Monday, March 29, 2010
Today was a normal day for me, or so I thought. Shirley went off to workout and then to her job at the hospital. I poured a cup of coffee and sat down to check some e-mails, do some job hunting, pay some bills, and by the time Bryan got home from school I'd be ready to go fishing. But along the way it all changed. I signed on to my facebook page and was immediately caught off guard by a post from one of our Cast Across America members. It was a picture of my cousin Tim, who was taken so abruptly from this earth five years ago today. To tell you the truth I didn't remember that it was today, and I can't believe that it has been five years already. What I did remember was how much I miss him, and the many great times that we shared. This is a little something for him today, after all, these are the reasons I write this blog.
Our first fishing trips consisted of a walk down the block from Tim's house to catch crayfish and bullheads out of the muddy pond. We would take a whole beef hot dog (never chicken or pork) and tie two or three hooks with leaders to the main line. Hooking one hook in each end of the hot dog, and the last one in the middle, the dog would balance nicely on the end of the line. We'd lower it into the water gently to the bottom, wait a few minutes, lift it up and there would be two or three crayfish (crawdads for some of you) on the hot dog. Shaking them off into a bucket was the hard part. If we were lucky we would get a big rusty colored one. After we had our collection of assorted sizes and colors we would go back to the house, put them in the middle of the street for some entertaining crayfish wrestling. Once crowning a champion, almost always a rusty one, we would take them back to the pond and release them. Oh, except for the ones that the cars, and the hot summer sun took care of. I know now it wasn't the nicest thing to do, but we were kids, and we didn't know any better. After all, our parents used to drive us around with six kids in the back seat of the car and no seat belts, so I guess we were excused.
As we grew up we would spend our summer vacations together in Minnesota on Pelican Lake. Sitting here now, I can recall the dead perch that was hooked too deeply for us to remove without destroying the fish, and Tim's great idea to catch a seagull with it. I won't go into details on that one, but he was quite successful. We grew older, as all of us do, and the three of us, Tim, his brother Todd, and myself would go out in the boat fishing together. We liked to fish for pike back then because they were always aggressive and abundant, and there were many afternoons spent drifting across Saunders Bay catching them one after another. Standing on top of the wooden boat seats you could get a good view of the weeds below. Casting spoons across the top of those weeds you could see the pike come out of nowhere to grab the spoon. Some were bigger than others but most were just a couple of pounds. They gave us a great fight, a great time, and great memories. There were many laughs shared out there with my cousins in that boat together, some deep conversations, and eventually a few beers too. I wouldn't trade them for anything!
So five years have passed too quickly, life goes on, fishing goes on. I hope to always take a little bit of his good spirit with me on my fishing adventures. He lived life a little bit on the edge, sometimes without caution, but for today and the now. He always had a smile on his face and a laugh to go with it. We could all use a little more of that in our world. Couldn't we? I know that Tim would be excited for Todd and I and the development of Cast Across America. He will always be a part of it.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
I kicked off my shoes, pulled up my thermal socks, and stepped into my waders. Tucking my jacket in all around me, I fastened up the suspenders, and gathered all my gear. The check list in my mind, one by one I made sure all that I would need, was at hand. Two Rapalas still in the boxes, an old plastic film container filled with jig heads of every color, my favorite river spinner, neoprene gloves, and a stringer just in case. I tied my minnow bucket around my waist, picked up my 6 ft spinning rod and reel, and knotted a new silver/shad hair jig to the end of my 6lb test line. I locked the car, tucked away the keys in my pocket, adjusted my sunglasses and hat, and made my first steps of the year into the Fox river.
The water was cool to the touch but I knew I would be alright, dressed like Nanook of the North, I was prepared for it. Walking out into the river to a waist high depth, I positioned myself right on the edge of the current break. Grabbing a minnow from the bucket, and tipping my jig, I made my first cast into the chilly water. Bouncing the jig head along the bottom of the river, I could feel the gravel and rocks beneath with every lift of the rod. The clouds were blocking the sun, but I could still see the faint image of a bright circle through the gray skies. This was walleye weather. Cast after cast I waited for that first tap on the end of my line.
An hour passed and still I had felt nothing. Moving around the break from fast current to slack water and then back again. Changing jig colors and sizes, adding fresh minnows and sharpening hooks along the way. Still nothing.
I listened to the ducks and geese as they swam about the area, then flying back and forth from land to water and water to land. Two ducks decided to hitch a ride on a rather large log that had been floating down the river. They looked like they were two hobos waiting for a flatbed railroad car to come by. They hopped on board. Riding along and pecking on the wood to dislodge a meal from the bark, until the log hit the swifter current an they decided to abandon ship. I laughed to myself at the oddity of it all.
Two hours had now passed and I was nowhere closer to getting my first bite then I was when I first arrived. Two fisherman had been fishing from the shore and I asked them if they had figured out any answers to my walleye problem. Their response to me included "Is the water cold?" I said; "Yes it is and I'm not about to stay in it much longer" We all laughed, and the next words I heard were "I'm surprised you lasted this long" By this time I had made up my mind that a hot cup of coffee would taste pretty good right about now and I slowly started heading for the riverbank.
My legs were quite stiff, and it was hard to walk and I was glad that I had optioned to hang it up for the day.
I removed my waders, packed up my tackle, and turned on the car. I adjusted the heat to the hottest setting and sat there for a while longer warming my legs and feet. For the last two hours I had stood waist high in 43 degree water for a chance to catch a nice walleye. There were no guarantees that I was going to catch one, or for that matter even get a bite. I knew it was going to be cold, and eventually it would be to much to take, but I didn't care. I was where I wanted to be. I was out fishing in the river that I love, doing something that I have had a passion for since I was too young to remember. It's days like today that help me appreciate all that the outdoors and fishing has to offer. Just being out there is better than being most anywhere else, and I know that many of you who read my stories understand this.
On the way home I stopped for that cup of coffee and headed over to the bait shop to sit for a while with the owner, Don. We had some good conversations about Cast Across America. The two of us sat with one of his customers ( an old river rat ) and talked about, you guessed it already, fishing. I never get tired of listening to fishing stories from local fisherman with years of river experience. Sure there is a bunch of hot air, and I could fill balloons with some of the stuff that I have heard, but if you sit back and really listen there is more than meets the ear. I hope that these blog posts continue to do the same for you that an old river rat does for me. Give you a little something extra on a cool and cloudy day, and a little boost to help you take your first steps into your favorite river.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
I received a nice message recently, from one my relatives, commenting about the blog and my writing. He had just read through some of the archive posts, and it brought to his memory a time that we had fished together and were caught in a strong thunderstorm. I concurred with him that the story was worth telling again, because it serves as a good reminder to all of us, about the dangers of lightning, and boating safety.
I figure that I was about twelve years old, when Uncle Arnie decided to leave the dock in the 16ft Alumacraft with a 10 horse Johnson, and take my cousin and I out to Bald Island. "Old Baldy" as it was commonly called was a well known spot for summertime angling. The deep cooler water was a haven for Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, and numerous panfish. Pelican Lake is about 9 miles long and 4 miles wide at it's longest points, and Old Baldy lies just about in the middle. Traveling across a body of water that size with a small boat, can sometimes be quite an adventure, and on this afternoon it would be one we would never forget.
The island runs from north to south, and it has a nice bay with good weed cover on the east side, when the wind blows from the west it can be a great spot to fish. We made it out to Baldy and pulled around to the east side. To tell the truth I can't remember if we caught any fish that day, but I'm sure we did. It wasn't very often that you would make the trip out to Baldy without catching a few good fish. The large rock formations on the island are quite different from the rest of the lake and it always felt as if you had traveled to a Canadian shield lake each time we went there. Our boat was positioned in the bay on the east side and the height of the island had to be at least 35 feet high at it's tallest points. Because of that, it was easy to lose sight of the west end of the lake and the approaching weather.
The first rumbles of thunder were heard, and uncle Arnie knew that we had to pack it in and head back to the cabin. What he didn't know was how fast the storm was traveling down the lake, and what we would be in for next. Our boat came around the corner of the island and was greeted by big waves and wind. We held on tight and made our way across the water bouncing off of each whitecap like an Alfonso Soriano hop out in left field at Wrigley. One side note; I thought we got rid of the hopping when Sammy left town? Seasons change but the problems remain the same. Anyway, back to the story.
The lightning and thunder and rain began to intensify, and it seemed as though we still had a long, long, way to go. There isn't to many places to hold onto in a 16ft aluminum boat in a thunderstorm, so I'm sure that I was holding on to the side rails of that boat, when I felt the first crack on the top of my head. Remember when the Juniors would get their new class rings in High School? They would turn them upside down and smack them on the freshmen and sophomores heads. That is exactly what I felt and yes I experienced that too! I was wearing a baseball cap, probably one in Cubbies blue, and the fastener on the top was obviously metal. What I didn't know until just the other day, was that uncle Arnie saw the sparks coming off the top of my head like a sparkler on the fourth of July. The lightning was actually hitting the water behind the boat, and luckily for us not contacting us directly, or I wouldn't be sitting here, writing this story!
We eventually made it back to the dock and I don't ever remember a time in my life when I was more frightened, except when the doctor came into the hospital room and told my Dad the devastating news, that he had lung cancer. The bottom line to all of this is that life is too short, and we don't need to make it any shorter. Since then technology has given us many tools to help make our time on the water much safer. We have weather radios with up to the minute forecasts and warnings, and GPS units to help us in fog to guide us back to the boat landings. Our boats are built with safety in mind. Engines are much more reliable. Life vests have been greatly improved in both comfort, and safety. Marine radios are affordable and improved. Cell phones are now reliable and work in most places. We are lucky to have all these great tools available to us.
So take a few minutes to check your boat this spring and make sure you have all of your safety equipment up to date. First aid kits, a whistle, flairs, a fire extinguisher, an anchor to name a few. Check the regulations with the Coast Guard, or your states DNR website. When you're out on the water, remember that lightning can travel up to 10 miles from a thunderstorm, so just because it's not raining over here doesn't mean that you are safe! Every year I read about someone on a golf course, or a kid at a baseball field, or a person in a parking lot, that is struck by lightning. Don't become a statistic. You can always fish tomorrow, unless you're not here, because you tried to make one more cast before the storm. Have a great Spring fishing season! Catch lots of fish, and Cast Across America!
Monday, March 1, 2010
I've been sitting here for about an hour now, and I can't decide on how to begin this next post. I want to share with all of you, my thoughts on the first of March and the final month of the winter season. Did I say winter? Or is this now the beginning of spring? As you can see, Mother Nature and I are both in a state of confusion. We are not quite sure of what direction we are headed, or exactly which road to follow, and I think that is why March in Illinois can be such an exciting time for many of us who spend our days fishing.
The snow begins to melt and disappear, and it's effects can be seen in our swollen rivers. Feeder creeks have come alive with the sound of running water. Walleyes begin to stage in the tail waters below the dams, and Northern Pike are moving toward the back of flooded bays and sloughs. Both are preparing for the first warm days and their rites of spring, to spawn and bring new life to the river.
A man gets out of his car, put on his waders, and walks out into the chilly water. He tips his green fireball jig with a fathead minnow and casts it out into the current. It bounces slowly along the rocky bottom, until a walleye nips it from behind. The hook is set, and the battle begins between fish and man. Minutes later the six pound Walleye is released back into the cold clear water, to complete her spawning mission. The man looks up at the warm sun and thanks God for all that he was given.
A few miles away, a fisherman walks onto a frozen lake. He drills a few holes with his auger and checks the ice. It is still a good twelve inches thick. He sits down on his bucket and faces the warming sun. Tying a small teardrop jig to his line, he tips it with a maggot, and watches it slowly descend down into the water. Within moments, the tap of a fish is felt, and a ten inch bluegill is brought up through the hole. He thanks God for the opportunity, knowing that these winter days of ice fishing will soon be melted away.
With St. Patrick's day right around the corner, I consider this to be one of the best months of the year for fishing. Especially for those that are lucky enough to live in Illinois. It is still cold enough this month to continue our ice fishing quests, and the fish will be way more cooperative too. The open water fishing in our Illinois rivers will provide for most of us a chance to experience some of the best fishing we will have all year long. Walleye and Sauger, will be willing to take almost whatever offering you decide to give them. So get out there and enjoy all of what March has to offer, and think of this month as our lucky Shamrock here in Illinois.