I have a love/hate relationship with lakes and ponds in the greater Chicagoland area. More hate than love.
I fished 2 lakes and 2 ponds on Saturday with nothing to show for my efforts. I know some are thinking that I’m a river fisherman, what would I know about fishing lakes. If I would take the time to learn them, I would come to enjoy fishing them. That’s not it.
Before I was 27, I recall going fishing 3 times. I was young enough for two of them that I have no idea where I was. I know it was around Chicago somewhere. One was a pond where I sat around with my brother and some cousins catching potato chip gills till we got bored and ran off to cause trouble, I’m sure.
I know the second one was a strip mine pit. I distinctly remember the long narrow body of water. Since we were living on the southwest side of Chicago by then, I’m sure we went to some place down past Joliet. I remember mobile homes as vacation homes. People in that neighborhood of Chicago either went to these lakes for cheap vacation property or out to Lake Holiday. I remember catching a bullhead. I was totally unimpressed.
When I was 15 or 16, I went on a wilderness trip to the boundary waters and stayed in Quetico Park. I brought my Zebco 33 (which I still have) that had been used twice in almost 10 years, and a bunch of my dad’s lures that hadn’t seen the water since before I was born. He had a few failed attempts at fishing and gave up long before I was even in the picture. I remember standing in knee deep water off sandbars and catching quite a few northern pike on a red and white DareDevil thrown around the lakes. For whatever reason, I wasn’t impressed, but I did learn that pike are good eating baked over an open fire.
One of the things I inherited from my dad is the inability to sit still. When kids, he had us doing something all the time. We spent a lot of time down along the lake front. That’s when Lake Michigan was the color of pea soup. I remember walking from Meigs Field north for as far as we felt like walking. We would come across old guys, disheveled, unshaven, chain smoking, (I think I just described myself), sitting in beat to hell lawn chairs with 5 gallon paint buckets at their sides. They would sit staring at a bobber sitting in the pea soup.
We would walk up and stand next to them, waiting to get their attention. Then we would say “wow, looks like fun” then go running laughing down the long expanse of concrete.
Later I spent 6 years in the Boy Scouts. My dad was in charge. We went camping at least once a month every month of the year. And we hiked, everywhere. I have a vest full of patches showing the amount of miles I covered over those 6 years. Then there’s the ones where you don’t get a patch. I remember walking around lakes. I remember walking past more disheveled guys sitting around with buckets. I remember thinking what a stupid way to pass the time.
I got married for the first time when I was 27. My then father-in-law was a member of a private rod and gun club in Virginia. He got me involved and I eventually became a member. There was 440 acres of land and three 30 acre lakes.
The only way they could be fished was by canoe. You could put an electric trolling motor on the canoe, but that was it.
For the next 13 years I went out to Virginia for about 10 days each year and fished.
I like to think I was learning to do it well and I loved every minute of it.
When I turned 40, I started fishing rivers. That became an obsession that carried over to the lake fishing out in Virginia. I started spending 30 to 45 days a year out in Virginia and all I did was fish while out there.
My personal record was 17 hours on the water in one day. Fished 2 of the lakes with my daughter and my dad. They didn’t want to be part of my marathon. I remember doing well.
I went out there for another 10 years before divorce ended my affiliation with the club. I was being a gentleman by bowing out in deference to my now ex-father-in-law. I should have never done that.
And that’s where the problem lies. No, not the divorce. I got spoiled. Attached to the club land there was a hunting club where I knew most of the members. They had another 600 acres that they gave me access to for hunting. Around all that land there was, well, not much of anything.
I got spoiled fishing pristine waters where only 35 other members were allowed to fish. There were no shore access spots. There was nowhere to walk if you had the foolish idea that you wanted to walk around the lakes and fish.
You had to be fishing from a canoe, or you were delegated to a 30 foot wide beach used for the canoes.
I mastered fishing from a canoe. Standing on the seats or the gunwales and paddling through a massive lily pad field with one hand. Balancing the paddle against me so I could cast to an opening in the pads no bigger than a bath tub. In the spring, I taught myself to locate spawning fish by smell. Eventually I learned the difference between the smell of bass and bluegills. I do give credit to my ex-father-in-law, he was a finesse fisherman and taught me skills at catching big lake bass that also benefited me on the rivers and creeks.
And for all those years, when I was writing endlessly about my river fishing trips here in Illinois, I’ve written virtually nothing about the lake fishing in Virginia.
That was on purpose.
Back here in Illinois, you walk well worn banks. There are approximately 9.5 million people in the Chicago Metropolitan Area, out of a state with a population of 12.9 million. There are 500,000 Illinois fishing licenses bought every year. Break it down and that means there’s a chance that over 300,000 anglers live in the Chicago Metropolitan Area. Based on how few people I see out walking around in the rivers and creeks, that means most of them are looking for lakes and ponds to fish. Based on the beaten paths around the lakes and ponds, they’ve all been found and the waters get beat to hell.
Personally, I have an affinity for the natural surroundings of hidden lakes. Around here, they’re man-made bowls of water and few can be said to have natural surroundings. Since I no longer have a canoe, I’m stuck to walking these beaten paths like everyone else. As for Lake Michigan, I feel about as stupid as a human being can get standing on the shore and casting into all that water.
The trip I took on Saturday will be the last time I walk the shores of a lake or pond, except for one. It’s next to a creek I like to fish. It’s surrounded by woods. It’s a bitch to get to and worth the effort.
But then, I hear that some new public land has been purchased near me. I’ve done some initial scouting. There’s a small creek. Lots of woods. I hear there are a couple of ponds buried out there somewhere. I can’t find a road or a path. I’ll have to make a path of my own.
I may have to make one more exception to my new rule, if I could ever find the damn things.