Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday on the creek

The view from the water
This is why I go outside!
It was Saturday, and it wasn't a blizzard or thunderstorm, so I went out fishing.

Sometimes can't figure out how I choose where to go. This morning was no different- somehow the idea of wading Salt Creek near my house popped into my head. So I got suited up and headed to a spot where I could get in the water.

After my first cast, I realized I wouldn't be satisfied with this... At this stretch, the creek was mostly about a foot deep, and there was next to no structure. Just muddy flats. Since my kayak happened to be strapped to my car, parked a short walk away, the choice was obvious.

I paid no attention to the strange looks I got from local residents as I took my kayak down and got it ready to go. I quickly carried it to the creek, slid down the steep grassy bank, and was back in the water. I carefully pulled the kayak down, easing it next to me in the water.

My new plan was to kayak up to Busse (Busse, the skunk that keeps on skunking me) and fish the Arlington pool. Supposedly there were pike and walleye in there, which just so happened to be on my fishing "to do" list. I hopped in the kayak and started paddling. Only recently have I started kayaking wearing my waders, and I have to say it's simply amazing. Paddle, stop, wade, fish, paddle some more, wade; it's just great.

Salt Creek @ Arlington Heights Road
(All I could think of was the musky caught here a while ago...)
I slowly made my way up to Arlington Heights road, passing a variety of interesting things. There seemed to be at least ten baseball games going on on the east bank, and there was a baseball floating in the water. I picked it up and plopped it in my yak. Lately trash and debris have really been bothering me. I'm not sure what exactly got me this way; perhaps spending a lot of time on the Fox and other mostly pristine areas makes me hyper-sensitive to trash where I'm fishing. I don't just like fishing, I like fish and birds and otters and beavers and all the other creatures that live around water; I want to catch fish, but I also want these animals to have a nice place to live. Sometimes I wonder how certain trash got in the water (a giant beach ball I found today and somehow stuck in my kayak) and other times I know (fishing line caught in trees near fishy-looking spots).

The other day at the pond, I spent a little while cleaning up a ton of trash. I just got tired of it sitting there, and thought I should do something about it since there's a good chance I use the pond more than anybody else. To my dismay, most of the trash was fishing-related stuff; discarded line, hook packages, and the most offensive to me, a six pack of empty beer cans just thrown into the weeds. What the hell, people.

But I digress... Back to the paddle: At one point something was swimming along next to my kayak, just below the surface. At first I thought it might be an otter, but I watched and it never surfaced for air. It didn't seem like a carp, and all I could think of is it was the elusive Salt Creek muskie. Probably not, but that's what stuck in my head.

Finally I made it to Busse, and there must have been 15 people standing on the east shore, fishing. This was one of those moments when I loved kayak fishing. The west side of the pool is relatively hard to access, and I had it all to myself. I pulled out a rope, tied it to a stump, and started fishing.

I noticed a dead fish floating near some downed branches and fishing line. Not having any luck fishing, I decided to investigate. It was a walleye! And a nice sized one too. There was a ton of monofilament fishing line everywhere, and a couple of heavy jigs caught in the branches. I wondered if these had caused the death of this fine specimen of a fish. It ocurred to me I would be beside myself if I caught a walleye that size. At least this confirms they do in fact inhabit these waters...

Fairly positive it's a walleye...
Not sure what killed it, but the fishing line everywhere doesn't help
Then I got upset, and noticed the jungle of fishing line that was covering branches everywhere. I remembered a previous trip to this pool where I found a dead goose wrapped in a mess of fishing line. I decided to do something about it. I went branch to branch, untangling as much line as I could. Some of the line was too high for me to reach, but much of it was kayak-level. After about a half hour, I had rid the whole area of most of the unsightly and dangerous (to animals) fishing line.

That's a lot of line
And not only that, but I found a ton of lures in the process!

I find a lot of lures while fishing...
...Then again, I also lose a lot of lures
I'm particularly interested in this yellow one. I did some googling, and I think it might be a Hellin Flatfish. It looks almost handmade. Either that, or really old. Regardless, I like it! It has a nice wobble to it in the water.

I don't have any lures like this one
A shore fisherman mentioned to me he got some bites on leeches, which got me back to fishing. I didn't have any leeches, but I did have a leech-like worm I texas-rigged. No takers. I decided to head back downstream.

I saw a bunch of little fish eating caddis flies (I think that's what they are) on the surface of the water. The other day on the Fox there were about a million of these little tiny moths everywhere. I tied on a little jig'n'twister to see if I could catch one, whatever they were. I got tons of little hits, but no commitments. Based on what I've been reading, I thought they might be creek chubs.

As I paddled down the river, I got perplexed looks from people doing yard work in their yards, which of course backed up to the creek. I said "Hello," and they stared back looking at me strangely. When I passed under another bridge, some high school girls saw me and thought it was hilarious I'd be fishing in the creek. I'm not sure what's so hilarious... don't they know there might be a muskie in there!!??

Although I didn't catch any fish, it was a great paddle- it turned out to be a beautiful day, I helped clean up some trash, and got some awesome new lures!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Busse strikes again

This late afternoon I decided to head back out. I guess the decision wasn't that hard, considering my recent fishing activity. I've been trying to find some more good water close to home, and picking apart the area via google earth, I realized the east branch of the Dupage River was about 20 minutes south of my house. There are smallies in the Dupage. I suppose I could have driven further south, but I really wanted to find a spot closer to my house where I could catch fish while wading.

East Branch of the Dupage River near Glendale Heights
I drove to a spot, waders on, walked to the river, walked in, and sunk down into muck. The river there was about 10' wide, 2' deep, and the bottom was pure mud and muck. As I stood there, I sunk down deeper as if I were in quicksand. There was no way I could wade this, and I doubted there would be fish in this stretch. I cut my losses and decided to head somewhere else. I still had my waders on, after all.

Why did I choose Busse? Busse, the lake that skunks me again and again, and only rarely gives me a fish or two? I'm not sure, even now. I like Busse, and I don't know why. Maybe I had hope from recent fishing reports of some people having luck there. I strapped the kayak to my roof, and was in the Busse's south pool in a matter of minutes.

As I was loading up the yak, somehow my pliers fell out of an open pocket in my fishing vest and sunk to the bottom of the lake. There was no way I could get them back in the 10'+ chocolate milk-like water.

I did a slow paddle around the big island in the south pool, and spent a long time trying to find a deep hole I've seen from depth maps. I threw crankbaits, wacky worms, rat-l-traps, and variety of other lures, but in classic Busse fashion, no takers. By the time I reached south shore, the clouds had intensified, and the temperature had come down a little. It was downright cold!

One of the nice things about being in a kayak is animals generally don't realize I'm there until I'm very close. This gives me the chance to see a lot of things up close and personal, like this duck that was about 10' from my kayak.

Busse duck, very close to my kayak
I worked the shoreline, following the island's shore before I paddled back to the boat launch. Occasionally I saw tell-tale mud clouds in the water, meaning I probably scared a bunch of carp as I paddled by. I'll definitely have to do some carp fishing at Busse... There are so many of them! I saw a bunch of other people fishing, but couldn't tell if they were catching anything. I half expected to be skunked at Busse, but it was ok. I really like kayaking, and if I'm going to kayak I might as well fish.

Evening on the Fox

Most of my trips to the Fox River have been in the morning. Last night I wanted to try some evening fishing, hoping the water would be warmer and there would be some more active fish.

A rare photo of me not holding a fish
I have so many layers on! Many of them are camo
Having learned my lesson on being super cold the day before, I was prepared this time. I had two pair of pants under my waders, two pair of socks, two sweatshirts (both were camo sweatshirts, helping my angling and outdoorsman credibility I think), and a warm winter hat. I started with my favorite fishing hat, my Bell's Two-Hearted Ale trout hat, but quickly put on the much warmer knit hat.

It was still windy, and the water was still super cold, but I wasn't nearly as freezing as I was the other day. I tried to think of what the fish wanted... In the cold water, I bet they weren't too active- I had a hunch they'd be holding in warmer water, not moving much. I also guessed they wouldn't be willing to travel much for a meal, so I'd have to get my lures right in front of them to elicit strikes. I'm still new to all this, so perhaps my guesses were wrong... But hey, you gotta start somewhere.

Sunset through the trees
I stuck with jigs, tubes, and some cranks I worked slowly, hoping to find some lethargic fish not too lethargic to take my lures. As I worked a variety of fishy-looking areas, I could have sworn I was getting some very light and tentative hits. I couldn't be sure, because I was fishing a lot of downed timber. It could have been tree branches. At one point I thought I had a solid hit, but when I retrieved my jig there was no fish on it- just a little bit of red (fish blood?) and a super little tiny maggot-looking bug. What the..? Should have taken a picture.

As the sun set, I was lucky enough to be on the river to watch the changing colors. I saw some very pretty ducks, hanging out in the same spot from yesterday; I saw three herons flying together, slowly and gracefully; and I saw some very interesting footprints. Some I thought were raccoon, some were definitely goose, but some made me wonder what they were.. Bobcat? Coyote? Don't tell my wife!

Using some brand new tubes from Cabela's, I was working a seam about 20' from shore. I cast downstream and slowly bounced the tube back toward me. And then there was a fish on! This one swam right toward me, and I had a hard time keeping the tension on the line- smallies can be fast. But I prevailed, and had yet another photo of me and a smallmouth bass to post.

Success! A small fish, but a fighter.
I always appreciate the underdogs.
I love the colors of these fish
This was it for the day- but as always, I was satisfied with one fish. I would have liked more, but the cold water apparently gave the fish other ideas. Perhaps someday I'll know what to present to the fish in these conditions, but for today I'm happy to land even one scrappy smallie.

Sunset on 355

Wacky Bass

In the morning I'd waded the Fox and caught a single smallie. In the early evening I decided to try my local pond, on the off chance conditions might be better (read: warmer, less windy, and sunny) for another outing.

I've been keeping track of my fishing this year, and noticed that this pond trip would be my 27th time fishing since January 1. That's a lot of casting practice. Wow, I sure wish I'd been catching more fish.

The pond
I got to the pond, and it was beautiful! Not too much wind, the sun was out in full force, and I was comfortable in a t-shirt. Inspired by fellow WCF'er Drinkbourbon (Anthony) and his blog post about carp fishing (carping?) I thought I would bring along another rod to see if there were any carp in the pond. Everything I've heard about carp is that they taste bad but are awesome fighters. I like fighting fish.  I had half a loaf of white bread and a handful of corn from my freezer, hoping to at least fight a carp.

Apparently for carp fishing, one good bait is some bread, squeezed around a tiny hook, and left alone on the bottom. Ok, sounds easy enough. I grabbed some bread, smushed it around my tiny hook, put it in the water... and the bread slowly floated off the hook into the water.

Ok, I'll try again. I grabbed some bread, dunked it in the water, squeezed off the excess, smushed it on the hook, cast it out.... and the bread flew off into the pond while the hook fell inches from my feet.

Ok, seriously. How can this be so difficult!? I grabbed some corn, put it on the hook, cast it out... and the corn went flying off into the pond, hitting the surface with a little "plink."

Was I missing something? Determined, I grabbed some more bread, soaked in some water, squeezed it out, mashed it around the hook, and ever-so-carefully-and-gently dropped it into the water, and low and behold the bread stayed on the hook. Great! I stuck my rod in a hole on the pipe, and grabbed my other rod.

A few months ago I'd bought some hooks with a weed guard real cheap that seemed useful for wacky-rigging. A few weeks back I was fishing in Ohio with some family, and Uncle Kevin caught a long thick plastic worm (the only thing any of us caught that day). He donated it to the Chris Beckstrom tackle box, so I figured the least I could do was use it. I wacky rigged it on my weedless hook, cast it out, and let it slowly sink.

I went to retrive it, when I realized there was a fish on! After a short an uneventful battle, I pulled out a lethargic largemouth bass. I estimated about 12" or so.

Largemouth bass caught on a caught-and-then-donated
wacky-rigged plastic worm
I fished for a while longer, going through my entire tacklebox, with no more takers. I tried a 1oz swimjig, which I was amazingly able to cast right to the middle of the pond, but nobody was interested. After a few casts I noticed the green paint had completely come off the lead jighead. What the hell!? If I'm going to pay $5 for a jig, I think the paint should stay on. I should just make some myself...

I tried some corn for carp, but as with the bass, no takers. I decided I'd try again later; I was intrigued by carp- I'd seen a TON almost everywhere... Big ones at Busse, small ones in local creeks, it seemed like it would be a great time to tangle with a giant fish. In my head, I added it to my list of 2012 fishing goals.

For those keeping track, here's my updated list:

  • Catch some trout - DONE - I caught some small brown trout on the Rogue in Michigan
  • Catch a pike
  • Catch a walleye
  • Catch some more smallies - DONE - The Fox has been relatively kind to me this year
  • Catch a bass in the kayak - I still haven't done this!
  • Newly added: Catch a carp - Maybe it would be even more fun on my new ultralight...
  • Catch and cook some fish - I'm thinking perch from the big lake would be good for this...

Little Adventures on the Fox

Early morning on the Fox
I'm definitely addicted to river fishing.

My first experience was last fall when I was on a mission to catch some smallmouth bass. At first, it was very overwhelming to me- all the different patterns of current on the water, it seemed difficult to control lures in the current, and of course I had no idea where I'd find fish. I caught my first smallies of last year from the shore, but soon got waders, and started catching the feisty fish in their living rooms. After much google-searching, forum reading, and many hours on the river, I think I'm starting to figure it out. At least a little.

There's something almost magical about walking into a river, literally surrounded by nature and geese and ducks and fish and squirrels and current and bugs that is a completely different experience from lake fishing. I still love lake and pond fishing too, hey I just love fishing period. But river fishing, man, that's where it's at. When a hooked smallie can swim around you in circles, that's definitely a unique experience.

Headed back to the Fox on Wednesday morning, hoping to continue my trend of catching at least one fish on every Fox trip. I haven't been having the same luck at other waters lately, but somehow I've been avoiding the skunk on the river. I got there before sunrise, made the short hike to the water, and started fishing.

As is the theme lately, the water was stupidly cold. There was a week, I think last week, when water temperatures everywhere went up- but that week has been erased from history, and all the waters I've been fishing are back to their low temperatures. The air temperature was relatively nice, but standing in the frigid water, I felt like it could have been well below freezing out.

Especially when the water came up above my midsection region, if you know what I mean. When that happens, for some reason, everything seems MUCH colder.

And then there was the wind. My phone said it was gusting to speeds of 35 mph. As I worked my way up the river (for some reason I decided to wade upstream instead of downstream) at various times I was casting into the wind. Sometimes there would be no wind, but as soon as I cast the wind would viciously pick up, sending my lure right into some trees.

And then there was my line. I've been using braided line this year- got it for Christmas - and have been absolutely loving it. I was running out of line, so I learned the yucatan knot and spooled on some mono line to the little bit of braid I had left. I forgot about mono and it's memory, the way it stays somewhat spooled up even when you cast it. The wind plus my new line gave me no end of frustartions; every 10th cast I'd have to fix a bird's nest.

And the fish weren't cooperating. In my recent effort to diversify my lure offerings, I changed my lure and presentation every 15 minutes or so. Reading reports of people catching smallies on everything from white spinners to crankbaits to stickbaits, I tied those on and tried them out. All of my smallies to date have come from jig'n'twisters or tubes. That means anytime I have something else tied on my line, I wonder if I shouldn't switch back to what I know has worked in the past. But no- I need to figure out what the fish want, not what I want to throw.

The sun was lighting up the treetops on the west bank of the river
Standing on the east side of the river, I looked to the west side, which was being illuminated by the rising sun. I thought about the water temperature, and wondered if the water might be warmer over there. If I were a fish, I might prefer to be in warmer water... So I decided to try something new, and cross the river.

I'd seen the river in very low level conditions last year, so I had some idea of what was under the surface. Watching the currents on the surface, I had some guesses into the deeper parts and the shallower parts. There were geese standing in inches of water, which gave me some more hints. I started wading out into the river.

At first it was fine; as I slowly made my way across, I fished any place that seemed fishy. Areas where the water was deeper or went in little circles (pools?), areas where two flows of water met (seams?) and areas around obstructions (riffles?). I'm still not entirely sure about the terminology.

And then I found myself standing in water up to my chest in very quickly flowing water. I didn't have my wading staff, and I started to worry. I moved at a snail's pace through the water, imagining the current picking me up and sending me downstream to Yorkville or some other place. I was excruciatingly close to the opposite shore, just a matter of feet, but I couldn't find a safe route there. Looking at the water, I identified some areas I thought were deeper areas (pools?) which I soon confirmed with my feet. A few times I almost found out exactly how deep they were.

I was within 10 feet of the shore, I held my arms up to avoid the water, I kept my side facing the flow of water to present a smaller surface area, but it was slow going. Some geese sitting on the shore honked and squawked at me. I wondered if I should head back. Instead, I kept going.

Finally, I made it to the shore. I slowly emerged from the water, my waders dripping all the way up to my chest, my legs feeling very light now that they weren't constantly being hit with flowing water. The geese dispersed angrily, and I stopped to catch my breath. There was a very weathered picnic table on the island, I sat down to rest, and ate some muffins and beef jerky. I didn't question why there was an old picnic table on this island, I was just thankful for a nice spot to rest.

I think this is now mostly used by geese
I looked back at the river, wondering how I would get back across. I imagined myself stranded, only beef jerky and any fish I caught to sustain me. Sometimes I daydream about being stuck in nature, or a post-apocalyptic world. Then I'd have to fish to survive, and I'd have to basically camp 24/7. That sounds exciting to me, until I think about the stuff I wouldn't have, like music or computers or cast iron cookware. Little adventures like this is probably a good middle ground; it would probably be best if there is no zombie apocalypse.

After a few minutes I headed back to the water. The whole idea of crossing the river was to fish on this side (which turned out to actually be an island in the middle of the river) so I fished. The whole morning I hadn't seen any baitfish or anything else that obviously clued me in to the bigger fish. As I entered the water, scanning the surface to locate fishy areas, I heard loud squawking and hissing a feet feet behind me.

I turned around and saw a seemingly gigantic goose, next to a pile of straw and sticks and eggs, who was extremely pissed.

Then I saw another goose who also started to hiss and honk and yell at me.

I was standing in 3 feet of water, very close to shore, and these geese were getting angry. The one by the nest was lowering (her?) head, and it reminded me of nature videos of snakes right before they pounce. I didn't want to get pounced on! I made it this far, I wasn't going to get knocked down by a goose.

I quickly shuffled out into the water, away from the angry geese. They continued to hiss, but didn't seem to be coming after me. (A few hours later, I'd read of a very similar account by Ken G in his blog. I guess it's a recreational hazard, attacking geese that is...)

I tried everything I knew around this new shore; tubes, jigs, swimgjigs, crankbaits, spinners, inline spinners, and nothing. I thought I saw some baitfish boils every now and then, but couldn't connect with any fish. After a while, I headed back to the east shore.

On my way, I discovered some more deeper holes, and large areas without a change in depth (flats?). I was once again in water up to my chest, but the current wasn't as strong as before. I made it to the other side more easily this time, but had to leave the water because I was freezing cold.

I sat down on a log to eat a snack, a PB & J sandwich I'd prepared early in the morning, well before sunrise. I found a clearing with sunlight, hoping to warm up my legs before I went back to fishing. I bit down into a mushy, soaking wet sandwich. For a split second I was extremely confused, and then I remembered there was a backpack on my back... That was surely underwater for an extended period of time in one of my river crossings.

A few minutes later, I carefully stepped back into the water. I discovered at this particular location, there is a 2 foot drop from the shore to the riverbed. Miraculously, I had the foresight to check the depth with a tree branch before walking (falling) in, so I once again avoided being soaked my the river.

Now I worked my way downstream, casting my entire arsenal, and then it happened. I had cycled back to the good old jig'n'twister, cast it downstream right into a seam, and connected with a fish. After a short reeling in (not much of a battle at all, this fish seemed very lethargic... The water was very cold, as all my parts knew firsthand) I pulled a beautiful little smallmouth bass out of the water. I giggled like a schoolgirl.

Bronze gold!
One of the benefits of fishing super early on weekday mornings is usually there isn't anybody else fishing. That means I can fully express my child-like ecstacy when I catch a dink of a fish, without worrying what other anglers think. Of course I write about it here, but if you read this blog you probably know even the smallest fish makes me giddy, and if you didn't like that you could just stop reading.

And then, it was time to go. My legs were freezing cold, my now wet hands were being blown by the wind, causing everything to seem even colder, and a few more minutes of fishing hadn't found any more willing sparring partners.

I walked out of the river, with my soaking wet backpack and aching legs, jumped in my car, and turned the heat on full blast.

I love smallmouth bass

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Short Wade in Cold Water

Had some time yesterday, and thanks to Ken G who hipped me to the spot, I headed south to Salt Creek near the Brookfield Zoo.

The creek flows all over the area, but I know it most where it leaves Busse and heads south a few minutes to the east of my house. Eventually it connects with the Desplaines river, then the Illinois River, then the Mississippi. I've become a little obsessed mapping rivers, streams, and creeks in Google Earth. They're all connected!

A 20 minute drive south, the creek has an entirely different feel to it. Less of a creek, more of a river. I expected a small trickle, but encountered a beautiful river with rocks, with much clearer water than I'm used to in Cook County. I rolled up in my car, marveling at the very tall trees, and quickly suited up and got to the water.

I think there's a pool in this picture-
that's where there were a bunch of little fish
First cast (with a 3" white jig'n'twister) I got a hit immediately. At that exact moment my phone rang, I saw who it was and knew I needed to take it; I answered my phone and the fish got off the hook. I could have sworn it looked like a small bass, it's slim profile flashed and disappeared back into the pool. My phone call took a few minutes, all the while I scanned the river, trying to figure out it's secrets. The result of the call was good though, I was headed to Nebraska for some gigs! I wonder if there's any good fishing out there.

I entered the water, and cast, trying to reclaim the little on that got away. Again I got plenty of little hits that felt more like panfish than bass. It occurred to me maybe I should fish with nightcrawlers, I bet I'd catch more fish. Looking at the water, I identified (maybe incorrectly) some riffles, a handful of little pools, and a couple seams. I did my best fishing all the angles of these things, but wasn't able to hook one of the little fish. I tied on a tiny jighead with a tiny pink tube, but they wouldn't go for it. Maybe they liked the color of the white twister?

Wanting to explore more, I proceeded upstream. It was crazy to see to the bottom of the creek; most places I've been fishing lately (the pond, Busse, Beck, Songbird, etc.) are usually very muddy with almost no visibility. Here, a short drive away, I could see the entire composition of the stream bed. Lots and lots of rocks, gravel, and little forests of weeds (algae?) pulsing in the current. It was beautiful. Except there was this weird smell I couldn't identify... kind of a bad smell.

If not for the roar of the nearby expressway and even closer major streets, I felt like I could have been 500 miles away. Maybe in some trout stream in Colorado. Or even better, in Michigan! I liked the variety of stuff happening on this little river- it was flowing pretty quickly, and it was easy to see all the different currents at the surface.

And then I looked to the right, and stood about five feet from a raccoon.

I stopped in my tracks, all I could think of were all those scenes in movies where raccoons jump on the face of an unsuspecting outdoorsman wannabe... But it didn't move. I couldn't quite see it's face... I stood there for a minute, and then I realized it was dead. Upon a more thorough investigation I noticed some bugs and stuff that were doing their job of dismantling the raccoon. I thought of how efficient nature is- the raccoon died, bugs take it apart, it becomes something else. I don't know anything about ecology or biology, so it kind of seems like magic.

I fished for a while more in the ice cold water. Oh, didn't I mention it was ice cold? It was ice cold. Like colder than ice cold. In my thin, non-neoprene and non-breathable waders, only a thin sheet of wader material and some jeans were between my privates and a quickly rushing stream of frigid water. I was very cold. This seemed to be the theme of the week.

Every so often I'd get out the water to warm up a bit, then walk back in and continue. I got a few more small bites, but didn't see any baitfish or especially fishy-looking areas. Cycling through my entire tackle box (divided into a few smaller tackle boxes, packed into my awesome fishing vest) I practiced using all the different kinds of lures I had. Good practice, but no fish. I definitely need to come back and explore when I have more time, this is a great spot.

Thanks Ken!

Looks pristine and far away, right?
Just 5 minutes from 290! Or 355 or 88 or something...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

It was %$!#@ing cold

I've been hearing great reports of the fishing at Dusable Harbor, so of course that's where I found myself this morning around 6am. As soon as I got out of my car, I looked into the black sky and was almost knocked over by the wind. I had some second thoughts. Maybe it would be warmer by the water, I thought.

Does it look cold? It was!!
I walked up Michigan, over on Balbo, and was at the water in a few minutes. Huge waves crashed onto the pier, white streams of water flew everywhere. The lake was filled with giant waves, little white caps everywhere, and the wind was extremely intense.

It was $!#@%&ing cold as $%#&!

I almost turned around just then, but I stopped. I didn't wake up at 5 for nothing. I like little adventures almost as much as I like catching fish.

I walked north along the shore, trying to figure out how to deal with this curveball. I looked for a place that might give shelter to fish trying to escape the torrential wind. For a while I fished the area where Lake Shore Drive curves around and there are some docks. The water there was more calm, but no takers.

I kept walking north, working various lures along the lakefront as I went. I cast and retrieved with my cold, numb hands. It was supposed to be 74°F today, so I didn't bring any gloves. Lesson learned! Trying to improve my fishing skills, I've been changing lures more often. Every 10-20 minutes I tied on a different lure and tried a different technique. If any fish were biting I was determined to find them, catch them, and photograph them.

When I reached Dusable Harbor proper, I discovered a door to one of the long docks that must have been a fisherman's entrance. All I had to do was pull it open, and I walked onto the dock. A huge- no, humungous flock of seagulls was causing an insane racket over by some rocks closer to Navy Pier. I wondered if they discovered the baitfish and were having a nice morning buffet. I tried walking in that direction, but as soon as I moved beyond the big boat docked there in the harbor, the hurricane-like ice-cold wind changed my mind.

Dusable Harbor - that big boat to the right
was blocking some of the wind
No luck at the harbor, I continued walking, and found myself on the Chicago River. I fished some pilings with cranks, spinners, tubes, etc. but nobody was interested there either. I kept thinking there were certainly fish there, but I couldn't figure out how to get them. The wind was unrelenting, my hands were frozen to the core, and my three layers of flannel, sweatshirt, and windbreaker jacket weren't even enough.

The Chicago River
Doesn't look cold, but it really was
It occurred to me that I must really like fishing to be putting myself through this.

I realized I was only a 10 minute walk from Ogden Slip, where I'd had plenty of luck last year (thanks to Jim Nolan aka Bridgeport Bass for turning me on to the spot) so I headed there.

Somehow the wind was even more intense in there around all the buildings, and casting was next to impossible. I tried to work some pilings, but the wind had other ideas. I walked down the sidewalk and started fishing next to the "no fishing" sign in the corner. I had it on good authority that the city of Chicago actually built and owns the small cement dock I was on, so third party management companies cannot actually disallow fishing.

After a half hour there, working tubes, shallow cranks, deep cranks, spinners, and jigs, it was time to go. Thankfully the sun had risen enough I was slightly warm, just as I was leaving of course. I cut my losses, walked a few blocks to Michigan Avenue, hopped on a bus, and headed to work.

Not the most flattering shot....
I found a smaller, rounder bean hidden in some side streets

Kayak wading Salt Creek

I'm going to attempt a short post.

I realize I often write and write and write, probably to the point of rambling. I'm going to try a new thing here, and write a short, succinct post. This trip is a good candidate for that, since not much happened.

Even though there was a cold front coming through (I was in a kayak in Beck Lake when it happened, and let me tell you it was definitely cold) I had to get out and do some more exploring. My kayak was already strapped to my car, and my waders were already in the trunk, so I headed out. I stopped by Salt Creek a few days ago to check it out, but had a hard time getting into the water. I figured I'd take the kayak out, and if I found some fishy spots I could get out and wade.

While I unloaded the kayak, a forest preserve officer in a truck watched me. I wondered if I was doing something wrong and was about to get a ticket or something. Once I got the kayak to the water, he moved along. Got the yak in the creek, two rods in the rod holders, waders on, fishing vest stuffed with gear, and off I went.

Kayakin' the Salt
This was the first time I've kayaked with waders, and I love it. I got out of the yak about 15 times to fish promising spots, but didn't get even a hit. I'm sure the cold front doesn't help. I've heard of pike, musky, and even smallies in the creek, but I've only caught panfish and tiny largemouth bass in it so far. I threw some inline spinners (I love how they look in current), jigs and twisters, tubes, cranks, but nothing.

It was a nice paddle up the creek, and it was fun to float back, casting the whole way. A lot of the creek where I was had a very rocky bottom, which is very different from the bottom farther north. Where I usually fish it it's a mucky mud bottom. The water down here was also much clearer, about a foot of visibility. Although residential areas surround the creek, at times I felt like I was much farther away from civilization. Except for the jumbo jets flying overhead every five minutes on their way to O'hare, the busiest airport in the world, a few miles to the east.

I spent about two hours in the creek, and it was a very enjoyable experience. I saw plenty of baitfish, so I'm sure there are gamefish around. I found the baitfish by trying to read the water, to figure out where fish might be... And at least as far as baitfish are concerned, I found them! Now I just have to find whoever is eating the baitfish. I'd love to catch some nice bass wading in a stream 15 minutes from my house.... I'll definitely be back.

I hit the retention pond on the way home, and nada there too. Oh well, the season is just starting, and I'm getting tons of casting practice.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Smallies on the Fox

The prize of the day- 16-17" smallmouth bass
(The biggest I've caught, I think)
I've been having a skunk fest the past week or so. For as often as I've been fishing (pretty much every day, sometimes twice a day) the number of fish I've been catching is dismal. I want to chalk it up to the season and the weird weather, but reading reports of others having great luck has been a little disheartening.

I decided to head to the Fox River, which I think I can say now is my absolute favorite place to fish. Ever. I really like the Rogue River in Michigan, with it's crystal clear water and all the baby trout I caught there, but it's not the Fox. Last fall I caught my first smallie there (well, my first smallie when I knew what it was I caught) and caught a few more before winter. I had my first experience wading on the Fox. Last October I caught the biggest smallie I'd caught...It's a great river!

Woke up at 5am, brewed coffee, heated up some oatmeal, jumped in the car, cranked "Common" Pandora radio, and headed west. My plan was to get to the river a little before sunrise, and that I did. Thankfully the gate was open, and I rolled in greeted by an empty parking lot. Just the way I like it! Hopped out of the car, jumped into my waders, and a few short minutes later I was on the water.

For whatever reason, I decided to work my way south from my starting point. I know many people say you should always fish upstream so your lures are retrived with the current (and you don't spook the fish) but I've had much more luck doing the opposite. Before entering the river, I fan cast the area just in case there happened to be a hog chilling out close to shore. (And it happens too- this spot was where I landed the big smallie in the fall, about 3 feet from shore in 2 FOW!)

Duck, goose, goose, goose
No fish, so I walked into the river. The water level was higher than I was used to, and it was flowing relatively fast. It took me a few minutes to remember how to wade, especially since I haven't been using my wading staff (broom handle) this year. The sun slowly made it's way up, although you wouldn't know it due to all the clouds. There were geese (but not too many), woodpeckers, those black birds with red on their wings, and lots of other animals I heard but didn't see. As the water rushed around my legs, I remembered why I came here- even if I didn't land any fish, this alone was worth the car ride!

I spent half my time admiring nature and half my time bouncing my little jig up and down in the river. Every now and then I would switch out the jig and twister for a tube jig, since both have landed me fish on the river before. I worked my way downstream, trying to read the river and figure out what was under the surface. If I were a fish, where would I want to be? Areas with less current? Seams between fast and slow water? Around fallen timber? I've caught fish in all these places before...

About half an hour in, I found myself standing under some very low hanging tree branches. I'd caught some smallies here before; they had been hanging out under the branches, perhaps eating bugs that fell off the tree, or getting some shade, or eating smaller fish that were eating bugs and getting shade. Dazed by nature, I accidentally hooked a tree branch 6" from my head, and in unhooking it with a cast it splashed into the water right next to me. And there was another big splash, about a foot from my knees, that definitely was not caused by my jig.

Whenever this happens, I always cast right into the splash, just in case. I did this time too, and suddenly my jig was hooked to a fish!

This one gave me the stink eye
In my limited experience with smallmouth bass, I have tremendous respect for the fish as an adversary. They seem a lot more savy than other fish, they are strong from living in current, and if I can manage finding them and hooking them, they are extremely good at throwing the hook in a show of aerial acrobatics. This is why they are so fun! They aren't like the average fish- they are fighters.

This one was no different- as soon as it realized it was hooked, it sped through the water like a missile. I tried to keep tension on the fish, trying to keep it hooked to my line- I just wanted a few pictures of the two of us. The fish swam around me three times, and as it did I spun around, following it, keeping the line tense. After a short battle, I got it close enough I could lip it, and it stared at me angrily.

Hooray, I caught a fish! At this moment I forgot of all the times I'd caught nothing and only thought of how great this was, what an awesome fish this was, and what a great day to be out on the water fighting little feisty fish. After a few snapshots, I returned the little guy to the water, and he happily swam away.

Mission accomplished. I beat the skunk. Well worth getting up at 5am! But of course I wasn't done yet, I was just getting started...

I worked that area for a bit, but there were no other takers. Maybe I scared them all away with my jig explosion. No worries, I just continued downstream, half-absentmindedly casting and retrieving, taking in the sounds and sights around me.

And then all of the sudden I saw a bald eagle in a tree. I immediately knew what it was, and knew they hung out around the river sometimes, but I'd never seen one myself. Maybe it's not that big a deal, but I've certainly never seen a bird like that in nature. It was giant, perched on a branch near the top of a tree. I was stopped in my tracks in awe of this impressive bird, and slowly reached into my pocket to get my phone, hoping I wouldn't scare it away.

Bald eagle!
I stood there, transfixed, for a few minutes, until it suddenly flew away. I've seen a bald eagle flying away on countless times- movies, commercials, shows, etc. but it's even better in person.

Eventually I made my way to a small stretch of the river where I'd had the most luck in past outings. I don't know what it was about this stretch, but there always seemed to be a smallie there waiting for me. What's even weirder is there's almost no current, no change in bottom composition, no holes (that I know of) and it's not particularly close to any seams or riffles. Does that mean it's a pool? I'm still foggy on the nomenclature for these things.

I worked my little white twister tail all around, trying to cover the whole area. And then, BAM there was a fish on my line! I could tell as soon as I felt it that it was a much bigger fish than the previous one... Maybe even bigger than any other smallie I'd caught. I caught a glimpse of it in the water, and it was confirmed- big.

Where the other fish fought by swimming in circles, this bigger fish used it's brute strength. It zigged and zagged, and not very quickly either, almost casually trying to get away. I kept the tension, my rod tip bent over, and all I could think was "keep it on, keep it on, holy crap, keep it on!" As I brought it closer to the surface I saw it's whole body, and wanted even more to land it! This was almost certainly the biggest fish I'd hooked on the Fox.

I was standing about 10 feet from shore- I carefully moved toward the shore, easing the big fish to the shore as well. I didn't want to loose it. Then in one fell swoop, I reached down and lipped it. I won the battle! Two for two. And this was a beauty!

I kneeled on the shore, admiring my catch. It had ferocious red eyes, and it glared at me (in anger? or confusion?) It had a big belly, and was a lot heavier than it looked. It reminded me of good produce- it should be heavier than it looks. This was an awesome fish, and although I was happy with my first fish of the way, I was ecstatic with this hog.

Ok, I need to weigh it... And then I realized my brand new boga grip was in my garage, for some reason I didn't bring it. Damn! Well I wouldn't be able to get a weight... I held the monster up to my rod so I could measure later. I had no idea how long it was, but it was most certainly the biggest smallmouth bass I'd ever caught. (Later I measured on my rod, and I estimate the fish at 16-17" long)

The fish in one hand, my iphone in the other, I scanned through my apps looking for that one photo app that has the picture timer on it. I wanted to get a shot of me holding the fish properly! No can-do, apparently I'd deleted it. Damn again! It occurred to me I could take a video, then grab a screen shot for a picture. I started recording, set my phone on some rocks, and very geekily filmed my catch.

Turns out this is my first fishing video! Maybe I should do more of these, maybe score them with some CB music as well... More on that later. Watching the video now the fish looks much smaller than it did on the river, but maybe that's how it goes. It looks much beefier in this picture:

Big fish (for me) on the Fox
After making the video, I brought the fish back to the water, held it there for bit to make sure it was ok. After a few seconds, it knew what was happening and casually swam out of my hands, away from this jerk who stuck it with a hook. Watching it swim away, I thought how crazy it was a big fish would want to eat such a small lure. I guess trout are like that too. Very strange. When I'm hungry, I want a big ol' pile of food!

I continued fishing, but I was already completely satisfied. I'd had so many recent outings without so much as a bite, I was overjoyed to have two nice fish in one morning. I didn't end up catching anything else, but did revisit the spot where I caught my first 2011 smallie. Every time I come here, I wonder how part of a car ended up on the riverbank.

How? Why?
Later that day I made my first visit to Beck Lake in my kayak. It was incredibly windy, incredibly cold, and nobody was catching anything.

Not much to say about it- the highlight of the evening was when the wind pushed me close to shore. I turned and found myself face to face with a beaver, sitting on the shore motionless, about a foot from my head.

In case you didn't get enough of her before

Skunked, skunked, and skunked again

In an effort to take advantage of the amazing temperatures we were having, I've been fishing like a madman. Unfortunately, I don't have much to show for it in terms of fish caught. Reading reports on Windy City Fishing leads me to believe I might be the only one not catching huge numbers of fish! Alas, I figure the more I fish, the better I'll get, and eventually I'll be able to land many fish per outing.

On the other hand, because I seem to get skunked so often, it's incredibly exciting for me to land even one fish! I'm still very new to fishing, and I still get a huge thrill landing even the dinkiest baby of a fish.

Since I haven't been catching much, I decided to condense all my recent trips into one post. Here goes...

WEDNESDAY 3-21-2012 - The Pond

the pond at night
I decided to try night fishing the pond, I wondered if the higher-than-normal daytime temperatures might entice a bite out of the bass there. I read some reports of other fisherman having nighttime success, so I headed out to the pond. Long story short, nada. It was a great time, a very nice air temperature, and it was very relaxing to cast in the dark. There were a few splashes near me, but the bass weren't interested.

Every now and then I heard a very strange sound, and I listened carefully to figure out what it was. Eventually I realized it was a bug zapper at a house across the pond. ZAP! ZAPZAPZAP! Some bugs were meeting their maker.

I also heard (and saw glimpses of) bats flying around the pond, probably enjoying a feast of newly hatched bugs. I definitely appreciated their handiwork, since I wasn't being bothered by any bugs whatsoever. It's very cool to hear bats chirping as they fly through the darkness; as they flew around me their chirps were moved across my stereo image (it's an audio thing) which was very interesting!

THURSDAY 3-22-2012 - Salt Creek

Three herons (I think)
The next day I had some time on my way home from work, and I decided to check out a new stretch of Salt Creek. The creek runs north to south near my house; I think Busse was created by damming it up. The creek flows from Busse down through a variety of industrial and residential areas, before eventually meeting up with the Desplaines River (I think, I'm still mapping it in Google Earth). I saw a huge number of minnows (maybe some were tadpoles?) and found a very nice kayak/canoe launch. Will definitely have to kayak from here sometime.

Stood on the bank for about an hour, throwing a variety of lures with no takers. Up closer to Busse, the creek definitely seems like a creek.. But down here, it is a little wider, and seems like a small river. I'm sure there are game fish in this stretch, just have to figure out how to catch them...

FRIDAY 3-23-2012 - Busse Lake

Had some time after work, so I headed to Busse for about an hour. On my way I stopped at Dick's to pick up some stuff, including a red craw-pattern rat-L-trap, which has been killing it in the area on bass.

Second cast, I hook the craw on a rock, and somehow manage to break my braided line. What the hell, Busse!? Well that's $5 I'll never get back. I need to figure out how to make rat L traps.

There were two guys fishing right on the dam on the main pool side; I couldn't quite figure out what they were going for. It looked like they were casting right into the pool under the small dam, but they didn't seem to be catching anything. I wondered if any fish were gathering under the dam.

the north pool dam at Busse
Saw another guy shore fishing in one of my favorite spots, and he was getting bite after bite on a worm/salamander/creature softbait. It was great to see someone getting action at Busse! He managed to catch at least one when I was there.

After a while I had to go, but I'd be back... I wanted in on the action.

SATURDAY 3-24-2012 - Busse Lake

it was foggy
I've been eager to get the kayak out since January. Finally the time had come! Friday night I loaded up the kayak on my car, went to Dick's and got some supplies for my fishing vest. I used the vest wading for steelhead in Michigan a couple weeks ago (or was it last weekend?) but I just put my lures loose in the pockets. That resulted in a few small holes in the pockets, and a few larger holes in my hands. Apparently people use small tackle boxes in the pockets. Who knew!?

So I put together an assortment of lures in a few small tackle boxes, filling my fishing vest with everything I'd need. I had a soft plastics tackle box with tubes, worms, creatures, bullet weights, and hooks; I had a jig box with twister tails, grubs, and jigs of all sizes; then I had a crankbait box with a selection of my favorite crankbaits, including some handmade ones from Mike Muston of Flushing, Michigan, Their action is incredible!

Got up extra early saturday morning, ate some oatmeal, drank some (not enough) coffee, and set out in the dark... for Busse Lake. Why did I choose Busse, where I've been skunked so many times before? Reading reports, it seemed many people have been KILLING it at Busse. I wanted in on the action! I still have never caught a bass in the kayak.

I drove to Busse, noticing that all the entrances were closed except the one I wanted to enter- the Higgins road entrance near 290. I arrived just about at sunrise, and there were already about 15 cars parked inside the preserve. Wow, I guess I wasn't the only one trying to get out today. I quickly unloaded the kayak, parked my car, and was in the water in about 10 minutes.

I caught this deep diving crankbait
on a texas-rigged plastic worm
The fog was incredible- the air temperature was rather cold, but the water was warm. I think that situation will cause fog every time- but I don't really know science. It was great fun paddling through the dense fog, only being able to see a little bit in front of me. It was like a tylenol commercial for baby boomers. Not sure why I thought that...

I worked the shoreline with a variety of lures, nothing. I trolled a crankbait, nothing. I worked the channel near the boat launch, some shallow areas that seemed like nice spawning grounds, and even some downed timber where that guy had success the night before, and nothing. I did however manage to catch a new lure, looks like a deep diving crankbait. Nice! I've found so many nice pieces of gear at Busse, it lessens the blow of the almost expected skunk. It was a great outing in terms of kayaking, but alas I went home without any fish pictures.

SATURDAY - part 2 - Salt Creek

I decided to head back to Salt Creek again, this time with my waders. I got there about an hour before sunset, and was really hoping for some bites. I put my waders on, threw on my fishing vest (which by the way is an awesome way to carry tackle! So convenient, and I can travel lighter. No big tackle box needed... Just grab what I need from my pockets. I love it!)

I stepped into the water, and that's when the problems started. First of all, the water was extremely muddy, flowing quickly, and filled with big rocks. I didn't have my wading staff. As I attempted to enter the water, every move was stopped by a huge rock I couldn't seem to get around. Finally, I was able to get around the rock, but then suddenly discovered there was a two foot dropoff just on the other side! I almost ended up swimming in the creek instead of wading. I tried to find some other spot to enter, but nothing. All along the banks it seemed the creek got very deep, very quickly. There seemed to be no easy way to enter the water.

I tried hiking up a path, looking for another entrance. I found a bridge which looked promising. I was about to step in the water, when it occurred to me I'd better check the depth. I stuck my rod in the water, tip down, to get a sense of the depth. Almost the whole rod went in the water- vertically- and it was clear that this spot had a four foot dropoff. Not a good idea to step in!

Discouraged, I fished a bit from the bridge. Scanning the water, trying to remember everything I've read about river fishing, I tried to make sense of what I saw. Which ones were riffles, which ones were pools? I found an area where the water flowed in a circle, and the current seemed much weaker. It was also under some bushes. Sure enough, when I cast my jig n twister, I got some bites! Unfortunately I couldn't get anybody to commit, and once again ended up leaving empty handed so to speak.

This guy grabbed my lure and shoved it into his mouth
Then he spit it out for me. Thanks frog!
I did end up hooking a frog accidentally with a white jig n twister. He grabbed it with his hand and shoved it into his mouth! I didn't know frogs did that. I tugged on the line and he quickly spat it out. I'm glad I didn't hurt him, I like frogs.

It's always great to get out, and I like exploring new areas, even if I'm skunked. I'll definitely have to come back here with a kayak, and see if I can find one of those elusive Salt Creek muskies.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wind, sludge, bass, and ticks

The elusive fuzzy bass
(Damn you iphone camera...)
This "spring" has been insane- record high temperatures hovering in the 80's this week!? Transitioning right from a mostly snowless "winter" to a glaring-sun "spring" that feels more like summer? But what does it all mean?

For the fish I mean, what does it all mean for the fish.

I've been reading Windy City Fishing like a madman, every day learning about more and more people catching their personal bests, or having success in places that don't usually turn on until later in the year, and of course pictures of monster fish caught in this beautiful weather. As the temperature rose, my focus turned turned to the outdoors. I can't wait to get the kayak out on the water, hopefully this weekend. Sometime soon I hope to get a fish finder and make my yak into a fish-finding and temporarily-inconveniencing machine (as opposed to a fish-killing machine). But until then, I'm doing what I can... and that means many short trips to local spots.

The other day I fished the retention pond, and it was absolutely covered in green sludge and dead plants, and was actually bubbling. Turns out, this isn't the result of illegal toxic waste dumping, it's something called spring turnover. Apparently when the top of the water warms, for some scientific reason it causes all the stuff on the bottom to come up to the top. I don't quite understand how this works, but I know it makes casting fishing a little more complicated. At least on my local pond, all that "stuff" basically covered the top of the water, making it difficult to fish. I also tried some night fishing at the pond, as some WCF'ers have been having luck with that- but it was very difficult to avoid all the sludge and clean my lures after every cast in the dark. Not to mention I can't figure out where my LED headlamp is, so I have to hold my flashlight in my mouth.

I got home from work earlier than expected yesterday, so I naturally headed for some water. I conveniently already had my fishing gear in my car, as if I planned this little impromptu trip. Besides the pond, and Salt Creek, the next closest body of water to my house is Songbird Slough. It's in a preserve that was until recently closed for construction. Now that it's open, my thinking was I could catch some nice bass there who aren't used to fishing pressure. I have great feelings about Songbird; I caught my first topwater fish there last year, 2 feet from shore, in the dark! It's a beautiful preserve filled with all kinds of unusual birds. But I digress...

Turns out there are ticks in there...
When I reached the edge of the water, I felt like I was looking out onto some wild ocean instead of a small preserve lake. The wind was ferociously ripping the waves every which way, pulling up dirt and mud from the bottom, causing the water to be extremely choppy and completely opaque. My first fishing spot happened to be facing directly into the wind, making casting difficult. I tied on a lipless rattling crankbait (many local fisherman have been doing well with these lately) and attempted some fishing.

It was difficult to say the least. I quickly lost hope of catching anything, not really knowing how bass would relate to such windy conditions. If I were a bass, I would go hide somewhere and wait out the wind storm. I've heard walleye become more active when the water is choppy, as it diffuses the light entering the water, making things darker for them... I fished for about 20 minutes, working the shoreline without any luck. A few times I did hook something big that seemed to move, but every time it turned out to be a big branch churned around by the wind.

Although I enjoyed the surroundings - it is a pretty preserve - I didn't come to look. I came for fish. In an effort to actually catch something, I hopped into my car and headed to the good old retention pond. Would I have learned more as a fisherman trying to fish Songbird in the wind? Perhaps. But I only had a few minutes, and wanted to make the best use of that time.

I got to the pond, looked down the hill at the water, and saw massive amounts of green stuff floating by my usual spot on the pipe. When I fish the pond, I almost always fish in one spot, right on that pipe. Every other body of water I fish, I move around trying to find the fish, which seems to be the best way to fish... However, most of the year there is a solid wall of cattails and tall tough grasses that make shore fishing most of the pond a pain in the ass to say the least. That's part of why I want to take the kayak out there...

Turns out, this March the foliage isn't so much of a wall, it's more like a 3 foot wide grassy sidewalk that lines the banks. Many spots provide easy access to the water. Having to choose between sludge-covered water and an open but unfamiliar spot, I headed to the open water.

I threw a variety of lures, but nothing got any attention. I saw what I was pretty sure were fish close to the surface swimming around. In my imagination, what I was seeing was bass chasing baitfish around the pond, causing boils at the surface. I could see slow moving wakes on the water surface that would intersect smaller bunches of wakes, causing small underwater explosions. Could the wind be doing this? Maybe... I'm still new to this. Either way, whenever I saw a boil I would cast my lure just beyond it and retrieve it into the bedlam. Dragonflies cruised the surface, and it looked to me like they were teasing the bass. I really hoped one would get close enough and a monster bass would surface and devour the dragonfly. Nothing against dragonflies, that would just be cool.

This ended up saving the day
(check out that muck in the background)
As a last ditch effort, I tied on a green tube jig. I know I mention this lure a lot, but it has caught me more fish - and more variety of species - than anything else I've ever used... except maybe nightcrawlers. First cast, and something took a swipe at the jig. Fish! So maybe those wakes ARE bass.

I worked the same area for a while, but didn't get another hit. Ok, I thought, I really should vary things up. I need to find the fish. I took the tube jig off my line, replaced it with a peanut-style crankbait, and started fan casting the pond. I worked my way back to the pipe, looking at my watch every 30 seconds, knowing I had very little time to fish. Then I found myself back on the good old pipe, working my crankbait around the "weed" edges. I figured if bass like to hide around weeds and submerged timber, maybe they would take advantage of this sludge and use it as cover. I tried different retrieves- starting and stopping; letting the lure sit on the water and twitching it every 15 seconds; but these weren't catching any fish.

A father and kid walked by, fishing rods in hand. I think the man lives in the house next to the pond, I wonder how he feels about me fishing there so often. I wondered if I was taking his spot. The little kid said "Hi! I'm my dad's fishing buddy!" in a giddy voice. "That's great!" I said. They walked to the other side of the pond and set up shop. I hoped they would catch something!

Back to fishing, I knew I had to leave in a few short minutes... I tried retrieving the crank about 2 feet under the surface, slow and steady. I heard a splash, and thought I saw a frog about 30 feet to my left, half in the water and half on the bank. I wasn't sure it was a frog, and I'd never seen any at the pond, but who knows. I cast the crank again, and slowly reeled in my line. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw/heard another splash; it happened very fast but I think I saw the frog's tongue fly out, grab a dragonfly, and suck it back in. Amazing! That was awesome! Hey my crank is stuck...

I turned to look back at my crankbait, which I'd forgotten about, and noticed I'd hooked into something heavy, and it was moving. Fish on!

Dirty bass! Had to pull him through the muck
After the shortest battle in fishing history, I pulled out another nice pond bass, my first crankbait catch there. A nice looking bass! It wasn't huge, but for 20 minutes of fishing after work, I've done worse. I stifled my normal giddy cackles due to the audience farther down the shore, and quietly snapped some shots of me and my new buddy. Of course, the bass probably didn't appreciate the hooks in his mouth, and didn't think of me as his buddy. I carefully put the fish back in the green water, and with a splash it was gone. 1 for 2 on the pond on a Tuesday, not bad.

I fished for a few more minutes, but I had a wife that needed some dinner, and really I'd accomplished my goal. I really like catching fish, and being outside in this weather.

As I drove back from the grocery store, sitting at a stoplight, I was absent-mindedly scratching my head. Suddenly I felt something, and pulled it out. The light turned green, and I looked at what was in my hand, and I immediately recognized it as a tick. AHH! I shouted loudly, and flung it out the open window.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Trout on the Rogue

The Rogue River at Sunrise
We were heading to Michigan this weekend, and there was no way I wasn't going to be fishing in this incredible weather. After about a hundred texts, I had two partners, a location, and a quarry: trout. My friends Rob and Mark and I were going to fish the Rogue River for steelhead.

Woke up at 5am on Saturday, which of course was actually 4am for me due to the time zone change. If it means fishing such a great spot as the Rogue River, I don't mind getting up that early at all. Made a pot of coffee, put on some long underwear to go under my jeans under my waders, and for the first time this year busted out my new fishing/wading vest.

It's a nice lightweight one from L.L. bean, with tons of pockets and places to hide fishing gear. The problem is I'm not really sure how you're supposed to keep lures in the pockets... And in one pocket there is a piece of white fur or something with a safety pin on the back. What the hell is that for? Pretty sure it has something to do with holding flies for fly fishing, but I know almost nothing about that world of fishing...

I kneeled on the floor, my tacklebox open and my vest on me, trying to figure out how to move lures to my vest. Do I put them loose in the pockets? Do I stick them to the furry thing? Do I have to use little boxes, and put those in my pockets?

Well I only had one little box, so I filled it with a bunch if homemade inline spinners and shoved it into a pocket. I still had tons more lures I wanted to take, so I just shoved those in pockets too- hooks and all! Pretty sure that's not what you're supposed to do, as I immediately began hooking my fingers anytime I went into the pockets... But hey you do what you gotta do for fishing.

After a few minutes by vest was about 10 pounds heavier, filled with anything and everything that might possibly catch me a fish on the Rogue River. This was the very same river I waded back in November searching for salmon. I didn't find any salmon, but I did land my first brown trout. It was a tiny fish, but was one of the highlights of my fishing year. I knew there would be a variety of trout in the river, and of course spring-run steelhead salmon. Although it would have been amazing to hook into one of those, I knew I'd be ecstatic catching even a tiny trout of any species.

I put on my vest, a few hooks poking through my pockets, and I made a last ditch google search for "spring steelhead lures" as I downed my coffee. The Internet told me most people fly fish for steelhead; if not, most people used spawn (fish eggs) under a bobber. I didnt have any spawn. The third option seemed to be small inline spinners. Well I was in luck, because id been making spinners all winter and had a ton of them, many dangerously poking through my vest.

Around 5:45am Mark arrived, not awake yet either, and we quickly loaded my mini with gear and headed out. Let me tell you, nothing says fishing more than two guys and a ton of fishing gear in a green mini cooper.

By the time we got to the river, it was about 7am; I'd consumed the better part of a pot of coffee, and was itchin' to go fishin'. Somehow, all three of us had miscalculated (read: misread) when sunrise was. When Rob showed up a few minutes later, it was still absolutely and completely dark outside, save the waning gibbous moon poking through the trees. Sunrise was at 7:50, not 7:05!

Unsphased, we hopped into our waders and trekked into the dark.

Many who know me know about the strange neorological condition I experience called synesthesia- basically all my senses are connected. When I hear music I also literally see it, like an abstract "fantasia" or something. The same thing with any sound, like rushing water. As we walked along the river in the dark, the pulsing white paintings of the water rushing illuminated the darkness to me, a strange juxtaposition with the almost complex darkness.

This is kind of what our trek looked like
(we had fishing rods instead of guns)
As I followed Mark and Rob through the foliage, it reminded me of a mission in Call of Duty where you're a sniper sneaking into an enemy base. The outdoors is still pretty new to me, and there are many experiences I've only had in video games- like a bunch of guys, loaded down with gear, hiking through the forest on a mission. It was great to do this in real life, even though I was armed with a fishing rod, not a sniper rifle. Hopefully it would be just as deadly to the fish!

We passed many fisherman, apparently waiting for sunrise to enter the water. After a few minutes, we reached our destination and entered the water- we didn't wait for sunrise, it was fishing time! Rob and Mark easily waded through the water, but it took me a few minutes to regain my "river legs." i momentarily forgot how to wade, and went very slow to avoid getting all my gear prematurely wet. Rob directed us to a promising looking spot, and we began fishing. rob gave me some tips regarding casting location and retrieval speed, which I promptly forgot- I was still trying not to fall of in the quickly moving water!

We fished as the sun came up, and we were able to see our surroundings slowly lit up by the sun. As it shone through the trees, rays of fog lit up like laser beam security systems in art museums in movies (you know what I mean). The scene could not have been more beautiful. It was hard to focus on fishing when my surroundings were so beautiful... But not that hard.

I threw inline spinners, little white marabou jigs, and some plastic spawn imitation stuff that Mark gave me, which was apparently at least 10 a years old. Rob got a hit early on, but was unable to hook the beast. After a while we saw some steelhead jump out of the water, confirming we were in the right place!

Fishing buddies
Rob on the left in a nice fly-fisherman pose
Mark on the right not fishing for some reason...
Although there were definitely fish there, we couldn't get them to take our lures. After a while we decided to move downstream, working our way back to our cars. The scene was idyllic, but nobody was catching fish- and there were tons and tons of fishermen (and fisher-ladies) all along the river. A quick hike around a seemingly abandoned paper mill and a short drive upstream, and we arrived at our new spot just downstream of the Rockford dam.

Walking along the bridge, we looked down and saw at least three big fish (steelhead?) hanging out in the river. They seemed to be taunting the 20-or-so anglers standing in the river in the short stretch around the bridge. The water was so clear (I'm not used to that in my normal Illinois spots!) I wondered if the anglers could see the fish staring back at them.

We hiked through a gauntlet of thorny brush and finally made our way to spot near the steelhead. Rob stayed on the bridge, helping us find the fish. Mark I both proceeded to hook everything around us, except of course fish. The banks were lined with thick foliage; I spent about 10 minutes untangling my line from a single jerk-of-a-bush. The anglers in the river watched in amusement (or apathy, it was hard to tell).

I decided to move farther upstream, to avoid both the bushes and other angler's lines. I saw a guy catch a "nice" brown (I thought it looked humongous) which only fueled my fishing lust.

I fished for a while, and although I didn't get a single tap on anything I threw, every 10 seconds or so I saw a little skinny fish (baby trout?) jump out of the water just feet in front of me. The fact that I was standing in 3 feet of water and these jumps were almost at eye-level made it even more exciting. (remember, I'm super short)

A homemade spinner
Mark caught a fish! I quickly hopped over to see him unhooking a super nice brown, must have been at least 18". I marveled at the beautiful fish, and speedily ran back to my spot. He caught on a tiny silver mepps, retrieved very quickly. I pawed through my hook-lined-pockets, causing many small holes in my hands, until I found the smallest spinner I had. I lost a few upstream, so I only had one small spinner. This was the first one I'd made with a floating fluorescent body, originally with hopes of catching fox river walleye. Let's see if it could entice trout...

I cast it out far as I could upstream, and reeled in as fast as I could. Immediately I had a bump that was unmistakably a fish!! Fish!!

Forgetting Rob's earlier advice, I'd mostly been retrieving kind of slow, thinking I would be too fast for the fish. Now that I was burning the lure through the water, the fish were interested! I saw the flashes of 3+ fish following my spinner as it came toward me in the clear water.

Second cast, a hit, and then it felt like I was pulling my spinner over corrugated cardboard... As it came closer I saw a fish attached to my lure. FISH ON! It took every fiber in my body to avoid jumping up and giggling at the 8" fish I'd caught. Had I been alone, the river would have echoed with the high pitched squeals of a five year old!

I reached for the fish, excited for a photo, and it jumped off circle hook and slipped back into the water. That's ok, I thought, I'll just tell everyone it was a 19 incher. For the 3 seconds I saw it out of the water, I knew it was a trout, but I didn't know which one. Not a steelhead, probably a baby brown.

Next cast, another bump, and another trout! Same deal, as soon as it approached my hand it acrobatically jumped off the hook and back into the water.

A few casts later, same thing... Well at least I was figuring out a pattern for these fish! My homemade spinner, 2 feet below the surface, retrieved quicky.

And then, finally, I managed to get one in my hand long enough got a snapshot! Of course it was the smallest one I'd caught, and as no sooner than I'd captured it in my photo library, with a quick wiggle it was back in the water. I later google image searched, and confirmed it was a brown.

I know it looks like I'm strangling it, but I was holding it
pretty lightly.. you can see the tail starting to move- it jumped
right after this picture was taken!

Soon after that we had to go, due to our wives expecting us back... But all in all an amazing morning fishing! Although I still hadn't hooked into a beast of a steelhead, or any beast for that matter, the experience was awesome... And I did in fact catch four trout on a homemade lure, wading the beautiful Rogue River, with some great fishing buddies.