Tag Archives: blackberry creek

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Lost up the Creeks

Since the last week of March I’ve been spending the bulk of my fishing time getting lost up the creeks that feed the Fox River.

I don’t keep detailed fishing records like I did over a decade ago. For the past few years I barely wrote any totals down at all. This year, since I’m trying to send Dale Bowman a fishing report every week, I’ve been putting most of my results up on Facebook. On my personal page I only have 45 friends, I eliminated about 100 others over the past year. Of those 45 only six fish. Of those six, maybe two will get out to the places I fish, but even that I doubt. I already know nobody reads anything I send to Dale, tested that over the past year.

So, all that wonderful information being read by maybe 10 fishermen total did exactly what I planned.

I run into virtually no one out there and it’s extremely rare that I see another set of foot prints where I go.

Best I can tell is that I started fishing this year toward the end of March and have got out on average three times a week. Lately 4, sometimes 5, but we’ll stick with a 3 average. That makes approximately 33 fishing trips which I know is on the low side.

I didn’t bother writing some of it down, but I know I’ve been on the Fox a half dozen times and the rest have all been spread across 5 different creeks. The totals so far this year show 273 fish caught, 98 percent of those are all smallies. I hooked but blew the landing on another 198.

Those numbers do show that I suck at setting the hook.

Treble hooks on some hard lure would probably fix that, but they destroy the mouths on fish and I don’t think I’ve used treble hooks in well over a dozen years because of that. Single hooks on a jig is all I ever use. I catch smallies all the time that have severely damaged mouths from treble hooks. It’s very apparent that the average angler pretty much sucks at extracting treble hooks from the mouth of a fish. One of the other things I don’t like about them is how a smallie will take the front hook, thrash around and get a back hook jammed into it’s gill plate. You’ll see the result of that in the pictures below.

Impressive numbers overall perhaps until I compare it to previous years, at least what my memory allows. This has been the slowest spring of the past three. I did much better the last few years. Last year alone in this same time frame I hit the same amount of water. I only bothered counting the fish caught on one creek and the rest I didn’t bother with, but I remember doing well.

On the one creek alone that I tracked my caught/miss ratio last year, by now I had stopped counting at 300 caught and another 200 that I blew the hook set on.

That was on one creek.

So, what’s this mean? Brutal winter, delayed spring, less than usual rain keeping the fish from running up the creek. I know nowhere near as many carp and suckers came up the creeks, they never materialized like years past. Who knows, rivers and creeks are too hard to judge. Moving water will screw up theories quickly.

I guess I’ve had a good start to the year and should shut up and be happy with what I’ve caught so far, but the half of my brain that is always asking questions is badgering me for answers as to why. Why are things different this year?

No wonder I don’t sleep much.

I recently went through all the photos I’ve taken since the end of March. I haven’t felt much like dealing with them so far. The ones I liked are all below.

Unless I get distracted by fishing, watching the garden grow or sitting and staring off into space, maybe I’ll put another post up in July.

Based on the lip damage this smallie had, I’m certain the gill damage was done by some kind of stick bait with multiple treble hooks.

I thought there were five.

Two weeks later, over a quarter of a mile inland, same fish.

Why there are never any shore fishermen around here.

A gratuitous wild asparagus hunting shot.

This spot on this creek has changed dramatically over the past dozen years. This used to be a braided shallow set of riffles.

I missed the more impressive flower show that goes on here.

Church of the Holy Fish

It was mating with a much bigger one, but the big one got camera shy.

The hike through the woods to fishing spots are always hard, but sometimes I get a bit of a break.

One of the few trips to the Fox was met by a massive bug hatch.

I only find them on the edge of the water lines. Makes me wonder if the bulbs are washing out of yards further upstream.

My Little Dickie is insisting on getting aired out more often this year.

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Both Fascinating and Frustrating

The reluctance of the fish to head up the creeks has been both fascinating and frustrating. Not just smallmouth bass, but any kind of fish.

I really shouldn’t be all that surprised considering the winter we had.

I forget what these flowers are, names of things don’t really mean much to me anyway, but I finally came across a small batch of them, very small. Like, this was it.

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Usually by now they’re everywhere and have been for a few weeks. Like the fish, they’re taking their sweet time showing up.

For the past few weeks I’ve been hitting five different creeks, from nine miles inland to the mouths. Except for slightly increasing bug hatches, they’ve been completely devoid of life.

Today I combed a half mile of a creek. A half mile inland to the mouth. Starting from the inland side, the first few hundred yards were again completely devoid of life, except for the bugs.

A couple of hundred yards from the mouth I finally spotted two huge schools of minnows, bait fish if you will. One was hugging tight to the bottom of a shallow sandy area and the other was one big undulating ball of bait in a hole over five feet deep. I took this as a good sign for the two hundred yard walk down to the mouth.

I took it wrong.

Not another living thing seen.

Well, almost.

At the mouth a couple of quillbacks decided to play porpoise. There’s no mistaking their back when they briefly come up out of the water.

I stood in one spot that lets me cover a lot of water with virtually no movement on my part. Not a thing hit and that really came as no surprise.

But I kept casting and casting and casting far beyond the limit I set for myself when the fish aren’t biting.

It was too nice out.

We haven’t had nice in a long time.

It was a nice sunset.

I haven’t stood in the water and watched a nice sunset in a long time.

Friday I’m going to repeat this.

By then the water will be a bit warmer.

More bait fish will probably have moved up and I’m sure the bug hatch will be bigger.

And maybe the bite will finally turn on.

We haven’t had a turned on bite in a long time.

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Blackberry Creek Dam Removal Update, Wrap it Up

To play catch up, you can read the past progress reports here.
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As far as I’m concerned, the removal of the 175 year old, nearly 8 foot tall dam near the mouth of Blackberry Creek was a raging success.

I gauge this primarily on the migration of smallmouth bass up the creek, of which there were hundreds. But numerous other species of fish were also caught far up the creek this past year. It’s hard to tell if those species were already in the creek, most likely, but I have no doubt quite a few new fish found there way up stream. One of the ones I was surprised at was the longnose gar. Never saw one beyond the base of the removed dam, but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to make it further inland.

Only time will tell.

If you look through the list of posts made in the link at the top, there’s a gap in what I had been putting up. There were two reasons for that. First, by the first week of July it had pretty much quit raining and the creek kept dropping. Second, when this happens I don’t like to go out and pound the hell out of fish that are sitting in diminishing pools of water.

Now and then I would head over to the creek mainly to see if any progress was being made in restoring the area of the removal back to something a little more natural. You’ll see some of those photo’s below. For about seven weeks I didn’t bother going over to the creek at all. Low water and it was basically like watching grass grow at this point. As you’ll see, it was exactly like watching grass grow.

So to start, on July 7th I wandered to the creek:

When they put in all the rock, they threw down a considerable amount of seed in and above the rocks. It was coming in pretty thick.

A number of nice sized trees were planted.

A large area was covered in grass seed. Problem was, and how do you plan for it, this is when it pretty much stopped raining for a few weeks.

Another long stretch of rocks had grass coming in pretty strong above it.

A few weeks ago I read an article about the dam removal. I can no longer remember where and I can’t find it. But I remember IDNR stream biologist Steve Pescitelli being quoted in it at length. One of the things he mentioned was the smallmouth bass migration up the creek and that they found them four miles inland.

For over a decade I’ve been exploring Blackberry Creek inland, but never fished it. Since I pursue smallmouth bass in creeks, I assumed because of the dam near the mouth there was no point looking for smallies. Over those years I would fish at the base of the dam once or twice a year. Every smallie caught was tossed over the dam, my own little stream stocking program. A couple of years ago a friend sent a note that they had caught a couple of smallies about a mile up from the dam. Apparently my private stocking program might have worked a little.

This year I went inland looking for them. I’ve been eyeballing a spot ten miles inland for many years and on July 12th I did a little exploring:

The creek is a little flatter this far inland, much like the land surrounding it, but you still get some classic riffle/run/pool scenarios.

I remember the day as 90 degrees and the creek a little low, so I was happy to catch a couple of these 10 miles inland.

On July 22nd I was back at the main construction site to see how things were growing along:

Boulders were placed along the edge of the parking lot in an effort to idiot proof the area. Heaven forbid common sense tells you not to drive your car out there.

Over two weeks later, still no rain, nothing growing. I was a little concerned about the trees getting stressed out, but won’t know if they survived till spring of next year.

I didn’t go back again till August 11th:

We still hadn’t got much rain, but the grass behind the boulders didn’t seem to care. I didn’t get a picture, but beyond that grass line there was still nothing growing.

One of the things I don’t think they should have done as part of this project is restore what they call a wetland. If the dam wasn’t there, this wetland wouldn’t have existed. At least not eight feet above the creek bed. I think this is all fill that slowly collected over 175 years and if they really wanted to restore this wetland, then they should have taken the whole area down to creek level:

Now this wetland is an eight foot tall ridge along the creek with a big dry hole behind it.

In order for the water to fill this hole the creek has to come up over three feet to get over the rocks they put along one small stretch. That doesn’t happen that often and this hole will dry up again. If in 20 years you come here and find this whole area to be a nice, heavily wooded area made up of oaks and maples, I don’t know anything about it…

There are some flowers establishing themselves in amongst the rocks.

I didn’t go back to the creek again till October 2nd. Most of the pictures I took that day are in a post that I put up on October 7th. There’s an update on the creek in that post.

We had been getting rain by then, but it came too late to get things growing. It did soften the dirt in the area though. The one thing that pissed me off that day was seeing this:

Remember the boulders on the edge of the parking lot? Apparently they weren’t put close enough together. No matter how well you try to idiot proof something, God will come along and simply create a better idiot.

And with this, I am done with my Blackberry Creek Dam Removal Updates.

There will be no more.

I’m sure I will go fishing on the creek come March, I’m sure I’ll catch some fish, I’m sure I’ll take some pictures and I’m sure I’ll write something up about the fishing trip.

But I will no longer mention the creek by name. There will be no recognizable photos of the creek posted. As far as anyone else is concerned, it’s just another one of the seven or so creeks I fish that happen to feed into the Fox River.

This is going to be done for purely selfish reasons.

The interest level in fishing the Fox River and it’s creeks, at least in the areas I like to fish, has dropped off considerably over the past eight years.

I run into practically no one while out there fishing.

And I want to keep it that way.

Blackberry Creek Dam Removal Update, Successful Spawn

To play catch up, you can read the past progress reports here.
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For whatever reason, fish of all species like to migrate up creeks in the spring looking for spawning grounds. Was out along Blackberry Creek the other day when I saw the first sign of a successful spawn.

Black bass, smallies I’m sure. This is well above where the dam was removed and a good sign.

Since I started fishing the creek around the first of April, I’ve caught around 300 smallies, give or take a few. I’ve missed the hookset on nearly as many. As I’ve worked my way upstream I know I’ve mentioned in my fishing reports that I could smell the fish spawning. Was nice to see that my nose doesn’t fail me.

In a short 20 foot stretch I saw a few hundred of these baby bass. I can only imagine how many more are further upstream.

Not much in the way of pictures for all the fishing I’ve been doing on the creek. The weather has been kind of dreary, not much sun. I rely on the sun to give dimension and bright color to the surroundings. We’ve had little of that.

Hope to change that this coming weekend. Supposed to be beautiful out, lots of sunshine for at least one day and I’ll be venturing much further upstream.

In the mean time, I did find a flower growing on the bank…

I did take some pictures of some nice fish, but they’re pictures of fish.

Picture a fish, specifically a smallmouth bass.

Blackberry Creek Dam Removal Update, Fishing Test 4-5-6

To play catch up, you can read the past progress reports here.
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I seem to have a problem remaining consistent in finishing what I start. It’s been a week since I put up the last post, leaving it hanging that I went back to the creek for the evening fish.

I got sidetracked putting up another post with some pictures about the real Blackberry Creek. Then, I got busy hanging out doing not much of anything.

In a way it does seem a bit absurd to put up posts about my first adventure up a creek after a dam has been removed and it’s back to a semi-normal flow for the first time in 175 years. The absurdity comes from following the fish up stream, throwing a piece of plastic around that mimics some form of baitfish, impaling the fish on a single piece of sharp steel and reeling it in to my hand.

Then I put the fish back in the water after all this effort.

For those that have questioned my use of these single hook, small lures for years, I use them because they cause less damage than impaling fish on anywhere from three to six hooks. I’ve seen guys throw lures with three treble hooks on them, all to catch a smallmouth bass. I have seen those cause considerable damage to the fish.

Though I avoid talking about the whole catch and release ethos and I do have a Smallie Taste Test and a website called Eat More Smallmouth, I release 99.9% of the smallies I catch. May as well do as little damage to them as possible while out there fishing for them. For all those out there that use multiple hook lures and practice C&R, I’m tired of catching your butchered up fish. Why don’t you take the time to learn how to catch a fish on a single hook. So you lose some, it’s not like you’re taking them home for dinner anyway.

Well enough of that. I’ve delayed finishing this off long enough to have forgotten the things I wanted to say, so the following is a fishing report sent to Dale Bowman of the Chicago Sun Times about my results and I’ve added some pictures. Some fish, some scenery, one good looking creek…

Went back to the creek again on Saturday at 4 PM and fished for two hours. I started at the head of the construction and went upstream for three quarters of a mile.

Last time I fished this stretch was a few years ago and I got two largemouth bass for my troubles. Never went back there or anywhere upstream on this creek again.  This time I wound up with 23 smallies,

1 largemouth

and 1 bluegill caught

and another 22 missed fish. The water was so clear that I know they were all smallies.

Got to see two huge ones before they spit the hook.

Over the years I’ve done my own little stocking program on Blackberry Creek. Now and then I would fish below the dam and every smallie caught would be tossed over the dam. A couple of years ago I heard reports of a few being caught upstream.

Also over the years I’ve explored quite a bit of the creek, but never bothered fishing it. I have spots all planned out up to and just beyond Jericho Road. Not sure how many miles that is, but it’s a few. Now I have a reason to fish and explore.

Will be interesting to see how far up the smallies go this year. It’s also interesting to see how quickly fish take advantage of a now dam free creek.

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Got out fishing a few days later and went upstream of the construction again. Caught 16, which includes two largemouth and a crappie. Missed 28. Couldn’t set a hook to save my life today. It’s really beautiful up in there and if anyone tries it I have some advice, don’t take a shortcut through the woods. Did that years ago. It will be one of the most miserable experiences of your life.

That’s about a 50 foot tall, nearly sheer bluff on one side.

Went in there a couple of years ago. You really don’t want to do that.

The smell of spawning fish, based on memory a combination of carp and suckers, was very strong on the creek. I love that smell.