May 30, 2010

What you know and what you don't

Early on, everyone experiences similar frustrations.  On lakes across the globe, you'll find rookies fishing blindly while veterans know right where to slay 'em.  In front of a rookie sits acres of flat water and miles of featureless shoreline; the lake's secrets have yet to be revealed.  Such times can be long and frustrating, but with each cast a mind expands and slowly the list of secrets grows smaller.

With enough hours, the water and shore transform into something far more complicated.  It starts with something simple such as the location of a submerged log, which now owns your finest lures.  With the comfort of new knowledge, we begin to enjoy uncovering more secrets one by one.  Eventually we don't see flat water - in it's place the beautiful intricacy that is your favorite lake.  Only you know it best.

I have an area of Banner Marsh I have lovingly dubbed Warm Pajamas, a name fitting of the comfort I experience while drifting it's water.  I know every hump and every shelf.  Quite often I slip in to fish comfortably in the knowledge developed over countless hours of probing the bottom.  Finding your warm pajamas can be a long and frustrating experience.  It took me six years to discover Warm Pajamas has nothing left to hide from me.  Warm Pajamas was with me when I wrote my first blog post, but she remained unnamed until July of last year.  I suppose that is when I recognized her for what she is.

In the interest of expanding you knowledge, short cuts are strongly encouraged.  If you know someone who has already figured it out, learning a lake can be quick as long as they are willing to share.  Sometimes you can find a contour map, which will provide some focus as long as you know what to look for.  And in the modern age, on-line forums can be a great place to learn what not to do.  Such tools, when available, are a way to piece together the puzzle many hours in the making.  However, even with a guide or map you'll need to log some serious face time to really know.  Otherwise you're left with cloudy knowledge, handed over second hand.

Life can not be complete without excitement.  So you'll stray from your comfort, into the icy embrace of the unknown.  Armed with the knowledge of your favorite lake, you'll jump into a new one and start piecing together a new puzzle.  Knowing how to catch fish and knowing a water's secrets are two distinct skill sets with fuzzy borders.  Finding the border is key to success on new water. Quickly you'll learn a lake is alive and has it's own personality; adaptation is your job, and knowing how to catch fish is your means.

Yesterday, Dave and I stepped clumsily (and sleepy eyed) into the unknown and became rookies again.  Snakeden Hollow State Fish and Wildlife Area boasts 125 "impoundments" (sounds fancy, but they're just strip pits) hidden throughout it's 2,500 acre expanse.  Out of 125 lakes, only Lake McMaster has a boat ramp while the remainder are known as "walk in lakes."  I've had two previous outings on McMaster, one trip resulted in a surprise musky, while the other was dismal and unnoteworthy.

The plan was simple: walk far into the property and find out what's going on in water usually unseen to the mostly barrel shaped public (not you, but everyone else).  We walked two miles into the heart of the park and along the way fished many lakes, each having it's own puzzle.  I was amazed at how well maintained the park was, it was a shore fisherman's dream.  Often, the grass was groomed right down to the water.  In the first lake, we had some luck with scum frogs.  In the next lake we saw the schooling fish featured below.  In the third lake we found nothing.

If you see schooling fish, it is a clue and suddenly a secret has been revealed.  The lake is telling you to adapt - your plans do not match.  Somewhere around lake number four or five I got the hint.  Setting down the bass rod, I picked up the ultra-light and immediate results were...well...the result.  Gill after gill hoped on the line and some of them were pretty big.

Two miles from the truck, we found a lake teaming with life.  I think this will be the starting point next time, and it may be the next lake to learn.  I lay witness to many healthy blue gills, and with a healthy population like that the bass are not usually far behind.  But who knows, it may just be a casual encounter on the way to something far more grand.  By my count, I still need to visit about 119 lakes.

We began to think we'd outrun the fishing pressure when the grass became a little less manicured.  Validation came when the day's largest bass bit my 1/32oz jig tipped with a twister tail.  She was a bit skinny, but I suppose it should be expected this soon after spawning.  It was fun hearing 4lb mono scream off the tiny spool during the couple runs she took.  Enough fun with a mediocre fish to make a man forget about heavier gear forever.

I'm not even sure how many fish I caught.  Changing strategies made a real difference in my enjoyment level.  I'd have to guess the total was close to twenty-five; all I know is that I have but ten fingers and I wasn't about to remove shoes to keep counting.

One good idea Dave had was to print (in color) the satellite image of the site and I recommend doing this to new comers.  First, it was nice to know we were not lost.  Secondly, we used the map and some on-the-ground recon to outline a rough idea of how to bring kayaks to the smaller lakes.  One option (and the one I'm least fond of) is to build/buy wheeled carts, another option is to put in at the ramp and portage from lake to lake.  I suspect we'll eventually try both.

Six hours deep in the day, Dave provided delicious ham sandwiches while we soaked up my truck's air conditioning.  Sitting there, I realized how close to barrel shaped I really am - woo boy, I was tired.

After deciding we should drive down and have a looksie at the main lake, we decided we ought to catch some fish from the dock.  The water was clear, and those fish were swimming around taunting us.  After replacing the worn twister tail, I added a handful of crappie and this tiny walleye to the tally.

The day was a pretty good adventure and it felt good to be a rookie again.  Stay tuned, next time will be by boat.

May 13, 2010

Bass Pro Shop In East Peoria

This morning my stat service exploded with people seeking info about BPS in East Peoria and finding my recent blog speculating it would happen.  And then I received an anonymous comment saying my speculation was true and it would soon be all over the news.

Sure here to read about how it's now official that Bass Pro Shop will open up shop in East Peoria.

May 9, 2010

Illini West Wins 2010 IHSA Fishing Title

Yesterday was the second day of fishing in the second year of Illinois high school state fishing tournaments. Once again this year Lake Carlyle hosted and once again weather played a role. Second day fishing was called of last year due to strong storms. This year strong winds lead IHSA officials to deem one side of the lake as off limits for the second day.

Illini West (Carthage) won the tournament with 30lb 5oz after finishing in sixth after the first day. Moline squeaked into second with 25lb 8oz and Alden-Hebron placed third with 25lb 6oz.

I'll leave the journalism to the journalists. For full results, click below.

Prairie State Outdoors: Day 1, Day 2
The Southern Illinoisian: Day 1, Day 2
Chicago Sun Times: Day 1, Day 2

Hopefully I'll be able to read about your state's tournament soon.

May 8, 2010

Big Bighead

Asian carp still seem to be growing, as evidenced by a pending 69 pound Illinois State record while the dust still settles on the 64 lb record set in 2008.  Look at the picture above and read what our new record holder had to say here.

Now that kid has a memory to last a lifetime.

Let it be resolved

With a full weekend docket, I took the opportunity to grab a couple hours after work Friday.  The wind was terrible, but I didn't fish last weekend either so I had to make do with what I had.

Slipped the yak into the water around 5:00pm and fished until 8ish.  Fully committed to the fly rod, I drove to Banner Marsh to catch bass.  Started out with my freshly tied Bart-o Minnow and promptly lost it on a snag.  Switched to my new Murdich Minnow and lost it on a back cast.  In the short span of three hours I put a big dent in my fly box by losing ten or twelve flies.

It was a cool evening with gusts around 20mph followed by periods of calm.  Mother nature couldn't decide which direction to blow.  Wind can make fly fishing difficult, but surprise gusts from random directions are worse and my kayak didn't help me one bit.  Most of the time my kayak was blowing north while my fly blew south.  Such a situation caused much frustration and casts into trees.  I finally found a patch hidden from the wind (see picture), and resolved to play with sunfish feasting at surface on the wind blown side.  Despite many takes, my #14 Adams proved too large for the little guys and I called it quits.

Let it be resolved I will never again fly fish from a kayak on a windy day.

May 3, 2010

Time will tell about a BPS in East Peoria

Last June, the city of East Peoria (it is like Peoria but better and on the other side of the river) announced they had received visitors from Bass Pro Shop.  The reps were in town scouting a potential location for a new store.  Everyone was real noncommittal and stand offish on the likelihood of BPS actually coming to town, so I wrote it off.

Then in January of this year, the city began investigating the " and infrastructure costs and permits needed for a 'major outdoor retailer' to develop..."  Again everyone interviewed was noncommittal and stand-offish and I still ignored it.

Two weeks ago, I heard in the rumor mill that BPS had actually purchased land.  Rumors are just rumors, but they sure can be vicious.  Can't they?  My interest was growing.

Lunkerhunt got a hit today, which got me wondering if all these rumors were true.  Someone in Springfield, Missouri Googled "central illinois fly fishing" and landed here (the poor sap).  The IP address is owned by Bass Pro Shop and they are headquartered in Springfield. 

Why would someone at Bass Pro Shop headquarters search for "central Illinois fly fishing?"  I guess time will tell and we'll have to wait.

Sometimes the Man is on Your Side

It seems the Vermilion River will be open once again to paddlers.  This is thanks to a deal between the Illinois DNR and a land owner.

The Vermilion River is somewhat unique to our typically flat and corn filled area.  The river offers scenic paddle trips, pretty good fishing and the only "white water" around.

Wildcat Canyon image shamelessly stolen from Stray Casts

Last year, Buzzi Unicern cement company closed the portion of the Vermillion they own.  The move followed some accidents and a tragic drowning in the vicinity of a dam on their property. Details of the new deal can be found here and here.  No mention of when the waters will reopen, but there are some details about safety precautions the state has agreed to implement.

  • The DNR must place large cement blocks in the deep hole below the dam to eliminate the dangerous current that capsizes boats.
  • The DNR must install buoys and signs in the area warning boaters and rafters of potential dangers.
  • The DNR must remove steel reinforcement bar that juts out from concrete at the site and poses a hazard to boaters.
This is good news for everyone and I'm happy to see my license fees going toward something useful.  However I'm afraid it is a long way from resolving issues we have in our state regarding access to fishing/boating destinations such as the Vermillion and Mackinaw Rivers.  It's the typical public access vs. land owner rights argument, and I won't bore you with the details.  In fact, I don't fully understand the details.

I have never fished the Vermilion, but something tells me that will change this year.

May 1, 2010

More Illini Love

Check out Intro to Bass Fishing.  Mark is just getting into bass fishing and his blog is a "coming of age" story.  Plus, he is currently located in my home that doesn't hurt.

Go get him excited about blogging with some comments...that way he'll keep up the good work and entertain us for years.  In exchange you'll probably add him to your list of readers.