Ken Gortowski gives a defense, at times snarky,
of his style of teaching how to fish the Fox River, mixed with specific fishing advice.
Strap it on for an extended read:
Last week I gave away a pretty good sized handful of my fishing spots where I've done well in fall's past. They're actually good spots pretty much year round, but a diligent angler could do well at all of them now.
Giving them away has never bothered me. When I first started fishing these areas 14 years ago, there was nobody out there. I pretty much had the river to myself. The dams were the exception, but I quickly gave up on the dams to go explore the many more miles of river that were available. At times I did quite well.
Since I was teaching myself the river and river fishing, I thought I may as well write my adventures down and put them up on some of the first of the areas fishing forums. It seemed like a shame that I wasn't running into anyone out there and I figured if I could do this and figure this out, anyone can. Then I started getting involved with conservation efforts on the river and it seemed like a shame that anglers weren't participating in these efforts. So I wrote that stuff down and hoped that anglers would jump on the band wagon. That seemed to work a little bit.
The theory was simple to me, the more people I could convince to get out fishing and wandering around the river, the better the chance they would do what they could to protect it. So I started guiding, then fishing classes, spoke to a variety of fishing clubs, all in the hopes of getting more anglers out there. Fishing my spots and fixing the river.
Then around 2005 and 2006 that momentum seemed to wane and then pretty much died. I still get email from the conservation groups describing their efforts to protect the river, but the angling community is virtually silent on both the fishing and conservation front.
And that's why I continue to give away my spots. Seeing another angler in the stretches that I fish is rare. Were right back where we were 14 years ago. I still get the occasional whiner contacting me that I'm ruining the river. My response is simple. Go for a walk or a drive along the river 3 to 5 times a week just like I do. Bring your camera. Take pictures of all the fishermen out there in the spots I've given away. Send them to me. The silence is deafening.
Another reason it doesn't bother me to give them away is that even though I'm walking and driving near them all the time, I hardly ever fish them myself. I'm hoping that if I keep mentioning them enough times, someone may actually show up and I'll see them out in the water fishing. Hasn't happened yet.
As for me, I have other places I go to explore. They're not on that list, yet. Exploring has potential dangers, I'm not going to send someone out there to hurt themselves. I'm invincible, so I don't worry.
This year I fished all those locations at least once. Some a few more times than that. Even the North Aurora dam, once one of my favorites and a hot spot for others, has been devoid of anglers. From mid summer to just a few weeks ago I've made a half dozen trips to see if the fish were around. In those half dozen trips I've seen one other angler fishing that stretch. For the numerous times I've driven past, add one more.
I decided over the past week that I should take my own advice and give a couple of the spots a try. I already knew there were some fish around, see last weeks report. Now I needed to know about the bluffs that have been sitting basking in the sun.
I parked my car a few feet from some railroad tracks. The rest was woods. I like to scan the woods for signs of life. This can sometimes be an indicator of activity in the water. Don't know how or why, it just works out that way at times. There was a dead raccoon next to the tracks. Another dead one a few feet away. Between the two of them, they never heard the train coming?
It was a good half mile hike to the put in point and the birds and squirrels were everywhere. Down the narrow path to the river I had a coyote cut across the path a few feet ahead of me. This may be a forest preserve, but it's surrounded by suburbs and their homes. Coyotes howl, I've heard them here in the past when the sirens are being tested on a Tuesday. Being surrounded like this makes me feel sorry for the coyote and I hope he lets out the occasional howl on purpose, just to creep people out.
A great horned owl was talking on the other side of the river. A red tailed hawk let out a screech over head. Blue herons were wading the shallow riffles and a few ducks and geese flew by. This all had to be a good sign and I expected excellent fishing. Almost a half mile and one fish later, I felt I that I appropriately debunked that theory.
At the end of the hike there was an angler on the other side of the river. I shouted across asking if he could hear me. A positive answer. He was fishing where I was just a couple of days earlier, but he was fishing the wrong spot. I let him know that and he switched positions. A minute later I hear . . . are you Ken? I always hesitate in answering that. People must think I don't know my own name. But admitting to it in the past has not always resulted in friendly banter.
He introduced himself and I already knew him. So I gave him even more details on how to fish that spot. While I struggled to land 3 or 4 more dinks, I watched him land quite a few more and miss a couple of good fish. "You need to come over here," he shouted across. Yeah, great, it's 8 feet deep between us and the ride around to get there would have put me there too late. I settled for dinks while wishing I was on the other side of the river.
Which brings up a point as to why those fish were there. Many years ago in the fall I noticed a lot of bluegills mixed in with baifish all around in the river and in the creeks and ditches. A fisheries biologist told me that the gills and baitfish migrate up the river and creeks in the fall. Many years ago I read a fishing tip from the river god Dan Gapen. In the fall fish the lift before a set of riffles, this is a typical fall holding spot. So, bluegills and minnows outside the mouth of a creek because they are migrating. A lift before riffles in that same spot outside the creek. Game fish stacked up in the area. All makes sense when you get it all figured out. I did, but was on wrong side of the river. Brad now knows and he was in the right spot. Luck of the draw.
A couple of days later I thought I would try another one of my spots. Only the itch that is Saw Wee Kee was begging to be scratched. The conditions were perfect for that stretch, only I wasn't convinced the results were going to be worth the effort. Only the itch wouldn't go away.
When I pulled into the lot, a father son team were in waders preparing to go out. I asked them which way they were going so I wouldn't get in their way. They had fished further upstream, but had never fished this stretch. So I gave them the details of the stretch I didn't plan on fishing. They were very thankful.
A minute later . . . are you Ken Gortowski?
There was that hesitation again. They waited for an answer. I must look like an idiot when I do that. Winds up, I once fished with the father of the team. Chuck was a member of the Des Plaines Lunkerbusters and I had their group out on the river many years ago. We're both older, grayer, but there's no forgetting the penchant for a decent cigar while fishing. I gave them more details and watched them head for the river. The kid was smoking a cigar too.
I headed further up stream and hit the stretch with the sun drenched rocks. Six missed fish later I was pretty much fed up with the whole outing. Then I landed one. Then I foul hooked a carp so bad that the only way to get the hook out was to hug the thing to my chest to keep it still while I untangled the line and unhooked the lure. The reason carp stay active during the winter when all other fish slow down is because of the thick layer of slime they develop as the water gets colder. Which was now all over me. Since it's somewhat waterproof, I had to pick up some shoreline sand to help scrub it off my hands and waders.
Note to self, lip carp in winter months.
At some point I was just going for a walk. Watched a decent buck navigate it's way across a river channel. Cut across an island and spooked the biggest doe I've ever seen when I came close to walking on top of it where it lay bedded. Watched the sunset from a duck blind that faces due west. And didn't see another person for hours.
But then, I don't think I mentioned Saw Wee Kee in my list of places to fish. I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it in the past, I'm almost positive I have. Chuck and his son make the 4th and 5th angler I've run into this year here. That means over the past 4 years I've run into, well, 5 anglers.
Let's see, 4 years fishing Saw Wee Kee. Average number of fishing trips to Saw Wee Kee per year around 25. That makes 5 anglers in 100 trips to the stretch that starts above Orchard Road and ends beyond the Saw Wee Kee canoe launch, give or take a few trips.
Then there's all the other trips to Saw Wee Kee that I've written stories about starting around 2000. That easily adds well over 100 more trips to this area where I hardly ran into anyone, ever.
I really need to quit mentioning Saw Wee Kee. The crowds are getting annoying.