Thursday, January 14, 2010

First Fish of 2010

January 13, 2010 - Des Plaines River
More Photos:

Cold Morning

2010 Started out cold for us. When I left the driveway with the boat in tow it was a balmy 13 degrees outside and the wind was already blowing pretty good. My concern was the launch ramp at my destination. My partner for the day, Jim Lukancic, had made a trip to check out the parking situation a couple days earlier and found that despite the heavy snow of recent, they were kind enough to leave some space for those boaters who were crazy enough to venture out in the cold of January. The water was open, but the the ramp had a good coating of ice on it.

A very careful launch

Our first task was to clear away enough snow and ice so we could safely launch without dunking my truck. I brought a shovel, ice breaker, and salt which came in handy. Despite that we played it extra safe by placing a big log at the bottom of the ramp after the trailer tires were in the water to prevent the truck from hitting water should it slide despite our efforts. You can never be too safe.

Adult Bald Eagle plays in the early morning sky

We saw a few Bald Eagles fly by before we had the boat in the water.

Bald Eagle Nest

Jim pointed out that he saw one land in a tree and sure enough, there were a couple more in the air around the same tree off in the distance.

Young Bald Eagle

After we had the boat in the water, we idled out of the cove. Mist was rising off the water and the tugs were already pushing the barges around. The engine hadn't been run for almost two months so I continued to idle for a bit. I very slowly worked my way up in speed as we headed toward our destination which was the tree where we saw the eagles.

Tug Boat in the fog

I was armed with a new 650-1300mm lens that my wife had given me, and was eager to try it out. Before we made it to the tree, we saw two more young bald eagles that were playing over the water.

A young Bald Eagle soars over the River

I discovered very quickly that it was difficult to sight my target while in the boat due to the strong winds that kept us bobbing in the water. A tripod is must even on dry land with a lens like that. But despite all that, I still got one photo of a bird in that tree. I'll come up with a better system for using the lens in the boat some other time when it is warmer.

Adult Bald Eagle

We headed off toward our first spot. As we crept up on it we saw another Bald Eagle across the river in a tree, but the sun was directly behind it so I didn't even try for a photo. The water was as cold as its ever been there and we struck out. Since this was our first trip of the year, we wanted to make sure we caught something so we quickly decided to head toward where Al Bernicky and I caught our first fish last year.

A Belted Kingfisher

As we approached the area we were about to fish, we noticed more eagles and also that mist rising off the water had frozen on the trees and brush creating a very scenic winter wonderland.

Winter Scene

I was able to photograph another Bald Eagle before we started fishing, and also a big owl. I didn't realize it was an owl until I saw the photo at home on the computer.


We made one pass through the area and Jim caught the first fish which turned out to be a Largemouth Bass. After the first fish was in the boat, we tried another nearby area and Jim quickly put the second fish of the day in the boat which was a nice White Bass.

First Fish of the Year for Jim

White Bass for fish #2

The lure I was throwing was getting smacked, but it was like the fish were swimming up to it and batting it away. I finally caught a Smallmouth Bass before we moved back to our previous location.

My first of the year - Smallmouth Bass

My next fish hit like a freight train. It fought hard and Jim was ready to grab the net when we finally got a look at it. "Forget the net and just take a couple photos while it's still in the water", I said, hoping it would free itself before I'd have to hoist it up into the boat. It was a chunky Smallmouth Buffalo. It fought hard for its size but failed to free itself.

Smallmouth Buffalo

Jim caught another decent fish later which turned out to be a nice Catfish. Before we were done for the day, both of us had put a couple cats in the boat. I had another Smallmouth and Jim had a couple more fish too.

Jim puts another fish in the boat

Both Jim and I had also hooked and lost good fish. I could tell by the slime on the end of my line that one of them was another good sized catfish. We had 5 speices total for the day. Fishing was slow, but it's the middle of January and we're out fishing open water. That's nothing to complain about.

Me with a Catfish that is about to be released

We headed for the opposite end of the river but were greeted by floating chunks of ice as we got closer to the Kankakee River. We idled around a little and took some photos before spotting more Eagles and trying for photos.

Floating Ice

Freezing River Bank

I did not want to go much further because I was concerned that if a large enough chunk of ice broke off, it could float out and trap us so we turned around.

You don't want to get caught behind a big chunk of this

Despite the wind never letting up, it turned into a nice day. It warmed into the low 30s and the sky stayed blue. The warmest water was 60 at one of the discharge areas we fished and as cold as 33 elsewhere.

Bald Eagle flies over us

I've fished enough in cold weather to know how to take care of a boat in those conditions. The most important thing is to drain ALL the water out of the boat. Since no one else was around and we wouldn't be in anyones way, we stopped on the ramp with the boat tilted back end down. I pulled the plug and opened the livewell valve just in case. Sure enough a little bit of water poured out and I decided that I'd leave the plug out for the trip home. Normally I leave it out until the start of the next trip to prevent any accumulation.

I also lowered the outboard to make sure it was drained. The last thing you want is water to freeze in something and crack it. Especially your engine. Never assume you didn't get any water in the boat. If you stop suddenly, the backwash will find its way down into the bottom the boat. Also, condensation accumulates a lot faster than most people realize. By draining off any water in the bottom of the boat and out of the lines, you can prevent a very expensive repair bill.

Water under the bridge

By William D. Anderson

By William D. Anderson


  1. Bill - Great story of your first fishing trip of 2010. As always, some excellent pictures help make a great story. BTW, I am a Bald Eagle lover.

  2. Hey Bill. Thanks for the chilly tour. The pictures are great. Good way to break in a new year.