Tag Archives: wading

smile for the camera

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

Lost up the Creeks

Since the last week of March I’ve been spending the bulk of my fishing time getting lost up the creeks that feed the Fox River.

I don’t keep detailed fishing records like I did over a decade ago. For the past few years I barely wrote any totals down at all. This year, since I’m trying to send Dale Bowman a fishing report every week, I’ve been putting most of my results up on Facebook. On my personal page I only have 45 friends, I eliminated about 100 others over the past year. Of those 45 only six fish. Of those six, maybe two will get out to the places I fish, but even that I doubt. I already know nobody reads anything I send to Dale, tested that over the past year.

So, all that wonderful information being read by maybe 10 fishermen total did exactly what I planned.

I run into virtually no one out there and it’s extremely rare that I see another set of foot prints where I go.

Best I can tell is that I started fishing this year toward the end of March and have got out on average three times a week. Lately 4, sometimes 5, but we’ll stick with a 3 average. That makes approximately 33 fishing trips which I know is on the low side.

I didn’t bother writing some of it down, but I know I’ve been on the Fox a half dozen times and the rest have all been spread across 5 different creeks. The totals so far this year show 273 fish caught, 98 percent of those are all smallies. I hooked but blew the landing on another 198.

Those numbers do show that I suck at setting the hook.

Treble hooks on some hard lure would probably fix that, but they destroy the mouths on fish and I don’t think I’ve used treble hooks in well over a dozen years because of that. Single hooks on a jig is all I ever use. I catch smallies all the time that have severely damaged mouths from treble hooks. It’s very apparent that the average angler pretty much sucks at extracting treble hooks from the mouth of a fish. One of the other things I don’t like about them is how a smallie will take the front hook, thrash around and get a back hook jammed into it’s gill plate. You’ll see the result of that in the pictures below.

Impressive numbers overall perhaps until I compare it to previous years, at least what my memory allows. This has been the slowest spring of the past three. I did much better the last few years. Last year alone in this same time frame I hit the same amount of water. I only bothered counting the fish caught on one creek and the rest I didn’t bother with, but I remember doing well.

On the one creek alone that I tracked my caught/miss ratio last year, by now I had stopped counting at 300 caught and another 200 that I blew the hook set on.

That was on one creek.

So, what’s this mean? Brutal winter, delayed spring, less than usual rain keeping the fish from running up the creek. I know nowhere near as many carp and suckers came up the creeks, they never materialized like years past. Who knows, rivers and creeks are too hard to judge. Moving water will screw up theories quickly.

I guess I’ve had a good start to the year and should shut up and be happy with what I’ve caught so far, but the half of my brain that is always asking questions is badgering me for answers as to why. Why are things different this year?

No wonder I don’t sleep much.

I recently went through all the photos I’ve taken since the end of March. I haven’t felt much like dealing with them so far. The ones I liked are all below.

Unless I get distracted by fishing, watching the garden grow or sitting and staring off into space, maybe I’ll put another post up in July.

Based on the lip damage this smallie had, I’m certain the gill damage was done by some kind of stick bait with multiple treble hooks.

I thought there were five.

Two weeks later, over a quarter of a mile inland, same fish.

Why there are never any shore fishermen around here.

A gratuitous wild asparagus hunting shot.

This spot on this creek has changed dramatically over the past dozen years. This used to be a braided shallow set of riffles.

I missed the more impressive flower show that goes on here.

Church of the Holy Fish

It was mating with a much bigger one, but the big one got camera shy.

The hike through the woods to fishing spots are always hard, but sometimes I get a bit of a break.

One of the few trips to the Fox was met by a massive bug hatch.

I only find them on the edge of the water lines. Makes me wonder if the bulbs are washing out of yards further upstream.

My Little Dickie is insisting on getting aired out more often this year.

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A Walk in the River

A walk in the river is all I expected. After a few weeks of casting practice in sterile creeks I gave up and hit the Fox River. Levels were abnormally low for spring, perfect wading conditions instead of nearing flood stage.

As I stepped into the river I parted a massive school of bait fish. This told me where to cast when I got around to it. On the opposite side of the river the gravel bars on the upstream side of the islands glowed white. Can’t recall ever seeing that before.

With the winter we had I hear a massive amount of salt was dumped on roads. Along the river it eventually has to wind up in the river. Up close, it sure looked like salt crust. And yes, the next two shots are in color.

I’m used to seeing water lines on rocks with the rock beneath the line a lighter color from being washed by the river. But I’ve never seen this.

If it is salt deposits, I wonder if it will have any affect on the fish. Two fish caught and three fish missed later, I would have to say no so far. They were all hanging around the rocks along with a bunch of jumping carp. Where there’s carp there’s smallies. Maybe they like salt.

Paired up geese were everywhere. The smart ones were already nesting on the islands. Smart move. Fewer ground dwelling predators.

The ones nesting on shore are already regretting that decision.

A mini waterfall was explored. No matter how dry it gets, this always has flowing water. I’ve known of it for 15 years now. I have never looked for it’s source.

The walk was made that much more brutal by the constant rush of wind. I heard later it was over 20 mph with gusts up to 40.

But it’s not so bad inside a duck blind, blocking the wind and a long bench to stretch a back on.

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Last Fishing Trip of the Year

Got out Sunday morning for what will probably be my last fishing trip of the year.

Well, maybe, but all indications are that it will be my last.

The first indication was the night before. I’m still down my car and I didn’t bother loading up the wife’s car with my fishing gear. Very unlike me when I know I’m going to go out fishing. I must have still been thinking about it.

Sunday morning I open an eye, reach over to the clock on the night stand and turn it around toward me, 5:42. I turned it’s hideously glowing red numbers away from me.

What seemed like a few minutes later the wife stirs and gets out of bed.

What the hell ya doin’?

“I gotta pee like a race horse, I’m surprised you’re not out fishing.”

I’m thinkin’ about it.

I reach out and turn the clock toward me, 6:45. I’m obviously sleeping like shit. Maybe I should go fishing.

Somewhere between 2000 and 2005 I fished the Fox River every month of the year determined to catch a smallie each month for as long as possible. Eight months out of the year that’s an easy task. Come January, not so much. One January I almost got skunked, but managed to catch one on the very last day of the month. After four and a half years of doing this, I gave up. I had made my point and proven I could do it, no point beating a dead horse.

I got out of bed and got the coffee going. I could tell by how I was moving that I didn’t care about getting out one way or the other. I knew it was around 26 degrees out there, but it had been in the 50’s on Saturday and it was going to be in the 50’s again today. Maybe there was a creature a stirrin’ out there.

But I was still dawdling.

By the time I got the car loaded up, out to the fishing spot, suited up and in the water it was 8 AM. That all took about 45 minutes longer than it usually did. The picture at the top shows what I was up against. The river was already getting it’s winter level and clarity and it wouldn’t be long before that sun was on the water and the fishing would go to hell in a handbasket.

In a short time I did manage to catch five smallies.

I also foul hooked a couple of carp and one shad. The rolling of lure over carp was endless. In with the countless carp I got two hard, powerful hits and brief fights with heavy fish, but landing them never worked out.

On my way down the river channel three deer on the opposite island decided I was a spectator sport and stood and watched for awhile. I never did find out if the deer on the islands can be hunted. A brother-in-law wants to give this a try too. What makes it so intriguing is that these deer must never see humans come out to their little homes. When I was done fishing for the day I cut across the island and walked right up on the three deer. Every time I do this on every island I cross, the deer just stand there and watch me. I couldn’t get a good shot of the deer, the brush was too thick and the camera wouldn’t focus, but they let me walk within 50 feet of them before they decided to turn and walk away. They don’t even bother running.

Back at home I spent some time winterizing the house. By 1:30 I was done. Sitting down for a few minutes didn’t work. I could feel that flushed feeling coming over me. Crap sleep, cold air, a long walk in cold water apparently wore me out.

It was take a nap or go for a walk.

I opted for the walk.

Came across this little guy, barely six inches long, sitting in the middle of the trail.

He had a little cut in one side, probably from one of the other many hikers using the trail that thought he was just a stick. He was very happy to be relocated to the leaves and quickly disappeared beneath them.

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It was Convenient

There are times my decision on where to fish is based on no more than it was convenient.

No endless fishing theories, nothing to do with the time of year, water levels don’t matter. I was there and so was some form of moving water, be it river or creek. I have an hour, I’ll go fish it.

This started on Wednesday evening when I got near home in near record time. I found myself a couple of blocks from a parking spot that was a couple of hundred feet from the creek. May as well unwind a bit.

Stupid is what stupid does. I’ll never understand the need to destroy public property.

The creek was low and crystal clear. Because of this, I took off my usual small lure and put on something even smaller. The shallows were filled with minnows. (I like how we call these little things minnows when in reality the majority of us don’t have a clue what they are. They could be small walleye for all I know, but they’re small, so they’re minnows).

In six inches of water were huge schools of smallies no more than 4 inches long. Even at that small size it’s hard not to recognize what they are. In the still deeper water, deep being relative, were carp, suckers, disinterested smallies and a variety of panfish. I was able to get three smallies to pick up the lure, but they were noncommittal. Setting the hook simply pulled the lure from their mouth.

For most of the time I entertained myself with the incessant tap, tap, tapping of little fish on a little lure, but I did coax a couple of foot long smallies and a handful of green sunfish to somehow hook themselves. It was no real effort on my part, just let them pull back rather than me pulling on them.

For fall, it wasn’t acting like fall. Near record heat in the 80’s had me sweating profusely, not much in the way of color changing on the trees.

The water was the give away. This was fall water with it’s depth and clearness. The fish were also the give away to fall. Small, shallow, clear water overrun with little fish. For those in need of hawgs, monsters and brutes, creeks in fall are not the location of choice.

Back at the parking lot a young guy was calling it quits on the pond. He asked about the creek. Though he’s fished the pond quite a bit, it never dawned on him to fish the creek. I gave him a quick synopsis of how my year on the creek has gone and finished it with… you need to get some waders.

“Yeah, I think so.”

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Saturday found me in Chicago in the neighborhood where I grew up, though I hesitate to use the phrase grew up.

I hate Chicago. Too many people, too many cars, houses too close together… it all makes me extremely tense and anxious. After spending most of the day moving furniture around and making a bigger mess of my back, I had to go unwind. So off to the creek again. I had a good hour and it was on the other side of the river, five minutes away.

I hit a different stretch this time. Wanted to see how it looked and if the rain we got on Thursday had improved the flow at all. The creek looked good and though still low, was better than on Wednesday. I kept the small lure on and immediately started getting hard hits. Problem was, they kept throwing the lure. I was reluctant to switch to something bigger. I knew I was going to be tying into primarily little fish. I decided to put up with missing the fish. I did wind up with 15 fish for that last hour of light, but only eight fish landed. An odd mix of fish with smallies, largemouth, crappie and a big hybrid looking sunfish that looked like a cross between a bluegill and a redear sunfish.

Minnows again were everywhere. Schools of small smallies everywhere. Uninterested smallies cruising around. At the mouth of the creek I ran into a couple of other anglers that came up into the creek throwing crankbaits. I tried to convince them that was not a good idea in water mostly less then 2 feet deep and crystal clear, but what do I know. Though they saw me catch a couple of fish they did nothing to change what they were doing.

Talked to one of them about the muskie that used to live here and how he used to catch quite a few of them. The conversation centered around how the creek has changed due to the floods and that all the holes where the muskie once lived were now gone. Knowing this did nothing in changing his lure choices. I gave up and politely bid him farewell.

I have quite a few pictures I’ve collected over the past few months further documenting how the creek was changed after the old dam was removed. I’ve been remiss on keeping up on updates, but the changes have been so subtle that I’ve been collecting the info with the intention of summarizing it all later. If I get to it.

Even since my last visit here a couple of months ago, some things were changed. Fixed I guess you could call it. Because of how the dam was removed with the flow being diverted back and forth and then a major flood at the end of March, a big gravel bar had formed along one side of the creek. This had narrowed the creek in a small stretch to barely ten feet wide.

The gravel bar was now gone and the shore had been planted with grasses.

Have to admit this was a vast improvement. Even a major flood event shouldn’t bring the gravel bar back, the upstream stretches appear to be pretty stable now and though rock and sand are always moving, it shouldn’t pile up like that again.

Back at the car there was a pickup truck parked next to my car. There’s only enough room for two. He was a hunter finishing up his day. I had forgot deer season had already started and he had got himself a couple of does. This started a conversation about property along the creek, who owned it, what the chances were of getting permission to hunt, other locations nearby where deer lived, what the chances of getting permission for hunting those areas were and who we knew and of course, venison recipes.

The road in to the hunting grounds.

A thoroughly enjoyable conversation indeed.

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By the end of the day Saturday my back was feeling the repercussions from moving furniture around most of the day. I’m certain that one hour of fishing had nothing to do with it. The wife didn’t insist that I have someone go along this time, she simply said… please go somewhere where someone can find you.

That request, which I was obligated to honor, totally screwed up my plans. But again, she was probably right. My plan was to go to a very remote stretch where finding me would be difficult, but the fishing had the potential for being a fifty fish day.

I hate being honorable.

Unlike the previous week when there was virtually no wildlife moving around at dawn, wildlife was everywhere Sunday morning. The final stretch of road to the parking lot had robins feasting on all the crushed acorns. I nearly ran over a couple of rabbits. By the time I made it to the put in spot and the sky was lighter, there were ducks and geese all over the river and flying around. Blue and white herons, red tail hawks, turkey vultures, swallows, woodpeckers, squirrels and there was even a small bug hatch coming off the river.

To the east the clouds were thick while to the west, nothing but blue sky, the distinct line of the cold front that was coming through. The threat of rain and thunderstorms that were supposed to inundate the area for the past 24 hours had never materialized. The river was in perfect shape. The rain we got on Thursday had spiked the river up from 500 cfs to 800 and then back down to 500 again, all in about a 12 hour period. This usually turns the fish on and pushes them toward shore.

For the first hour the fishing couldn’t have been much better with 12 fish on, but only 5 landed. One cast got me the tell tale bulge of a following fish, but then the bulge disappeared with no hit on the lure. A few casts later from a different angle, there was the bulge again and just a slight tap. When I lipped the nearly 16 inch smallie, the lure was embedded in the top of it’s head. I don’t think I’ve ever hooked a smallie like that before.

Then the cold front came through. The skies cleared, the wind picked up, I was getting chilled and the bite nearly died. In the next 3 hours I only hooked four more fish.

While fishing one channel I was walking nearly down the middle. The bulk of the fish caught in this stretch almost always come from the right shore to the middle. In 14 years I can count on one hand the amount of fish caught from the left hand side. It’s usually loaded with carp and it’s not worth the effort casting to them. I gave the left hand side one of my cursory casts, one of those casts you make where you know nothing is going to hit, but you do it anyway.

I moved the lure about three feet when a big bulge came up behind it. I assumed it was a spooked carp till it hit the lure and took off for the right side of the channel. It had some nice weight to it and it’s back came to the surface briefly. I assumed that if I could land this fish it was going to be one of the biggest smallies I’ve caught. Because of the small lures I use I tend to lose some of the bigger fish. Because of this, when I get the fish within 10 feet of me I lift it’s head so it comes to the surface. If I’m going to lose a nice fish, I at least want to see it.

At 10 feet out I lifted the head of the fish and a fat pike that would have easily measured 30 inches came flying out of the water towards me. It turned it’s head, bit through the PowerPro, dropped back into the water and disappeared. Over the past month I’ve caught a few walleye in this stretch, something that has never happened in 14 years. Now a pike, another first for this stretch. I catch both these species about 5 miles upstream, but never between here and there. Won’t know for a few years if this is going to become a norm or if it’s just a fluke.

Back in the shallows where I hooked the pike there was a lot of commotion. I think the pike was having a tough time trying to figure out how to get that little jig and twister out of his jaw.

The rest of the time out was just a walk in the river and an enjoyable morning to be out. Some colors were coming to the trees and the bright sky and low sun lit things up nicely at times.

Stopped to talk to a landowner that was hanging out on the edge of the river enjoying his morning cup of coffee. He’s only been living there for a couple of years and hasn’t waded too far from his property. I’m sure I overwhelmed him with where to go in the mile both above and below his property, but he seemed grateful. He also happens to live on one of the best spots in this stretch of the river. From his shore on Saturday he tells me how he tied into a school of white bass, something I’ve been searching for through here the last few weeks.

I new I should have been here yesterday.

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A gratuitous shot of a kitten in a box in the sun. I couldn’t resist.