Tag Archives: ken gortowski

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Fox River North Aurora Dam Removal

On January 8th the above article on the Fox River North Aurora dam removal appeared in the Aurora Beacon News. I thought it would show up on their website, but it never did. Rather than leave it on my Waterdog Journal Facebook page, I thought I would put it up here.

The day the article came out, I put up the following:

Two of the best fishing stretches on the Fox River are between Batavia and Aurora. I say two, though it could be one, but it’s split in half by the North Aurora dam.

These are the stretches where I used to spend the bulk of my time fishing and know them well. I’ve canoed the pool above the dam numerous times and years ago when I spent a lot of time and energy on dam removal issues, I dreamed of the day I could wade around in that area. I already know where I want to go.

In today’s Beacon News there is an article by Denise Linke (I’m assuming she’s related to Rob Linke). It’s about the possible removal of the North Aurora dam. If nothing screws up, it can happen in less than two years.

I’m speechless. I would like to see this happen without a single glitch.

Did you know that between the dam and the mouth of Mill Creek, on the west side, there are small limestone bluffs?

Like I said, I already know exactly where I want to go.

A couple of things I find disturbing about the article is that one North Aurora Village Trustee, Laura Curtis, cast the only dissenting vote. I’ve read other articles where she compares the North Aurora dam to the ones in Geneva and St. Charles. They built their downtowns around their dams, so they have some value, don’t they? She failed to mention that those downtown areas evolved around their dams over a period of over 100 years. In all the years that the North Aurora dam has been in place, the Village has done virtually nothing in the area.

You have Harner’s Bakery and Restaurant on one side (worth stopping there if you get a chance), and a dance studio and the police station on the island. That’s it. There’s nothing really to speak of radiating out from the dam. Old strip malls if you can call that a down town.

The other thing I find bothersome is the insistence of keeping the mill race. The article states that the whole project could be benched if the mill race can’t be preserved.

That I don’t understand at all. I’ve walked the whole length of the mill race numerous times. In the water. I like it because it behaves like a small creek for a relatively short length, the whole thing is not that long, and the fishing isn’t bad on a good day.

But if their reason for preserving it is because it may have some kind of historical significance, I just don’t see it. Again, for all the years the mill race has been there, the Village of North Aurora has done practically nothing with it.

One side can’t be accessed at all because of the handful of homes that line the shore. The island side that’s a park isn’t much better. Most of the shore is overgrown to the point of being nearly impenetrable. And if you could get through it, the bank is too steep to do anything with. My suspicious nature tells me there’s more to it than meets the eye. Has me wondering who lives in those handful of homes along one shore.

Hopefully the engineering studies will show that water will still flow through the mill race if the dam is removed. Over a dozen years ago when I was heavily involved with the dam removal studies and issues on the Fox River, I checked out the area where the mill race starts. There’s a good chance the water will still flow.

I hope so. I’d like to see that dam gone. It would be disappointing for something as insignificant as that mill race to end what could be a vast improvement of a nice sized stretch of the Fox River.

But then, who am I to talk. My own desire to see it gone is so I can go wading around in the river between where the dam currently sits and the mouth of Mill Creek.

Did I mention the small bluffs along the west shore?

Really would be nice to find out if the fishing is as good along there as I think it could be.

Doesn’t get any more self serving than that.

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Year in Review

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a year in review.

Years ago I ran a fishing guide service out on the Fox River and keeping excruciatingly detailed records, then summarizing them at the end of the year, was pretty much mandatory.

Have to prove your worth.

Now, record keeping is at best sporadic. Probably still better than most, but not like it used to be. If you ever played sports as a kid, keeping stats in your head for whatever game you played was easy. Granted, there was always that game where a brawl ensued because of conflicting stat keeping, but this is just fishing. I still get questioned, criticized is a better word, for the stat keeping in my head, but I have a pretty standard response for that.

Yeah, well, whatever. It’s just fishing.

In the last three years we had near record drought, near record flooding and last winter was one of the coldest on record. Of those three, I’d have to say that the cold had the biggest impact on the fishing. Fish can adjust to high and low water, but freeze everything over and eliminate the oxygen and the fish tend to suffer.

I think that’s what happened and why this was one of the worst years of fishing I’ve had since I started fishing the Fox River in 1996.

I only fish for smallmouth bass, I consider everything else bycatch. Some are entertaining to catch like the gills, crappie, white bass and even creek chubs. The rest are just kind of annoying with carp topping that list.

This year I probably got out fishing 75 times. The wife says more, but I no longer fish the colder months of the year, so I’m not sure. She might be right, but 75 still sounds like a good number to me.

The bulk of the fishing this year was on the Fox River and five of its creeks. I made one trip about 60 miles west to Franklin Creek. Tough access, beautiful surroundings and decent fishing for the second half of July on a creek. I would imagine May could be much better, fishing wise.

I also fish alone. I got out once with a friend in 2014. I tend to go fishing on a whim. If I don’t feel like it, I don’t go. If I decide to turn left at the river rather than the right I had originally planned, then I turn left. If the morning sucks, I go in the afternoon. Hard to make decisions on a whim when plans are made, so I avoid plans. You’ll see the end result of this solitary fishing in the pictures below. No hero shots with fish, no grinning fish holders, no monster bronze bombers, no pictures of me at all. Now and then I’ll do an arms length shot of a fish or a close up, but that’s pretty much it. The rest is just stuff I come across that interested me at the time.

I do a lot of short fishing trips now. An hour or two and at most I’ll go for five hours. Years ago I’d go over a 100 times a year with the average trip being five hours.

Things change.

This year I know I caught at least 400 smallmouth bass, that’s about when I quit paying attention. I know I caught more, but I also know it didn’t get close to the 500 mark. With that ability to keep stats in my head, I also know I had at least another 200 smallies on that I got to see, but they were smart enough to spit the hook before I got to touch them. I quit paying attention to those stats when I hit the 200 mark.

Then there’s that small percentage of bycatch. At least I’m saying it’s a small percentage because I really don’t know. A bunch of other fish might be a good way to say it.

So yes, I know some would argue, but this was a bad year. A bad year in the past was a little over 500 smallies caught in about the same time frame.

I’m blaming the winter we had.

In the past when I did a year in review this is where I would go on and on with theories, strategies, equipment and lures used, but those days are over and so is my interest in elaborating.

So far this winter has been relatively normal. That’s a good thing. If normal continues, by mid March the fish will start moving.

Patience is not a virtue I have, but mid March is only 10 weeks away.

Tick, tock, tick, tock…

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

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The Day Before the Gray Day

The day before the gray day, there was a glimmer of hope for a beautiful sunset.

Blue sky and lots of sunshine.

There was a slight haze creeping upward, thawing ground, some humidity.

Problem was, no clouds.

Sunsets need clouds. It’s what gives them color, shape and form. There was a hint of clouds on the horizon, but possibly just enough to make the sunset, nice. That was a nice sunset.

Without clouds it’s just a bright yellow / orange object in a sea of blue. Nice, but not what I want.

I killed some time, I always do. Waiting for the right time, the right light and that right moment when everything comes together.

As the sun lowered, the haze rose, the clouds crept eastward.

A short window of opportunity before the light changed.

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The haze was rising, on the horizon, thin clouds. Sunset color killers both.

The haze was rising, on the horizon, thin clouds. Sunset color killers both.

By now I knew the sunset was going to be, nice. I poked around, moved around, uninspiring at best.

While waiting, I kill some time by wandering the archery range. I always find at least one. Most of the time, you don't see this much of one sticking out of the ground.

While waiting, I kill some time by wandering the archery range. I always find at least one. Most of the time, you don’t see this much of one sticking out of the ground.

Little Dickie likes his selfies.

Little Dickie likes his selfies.

The moment came, I took a shot, then another.

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Then I left.

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Another Gray Day

As I walked out the door into still another gray day, I was beginning to wonder if I was imagining things.

Nope, I checked.

Every weekend since some time in September, when I have the time on the weekend to finally walk out the door to do some wandering around, if it was blue skies out they would soon be gone. The blue was rare enough, the days usually started out gray and stayed that way all day.

It’s getting harder to appreciate another gray day. I need sun, shadows, color, even the muted colors of winter.

Weekdays seem to be faring better, but who cares. I get to catch a glimpse of it as I walk past an office window. I always step outside on my lunch break and if I’m lucky I get a few sun rays, but by the time 4:30 rolls around, the sun is pretty much gone and if it was a blue sky kind of day, I wouldn’t know.

I hear they may finally abolish the archaic and inane daylight savings time next year. It was done away with in the late 70’s and brought back from the grave a few years later.

They should have left well enough alone.

In the mean time, another gray day.

I go for a walk. It doesn’t seem to last that long.

I take some pictures. They all look so flat.

Three more months of this.

This is not going to go well.

If there were trout in Illinois, which there isn't, they would live here.

If there were trout in Illinois, which there isn’t, they would live here.

It's a shame I can't hunt ducks here. It would be so easy.

It’s a shame I can’t hunt ducks here. It would be so easy.

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I can't remember a time when I didn't play around railroad tracks. Over a half century later, I see no point in changing now.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t play around railroad tracks. Over a half century later, I see no point in changing now.

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In mid April, I will stand in this very spot and I will catch a smallmouth bass out of that little pool.

In mid April, I will stand in this very spot and I will catch a smallmouth bass out of that little pool.

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A Hunting I Will Go

I don’t do it as much as I used to, but this coming Wednesday a hunting I will go.

A decade and more ago I used to go pheasant hunting fairly often. I’ve been to a number of the places around here that offer controlled pheasant hunts. Been to a couple of hunt clubs and have had the opportunity to do a few of the free upland game hunts on property that is set aside for that purpose.

In the last 9 years I think I’ve gone pheasant hunting 3 times. Two of those were on what are called cleanup days. You get to go for free on a few days after the season ends, but your chances of getting birds without a dog are next to nil.

This is controlled pheasant hunting. Birds are released the morning of the hunt. Not ideal, but around here you take what you can get.

Years ago I would go by myself on weekdays when everyone else had to work. Though I’ve never had a dog to hunt with, I never went home without a bird. I’m persistent and like I do with my fishing, I learn the nature of the beast. Where they lie, how and why they fly, what makes them jumpy and it seems to work.

One of the reasons I haven’t gone much in years is the cost. I had no choice but to go into austerity mode financially and my conscience won’t allow me to spend money frivolously when there are bills to be paid.

Though things aren’t great financially at the moment, they’re the best they’ve been in the past five years. To the point where I check my account and, well hell, look at that, a few extra bucks.

I have one vacation day left this year and had no clue what I was going to do with it. I still can’t get used to taking days off of work and they actually pay me to go away. My boss finds it humorous.

I decided to use that last vacation day to go pheasant hunting, but now there was the cost. Once you’re in austerity mode it’s a flat out bitch to think outside of it. I agonized for a week on whether to spend the few bucks it would take for the opportunity to try to shoot a few birds.

My wife finally chimed in…

“Will you just fucking go, you know you want to.”

That snapped me out of it, for the most part.

So Wednesday, the day has been taken off, I paid enough for the possibility of three birds and a hunting I will go.

I know the place where I’ll be going well. I spend a lot of time there wandering around. I know where the birds congregate, where the other hunters push them, I know which way the wind will be blowing that day and I know how to take advantage of how others around me are hunting.

Last week after shooting time ended I went for a walk at the state park. I hiked along a trail to a stretch I always thought looked birdie. I walked in noisily for about 20 feet, then stopped and didn’t make a sound.

A few seconds later a rooster blew up not twenty feet from me.

I could have hit it with a rock.

I still had the touch.

Now I have a decision to make. Do I use the 80 plus year old 12 gauge, no name, single shot, pipe on a stick that is deadly accurate and hurts like hell when you pull the trigger.

Or do I use the Remington Wingmaster Model 870 twenty gauge pump that’s an absolute joy to shoot.

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I think I’ll bring both. I plan on being out there for quite some time since I have the time. Use one for part of the day, then switch.

I’m confident my shooting skills are still up to par.

We shall see.

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