Tag Archives: bugs

I was going fishing,
the fish would be there

On March 1st, the start of meteorological spring, winter decided to make an attempt to assert its presence. Something it had pretty much failed to do for the previous three months. First rain, then ice followed by snow. We barely got a dusting where I live, but 50 miles north there was four to six inches of snow on the ground. For the next few days the daytime temps barely made it to the freezing mark.

Then on Tuesday the 6th at 1 p.m., it was suddenly 60 degrees. I was going fishing, the fish would be there. They had to be. It didn’t matter that all the melting snow further north had to make its way to the Fox River, then continue on down stream. It didn’t matter that the water temps in return would probably stay somewhere in the upper 30 degree range and the river flow would double in speed.

Skip the river, I’ll go fish a creek.

No matter how many times I go to a specific spot, there’s always something new to find even though I’ve practically stepped on it numerous times in the past.

The long slow stretches of the creek were sitting in the sun. No leaves on the trees yet meant more sun on the water.

Standing on the bank revealed a crystal clear creek flowing at normal levels with no signs of life anywhere. At least in the water. Floating around the woods and over the water was a bug hatch. Not a lot of them and my generic name for them is gnats. They’re small and annoying, all gnats are.

I slid into the creek and a test of the water with my left hand assured me the water was cold. Not an encouraging sign and yet, a few casts later, a creek chub with tons of fight and spirit took my little lure for a ride.

A few casts later and another one, even smaller, all but inhaled the lure.

I was starting to wish I had brought along the bait bucket. These were the first signs of creek chubs in almost 3 months. These creek chubs being here meant the predators weren’t that far behind, only another hour of fishing gave up nothing more than a couple of more creek chubs. There was one different hit that came from a hole more than eight feet deep, but keeping the fish on the hook wasn’t meant to be. I chalked it up to being another creek chub.

I decided to cut my losses and go fish another nearby creek. The walk through the woods back to the car is still uneventful. No signs of green things growing yet except for the mosses that cling to the bases of the trees. Not sure that counts as any real sign of spring.

The next creek had more of the same crystal clear water. A trip here a couple of weeks ago got me one 17 inch smallmouth that was totally unexpected. This time the first decent sized smallie came off at my feet. A couple of casts later and I was able to land one that was easily 16 inches. The wind was flopping the fish all over the place, so I settled for a shot with a little more detail.

The rest of the time along the creek was spent doing more daydreaming than anything else. Now and then a tentative tap would gain my interest, but the bulk of the time was spent watching the light change on the handful of poplar trees down at a bend in the creek.

After fishing the creek, the walk back to the car has me walking past a long narrow pond that sits in the sun for the bulk of the day. I was hoping to catch one of the bigger largemouth bass that lives here, or some bluegill or crappie, but the hand sized bass were next to impossible to keep off the hook. They were inhaling anything that looked like a meal.

By five o’clock I was done. I had overdressed under the assumption that at some point the temperature would start to come down with the setting sun. That never happened. As I drove up the long hill out of the creek valley and onto the flat land of the farm fields, it looked like fog lifting off the fields. There was a massive bug hatch. Not just over this one field, but every field I drove past had a white mist of bugs hovering a few feet above the ground. Apparently they too liked this cloudless sun drenched day.

When I got home I checked all my records from years past. We’re about 3 weeks ahead of schedule from what would be a normal March. With the long range forecast calling for more days in the 50’s and 60’s, I may have no choice but to go fishing again.

Fish the Fox, it’s what I do.

And for the past 3 days I’ve been doing it fairly well.

Clients continue to blow deadlines, which leaves me with nothing to do. That’s a good thing. This time of year I feel an almost desperate need to be outside. The short days and low angle of the sun triggers everything to start dying off. I’ve noticed that the soybean fields changed from vibrant greens to golds and then brown in less than 2 weeks.

Fewer flowers to be found, but some behave as if the middle of summer.

Others are hanging on along with the duckweed, the last vestiges of a colorful summer.

The tall grasses losing their once crisp colors.

I’ve always noticed the spider webs become more numerous and thicker this time of year.

Once solid walls of green in the backgrounds have become more mottled.

The first touches of gold and orange are starting to appear.

Friends are feeling that desperate need to be out too. More requests come for get togethers and some times they happen.

For me fishing is a numbers game. I like to catch a lot of them and that I did. In those three days 104 fish were caught, but another 102 were missed. Like anyone else I like to catch the bigger ones and that I did.

But I’m also perfectly content catching the feisty little ones.

The haze and heat of summer is gone with winds and clouds blowing in from the north. With the lower angle of the sun the colors intensify and the sharpness of their edges are stark.

Everything looks crisp, clear and clean.

Even the fish are highlighted differently. Shadows darker, highlights bright white and colors that shine.

The last stretch of the river to be fished faces directly west. When not behind clouds the sun is blinding with its intensity doubled by its reflection off the water. The reprieve of a bank of clouds is a welcome respite, even if brief.

When the sun returns from behind the clouds, I just turn around now and then to get my vision back.

The last hour is the most active. The osprey will make one last effort to fly like a hummingbird while it decides where to crash into the water to try for a meal. A lone owl hoots on a distant island. Blue herons croak and move from spot to spot. On a couple of days an eagle drifted down stream. A couple of hundred geese return to the river with the night and dimples appear on the rivers’ surface while one of the last bug hatches of the year erupts off the river like a fog.

This is usually when I find a spot to sit still and enjoy the show. I caught all the fish I wanted for the day.

I read a book a long time ago called A Flash of Green. I have no memory of what it was about, my brain does that to me. I remember images that words paint, not the words. The image in this one is the flash of green that you can supposedly see as the sun disappears on the horizon. If you blink, you miss it.

I must blink a lot.

Music to Fish By

When I read about fishing I tend to read about trout fishing, even though there are no trout streams in Illinois and I don’t fish for trout.

The words of the trout writer/angler immerse me into their world.

Mesmerizing descriptions of the surroundings of where trout live, whether a lake or small stream, paint wonderful pictures for the brain. You become part of the story. You can smell what they smell, feel the sun warming your skin as theirs. Glistening droplets of water created by leaping trout at sunset sting your eyes like pin pricks.

You sit along the shore when they do, taking in the beauty of the surroundings. Watching the bug hatches rise and the trout that rise for them. You rummage through their fly box, a part of the decision making process on what would be best to entice a trout and allow one to be hooked and brought to hand.

If they describe it right.

Bass writer/anglers on the other hand tend to write product spec sheets.

Inevitably the trout writer/angler will describe the music playing in their heads while out enticing trout. Various composers will be sited… Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy and Bach will all get mentioned with the more adventurous siting Stravinsky or even Phillip Glass. Of course the music of the composer is somehow directly related to the beauty and serenity of the surroundings.

While standing out in the river at sunset tonight, I was standing in crotch deep water listening to the river breathe.

Yes, rivers breathe.They subtly rise and fall and if you stand still in just the right place you’ll hear the tone of water over rock change every couple of minutes. If you’re extremely observant, you can actually see this happen as the water depth over the shallow rocks changes slightly.

There were just enough clouds out tonight for the sun to paint yellow, pink and red. To the east a full moon was rising in a deep blue sky over trees whose top tips were painted gold with the setting sun.

Music began playing in my head, it’s always there in the background somewhere. It breathed like the river, rising and falling. I could swear there were speakers on shore somewhere playing the music out over the river, I hear it that distinctly. I always do.

I usually fight the songs in my head to quiet my brain. This time I just let it go, to play in it’s endless loop till it stopped on it’s own. This could take hours at times, but I had no place better to be.

Ducks and geese careened up and down the river, silhouetted by the deepening blue of the sky. Subtle yellow mayflies were hatching along the shore line and disappearing on their flight up stream. Cicadas were changing to tree frogs and the song just kept on playing.

I sat on a boulder a couple of feet out from shore, watching the last of the sun disappear from the tree tops. A slight haze of bugs rose off the river like fog. Dimples were forming on the surface of the water from feeding fish. The last of the sun vanished and the light of the full moon took over.

I let the song play over and over. It lulled me and I could feel my heart rate slow, my breathing become regular and relaxed.

It was another wonderful sunset on the river after all.

And the song played on.

Music to Fish By

To each their own.

A Weekend of Fishing, for the Most Part

Since June 21st we’ve been losing about a minute a day of sunlight. Luckily it seems to be evenly split up between the sunrise and the sunset. Either way I’m losing a little bit of my sunset fishing every day.

This is exacerbated by a relatively new 50 mile one way commute from work. Ninety eight percent of the commute is all highway driving, but that’s not always a good thing. Speed and time can be determined by something so simple as one car pulled far off the shoulder and just sitting there. I know I need to slow down to about 5 mph, I may be missing something extremely important if I don’t slow down enough to gawk at a parked car.

Speed and time can also be determined by how many curves and hills, this is Illinois remember, have to be navigated on I-88. It doesn’t matter that the road itself has been designed to safely accommodate 70 mph speeds or more, apparently all curves in the road must be navigated at about 25. Throw in a slight rise that could be, might be considered a hill and now we’re down to 10 mph.

Even when we think we’re moving right along on a straight, flat stretch of road, everyone has to suddenly and dramatically slow down then speed up again. I got to the root of this phenomenon one day as a passenger in a car being driven on a highway by my ex-wife, not known for her driving abilities. I kept pitching forward as brakes were hit to slow down well below the speed limit. Then I would be slammed back into my seat as we accelerated back to the speed limit. This would happen every few minutes. Of course, I had to ask.

“What the hell is wrong with you? Why are you driving like this?”

In a panicked voice, “there’s a truck next to meeeee!!!!!!”

“Okaaayyy!!!!”

I guess that was explanation enough.

Needless to say it takes about an hour fifteen to an hour forty five to get to a decent, fishable stretch of the Fox River or one of it’s creeks. This time of year even seconds count and to see it get too dark to see at 8:45 PM is a major disappointment.

Throw into this mix the strange corporate tradition that seems to be growing where, during the summer months, most people don’t even bother going to work on Friday. I guess it saves employees from having to come up with a variety of excuses on why they can’t come to work on a Friday, and it saves managers a tremendous amount of time in not having to listen to that bullshit. Win/win situation all around.

This made Friday evening the perfect evening to get in a good two and a half hours of fishing. Nobody was on the roads for the rush hour ride home.

With the water up a little bit, this made getting out into the middle of the river more of a challenge than I cared for. Combing the shoreline was in order and the fish cooperated accordingly. Well over a dozen fish were caught and just as many were missed with around 90 percent of them being within 5 feet of shore.

Now and then one would be caught that had some size and weight to it.

But for the most part, the bulk of the fish that were hitting were nothing but dinks. I like catching dinks, they don’t know they’re small.

This is also a good sign. At the end of August 2008 the Fox came up higher than I’ve ever seen it. It topped out at 19,900 cubic feet per second, normal is about 700. Since then these little fish all but disappeared. Some say they get wiped out while others claim they get pushed far down stream. All I know is that for the last almost 3 years they’ve been nonexistent.

Barring another major flood event, this bodes well for the next few years. The way these fish were hitting means they were extremely hungry. Fish that eat all the time grow faster. One can only hope.

I’ve noticed too that the bug hatches have been more substantial this year than the past two. Still another good sign. When all else fails, the fish go after the bugs.

The main reason I like the sunset fish is, well, for the sunset. Even though I don’t sleep much, getting me motivated first thing in the morning is next to impossible. Coffee needs to kick in, the dream haze needs to wear off and the next thing you know, a couple of hours of daylight have been wasted. This doesn’t happen in the evenings. I fish till I can’t see any more.

Saturday evening found me with about 3 hours on my hands at sunset. No clouds, too much heat and few cooperative fish, but still a few to be caught.

Again, the few were all within 5 feet of shore.

I think I spent most of the time on Saturday sitting on the shoreline, sipping water and staring off into space. Nobody was around, nobody seems to wade these stretches any more. That’s good for me. If my theory is right about the dink fish, this could be good over the next two or three years.

I get to see my babies grow up and I get a few miles of the Fox all to myself.

Life will be good after all.

A Strange Year for Berries, Bugs and Other Things

This past spring was cold and wet and my wife and I noticed that this delayed everything in the woods, fields and waters by at least 2 weeks. Plants and flowers that normally bloom by certain days, didn’t show up or bloom till weeks later. Birds, bugs and animals are still behaving oddly this third week of July.

Silver Springs State Park is a 5 minute drive from our house. We normally spend a lot of time there going for evening walks. This year our own schedules have screwed up our ability to go for our strolls. We were sitting around earlier today comparing notes from the past few years on the things we normally see this time of year.

I thought I would go through photos from the last couple of years to see if we were just imagining things. Winds up we aren’t.

By the end of June in years past we were already collecting black raspberries by the gallon. I dug up a photo I took of one particularly successful berry hunt I had with my daughters at the end of June in 2009. This is a very small sampling of the berries we had picked that year.

2010 was a repeat of the previous year. We had gathered so many berries that year by the end of June that we still have a couple of quarts in the freezer. You can only eat so much. This is what we were up against by the end of June for the past few years, vines full of berries.

This year the last week of June saw very few ripe berries on the vine.

We figured we had a good week or two before it was even worth going to look for them again. To find this one ripe one was a hunt. This is where our schedules went to hell. We weren’t able to go check on the raspberries for two weeks. When we finally had the chance to go, we had our pockets full of quart sized zip lock bags and were looking forward to going home to fill the freezer.

Didn’t happen. The berries had not only all ripened in those two weeks, they had all shriveled on the vines. We struggled to barely fill one quart bag. The only thing we could think of that caused this was the lack of rain and the high heat we had. In years past we could keep going back for a good month, always finding more raspberries buried somewhere. Not this time.

Our next berry adventure is the blackberries. A year ago we were already starting to fill a few bags with them. This year I had to struggle to find one that would sit still for a picture.

Not only are they not turning ripe yet, we checked out the patches where there were so many berries on the vine last year that we couldn’t possibly pick them all. So far this year the vines are all there, but virtually no berries were to be found. Not ripe berries, no berries at all. There’s nothing on the vines. We have no clue what might have caused this.

Usually this time of year the big spiders are out, we’ve given them the nickname of banana spiders for obvious reasons.

Throughout June we usually find them when they’re no more than the size of a dime. We haven’t seen one yet or any sign of their massive webs.

So far this year my wife and I combined have seen a total of 3 monarch butterflies. By this time last year we were already raising and releasing a few.

By the time we were done somewhere around the beginning of September, we had raised well over 50 of them. So far we can’t even find a caterpillar. The eggs we’ve found have done nothing. I know we had a colder than usual spring, but I’m wondering if all those storms that blew through far south for what seemed like weeks had an effect on the migration pattern. Who knows.

Last year damsel flies were showing up in swarms by mid June. This year we didn’t see any till the first week of July.

The one interesting thing that has happened is the amount of bug hatches and dragonflies that have been around. Out on the Fox River I’ve seen massive bug hatches, much thicker than any I’ve see in quite some time. I attribute that to the fact that the river is at the lowest level I’ve seen it since 2005.

I have no clue what would account for all the different dragonflies we’ve been seeing, but they are everywhere.

There are swarms of all kinds of little flying things around. Much more than we remember from past years. Maybe the wet spring was more conducive to their breeding rituals. I have no clue what most are and I recently told a friend I have no real interest in looking them up. Knowing their genus and species doesn’t make them any more beautiful.

The heat we’ve had so far this month seems to be having it’s effect on the thistles, they seem to be exploding a little earlier than usual.

I realize that leaves fall off trees and die year round, I just don’t like to see colors like this occurring quite yet.

I had plans to go on about the fish and fishing patterns I’ve noticed out on the river. I wanted to talk about what I’ve noticed with the hummingbirds and why there are so many rabbits in the neighborhood. The cicadas in the neighborhood are out in droves with their deafening buzz and I wanted to bring up the bald eagles.

But I got self conscious about my obsessive compulsive tendencies when it comes to this stuff and toyed with the idea that I might need to go get a life.

Unless, of course, this is it.