Category Archives: Fox River Guide

Catch and Self Release

I used to have a friend that fly fished, fished with flies, or so he said.

I remember a fair amount of conversation about the topic, but I don’t recall a whole lot of actual fishing going on. I do recall a fair amount of time being spent hunched over a table tying flies. Since I didn’t see much fishing happening, I would imagine he had quite a collection of flies. He was at a disadvantage. He lived in a heavily populated north side Chicago neighborhood. To go anywhere to fish was a chore. If it were trout he had in mind, which was likely, it was even more of a chore to go to an adjoining state.

Every winter he would make a trip to the Rogue River in Michigan for steelhead. I was invited along, but I have a rule to never fish when air temperatures were below 32 degrees. Besides, that used to be my busy time of the year.

On his return I would always ask the same question, how did you do?

Every year it was the same response, oh, I hooked a few.

On the fourth year I pressed for more details. It winds up that yes, he always hooked a few, but in all these years he had never landed one. He always left out that bit of information, but he was always content that he had the opportunity to hook a few.

Being a river fishing guide, for smallies not trout, I pay attention to what other fishing guides are doing. One I’ve been following for years is Dustan Harley of Ripple Guide Service. I’ve always noticed that he mentions how many fish his clients tie into. Then, kind of nonchalantly, he’ll mention how many they landed.

This trait of being perfectly content tying into fish and not landing them must be something unique to trout anglers. I can’t recall other anglers thinking like this. The bass neanderthals crawl out from under rocks to lambast anyone that even mentions catching small fish let alone mentioning the few that were hooked and not landed. Apparently they aren’t even worth talking about unless you can add the word hawg or pig in front of the mention of the species and the exact length down to 1/64th of an inch.

Showing pictures of small bass is even worse.

I’ve never had that problem.

I’ve always kept track of the fish I’ve caught, I have a head for numbers and it’s easy to do. I used to measure them, but now I just guesstimate. I’ve noticed over the last few years I’ve started keeping track of the fish I miss. This trout fishing anomaly seems to be wearing off on me. I don’t mind though. Counting the self released fish gives me an idea of what could have been if I knew how to set a hook. The remaining members of the Fox Tribe here in Illinois even made me an honorary member of their tribe with the new name of Cantsetahook.

Three hours out on the river and after two of them, it was starting to look like a complete wash out. You would think if you came across a shore line made of boulders that were sitting in the sun all day, you would think you died and went to smallie heaven.

Every nook and cranny was painstakingly picked apart. Lures were tossed on top of boulders and wiggled just right to drop into even more potential fish holding spots, with nothing to show for all the effort. A break was needed, a sign was ignored and a log made a good thinking spot.

To get to the last stretch of the day I had to wander through shallow water over rock. I let the river play out it’s mysterious song. I let the river song and the mesmerizing pattern of water over rock take over my brain wave patterns to get in tune with the river.

Something changed, I felt confident this next stretch would treat me well.

And I was correct.

Only I was living up to my Fox Tribe name as fish after fish self released.

I slowed my heart rate even more and tried to time my breathing with the soft rise and fall of the river. This did the trick. My catch rate increased dramatically, culminating in the hooking of a tree fish. Not only did this fish head for a downed tree along the shore, it leapt into the air at the last second and wound up hanging from a branch, making it easy to go over and pluck it off the hook. Like taking an ornament off a Christmas tree. I chose not to humiliate the poor little fish by photographing it in it’s embarrassing position.

If I told you I landed six smallies in that last stretch, you’d probably think that was no big deal.

If I told you I hooked 16 smallies in that last stretch, you’d probably say that was a damn good hour of fishing.

Oh, and, by the way, I landed 6 of them… I’d say nonchalantly.

Fox River Guiding With Ed

Got Ed out for a guided trip to the Fox River today. Even though he lives and owns a business in Aurora, Illinois, by his account the last time he fished the Fox River was when he was a kid, around 35 years ago. Back then it was for panfish.

His expectations were high, “I don’t expect to catch anything.”

Talk about pressure.

New waders, boots, rod and reel and he was all set to go.

This was going to be more of a teaching trip too. He wanted to learn to read the water and where to go so he can make more time for himself doing something he liked.

It wasn’t hot and heavy, but a few fish cooperated. Of course the big ones got away. The first two fish hooked were seen before they threw the hook. They were impressive fish.

Since this was his first time wading the river, I warned him ahead of time that he was going to feel it the next day. He did well wandering the river and hardly stumbled at all.

Wading is deceiving, you don’t notice the toll it’s taking on your legs till you get back on dry land. I believe the first comment I heard was “I see what you mean about how I’m going to feel this.”

Ben Gay works.

For those of you that like Handmade Sausages and Smoked Meats, Ed owns Wurst Kitchen in Aurora. Check out the website.

Wurst Kitchen

I was presented with 4 big summer sausages. I’m looking forward to cutting into them.

Oh yeah, the fish and pictures.

Ed wound up landing 3 smallmouth bass. Like I said, nothing hot and heavy, but at least it wasn’t nothing.