Tag Archives: fox river guiding

Fun with Wildlife

Wednesday turned out to be a stunningly beautiful day and I wound up getting an angler out on a guided trip to fish the Fox. He’s an experienced angler, but new to rivers, wading and river fishing.

While giving a quick demonstration on how to swim a lure along a current seam, a smallie cooperated by hitting and getting landed. I guess it made it look like I knew what I was doing. I thought for sure that meant we were in for a good day of fishing. Turned out to be the only fish.

There’s nothing worse for a fishing guide than to have a client do everything right and not have a single fish cooperate. About 2/3 of the way through the trip, he made a cast toward shore and didn’t see a root jump up and grab his lure. As he walked over to get his lure, he didn’t see the rock jump in front of him to trip him. He landed pretty much face first in about a foot of water.

After checking him out to make sure an emergency room visit wasn’t required, he started going through his now waterlogged waders, emptying out pools of water. In one pool of water was his cell phone, now dead. We decided to call it a day and hiked back to the car. Waders off, on one side he was soaked down to his toes.

It was too early in the day to call it quits for me. With the river still a little high, I decided to go try my luck on the creek where on my last visit, I was attacked by a goose. I had been coming across a few empty goose nests on shorelines up and down the river and I hope these creek geese would be gone.

I knew the point along the shore where the nest was and I’m sure the male goose would be in the water as an early warning system. If I saw them first, I would simply turn around and leave.

My goose friends from the first time we met. At eye level they're much more impressive.

I knew when I got there nothing was going to happen, there would be no fish worth fishing for. Whenever the wind died down, I could smell that sweet musty smell of spawning suckers and carp. That’s never a good sign. I wish I could bottle that smell. I have a feeling many don’t know what I’m talking about. Besides, I like it.

The creek fishing was as good as the river fishing, nonexistent. I stayed in the water along the shore. There is about two feet of creek bed you can walk on in knee deep water before the bottom makes a relatively quick slide to a depth of about five feet.

There was no goose cruising the creek as a guard, this was a good sign. I got to the point where the goose nest was, nothing there either. Perfect, even if the fishing still sucked. As I walked and cast I suddenly heard a hissing noise to my left. Shit, it was the nesting goose. I was at the wrong point. The bank here is high and I was at about eye level with it. Since the other goose wasn’t around, I thought I would just walk past the goose. No big deal.

It kept hissing at me. I started shushing it like a parent shushes a fussing child. That wasn’t going very well. She suddenly stood up and let out a honk. Almost immediately, off to my right and coming from across the creek, even louder honks.

Through the trees came the other goose and landed in the creek about 10 feet in front of me. It was honking insanely and hissing between the honks. I could hear the other goose honking and hissing a few feet from my left ear, but I was reluctant to turn and look and take my eye off the crazy one in the water.

Last time here, the mom goose never left the nest. She stayed right with it. I called her honking and hissing bluff and I ignored anything that was going on to my left. The one on my right was getting more intense.

The dad goose suddenly lifted out of the water, wings spread and honking and hissing and came at me feet first. I barely had time to react. When it was about three feet away, I lifted my rod and smashed the goose across the chest. This drove him backwards and he fell back on the water. The goose on my left was going nuts, but I still wouldn’t turn my head. I was hoping I was right in calling her bluff and her not leaving the nest.

Now I was trying to move as quickly as possible in knee deep water on a two foot wide stretch of slippery creek rock. It wasn’t going well. The goose in the creek jumped out of the water again. I got my rod around faster this time and poked him in the middle of his chest as hard as I could, knocking him back into the water again.

By now I could tell I was right about the mom goose not leaving the nest and I could concentrate on getting the hell out of there. The dad goose appeared to have learned a bit of a lesson. Every time he tried to get close, I pointed my rod tip right in his face and he would back off a bit.

I kept trying to make it down the shore as quickly as possible, but the rocks were pretty slippery. I kept an eye on the goose, my rod tip in it’s face and I would grab onto the shore grass to keep from sliding into the deeper water as I moved along. Only the shore grass was also filled with stinging nettles. I couldn’t watch the goose and where I was putting my hand, so I just put up with grasping onto handfuls of stinging nettles.

The goose was wearing down, but kept biting the tip of my rod. As I got further away, his interest in me started to wane. He would turn and head back, turn back toward me, then back again, eventually convinced that I was leaving.

At this point the shore wasn’t as high. I had to get the hell out of the water. I put my hand on shore to hoist myself up when a huge fucking turkey blew up out of the tall grass not four feet from my face. This sent me backwards almost on my ass and also got the attention of the goose, which turned and started heading back my way.

I distinctly recall what I said out loud at this point…awwwsonovafuckingbitch.

The turkey took off across the creek and disappeared over the far end of a near pond. The goose gave up and headed back up stream. My left hand was throbbing from all the nettles that were now stuck in it and I was done. If there were any fish in this creek, they were definitely gone now.

I crossed the creek, sat down on a stump over looking the pond and started sucking the nettles out of my hand. I looked over the pond while I did this. It was was unusually free of weeds. The recent heavy rains must have washed them away. I could salvage this pathetic day of river and creek fishing with a few pond fish.

Half way down the length of the pond, 100 casts or so and not a single hit. Usually by then I have a handful of big mouth bass, a few crappie, a bunch of bluegills, nothing. I called it quits. The adrenalin from my goose encounter was also starting to wear off. I noticed I had a sharp pain between my shoulder blades. I knew if I didn’t get home and get some Ibuprofen in me, that pain would migrate up the back of my neck and give me a massive headache.

While wandering through the woods to get to the road, I kept an eye out for any other animal that may have it in for me this day. It’s happened before. Coons, possum and even a flock of red wing black birds that attacked my head when I walked under the tree where they were nesting.

It was daylight, he had his spot, he wasn't going to get out of the way for me. So much for being nocturnal animals.

I came through the woods unscathed.

Back on the road, I headed for my car. Few other cars drive through here. A couple of hundred feet in front of me, a couple of deer come out of the woods, see me and stop in the middle of the road. They’re staring at me. They’re deer, they’re skittish, I keep walking, they’ll leave. Suddenly, the theme to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly starts playing in my head.

The deer aren’t moving. I start thinking of all those Crazed Deer Attacks Man videos I’ve seen. I don’t think my fishing rod stands a chance against them. I stop in the middle of the road and stare back at them, chewing on the end of my cigar. It’s a standoff, one of us has to blink sooner or later.

They blink, turn and lift their tales as they bound off into the woods again, flashing their big white asses in my face as a goodbye.

Good riddance, I say.

Bad Week, Good Week

It’s been one of those weeks that started out having me question why I bother with the local fishing forums. With their use of aliases, they’ve always seemed to be a breeding ground for anglers to hide behind those aliases and act like assholes. I’m sure they think they’re being cute and the other assholes on the site roll right along with them, but I’ve met far too many others that won’t participate on forums because of the assholes. Those tend to be the anglers worth meeting and starting conversations with.

I had to deal with the egomaniacal stalker that has been around for years. Every year or so he has to crawl out from under his rock. He made the mistake of doing that at an isolated spot on the river a few years ago. He was warned on how doing that again would be hazardous to his health. Now he just shows up where ever I am on line to show others how much better of an angler he is than me.

Problem is, I don’t care. It’s just fishing.

It wears me out to have to deal with bullshit like this.

It took all week to get the bullshit out of my head, to quit questioning why I’m bothering being on the forums. I keep thinking that somehow it’s important to be there because of the writing and guiding I do. I think that sense of their importance has disappeared.

With that bullshit in the background, I still managed to salvage the week. The highlight was my first guide trip of the year with Jon Coe. In his mid 40’s, he only started fishing in the last couple of years. New to fishing, new to fishing rivers, he just wants to learn.

I like getting out guys like this. No preconceived notions about fishing, they’re perfectly happy catching anything that hits and size doesn’t matter. It’s like fishing with kids, every fish is a big fish and it was so cool.

With bright blue skies and the water temps dropping 10 degrees now that the air temps have gone back to normal, I knew the fishing was going to be less than stellar. I hope I didn’t overwhelm him with all that I showed him. He was able to get a couple of hits and at the very end we were joking about the last fish at the last spot before we got on shore.

Sure enough, a fish cooperated.

The timing of that fish was impeccable.

Those who hire others to provide a service like to rate and review how we do. What they don’t realize is that those of us that provide a service like to rate and review our clients. I put Jon in my top 5 guided trips. Had a wonderful time.

Also got out to a creek a couple of times. Expected nothing and got nothing, the creek was too low and clear. I spent most of the time wandering around watching the suckers and quillbacks migrating up and down stream. My nose was telling me that the spawn wasn’t over yet, that sweet musty smell still hangs like a mist above the water. When really bored, I just wandered around taking pictures.

On Saturday, the clouds rolled in and the threat of rain was in the air. I picked a stretch of the Fox River that I thought for sure was going have a few others out fishing, but there was nobody around. The most easily accessible stretch on the river and nobody is ever here. I don’t get that.

Came across a hanging nest. From what I looked up, probably made by an oriole. Blurry totally out of focus photo of it doesn’t help, but I still find them fascinating.

Went 12/13 on the catch/self release ratio. The pattern of the day was that there was no pattern. The fish were pretty much in every type of water. All you had to do was cast and let something swim around out there till it got hit. In the spots I thought I would do well, they were devoid of fish. In the spots I thought would suck, that’s where the fish were.

Biggest fish of the day caught me day dreaming. I looked just in time to see a big bulge come up and inhale the jig/twister. Almost ripped the rod out of my hand. Didn’t land that one or another one that went for a heavy powerful run, but did land this one.

Must have been bigger than I thought. Took a couple of quick shots and couldn’t get the whole thing in the frame, which is odd. I didn’t really look it over much and I don’t care about size, so who knows. When I lifted it out of the water, the jig fell out of it’s mouth. It wasn’t even hooked.

With it being goose nesting season, the geese every where you go are on high alert. I’ve been coming across geese on nests all over the river and it’s creeks.

As soon as they see you they start honking and they don’t let up till you are out of sight again. As I wandered down stream, the sound of the geese changed. Coming up stream was what looked like a juvenile bald eagle. As it got in front of me something seemed different about it’s coloration. Over the winter a golden eagle had been spotted in the area, I wondered if that was what this was. The geese were going out of their minds and were growling at the eagles presence. I never heard geese growl before.

To make matters worse for the geese, no sooner had the eagle disappeared when three hawks drifted over the river. Based on silhouette ID’s I looked up later, they were either coopers or sharp shinned hawks. The sounds coming from the geese at this point were deafening.

Once they all settled down, I went back to fishing. I was perfectly content catching anything that hit. The dinks are a good sign, they disappeared for a couple of years after a pretty big flood. This bodes well for the future as long as the river behaves.

I’ve been fishing this stretch of the river for a dozen years. Because of that and my ill fated attempt to run a canoe shop with canoe trips through here, I’ve got to know many of the land owners along the shores. One land owner was lucky enough to purchase an island years ago, one of the few privately owned islands that I know of. When ever I see him out, I stop to chat. I’ve always had permission to wander his island to take a break from fishing. I keep an eye on things and let him know if I ever see anything suspicious out there.

He also has the only private duck blind I know of on the river. Today he offered to let me use it whenever I wanted. I probably could have asked permission to use it over the years, but never did. The offer is greatly appreciated. The blind is easy to wade to and not owning a boat, will finally give me a better chance of getting out for some waterfowl hunting.

In my collection of photos are a number of shots taken from inside the blind looking out one of the three shooting windows. I have photos from a couple of different seasons. My favorite is one I put together as a panorama. In my head I call it In Anticipation of Duck Season, it was shot one early summer.

The original image is 66 inches wide. If I can scratch up the money, I’ll have to see if he wants a print of it. I’ll have to ask first, not everyone has 66 inches of wall to hang something. I think half size would still look pretty good.

Catch and Self Release

I used to have a friend that fly fished, fished with flies, or so he said.

I remember a fair amount of conversation about the topic, but I don’t recall a whole lot of actual fishing going on. I do recall a fair amount of time being spent hunched over a table tying flies. Since I didn’t see much fishing happening, I would imagine he had quite a collection of flies. He was at a disadvantage. He lived in a heavily populated north side Chicago neighborhood. To go anywhere to fish was a chore. If it were trout he had in mind, which was likely, it was even more of a chore to go to an adjoining state.

Every winter he would make a trip to the Rogue River in Michigan for steelhead. I was invited along, but I have a rule to never fish when air temperatures were below 32 degrees. Besides, that used to be my busy time of the year.

On his return I would always ask the same question, how did you do?

Every year it was the same response, oh, I hooked a few.

On the fourth year I pressed for more details. It winds up that yes, he always hooked a few, but in all these years he had never landed one. He always left out that bit of information, but he was always content that he had the opportunity to hook a few.

Being a river fishing guide, for smallies not trout, I pay attention to what other fishing guides are doing. One I’ve been following for years is Dustan Harley of Ripple Guide Service. I’ve always noticed that he mentions how many fish his clients tie into. Then, kind of nonchalantly, he’ll mention how many they landed.

This trait of being perfectly content tying into fish and not landing them must be something unique to trout anglers. I can’t recall other anglers thinking like this. The bass neanderthals crawl out from under rocks to lambast anyone that even mentions catching small fish let alone mentioning the few that were hooked and not landed. Apparently they aren’t even worth talking about unless you can add the word hawg or pig in front of the mention of the species and the exact length down to 1/64th of an inch.

Showing pictures of small bass is even worse.

I’ve never had that problem.

I’ve always kept track of the fish I’ve caught, I have a head for numbers and it’s easy to do. I used to measure them, but now I just guesstimate. I’ve noticed over the last few years I’ve started keeping track of the fish I miss. This trout fishing anomaly seems to be wearing off on me. I don’t mind though. Counting the self released fish gives me an idea of what could have been if I knew how to set a hook. The remaining members of the Fox Tribe here in Illinois even made me an honorary member of their tribe with the new name of Cantsetahook.

Three hours out on the river and after two of them, it was starting to look like a complete wash out. You would think if you came across a shore line made of boulders that were sitting in the sun all day, you would think you died and went to smallie heaven.

Every nook and cranny was painstakingly picked apart. Lures were tossed on top of boulders and wiggled just right to drop into even more potential fish holding spots, with nothing to show for all the effort. A break was needed, a sign was ignored and a log made a good thinking spot.

To get to the last stretch of the day I had to wander through shallow water over rock. I let the river play out it’s mysterious song. I let the river song and the mesmerizing pattern of water over rock take over my brain wave patterns to get in tune with the river.

Something changed, I felt confident this next stretch would treat me well.

And I was correct.

Only I was living up to my Fox Tribe name as fish after fish self released.

I slowed my heart rate even more and tried to time my breathing with the soft rise and fall of the river. This did the trick. My catch rate increased dramatically, culminating in the hooking of a tree fish. Not only did this fish head for a downed tree along the shore, it leapt into the air at the last second and wound up hanging from a branch, making it easy to go over and pluck it off the hook. Like taking an ornament off a Christmas tree. I chose not to humiliate the poor little fish by photographing it in it’s embarrassing position.

If I told you I landed six smallies in that last stretch, you’d probably think that was no big deal.

If I told you I hooked 16 smallies in that last stretch, you’d probably say that was a damn good hour of fishing.

Oh, and, by the way, I landed 6 of them… I’d say nonchalantly.

Fox River Guiding With Ed

Got Ed out for a guided trip to the Fox River today. Even though he lives and owns a business in Aurora, Illinois, by his account the last time he fished the Fox River was when he was a kid, around 35 years ago. Back then it was for panfish.

His expectations were high, “I don’t expect to catch anything.”

Talk about pressure.

New waders, boots, rod and reel and he was all set to go.

This was going to be more of a teaching trip too. He wanted to learn to read the water and where to go so he can make more time for himself doing something he liked.

It wasn’t hot and heavy, but a few fish cooperated. Of course the big ones got away. The first two fish hooked were seen before they threw the hook. They were impressive fish.

Since this was his first time wading the river, I warned him ahead of time that he was going to feel it the next day. He did well wandering the river and hardly stumbled at all.

Wading is deceiving, you don’t notice the toll it’s taking on your legs till you get back on dry land. I believe the first comment I heard was “I see what you mean about how I’m going to feel this.”

Ben Gay works.

For those of you that like Handmade Sausages and Smoked Meats, Ed owns Wurst Kitchen in Aurora. Check out the website.

Wurst Kitchen

I was presented with 4 big summer sausages. I’m looking forward to cutting into them.

Oh yeah, the fish and pictures.

Ed wound up landing 3 smallmouth bass. Like I said, nothing hot and heavy, but at least it wasn’t nothing.