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Midwest Fishing Report: Rivers around Chicago fishing

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Perfect weather and perfect timing lead this rivers section of the Midwest Fishing Report, highlighted by a nicely turned description of the prime hour on the Fox River by Alex Kiscellus.


And this kind of smallmouth is a good reason to talk about the hour.

Free Fishing Days are this weekend, just in time for nearly perfect wading conditions for waders to get out and savor our rivers.

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


Illinois' Free Fishing Days are Thursday through Monday. No licenses or stamps are needed, but other regulations apply. Many park districts and forest preserves host events and derbies. . . . Michigan's summer free fishing weekend is Saturday and Sunday.


For a general overview of nearby river conditions, click here. Things look astonishingly normal.

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


Jeff Nolan of Bridgeport Boass reported ``that bass were being caught on surface lures and big fat bluegills were caught on small crankbaits on the south branch of the river.''


Alex Kiscellus sent this nicely themed report:

Made it out for a couple rare (for me) mid-week outings at my usual haunts.  Both were after work, so I only had an hour or two of solid fishing time before I had to start thinking about making the long trek back up river before the Rangers locked my car in the lot.  Lucky for me that has been the hottest fishing time by far!
                Over the years I have come to know the last hour leading up to sunset in the warmer months as "Happy Hour", where the fish seem a little hungrier & there's a greater sense of anticipation in the air as time is running out but the big girls come out to play.  I'm sure I'm far from the first to coin the phrase, but if the shoe fits... Almost all of my biggest toothy Esox friends have been captured during happy hour.  This week happy hour was well attended by a bunch of Bronze beauties on the Fox.
                Wednesday evening started a bit slow until I figured out what they wanted & where.  Made it to my previously mentioned large gravel bar with moderate current that sits below a large riffle & found the fish wanting jerkbaits or slash baits ripped as fast as I could keep up with.  Probably missed as many as I landed, but speed was the name of the game & still netted me close to a dozen fish.  Average size was up a bit from the prior week, with many decent sized males & a few females that got hungry right before dark.  Thought about trying topwater, but the bite was so fast & furious I had no reason to change things up.  Had my last fish of the night hit so hard it busted the lip off my X-Rap!
                The bite was too good to not make another short wade on Friday evening as well.  A fair amount of rain the previous day raised the levels a good half foot, but the levels were so low it just brought enough fresh water & oxygen to make the fishing that much better.  Talked to a fellow river rat who was leaving as I arrived.  He managed a couple on buzzbaits & 5" Kalin grubs.  I know which spot he pounds, so I bypassed it & continued down river to the bar for Happy Hour.  Started off with the same jerkbaits & minnowbaits which brought me a few small guys on the edge of a seam where the real swift current meets the edge of the gravel bar.  Once at the heart of the spot I missed a couple after watching them smack it & somehow I couldn't get hooks in anything.  Lost a real hefty female in the process.  The next half hour was as frustrating as it gets; Smallies surfacing everywhere chasing bait & me changing lures & casting all over the place to no avail.  Finally had a boil behind a buzzbait so I switched to a silver & blue Rapala Skitter Pop.  What ensued was the finest topwater action I have experienced since my first trip to the Canadian Boundary Waters.  Though I admittedly stopped keeping track, it felt like my next 15 casts netted a fish landed, lost, or missed.  Had a few hit & miss more than once on the same cast until I got hooks in 'em.  Speed was again the name of the game as the speed of my rip & pop retrieve was more reminiscent of Peacock Bass fisherman in the Amazon.  Landed at least 15 while missing or losing almost as many in only about 45 minutes time.  Smaller fish (12"-14") came from 6"-12" of water right below the riffle in swift water - Bigger fish (up to 18") came from 24"-36" of water where the flow subsided a bit.  Ended the night landing two more really nice Females at the spot I bypassed on my trip down river.  Final tally was over 15.  Again, darkness came too fast - I need to find a place to park where I can stay after official sunset time!
                In short, river is once again in perfect condition for wading all over the place.  The minor cold fronts moving through don't seem to be affecting the fish at all.  Avoid slow & stagnant water & focus on swift to moderate current & fish fast!!!  Daytime baits should include jerkbaits & shallow to medium diving cranks - longer minnow shaped body style as opposed to short rounded cranks seem to be better, at least up North by me.  Topwater bite on poppers is phenomenal right now in the evenings & presumably early in the morning.
                Hope to be enjoying happy hour at my favorite bar again this weekend.

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

How I determine a slow, normal or hot day of smallmouth bass fishing on the Fox River:

About 10 years ago an IDNR fisheries biologist told me they did a shocking survey in the lower Batavia area that resulted in shocking up 90 smallies per hour. "Just like Canada" was his comment.

Back then I was catching the same amount of fish out of the Fox in all the stretches from Geneva down through Yorkville. I didn't see any real difference in all those other stretches compared to lower Batavia. So, I rightly, or wrongly, assumed those other stretches were not much different.

About that same time I heard that at any given time, 90 percent of smallies are in a negative feeding mode. Not interested in hitting or eating anything. Only 10 percent are actively feeding.

About that same time I was told that the average river smallmouth bass is 12 inches. I used to keep meticulous records then. My records show that in a given year, no matter how many smallies I caught, 15-20 percent were 14 inches or bigger.

So start doing the math. On a good/normal day of fishing the Fox River for smallies you should be getting 10 hits per hour. Doesn't matter if you land them, but you should be getting those hits. Of those 10, one or two should be over 14 inches.

A slow day is any day where you're getting fewer than 10 hits per hour. It doesn't matter that you might have caught one fish, your personal best smallie of over 18 inches, while out there fishing for three hours. Basically, you were just lucky. The day sucked as overall fishing goes.

A hot day of smallie fishing is when you're getting over 10 hits per hours. Sometimes well over 10 hits per hour.  Don't forget that 10-15 percent of those will probably be over 14 inches. My personal best day was four hours of fishing in a creek with a hair over 100 smallies landed and another 200 or so that self released. That's a hot day of fishing.

All of this being said, this past week for myself and for those that have got back to me with reports about the Fox, the fishing has been painfully slow. I'm sure there are all kinds of fishermen's theories as to why this occurred, but none of those theories matter.

The fish weren't biting much this past week and that's pretty much that. As for this coming week, who knows. May as well go and find out.

The river is in perfect wading condition while I write this on Monday night and will probably be low by the weekend. No reason not to go wading pretty much anywhere you want.

I think Ken's closing comment applies to all area rivers that are normally waded. This is the weekend to do it.

Sam Bennett sent this:

I continue to find fish at popular spots despite the heavy pressure. The dams are producing fish as are tail waters. Any deeper water in those areas gets my attention. "Deeper water" is relative on the Fox. I haven't seen any bigger smallmouth recently but the numbers have been good. I'm catching them on crankbaits but a jig or spinner would do just as well. I haven't noticed the topwater bite heating up, but I may be underutilizing that tactic.

As the water slows down and warms up (yet again) I'll be at the dams at midday flipping big jigs and shallow-diving cranks. When I can get out for more than 45 minutes I go further afield. Tons of great water out there.

I got out briefly for flatheads and managed an 8 lb. channel cat. Flatheading is funny. Once it's on, it's on. I keep saying they will start soon. "The flatheads will start soon." There, I said it again. On the site there have mostly been reports of nice walleye action, although I'd guess there are a two reasons for that: a lack of big smallies to show off and Adam Schultz's skill at hunting walleye. That guy is a beast of a fisherman.

Next week I look forward to more of the same. If the weather forecast holds the water will keep dropping and warming. I'll be fishing in oxygen-rich water and looking for any special features: a log, a rock, a gravel bar, isolated weeds, depth... whatever makes the spot stand out.


Time on the Water Outdoors reported catfish on chubs or herring, white bass are fair on bladebiats or jig and minnow. Sauger are slow.


Norm Minas sent this:

I got out for the evening bite Monday after recovering from stomach crud over the weekend. I got out for about two hours but it was fairly productive. I got three smallmouth on a one knock spook and seven smallmouth on a rattlebait. All the fish came from shallow[ 6 inches to 1 foot] shaded, slower areas. The bass were on a heavy minnow bite and really aggressive. Every hit was hard and jarring, no mistake about it. They wanted the lure moving very quickly, ignoring all slower retrieves. One fish over 18 inches the rest 15 to 16 inches. It was the kind of action, you dream about but don't experience often enough. I wonder if you could ever get jaded if it happened more often? Kinda like getting a date with all the pretty girls in high school, something you'll never get to do.Well unless you have the Bowman charm and looks.

You have to read Norm carefully.

Ed Mullady sent this:

Catfishing continues good in both IN and IL.  Good bait: 4-5"minnows *nightcrawlers*cheesebaits.
Walleye fair in Indiana near Point,north of English Lake *Rt. 55 thru La Salle  F&W Area in quieter shorelines. IL: IN State Line through Glorydale area.  Good on *Jig & Minnow *Jig & Leech *Jig and Crawlers *Jointed plugs.
     Largemouth Bass fair in IN near bayou and ditch mouths *Bridge piers.                                                IL: State Line through LakeAlexander RV Park *DesPlaines F& W Area, backwaters. Good on jig and plastic crawlers * Weedless Dr. Spoon*.
      Smallmouth Bass fair where allowed. Be sure to check dates, limits in both IN and IL as to regulations.
      Rock Bass, Croppie, Bluegill all good....esp. in quieter shorelines.


There is access at Morris Wetlands at the mouth.



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hot evening bite continues, i'll be at my happy hour bar again this evening. Tuesday night the only difference was the bass wanted the spook sitting still after a few twitches. three of them came charging into water so shallow thier backs were out of the water to grab the spook. It's tough not to pull it away when the adrenaline kicks in when you see that bronze torpedo putting a wake in the water while going after your lure.

added bonus three walleye on rattlebaits at the bottom of a riffle area.

My brother was the stud with the ladies in high school, blonde curly hair, lead guitarist, etc. I got to practice fishing more than I would have preferred back then.Somehow looking like Jerry Garcia didn't't seem to trip enough triggers.

Interesting reports from Alex and Sam on the Fox. They're fishing much further north than I am. All other reports I got were from Oswego down. I'll be north of Aurora on Thursday. May have to check on some old haunts to see if there's a difference.

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This page contains a single entry by Dale Bowman published on June 6, 2012 5:31 AM.

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