Apparently my intolerance for cold is long standing. I remember hating it as a kid. December of 2001, I wrote this in a post:
In my nightmares, hell has 3 feet of snow on the ground, steady 40 mile an hour winds and icicles hanging down from the ceiling.
A normal winter has usually dumped a good foot of snow on the area by the last day of the year. Many of the ponds are frozen solid by then and it’s not unusual to see a lone figure sitting out on an overturned five gallon bucket, staring down into a little hole drilled into the ice.
Going down to the Fox River can be disconcerting. You know it’s a river and it’s supposed to be flowing, but it can be locked with ice for as far as you can see.
My brain takes awhile to process a stationary river. I know it’s flowing, it has to be. I can feel my body making an involuntary pushing motion, like I’m trying to help it along with what it’s supposed to be doing. But all my shifting and shrugging and hand movements pushing downstream do nothing to move the solid ice along. I resign myself to the fact that this is what the river will look like for awhile.
There are a half dozen creeks that feed the Fox River within 15 minutes of my house, two of which never freeze during the winter.
I already knew they were spring fed when I went from the river to the creek on the first day of September a few years ago. The river water was reading 80 degrees while the creek only made it to 60 degrees.
I would prefer to fish nothing but creeks and only periodically fish the river, but the amount of time I spend fishing would devastate a creek. Not because I would keep any fish, the fish would get trained and shut down.
From what I can tell, the creeks average about 20 feet in width. There will be a few pools that widen up even more and get fairly deep, but the bulk of the creeks are made up of narrow shallow riffles broken occasionally by waist deep pools . They couldn’t handle too many people wandering around in them fishing. The fish would quickly run out of places to hide and simply leave, head back down to the river.
The final month of 2011 wasn’t really all that bad. One of the warmest Decembers on record. According to my records, I hadn’t been out fishing since November 15th. To go that long without fishing is very rare. I need to disappear on long stretches of moving water to quiet the conversations and images running around inside my brain. Moving water seems to be the only way I get those things organized and can start making sense of them. I think it’s the soothing sound of water over rock that does it for me. Must do something to my brain wave patterns. I should suggest that as study to see if I’m imagining it or not.
Since I always look at long range weather forecasts, I had decided 10 days earlier that I would go fish a creek on the last day of the year. On the last day of the year I stepped outside to be greeted with overcast skies and an air temp that couldn’t be more than 40. I went online and looked up the weather. It still said it was sunny and 47 degrees, it had been saying that for 10 days.
One of us got it wrong.
The plan was to fish a pool nine miles up a creek. The pool is almost 100 feet long and I think the depth is somewhere around the eight foot mark.
This shot doesn't do this pool justice. I'll have to try it again over the winter from a higher vantage point.
I had caught smallies here into November and in the first week of March 2011, I had landed a respectable 18 inch smallie. These fish, in theory, shouldn’t even be here at those times of the year. They should have made a mad dash to the river to find suitable wintering holes. But this little creek also has more creek chubs and river shiners than any other of the Fox creeks I’ve fished. If I were a smallie, I wouldn’t leave.
I expected to have the whole place to myself. It’s rare that I run into anyone, even on the nicest of days. A couple of bikers came by as I was suiting up. Found out they were taking a New Year’s Eve cruise through the back roads of the county. Of course the conversation focused on fishing. I surprised myself at the amount of detail I gave them. I knew they would never be back. In the 5 years I’ve been fishing here I’ve only come across one other set of foot prints down on the creek bed.
I did issue them a fair warning. This time of year it’s relatively easy to wander through the woods. Come mid summer, things are drastically different. Sometimes you have to crawl like a penitent begging for salvation. And just like salvation, you won’t know if you’ll receive it once you arrive until the very last moment, that moment when you make your first cast.
Just this past summer I wanted to fish a little bit longer stretch of this creek. Since I wade, cast and fish downstream, it requires that I hike upstream on shore as far as possible. The first three quarters of a mile were tough, but not unusual. I wanted to go another quarter mile.
One hundred yards into the dense brush I found myself lying on the ground. The animal path had degenerated into being useful only for things that stood about 18 inches high.
I could feel the throbbing pain of a thorn that had punctured my waders and embedded itself into my thigh. I held up my arms, the long red scratches felt like they were on fire. I could feel the same thing across my forehead. I eventually made it that extra quarter of a mile, but I paid for it dearly.
Maybe I didn’t mention that to the bikers. Oh well, they’ll figure it out.
I prefer the creek, any creek really, in the spring through fall. My eyes need the color from the surrounding woods. Winter just isn’t the same. The starkness of the creek and the trees along the shore does brings out the structure of The Church of the Holy Fish though. I just have to get used to it’s winter cathedral.
Luckily there was some color to be had. Some lichens and mosses were clinging to deadfalls.
You really had to look and it was a pleasure to find, but soon this too will take on the the brown gray drabness of it’s surroundings.
The pool itself has been slowly changing over the last 5 years. A couple of massive downfalls on the opposite shore had disappeared last year. A mile long search down stream never showed any sign of them. Still more massive logs appeared on the near shore. All of this was affecting the swirl of the pool. A long narrow sand bar was slowly being created that jutted out into the middle of the pool. It was still under water by a couple of feet and I have a feeling the yearly floods will keep it that way.
I scaled down my lure choice to something a creek chub might eat. My goal was to catch a small one then use it for bait in the deep pool. The chubs were uncooperative so I stuck with the small lure and swam it painfully slow through long stretches of the hole.
I learned in past winter fishing outings that live bait is a good choice, but you have to fish everything slow. With an oversized minnow on the end of a hook, you’ll eventually feel an initial tap. If you set the hook then all you’ll get back is a minnow with most of its scales missing or just it’s head. You have to hold still and wait for that second tap.
With artificials you don’t wait after the initial tap, you tap back immediately. And if everything goes right, you get to land a perfect little 14 inch smallie hooked right in the top lip.
The coloring on this fish was unusual for a smallie. Usually out of clear water their vertical bars distinctly stand out. But they are also like chameleons in how they change their colors to fit their surroundings. This one was taken off the leading edge of the sandbar and it matched the color of the sandbar perfectly.
The smallie was eye balling me intently, these fish always do that. It will creep you out if you project intelligence onto fish. What are they looking at?
I fished till the cold of the water penetrated the layers of socks protecting my feet. Then stayed for just a handful more casts. I had got what I wanted, but I was reluctant to leave. I never get enough of what it is I need.
Back at the car still another visitor showed. It drives my wife nuts, but I have this ability to start conversations with just about anyone. As much as I detest the group mentality of most of humanity, I can’t seem to help myself in bringing people out of themselves.
Somehow us standing in the parking lot on the edge of the woods got us to talking about more personal matters. Which got us to talking about the mental health benefits of being in the woods, the beneficial aspects of being around all those negative ions coming off water. This of course segued into talking about fly fishing for creek chubs and smallies. Which of course led to the appropriate casts to use for such tight quarters.
And don’t forget the flies to use.
Which of course led to giving him all the best ways to get down into this creek, which he promised he would do come spring. I hope so, but I’ve heard that before.
I could hear my wife sighing and a repeat of a conversation.
“How do you get total strangers to tell you their life stories and why do you do that?”
“I don’t know, I can sense that they need something, need to get something off their chest. I just ask a couple of questions.”
“Yeah, but you take it all in like you’re their best friend on earth at that moment. Did it ever occur to you that’s why you can’t sleep at night?”
“I’ve thought of that, but I bet they went home feeling better.”
“But how about you?”
“I’m fine, I have my creeks. That’s where I go to unload.”