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Midwest Fishing Report: Rivers around Chicago fishing (update)

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Low water and heat headline this rivers section of the Midwest Fishing Report.


Alex Kiscellus offered this shot of a [CORRECTION] of a snapping turtle on the Fox River.

ADD. Ken Gortowski just sent this note, illustrating just how dramatic the low water is:

Overnight the river plummeted to 190 cfs, 15 cfs from the lowest I saw it in 2005. Driest year in recorded history.

Concentrates the fish, but makes for some ugly warm water.

This is the extended online version of the MFR, which appears on the Sun-Times outdoors page on Wednesdays. Well, it is the rivers section. The lakes section will be posted later.

If you have suggestions, post in the comments section or let me know at


One of the long-time fishing derbies on a river, the Kankakee River Fishing Derby, is Friday through July 8. Click here for details.


For a general overview of nearby river conditions, click here. Everything is low, including the Kankakee.

To get to more specific gauges, even on creeks, in Illinois, click here.


Marcus Benesch sent this:

Historical week on the Des Plaines River with the demolition of the Hoffman Dam in Lyons underway.  There had been some sort of dam there for almost two centuries creating two separate river systems, one above the dam and one below the dam.  Thank you Army Corps for helping restore our neglected river system. 
    River levels remain low,  but stable and not going down.    Fishing in Schiller Woods has been great for pan fish.  Blue gills, sunfish, and Creek Chub are hanging out under the road bridges in large numbers.  Best techniques have been small spinners, jigs, and flies.  Rock bass are in ambush mode,  hiding in current behind rocks and bridge pillars.   Pike are hiding in the deep holes and in log jams if you could find them in your stretch.

It truly is a historic week for Illinois rivers with another dam going.


Alex Kiscellus sent this:

Made it out twice over the weekend, both evening jaunts.  Topwater action remains downright ridiculous!  Last hour of daylight is still best, & should only continue to stay that way with more heat arriving & no rain in sight. Unfortunately, conditions seem to be taking a toll on the fish as they take a little longer to perk up after releasing them from battle.  Anglers would be wise to keep the fights short & not play the fish out as oxygen levels are bottoming out. 
                Basically, any spots that have a decent flow or riffles to create oxygen should hold fish right now as other areas seem dead right now.   If you're willing to deal with the crowds, dams would not be a bad bet, though I'll continue to take my chances down river.  All of my action has come from a sharp swing in the river with a necked down area that funnels the current swiftly over some ankle deep boulders & has been holding a few fish.  The rest of the fish have been coming from my go to gravel bar that sits below what is left of a long riffle.  Average size is still way up there - over 15"&16".  Landed a couple between 18" & 19" & lost two more that were just as big, if not bigger.
                All of my topwater fish had been coming on Skitter-Pops until Sunday evening, when they wanted nothing to do with it, spare a few small ones.  Switched up to a Skitter-PROP, and the dinner bell was once again ringing - no rhyme or reason to it; maybe they just got used to my presentation.  Two surprises of the weekend:  Saturday had an immature snapping turtle munch on my crankbait & then proceed to slice my thumb up pretty bad in an ill-advised attempt to un-hook it....  Whomever said turtles were slow never had one of these guys with a treble hook in its mouth & a bone to pick.  Hindsight says things could've gotten worse, with treble hooks, fingers, & snapping turtles, but a nice scar on my thumb with a story to tell I can live with.  Sunday night I thought I had a large smallie boil behind my prop bait, only to throw back a few casts later & see a wake form behind; Hmm... that must be a big smallie --- CHECK THAT, MUSKIE!  Mid 30" fish, but completely missed the bait & gave me a cool shower in the process.  I'll bring some appropriate gear next time.

Ken Gortowski, who is back to guiding again with the Fox River Guide Service along with his usual prowling along the Fox, sent this to add to his original note:

Got out for the last couple of hours of daylight on Tuesday. Caught five smallies and lost three more. Also got a couple of largemouth. In the 12-13 years I've been fishing this stretch, I can't recall ever catching a largemouth before.

All fish were sitting in the slowest imaginable water. The two sections that had good riffles, flow and lots of aerated water produced nothing, not even a tap.

Years ago I read something by Dan Gapen that says this is a typical smallie pattern for mid summer.

This must be mid summer.

Here is Ken's original post:

Rather than go out fishing the last two weeks, I opted to go black raspberry picking with my wife in what little free time I seem to have. The assumption was made that due to the drought, the berry picking would be a failure. Hours later we have nearly 10 quarts of berries packed away in the chest freezer. The drought did have an effect, many small berries and many more that shriveled up before we could get to them.

We also checked on our blackberry patches. I'm going to need to get a few five gallon buckets and another chest freezer. Hopefully we'll get some rain and this continuing drought won't ruin the potential of this berry harvest.

Speaking of rain, the Fox River is the lowest I've seen it since 2005, the ill fated year I thought it would be a good idea to open a canoe rental business. I don't recall anyone saying it would turn out to be the driest year in recorded history. Tom Skilling, the weather god, is comparing this year to the pattern set up in 2005, but I already knew that. Thanks for the reminder.

I did get out fishing one day this past week. Out of sheer laziness and on a whim, I went to an easily accessible stretch of the river for a few hours that has the potential of holding a few different species. I expected to catch none of them.

Wound up with 10 smallies caught and another 10 missed with a stray largemouth thrown in for good measure. Odd thing was, the bulk of the smallies came out of water I wasn't going to bother casting into. It was a long, narrow, slow moving pool with barely two feet of depth. Looked stagnant too. They attacked the lure like piranhas. In the faster moving aerated water, where I expected the fish to be sitting, I got one hit.

Another stretch was wide, slow moving, a couple of hundred yards long and had about three foot depth. I was constantly getting the sharp taps of walleye. Was only able to land three of them with the biggest being near 24 inches.

A note to the fishing pinheads... if you're going by in a canoe and fishing, and you ask how I'm doing and I tell you exactly where to go, what to use and how to use it to catch the walleye I'm tying into... don't do the complete opposite of what I just told you.

I'm just sayin'.

Everything was hitting a 1/16th ounce jig with a 3 inch Producto Spring Grub attached, in pearl. Swim it near the bottom. Cast down stream, reel slow.

Got that?

I have no clue if that walleye pattern can be repeated elsewhere on the river. I was a few hundred yards down stream from where clear cool water enters the river, the water had some depth and there was pretty heavy cloud cover. I think all three of those things were the walleye attraction. Long term weather shows nothing but heat and blue skies. I think I'll pass on the fishing for the next week, the heat is getting to me.

I can wait, the fish will be there.

My berry picking has been so poor I haven't even bothered taking the kids.

Sam Bennett sent this:

Deeper, faster water is working for smallmouth, although it's been feast-or-famine. We've tied the low-water mark from the records kept by the USGS for the previous 12 years. The Fox hasn't been this low since 1994. I've done quite a bit of exploring on now-dry ground for future honey holes.

Flatheads are going well. I took a rookie flatheader out last Thursday and he landed two in short order. The bite is now as consistent as it ever gets. According to Fox Valley Flatheader data collected, we get skunked 53% of the time. In the high season I'd guess that's closer to 25%. Right now is the best time of the year to try for a river monster.

It's that time of the year when smallmouth fishing takes a back seat to flatheading. I'll still be dabbling here and there, but my efforts will be concentrated towards landing a 40" flathead this season. My reports will reflect that change until late August. Hopefully others will pick up my slack on the smallmouth reports.

If you're interested in a quick read, I published a Getting Started Guide for folks who are new to the Fox or river fishing in general. I put together a set of answers to some often-asked questions from the message boards I visit. It's easier to send a link than to type it all back out every time.


Some steelhead are coming into the streams, according to new guide Glen Gajewski at Mik-Lurch. Question is what the extreme heat and low water will do to fresh fish coming in.


I am stunned how quickly the river dropped back to low levels.

Norm Minas sent this:

The river is at less than half it's normal flow and the water temps are nearing 80 degrees. That means the fish have made adjustments and the fisherfolk have to follow suit. Mostly for smallmouth bass that means faster water, shade or fishing low light times. With their metabolism at it's highest go aggressive first, rattlebaits, crankbaits and topwaters. Next up would be flukes, swimbaits or cigar[senko] type lures. When you go to jigs, try a little bigger offering, try a five inch twister instead of the three incher for example.
 Catfish are still hitting lures in faster water and neck down areas. Traditional cat methods should do well. Walleyes have shown a preference for rattlebaits lately on some of the3 ft or so deep flats. They can also be found in riffle areas.

Ed Mullady sent this:

River keeps looking good with some decent fish being caught!
    Smallmouth Bass being caught both in Indiana and Illinois, especially at rocky mouths of ditches,bayous:
Also good around in-the-water logs, brush piles, bridge piers. Good baits include:*live minnows *weedless
Doctor Spoons *Mr.Twister Wtd Keeper Hook & double Twister tails *live crawfish*spinners.  Fly rod fishermen are catching these smallmouth on weedless cork bodied imitation frogs *most streamer flies
late evening, into early darkness.
     Largemouth Bass also good on *Mepps #3 Spinners *plastic worms *live minnows.
     Walleye fair with best fishing at low light hours in medium depth waters fished at various depths!
     Changing baits, speed of retrieve, casting upstream and changing to downstream can be reason fish either grab the bait or ignore it! Sometimes, fishing an extra half an hour to an hour after you were going to stop fishing, often results in some real action from any Kankakee River fish!
                               --from Editor, Sportsman's Letter, Ed Mullady

I am enjoying Ed's tips. BTW, a kayaker new to the area wanted to do the Illinois portion of the Kankakee and I gave him one of Ed's river maps, the neatest retro thing going.


There is access at Morris Wetlands at the mouth.



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I haven't asked Alex where he's been fishing, but funny how the reports are so different. I'm down stream of Oswego. If there's a topwater bite or fish in the faster water, they hide when I show up. I've worked them to death while out with nothing. But then, with the kayak chute in Yorkville now connecting the river, the fish have nearly 40 miles to go hide and play in.

I am a big carp fisherman below the Willmington Dam for the last 30 years. I have noticed over the years that due to the lack of enforcement and control, that there are very little fish (all species) to be found and caught below this dam. I have noticed for years that most of the fisherman wading below the willmington dam, (95% of them) are keeping EVERY FISH CAUGHT. Over the years, I have seen countless smallmouth bass, walleye, carp, suckers, sheephead & drum, not to mention many more species of fish caught & put on a stringer. I am talking about undersized fish. I thought this was against the law??? I am willing to bet anybody that 95% of these fisherman keeping undersized fish DO NOT have a Illinois fishing license. From what I have noticed over the years, Bottom line is go to Willmingtom dam for free fishing and no size limits and no tfishing license neccessary. This does not apply to fisherman who can read what I just wrote. I will be going to new places to attempt fishing the Kankakee river above the willmington dam. It has been a good run fishng willmington dam, but is it now over.

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This page contains a single entry by Dale Bowman published on June 27, 2012 6:15 AM.

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