Tag Archives: smallmouth bass

April 1st – Smallmouth Bass – Catch and Release

Don’t forget, April 1st marks the start of the catch and release ONLY period for smallmouth bass here in Illinois.

This runs till June 15th.

I think the law makes no sense.

I’m not convinced it’s being done based on science, but to placate small groups of smallmouth bass fishermen.

On the Fox River there used to be a stretch that was strictly catch and release only.

I was told by a fisheries biologist that they were finding more bigger smallmouth bass outside of the catch and release zone than in it.

The regulation was dropped years ago.

On the Fox, you’re allowed one smallie 12 inches or over and two under 12 inches.

I may have to get out every day for the rest of this week and stock up.

The hard part will be catching those dinks this time of year.

I’ll have to put in some hours.

M M M M M, smallmouth bass, it’s what’s for dinner.

The Smallmouth Brook Trout Bass

As far as I can tell, the rivers and streams where trout live flow through all of the states in the U.S. except for Illinois.

Which is where I live.

There are plenty of fish here in our rivers and streams and I’ve selected to focus primarily on the smallmouth bass. This fish lives in waters that easily rival anything I see in photographs of where trout live, with the exception of any state with snow capped mountains looming in the background of a photo. Other than that, the many rivers and especially small creeks that I like to fish can easily have you believe that you are anywhere but the Prairie State.

That nickname alone conjures up images of slow, sluggish, brackish waters that barely flow through endless fields, generally made up of corn and soybean crops. And yet we have plenty of small rivers and creeks that are far from that description. The Apple River comes to mind with its massive bluffs that border one side of the river.

The Mazon River also comes to mind. This river cuts through ancient stone left behind after one of the ice ages. When you tire of fishing, you can always comb its river bed for fossils.

Those two rivers alone will have you wondering if you really are in Illinois and wondering if in fact there might be trout about. They easily fit the image of the places where trout live, but you’ll have to settle for smallmouth bass.

The one disturbing factor, to me anyway, is now that I’m fishing for smallies, apparently I have to be fishing for bronze bombers, hawgs, pigs or whatever pet name has been attributed to this fish.

It doesn’t matter that the one pictured above was caught far up a spring fed creek in mid March. A creek that is always cool in the summer and never freezes over completely during the winter months. The smallies have to be monsters. Reporting on anything shy of that is a call to be blasted by other bass anglers. It also doesn’t matter that I’ve caught my fair share of these pig smallies.

I apparently fail on two accounts. First, I no longer measure my fish. I give a best guess rounded to the nearest inch of what I think might be the length of the fish. Second, I also never weigh fish.

This opens me up immediately to the “my penis is greater than yours in girth and length” crowd who come crawling out of the woodwork to lambast my meager estimates of the fish I catch. Apparently I’m supposed to be measuring every fish that might look like a hawg and this measurement has to be within 1/32 of an inch. My way of rounding things off to the nearest inch is met with ridicule. Apparently I’m also supposed to walk around with a certified scale to weigh the fish so that I come up with a number like 3.8263 pounds. I’ve been cajoled into making a best guess of a weight…c’mon, what do you think it was? Two pounds? Three pounds? Four pounds? It looks like two and three quarter pounds to me from your photo.

Okay.

Usually, soon after putting up a fishing report where I say I caught a smallie that I thought might have been pushing the 19 inch mark, reports will appear where bronze bombers were caught and measured at 19 and 3/8 inches.

I didn’t know that I had unknowingly entered some kind of strange fishing pissing match. I don’t enter competitions of any kind ever.

Since I have a very minimalistic approach to fishing with a relatively light rod and small lures, that’s generally the next aspect of my fishing that’s attacked. In order to effectively fish for these river monsters, so I’ve been told, I should be using a rod that’s just shy of a broom stick and ripping baits through the water that weigh in at a half ounce or more. My technique of letting small baits hang in the water column in likely fish holding spots isn’t supposed to work very well for these denizens of the deep.

My explanations that I don’t care about fish size and weight fall on deaf ears. It doesn’t matter how much I explain that I’m not out there fishing for those reasons, the big fish are a nice surprise but not the goal. I go to fish and I don’t care what winds up on the end of my line and in my hand.

I tend to read a lot about trout fishing. It seems like that’s what I have to do in order to get away from the more mechanized way bass anglers tend to write with their obsessions over weights and measures. I immerse myself in the words of trout anglers that conjure up pictures in my head of their surroundings. Trout anglers that wander up secluded tree lined narrow streams and brooks. Still others that hike up mountain paths to hidden lakes at what seem like impossible heights, and they take pictures of the little fish they catch and make no apologies for their images.

Illinois Wisconsin Fishing

Fly Fish SC

Backwater Angler

Small Stream Reflections

Mysteries Internal

And yet I go out on a recent January day and catch a few fish. The smallest, daintiest of smallmouth bass that you can possibly catch on a hook.

Their colors rival that of any trout, in my eyes, and they have such exquisite details to match.

And yet I have to be immediately told that if I were doing this or doing that I would have caught those monster bronze bombers and my posts and pictures are such a waste since nobody but you will actually admit to targeting dinks when real fishermen want to hear about and catch blah, blah, blah.

So I’ve decided to solve my own little problem by taking matters into my own hands, to perform a little science experiment. I’m going to breed a whole new species of fish which I’ll be calling the Smallmouth Brook Trout Bass. If everything goes as planned, it should wind up looking something like this:

The majority of the coloration will come from a brook trout. The shape will generally be that of a smallmouth bass. Both of these fish have the capabilities of becoming a decent sized fish. They’ll also, hopefully, be able to survive in their individual normal habitats, from cool mountain streams to the warmer rivers and creeks.

Hopefully, someday I’ll be able to go out with my light gear and not give another thought to fish size and weight. Someday I’ll be able to bring a fish to hand and admire not only it’s fighting ability, but the stunning beauty of its coloration…

Fischen Scheiße Nebenfluss

At least that’s how a website translated the title into German. I have no clue if it’s correct, but I like the way it sounds.

The majority of the day was spent meeting deadlines. Hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait. Me working from home and them sitting at the corporate headquarters of a major company in some northern Illinois suburb.

I knew we’d be done by 3 PM. It was the Friday before a holiday weekend. Nobody that works for a major corporation would stay till the end of the day right before a 3 day weekend. If they had bothered working at all.

Sure enough, at 3 PM we were done, bye, have a great weekend.

May as well go fishing now.

The rain of the past couple of days was substantial. My preference was to go fish a creek, but I already knew they were all blown out. I went out of my way to verify this while on my way to a Fox River high water spot. Sure enough, high, fast, muddy and not even worth going near. I had no choice but to employ high water fishing techniques on the river, which I’ve come to despise.

High water fishing reminds me of bank angling. Can’t stand doing that. I feel like an idiot standing on shore and fishing. Luckily I know the areas I fish well enough that I can still walk around in the water a bit even when it’s high. Up to a point. One incident of almost getting sucked under a log jam has me a bit leery, so now I keep a respectful distance from log jams.

Easy enough though, cast out to current seams, bring your lure in keeping it tight to shore (at your feet) and wait for a hit. Watched the first fish of the day hit a couple of times before I was able to hook it. I offered it up to the fishing gods, but they said it was too small.

Not for me.

The next one was a little better. The gods were pleased and spirited it away.

I wound up catching a half dozen of them. This time of year between the spawn and some pretty aggressive eating habits, the fish can start to look pretty beat up. Every one of them had something going on with their heads. Scratches, raw open wounds and most had fins that looked like they had been chewed on.

There was one stretch where I wasn’t comfortable being in the water. When that happens and I wind up on shore, I get easily distracted by my surroundings and go wandering off to find things to photograph, interesting or not.

I thought they were interesting at the time.

Then I would go back to fishing. In case you never noticed, in the pictures I take I try to show the cover or structure where the fish hit. I think this one is pretty obvious.

I’ve noticed that the big floodplain along this stretch is getting used more. So far the trash that comes along with use, especially the mountains of beer cans, has been concentrated in one area. But off in the woods someone is doing some exploring. Or just bored. Or building themselves someplace to live. I’ve built bonfires out of railroad ties that were bigger than this.

Eventually I got bored with the fishing and wandered around the floodplain. Sections of it were covered in phlox. Pretty much the last of the wild flowers that I could find. I could smell them before I could see them.

There were a few other flowering bushes in the area and it smelled like perfume in the air. At the house my ex now owns and my kids get to enjoy, I landscaped all around the house to take advantage of this spring perfume. Outside the kitchen window I planted a lilac bush. Under other windows I planted a variety of wild flowers, phlox being the most predominant. It’s scent seems to carry the furthest. In the spring, the house would smell wonderful.

I was going to hit another high water spot on the way home where I’ve been having a fair amount of success, but decided to just go home instead. Saturday will be another day. The creeks will be blown out, the river will be high. I’ll need to go out fishing, but I can’t do that again.

Instead I’ve decided to test my limits. I’ll be heading to a crystal clear lake that gets a tremendous amount of fishing pressure. I’ll walk the shores and fish, and I’ll catch fish. I know I will.

Maybe I’ll bring a lawn chair. A six pack of cheap beer. Throw the cans around when I’m done. Leave a worm container laying on the ground when I leave. A massive tangle of fishing line or two.

Nah, I’d have to have a lobotomy in order to behave like that.

But it will be a nice test. I know I’ll catch fish and then I won’t do it again till next spring.

Fishing like that once a year is more than enough.

More than that would require a lobotomy.

Creek Hopping

The past weekends rains must have been pretty localized. They had no effect on the Fox River and it continues to come down to something that can be waded, almost. But this is the time of year I like to spend wandering the creeks. I decided to do some creek hopping and headed west from my house late afternoon Tuesday.

The first creek I crossed was in good shape. A little high, but it’s clarity was perfect. The next creek I crossed looked a little high and definitely off color. That wasn’t a good sign. When I got to the creek I wanted to fish, it was a disaster, high and muddy. I headed back to the good looking creek, disappointed to be wasting time. Who knew two small watersheds would take the brunt of the weekend rains?

I hiked a half mile up stream through the woods. There were no cars in the area where I parked, so I knew I would have the creek to myself. As I approached the spot where I usually hop in, there was a kid around 12 years old bent over, fussing with a metal stringer. He was trying to put a fish on it. I noticed the smallmouth bass.

I hesitated in saying anything. I detest the law that says catch and release only on smallmouth bass for this time of year. From what I know, it’s based on sentiment and not science. The Fox River used to have a section that was catch and release on smallies year round. It was done away with years ago. A fisheries biologist told me they were finding more bigger smallies outside of the catch and release zone than in it. The catch and release zone no longer made any sense. I think the same could be said for this sentimental short catch and release time frame.

Before the kid got the smallie on the stringer, I spoke up.

“You can’t keep that.”

“Why not?”

“They’re catch and release only this time of year.” Luckily he didn’t ask why.

“Oh. I was hoping to take it home for dinner with my dad.”

I felt like an idiot for speaking up. “They’re good eating, aren’t they?”

He nodded in agreement and let the fish go.

I gave him the dates for the catch and release period. I was still glad he never asked why.

I wandered down stream to let him have a good section of the creek to himself. I was impressed he came down here all alone. He was pretty far from just about everything. It was a stunningly beautiful day and he was fishing rather than texting or playing video games. I wondered if he spent time in his head making up stories. That might be an old man’s game.

A huge tree that had been laying across the creek for a few years was gone. In over a half mile of hiking down the creek, I never did find it. I knew that it had created a scour hole in the time it had spent in the creek. I stopped in the fastest of the knee deep water and let a jig and twister swim around in front of me. I was trying to get it down into the wide scour hole. The hit came and a smallie was hooked.

When I lipped it, I turned around. The kid was watching me. I held up the fish. He gave me a thumbs up. I guess I’m cool.

I stood there swimming the jig back and forth, up and down, trying to cover as much of the hole as possible. Wound up with 6 hits and 3 smallies hooked.

When I finally walked through the hole, it was nearly waist deep. The water was also cold. I could tell by the amount of shrinkage that immediately occurred when the water went past the crotch leak.

I kept wandering down stream fishing the same type of water with the same end results all the way down the creek.

It had been almost a year since my last visit here and the creek had changed.

Besides the missing tree, the creek bottom had moved around. Areas where I normally could walk through and barely get my knees wet were now impassable and I was having problems negotiating a way around them.

A pile of small trees completely changed the flow in one small stretch. I gave up trying to get around it completely and hopped up on shore. The brush was dense and a bitch to get through, but it beat getting swept under a pile of trees.

As I walked along the shore I thought I was smelling perfume. A field of pink flowers covered the forest floor.

I used to know what these flowers are, but now I lump all spring flowers into the category of wild flowers. Those things that come up while the sun can still make it down to the ground. A couple of more weeks and the canopy will be so thick that the flowers will all die off.

Bridges of trees blocked the way.

Once upon a time I would have tried walking across, but I think those days are over. No point in tempting the water gods to screw with me.

Pool, fish, pool, fish, it became a rhythm.

Wildlife on and around the water. Bright blues skies and stunningly green shores all made for a nice walk down a creek.

Catching 10 or more smallies, I lost count, in the few hours spent here were an extra added bonus.

Ended the day in a long slow pool that leads to an old railroad bridge. It’s massive arch stands sentinel over the creek.

I never have waded past that bridge. More fish caught in this slow pool.

A young couple with rods in hand appeared. I was impressed again that a couple so young would come down here to fish. I stopped, hopped on shore and gave them the pool.

No point being greedy, I caught enough.

On the short hike back to the car, I kept thinking about that kid and his stringer and his smallmouth bass.

I should have kept my mouth shut.