Tag Archives: creeks

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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.

I Call them Death Marches for a Reason

I call them death marches for a reason and when I gave them that name around 14 years ago, it was supposed to be a joke.

With each passing year, the humor seems to fade a little more. The idea behind them is no big deal, it’s just walking. For a mile or so on the shore along a creek or river and another mile or so back in the creek or river. I walk all the time, really no big deal.

This started to change as the walks occurred in more isolated areas. Through woods along the shore that were virtually impenetrable and down rivers and creeks that posed much bigger challenges. I’m determined to continue to do these till I can’t walk any more. Regardless of how much pain it causes.

On June 9th I went on one of these Death Marches. The air was cool,

Note the sweatshirt…

bugs were virtually non-existent and the hike down the creek turned out to be an ankle buster and then some. Possibly one of the hardest wades I’ve ever done. I took a lot of pictures that day and set aside 33 of them for a post. Would be the world’s longest post. Then, I ran out of words, I didn’t feel like writing anything down so the pictures sat there.

My friend Bob Long, Jr. caught wind of my adventure and was intrigued. Over the next week and a half we spoke and traded email. I sent him a recon photo and detailed directions on how to get to the starting point. Suggestions were made on what to do and not to do. They were very detailed, I thought. I also thought that besides having to come from the south side of Chicago and also being a good 6 years older than me that he might not bother after such detailed descriptions.

Well, anyway…

He went, he wrote and rewrote things down and kept sending me different versions till I got what’s following. A guest post by Bob Long, Jr. with pictures by me.

Now for sure this is the world’s longest post, you’ve been forewarned. Only seems appropriate that a post about a Death March take on some of the same qualities as the Death March itself.

Any asides I make will either be in bold or in the caption of the photo.

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Tenkara Mis-Adventures

I went to Blackberry Creek with Tenkara fly fishing intentions on my mind. A brand-spanking new, Tenkara rod, some line, a fly. Simple, elegant, read the water, put the fly there, no muss, no fuss.

River rat, Ken Gortowski, aka Ken G on waterdogjournal.com wrote about it: we talked about it too. A cloistered, attractive little creek, barely used, fishy: it all sounded…irresistible – if not sublime.

According to the USGS Real Time Data site for Illinois, Blackberry Creek was running about a foot high even though it had been falling — albeit slowly — for a few days. Not so bad in terms of flow, I thought — I was wondering more about the water’s clarity than the c.f.s.

From when I went to when he went we got a fair amount of rain
 
I had a walk of about a solid 3/4-to-a-mile from the car to the point upstream where I wished to start fishing. This was far enough in general, but was actually farther than it sounds when decked out in wading gear. It was 89 degrees and humid – normally pretty damn comfy for summer-loving me. I loaded up the fanny pack with my fishing stuff and two 18-ounce bottles of decidedly no longer icy, iced tea. Remember the sweatshirt…

I packed my beat up, falling apart Korkers wading boots (one more season out of them, please), and my strap on Korkers attachment soles to hold the boots together, along with my lightweight, waist-high waders into a plastic shopping bag. I was going to carry these the 3/4-to-a-mile hike across the hot prairie and put them on at the river. I’d wear my light-weight p.j. bottoms, thin socks and gym shoes for the actual walk. Contrary to the CW, I be smart sometimes.

I brought along two Tenkara rods (in case one broke). They collapse so nicely and are so light and easy to tote, how could I not?

I started walking. It was warm yet pleasant in the shade of the parking area. It quickly turned to hot and sunny, and I was soon sweating like a pig. (Being a city boy with no experience with pigs outside of grilling them as ribs or frying them as sausage, I must take this expression at face value, although I have lingering doubts and questions as to why pigs would sweat at all.)

The first half of my walk took me through a old cemetery. I tried not to think of this as omen.

It only seems appropriate to start a Death March this way, doesn’t it?

When I was young, invulnerable and eternal, I found cemeteries fascinating. I wondered who it was laying down there; what lives did they lead, having died in 1924, etc. Now that I am two years shy of being a senior citizen, I know who is down there; me. Soon enough — keep walking.

So, I now find cemeteries slightly off-putting and try to keep from imagining that all them there dead people are beckoning me to join them, as Capt. Ahab appeared to be beckoning to his crew to join him in a watery grave as he lay strapped and trapped by harpoon ropes to Moby’s back. I neither see nor hear dead people, and I like it like that.

The graveyard soon ended and I was out on open prairie – butterflies and honey bees over colorful flowers.

Just the other day they mowed all this down so someone could use it to feed their horses. Really? It’s 2013 and you’re riding around on a horse?

To the left of the prairie was a solid, impenetrable wall of deep, dark woods. Inside there – somewhere – ran Blackberry Creek. I sure hoped.

It is kind of imposing.

I was told to look for the big, lone tree outside of the left field fence of a high school baseball field. Way off in the distance, partially blurred by heat shimmering over native Illinois prairie grass, lay yon tree. Just behind this tree and to the right would be a little bitty trail in the wall of the impenetrable woods.

It’s right there, see it? Right there!

I also distinctly remember saying look to your left as you approach the lone tree. Nothing about going past it, nothing about going anywhere right.

There I’d find the entrance to the magical kingdom of Blackberry Creek. “You can’t miss it,” Ken G insisted to me.

Oh yes, I can.

I’ve learned, one man’s “can’t miss” entrance (you could drive a truck though it) is another man’s “barest hint” of an entrance (if that truck is a Tonka toy).

I walked to lone tree, and after four false starts at what looked like they could be itty-bitty trails, but instead turned out to be thicket death traps, I found the trail. “Yea,” I thought wanly. And not a moment too soon as I was getting pooped, hot and sweating like…

I sat in the shade and put on my feather-weight, waist-high waders, but kept on my gymmies. I would put on the Korkers – which weigh like a-pound-and-a-half each — at the river.

I could neither see nor hear nor smell the creek, but Ken G and Google Earth satellites swore it was in there – so who am I to doubt both The Sage of the Woods and NASA? 10 yards into woods the trail petered out into an “abandon all hope of going unpoked, unprodded and unstuck by God Knows what, and proceed at your own risk, mainly by sliding downhill on your ass, as this looks as good as any other alleged section of woody paths.”

It was 60 feet of a 30-degree slant down to the bottom of the ravine.

It could have been much worse if he went this way…

No one mentioned down. No one mentioned ravine.

Well, yeah, you can’t remember everything.

Gym shoes don’t do down; cleats do down. (I think Ken may have made note – in passing – about going down a hill a bit.) If he had gone the right way… I imagined Arnold Schwarzenegger sliding down that steep path in “Predator.” I probably looked more like a middle-aged Oompa-Loompa bouncing downhill to a face plant.

I came out of my slide on what I can only think of as private property, what with freshly mowed grass, a manicured pond, a picnic table and some chairs in the midst of a forest. I just knew there were a couple of red dots criss-crossing my chest.

“Got another one, Ma.”

I expected sounds from “Band of Brothers” or “Saving Private Ryan” at any moment: shotgun blasts, M-16 rounds, the distinctive rat-ta-tat of a Maschinengewehr 42 machine gun, mortar rounds, bullets zinging by, lead striking the ground and churning up divots of earth. (I do have quite the imagination.) My pace quickened towards a clump of high grass that looked like the type that borders water. Another 40 yards and I found the creek; a mere sliver of a river. I thought it would be wider. I sat at the water’s edge and put on the wading shoes. I tied my gymmies to my wading belt.

Hell to get there, but worth the effort.

I was by flowing water. My pulse slowed; my mind quieted; my breathing became deeper. I was sitting on the edge of an exquisite, flowing water Shangri-La – a picture perfect, shallow, rocky, winsome, winding creek with a gently arching canopy of trees and lush grasses along the banks.

I could see text book riffle-run-glide-pool structure. It was an isolated creek away from everyone and everything. It was mine and mine alone.

My joy was tempered by my being so pooped. I was sweating even more profusely, something had stuck me in the butt on my slide, and I was looking at a four hour wade back to the car. All I really wanted was some ice tea, a cool bed and a nap. I can always fantasize about fly fishing for smallies; dreams are often better than the real thing.

Actually catching them is much better.

I opened and set up my brand new, 12-foot, 7:3 action, Tenkara Fly Rod (it’s a beauty) and attached my furled tapered leader, some tippet and a newly tied white, bead-headed woolly bugger. I was ready for freddie.

Though one-foot higher than when I last visited this water (fishing far downstream from where I now was) it would still be a marvelous wade and fish even at this current flow, I thought. If the water was clear. Unfortunately, it wasn’t clear. The visibility was 3-to-6-inches at best. At…best. It was going to make wading a bit more difficult because – with this poor clarity — I wouldn’t be able to see the many “rocks that roll” in such waters. I’ve good balance, but I’ve learned not to be all arrogant about it as opportunities to gain humility and an ER visit abound. There is always a round, mossy rock with the name of one’s ankle waiting for everyone out there somewhere.

With my wading staff in hand, I got my sea-legs and began to cast; to get a feel for this delicious new rod; to get a feel for the close quarters, a feel for the drift and flow, to feel the fly moving in the current. I hooked a five-inch bluegill in fast water. I hooked a spunky chub another few feet away. Letting the fly swim just under the surface of a glide I hooked a frisky, red-eyed 8-inch smallmouth.

Even the smaller ones fight hard in this creek.

“Tenkara!” I yelled triumphantly.

The rod snapped in half, five sections down from the tip.

WTF? It just snapped. What? No. I hit nothing, I nicked nothing. It had never been used. It simply snapped. At the very start of the journey. WTF-squared? (Now you see why two rods.) You know how you stare at something sometimes? Like, no this can’t be? What just happened? Huh? WTF to the 10th power…! Oh boy, was this gonna’ be a long day, a long wade.

I picked up the leader from the water and hand lined in my now docile 8-inch smallie (I think it was sniggering at me.) I took the line off the top part of the rod and stuffed the remaining half of the rod in the waist band of my fanny pack. I took out my second rod, another brand, and rigged it up.

Now, of course, I am spooked. I don’t wanna’ break another rod (I don’t have a third). It is a bitch to fish in fear; of every fish, every branch, every twig on every branch, just the thickness of plain air.

I quickly admitted: Tenkara is simply not practical for such waters. There is just no room to overhead or sidearm cast. That gently arching canopy of trees had morphed into a twiggy-woody-branchy tangle of Giant Deep-Sea Squid tentacles reaching down to engulf me.

And now you know why fly fishing on the creeks I go to is a waste of time.

I could only flip, pitch, dapple the fly or whatever; there was simply too much overhead and overhang. Well, duh, I’ve only been saying this endlessly for nearly 18 years.

I sensed and accepted that things had gone downhill on me. I thought of an expression I know: “just because things go bad doesn’t mean you have to go with them.” It offered comfort. Some comfort. A little comfort. A double shot of Southern Comfort woulda’ been better though.

Oh well, the car was a long way downstream, and downstream beats climbing back up the ravine. Time to keep on keepin’ on. Keep on truckin’.
 
Oh, and it hadn’t cooled down. I expected that being on a stream at the bottom of a ravine under a canopy of trees would be cooler. It wasn’t. I thought I sensed a bit of mist. It was steam rising from my head. The only difference between the heat of the sun-baked prairie up there and the sauna-like conditions down here, was that up there, there was a breeze. A hot breeze, mind you, but a breeze nonetheless God-dammit.

As was said before – and will be said again – the long walk from the car, the journey through the jungle, the struggle with the rod, had me sweating like that visit for an audit by IRS the first year after you decide to do your own home-business taxes. And it was to remain as such. I never, ever cooled down, and was coming to realize I was never gonna’ cool down – possibly ever again in life.

I was a wet noodle the whole damn time. Sweat in my eyes, in my mouth, down my back. The towel-like doo-rag under my straw hat needed to be wrung out every 15 minutes. No. I was even wetter than that, and limper too. I was as wet and limp as you are after a really big orgasm and ejaculation. How’s that for wet and limp, huh?

So, I continued my journey downstream. The water wasn’t deep, nor treacherously fast. It was just that – even with wading staff in hand – I was trying to watch where my rod went, how the fly was drifting, and where my feet were stepping. But, I was slipping on rocks a’rollin’ all the time.

It’s amazing what’s under even these deceptively simple looking pools.

Mind you, the water – the creek — was marvelous in terms of structure; pool, run, glide, riffle. If it had been clear I would have known exactly where fish and change in depth were. It was simply the color of Miso soup without the scallions. I couldn’t concentrate due to the Tenkara Rod tip, the leader and the fly were now catching on everything catchable, and a few things that weren’t.

A flick of the wrist with the gear I use, goes about 30 feet.

I caught no more fish. None. Not one. Zilch. Nada. Two small smallies, one panfish, one chub.

If I recall correctly, I caught 22 and missed 24.

Did have to put up with a couple of these sluggish things.

A fish – any fish, a crayfish dammit — would have been balm on a wound, but, nope. Not to be. And, the water was getting dirtier going down stream. How’s zat? I saw no stained rivulets feeding into the creek.

These things are all over the place, all feeding into the creek.

I can’t imagine what it took to get this here and I also have no clue where it comes from.

I hit two deep pools. They would have been moderately deep pools with 12 inches less water, but not today, not with waist high waders on. I had to break down the rod and portage – twice. The gently swaying grasses and trees at the start of my wade and turned into a “Heart of Darkness” tangle of jungle. I picked up some deer paths and followed them along the river’s edge through only semi-impenetrable undergrowth.

I distinctly remember telling him numerous times not to go into the woods, for any reason. Did that a few years ago. It was one of most God awful experiences of my life. 100 yards in and I wanted to die.

As I went rumblin’, bumblin’, stumblin’ along the waist high grass, I spooked a fawn not two feet from me. It jumped two feet high in one direction: I jumped three. Didn’t see that that comin’.

Yes, I admit it; I screeched like a girl. A six-year-old girl. “Oh c’mon God. A heart attack too? C’mon man.”

I was getting stuck, poked, prodded, scraped, stung. Stung? Bugs? So, that’s what those intense buzzing sounds meant. I wondered, but feared to stop and investigate? I needed to get back in the water.

“Really?” I thought. “Really? This is fun?” “Ten-fucking-Kara” I yelled at the leaping fawn crackling his way though high grass and fallen trees to wherever.

I knew, just knew, there were some big, 20-pointed, male deer – antlers sharpened – quietly watching me from the grass, waiting for me to stumble, waiting to gore me in the ass when I was down. “Explain that, Mr. Fisherman.”

Damn Greg Larson cartoons.

Then, of course, my Korkers wading boot attachments, the ones holding my boots together, decided to detach themselves – repeatedly. Six times. Yep. Six. Times. Why the “F” not?”

This required stopping, sitting, bending, getting a leg up across the other so I could reach the laces, and struggling to refit and retie the damn things while I – apparently giving off a really strong and heady mix of carbon dioxide and fresh blood – was fighting off increasingly aggressive flies, mosquitoes and some mystery red and black, big-assed flying bug with a huge profile and a really ominous buzzing sound.

Not enough spiders…


 
Ok, now I am fishless, frustrated, and feeling dry-fucked with nary a kiss nor lubricant.

Still, I must say, when the sunlight penetrated the canopy, it was actually a very pretty place; a picture perfect, fly fishing and wading stream.

Yes it is.

When it didn’t however, it was a dark, brooding, Grimm’s brother’s Hansel and Gretel slog through a deep, dark, “the-nightmare-before-Gran’ma’-and-the-Wolf eats you” tale of terror. (I now know where I’ll bury a body, ne’er to found, should such a need arise.)

I have a feeling there are a few out there somewhere.


 
The rod that broke – the one I was going to send back to the manufacturer for analysis, repair, replacement or reimbursement — came loose from my belt, and fell in the river at my feet.

It was only in 16-inches of water. But, I was too pooped to pop, and I knew if I bent over and tried to grab it, or chase it down stream, I’d do a face plant in the water and – being of the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” age group – I’d drift aimlessly, and helplessly downstream, eventually to settle securely – tragically — under some damn log.

Yeah, I can understand that. Me and logs don’t play well together either.

“Fuck it,” I said as I watched the cork-handled rod floating slowly away. So…slowly…away.

It wanted me to give chase. It wanted me to come after it. It taunted me “you need me for proof of the break,” it said, “to get your money back,” knowing a set of getaway riffles – where it could pick up speed and stay just out of reach — was just inches away. It wanted me try for it; to take a header, to make an ungainly splat as if I’d made a bad dive from the three meter board. It wanted me dead; under some fucking log.

This one pretty much sucked to get under. Going around on shore was out of the question.

Oh God, I just noticed; my mouth was dry. I mean, dry. How dry was it? It was as dry as an 80-year-old virgin’s cootchie. I chuckled at that one. My last laugh before death?

I had tea in two bottles in my waist pack, but when I stopped to try to open them, the flies and mosquitoes and that big, red and black mystery bug with ominous buzzer said “You stop to drink, we stop to drink.” I’d better drink while wading. Keep moving. Keep tripping over rocks that roll. Damn those fucking screw tops with the shrink-wrapped, un-openable plastic wraps around them. Damn them. I guzzled my tea. I got half in my mouth, half on my face. Hey, you try to guzzle all dainty-like while stumbling down a stream with gathering hordes of buzzing cannibals calling your name.

I felt I was in some stinking WWII, Burma jungle, dysentery-infested stream with Merrill’s Marauders. Didn’t they film some scenes in “Indiana Jones and the Blackberry Creek Fiasco” here?

Old, very old and no clue how, what or why. Amazing how these things wind up buried on creeks.


 
I made the four hour wade back to the car in 2 hours and maybe 30 minutes. This including hangups, snagups, rocks-a-rolling ankle twists, stopping to retie shoes, portaging, attempting to pee (Damn you prostate! I need a stream, not some tinkles. I’m in a hurry! I need to get me out of here before some mosquitoes peck my pecker, dammit). I was fucking flying downstream. I ached: everywhere. I was breathing like Jabba-the-Hutt. I was sweating like… You know the drill. I had my Korkers in my hand by now – I’d given up retying. My soaking wet gym shoes were hanging off me, my face was scratched up and red as a beet, my head was still steaming, and I was both glassy-eyed, and wild-eyed at once.

But, I made it. The walk-out point. I crawled out. I crawled up the little hill, through the last – please God please – of the thickets, and I was in the clear. The car was but a mere 75-yards across a now muddy lot that had been dry and firm when I left. Without the Korkers attachments the soles of both of my wading boots had come loose and flapped like tongues as I waded. The last two hundred yards of river, I had pushed more water than a coal-laden river barge. I tried to lift my feet, but “them times were long gone.” They would only drag the stream bottom. Now, on muddy land, they only shoveled up clumps of mud and grass with each dragging step across the lot.

I had become an earth-mover. Oh Lord.

I had to pass a car full of kids and a man and a woman. I tried to pull myself together and look…somewhat civilized (or less savage). They rolled up their windows and hid down out of sight on the seats. Normally, I’d have been embarrassed, but I didn’t have it left in me. I did not look at them as I passed by with my Quasimodo shuffle.

Still, I fucking made it.

I took off everything but my underwear. I was sitting on the back ledge of the car, rear hatch up. The car with the man and woman and kids stopped in front of me. They actually stopped and stared at me.

The fuckers.

“How was fishing? Anything?”

Really? I thought. I look like this and You got nerve to ask me that?

You know how you can be so tired, or so drunk, you can hear the words in your brain, but they come out a groveling, grumbling, slurring, growling, mushed up, cotton-mouth, high-pitched yawn of sound. That’s how the words sounded in my brain. I don’t know what I said out of my mouth.

“Well, better luck next time,” said the man apparently quite capable of understanding “slur” – the kids were still huddled down fearfully in the backseat.

Fuckers.

I drove home in my underwear. The windows down, the air conditioner on. It started to rain. The temp dropped from 84 to 64 in a few miles. The windows up, the heater on. Then all the wet in the car increased the humidity and every window fogged up. The windows down, the rain in, the air on, the heater on.

Home. My legs cramped up all fucking night long — not just the hammies and the calves — but my thighs, the inside of the thighs, my shins, behind my knees, my toes. All…at…once. I was expecting butt and groin cramps too, but Allah favors the Truly Wretched.

I am 63 years old, dammit. I am in pretty good shape. But, I am 63 years old dammit, hoping I get to see 64. One day I will remember that and learn to stop pretending I am some 40 year old, Lewis & Clark wannabe on a lark.

In the end, Tenkara still lives for me. But, I’ll save it for the wide open spaces and the unobstructed runs, glides and broken water pools of the Kankakee and the Fox during the low water months of July and August. I’ll be the one off-shore; way off shore.
 
I will return to Blackberry Creek too. In the fall. However, next time I will bring the 5.5-foot, lightweight, G. Loomis spinning rod, the Producto plastic lures, fresh maggots, some 3-inch, smoke-colored twister tails and 1/16 ounce jigs, some small-bladed jig spinners (gold, silver), a small surface crankbait, and a small crayfish crankbait and a couple of little soft worms for wacky rigging (unweighted, it works for larger fish in small-stream, quiet pools near current flows).
  
Next time, I’ll also bring the bug spray in a can and as an I.V. I’ll have some brand new Korkers wading boots. (Come to think of it, an army-surplus flame-thrower would be nice too.) The temperature will be in the 70s. I’ll start in the morning so I can take my time wading with no fear of sunset and “the ominous sounds that come from the woods in the dark and the blood sucking bugs” pushing me on.

I’ll get some fish. I am sure that the high water has brought many panfish, bass, crappie and spunky chubs up stream and they will take up residence in those luscious pools, glides and runs and along those marvelous current flows. And, I’ll have Ken G with me.

Ain’t fishing fun? Actually, yes it is. Wondrously so.
 
Barely alive with five pounds of water-loss,

Bob Long, Jr.

Couldn’t figure out where to put the last of the pictures.
 

12,000 years ago a glacier decided to drop a six foot wide boulder right on the edge of the creek.

A few feet from the boulder and probably within the last 100 years a farmer dumped a massive roll of barbed wire on the edge of the creek. When you look at the woods, you can’t even imagine what it took to get it to this spot.

That is one old hot water heater. Considering that the dam that came out was 175 years old, I’m sure there are all kinds of things in the creek and off in the woods somewhere.