Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Tuesday, after Bryan went off to school and Shirley had gone to work, I decided to hit the river for a few hours of fishing. I tried a section of the Fox that I hadn't fished for quite some time, hoping to find a few white bass and smallies to do battle. Reports from around town had told me to try an area a little further down river than I normally fish and that the white bass were schooling down there.
I parked the car, got in my waders, tied on a new spinner and hit the water. With the air temps in the upper 70's the water felt cool on the legs but not like it should for the middle of October. I made a few casts, snagged a few floating leaves and had a small (and I mean small) white bass hit the spinner right at the end of my fourth cast. OK! So far so good. After another 50 casts I realized this wasn't going to be as easy as I thought.
Wading down river for the next two hours I managed to catch two smallies and two largemouth none of which had exceeded 8 inches in length. I circled up the other side of the river and saw nothing other than a few carp swimming carelessly over the shallow rocks. Where have all of the fish gone? A good question is sometimes followed up by a good answer.
For the last sixteen years I have been chasing smallies, walleye, white bass and crappie in the Fox river from Elgin to Montgomery, IL. There have been numerous days in those sixteen years of twenty-five plus smallmouth bass on spinners and small twisty tail jigs. I remember a June evening where I caught six good walleye casting from shore to the middle of the river with a plain Fuzzy Grub jig. Catfish would always hit my spinners and jigs, and I snagged a carp almost every time I would wade. Freshwater drum, an occasional muskie or northern pike would always join in on the action.
In the last five years the fishing on the Fox has steadily declined, and I'm betting that I know the reason why. The reconstruction of bridges, parks, and buildings have taken it's toll along the river. Some of these changes were needed and the cities have done a great job to limit the destruction of natural habitat, by replacing rocks after construction, adding wing dams and returning native plants along the edges of the river. But with everything in nature it takes time to re-create what has been lost.
A reconstruction project such as the one at Elgin's Walton Island took a few years to be completed and the long term effect on the fishery may be just starting to show up now. The riverbed, banks, rock walls, pilings etc. were all changed and the larvae and small insects that lived beneath them were disturbed to say the least. The replaced structures take years before all the algae growth returns. Algae that is needed to sustain life along the river. One or two years of disturbed spawning habitat near bridges or dams could cause a long term effect on the numbers and size of fish.
The Stearns road project that is nearing its two year completion, consisted of building a new four lane bridge over the river about a mile and a half south of the existing South Elgin dam. With about six more miles of river below the construction site, until the Saint Charles dam, it is potentially blocking the migration of fish northward into South Elgin. Fish that would travel north during normal to high water stages have been turned away by the constant noise of construction and the changes to their natural habitat.
In spring of 2010 illegal dumping of toxic chemicals was reported in South Elgin, IL. Fish were found dead along a creek that flows into the Fox just north of the town dam. There is no doubt that many fish were lost during this illegal dumping, and who knows just how long it was going on.
Catch and release has always been a priority amongst the many local fisherman who wade the Fox river. These anglers have witnessed time and time again, the removal of undersized fish, and catch and release only species that were taken illegally from the river. State of Illinois cutbacks from the Department of Natural Resources in recent years have limited both the manpower that patrols the Fox, and the funds for additional signs, education, and public awareness. These cutbacks are also having a negative impact on the river.
Although there is great concern for the future of the fishery along the Fox, I believe that we will once again see the return of numbers of fish in Elgin and South Elgin. Once the reconstruction projects are complete and the State of Illinois budget is restored, the river will return to being one of the best places to fish in Northern Illinois. For now, I will continue to enjoy my time on the river, without the crowds, and prepare for the good ole days that lie ahead.
Please join my Facebook group at Cappy's Pond, or register to follow this blog on the right side of this page. I thank you as always for reading the posts and sharing it with friends and family. Remember, you can't catch any fish if your line isn't in the water. -Cappy-