Tag Archives: creeks

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.

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It was Convenient

There are times my decision on where to fish is based on no more than it was convenient.

No endless fishing theories, nothing to do with the time of year, water levels don’t matter. I was there and so was some form of moving water, be it river or creek. I have an hour, I’ll go fish it.

This started on Wednesday evening when I got near home in near record time. I found myself a couple of blocks from a parking spot that was a couple of hundred feet from the creek. May as well unwind a bit.

Stupid is what stupid does. I’ll never understand the need to destroy public property.

The creek was low and crystal clear. Because of this, I took off my usual small lure and put on something even smaller. The shallows were filled with minnows. (I like how we call these little things minnows when in reality the majority of us don’t have a clue what they are. They could be small walleye for all I know, but they’re small, so they’re minnows).

In six inches of water were huge schools of smallies no more than 4 inches long. Even at that small size it’s hard not to recognize what they are. In the still deeper water, deep being relative, were carp, suckers, disinterested smallies and a variety of panfish. I was able to get three smallies to pick up the lure, but they were noncommittal. Setting the hook simply pulled the lure from their mouth.

For most of the time I entertained myself with the incessant tap, tap, tapping of little fish on a little lure, but I did coax a couple of foot long smallies and a handful of green sunfish to somehow hook themselves. It was no real effort on my part, just let them pull back rather than me pulling on them.

For fall, it wasn’t acting like fall. Near record heat in the 80′s had me sweating profusely, not much in the way of color changing on the trees.

The water was the give away. This was fall water with it’s depth and clearness. The fish were also the give away to fall. Small, shallow, clear water overrun with little fish. For those in need of hawgs, monsters and brutes, creeks in fall are not the location of choice.

Back at the parking lot a young guy was calling it quits on the pond. He asked about the creek. Though he’s fished the pond quite a bit, it never dawned on him to fish the creek. I gave him a quick synopsis of how my year on the creek has gone and finished it with… you need to get some waders.

“Yeah, I think so.”

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Saturday found me in Chicago in the neighborhood where I grew up, though I hesitate to use the phrase grew up.

I hate Chicago. Too many people, too many cars, houses too close together… it all makes me extremely tense and anxious. After spending most of the day moving furniture around and making a bigger mess of my back, I had to go unwind. So off to the creek again. I had a good hour and it was on the other side of the river, five minutes away.

I hit a different stretch this time. Wanted to see how it looked and if the rain we got on Thursday had improved the flow at all. The creek looked good and though still low, was better than on Wednesday. I kept the small lure on and immediately started getting hard hits. Problem was, they kept throwing the lure. I was reluctant to switch to something bigger. I knew I was going to be tying into primarily little fish. I decided to put up with missing the fish. I did wind up with 15 fish for that last hour of light, but only eight fish landed. An odd mix of fish with smallies, largemouth, crappie and a big hybrid looking sunfish that looked like a cross between a bluegill and a redear sunfish.

Minnows again were everywhere. Schools of small smallies everywhere. Uninterested smallies cruising around. At the mouth of the creek I ran into a couple of other anglers that came up into the creek throwing crankbaits. I tried to convince them that was not a good idea in water mostly less then 2 feet deep and crystal clear, but what do I know. Though they saw me catch a couple of fish they did nothing to change what they were doing.

Talked to one of them about the muskie that used to live here and how he used to catch quite a few of them. The conversation centered around how the creek has changed due to the floods and that all the holes where the muskie once lived were now gone. Knowing this did nothing in changing his lure choices. I gave up and politely bid him farewell.

I have quite a few pictures I’ve collected over the past few months further documenting how the creek was changed after the old dam was removed. I’ve been remiss on keeping up on updates, but the changes have been so subtle that I’ve been collecting the info with the intention of summarizing it all later. If I get to it.

Even since my last visit here a couple of months ago, some things were changed. Fixed I guess you could call it. Because of how the dam was removed with the flow being diverted back and forth and then a major flood at the end of March, a big gravel bar had formed along one side of the creek. This had narrowed the creek in a small stretch to barely ten feet wide.

The gravel bar was now gone and the shore had been planted with grasses.

Have to admit this was a vast improvement. Even a major flood event shouldn’t bring the gravel bar back, the upstream stretches appear to be pretty stable now and though rock and sand are always moving, it shouldn’t pile up like that again.

Back at the car there was a pickup truck parked next to my car. There’s only enough room for two. He was a hunter finishing up his day. I had forgot deer season had already started and he had got himself a couple of does. This started a conversation about property along the creek, who owned it, what the chances were of getting permission to hunt, other locations nearby where deer lived, what the chances of getting permission for hunting those areas were and who we knew and of course, venison recipes.

The road in to the hunting grounds.

A thoroughly enjoyable conversation indeed.

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By the end of the day Saturday my back was feeling the repercussions from moving furniture around most of the day. I’m certain that one hour of fishing had nothing to do with it. The wife didn’t insist that I have someone go along this time, she simply said… please go somewhere where someone can find you.

That request, which I was obligated to honor, totally screwed up my plans. But again, she was probably right. My plan was to go to a very remote stretch where finding me would be difficult, but the fishing had the potential for being a fifty fish day.

I hate being honorable.

Unlike the previous week when there was virtually no wildlife moving around at dawn, wildlife was everywhere Sunday morning. The final stretch of road to the parking lot had robins feasting on all the crushed acorns. I nearly ran over a couple of rabbits. By the time I made it to the put in spot and the sky was lighter, there were ducks and geese all over the river and flying around. Blue and white herons, red tail hawks, turkey vultures, swallows, woodpeckers, squirrels and there was even a small bug hatch coming off the river.

To the east the clouds were thick while to the west, nothing but blue sky, the distinct line of the cold front that was coming through. The threat of rain and thunderstorms that were supposed to inundate the area for the past 24 hours had never materialized. The river was in perfect shape. The rain we got on Thursday had spiked the river up from 500 cfs to 800 and then back down to 500 again, all in about a 12 hour period. This usually turns the fish on and pushes them toward shore.

For the first hour the fishing couldn’t have been much better with 12 fish on, but only 5 landed. One cast got me the tell tale bulge of a following fish, but then the bulge disappeared with no hit on the lure. A few casts later from a different angle, there was the bulge again and just a slight tap. When I lipped the nearly 16 inch smallie, the lure was embedded in the top of it’s head. I don’t think I’ve ever hooked a smallie like that before.

Then the cold front came through. The skies cleared, the wind picked up, I was getting chilled and the bite nearly died. In the next 3 hours I only hooked four more fish.

While fishing one channel I was walking nearly down the middle. The bulk of the fish caught in this stretch almost always come from the right shore to the middle. In 14 years I can count on one hand the amount of fish caught from the left hand side. It’s usually loaded with carp and it’s not worth the effort casting to them. I gave the left hand side one of my cursory casts, one of those casts you make where you know nothing is going to hit, but you do it anyway.

I moved the lure about three feet when a big bulge came up behind it. I assumed it was a spooked carp till it hit the lure and took off for the right side of the channel. It had some nice weight to it and it’s back came to the surface briefly. I assumed that if I could land this fish it was going to be one of the biggest smallies I’ve caught. Because of the small lures I use I tend to lose some of the bigger fish. Because of this, when I get the fish within 10 feet of me I lift it’s head so it comes to the surface. If I’m going to lose a nice fish, I at least want to see it.

At 10 feet out I lifted the head of the fish and a fat pike that would have easily measured 30 inches came flying out of the water towards me. It turned it’s head, bit through the PowerPro, dropped back into the water and disappeared. Over the past month I’ve caught a few walleye in this stretch, something that has never happened in 14 years. Now a pike, another first for this stretch. I catch both these species about 5 miles upstream, but never between here and there. Won’t know for a few years if this is going to become a norm or if it’s just a fluke.

Back in the shallows where I hooked the pike there was a lot of commotion. I think the pike was having a tough time trying to figure out how to get that little jig and twister out of his jaw.

The rest of the time out was just a walk in the river and an enjoyable morning to be out. Some colors were coming to the trees and the bright sky and low sun lit things up nicely at times.

Stopped to talk to a landowner that was hanging out on the edge of the river enjoying his morning cup of coffee. He’s only been living there for a couple of years and hasn’t waded too far from his property. I’m sure I overwhelmed him with where to go in the mile both above and below his property, but he seemed grateful. He also happens to live on one of the best spots in this stretch of the river. From his shore on Saturday he tells me how he tied into a school of white bass, something I’ve been searching for through here the last few weeks.

I new I should have been here yesterday.

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A gratuitous shot of a kitten in a box in the sun. I couldn’t resist.

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Where da hell ya been man?

Well, according to my camera, which I haven’t bothered plugging into the computer since August 18th, I’ve been out and about and took 166 photos of lame stuff while out and about.

Basically I’ve tried to spend as little time indoors as possible. Seems such a shame to waste a single minute sitting inside when soon enough winter will be here and that’s all I’ll be doing. Except for work.

Plus it doesn’t help that I can’t think of anything worth saying anymore.

So, here’s some pictures.

Time to go sit outside and stare off into space.