Friday, September 30, 2011

Field Testing Homemade Lures

my lure caught a fish!

As the weather gets colder, I know my open water fishing season gets closer and closer to an end, and I'm starting to focus on other things. Yesterday on my commute, instead of spending the whole time researching fishing techniques and fall bass patterns, I created some music on my laptop. I've been thinking once it gets cold, music making and lure making will occupy my free time. Well, those things and cooking. I love me some cold weather cooking. But more on that later.

I've hit up the little retention pond a few times in the past few days, mostly to get some fishing in, but also mostly to field test out my homemade lures. I want to get an idea how slight changes in lure construction can change the open water action before I won't have a chance to test them out, except the bathtub.

this one caught a nice bass
The first lure I made caught a fish on the second cast- the smallest largemouth bass I'd ever seen. And I didn't even snag it- all 3 treble hooks were in his mouth! I managed to release the little guy unharmed- hopefully in a few years he'll grow up to be a lunker.

Some of my lures work great; others are clearly flawed. For the most part, it takes quite a bit to get the blades spinning on my inlines; I'm not sure exactly why.. I'm thinking it's a combination of weight distribution, and how freely the clevis can move around the wire shaft. There are one or two that spin, but they take the entire lure with them. My swivel is no match for this, and as a result I've had a lot of line twist issues.

I did however catch a nice sized bass on a spinner- I put a single red hook on it, and added a white twister tail as a trailer (I think that's the right terminology). Hard to tell whether the bass hit because of the tail action, the blade, the color combination, or my manipulation of the lure... But in the end, it's all the same! He ends up in a picture, and I put him back in the water.

good-sized bass caught on a homemade spinner
Overall the action at the pond has been pretty slow- the water is cold, and I haven't seen as much baitfish chasing as usual. Certainly not in he morning- I'm wondering if in the fall, it's better to fish later in the day when the water has warmed up and the fish are more active. Ken G said as much on, and he would know!

I went out this morning, my newly-constructed cork popper-style lure (or is it jitterbug-style?) on the end of my line. We had some wine yesterday, and I grabbed the cork, as I've been reading cork can be a great material for fishing lures. I ran wire through the middle, drilled a hole in a Bell's Two-Hearted Ale cap, and affixed it all together. Put a treble hook on the back, and added a bullet weight to the front. I thought it would help with casting distance and action in the water. I also cut up a bit of rope and secured it to the treble hook with some wire. Seeing it in the water, I'm wondering if the bullet weight was really necessary... We'll have to drink some more wine soon so I can keep experimenting. Also, the rope dressing doesn't look amazing- I need to learn to make my own dressings....

Rioja-cork and Bell's Two-Hearted Ale popper/jitterbug-style lure,
painted with nail polish and dressed with rope
Went to the grocery store to get some stuff; spent a few minutes in the makeup aisles looking for nail polish. I've heard it can be a great way to paint lures, especially the stuff that is supposed to resist chipping. I got some red polish that turned out to be orange, and some blue with glitter in it that turned out to be clear. This stuff is new to me. It doesn't look too bad on the lure, but I should probably invest in some more colors.

Working my Rioja-IPA lure, the action is pretty similar to the jitterbugs I have in my tacklebox- I'm guessing in the right situation, a bass would take the bait! Can't wait for that to happen.

I have a shopping cart all ready to go at Jann's Netcraft (a great website full of tackle-making stuff); just got to pull the trigger and check the mailbox in a few days. This is all pretty exciting for me! 

I'm pretty facile at taking found sounds - like fingers tapping on a table - and manipulating it until it sounds like huge epic drums; or warping samples from youtube to fit my every musical whim... But creating stuff out here in the real, physical world is a completely new thing for me. Using tools, working with my hands, this is pretty cool. I even got a flannel shirt- when I put it on, I strangely wanted to whittle some wood. I've been looking into making wooden crankbaits... Although it seems more complicated than assembling inline spinners, based on my limited success so far, it doesn't seem beyond the realm of possibility.

Maybe I'll even need to set up a workspace, like with pegboard and tools and paint and the thing that holds stuff in place [EDIT: a vice] and a stool and stuff. 

I've already got a music workspace filled with musical tools- keyboards, microphones, audio interfaces, synthesizers, MIDI cables, audio connectors; I wonder if these two different kinds of man-caves can coexist.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chris gets waders and walks into a river

my new stocking foot waders
As soon as the credit card was swiped and they handed me the box, I wanted to tear it open, put the waders on, and get into some water! Turns out, we still had some errands to run. So wading would have to wait...

That afternoon (Sunday) Claire and I got home, and I tried on the waders. I put my LL Bean boots over the stocking feet of the waders, this would work, I thought. Packed the car, and tried to figure out where I should go. My new fishing friend Rob (Osprey) offered a ton of extremely specific advice and tips on a particular spot on the Fox. As he explained what I should do, what I should use, and how I should use it, I typed everything in a text file so I could remember it later. I'm not so good at remembering things normally. It helps to have a record!

It was super generous for him to share all this information with me, I just hoped I could text him a picture or two of a nice fish. In the interest of not sharing secrets from other fishermen, I won't say where I went.. But I've seen pictures of monster smallies taken there. I was psyched. Hopped in the car, floored it, and I was off.

After a half hour drive through the countryside, I arrived at my destination. I jumped out of the car, and got into my new waders. I salvaged a broom handle they were going to through away at work; I drilled a hole in it and tied on some line, thinking I could use it as a stakeout pole for my kayak. Didn't work so well like that, but it might work as a wading staff (I think that's the right term). This would be my first time wading, and I was doing it alone; I figured better to be safe than sorry.

I had my clippers and jig buster around my neck, and used a carabiner to secure a small tacklebox. I suddenly understood why everybody has fancy fishing vests- this was a lot of weight on my neck! I clipped the wading staff line to my wading belt (didn't have anywhere else to attach it), and put on my boots. I won't lie, I felt like I was pretty awesome at this moment- it's one thing to dabble in fishing every few weeks (like I had done last summer)... But here I was, fully equiped with my own waders, tools, camo hat, and I even had some homemade lures in my box.

Who was this person in the car door reflection? Was this the same jazz-playing film-scoring hip-hop-loving video-game-playing indoor-kid I'd always been? It definitely was. But now, judging by my appearance, I was a real-life angler too.

There were a whole lot of people shore fishing, looked like they were going for carp or catfish. Their rods propped up, jingle bells afixed, they chilled out waiting to hear a jingle. Following Rob's advice, I entered the water in a very particular location- which luckily didn't interfere with anybody's lines in the water.

Immediately the rush of cold water swirled around my ankles. As I slowly, carefully waddled out deeper, the water got colder and I got a very weird sensation in my legs. It was just like when you get your blood pressure taken, but on my legs. I wondered if there was some pressure thing happening, especially since there was air trapped in the leg parts of the waders due to the wading belt. I stepped back to the shore for a minute, trying to figure out if something was wrong on my waders.... They seemed fine, and my legs' circulation wasn't being cut off, so I got back in the water.

the view from the water
It's a very unusual feeling, trying to walk in flowing water, feeling your way along with your feet and a broom handle. I couldn't see below the surface, so I was walking blind. I'd read a lot of articles and tips on wading, and I suddenly understood why everyone says it's best to present the current with the smallest surface area possible. If I faced the current, it definitely pushed me downstream a little bit, but if I turned and let it hit my left hip, everything was fine.

I was trying not to fall over, not drop my rod, and follow the detailed instructions Rob had given me. I wasn't sure that I found what he described, but it might have been. Being new to this, it was hard to figure out exactly what I was stepping on, whether it was sand or rocks or gravel or weeds. One of the most interesting things was the contour of the bottom. Intellectually I knew that there were holes and sand bars, but looking at the river with my unexperienced river-reading eyes, it just looks like it gets deeper and that's it. Not the case. There were boulders, holes, high points, steep drops, slow drops; all kinds of stuff going on just below the surface. Using my three "points of contact" - my wading staff and two feet - I made my way into deeper water, trying to position myself in a good fishing spot.

Not convinced I had reached my destination, but wanting to get fishing, I began casting a Heddon torpedo. This was one of the many lures I'd found floating at Busse while I was kayaking. It's not that I don't buy lures - I definitely do - but I also find a bunch!

A guy and a kid were fishing, perhaps doing a father-son thing, about 20' downstream of where I was. The kid was obviously bored with fishing, and decided to start throwing rocks into the water. Whenever I'm in these situations, I'm not sure what the right call is. I obviously didn't want him to throw rocks, possibly scaring away the fish. Not to mention the proximity to me! A few times rocks landed about 2 feet away from me. I turned around and gave him a stern look. His dad watched but said nothing. The kid saw me, then started throwing rocks in the opposite direction, away from me.

Back to the river, I was in my river-fisherman-impression mode. Riffles, holes, flats, these words tumbled around my head even though I didn't have a grasp on exactly what they all were. Remembering what Rob had instructed me, I fished accordingly. I found it frustrating trying to get my lure where I wanted it, only to have it pushed downstream by the current. There must be some trick to this. Maybe that's where waders come in- position yourself so you can get your lures in the strike zone. I tried moving out deeper, but once I was up to my collar bone, I had trouble casting and moved back to shallower water.

I threw the torpedo, big white spinnerbait, peanut-style crankbait (not sure if it was actually a peanut... I found this one too), chartreuse buzzbait, and I tried out some of my homemade inline spinners. I'm sure I tied on some other stuff, but right now I can't remember.

Either way, what I was doing was apparently not enough to entice the fish to play. I was starting to get cold. This water was like ice, even though it was well above freezing. At home, I was originally going to wear shorts and a t-shirt under my waders, but changed into jeans and a sweatshirt at the last minute worried about being warm enough. Good call Chris! Next time I'll need to wear some fleece pants, or long underwear, or both. Maybe some flannel would be good to. Wouldn't hurt my real-life-angler image either! Got to get some pictures of me in the waders, ideally holding a river smallie.

I moved around, trying different angles, hitting different spots, fishing with the current, against the current, across the current; I tried to hit the slower water next to faster water, the water downstream of obstructions (trees, etc), but nothing managed to get a fish on the end of my line. The whole time I was there, I didn't see a single fish jump or even bubble near the surface. Well, I might have seen one out of the corner of my eye, but I'm pretty sure that was one of the many shore anglers casting.

As the sun went down, I started to really freeze my ass off. The air temperature wasn't so bad, it was the frigid water that surrounded the lower half of my body. I looked at my old iPhone - also hanging from my neck (I used some fancy knots to afix it, by the way...) - and realized the clock wasn't right. It said 3:41am. I knew the park closed at sunset, but I didn't know what time it was. Seemed pretty close to sunset.

I carefully wading back to shore, the water flowing off the waders, hitting the rocks, and making its way back to join the rest of the river. My boots were rinsed clean of all the mud, I was warmer, and my new waders more than did their job of keeping me dry.

Packing up the car, I was satisfied. Although I had been thoroughly skunked by the Fox - my sometimes friend sometimes enemy - I did a new thing. In my mind, only a serious real fisherman type would do. In comparison to other fishermen I knew, either in person or on internet message boards, I know basically NOTHING about fishing. They've forgotten more about fishing than I know. But I was making progress.

Although I didn't have any smallie pictures to post, I definitely looked like a fisherman. And I felt like a fisherman.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pike fishing the DPR

Another great day to be out
I'd read - on the internet of course - that fall was a great time to get into some nothern pike. Astute blog-readers or facebook fishing album stalkers might notice that nowhere is there a picture of me posing with a northern pike. This is not on purpose; I'd kayak-fished the DPR a few weeks back with the sole purpose of landing one of those toothy buggers. But that was not to be. 

In my research, it seemed like somewhere - maybe anywhere on the DPR would give me a good chance of finding some. The Fox apparently had a tiny pike population, I'd never heard of pike in the big lake, and I wasn't even going to consider Busse. So the DPR it was! I'd seen some recent posts of people landing pikes on the DPR, so I tried to figure out a good spot. I'd heard that farther north or farther south might have better populations. Based on some recent reports, I chose Allison Woods as my spot, and loaded up the car.

Saturday morning I headed out a little later than usual. I'd heard that pikes either have really good vision or really bad vision; either way, apparently they're easier to catch when there is more light. Seems to contradict other fish, but hey, if the internet says it it must be true. Armed with a selection of white spinnerbaits, mepps black furies, and roostertails, I drove with dreams of pike in my head.

I got to the entrance at 6:55am, almost 15 minutes after the published sunrise - which is when the park "opens." It wasn't open, there was a gate, which was padlocked. There was no way I could open it. I don't blame the guy who opens it- there's probably just one guy who has to get up early and open every entrance to every Cook County forest preserve! I don't know if that's true, but that's the way it seems.

I put my car in park, turned it off, and did some google searching for last-minute pike information.
who or what did this?
After 20 minutes, my patience had run out. Maybe there was a different entrance, that was open? I backed out my car and headed down the road, watching the woods for anything paved suggestion another entrance. I found one, but it too was locked. Damn! I turned around and headed to the first gate.

The gate-opener guy had just unlocked the gate, and was driving into the preserve. Awesome!

Within a few short minutes, I had a spinner in the water, near what looked like a canoe launch. There wasn't much current, and I couldn't see any weeds. I was pretty sure pike liked to hang out outside of current and in or around thick weeds. Wasn't sure how I was going to find them if I couldn't find those things!

Doing my best impression of a river angler, I tried to present my bait in a variety of ways, trying to hit where I thought a river snake might be waiting to ambush some unsuspecting bluegill. I worked my way down the shore, hiking through the woods trying to get back to river access. I had my trusty LL Bean boots, but wasn't prepared to wet-wade in the muddy mucky water.

I found a place that had obviously been fished before- people had put sticks in the ground in such a way they would be perfect to hold rods in place. But that wasn't what gave it away. The entire roll of monofilament line, THICK monofilament line (seemed thicker than 20# test) had presumably been dumped, and was wrapped in a mess all around the foliage near the water. I couldn't pick up every stray soda can or beer bottle, or every McDonald's cup; I wouldn't have been able to carry it all to a trash can (which I hadn't even seen). But the least I could do is prevent some poor bird from getting tangled in this and dying. I'd seen the results of littered mono before, and if there's anything I can do to prevent that from happening, I'll do it.

a big mushroom
Using my clippers, it took about 5 minutes to rid the bushes of the ridiculous length of line that had become intertwined, like some kind of plastic vine. I ended up pulling off a lot of leaves too, but at least the line was gone. I shoved the huge armful of mono and leaves into my backpack, hoping I'd see a trash can somewhere.

I continued to fish, but I'll cut to the chase. I didn't catch any pike. At one point I thought I might have had a hit, but it was small and was not repeated on the next few casts. In another spot, there was a huge splash and out of the corner of my eye I saw the fish. It did NOT look yellow (i.e. carp) but I have no idea what it was. Of course my mind told me it was definitely a pike, but I had no idea if pike ever jump.

Saw some scary looking animal tracks, along with some I recognized as deer, squirrel, and maybe possum or racoon. The scary ones were really big, and reminded me of Walter's paws, but much much bigger. I looked for accompanying human tracks, like the owner of a big dog, but there were none. I gingerly scanned the forest, hoping I wouldn't lock eyes with a coyote, cougar, or wolf. I didn't know if there were any of those animals in the area, but these tracks belonged to something.

Probably just a random dog, I told myself, as I entered the forest again to find another route to water.

big tracks
I did a lot of hiking, and for what it's worth it was beautiful and enjoyable. The few squirrels I saw were clearly fattening up for the winter, and I saw some other cool things. An awesome looking mushroom, a tree that looked half cut down.. but by an axe? or teeth? I don't know.

At a certain point my belly was grumbling, I was annoyed at my lack of fish, so I headed back to my car. Then I remembered there was a bridge over the river. I couldn't leave without casting there a few times, so I did. I climbed down the loose rocks until I was at the water, then casted.

Not getting anything, I figured there might be some panfish around. I was pretty sure this kind of structure was called rip-rap, and the internet says there are often panfish around rip-rap.

Sure enough, there was!

After catching this guy- on a tiny jig and grub - the lightening convinced me to head home. At least I wasn't skunked.

pumpkinseed... or is it bluegill? either way it's a fish

Chris makes a fishing lure (and then makes some more)

I made this! And some other ones too
This one is a paper-clip inline spinner. Very sturdy.
Although it may seem otherwise, my frequency of fishing trips has reduced lately, mostly due to long hours at work. The weather has also started its slow death march to winter, and I've been thinking about how to get my fishing fix when ice covers everything. I've been considering ice fishing - and Rob (Osprey) has invited me to come with him sometime. It's not that I'm against ice fishing, but never having gone ice fishing, it's hard for me to imagine that it's enjoyable. But more on that later. I'm sure at some point in the next few months I'll have a chance to go ice fishing, and I'll love it.

Besides getting into music-making mode when the snow falls (that is by the way my main thing... well, besides fishing) I've been thinking of fishing-related indoor activities. Of course the first thing that came to mind was lure making. I've seen some posts recently about others making their own lures, and it's inspiring. I like to do things for myself, sometimes.. I like to cook beans from dry beans; I like to make my own salsa; I like to make my own sample libraries for my music; this obsession isn't any different really, I just never thought I could pull it off.

For full disclosure, although I seemingly constantly go fishing and hiking all over the place, this whole using tools, getting dirty, and hanging out in the outdoors is still a new thing for me. Any time I've ever tried to make something, as in assemble or build something, I either totally screw it up or my engineer wife takes over. So theoretically, me making lures is doomed from the start.

That said, Claire and I headed to Cabela's this past Sunday to get some stuff... Including some lure-making supplies. That's right- the wife is encouraging this! What a great wife I've got. This was the same shopping trip where she got me waders for our one year wedding anniversary. What a lady. (More on the waders later...) A short while later, I was at home, opening up my Cabela's "Professional [Inline] Spinner Kit," like a kid at Christmas. I took all the blades out and put them on the table sorted by size and type so I could see what I got.

colorado blades
willow blades
 I managed to find some needle-nose pliers and some bigger ones with a built-in wire cutter, and I brought up a how-to page on my laptop. The concept was pretty simple- stuff spins and moves on around a wire, one end is attached to your line and the other has a hook on it. I caught my first few fish on this type of lure recently, but have always liked how they look. (I can't wait to try some Sims spinners - definitely have to check my mail when I get home today!)

Anyway, I somehow managed to make something that kind of looks like a real fishing lure. The kit didn't come with any weighted body pieces (seems strange) so I used a bullet weight from my tackle box. As I was twisting the wire for the loop at the top, I pricked myself with the extremely sharp edge of the wire, and blood gushed from my finger. After a short trip to get some paper towel and applying pressure, I was back to business. I'd made my first lure, and only spilled a little blood! So far better than many previous attempts at "crafts."

I held up the lure, and shook it around like a swimming minnow.

I made this. Awesome.

My very first homemade lure.
I used tools and everything.
In some ways, I didn't even care if it caught fish- I made it! I have no problem recording instruments, creating new sounds, mixing them together; this stuff is old hat for me... But actually creating something (well, piecing something together) with my hands and real grown-up tools, now that is unprecedented. It sure would be cool if I could catch some fish on it though!

I got back to work, and made a few more. I could do this in the winter. This was great! Claire was sitting crocheting a blanket, I was sitting there building fishing gear- what a great arrangement. All we needed was a fire and some beers.

Now to just try out my creations.... In the meantime, I leave you with this:

New friends and no salmon

Sunrise at Diversey Harbor

Last week, I put up a post on advertising I was going to try salmon fishing diversey on Frday, asking if any other WCF'ers were going to be there. I got a response from Osprey (who I later learned was also called Rob) who said he'd be there. Great! I know almost nothing about salmon fishing, maybe I could learn a thing or two... Or even more.

Walking up to the wall at the mouth around 5am, I said hello and met Rob. After our introductions, I immediately proceeded to tangle my line beyond repair. First cast.

Rob was nice enough to help me fix my line, and another fisherman came over to assist. I felt horrible to show my noob-ness so quickly and keep them from casting- but I was also thankful for their help! After a few minutes, my line was cut, we pocketed the birdsnest, and Rob tied on some terminal tackle for me.

Throughout the next few hours, Rob and I talked about fishing, and other stuff, but mostly fishing. He'd been fishing a long time, and although I was extremely new to the sport, he was nice enough to share some tidbits of information. Like that the salmon we were fishing for were put there to bring down the alewife population. I knew the salmon were stocked, but I was foggy about the specific reasons. Or why a longer flexible rod can be a good thing. Stuff like that. Rob also let me use a bunch of his lures- there were a lot of names I'm foggy on, but I think some of them were clackin' raps, and one was a J-13 (or something like that).

A great day for fall fishing
It was great- I have to admit; as much as I love the internet, and I've learned my fair share of stuff staring at my computer screen, there is no substitute for conversation with another person. Especially when the other person knows stuff you don't.

After an hour or two, a guy near us started battling a fish- I tried to hide my gaping jaw and kid-at-christmas...These were serious hardcore fishermen, they didn't necessarily need to know how giddy I was.

The fish jumped, ran, splashed, lept, ran again, but the hookset was good. Rob grabbed his (giant) net and helped the guy land the fish. It was a great looking fish, although not quite as big as the salmon last week. They said it was a 7 pound coho, which wasn't huge.

Seriously, I'm glad I didn't catch it, I would have been giggling like a school-girl amazed at its size!

I payed close attention to the lure he had caught it on- I think it was a 3/4oz silver and green Mr. Cleo spoon. I had one of those! It's so great to know I'm not too far off base- I actually had in my collection stuff that would catch these fish. Pretty soon I tied one on - to a swivel, since I recently learned why that's a good idea - and began casting.

A little while later another WCF'er, Handler (Alex) showed up, ready to catch the big one. His dad caught a MONSTER king the week before; I showed the picture he texted to me to pretty much everyone I saw that day. What a monster. So huge. That was a big part of why I hadn't stopped casting, given up, and called it a day. The idea that THOSE are right here in the lake, swimming around, and all I have to do is figure out what will annoy them... That's why I was there.

And think about the facebook profile pic. That would be some real fisherman street cred. (Or would it?)

Engaged in fishing conversation, oblivious to my lure, I suddenly get some kind of hit on my spoon. It wasn't weeds or rocks, but it wasn't like a bass or bluegill- it was different. Maybe it was a salmon! Re-energized, I continued casting, desperately trying to remember what I had been doing when I got the hit.

After a few more hours, nobody had hooked into anything, and I don't think anybody even had a bump. They were jumping (the fish) but had no interest in anything any of us were throwing.

Rob called it a day, and some others left too. Eventually Alex moved to a different spot, and I was still fishing, but with a new group of people. Some old guys gave me tips about salmon fishing, which I appreciated, but their tips were mostly about all the big fish they'd caught. Not exactly helpful in that moment.

I was casting a wildly gaudy rattling crank (or is it rat-L-trap?), which every third cast got followed by something big and brown. Again, distracted by conversation, I thought it was my imagination at first. Paying more attention, I saw the full outline of the fish. I couldn't identify it or see how big it was, but it was BIG and BROWN. Brown trout! flashed through my head. But for all I know it could have been some new kind of rock bass I don't know exists.

I stuck around another half hour, egged on by this phantom brown shadow, teasing me. Why wouldn't he take it?? Obviously it had some interest, why not just take the lure already?

And then, I was done. I had been standing, casting, and talking for many hours. My coffee was empty. I hadn't caught any fish. I had to go to work. I was frustrated. It was time.

Would I be back to catch one this year? I wanted to land one, but wasn't jumping for joy at the idea of casting for another 5 hours with no pictures of fish. On the other hand, the conversation, friendship, and of course tips from Rob and the others had been invaluable... So for that, I'd probably do it again.

But it sure would be nice to hook into a monster!

The Big Lake

Monday, September 26, 2011

Skunked at the pond

Nasty muck
from last Monday morning, ~8am, on the way to work

I sit here, typing this on the train, filled with shame. I got skunked. Not by some new body of water, or a famously-fickle spot; at the old reliable retention pond. The same place I have caught so many largemouths I could wallpaper a small room with their pictures. 

And yet, I'm sharing what happened. This definitely counts as a misadventure.

After a lackluster fishing weekend - at least in terms of numbers - I decided to stop by the good ol' pond this morning for a confidence-booster. I put my collapsible rod in my backpack along with some tackle, and headed out on Claire's bike (mine is very broken).

I got to the pond, and opened up my backpack, ready to put the rod together. Here is where things started to go wrong. The rod breaks down to 5 pieces, 4 of which have guides on them. Often I'll break it down with the line still going through the guides, lure still attached. This makes it a quick process to get fishing when I only have a few minutes to wet a line. It also means there is one piece - the piece closest to the reel - that is NOT routed through the guides, and is easily forgotten. Trying to put my rod together, I realized it must be sitting somewhere on the garages floor, perhaps rolled under a box.

I stood there for a minute, starting to think about profanity, trying to decide if I should ride back home to get it. At this point I only had 45 minutes until my train, so I decided to stay there and try and use my rod.

The bottom piece didn't fit snugly into the handle, since of course I was missing the wider piece. I happened to have some rope in my backpack - not sure when I put that there - and I tied the rod piece to the handle. This effectively put them together, somewhat loosely, but it turned my 5'6" rod into a 4' rod.

Looked like a little kid's fishing rod. There should have been a Barbie or Mickey Mouse on it. Except for the weird rope everywhere; I guess it looked more like a pieced-together rod somebody found in the trash.

Unfazed, well maybe a little, I tied on a wacky rigged worm and started casting. The water was cold, the air was cold, and the water was high. At first I didn't see any activity, but upon closer inspection I noticed baitfish in a few places, and big wakes circling. I really don't think these wakes were carp, because every so often a bigger fish would come close to the surface in a splash, and the baitfish would freak out and disperse. I've seen my fair share of carps coming to the surface, and this wasn't them.

I waited, watching the wakes, and cast ahead of them. I let the worm fall, then would wiggle it back to me, doing my best impression of an injured fish.

All of the sudden, a fish grabs my worm, makes a run for it, and explodes out of the water, about a million little fish swimming away for their lives. Must have been at least a 12 incher LMB; but I'll never know. My silly little kids rod was strange, and I couldn't keep the tension.  It was weird fighting a fish on such a short rod. But at least I had a hookup!

I tightened the drag, removed the 3 pounds of weeds from the exposed hook, and recast.

I did this for the next 35 minutes; about halfway through I switched to my black fury. I had a few hits, but due to the strangeness of my setup, I didn't react quickly enough, and didn't set the hook. Missing that one piece of my rod made it feel like I was fishing with a pencil- it was very hard to feel what was going on in the water.

As I casted, I kept glancing at my phone, calculating how much time it would take me to ride to the station. At a certain point, I had to go or I would miss my train.

Defeated, I untied my rod-rope, took apart the rod, and zipped up my backpack. Pedaling to the Metra station, I plotted my revenge on the retention pond.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Actually caught some fish at Busse

Busse in the rain

It was (last) Sunday, it was raining, and I was cooking: beans, chickpea curry, baking bread. That's what I usually do after fishing; make the food I'm going to eat the rest of the week. Otherwise I just end up eating Jimmy John's or Flaco's Tacos everyday. Which isn't so bad. But I like cooking!

I had cooked everything on my agenda. I looked out the window to see the light rain. I remembered the most successful day I'd ever had fishing- in terms of catching bass- was at Busse on a similar day. The phrase "It doesn't rain on fish, just fishermen" popped into my head. 

My understanding wife said I should go, so I did!

In a matter of short minutes, I was standing on the rocks at Busse, the rain jacket my father in  law gave me shielding me from the rain, casting a black spinnerbait. I saw two other fishermen: one was using lures, the other one had nightcrawlers under a bobber and was standing there watching under an umbrella. The latter angler was in the spot I wanted to be in!

Oh well. I fished on the rocks anyway. I lost the spinner, so I tied on another one. I moved down the coast, eventually working the shoreline close to my ideal spot. Not a hit, didn't see any baitfish, nothing.

I've probably fished Busse more than any body of water, and it has skunked me more times than I'd like to share. But I've also had some really good days there; one night I caught the biggest bass I'd ever caught, in shallow water, on a very similar black spinnerbait.

I kept moving down the coast, hoping to entice some fish to bite. Wearing my new boots, I felt confident in my hiking ability- I continued down the coast, stepping in the water to avoid trees, ducking under foliage. I came to a spot that has always produced at least one bass for me. It's hidden and out of the way, and I don't think many people fish it. There is a log in the water on a rocky shoreline that quickly slopes down to deep water. There are plenty of little bluegills there. Is that a textbook bass location?

First cast, I retrieve parallel to the log, slowly, and get stuck on some weeds. I let the lure drop a little, trying to unhook it, and then SPLASH! A nice sized LMB bursts out of the water, throwing the hook. My spinnerbait falls back on the shore with its characteristic jangling sound.

Lil' 'gill
Turns out that was the only bass I would catch there. I used the spinnerbait for a while to no avail. I tried my black fury that had worked so well recently, but nothing. I saw a white grub on a tiny jighead high in the trees, as if somebody tried to cast and got hung up. I tied on a similar, but smaller grub.

A few minutes later I felt a tap, and I pulled out a bluegill! At this point I'd been casting for an hour or two- hard to tell- and I was incredibly thankful to see this little guy. It was a dinky dink- I probably should get chastised for even posting a picture of such a tiny fish... But I caught it, fair and square.

I returned it to the water, and tried unsuccessfully to pull out some more for the next half hour. Tied on the black spinnerbait again, to no avail.

I decided to call it a day- the rain wasn't uncomfortable, if anything I liked the constant sound of raindrops and the lack of crowds. The temperature was nice and comfortable, I was perfectly temperate inside the rain jacket. Walking back toward my car, I noticed the guy was gone from "my" spot. What the heck, I thought, and I walked over there and stood in the spot.

I cast toward the dam, the spinner landing not even 6 inches from the rocks. Worried about hanging up on the veritable lure-graveyard under the surface, I quickly tugged on my rod to get the spinner up. It wouldn't come up, because it was hooked to a fish!

There were splashes, but I couldn't see what I had hooked... I reeled in quickly, the fish passively coming toward me like a largemouth-bass-colored pile of weeds. I got it out of the water, and ecstatically took a picture of the two of us together.

My sunday trophy!
Full disclosure, I know it's a small fish. Not really something worth bragging about, let alone posting about. But it was a great outing, especially at a place that has been so difficult in the past.

I hopped in the car and headed home, ready to do some more cooking.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Couple Fish on the Fox

EDIT: Originally I thought the fish I caught were smallies, but upon discussion with WCF members, maybe they are spotted bass! That counts as a new species for me!

If even a year ago you told me that I would be regularly getting up at 4am, gleefully I might add, I would have said you were insane. The idea that I will- completely on purpose- set my alarm to such a small number still confounds me. Even knowing full well that I could easily face the skunk, no pictures of me holding fish to post. But I do know with some certainty that I will have some kind of misadventure while I'm trying to catch fish, and maybe that is part of the appeal.

Nah, I just want to catch me some fish!

Saturday morning, as I heated up some oatmeal in the microwave, this song suddenly got stuck in my head:

I backed out of the driveway at 4:28am, the racing green mini containing my fishing supplies. I was bringing my gear in a backpack, and this time only a single rod. Carrying two rods through the thick foliage last weekend was a challenge.

I turned on the radio and the country song stuck in my head was immediately drowned out by the thick grooves of Fela Kuti, who some call the African James brown. Turns out they were doing some kind of Fela show, so my entire journey to the fox was underscored by raw Nigerian funk. As I drove I thought about how much I love the music of Fela Kuti- and country music too. I should make some music soon.

Got to the spot, stumbled out of the car, and wandered off into the darkness.

I made a beeline to the unpaved path that appeared to become swallowed by the trees; but I knew better. I'd seen it in daylight, and knew it lead to the water. I wouldn't be aimlessly hiking in the dark THIS time.

I wasn't super familiar with the river, or even rivers in general, but the water level definitely seemed low. I was able to walk out 40' into the river, my sturdy LL Bean boots gripping the rocks. There wasn't even water flowing over the rocks- it looked like a temporary peninsula, which I was sure would disappear after an adequate rain.

I turned off my headlamp, and took in the complete darkness, accompanied by the incredibly soothing sound of gurgling water. The moon- which was being what I think is called a waxing gibbous - provided just enough light for me to get my rod ready.

I wasn't sure what smallies liked in the dark, but I knew largemouths went for black spinnerbaits in low light conditions. I tied one on and began casting.

One of the best things about being out and about before the sun is up is that you get to watch it rise. Although I couldn't see the sun itself, I could see it's light slowly bursting onto the scene, illuminating the colorful trees one leaf at a time. I saw some movement upstream, and I saw the most deer I'd ever seen. At least 20 deer were crossing the river, stopping every few steps and glancing in my direction. Apparently I was far enough away not to bother them, and they didn't seem to mind me taking some pictures.

Deer crossing the river
Now that it was light, I switched to 4" white twister tails on what I think were 1/16oz jigheads. Last week i had great success with the white grubs, and based on some advice from the friendly folks at i downsized my jig weight hoping to avoid as many hangups.

I worked my way upstream, casting in what I thought were likely locations. I didn't see any baitfish, so I kept moving. After field testing my new boots the previous weekend, I felt more confident in my steps. To avoid downed trees, I simply walked through the water. I had my eye on a pair of waders, but being so late in the season, i figured they might make a nice Christmas gift. Hint hint, wife!

I still couldn't locate any little fish smallies might want to eat, so I focused on trying to read the river. I looked at visible rocks and what effect they had on the surface, trying to extrapolate which ripples farther out were caused by rocks, which in turn might hold smallies.

But really, I just blindly casted. I did the best I could, casting where I thought they might be... but it's entirely possible I was a foot or two off, missing a 20" bass every cast. That's ok- after enough trips like this, maybe I'll have amassed some experience, which probably trumps reading about reading rivers on the Internet.

Standing in the middle of the river
Farther up the river I found myself staring at a mini-rapids, filled with a huge variety of different speed water, pools, water rushing over rocks, next to water somehow flowing backwards... This seems promising, I thought, stepping out in the running water. One of these things might be one of the places I'm supposed to look for fish. The water rushed around my feet, immediately flowing over the top of my boots, soaking my socks. Disregarding my discomfort, I kept on fishing.

There were no fish there, I concluded, after exploring every foot of the area with my jig. Upstream, I saw a guy fly fishing. Looked like he had some nice waders. I wonder what he was fishing for.. Can you catch smallies on a fly? Are there trout here!? From what I understand, you can catch most fish on the fly, but I hadn't heard of many smallie chasers who preferred a fly rig. There's so much I don't know about fishing, even after spending all of my free time trying to learn about it!

I decided to move downstream, toward where I parked. Maybe I could find some nice fish in the spots that produced fish last weekend. It really seems the most difficult thing with fishing, at least with bass fishing, is finding the damn fish. Once I know where they are, at least I don't have the constant urge to move to a different spot.

Salmon fishing might be different- just cast and cast and cast until one gets mad enough to attack your lure. Since I still haven't hooked into one, this is obviously still a mystery to me.

It walked along the path in my bulky, now dripping wet boots. Still no baitfish. I saw a shallow rock bridge leading to a promising looking island- maybe they are over there, said the desperate voice in my head.

I splashed through the water, unsuccessfully trying not to splash the water, and found myself on the island (which I thought was a peninsula, more on that later...) It looked like normally this is cut off from land, but due to the water level I was able to walk to it. Like Alaska and Russia, or something.

I worked my way along the coast, casting, my lovely wife texting for a fish count. I could have texted back a high number, but then I would have needed proof in the form of pictures. And you probably shouldn't lie to your wife.

Continuing along the coast, I suddenly realized that this was NOT a peninsula, but an island! Following the shore back upstream, I struggled to find a suitable path. Scanning the forest, I stepped and instantly found myself up the thighs* in the mud. Slowly sinking the rest of the way.

* Slight exaggeration, as you can tell by the picture below

For about 10 seconds I pictured my body being discovered by Bones or CSI, encased in the mud for generations. Snapping out if it, I reached for a nearby tree, and hoisted myself out of the mud with a loud squelching sound. I looked down at my boots, completely incased in a thick layer of dark brown camouflage. There was so much profanity happening in my head I'm surprised it didn't leak out and scare all the birds away. But it didn't, and they continued to chirp mockingly.

My boots, with mud camo
I eventually made my way back to the land bridge, and found myself back on the shore. No more aimless wandering, no more empty iphone photo library. On a mission, I quickly headed down the path, scanning the shore as I walked.

And then, I saw them. Wakes in the water, just a few feet from shore that I knew were fish. I've learned a lot from fishing the pond by my house- from my spot I can see the fish and how they swim, and what effect their streamlined bodies have on the top of the water. It's nice to be able to apply knowledge! Looking at the water here on the Fox, I wasn't sure whether the wakes were tiny baitfish or larger predators. There was almost no current at this spot, and the water seemed to be about a foot deep. Seemed like an unlikely spot, but nonetheless I saw the wakes of fish and knew they were there.

I cast my twister and jig just past a small pile of branches- the same pile of branches that gave me two smallies for my fishing photo album the previous weekend.

And then, on the second cast, the water erupted and a very nice smallmouth bass burst out of the water, doing somersaults in the air, my lure lightly attached to its lip. Its acrobatics were enough to throw the hook, but the adrenaline rush coursed through my veins telling me to recast quickly! So i found them! That was a good start.

A few casts later, a little fella latches onto the end of my line. I quickly bring him to shore, wanting some proof that I actually caught a fish today.

first fish of the day
He looked a lot like a largemouth to me, but his mouth didn't seem to extend past his eye... So I guess it was a smallie? Even simple fish identification still escapes me.. But at least I hadn't gotten skunked.

A few minutes later I pull out an even smaller fish, who immediately resigned himself to capture, not even putting up a fight. Looking at this fish, it looks even more like a largemouth to me. The pronounced lateral line, the light green coloring, the mouth that seems to extend past the eye. I know largies like slackwater and weeds, but I thought they were uncommon in the fox. If the fish I was holding was in fact a largemouth, maybe that counts for something!

I continued casting, my line getting tangled in the low hanging branches of some kind of berry tree. Each time I got it free, I found my fingers covered in blue berry juice.

Apparently there were only two fish there, because another half hour of casting wasn't enough to produce any more bass. I headed downstream, toward the spot where I caught my very first smallmouth. (well, of 2011.)

I emerged from the forest and immediately banged my knee- hard- on a pipe sticking out of the ground. It was hidden by tall grasses. I'm pretty sure some of the colorful language leaked out at that point.

I looked toward the shore and saw some people hanging out with rods propped up, lines in the water. I greeted them and asked what they were fishing for, but I don't think they understood what I was asking. Unfortunately they weren't speaking Spanish, which I could have used to communicate, they seemed to be speaking Russian or polish or something like that.

They said they were using worms, and pulled a stringer out of the water that had 2 medium sized carp and one catfish on it. Nice! Although many people wouldn't consider those prize fish, I was happy that they were catching fish. I was also happy they didn't have any smallies on the stringer. Some people seem to look down on people who fish to eat, but if the fish are legal size it is completely within their rights. And when you think about it, it is actually a little strafe to fish just for the sport, and throw back good-tasting fresh-caught fish. Seems like pretty much everywhere else in the world, you fish to eat.. Not everyone has the luxury of grocery stores and fish counters everywhere.

Although I'm not interested in eating carp or catfish- at least today- I respect those who do; we are all enjoying the outdoors and getting different things out of it.

Wishing them good luck, I went back into the forest, tripping on a branch and landing in the mud. Ok, this was the theme of the day.

I couldn't find any more baitfish, or even workable shoreline- I didn't want to walk out into deeper water, refilling my boots with water, so I found a path and continued south. I came to a bench at an overlook, about 20' above the water. I tried casting from my perch, but it wasn't really feasable. Walking through the forest again, I found what looked like a dry creekbed, which I figured would lead down to the river.

I was right- I made it to a nice rocky shoreline, and cast there for a while. A kayaker paddled by, wishing me luck. The river was beautiful- full of birds, the morning sun painting everything with a warm yellow hue, the sound of bubbling water, the splash of my lure, the sound of my reel as I turned the handle.

I didn't catch any more fish, but it was a great morning to be out. I hiked back to my car, and saw some turtles sunning themselves in a small pond.

Turtles in a half shell
I made a few casts with my black scum frog, only to lose it to some tree branches. With that, I returned to the path and headed to my car. I stripped down to my t-shirt and underwear - everything else was soaked and/or covered in mud - and loaded the trunk. I sat down in the driver's seat, started the car, and headed out. As I pushed the accelerator with my bare foot, I vowed to return to some water this weekend and catch some more fish. I also turned on the heat, cause my feet were cold.

Cold Morning at the pond

Fish #1
In a fear that my fishing season of 2011 was quickly ending, and I needed to catch more fish, I left early for work and stopped at the pond Friday morning.

It was cold! I could see my breath, and the water was motionless. The tons of little fish that always congregate by the pipe were nowhere to be seen. There were some weeds, but there was no activity on the pond.

I started casting my mepps black fury #3 (which had been so successful there a few days ago). After 10 minutes without so much as a bump, I wondered if I was at the right pond! Usually the fish here lined up for a chance to be in my Facebook profile pictures, but not today.

I switched to my beloved tube jig, a 3" green one- the same one that landed me the 18" largemouth at burnham a few weeks back.

Again, no takers. Although my phone said the temperature was rising, standing there in the cold, casting to what seemed to be an empty pond, it definitely seemed colder. Every turn of my reel sprayed me with icy cold water from the pond. Normally I don't notice this, but due to it's frigid temperature today I was painfully aware!

I thought back to a similar situation, at the same pond, where the bite was completely off. I wonder if it was the fish responding to a cold front or something. The Internet tells me sometime soon they should be going crazy stuffing themselves for winter, but apparently that wasn't happening today. That previous difficult morning I busted out a Texas rigged plastic worm to land my few bass. Drawing on my very limited experience, I switched out my mepps for a wacky rigged brown worm, I think 6".

On the third cast, I let the worm sink to the bottom, and sit there for a minute. I tried to reel in, but I was hung up on some weeds. Then the weeds started to move, picking up steam as they tried to escape the line.

Fish on!

At this point the fish knew it was attached to something. It was not happy about it.

In this little pond there seem to be two kinds of bass: smaller ones that jump out of the water like circus performers, and big monster bass that fight my rod with pure force, heading for the bottom. This fish was in the latter category,

After a short fight, I landed it, and admired the spunky little bass. Not the smallest to come out of there, but definitely not the biggest. Well whatayaknow I beat the skunk!

Fish #2
I took some pictures of my catch with the lure still attached, the way I've seen some master-angler-types roll. I'm not sure if they do that because they can get a picture sooner, or to show what lure they used to catch the fish.

After returning my little buddy to the ice cold water, I continued casting. Was I figuring out a "fall pattern" for the bass in this pond? I don't really know what that means, but if means figuring out how to catch fish here in the fall, maybe I was.

A few minutes later, I hooked into another nice bass, again on the wacky rigged worm. I was becoming a big fan of that presentation - to use another fancy fishing term. I think I used it right.

I snapped some pictures, again trying out the new-to-me lure-in-mouth pose, and released the fish.

"thanks for playing!" I said. And I meant it! I hope it doesn't hurt fish too much to get hooked in the lip, because I sure like taking their pictures.

And with that it was time for work. I collapsed my collapsible rod, hopped on my bike, and headed toward my train.

Friday, September 16, 2011

News: CB Fishes featured on

I was taking a break from assembling lesson plans and researching audio manipulation techniques at work when I saw's most recent post. I try and keep up with all the local fishing blogs to find out what's working and what's not, to see what kind of adventures they've been having... but most of all to learn. Basically, steal all their tricks.

So I was very surprised as I'm reading to suddenly see the phrase "Let's talk about CB Fishes!" in the middle of the page. The great guys over at the site said some real nice things about this blog, although they did make fun of the small fish I catch.... I won't hold it against them though!

Thanks so much for the write-up guys, I really appreciate it! I hope that any craziness I put out there will inspire others to get out and catch some fish... whatever size they may be.

Tight lines,


A Wednesday book-ended with salmon fishing

Morning on Lake Michigan

Part One: Morning

Tuesday night I got a text from my WCF buddy Alex, asking if I wanted to go salmon fishing early in the morning. Of course I did! Claire and I had just started an episode of Mad Men, so after that was over I put together my gear and did my best to fall asleep quickly.

Did what is now my normal fishing routine- wake up, coffee, clothes, gear; biked in darkness to the train, got to Union around 5:30am, Alex was generous enough to pick me up from the station. A few minutes later we were at Diversey Harbor, trying to figure out the parking situation. A short walk from the car, and we were standing on Lake Michigan, fishing for salmon.

At this point, I'd still never seen anybody catch a salmon in person, only YouTube videos and stuff. They were still mythical to me- huge powerful animals swimming around the lake, filled with delicious meat. I was really hoping to see some today!

Alex and I talked about salmon as we rigged up our gear; he put shrimp under a bobber on one rod, and had a spoon on the other. (If I remember right, it was pretty early.) I just had my 6'6" rod, and rigged it with a silver and green Mr. Cleo. A few days earlier- I think when I went out to the Fox- Alex made the hike to Waukegan to go salmon fishing. He said the pier was lined with fishermen, and he did in fact see them being caught (not many). One guy caught a trout and gave it to Alex- this guy was fishing for perch and was annoyed all he was catching was trout. (I hope I'm recounting this story right; I was very tired and hadn't had much coffee.)

We began casting, and noticed the other fisherman around us. Alex talked to one guy who had been there since 2am I think, and only got a few bites. I thought of a WCF post, where someone gave salmon fishing advice: "KFC: Keep f'ing casting."

I was having a lot of problems with my line; it kept twisting up into birds' nests and I couldn't figure out why. As I tried to untie the knots, I heard a splash and Alex said "Did you see that!!??" It was a salmon. I looked up, and of course missed it. I have terrible vision, and can really only see things in certain parts of my glasses. They are progressive lenses, like bifocals; I have to look through the right part of the lens to see things the right way.

At one point I snagged (I think that's the right term) a tiny goby on my 3/4oz spoon. Well at least we weren't skunked..? Alex admired my ability to catch gobies- I wasn't sure if it was an ability or a curse.

does this count?
I cast some more, we continued talking about salmon. I kept getting knots like crazy, and kept missing salmon jumping. Alex couldn't believe I kept missing them! I changed out the spoon for a chrome rat-L-trap I had. Another fisherman showed up around that time, and set up a few yards from us.

All of the sudden there was some activity across the mouth of the harbor- a guy had a fish on! His rod doubled over, his buddies brought up their lines, apparently to give him some wiggle room. There were splashes, this fish wasn't coming in easy.

Then, maybe 50' from the wall where we were standing, a salmon comes flying out of the water, accompanied by a rattling sound. I was startled and quickly cast in that direction; as soon as my rat-L-trap was airborne, I heard the guy next to us shout "Mine! Mine!"

Oh crap! He had a salmon on and I was about to tangle up in his line! That would be a major party foul. I did my best to quickly reel in and get out of his way. Thankfully I was successful.

The fish attached to the end of his line was amazing. I stood there, literally with my mouth open in disbelief, a huge smile across my face. This was salmon fishing. This was why guys came out, casting for hours upon hours. For the chance at this.

Earlier in the week, I had my first real tangle with smallies. Although they weren't huge, they fought very hard, jumping out of the water like surface to air missiles. It was great fun to fight them, definitely a change from your average largemouth bass.

But this salmon made those smallies look like amateurs.

The fish must have made it at least 5' clear out of the water. Its tail swimming through air, I got the sense it was pure muscle. From what I understand about fish anatomy, that is pretty accurate... Every time it leapt from the water I heard the sound of rattling. I realized it was the sound of a rattling lure, just like the one I had been casting. Aha!

Alex dropped his rod, and ran over to the guy. I was catatonic, my mind blank, unable to speak, in awe of what I was seeing. Then I came to my senses, and went over to help.

As the fish came closer, I was no less impressed. Alex grabbed the guy's net, trying to reach down to the water, but it wasn't long enough. He ran back to our stuff, got his monstrously-long net, and used that to try and capture the salmon-beast, still thrashing like a berserk drowning viking in the water.

The guy took over the netting duties himself, and after a few tries was able to successfully net the beast while holding his rod in his other hand. He brought the fish up, and set it on the ground.

What a fish. King Salmon? I'm told it's a Coho
To me, this was a MONSTER huge fish. Even my biggest, fattest toad of a largemouth would have looked tiny next to this salmon. If I had caught and landed this fish, I would have literally $&%# my pants out of excitement and fear. I'm glad I hadn't caught it!

Not really. I was super jealous.

I stood there, admiring the fish, as the man unhooked his lure. It looked familiar to me, but I couldn't identify it. It didn't have a lip, it had 2 treble hooks, was bright red/orange/yellow and black, and had rattles in it. I took some pictures, mostly to document this amazing fish, but also to remember the lure so I could buy the same one at the first opportunity. 

The man said it was probably about 10 pounds. A baby. Not anywhere close to full size. He told us of one four times that size he hooked a few days ago, that broke his line.

As soon as I thought it polite, I walk/jogged back to my rod, and cast as quickly as possible, hoping that this catch was an indication the bite was on. Alex came back over, and did the same.

We fished for a while longer, seeing many of the beasts jumping, falling back into the water with forceful explosions. It was like some unseen boat out in the lake was firing 20 pound cannonballs at us.

Soon it was time to go- I had to be to work, and Alex again was nice enough to give me a lift - so we packed up. As we headed back to his car, I couldn't help but feel very satisfied. Although I didn't get so much as a single hit the whole morning, I saw a ton of salmon, and saw a guy hook, fight, and land a salmon. I understood the appeal. This was not bass fishing, this was the closest thing to big-game fishing I'd ever seen. Big, powerful, angry-looking fish.

I had to catch one for myself.

Sunrise on Lake Michigan
Part two: Evening

I had to stay at work late, so I figured I might as well stay downtown a little later and try my luck at some more salmon. I had my rod and gear with me, so it would have been silly not to.. right?

Headed to Burnham, since that was so close and easy to get to from work. I got to Shedd and the Water Taxi stop, and assembled my rod. I started casting my rat-L-trap- the same type of lure that landed that 10 pounder in the morning- working my way along the shoreline. As I made my way, I noticed TONS of weeds, two dead birds, and what looked like a dead and decomposing salmon. A guy walked past me, carrying a big net and gear. He said was salmon fishing. I looked toward the pipe on the lake side, and saw 4-5 people, already there fishing for salmon.

It didn't occur to me I might not get a spot! Most times I'd fished Burnham I was the only one, sometimes there were one or two other anglers there... But the salmon were in, and things were different now.

I stopped casting and made a bee-line for the pipe on the marina side. Maybe there would be more space, and I could set up shop right at the pipe. Maybe I would see some salmon. Maybe I would hook into some salmon. Maybe I would even land a salmon.

Well, really that was doubtful, as I didn't have a net. I imagined my 20 pound test snapping as I brought up a 20 pound salmon. Maybe there would be some way I could maneuver it to land.

When I got to the marina side, I saw a guy by the pipe. I asked him how it was going, he said he hadn't been there long. He introduced himself as Rick (I think) and proceeded to give me TONS of tips and tricks about salmon. He explained all the lures on the myriad of rods he had leaning against the railing; he explained the action of the pipe, and told me the salmon were stacking up when the water was flowing; he told me he often fishes the fox, and showed me tons of pictures of him holding huge fish.

Not only was he incredibly knowledgable, but he was incredibly nice. I was clearly a newbie, and yet he was friendly and gave me all these tips. It's great to meet folks like that; I really appreciated the help.

He even told me where I should cast, which was effectively where he was casting. I'd never fished with anybody who encouraged me to fish in their spot. This was a good guy! How generous.

As I cast my rat-L-trap, and he cast his Thunderstick, he told me tons of fishing stories. He had fished all 50 states, except Alaska and Hawaii (so I guess that's 48). Saltwater, freshwater, lakes, rivers, reservoirs, surf, deepwater, brackish water; he'd fished it all. And been successful! I'm sure the few pictures on his phone were just a tiny sample of the monsters he'd caught.

Soon the water began to flow out of the pipe. He pointed to the water and said he could see them, swimming around. I leaned over, struggling to see. Where were they? I looked and looked, trying to focus my eyes..

And then I saw them. Tons of them. It seemed like hundreds, but it was probably 30 or so. A group of 30, what he said were 20 pound kings cohos (I think kings... maybe coho? Still new to this.) I'd seen plenty of masses of fish like this; always bluegill though, mostly 4" babies, swimming around together eating tiny particles floating in the water.

These were not babies. These were the biggest fish I'd ever seen (except for some big carp). They way the swam suggested the insane amount of power contained in those muscles. I was giddy. I couldn't believe what I was seeing!

Following the lead of my new mentor Rick, I tied on my one and only glow spoon. Before I tied it, I asked him if you were supposed to use a swivel or not... He said yeah, you HAVE to, otherwise it will twist your line like crazy!

I realized why I was having so much trouble with my line earlier- I tied a spoon directly on my line! Somehow, in all the internet scouring, message boards, and research, I missed that key piece of information. I knew it was a good idea on inline spinners, but hadn't been using swivels with spoons.

I cast, Rick cast; soon more guys showed up, and they began casting. This salmon thing seems to be a lot about luck- even if the salmon are there, which they were, you have to figure out what will tick them off enough to attack your lure. And even if you have the right lure, with just the right action, they may be in a different part of the water column. And even if your lure smacks them- which kept happening to Rick - they may just ignore it.

These are some interesting fish.

It was dark, and getting cold. I used my iPhone flash to charge my glow spoon, but it wasn't very effective and didn't last very long. I saw the other guys using special flashes- if I'm going to get serious into salmon fishing, I should look into that. It was very instructive watching these guys fish. Obviously they'd done this before. I tweaked my retrieve speed to match theirs, holding my rod just the same way they did, catching weeds just like they did.

When I'm not catching fish, it's good to know that what isn't working for me is also not working for others... It's not me. They all had glow spoons, so I stuck with a glow spoon.

After a while, tired of the weeds, energized from seeing these fish but deflated from the lack of action, I decided to call it a night. I bid the anglers farewell, and headed back toward the city.

I got on a bus at Shedd, which was filled completely with Shedd Aquarium employees. They all had their sea-colored shirts on, talking about their days; I was sitting there with my fishing gear and my rod. I wondered what they thought of me. Some of them might be responsible for taking care of fish- I made a sport out of catching them.

Got to my train, collapsed into a set, and immediately fell asleep. It had been a long day, but I had experienced salmon fishing second hand.... I had to return as soon as possible and hook into one of those beasts for myself.

Burnham after sunset