along these tracks, even though fishermen and hunters have been doing it for many years. Hopefully, after I’m done being reprimanded, someone will actually go look at the tracks I described. This has to be an accident waiting to happen.

Makes me wonder how many more stretches of these tracks are in this condition.

Maybe Illinois Railway needs to let the rabbit hunters walk their tracks in order to find out.

The Tribune Needs an Outdoor Writer

I fish, hunt, wander, hike, camp, canoe, kayak, bird watch lately and pay attention to conservation issues that impact all of these activities. I don’t travel much to take part in any of these activities, so the bulk of it all occurs within the Greater Chicago Area. Sometimes I’ll venture into other areas of northern Illinois, but not that often.

If I want to read about these activities, I guess I should be satisfied with reading outdoor writer Dale Bowman of the Chicago Sun Times. With his two weekly columns and his daily entries on his blog, I’m on the Sun Times site practically every day. He does a great job.

Now and then I’ll go check out Mike Jackson of the Daily Herald or Steve Sarley of the Northwest Herald. Don Dziedzina is still writing for ChicagoNow and I look at what he has to say. Bob Maciulis, owner, editor and writer of the long running local magazine Outdoor Notebook is hard to find in any newspapers lately, but every month I pick up the latest issue of his magazine and his articles are the first that I read.

I should be happy with this.

Today I went out and for the first time in seven years bought a copy of the Chicago Tribune. That’s right, the one actually printed with ink on paper.

I went directly to the sports section, the section that normally includes anything on the outdoors. There were numerous articles on all the sports that I don’t pay any attention to. Hockey, basketball, football and sometimes stories by different writers covering the same team from different angles. Just below the fold on the front page of the Sports section was a story about figure skating. On the inside somewhere was something about the Australian Open, that’s tennis I think.

I went to the Chicago Tribune website and found more of the same. It’s amazing how many different opinions on the same subject can be bandied about and yet, not a single article on what I like to follow. Considering how many people are actively involved with the types of activities I like to do, not just sitting in front of a tube and watching others be active, there’s nothing in the Tribune’s paper or on their website to read.

I found a few details from a 2007 impact statement that drives home my point:

Fishing ranks as the 5th most popular participation sport in the nation. It ranks ahead of bicycling, bowling, basketball, golf, jogging, baseball, softball, soccer, volleyball, tennis, football and skiing. Only walking, camping, swimming and exercise with equipment are more popular.

More Americans fish than play golf and tennis combined.

More Americans fish than play soccer and basketball.

Considering the economic impact these outdoor activities can have on the local economy, and here they are only talking about fishing, how does the Tribune justify completely ignoring such a large reader base.

I’m a late bloomer when it comes to fishing and hunting. I didn’t start fishing with a passion till I turned 40 in 1996. The hunting didn’t start till I was 45. Starting in the late 80s I began reading Tribune writer John Husar religiously. It was his passion for the outdoors, his ability to tell a story and his love for conserving the outdoors that swayed me. Without him, I may not have bothered.

After Husar died in 2000, it took awhile for the Tribune to find a replacement. Then when that didn’t work out, it took a few more years to find another outdoor writer. And now, here we are again. We’ll probably have to wait two or three years for the Tribune to get around to having an outdoor writer. If they even bother.

They’re missing an opportunity. The largest group of people in the U.S with expendable income, that would be the baby boomers, are all starting to reach retirement age. Quite a few others, like what happened with me, can no longer play sports but want to remain active. Their kids are now coming to an age where they don’t want parents around so now the parents have to go find something else to do.

The Tribune is going to miss the boat on this one if they don’t act soon. I mentioned above what to look for in a writer: a passion for the outdoors, an ability to tell a story and a love for conserving the outdoors.

Finding such a person can’t be that difficult.