Ken Gortowski ruminates on Fox River changes.
The Yorkville man takes on a stretch of the Fox River and works over why it has changed for fishermen and gives a fishing report:
There was that itch again. That itch that insists to be scratched. It doesn't matter that in the back of your head the admonition of your mother echoes loudly.
"I can't, it itches."
"If you keep scratching your scabs, they will never heal. Then it will get infected and you'll wind up in the hospital."
"But I can't help it."
Of course, nothing she said ever came true, but that didn't keep her from saying it.
WIth my daughters it was different.
"My scabs itch."
"Well, scratch them."
"But grandma says if I do that they'll never heal, get infected and I'll wind up in the hospital. I don't wanna go to the hospital."
"I told you. You're grandmother is insane. I scratched my itches all my life and never went to the hospital for it. She's crazy, I'm telling you."
I think the point is that nothing good comes of a scratched itch, but that doesn't mean you can control the scratching. Or something like that.
Which is why I found myself fishing the stretch of the Fox River from the Orchard Road Bridge down for about a mile and a half over 2 days at sunset, even though I knew scratching that itch wouldn't do me much good. It hasn't for 2 years now.
This stretch and the stretch going the opposite way from Orchard Road was once a smallie gold mine. It was one of those places where you rarely ran into another angler and 90 percent of the time you were looking at 20 to 30 fish days. With quite a few even better than that.
Something changed a couple of years ago and I haven't had a 20 fish day in either of those stretches since. That doesn't stop me from going back, too often I think. I keep hoping that what ever switch was turned off will be turned back on, but it never happens.
I still catch fish when I go. I even catch some decent sized fish now and then. But it's a struggle and I refuse to admit defeat. It must be me and I'm doing something wrong or my timing is just off. I refuse to admit that something could have changed that much to so adversely affect this stretch of river.
I still have to go here, it's a beautiful stretch of river. Though there are homes on either side of the river, they're pretty easy to ignore. And if you're looking down stream they are hardly noticeable. This is where the river starts to flow west and the sun sets directly into the river, making for some stunning colorations when the cloud cover cooperates.
I started out in a slow moving stretch with a center channel that has 3 foot depths even at the current lower water we're experiencing. Usually hanging a jig and twister in this slow moving current will catch you 5 to 10 smallies with many more missed. Not even a hit this time. My last ditch chance to catch something from this pool was in the lift before the next riffle, classic fall smallie location. One smallie cooperated, but that was all to be had.
I headed to the northern sun drenched side behind some islands. The first stretch had a couple of land owners that dumped small to large boulders all along the shore to keep it from eroding. The boulders had been sitting in the sun all day. The pool in front of them was extremely slow moving and had depths of up to 4 feet not far from the boulders. The first 100 or so yards got me nothing, not even a hit. I should have had at least 5 fish hooked by now.
The next 30 feet had the largest boulders. I continued to cast the lure on top of the rocks then let it slip down into the water. 12 casts got me 6 smallies and a couple of missed fish. (Yes, I was counting. My daughters don't call me OCD for nothing you know). And then the bite died. Not just here, but for the next stretch behind the next island. The set up was identical only without the boulders. Another stretch that should have landed me another 5 to 10 fish, only not even a hit.
This day the sun seemed to be setting quickly. The summer sunset lingers forever, but come fall the sun hits the horizon, is gone and it gets dark. I was pretty much done fishing at that point and I was walking across the river looking for different vantage points to catch the sunset.
As fast as I could take pictures as I walked is how fast the sky kept changing. The light quality went from a bright glow to a moody deep blue with finger like streaks shooting out from behind clouds. Then the sun broke through the patch of clouds and a blinding flame of color stabbed down into the water, appearing to reach all the way to where I was standing. It was hard to look directly into the sunset, but I kept trying even though it would momentarily blind me.
And then the bright streak of light was gone and it was getting dark. Turning around to face the east I caught the full moon coming up behind me. It was cut in half by long horizontal almost purple clouds and it's reflection in the water was so soft compared to the flame like stab of the setting sun.
Off to my left a smallie was busting the surface in the dead water next to a riffle a few feet from me. I never did make the cast. Back down stream a doe and two fawns half her size came off the island and headed for shore. They crossed the river about 100 yards away. The light behind them had quickly faded, but I must have still stood out. They all stopped to stare at me no different than me stopping to stare at them. I never did raise the camera.
The next day for the last few hours of sun found me starting where I left off. Another shore like the other two, another shore that generally gets me 5 fish. Nothing, not even a hit. Fished the lift in front of riffles, fished deeper slow moving pools and channels, fished boulders along the shore and all produced nothing, not even a hit.
I got to another shore line where the owner had loaded up the shore with boulders. Casting in front of and along them produced nothing. The only 2 dink smallies caught were caught by dropping the lure on top of the rocks again and letting it slip off into the water.
Today the sun could barely get through the clouds and the air and the water seemed a bit colder. That is not a good enough excuse for the lack of a bite. Something was off and why was rummaging around in my head. My archives show a similar fall weather pattern many years ago. Pictures from that year show anglers in sweatshirts on a long Thanksgiving weekend holding numerous 16 inch smallies. From this same stretch. I feel another itch building, another scratch that might need to be made.
On Sunday we finally got rain. Monday late afternoon I had time to go fishing. In the past the place to go was North Aurora. Rain and a slight lift to the river turned on the white bass. It also turned on the smallies with the occasional walleye thrown in. I hit all the likely spots in North Aurora. Spots that normally produced fish under these conditions. I caught 1 smallie and had 2 other hits. I don't fish North Aurora as much as I used to, but my visits here over the last two years have been a bust. This pattern of lack of fish was troublesome.
I went to Indian Trail Road in the hopes of bolstering my day. This was another fall stretch that I used to rely on. I've only fished here a couple of times in the past two years with dismal results and I was hoping that was over.
Before I got to the water another angler stopped me to chat. Before I could say anything he tells me how the last two years have been awful, that something is up. I told him I agreed and he blurts out blaming the high water we've had for a few years. At least I felt less alone in my useless theories.
I once stood in one spot here at Indian Trail Road this time of year and caught 27 smallies in under 2 hours. In one hour I got nothing, not even a hit.
I gave up. I was tired of beating the water and dwelling on all that has happened over the past 5 years that may have caused this current situation. This all started with the drought of 2005, then the high water of the past 4 years topped off by the flood of September 2008 when the river peaked at 19,000 cubic feet per second. In my head I have reasons for why things are slightly better the further north you go. It has to do with the gradient of the river bed, the bed is steeper and the river runs faster as you get south of Geneva.
I wish I didn't know these things.
All I knew for this day was that I was done. All the fishing theories in the world are useless when you're standing in the river not getting a single hit. Problem is I'll probably lose sleep over this till I put it in writing. Maybe next time, unless I get a prescription to help alleviate these OCD tendencies.