Sunday, December 18, 2011

Where did Bill go?

I've gotten a lot of mail the last few months asking if I've disappeared since I haven't posted anything in several months. The truth is I've had some neck and shoulder surgery that has kept me off the water for quite some time and with any luck I'll be back sometime this spring.

Thanks to everyone for the kind wishes and Happy Holidays to all!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Rainy Opening Day at Heidecke Lake

Friday, April 1, 2011

When I went outside Friday morning I was greeted with a very colorful sunrise. The air temp was in the upper 40s and it was forecast to rain off and on later in the day.

Colorful Sunrise
I got to the lake about an hour after it opened and was very surprised that for opening day there were only 11 trailers in the lot and I was going to be number 12 in the water. Usually opening day is pretty crowded and the lot fills up. Unlike the day before, I had no trouble or mishaps getting the boat into the water and heading out to find fish. As soon as I got to my first spot I noticed several schools of Carp swimming around the surface and sucking air. I've seen them do that in very warm water, but not 43 degree water like I was fishing in.

Carp at the surface 
As I worked my way along the shoreline I saw several geese and ducks going about their business. Every now and then a small fish would cause some commotion as I spooked it away from the shoreline rocks.

A Duck swims away from me
I wasn't on the water for more than a few minutes when the clouds moved in and a few drops made their presence known as they hit the waters surface.
Clouds move in

The rain got a little heavier but wasn't to the point of annoying yet. It would sprinkle a little, then quit, then sprinkle some more. I kept working my way along the shoreline.
 A pair of Geese

One thing I noticed even as I put the boat in the water was that the water level was probably as low as I've seen it. I had to be careful motoring out of the cove where the ramp is located. There is a fence that is supposed to keep people from getting closer to where the power plant used to be and it is usually right at the water line. I was surprised to see the water several feet lower than the base of the fence.
Very low water level

My first strike of the day was a good one. I knew right away I had a decent fish on and when I saw that it was a nice Musky, I grabbed the big net that I had ready and waiting just in case. A few minutes later I was netting the fish and taking a few quick photos.
Releasing the Musky
After I released the Musky I sent a quick text to a friend who was on his way to join me "Musky in the boat". A reply came right back "Awesome". In short order I was able to put a Smallmouth Bass and a Hybrid Striped Bass in the boat.

Hybrid Striped Bass
At this point the rain became a little steadier and everything started to get soaked - including me. The phone rang and it was time to head for the ramps to pick up Dale.
Smallmouth Bass
Once we got back out on the water the rain began alternating between a moderate rain and a light sprinkle with more emphasis on the moderate rain. Dale is the outdoors writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, has a great Radio Show that can be heard around the Chicago area, and also writes for Heartland Outdoors. See the end of this for some links.

Steadier Rain
Dale and I continued to fish and continued to get soaked. Our hands became numb and we'd have to stop fishing every once in a while to warm them back up. By this time we couldn't see any other boats on the water and it appeared as if we had the entire lake to ourselves.

Dale fishing in the rain

Heidecke Lake is around 1600 acres of water that is separated into two sections by a levee. At the northwest end of the levee there is a bridge that some boats can go under to get to the other section. My two previous boats would make it under the bridge, but not this one. Even with the water level as low as it was, I was not about to risk damaging the windshield. I have some fond memories of fishing the other side of the lake and miss being able to get under that bridge, but it's not worth the risk to the boat.
Rain, Rain, and more Rain
Heidecke used to be a cooling lake for a coal fired power plant. A few years ago they tore the plant down and the lake became more like a normal lake. There used to be a good current that moved the warm water from one side to the other. But when the plant closed, that went away. Even though the extended growing season is a thing of the past, there are still some huge fish in the lake.
Me with a nice white Bass
We put a few more fish in the boat. Dale had a musky bite a pretty good sized musky lure right off the end of his line and I hooked two more smaller ones but failed to land them. I got one right up to the boat but he got away just as Dale was lowering the net to the water. The other jumped so we could see him laugh at us before he let go of the lure. I also had a Walleye take a swipe and a lure as I was bringing it back to the boat, then as I pulled it out of the water, he came back again a jumped out of the water after it. Too bad he missed or that would have been a first for me.
Another White Bass
Despite the rain, it was still a nice trip. My boat was soaked but by the end of the next day it was all dried out and ready for the next trip. the air temp made it to the low 50s but you never would have know it being out in the rain as we were.
I recently moved my website to a new hosting company and have yet to  put the two sites up where you can purchase my photos, but I'm looking forward to working with my new host with this being the 10th anniversary of my site being on the web. Here are some links to Dale's work:

Thursday, March 31, 2011

LaSalle Lake Largemouth

LaSalle Lake - Thursday March 31, 2011


After so long off the water I was beginning to wonder if I could still catch fish. Today I found I still had what it takes to catch fish, but lost it big time when it comes to backing the boat into the water.

The story starts out with me going from trying to be a Good Samaritan, to turning into a rookie idiot. I got to the lake an hour after it was supposed to have opened and saw there was still a long line. I quickly realized that the gate had not been opened yet. After thinking about it for a minute I decided I'd turn around and go to Braidwood since I'd heard that the fish were hitting pretty good over there. I backed up to where I could turn around and noticed the gate opening so I got back in last place in line.


About 15 minutes later I had reached the gate when the driver of a broken down van that I had passed midway in line came running up behind me and asked if I could give his van a jump. My only concern was being able to get turned around so I could get back in line again. Since I would hope that someone would help me out if I needed it, I decided to go for it and manged to get turned around and nosed up to his van. We were able to get it started and I backed up down the road back through the gate and was able to tun around and get back in line again. That's when I temporarily turned into an idiot.

I had my boat all ready to go into the water so when it was my turn I backed down the ramp. The problem was I was at too much of an angle and my trailer tire went off the side of the ramp between the ramp and the dock. The last time I saw someone do that, they messed up their truck pretty bad trying to muscle the trailer out. My first thought was "don't panic, get out and assess the situation, come up with a plan, then work the plan". My second thought was "My insurance is paid up, right?".

I got out of the truck and the bilge pump in my boat started firing water out the side. My third thought was "Drain Plug". Yep, it was still in the boat. About this time the guy I helped out noticed I was in trouble and came over to give me a hand. I knew I had time before my boat would take on enough water to sink, so we pulled the boat off the trailer and tied it off. The first thing I did when I bought that boat was replace the bilge pump with a much higher capacity one, and put in a float switch so I knew it could sit there a while before I'd have to worry. At that point I figured out how to get the trailer out without damaging the dock or the trailer and it worked. I repositioned the trailer on the ramp, pulled the boat out of the water and put the plug where it belonged.


Then it was time to fish. Or so I thought. As I was driving around the lot to find a place to park,  I came across two guys who had parked with their boat on the trailer and were working on trying to start the outboard. I asked them if they wanted to come out with me and they gave it some serious consideration but chose to keep trying to get their boat started - which they eventually did. I even saw them fighting a pretty good fish later on.

Finally I'm out on the water. My boat started up fine and I picked a place to start fishing and things finally started to get better. Long story short, I caught over 40 Largemouth in about 2 and a half hours. Throw in an eater sized Blue Catfish and a bunch of little annoying size channel cats and it turned into a good day. The sun was shining and there wasn't much wind. The water temp ranged from the low 60s near the ramp to about 80 near the discharge area. I never made it into the discharge chute but I'm sure it was close to 90 in there. For those not familiar with LaSalle Lake, it's a 2600 acre cooling lake for a nuclear power plant and can get quite rough when its windy.

I started out throwing a crank bait and switched to a tube after a while to make sure I didn't over work my arm and shoulder - one of the reasons I've been off the water so long. I kept snagging the tube in the rip rap so I switched to a plastic worm and they hammered it all day long. I'm sure some bigger fish were caught by others during the day, but all mine ranged from 13 to 17 inches.

When I went back to get the trailer, I noticed I had bent and moved the spare tire fixture when it hit the dock as the trailer went off the side of the ramp. Once I got home, it took a couple deep sockets and about 10 minutes to fix it all good as new. I got everything ready for the next days trip and covered the boat for the day.

Friday, December 31, 2010

IL River Sauger Fishing

Illinois River - December 30, 2010

Icy Parking Lot

Since it's been a while since I fished for Sauger, I thought I'd try to get Jim Lukancic and Al Bernicky out on the river so we could try our luck. Jim had got called back to work for a couple days after being laid off and wasn't able to go, and so Al and I were disappointed he wasn't able to join us.

Launching the boat very carefully

The ride out to river was a messy one. The boat was covered with snow and road scum by the time we got there. The parking lot was a sheet of ice. That was great for the kids who come to the park to sled down the hill, but not great if you're pulling a bass boat. We took our time and had no trouble getting the boat safely in the 35 degree water. By this time, most of the morning fog had dissipated leaving a dreary and overcast day.
Bald Eagles in the distance

As soon as we were on our way to fish our first spot, I spotted a couple Bald Eagles in a tree up river from where we were. We never went close enough to try for some good photos and I figured that we'd see more of them during the day.

A Bald Eagle flies by

A short time after we started fishing, Al said " That bird is going to fly right over your head and you don't have your camera ready?". Sure enough, before I could grab the camera and get a good shot, a Bald Eagle flew right over us. I missed the good shot but caught him flying away from us.

One of my first nice Sauger

Fishing was slow. I caught one or two smaller fish in the first spot we tried, but since we were looking for more and bigger fish, we decided to move. Sitting in a bass boat when you're flying down the river at more than 50 mph is one thing. Doing it when the temperature is at about the freezing mark is quite another. I had to suck it up and take it for a few minutes while we ran to our next spot. That was one cold ride.

A young Bald Eagle watches over our fishing spot

On the way down river, we spotted more Eagles. I wasn't about to try to photograph them as we were moving for fear I'd freeze to death before I could aim the camera. I anticipated the air temperature was going to be a bit warmer than it was and I left my extra clothes in my car - which was parked back in Als driveway.

 Another shot of the Eagle

 Once we began fishing, I caught a nice fish right away. That gave us hope we were going to have a better day. Unfortunately every time we found ourselves on top of a school of fish, we had to move to let the tug boats get at the barges were fishing near.

Another fish out of the same hole

I caught another fish once we were able to get back on top of the same spot where had I caught the first, but we were forced off a few minutes later by another tug pushing a couple barges. This got old real quick. I'd catch a fish and we'd have move right away before we could get any more.
Another nice Sauger

We stayed as long as we could in that area and put a few more fish in the boat. Eventually the bite stopped once they stacked a couple barges right over the hole where we had found them so we decided to head back to where we started our day.

One more nice fish in the boat

By this time there were several boats drifting around the area we wanted to fish. They were catching a lot of small fish so we decided to try a different drift pattern. It worked since Al put a nice Walleye in the boat on the first drift we made.

A Barge passes us on its way up river

I put one more nice fish in the boat that we caught in much shallower water than everyone else was fishing. After a few more smaller fish we decided to head back. It wasn't worth it to stay out there and go through so many small fish. Not to mention that it was supposed to already be raining on us according to the weather forecast.

A scenic point on the river

Pulling the boat out wasn't too bad. Once it was out of the water, we had trouble getting traction on the ice to get it the rest of the way up the ramp. Al eventually got it and we stowed all the gear in preparation for the messy ride home.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Steelhead Strike Out

Indiana - December 23, 2010

Al Bernicky and I got an early start towards Indiana this morning. We were hoping for a great day of Steelhead fishing. As we got there I couldn't help but notice how much more snow they have had in that area due to the Lake Michigan effect. There was a lot of it.

I raced off into the woods and followed the snow packed trail to find my spot partially frozen over, but there was enough room to fish. Long story short....I went 0 for three. I struck out. The first fish hit within the first few minutes after I started fishing. As soon as I pulled back on him, the hook came out. The next fish broke me off and I pulled the hook again on the third one. But when you're fishing in a setting such as the photo below, how can you complain?

Al fishes a scenic spot along the creek

A little while later Al showed up and said he had not even had a bite. I thought he would have landed a couple but he had nothing. He fished my spot a for a bit without a bite so we started fishing our way back. I shot some video of the walk along the creek and may or may not post it at some point. I didn't even fish until I got all the back to where the trail meets the creek as you walk in. I caught a couple smolts but that was it. Al showed up after a short time and settled into a scenic spot where I was able to get a nice photo of him. It didn't take long before I heard him say "FISH!". He landed a nice Steelhead and at that point we called it a day and headed for home.
Al shows off the only fish of the day before releasing it

One thing I noticed was the lack of moving wildlife. Usually the place is loaded with birds and squirrels, and one you almost always see other creatures, but not today. I saw a few birds and not one squirrel. I guess the fish were taking it easy today too.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Jumping Steelhead

Indiana - November 24, 2010

 An early morning visitor

I got an early start and arrived at my destination well before the sun began peeking over the horizon. After parking my car and getting my gear ready, I began walking into the darkness of the woods. The ground was very muddy which only added to the hazards that make the trip along the creek a treacherous one even during the daylight. The path was littered with sticker bushes and downed tree limbs, not to mention the washed out spots that can send you tumbling down the embankment into the cold water if you're not careful.

Stopping to say hello

As I got to the first spot I wanted to fish, a deer appeared in a small clearing just across the creek. He stopped to watch me for a minute and quickly decided I was not a threat to him. A few seconds later, a second deer joined him. They watched me for a little bit before they went on their way. For me, it's always a neat thing when I come across a creature in the wild and they decide I'm not a threat to them and they go about their business. Sometimes they run away when I pick up the camera, but these deer watched me as I set up my two Steelhead rods. They seemed curious about me.

My first Steelhead of the Fall

I began floating wax worms down the creek. I felt a bite right away but knew instantly that my bait was being harassed by the smolts - which are small 4 to 8 inch Steelhead that have yet to make their way out to Lake Michigan. I reeled the bait in and made an adjustment with the hope that I'd have fewer smolts attacking it. Sure enough the bobber went under and stayed there and I knew I had a good bite.

 Trying to get a grip

The fish made one powerful run as the line screamed off my reel. At the end of its run it made several high jumps out of the water. I moved down the creek towards the fish as I reeled in more line. I found a good spot to land the fish and as I knelt down in preparation to bring the fish in, it jumped again and hit me square in the chest. I thought for sure the line would break but it held and the fish landed in the water right in front of me. A few seconds later I was able to scoop it out of the water.

Still not cooperating

I made a couple of attempts to get pictures using the self timer but the fish still had a lot of fight left in him. He kept squirming and I wasn't able to get a decent shot after two attempts. I figured that he had been out of the water long enough so I turned around and lowered him close to the water so he wouldn't have far to fall when he broke my grip.
Resting before heading back into the current

The fish swam off but turned around stopped about 5 feet down from where I released him. He stayed there for a minute or two before swimming off into the deeper water and out into the current. I made a few more drifts in that area before throwing a spinner that I had made. With no luck on the spinner I moved off to another spot.

 Low water level

The mud made finding a safe spot to fish very difficult. There would have been more options for me if I would not have minded standing in the slop, but I decided to stay out of the slop and on drier ground for this trip. I tried two more spots with no luck before I wound up at my last spot.

Steep embankment behind the trees

At my last spot I wound up catching several smolts very quickly. I had to re-tie a few times after snagging in the brush that is all over the bottom of that creek. Eventually I felt some resistance when pulling back on the line and I had another good fish on. This fish was a couple pounds smaller than the first one and much darker. I managed to get it out of the water but I still had about 4 or 5 feet of mud to either walk through or drag the fish through. I got the fish about halfway and the hook pulled free. Since the fish was still just out of my reach, I turned the rod around and gently rolled him back into the water. He swam off with a burst and I decided to call it a day. There was freezing rain on the way and I did not want to be stuck in the holiday get-a-way traffic in an ice storm.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Back On The Water

Des Plaines River - October 11, 2010

Two Pelicans on a Stump
 It's been a while since I've been on the water. For me, being off the water for any length of time is very difficult. It's just one of those things I need to do. I've had some neck and shoulder problems recently so I figured it would be best give things a rest - not that it helped any. Also, for the last year and a half, lack of steady work has allowed me to fish during the week when things are less crowded. Now that I'm back to work full time, I'm back to fishing on the weekends and holidays with the crowds. Today was the Columbus Day holiday so I was able to get out. I had a tough time deciding where to go. Long story short - I went back to the Des Plaines river since it's close and I wasn't sure how long I'd last out there.  
Calm Morning
I put the boat in the water and headed off to a nearby spot where I figured there would be fish holding. It was a beautiful morning with a few clouds, light breeze, and air temps in the low 60s. The water temp was a lot warmer than I expected for a mid October day - high 70s. That told me the power plants up river would be pumping full steam. I went the other direction though.
As soon as I got to my spot I began casting a crank bait along a drop off. I could see fish jumping all around but quickly noticed they were carp. Jumping carp usually do not bode well for a good day of bass fishing on the river. I had a small fish hit the lure but lost him right away. A short time later I snagged the crank bait in the rocks. I began to try pop the lure free like I usually do when I get hung up, but something didn't feel right. I kept this up as I got closer to where the lure was stuck and thought I felt a couple of pumps on the other end. I pulled back and the lure didn't budge - until it took off in the other direction. I scooped a nice Flathead Catfish into the net after a good battle. Unfortunately that was the only fish I caught there, but it was certainly nothing to complain about. I placed him back into the water after taking a few photos.

Flathead Catfish
I ran to another spot where I figured I'd find fish and managed to catch a nice Freshwater Drum. I was hoping for a decent bass and was a little disapointed when I got a look at what it was. Still, it wasn't anything to complain about. I released this fish at the side of the boat without bring it aboard.

Freshwater Drum puts up a good fight
A short time later I caught a small Largemouth Bass and released it without a photo since it wasn't anything to brag about. A few minutes later I decided to run up river after catchng another one slightly smaller than the first.

I wanted to stop at one of my favorite spots but there was a long line of barges tied together that had it blocked off. There was no way I was going to be able to get at it so I kept going as far as I could go until I reached the lock.

Turkey Vulture glides over the river
I began fishing away from the lock chute and caught more floating weeds than anything. There was no avoiding them. My only hope was that a fish would hit the lure before the lure would pick up some of the debris that was very plentiful in the water. There were no takers though.

A few Turkey Vultures were gliding right over my head and didn't seem to concerned about my presense. Acoss the river I noticed two more in a tree. Usually I start seeing Bald Eagles about this time of year on the river but I didn't see a single one today. then again the weather has been unseasonably warm.

Turkey Vultures in a tree
As I made my was away from the lock, a tug approached pushing a couple of barges. The doors opened and the rushing water created enough current to wash a lot of the weeds out. The two guys standing at the front asked if I had caught anything. I replied that I landed a nice flathead and a couple small ones but that was it. Since I hadn't gotten a bite other than a nice Green Sunfish that hit a lure that way too big for him, I moved to another area.

Green Sunfish
I hooked a couple more bass at my next spot including a couple nice Largemouth, and a Smallmouth, but only managed to put another dinky Largemouth in the boat. After beating up the area pretty good, I realized that the many gar that I was seeing had probably chased out what I was after. I saw Gar in all shapes and sizes and hooked a couple of them too. I brought one about 30 inches to the side of the boat and luckily he got away before I was going to have to unhook him.

A small Channel Catfish
By this time I was starting to realize I'd better quit before I over did it, so I hit one more quick spot on the way back. Too bad I wasn't fishing for Bluegills because I found the motherlode. There were some big ones mixed in with the crowd that was holding along a weed edge. I fished the area for a few minutes and after landing a small Channel Cat, I decided to pack it up and head for home.

Bluegills everywhere
I never did catch what I was after, but still had a decent day. I suppose even if I would have struck out it was still a nice day to be on the water. I still kind of wish I had taked the time to drive another hour and a half to fish Powerton Lake, but that will have to wait until February when it opens back up for boats, since it will be closed for the season by the time I get another chance to get out again.