Monthly Archives: February 2012

A Little Premature

At 10 am this morning I went for a walk in the neighborhood.

My wife saw some flowers growing on the side of a hill around the corner from where we live.

The sky was bright blue and the temps were already in the 50s, the makings of a beautiful day.

Sure enough, a few flowers had decided to sprout on this extra day of February.

Things were moving among the flowers, honey bees had already found them.

Bee legs were already full of pollen.

I tried to figure out where the bees were going, but my eyesight no longer allows me to see such small things at a distance.

Would be nice to harvest some raw honey directly from a hive.

The winds were brutal all day, but the temps made it to almost 60.

Around 3 pm the clouds started to move in.

At 6 pm I was out in front of the house smoking a cigar.

The winds were still brutal, the clouds were dark, it was snowing.

I hope the bees got what they needed.

Looks like that may have been their only chance for a little while.

A Fishing Life Plan

The summer of 1996, I was driving out to the Fox River. I no longer recall why. I was 40 years old and had never fished a river before. I had no clue at that point how to fish a river. I had read a few articles on river fishing; cast 1/8 ounce or heavier jigs and twisters up stream and let them bounce back down stream. Don’t recall the reasoning behind doing that other than this presentation was supposed to be mimicking river food tumbling down the river.

Sounded good to me. I had all my fishing gear in the car, so I must have been driving that way intentionally, though I no longer recall if getting to the Fox was my actual goal.

I crossed the Fox River at Indian Trail Road on the north end of Aurora. There was an island park, so I pulled onto the island. For some reason I picked the east channel to fish and spent a couple of hours throwing heavy jigs up stream just like I had read. I recall losing a few of the lures to the rocks, but I also recall catching a few smallmouth bass.

And with that, my obsession with fishing flowing water began.

Within a month I had bought a pair of hip boots and a DeLorme Illinois Atlas and Gazetteer.

The hip boots only lasted a few months. I quickly learned that I needed to be out wandering around in the river and not just walking along the shore line. The book of maps has taken a beating in the last 16 years. Pages have been coming apart and clear packing tape is the only thing holding together quite a bit of the book.

Luckily, the paper is pretty tough, lots of dog ears and torn pages, but nothing I couldn’t live with.

I don’t travel very much for the opportunity to go fishing. Once I found out about and figured out how to fish the rivers in the Chicago area, it seemed pointless to travel. Now I can walk down a hill and be in the Fox River in about 2 minutes. If I felt like driving, I can drive for 25 minutes and be on one of the best stretches of the DuPage River for smallmouth bass.

Less than an hour will get me to Kankakee River State Park.

In less than 15 minutes I can be fishing very productive spots on any one of a half dozen creeks that feed the Fox. If I wanted to drive for another 10 or 15 minutes, I can add three more Fox creeks to the list. I’ve waded many miles of these rivers and creeks, but the miles I have yet fished far outnumber the miles I have fished.

Now with the way the price of gas has gone over the last few years, it’s become hard to justify burning off a tank of gas or more for the opportunity to wet a line.

My decision to not travel has been made that much easier by the fact that I don’t fish lakes and ponds. If it’s not moving and I can’t walk in it, I’m not all that interested.

With hunting season over for the year and the weather slowly making an effort to warm, February seems to become the month where I start making plans. I’ve always noticed that others make up their fishing wish lists at the end of the year. Many of these wish lists require driving long distances or getting on planes to reach their destinations.

I get out my dog-eared and beat to crap copy of the Illinois Gazetteer and drive the back roads of the northern quarter of Illinois with the tip of my finger and I dream of places to go. My index finger road trip takes me down back roads through what I imagine are endless fields of corn and soybeans, through little towns that are barely a small spider web of little red lines around an intersection.

I avoid the obvious wide blue indications of the bigger rivers and look for those razor thin blue streaks that feed them. These are the little creeks and rivers that create threads through out this northern quarter of the state.

Get out a map and look at the area bounded by the Fox River on the east, the Rock River to the west, our border with Wisconsin to the north and south to I-80. In this area are enough rivers and creeks to explore that I can probably stay busy for the rest of my life. Each little river and every feeder creek would have to be visited numerous times in the course of a year, not just once and never to be fished again.

I fished the Kishwaukee River near Cherry Valley years ago, but there are a few different branches of this river that snake throughout this part of the state. I have marks all over my Gazetteer on where to park for access. Kilbuck Creek meets up with the Kishwaukee just south of Rockford. I’ve never had the opportunity to go look, but I understand the area where they meet is stunningly beautiful.

Heading down stream from there along the Rock River, I have marks all over my maps. They start at Stillman Creek and move on to Black Walnut Creek, Honey Creek, Kyte River, Clear Creek, Franklin Creek and even one that’s just called Three Mile Branch.

On the south end of the area along I-80 the marks on my map continue. These all flow more or less south into the lower end of the Fox or down into the Illinois River. The name Crookedleg Creek is one of my favorites just for the way it sounds. Nearby is Buck Creek and then as you head west along I-80 you come across Pecumsegan Creek, Tomahawk Creek, the Little Vermillion River (which I hear is outstanding), Spring Creek and as you get out around Princeton you come across the three branches of Bureau Creek.

When you look at the map and the thin spidery lines that make up these small rivers and creeks, you’ll probably think I’m nuts for wanting to do this. How things look on maps can be deceiving. The creeks I fish that feed the Fox, which will remain nameless, look no different than any other of these thin blue lines. Yet when I get to the creeks, their valleys are a good half mile wide. Dense, almost impenetrable woods line the creeks and at times you’re standing 50 feet above the water looking down steep bluffs that are impossible to descend.

There’s no reason any one of these creeks and rivers I’ve marked on my maps shouldn’t look the same as the creeks I already fish on a regular basis.

Now take a look at the maps again. Look at the area bounded by the Rock River, the Mississippi River and the Wisconsin border. I’ve already fished the Apple and Galena Rivers as well as Smallpox Creek.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the new state record walleye recently came out of the Pecatonica River. The northwest corner of Illinois is our driftless area. Down in all those valleys are stunningly beautiful little streams. I don’t think I have enough years left allocated to my life that will allow me to explore this area the way I would like.

There’s a rumor I’ve heard going around for years that down in one of those valleys in the driftless area, as far off into the northwest corner of Illinois that you can possibly get, is one stream that holds a population of native trout. The hints are out there, but the details are not.

That’s the one creek in particular I’d like to get to someday.

____________

16 years and three cars later, that original Gazetteer was finally allowed into the house. With the recent arrival of a birthday present from my daughter, a brand spanking new copy of a Gazetteer, it was time to retire the old dog eared, taped together, beat to crap original book of maps that has served me well over the years.

Maybe I’ll let the new one into the house now and then.

I’ll bet you think I make this crap up

I’m blissfully ignorant of most of what goes on in the fishing world.

Back in the early 90′s I tried to pay attention, but quickly lost interest. Nothing that the pros were doing had anything to do with how I fish, so most of the information was lost on me. I’ve never bothered going back.

Through osmosis it seems, I pick up on names. During the winter months with all the outdoor shows going on, I peruse seminar schedules to see who’s speaking. I don’t know why I do that, I never go to the seminars. I probably look at the list in the off chance I’ll see something interesting. I must not find anything interesting since I never sit in on a seminar.

Names like Babe Winkleman, Spence Petros, Lefty Kreh and Mike Iaconelli mean virtually nothing to me. I know Kreh has something to do with fly fishing, Winkleman likes to talk about things and Iaconelli is a bass pro. I got all that from the seminar descriptions. But that’s as far as it goes.

Last year I was wandering around a Bass Pro Shop, that happens now and then. I never buy anything and I’m usually there to kill time. I did a little write up about my trip to the store.

While there I walked past a video monitor with something already playing. I summed it up like this:

I have no clue who the guy was, I don’t pay attention to that stuff. All I had in my head was that this guy is standing in a beautiful, pristine environment wearing one of the most disgustingly gaudy shirts I’ve ever seen. And he didn’t seem embarrassed.

After what seemed like an eternity, the guy caught a fish, which I described as this:

He set the hook on it like he was setting a hook on a tarpon. Arms tucked down tight in front, jerking the rod back and back and back, the whole time saying, “Oh yeah, that’s good, that’s a good one, oh yeah.” Jerk, jerk, jerk on that rod and I’m thinking “Oh my god, I’m watching some guy jerk off with a fishing pole in his hand.”

When he gets the fish up close to the boat, I had described the get up he was wearing as that of a peacock, this happens:

The fish finally gets close to the boat. I’m expecting the peacock to reel up as much line as possible, lean over and lip the fish. That’s what I would do. Instead, with too much line out on the rod, he lays down on his back with his spine as the dividing point between what is on and what is off the boat. All I hear is “what the fuck are you doing?” It’s me talking to the damn television.

Now he’s sprawled on the deck of the boat. Rod in his left hand and he’s extending it as far as he can to tighten up the too much line he has out. With his right arm he’s extending it as far as he possibly can in a desperate reach for the bass. I hear this coming out of the television. “Ohhhh that’s a good one, oooohhh that’s good, c’mon, c’mon, ohhhhh that’s good.”

At that moment, I spoke out loud to the television set:

“Stand the fuck up, reel in the line, bend the hell over and just lip the goddamn thing.”

For those that had bothered to read that little story last year, I’ll bet you thought I was making it all up. I don’t have that kind of ability. I tell stories based on what I see, for the most part, and that is what I had seen.

I pretty much put it out of my head after that. I had no clue who the guy was, didn’t care.

Then, over this winter, I was going through the seminar speaker list that was going to be at the Rosemont Show. The name Mike Iaconelli was on the list, I recognized that name from past mentions, the Bass Pro guy.

There was a picture of him as a promotional piece for the show. My jaw dropped. Holy shiiiiiittttttt, it was a still from the video I had stopped to watch that day at Bass Pro Shop.

And you people think I make this shit up.

It Could be Anywhere

Those who know me also know I’ve used the phrase “It Could be Anywhere” in reference to where I fish here in the northeast corner of Illinois. Even in this urban area I like to think I have a knack for finding the hidden gems, the out of the way places where, when looking at the photos, you would never guess you were on the edge of a population center with nearly 10 million people.

I’m in the process of going through thousands of photos I’ve taken over the years. Some of them aren’t half bad. I’m hoping to get them all up on a gallery site I’ve started putting together. Would be nice to offer the best ones for sale. Will be manipulating still other images, turning them into my image of artwork and offering those for sale too.

But, before I go any further, I’d like some feedback. There’s no point doing a ton of work if the site is ugly, unreadable, clumsy and a whole list of other possible issues.

Right now, I like to think I’ve adjusted type sizes and colors to make them easy to read. In other words, I’m not squinting at the screen, have to put on my reading glasses or getting a headache. I know what I can’t read when I go to other sites, so I’ve tried to eliminate those issues right from the start. Click on the link below and let me know what you think.

It Could be Anywhere

I haven’t put up much in the way of images, just test pieces in the first 3 galleries. The sizes seem good, what little type I’ll be putting in is readable. I know most images are best viewed on dark backgrounds so not sure I would change that unless I get a lot of complaints on it.

Feedback is appreciated. The hard part is yet to come, but if I can get this style stuff out of the way, I can quit thinking about it and move on.

Thanks in advance.

I didn’t have a Plan B when I started

Hell, I barely even had a Plan A when I headed out.

I’ve taken advantage of the mildest winter in 78 years by doing virtually nothing outdoors for the past 3 months.

Haven’t felt like dealing with the colder air/colder water mechanics required in order to get out fishing the Fox River. Even though neither of those have been that bad.

Did get out to do a little hunting, very little.

Exploring new woods and waters has been non-existent. Gas prices have cut into the country road cruises I like to take.

I haven’t even bothered walking around the neighborhood much.

Textbooks would say I’m depressed.

No, I’ve been depressed, this is just overwhelming boredom. A quick perusal of a few posts I’ve written over the winter and in the past will show that a solution to this is to give me color. I tire quickly of wandering monotonous gray woods, water and fields.

Sunlight, when it occurs, is no real help. All you wind up with is bright blue skies behind all the gray.

Hardly an improvement.

I knew I wanted to be out on a creek on a recent balmy day, so I picked the most isolated spot I knew. Nobody goes there, never any footprints and on the last day of 2011 I caught a 14 inch smallie from the same creek. January wasn’t as kind the one day that month I bothered going out. The creek was devoid of any living creatures. This day was a repeat of that January day.

I thought for sure with the mild temperatures that there would be something moving around. There were bug hatches, no clue what kind, but there were a couple of different types. The water in the creek was barren.

Something had been moving around. The poor photo below shows that something was making a redd. It had moved the silt off to the side to expose gravel and rock. On a good sunny day, this spot sits directly in the sun. Today was not one of those days.

After an hour, I gave up. There was no point beating a dead creek. A few different lures were thrown, the bottom was dredged with imitations of what lives on the bottom, but still no takers.

Back at the car there was no point changing out of my waders. The parking lot is unpaved and with the warm weather and a touch of rain, it was now basically a crushed limestone paste that stuck to everything. The drive home was greeted by a touch of sun, I felt better. The drive also took me past another creek, so I stopped. What the hell, I was still in waders and it was barely three in the afternoon.

The first pool was devoid of life. The creek was crystal clear and the rock bottom could be seen in the three to four foot holes. A little further down was a long slow stretch of water, depths of almost six feet where the bottom couldn’t be seen. This is where a bump was felt and then the bump pulled back.

I’d like to say I was using one of the many recommended lures for cold water fishing. I hear jointed minnows in J-11 and J-13 sizes work well. Firetiger swim and crankbaits were supposed to be good. Tubes of all sizes and colors dragged along the bottom are a hot winter lure. But I stuck with what I’ve been able to make work for the last dozen years or so.

I should have taken a close up picture of the inside of the mouth on this 17 inch smallie instead of that stare they like to give you as you take their picture. I’ve always wondered if they see things when out of the water like we see things when we’re under water.

I thought it’s mouth was filled with blood, it was so bright red. I don’t like to keep fish out of water too long unless I’m going to take them home to be dinner. Since I didn’t have a stringer on me, this one was free to go, next time it won’t be so lucky. After I let it go I remembered seeing this bright red gullet in the past. It’s always been an indication the fish are eating crayfish. I was working under the assumption the crayfish weren’t around yet, the water being too cold.

A little while later, while wading through water a couple of feet deep, there was a crayfish sitting on the bottom. Apparently they like this unseasonably warm winter too. The camera wouldn’t focus through all that water to get a good shot.

With no snow on the ground, the dead things on the shores and in the woods stand out. Bits and pieces of deer scattered about, unidentifiable bones and clumps of feathers from things that didn’t fly off fast enough were everywhere.

A pond off to the side of the creek was fished on the way back to the car. I didn’t bother scaling down the lure and the ponds resident bluegills were pecking away at the tail. One did manage to hook itself in the top of the head, maybe next time I’ll focus on them.

Through the woods, along the creek, more things found. This time a small propane tank used for camping. Apparently, while sitting around whatever warmth was being generated, the person decided to strip out of the insulated pants they were wearing.

And then they walked away.

At least I hope they did.

Down stream are deeper pools filled with tangles of trees that drift down the creek at high water. They make virtually impenetrable obstacles, but good fish holding spots.

In a couple of months when I make my way down to those deeper pools to pick apart the tangles for a few fish, I really don’t want to find the owner of those pants.

( As I wrote this, I always had that ending in my head. I’ve noticed that when I start writing things down, I usually write the end down first, then go back and write my way back to it. I don’t trust my memory, usually, to keep the end in my head like I did with this one. I have a folder on my desk top that contains about 20 posts/stories that I never finished. I went and looked at them, I didn’t write down an ending).