Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Green sunfish and the creek monster

The view from the water
Early this morning I headed out to the local pond, which is the answer to my fishing fix when I don't plan ahead. The pond is there, it's full of fish, I usually do pretty well there. For a while the bass seemed turned off, and now they are back biting at everything. Could that be the "post-spawn funk" I've been hearing about?

Last week my lovely wife suggested we get another fishing rod. Well ok, sounds like a plan to me. We went to the big store and looked through all the rods until I found what I was looking for. I should clarify that, because I have no idea what I was looking for. I was hoping for a very light rod that I could use for a variety of fishing situations- pond bass, panfish, maybe even smallies. I normally fish with medium rods, but I wanted to try catching big pond bass on a light rod.

Turns out, it's a hell a good time. (Did I say that right? Should I say "hella" instead?) This morning I missed 2 and landed 3 on my new 5'6" light action (action? weight? not sure) rod. Each fish felt like a river monster. It was awesome. 1 came on a texas-rigged tube (thanks for the idea Sam) and the others on a plain old t-rigged worm. Brown. They attacked the $%^# out of that brown worm.

Later in the day I headed out to good old Salt Creek. It's a fairly polluted body of water, as I understand it; but I've caught a fair number of small fish there before. Even kayaked there once. I stopped by for literally 10 minutes and caught 4 green sunfish and two bass. They were small, but I really enjoyed catching them. I tried throwing some new little spoons I assembled, but they only followed and wouldn't strike. The white jig and twister, which is quickly becoming my go-to lure, took them all.

For 10 minutes in the middle of the day, I'll take it. The bass hit like tanks; they didn't know how small they were.

This evening I had been planning on kayaking Mallard Lake, now that I've got the Dupage county license to do so... But with 15 mph with gusts up to 30, I knew it would mean a frustrating outing. At the last minute I changed my mind and decided to wade Salt Creek.

I've never heard of anybody targeting green sunfish- not for bait- but that was exactly my plan. I wanted to go wading on a Monday night, 5 minutes from my house, and catch a bunch of fish. Beside the gale-force wind, it was a perfectly fantastic outing.

Perhaps you might think it's silly to wade in a tiny creek only home to tiny fish; or a waste of time... But just like the local pond is a smaller version of a lake, the creek is a scaled-down version of a river. All the same rules apply. There are still riffles, pools; seams, undercut banks... It's just all in miniature. The water was surprisingly clear, so as I fished I could not only view all the structure in the river, but I could see where my fish came from. Learning to fish a little creek will help me understand bigger moving water, just like learning to pond fish pays off in larger lakes.

It was incredibly informative. I learned that, in Salt Creek this evening, green sunfish prefer to be in the shade, under trees if possible, and in whatever deeper water is available. In any given stretch, I took a long hard look, and made a guess cast to where the fish would choose to be. Most of the time I was right, which was a prize in itself! And then there was this feisty, underrated, and very pretty little fish that I kept catching.

I was having a great time. I explored the creek, slowly wading downstream; I saw a raccoon crawl down almost into the water and disappear into a hole in the bank. I saw a muskrat waddling along, oblivious to my presence. I noticed tons of little baitfish hanging out in the miniature eddies that appeared occasionally. It seemed like the creek didn't have too many places for fish to be; no big boulders, not too much downed timber, no obvious fish-holding spots. I wonder if the channelization of the original stream caused those things to disappear.

Call me silly, but I was perfectly happy to catch these little fish. I was catching more fish in this outing than any of the 113 previous outings this year. It was great.

And then, after hooking into a little greenie in the shadow of an undercut bank, I saw a long green shape suddenly lunge out from the darkness and take a swipe at my hooked fish.

And then it was gone.

I froze, forgetting I had a fish on my line, and questioned the reality of what I just saw. It looked a little like a bass, but was much longer. I saw a flash of scales that appeared green through the water. But so did most things when viewed through this water... I estimated it's length at three feet, but it could have been less. I quickly ran down the list of possible species... I concluded it was either a bass- a BIG bass, a pike, or a musky.

It was a BIG fish. It dwarfed my 5" green sunfish. I know musky or even pike may sound ridiculous to you reading this, an account of fishing in a little polluted creek... But Busse Lake flows into Salt Creek, and they stocked musky at Busse. There's even a picture on the internet somewhere of a guy holding a Salt Creek musky. So it's not completely out of the question.

But even if it were a bass, it was certainly a very big fish. And for the water it was in, practically a trophy-sized fish.

Obviously I fished that spot for about an hour after the sighting.

I threw everything- I got some follows on my new little spoon, but I think it was just little greenies. I used a green sunfish as bait, which seemed like a great idea considering that's what triggered the attack in the first place.... But I never saw that large flash of scales again. Eventually, as the sun began to set, I decided to call it a day. As I waded upstream, it occurred to me how much more difficult it was than wading downstream. My thighs and calves burned. The wind tore through my ears and threatened to blow my hat off. I caught some more fish, and it was ok. I ended up catching 11 green sunfish, which is 1 more than my record this year of number of fish in one outing.

The idea of that giant fish swimming so close to my house will keep me up at night; I'll have dreams of catching whatever it was the next time I go down there. It's amazing, you just don't know what's in the water... until you catch it.

EDIT: Writing this now, after the fact, I suddenly remember I noticed that fish in the picture looked like it's pelvic fins were bitten off. Maybe there is some other reason it's missing fins, but for now I'm just going to assume they were taken by the giant aquatic creature I caught a glimpse of.

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