Tag Archives: fox eagles

A Walk Down to the River

It was starting to snow and 14 inches were being called for within the next 36 hours, I thought now would be a good time to take a walk down to the river.

On the other side of the river is a huge field ringed with trees. There are no homes in that stretch. Three deer could be seen in the field. They looked like they were playing in the snow. They would run, then stop. Then run again. Whenever they would stop they would look across the river at me. I had to be a good 150 yards away, but they were still cautious of this lone figure wandering down the hill toward them. Then they would go back to playing.

The river was pretty empty. A few geese were in the open water and I counted a half dozen blue herons spread out and hunkered down on the edge of the ice. Hunting I assume.

I got to the edge of the bluff, still a good 30 feet above the river and started wandering down the thin tree line. In one of the tallest trees that hangs out over the river were a couple of adult eagles. Of course I had to see how close I could get to them.

One didn’t like that and took off. The other didn’t seem to mind so much.

Debbie Granat and her daughter pulled up on the side of the road and I wandered over to talk. Her husband Larry started the Facebook page The Kendall County Bird Page and I rely on him for all things eagles in this stretch of the river. One of these days I’ll have a better camera and I can quit asking him for eagle images. Or, I’ll never tell him I got a better camera, keep borrowing eagle images and give him the publicity he deserves.

That sounds better.

After they left I turned around and the skittish eagle was back. I tried stalking up to them again, and again the skittish one took off. Decided to leave them alone and head downstream.

Off on the island was another eagle. In that short period of time, more geese were coming down to the river and a couple of hundred of them were circling the area.

I live about 80 feet away from a pretty heavily wooded ravine. I walked along the top of the bluff, heading for the mouth of the ravine. The tracks of deer, squirrels and what I assume are either coyote or fox were all using the ravine like a highway. I tracked them to the top of the bluff overlooking the ravine.

On a good day wandering down the steep slope of the bluff is a no brainer. Conditions did not make this a good day. All I could imagine was gravity taking over and suddenly finding myself in a heap at the bottom. The tracks being seen were all old, I convinced myself. No point wandering down there.

A juvenile bald eagle drifted overhead and landed in a tree a hundred feet away. This one was on to me, it took off long before I could get any closer.

In that short time, hundreds more geese had arrived. The honking was starting to echo down the river valley. The only ducks I can recognize from a distance are mallards, but I can see that others are different even if I can’t identify them. I saw a couple of other different types of ducks mixed in with all the other waterfowl.

The other day while out shoveling snow at sunset I stopped counting the geese flying overhead when I got to 500. Today, the geese weren’t coming in from north or south. The bulk of them were coming straight down the river out of the west.

This is what I’m going to miss when I move at the end of the month, that ability to wander down a hill and see such a variety of wildlife. Granted, I’ll still be living two blocks from the river, but it’s slightly more urban. There will still be plenty of geese and ducks around, but for the deer and coyote and the bulk of the eagles I’ll have to walk a good half mile downstream.

Maybe a little less.

I’ll try to think of that as a motivating factor, hiking that extra half mile.

I could use the exercise.

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It’s 7 PM and I just came in from wandering around while smoking a cheap cigar. It has to be about 30 degrees out there, no wind, the snow is falling straight down and the neighborhood is dead quiet.

Down on the river a few geese were honking and at the mouth of the ravine, coyotes were howling.

Bamboo — A few Pictures

Sadly, not a whole lot with fish.

Which figures, since I have this wonderful bamboo fly rod to play with.

A cold front came through a few days ago and pretty much shut down the fishing. It turned the water considerably cooler and on one creek, it turned it crystal clear.

Of course the fishing will turn back on as soon as I ship the rod off to the next user.

A week earlier the fishing was hot and heavy anywhere I went on the Fox River or any of it’s creeks. My trip to a creek proved it to be devoid of smallies except for one.

A far cry from the previous week when I stopped counting somewhere around 30 on this same creek.

I was looking forward to another banner day of fishing, the creek is beautiful and it would have been a treat for the fly rod.

I did get a rock bass to cooperate…

And a handful of crappie were eager to hit.

Not what I wanted or expected, but better than getting skunked.

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I took the time to peruse the journal.

Definitely an enjoyable read with a bit of an artistic flair at times.

Also played around with the flies in the little traveling fly box.

Do you trout anglers really use such tiny little flies? Even the bluegills around here would scoff at that as an offered meal.

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Today was supposed to be a banner day of 20 or more smallies. It’s a go to spot, but nobody told me the fish had got up and gone. The bald eagle that floated around the area for a half hour gave me hope, but apparently they know as much about fishing as I do.

Did manage to avoid a skunking…

So I hung out near a boulder and tried to get a half way decent shot of the reel and some background. The fish weren’t biting, so I had to humor myself somehow.

Sunday, the ponds. This is where I salvage the week.

Unless they’ve all dried up since I was there six or so weeks ago. Hasn’t rained much in all that time.

If so, back to my initial plan…

Tying on a peanut and going for my wife’s trained squirrels out in the front yard.

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The Outdoor Blogger Network teamed up with Fall River Flyrods, Montana Fly Company and RIO Products this spring to put together a rig consisting of an 8ft, 2-piece, 5wt “South Fork” bamboo rod, Madison reel, and double taper, floating line to be fished by 15 far-flung anglers over the course of the season. One of those 15 anglers will own the rod, reel, and line when all is said and done, along with an accompanying journal in which all 15 anglers will record their thoughts and experiences during their time with the rod. With a first season like that, the story of this brand new rod is off to a very good start.

A Simple Afternoon of Fishing

The last I heard, here in the Chicago area this was the mildest winter in 75 years. You would think this would be an ideal setup for the creek fishing I like to do. I’ve been checking the creeks throughout the winter and they never got the amount of ice that I’ve seen in years past. In one creek in particular I haven’t caught a smallmouth bass since the last day of 2011. I thought for sure they would not only be there throughout the winter, I thought for sure now would be an excellent time to be fishing for them.

So far, that hasn’t happened.

I’m far from disappointed, the catching of fish is a bonus for getting to spend time in solitude and silence. Here the silence is so thick that when the car engine is turned off, the silence covers you like a blanket. You suddenly become painfully aware of the ringing in your ears, ringing that is probably there all the time, you’ve just learned to tune it out. Here, that is impossible.

Few cars travel down the road so there is no road noise. In the four years I’ve been coming here, I rarely run into anyone. I’ve never seen another person fishing the creek. I’ve only come across one other set of foot prints in those four years.

Today, all that was heard was the wind hissing through the bare branches and a chorus of song birds. The occasional squirrel rustling through the leaves. Got to see my first chipmunk of the year scurrying beneath a tangle of downed trees. Down in the valley the song of water over rock could be heard.

A couple of mallards were spooked off the water. A few feet later, two pairs of wood ducks jumped and moved further down stream. This would go on for the next hour and a half. I’d get closer to the wood ducks, they’d move a little more down stream. I see them in this stretch of the creek throughout the warmer months. One of these days I’d like to find where they live.

The taps of creek chubs came immediately. A few small ones were landed, then one big female.

I thought for sure this meant a few smallmouth bass in the deeper pools, but it became a stroll down the river teasing the chubs. Or they were teasing me.

A good part of the next hour and a half was spent in the meditative state running water over rock seems to put me in.

I can feel my heart rate slow. My breathing slows with my heart rate. I’ve been told that you can’t feel your blood pressure go up and down. I think that’s said to and by people that have never spent hours wandering down small creeks. I could feel my blood pressure lower.

I seem to have it timed so I can hit two creeks and a small pond in a leisurely afternoon of fishing. I think if the fishing were to become hot and heavy, this first creek would never be left, but for now, the more the merrier.

Second creek, first cast and a smallmouth bass near 16 inches obliged. And that was it out of the creek.

Here to it was dead quiet. The road in the distance doesn’t get used much and it was nice to sit in the soft dead grasses of last year and enjoy the view.

The walk back to the car along the pond had me spooking the nesting geese that call this place home every year. They build their nests right along the pond. I never see eggs or goslings. I’m assuming that’s because of the eagle, the owls, the red tail hawks and the coyote that also visit this place.

You would think the geese would learn.

A number of blue gill were caught from the pond and quite a few more bass self released while being reeled in. None of them were worthy of a picture, but the pond was.

As I got closer to the bridge I could hear a handful of girls chattering away as young girls do. They were hanging out on the small bridge tossing rocks in the water, talking nonsense and of course, texting away to whoever wasn’t there.

Found out that girls scurry away quickly when they see an old guy in waders with a weeks growth of beard come stumbling and crashing out of the woods. That’s okay, I wanted the bridge to myself.

I plopped my ass on the guard rail, lit up a cigar and stared off into the space over the creek.

Eventually, I went home.

While out Fishing the Other Day

While I was out fishing a semi urban stretch of the Fox River at the end of January, I was joined by a couple of red tailed hawks and a bald eagle. I wrote it down later like this:

Drifting up stream on the air currents came the large black shape of an eagle. It slowly cruised above the river and occasionally drifted out over the tree tops. The ducks didn’t like any of this. They all lifted off the water. Some seemed to feign an attack on the eagle, a foolhardy gesture at best, but most simply took off squawking.

Once the eagle was out of sight, a couple of red tailed hawks appeared. They seemed to be playing in the treetops feigning bites, then they would take off together to hover over the river. They never got far from each other and it continued to look like they were playing. I’ve never seen them behave like this, usually I don’t see more than one.

Even in somewhat of an urban area these birds have learned to adapt to our presence. The hawks don’t surprise me so much, I’ve been seeing them around for a long time just about everywhere I go. But for an eagle to slip right into these urban areas comes as a surprise. It’s just not something I would have ever expected.

My first sighting of an eagle on the Fox River happened along this same stretch around 2003. Along the shore runs the warmer waters of a treatment plant discharge. During the winter it’s ice free and attracts all kinds of birds. There’s an old dead tree, completely stripped of bark, where the eagle likes to sit and survey the river below. I’ve described this stretch numerous times in the past, but this will do:

For such an urban area, this stretch gives a pretty good illusion of being more remote. On the other side of the river a pretty busy road runs right along the shore. It was just far enough away that any traffic noise is pretty well muffled. Once behind an island it becomes pretty simple to ignore the urban views altogether.

The side with the warm water is a flood plain that’s never been developed. A wide open field of tall grasses, a shore line of trees that create picture perfect undercut banks. Further down the trees become more extensive and cover more of the shore and land. While walking through it, especially in the warmer months, the dense trees and brush obliterate all signs of human artifacts and for a brief time you could be anywhere that people don’t go.

The end of that day had me walking through the field back to my car. I was tracking coyote, which seemed to be tracking squirrel and raccoons. The raccoons seem to take the same paths to and from the river on a regular basis. The squirrel tracks seem to be more sporadic. I’ve heard that they never find 90 percent of the nuts they bury. Their tracks in the snow indicate that they spend a lot of time looking for that 90 percent, even if never found.

From a distance I thought I was seeing pheasant tracks cutting across my path.

When I got up on top of the tracks their size said this was no pheasant. They were as big as my hand. They came from the rivers edge and headed inland. At first I thought they might be from a blue heron, but I’ve never seen a blue heron walk inland like this. I followed the tracks and they took paths through low brush. No 4 foot tall bird would be able to do this. Then at one spot, the tracks disappeared. I looked up the tracks when I got home, definitely an eagle, either out for a stroll or on the hunt.

Further down the trail there were more tracks. These looked just like the others only smaller. This time they appeared out of nowhere and it looked like there was some kind of scuffle.

The scuffle was taken a couple of feet away into some brush. I knew these were the tracks of the red tailed hawk and it was determined to get hold of something.

And then like the eagle tracks, they were gone. Nothing walked away from this scuffle, the victor flew off.

This got me thinking about a trip through West Virginia many years ago. I was on my way to a rod and gun club outside Richmond Virginia for a week to wander woods and fish. I usually went alone and if I was lucky, I would run into no one while there. It was about two in the morning and in the West Virginia mountains I could only pick up National Public Radio, my radio listening choice anyway.

They were discussing The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry:

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I remember being bothered by this. I enjoy the peace and quiet of woods and water without the presence people. I prefer the absence of people most of the time. But the peace of wild things is a human construct. We look out at what we believe is beauty. We immerse ourselves in the silence of our surroundings. Gentle breezes rustling through trees while we lay back on a hammock can lull us into sleep.

This got me thinking, wild things don’t experience peace . . .

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Okay, fine, I will.

The conversation was being had in my head and the bet was to myself. Nuts and a bad bet pretty much sums it up, but I had no choice to follow through. I had been admonishing others (see Dear Mr. Bowman) for not giving open water river reports. There’s a fair amount of open water on quite a few of the rivers here in Northern Illinois (see For my Fellow Iceaphobes – The Plan) and some might like to know that. Sitting out on an ice covered pond staring into little holes isn’t quite the same as wading running water.

Now my excuses for not fishing open water were pretty much gone. I have only one condition, the air temperature has to be above the freezing mark. I don’t like ice on my guides. Long term weather reports showed no such thing earlier in the week, but things apparently changed. It was down right balmy when I wandered out in front of my house this morning. Gloveless fingers barely noticed the cold. A check of the temperatures showed almost 30 with a promise of mid 30’s by noon.

Since I hadn’t been out fishing in a couple of months, there was a little prep work that needed to be done. Basically, I had to find everything. I did a pretty good job of putting things away only to forget where I put them. For once though I had put them away relatively neatly for me, so once found it was all quickly dumped into the car.

I considered heading for the DuPage River. If I went to the Shorewood area, above or below the dam, I knew the river would be open. I also know enough about that stretch to make catching winter smallies and the occasional rock bass relatively easy. But I chose not to contribute to the profits of oil companies by driving long distances in pursuit of winter fish. I settled for the nearby Fox instead.

On urban rivers like the Fox you may as well increase your odds when you have the chance. I chose to fish a treatment plant outflow. Water from the outflow consistently measures 55 degrees during the winter months and it can stay that temperature a good quarter mile or more down stream. Fish are always there, but game fish might be a little more difficult to come by. Unless you’re one of those that consider carp game fish.

The complete lack of footsteps in the snow told me that no one had bothered coming here for quite some time. Plenty of squirrel tracks running tree to tree and a coyote or two seemed to be covering the area pretty well, but nothing human to be found.

For such an urban area, this stretch gives a pretty good illusion of being more remote. On the other side of the river a pretty busy road runs right along the shore. It was just far enough away that any traffic noise is pretty well muffled. Once behind an island it becomes pretty simple to ignore the urban views altogether.

There were plenty of fish breaking the surface of the water in the first of the deeper pools. I could see by the backs that skimmed the surface that they were all quillbacks. It’s not all that unusual for a quillback to hit a lure like a smallie, but not today. I could feel the lure getting bumped, but that was more because it was in the way, not because it was being eaten.

All along the shore it was like this. All the pockets held carp of some kind. More quillbacks and the torpedo like runs of common carp were everywhere. I learned a long time ago that smallies like to hang out along with carp. Carp stir up the bottom, which attracts minnows, which smallies like to eat. No such luck today. Rolling one carp after another was all that was happening. Occasionally a carp will try to inhale a lure so it’s always worth a cast.

Drifting up stream on the air currents came the large black shape of an eagle. It slowly cruised above the river and occasionally drifted out over the tree tops. The ducks didn’t like any of this. They all lifted off the water. Some seemed to feign an attack on the eagle, a foolhardy gesture at best, but most simply took off squawking.

Once the eagle was out of sight, a couple of red tailed hawks appeared. They seemed to be playing in the treetops feigning bites, then they would take off together to hover over the river. They never got far from each other and it continued to look like they were playing. I’ve never seen them behave like this, usually I don’t see more than one.

Even in somewhat of an urban area these birds have learned to adapt to our presence. Especially along here there are always signs of our presence even in the water.

The hawks don’t surprise me so much, I’ve been seeing them around for a long time just about everywhere I go. But for an eagle to slip right into these urban areas comes as a surprise. It’s just not something I would have ever expected.

About a quarter mile down the river slows in a relatively large pool. Some nice depth to the pool too. It had been awhile since I had caught a walleye here. The conditions seemed to be right so I spent some time trying to coax one to bite. More carp getting rolled with the occasional tug giving me false hope that something might have finally tried to eat my offering.

After rolling still another carp I actually had something running with my line. I would be happy to land a foul hooked carp at this point. At least it would be something to show for my efforts. When I initially caught sight of it I thought it was a decent walleye. When I got it closer I could see it was a northern pike of about 30 inches.

Considering how much I fish this river, these fish always catch me by surprise. In 15 years I’ve only seen 5 of them. Much further north where the river is flatter and slower moving there are quite a few. But they seem to disappear the further down stream you go. I’ve met people along this stretch that have lived here their whole lives, and they’re over 80 years old. They would show me pictures of pike caught in the past. Stringers full of them that needed two people to hoist. Those days seem to be long gone.

Two of the other pike I’ve caught came in a spot about 100 yards down from this one. The first was 6 years ago and only about a foot long. Then a few years later about 2 feet long. Now this one a couple of years later and measuring around 30 inches. Had me wondering if I was catching the same one years apart. It’s lower jaw was deformed which usually means it got pretty well chewed up by a treble hook, so I wasn’t the only one catching it. Since I’ve caught them all on single hook jigs, I knew I didn’t cause the damage.

At least people kept putting it back.

I kept going down stream. The cold of the river water pretty much nullified the warmth of the discharge water as the two got combined. My neoprene waders burned out years ago and I never had them replaced. The now colder water reminded me that the seams in the feet of my breathable waders had a slight leak. The final spot I wanted to try holds a lot of fish, but today it seemed to be only carp. There were a few times when it sure felt like a fish on, but only proved to be another rolled carp.

I could no longer feel my feet, only that tingling sensation that says you should have got out a long time ago. I was done. The thousands of pins pricking my feet said so. The hike back to the car didn’t warm them up. Car heater did no good. Four hours later and I can still feel some tingling in my toes.

I knew I had a second condition regarding winter fishing, I must have forgot.

Never do it without neoprene waders.