Tag Archives: illinois creek chub trout

Up a Creek, Again

The plan for the day was to go out to Marseilles State Fish and Wildlife Area to do some squirrel hunting. Only I had forgot that it was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Rather than waste a rare 60 degree November day, I decided to go fishing.

The Fox was flowing at just over 1800 cfs. The two areas I had in mind require wading across the river, but that flow level is just about at my comfort level for wandering across the river. I’ve done it before many times, but it gets a bit tricky. If the water temps had been over 60 degrees, I probably would have gone, but with the water temps in the 40s, even the high 40s, taking a spill would be very unpleasant.

I opted to continue my test of a creek wintering hole theory.

It had been a little over two weeks since my last visit here. When I arrived there was a guy a bit older than me getting ready to take his dog out for a walk in the woods. He had the biggest German Shepherd I had ever seen, pure white. We talked of fishing, which led to deer hunting, which led to squirrel hunting and comparing raccoon recipes. One of those rambling conversations between strangers with similar interests. His dog finally made him shutup and finish the walk.

The trees had given up the last of their leaves and the low sun light left long streaking shadows through the woods. The ribbon of water that was the creek meandered through from the north. It was up a little from some rain, but even from a distance I could tell it was still crystal clear.

The Illinois Creek Chub Trout were everywhere in the creek. The cold water seems to have no effect on them at all. The first fish caught was one of the biggest Creek Chub Trout I’ve ever caught.

According to different Departments of Natural Resources, they tend to be in the 4 to 8 inch range with some getting as big as 12 inches. The one caught was easily 10 inches, possibly bigger.

Every cast had small swarms of Creek Chub Trout attacking the small lure I was using. This supports my wintering hole theory. I already know it doesn’t freeze over, I’ve been there in January, but didn’t fish. If there’s that many Creek Chub Trout around, why would a game fish leave.

I thought for sure the walk down to the hole would produce a couple of smallies. They were there just a couple of weeks ago.

But no matter what I threw or how slow I moved it, nothing showed any interest. Except for the Creek Chub Trout. They were relentless in their attacks.

The last vestiges of green were staying close to the forest floor. Just enough sunlight was now coming through to keep them a bit warm. The bright green was a shock to the eyes, all else had pretty much taken on the browns and grays of late fall.

When I got to the hole, the sun was just leaving the far edge. The sun shines down on this for the better part of the day. With the clear water I would think the sun might heat up the creek bed a bit. The current through here is negligible and every little bit of warmth helps.

I started out with a small lure that looked like a small chub. There were no hits. Then I switched to a 4 inch tan Senko on an unweighted keeper hook. I’d let this sink to the bottom of the hole and let it sit there. Maybe move it a bit, then let it sit some more.

This got me four smallies on, but I didn’t land any of them. I did get to see them before they impolitely spit the hook. Two were small, less than 12 inches, but two were much bigger. Based on what I got to see, and based on how heavy they were, both were over the 16 inch mark.

For the next half hour I knew the bite was dead, but I was reluctant to leave and kept casting into the hole. It was still near 60 degrees. The sun was still a few feet above the high bluff to the west of me. If I moved a bit, the leafless trees would let the sun hit me and warm me a little more. I lit a cigar, it would take about 20 minutes or so to finish it. I cast out into the hole, tucked the rod down into my waders and stood staring off into space.

There’s a road about a half mile away, but nobody uses it much. There are few homes along that road. Down in this little creek valley, even the wind dies down and hushes. The birds were liking the last of the sunlight too. Was surprised at how many were out in the woods calling. I recognized one call as that of some kind of woodpecker. The rest will remain unidentified due to the lack of interest in the need to know those things.

I leaned against a log tucked up against the shore and took long breaks between drags on the cigar in an effort to make it last longer. A perfect way to watch the day end.

I have a feeling these fish aren’t going anywhere. Come January, I’m sure we’ll have a few days that get above freezing. I won’t go out if it’s lower than that. The plan was to bring along a bucket of minnows, but instead I’ll bring the bucket and make sure I have some small hooks. And some beef jerky. Chubs have a thing for jerky. Catch a handful of chubs for the hole, hope the sun is out and the log didn’t move.

Up a Creek

For the second straight year, Field & Stream has partnered with Trout Unlimited on tours of America’s Best Wild Places. The Best Wild Places is a joint project and offers a unique look at some of the country’s best hunting and fishing destinations, as well as the challenges these amazing places face if they are to remain intact and functional for years to come.

As a writing prompt, Outdoor Blogger Network has asked that we post about our own Best Wild Places.

The following would be one of mine from here in Illinois.
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In theory, the creeks that feed the Fox River empty of game fish for the winter.

I already knew that wasn’t quite true.

Granted, the bulk of the game fish do leave, but enough hang around to make catching a smallmouth bass in winter a welcome surprise. I’ve caught them in the past within the first mile of a creek, but now my goal is to see if I can get one nine miles up a creek.

For the past few years I’ve gone out in mid March and caught a small number of smallies from this nine mile spot. They’ve included the usual dinks all the way up to some 18 inchers. I can’t believe that within the first two weeks of March these fish have already migrated this far up the creek. I guess that’s a possibility, but I have my doubts.

This past January the Fox River was pretty well frozen over. There weren’t too many open areas to be found. But I’ve always noticed that this creek and another creek I like have always had open water. I already know they’re spring fed, I just can’t find the springs.

This past January I went to the nine mile spot. Half the creek was covered in ice, but there was still a fair amount of open water. The holes where I catch the mid March smallies were half open. In the shallows swimming around were the usual Illinois Creek Chub Trout. That day, for some reason, I didn’t bring along a fishing pole.

I won’t make that mistake this coming January.

Anyway, this Friday found me with the usual nothing to do and I found myself at the nine mile spot early in the afternoon. I’ve fished this area often. Even though it’s a forest preserve, it’s rare that I run into another person here, so rare that I can’t remember the last time it happened.

And yet, on an early Friday afternoon there were another half dozen people milling around. They were the seed collectors, the people that go around collecting the seeds of native plants so they can distribute them to other locations that are being restored.

All of them were older than me, considerably. I was impressed that they were going to go wander through the woods into areas that aren’t that easy to access. I already knew what they were up against. It’s turned me back a couple of times. I was invited to join them, but I politely declined. I explained to them that my role is to wander down creeks and document what I find in pictures. They actually appreciated my efforts.

On the hike in I came across an old deer stand. It’s been here ever since I started exploring the area, before it was bought by the Forest Preserve District. You’d be a fool to climb it, it’s seen better days.

As I walked away I came across another one. Brand new, hardly looked like it’s been used. I could have swore I was still on forest preserve property where hunting deer is illegal.

Let’s just say it’s under investigation.

The creek was low and crystal clear. The trees along the shore were surprisingly devoid of leaves and color. That’s how this fall has gone it seems. A lot of leaves fell without a show of much color.

The first cast to a slow moving run got me a feisty Illinois Creek Chub Trout.

These things will hit just about anything. They were also all over the creek. Every cast had them following the lure pecking away at it. I considered scaling down the lure size, but I wanted them trophy Creek Chub Trout, not any of those little dinks.

Okay fine, the big one was only eight inches, but when you expect nothing you take what you can get.

I could feel through the waders that the water was pretty cold. This didn’t seem to bother the Creek Chub Trout at all. They were as aggressive as hell. The clarity and the cold had me doubting the chances of tying into any smallies. I would imagine they could see me coming a mile away.

The first of the deeper holes proved me wrong. Deep is relative on this creek and it was actually a long slow run that was about four feet deep. The bite was tentative till I set the hook.

Under these conditions, I’ll take even the little guys.

On the very next cast another smallie made an attempt to grab the lure. But the hit was so tentative that I completely blew setting the hook. The next deep pool was a distance away, so I humored myself taking pictures of things that I’m sure I’m the only one that finds them even remotely interesting.

I found myself fascinated with the reflections on the water while still being able to see the bottom of the creek bed. Gave me a slight sense of vertigo when it was hard to tell the difference between the two as I walked.

The next pool is the deep pool where I think the smallies are spending the winter. Here you can’t see the bottom. I’m estimating it’s at least eight feet deep, which is rare on such a small creek. Sure enough, they were in there, but again the bite was so tentative I kept missing.

I made a cast to the opposite shore. I didn’t feel a thing, but my line started to move upstream. The fish never really took off and didn’t jump, but catching a 16 inch smallie out of a cold creek at the end of October was a nice surprise.

Another cast to the opposite shore and again the line starts heading upstream. I never felt the hit, they were just swimming away with the lure. This little guy didn’t feel any different than the bigger one I had just landed.

I kept wandering down stream trying not to fall over in the reflection laden shallow pools. I kept expecting the bottom of the creek to be closer than it was. I’m sure I looked like a drunk trying to wander down the creek.

By now, even though those wonderful Illinois Creek Chub Trout were still being cooperative, I had pretty much given up on the fishing. For the next 15 minutes I stood in the middle of the creek watching the light change. I had got lucky. One shore was lined with oak trees and the oaks were being extremely reluctant in giving up the last of their leaves. They were also showing off with a multitude of colors.

It was greatly appreciated.

Illinois Creek Chub Trout Fishing

This had nothing to do with anything, I found it interesting at the time.

I’m a voracious reader, but the caveat is that I can’t read books. I learned a long time ago that I don’t have the attention span required to make it through a book from beginning to end.

Instead, I read articles and short stories. Preferably ones that are 3,000 words or less. More than that and my mind starts to wander. The bulk of the things I read have something to do with the outdoors. Fishing articles and stories are what I read the most with hunting second. I’ll read a good travel article as long as they’re traveling to go fishing or hunting.

The internet has fed this addiction. Blogs and blog posts are perfect for my short attention span. Simple searches on key words like – trout fishing small creeks – will get you a couple of hundred things to read. This is good and bad. It cuts into my fishing time.

The bulk of the articles and stories I read tend to be more about the experience of being outdoors. A good yarn or a little story telling thrown in is even better. Any article about the nuts and bolts of fishing and hunting gets passed over quickly. Any article that starts to refer to hawgs, pigs, beasts, trophies and any number of nick names outdoor writers like to impart, get thrown in the garbage. An appropriate place for that kind of writing.

The majority of the articles and stories I read tend to center around trout and trout fishing. The bulk of what bass, catfish, bluegill and crappie anglers write are the things I generally toss. That right there is kind of odd considering that I live in Illinois. There are no trout in Illinois and I don’t travel to go looking for them. I obsessively pursue smallmouth bass while wading rivers and creeks. Which makes me a bass angler I guess. But I’m also not that picky. I’ll fish for anything that’s willing to bite. As long as it lives in a river or creek.

A creek I fish quite a bit resembles descriptions and photos I see of trout streams. This one has the miles of lush wooded shore lines and the occasional high embankments that contain the creek as it runs through fields. There are nice runs and riffles, plunge pools and lots of cover and structure. When the canopy is thick, which is often, there’s no need for sunglasses even on a cloudless day. Like the descriptions I read of trout streams, this creek is always cold.

I used to religiously take water temperature readings while out fishing. These would go in the obsessive compulsive logs I kept of my fishing adventures. I have no clue what I was trying to prove by doing that and eventually I quit with the record keeping. Now I put my hand in the water, yep, that’s warm or, yep, that’s cold, is good enough.

I noticed that this creek I like to fish was getting a lot of cold comments. I was surprised that this was happening at the end of August, a time when all the other rivers and creeks in the area were running warm. Old records show near 80 degrees. So one day at the very end of August I dusted off the old thermometer and took a reading in this creek. It was 60 degrees. That I didn’t expect.

Since their are no trout in Illinois, the IDNR stocks them. They stock around 60,000 rainbow trout in 45 different locations around the state. Only 6 of the locations are rivers or creeks, the rest are ponds and lakes. This is a put and take program and I assume those trout that don’t get took, die off in the warm water of summer. There is one river in Illinois’ small driftless area, the Apple River, that stays pretty cold. The trout tend to survive here and I’ve caught them in the late fall, long after all they’re lake bound siblings have died off.

A couple of years ago I took all of the info I’ve outlined above and sent it off to a couple of IDNR fisheries biologists I know. After all that info there was a simple question, is there any chance of stocking trout in this one creek.

I got a simple one word answer.

No.

I’ve noticed that in March, April and May when the creek is much colder than all the other creeks and rivers in the area, the creek chubs become extremely active.

They are next to impossible to keep off a hook. And they fight hard. I also noticed over the years that they are sitting in water that perfectly fits the description of where trout anglers are catching early trout. There diet is also exactly like that of trout. During the spawn, the males will take on a bright orange color.

Which is why I call them Illinois Creek Chub Trout.

Granted, trout are much prettier, but in Illinois, you take what you can get.

What I’ve read of trout anglers, they are perfectly content combing small streams for small trout. I’ve seen hundreds of pictures of anglers proudly holding colorful little trout that barely fill their hand. The commentary that goes with the pictures generally say that they had a good day trout fishing. Maybe they’ll mention a bonus big trout that was pushing the 12 inch mark.

Illinois Creek Chub Trout are supposed to average 4 to 8 inches long. But the ones I’ve been catching have all been in the 10 to 12 inch range. From what I’ve read, trout anglers would kill to have days where they can consistently tie into 10 to 12 inch trout.

Based on all of this, I’ve decided to change the focus of my fishing guide service. I’m going to become probably the only river and creek river wading fishing guide that targets the Illinois Creek Chub Trout. Besides this creek, I know of two other creeks in the area that consistently produce these hawg Illinois Creek Chub Trout. For the real pigs, I’ll take guys out to the Apple River where the trophy Illinois Creek Chub Trout live.

Of course I’ll have to warn them about the by-catch, those pain in the ass smallmouth bass beasts that can run up to 18 inches.

If they’re lucky, I’ll show them one of my favorite by-catch catching methods.

Take a 9 foot, 5 weight fly rod with the appropriately balanced reel, line, leader and tippet.
Catch an Illinois Creek Chub Trout.
Swap out the hook for a wide gap 3/0 Gamakatsu hook.
Hook the Illinois Creek Chub Trout through the tail.
Put a 1/16th ounce piece of split shot on the line about a foot from the hook.
Roll cast this baby into the deepest, darkest pool in the area.

And hold on tight.

Video showing this technique coming soon.

Didn't have anything to say about this other than I liked the way it looks.