Category Archives: Fox River

fox river sunset

Why I Quit Fishing

There are a few reasons why I quit fishing, but the main reason is pictured above.

My favorite time of the day to go out fishing was always the last three hours of the day. Sunsets seem to last longer. Now I still go out for the last three hours of the day, but with a camera rather than a rod.

I didn’t fish much and never a river before I turned 40. After that, fishing the Fox River and the creeks that feed it became an obsession. For 19 years that’s all I really cared about doing.

It was all about the fishing and even though I was out on the water during hundreds of sunsets, there were fish to be caught. If I stopped for a second I might get off a half way decent shot of the sunset, but I had to get back to fishing. I was losing my light.

19 years later and 10,000 smallies caught, give or take a couple of hundred, enough was enough. This would have been my 20th year, but I didn’t see any point and going out to catch one more fish.

Now I go out at those same hours of the day and pace back and forth in one of many areas where I know the sunset could be spectacular. It doesn’t always happen, but the anticipation is worth it. I get to watch the light slowly wane and change and glow and reflect off my surroundings. Something I never did when catching a fish was the point of being out there.

To me, being in the right spot to photograph the sunset pictured above, along with the 70 or so other photo’s taken that evening, was much more important than being on the other side of the river, behind the island, drifting lures in the fast and slow running water. All to catch smallie number 10,000 and one.

Standing and pacing and watching the play of light is much more rewarding.

Over those 19 years I’ve also cruised many, many miles on back roads all along the river and to it’s creeks.

back road

It was rare that I ever stopped very long, maybe long enough to get off a quick shot. I had a fishing spot to get to, fish to be caught.

Now, I cruise those same back roads during those same last 3 hours of daylight. Only now I don’t hesitate in stopping if something catches my eye.


Now I go out looking for the perfect sunset clouds.


the barn

Or I’ll head out if it looks like a good storm will be passing through.

the barn

I think it’s time better spent than chasing still another fish and letting my surroundings go ignored.

I have no clue if my photo’s are all that great. I don’t know if I care one way or the other. But like fishing once was, I now can’t imagine being out there and not trying to capture something.

For those that have followed along with all that I’ve written over the years, why I quit fishing probably seemed inevitable. My writing and the photo’s that went with them never really had anything to do with fishing. At least I tried to give that impression, but in my head I had to be there for the fish. Now I want to focus on the photo’s and all those spots I walked and drove right by.

If anything comes of that, that would be nice. If not, that would still be nice.

In an effort to take this new direction seriously, I’ve already started a Facebook page for Ken Gortowski Photography where photo’s have been going up.

I also have a website up and running called that is still under construction as I figure out the design and then populate it with all the photo’s I’ve taken over the years.

I’m looking forward to how this all pans out.

In the mean time, in my spare time, I’ll still be out wandering around those last few hours and minutes of daylight. Revisiting back roads I breezed down in the past, heading out to the river and creeks and concentrating on the details I passed up over the years.

And, just like when I used to fish, I’ll stay out to the very end, for that last little bit of light, for the perfect conditions.

And, just like fishing, you have to stay to the very end.

The very end tends to produce the best results.



A Minimalist goes Wandering

A minimalist goes wandering is a nice summary of what I wound up with in terms of photo’s, but that’s not how things started.

The sky was filled with fair weather clouds when I headed out the door. Skies, anytime really, but around sunset is better, and water are two subjects I go purposely out to shoot. Then things change while I’m out at times.

This day the clouds weren’t cooperating. I guess that’s a way to say I was uninspired.

But the mostly blue sky and the intensity of the late spring green had me searching out other things. I don’t look for anything in particular. I let the colors, objects and surrounding space determine if I find something interesting. Nothing predetermined goes into this thought process. That looks interesting… is enough to get me to raise the camera. A lot of failures, but others that I find intriguing.

Since the sky failed me and I didn’t feel like scrounging low down to find fungus and there was no water around, I settled for everything mid ground, mid view, whatever you feel like calling it.

Basically, I walked around and looked at stuff till something caught my eye.


A Much Needed Walk in the Woods

Took a much needed walk in the woods today. Since I quit fishing I don’t get out for long walks through woods and down creeks. I’m woefully out of shape.

During the winter and early spring I don’t think twice about blundering through the woods that you see at the top. A few feet in reminded me of the stinging nettles that are mixed in with the ever thickening undergrowth. From the knees down my legs quickly felt like they were on fire.

I stuck with the paths this time, for the most part.


The sun cooperated a bit and the new growth this time of year has an intensity that quickly wanes come June.

A feast for the eyes.

If you like lots of green.


At Least I got a Fishing License

At least I got a fishing license, even though the rod hasn’t been put back in the car. Had to take it out a couple of weeks ago and it never made it’s way back. At least the trunk is still loaded with everything needed. Now to put it to use, maybe.

The Fox River is doing it’s usual spring high, fast and muddy thing. Catching smallmouth bass out of the river under these conditions is easy. Fish close to shore, fish close to obstructions. It’s called dabbling and after many years of doing that every spring, it’s got old.

Decided today to just go for a walk in the woods, but I also figured I may as well go check out four nearby creeks while wandering the woods. Unlike the river, they were all crystal clear and in perfect shape. Still went with the walk instead of fishing.

The main reason to head out to the woods was to see how the undergrowth was coming along. No leaves on the trees, plenty of light getting down to the forest floor, makes things sprout. Today is the last of the colder days. From here on out, supposedly, it’s all uphill temperature wise. Or so they say.

For now, things are trying to grow. The next couple of weeks should see a dramatic improvement.

The woods I walked today run along two of my favorite creeks, so I was killing two birds with one stone. I got to enjoy both.


What was once an easy stroll down the creek has changed over the winter. It’s now an obstacle course. Will be interesting to navigate this when I get to it.


I’ve seen this creek clear like this many times and it’s nice to go to spots where smallies get caught. From a different vantage point, it’s easy to see why.


Birds, waterfowl and tree dwellers were everywhere. I was grateful when these two chose to ignore me. Faithful readers of this blog will recall my run ins with nesting geese on creeks.


Many Aprils over the years have been spent fishing this creek with this one pool consistently producing every time. I wondered if I’d come back again this month to find out if it’s still consistent.


Wandering along the creek I came across a found object, if you want to call it that. I tend to call them Shit I Trip Over. Considering where I am, it makes you wonder how many decades it’s just been sitting here all by itself.


The signs of beavers on these creeks are everywhere, though the beavers themselves are seldom seen. Finally figured out that with the bigger trees, they just use them for sharpening their teeth.


I found this interesting at the time, not sure why.


Headed off to another creek with the intention of wandering the woods along it’s banks, but I was met with more of the same under growth waiting for more warmth. While walking over the little bridge over the creek I noticed that the suckers were making their migration upstream. That I didn’t expect. I assumed like the plants, they would be delayed by a couple of weeks too.


Mixed in with the hundreds of suckers were hundreds of shad.


This next one may be difficult to see. I almost didn’t see it, but my shadow spooked it and it moved. I could see the distinctive bars of a northern hog sucker. Pretty good size on it too and it looked to be a good 16 inches. I’ve been told it’s rare to come across them, but coming across them is a good thing. I’ve been seeing them in these creeks on and off for years and apparently they are a sign of high quality water.


I’m sure this week I’ll put the rod in the car and next weekend I’ll be met with a conundrum.

Do I wander around taking pictures and fishing or just wander around like I did today.

It is kind of nice not hauling around all that fishing shit.


Fishing and Fossil Hunting

The intent wasn’t to go fishing and fossil hunting, just fishing, but the opportunity to fish and fossil hunt arose, so who was I to say no.

When an 8 foot tall dam that has been in place for nearly 200 years is removed, things change. All the work put into trying to make the creek behave like a natural creek is nice, but the creek tends to take on a mind of it’s own.

In this case, the creek likes to move things around.


This is the second time in the three years since the dam was removed that this gravel bar has appeared. The first time was soon after the dam was removed. It was three times bigger than what you see above.

Humans being what they are couldn’t live with that and by the end of the year the big gravel bar was scraped and moved and everything was just the way the humans wanted it again.

Then it rained, water came up and moved things around and put the gravel bar back where the creek wanted it. The big rains haven’t even started yet this year so I imagine this gravel bar will continue to grow over the next couple of months.

That’s the thing about controlling water, you can’t. Water will do whatever it wants and move things however it wants. Water has all the time in the world. All it has to do is wait and move things and over time it wins.

Water always wins.

I started out scouring the gravel bar to see if any human type remains were washed down. Not bones, but objects left behind. Objects that might have got tossed into the creek over 200 years ago and now have someplace else to go.

That’s when I stumbled upon the first fossil.


Now I was intrigued. I knew there would be fossils around, why wouldn’t there be, but that was an easy find and now I wanted to actually look. It didn’t take long to gather up what I thought were the best of what was lying around.

I have no clue if these are just a few hundred years old, or 10 thousand years old, or millions of years old. My interest ends with finding them. Identifying them by type and age add nothing to the find.

I also fished the creek, my second time out this year. The creek was completely devoid of life. Not a minnow, carp, sucker or anything else with fins. It’s early and the water is still cold, but one fish right at the mouth cooperated and I mechanically reeled in a cold water sluggish smallie.

I immediately noticed that the fishing ennui that had settled in last year was still there. Nice fish, that was fun, who am I kidding.

This year marks my 20th year of fishing rivers and creeks for smallmouth bass. Virtually all of that in northern Illinois. In that time I’ve estimated that I’ve caught around 10,000 smallmouth, give or take a few, with 90 percent of those caught in the Fox Valley.

I can continue to kid myself that somehow it’s still exciting, but I’m at the point where it’s barely even interesting.

I’d rather go fossil hunting, wandering around with my camera, even go wading around the river with my camera, but without the nuisance of carrying around all that extra fishing baggage.

I don’t see any of that as a bad thing, just a change.

Change is good, or as B.B. King would say…

The thrill is gone baby…