Saturday, August 9, 2014

Des Plaines River Kayak Pike Fishing II

Returned to fish the Des Plaines River for pike for the first time this year.  I met up with Chunsum and Dan at the Dam #2 put in and after a 30 minute wait for the CCFP officer to open the gates, we were on the river. Fishing started out slow and with most of the river only a few feet deep in the beginning section, it looked like it wouldn't be a productive trip.  I started out throwing a buzzbait, trying to quickly cover water and determine what areas the pike may be relating to in this stretch.  After a half hour of nothing, I got a nice strike near a submerged log right near my kayak..  Next cast, another strike from the same fish on the buzzbait, but another miss.  I put the buzzbait away and cast into the same area with the relax shad and got hooked up.  First fish of the day was a 24" pike.
Got ya!
A little further downriver, Dan hooked up with one of four pike he would catch on the day.  He caught most of his pike on a Storm Thunderstick.
Expert tip: Always hold the fish as close to the camera as possible to make it look bigger.

My second(and biggest pike) of the morning measured 25" and again came on the relax shad follow up after a missed strike on a floating jerkbait.

A little further downriver, Chunsum landed the biggest fish of the morning, a 29" pike on a spinnerbait.
This guy looks like he knows what he's doing.
By mid-morning we had floated about as far as we wanted to and were ready to head back.  I did catch one last fish at the end of our float, a fat 14" largemouth on a spinnerbait.  The paddle back did require some getting out and dragging of the kayaks through the faster sections but it wasn't too difficult.
Chunsum and Dan burning some calories, making their way upriver.
All in all, this was an okay trip for exploring a new section of the river.  Between the three of us we landed close to ten fish, with four pike being kayakwars worthy.  I had strikes on a topwater prop bait, a floating jerkbait, a buzzbait, and a spinnerbait during this outing. The smaller relax shad was the only bait I could get hooked up on with the pike, however.

Fish Caught: 2 Northern Pike
                     1 Largemouth Bass
Successful Baits:  Yellow swim shad, 1/4 oz generic chartreuse spinnerbait
Weather: Mostly Sunny, E winds 5-10mph, upper 70's
Water Temp: Low 70's
River conditions: Semi-clear, 130cfs(Des Plaines)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Kankakee River Kayak Fishing: Surprise Walleye

Rivers have finally fallen to more normal levels in the area so I went and kayaked a new river today, the Kankakee.  I floated a little over 3 miles of the river from the eastern end of Kankakee River State Park to the takeout just downstream of the Warner Bridge.  It was good conditions for fishing, cloudy weather and a new moon.  The river was full of kayakers, canoeists, and waders.

I started out throwing a buzzbait and a spinnerbait as I wanted a lure I could keep shallow as most of the river is only a few feet deep at normal flow.  I wasn't getting any hits, even the reliable relax shad was drawing a blank so I switched to a shallow running crankbait.  The crankbait started producing almost immediately and I caught several small smallmouth bass off the edges of the flooded willow grass. Further downstream I ran into some cool overhanging cliffs.

I started throwing my crankbait along the cliff walls and catching fish with a little more size.  This 14.5" fish was the biggest smallmouth I would catch on the day.
Crankin' the Kank
I lost two nice smallmouth that appeared to be at least 18" during my trip.  One threw my crankbait on a jump right by the kayak.  And the other fish I lost on a jig due to a knot failure.  I thought it was just going to be one of those days where the bigger fish just weren't going to be landed.   Even the vultures were eyeing me as if to say "You better just call it quits".

As I neared the takeout I found one last hole beneath a bridge piling that looked like it should hold a few fish.  I was tired of throwing the crankbait at this point so I put a 3" hellgrammite on a jig head and just slowly dragged it along the bottom.  I felt a good hit on about my third cast and brought in a nice surprise, a 19.5" walleye!
First walleye from the kayak
I kind of wished I had my stringer as I love eating walleye but the Kankakee probably needs as many mature walleye as it can get since catches like this on the river are rare.
After releasing the walleye, I made a few more casts through the hole before I headed for the ramp to call it quits.  The Kankakee is not the easiest river to fish from a kayak.  It is fast moving and wide for much of the stretch I fished and it is hard to thoroughly fish some areas without getting out and wading.  I think I found at least two good spots that I will definitely remember when I return to fish this river again.

Fish Caught: 8 Smallmouth Bass
                     1 Walleye
Successful Baits:  BPS Super Shallow Crank(OJ Brown Crawdad), H2O XPRESS CRS-NR Silent Crankbait(Matte Brown Craw), BPS Hellgrammite(Green Pumpkin) on 1/8oz jighead 
Weather: Mostly Cloudy, S winds 5mph, lower 80's
Water Temp: 74.5
River conditions: Semi-clear(~3ft), 2100cfs(Wilmington)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Emiquon Preserve Kayak Fishing: Froggin' Heaven

For me to drive any more than an hour to drop the kayak in somewhere is rare, so for the three hours it took me to get to the Emiquon Preserve near Lewistown, IL, well.....I better catch some bass.  I wanted to at least get a day and a half of fishing in so I left in the early afternoon on Friday.  After setting up camp at the nearby Fulton County Camping & Recreation Area and getting my lake access permit at the Dickson Mounds Museum, I was ready to finally start fishing Emiquon.

I had planned to fish some of my favorite soft plastic baits to start out in the late afternoon but those plans were pretty quickly shelved after I noticed the water clarity(not much more than a foot) and not getting a bite for the first half hour on a magnum lizard.   Even though it was still only about 6pm and the sun was still shining bright, I decided to try the frog.  I made my first cast with a poppin' booyah padcrasher frog along the edge of a drainage ditch where the depth went from about 10 feet to 5 feet and almost immediately had a big blowup that I missed. I let the east wind(not forecasted) blow me along the ditch until I reached a point where the weeds began again near shore at the end of the ditch.  There were lots of bluegill feeding on the surface at this choke point, it looked like a perfect place for a bass hangout.  On my first cast to this area a nice 17" bass came completely out of the water to smash my frog.
First Emiquon bass
I caught a few more bass in this area on the frog, including an 18" fish that was the only skinny bass I would catch the whole trip.
Like an anorexic in the buffet line, something is not right
I marked a lot of suspended fish in the middle of the ditch on my Lowrance but I couldn't get bit on the spinnerbait or chatterbait so I decided to go back to fishing the frog along the weed edges.  The last hour of sunlight was awesome fishing and I landed around ten bass on the frog with six over 16", including this nice fat 18.5" bass.
Great first day
Emiquon closes at sunset so I drove back to camp.  The campsite manager was nice enough to recommend a great spot on a point of one of the nine lakes at the camping area.  It was a nice night to be outdoors and I even caught a few small bass on a black frog fishing at night right off the point.
Next time I'll have to bring some catfish rods

The second day I arrived at Emiquon shortly after sunrise, it looked like it would be a good morning to continue frog fishing.
Hard to decide where to fish
Unfortunately, the bass did not seem to agree.  After 30 minutes and only a few missed bites on the frog I finally had a violent strike.  I thought I had a huge bass but as I pulled away the weeds to lip the fish I was surprised to see teeth.  I had caught my first bowfin!  I got the fish in the kayak and reached for my camera. Before I could get a picture though, the bowfin went berserk, became unhooked, and flopped his way to freedom. I didn't even know that bowfin were in the lake, I wish I would of had my fish grips with me.  As the morning progressed I managed to catch a few bass on the frog but the bite was nothing like the evening before so I decided to switch to fishing a Crabby Bass swim jig with a Big Hammer trailer.  It was a good decision. I quickly started catching more fish once I made the change and landed six bass, all over 16", in the next hour and a half.
This 18" bass came off of a flooded tree
With nowhere on the lake to find shelter from the sun, I was ready for a break by mid morning.  I headed up to the Dickson Mounds Museum and checked out all the exhibits.  I definitely recommend it if you are in the area, they do a good job of relating the surrounding geography with the history of the American Indians that lived in the area.
View from the top of  the museum, Emiquon on the horizon
I returned to the lake late afternoon for my final outing for this trip.  Things did not start out well as I probably missed my first ten hits on the frog.  I was getting frustrated by fishing poorly and making too long of casts over thick weeds so that even when I hooked a fish they managed to get off when they got into the slop.  I moved to more open water on the outside of the weeds and started getting better hookups.  I shot some video while fishing the frog with my hatcam both evenings and got some good blowups on video.  The cool thing about the Emiquon bass were the violent strikes, in more heavily fished local ponds a lot of times bass will just suck the frog under, not here. 

The late evening bite was good again with another dozen bass or so landed and seven fish over 16".  In all I would guess I caught somewhere around 35 bass in 11 hours of time on the water over one and a half days. 21 of those bass were over 16" and logged for the team on the Kayak Wars website. 

A couple things I noticed were that the bass seemed to relate to patches of American pondweed more than the clumps of floating moss.
Finding the weeds with leaves was key
Also, both evenings winds were out of the east and a few of my most productive spots were where there were irregularities or "cuts" in the weeds that allowed the wind to blow a little further back towards shore.  Bait was usually more concentrated in these areas, and so were the bass.  As for lures, I found the poppin' frog to be most productive when fishing in the wind as I could create more of a disturbance for the fish to locate.  When fishing calmer areas, the regular hollow body frog seemed to draw more strikes.

Emiquon is a cool place, it is amazing how what was mostly farmland only 10 years ago transformed into a phenomenal fishery so quickly. The Experience Emiquon website has a lot of great information on this preserve if you are wanting to learn more.  Keep in mind there are some unique rules to the lake if you plan on fishing it.  These include restricted access to only the west half of the lake, no gas motors(not even on your boat), no shore fishing, and no live bait other than worms.  Also, you must pickup a free lake access permit at the museum before you can fish the lake.

One final thing I should mention is there has been some controversy surrounding the preserve in recent years after The Nature Conservancy revealed their plans for a "water management" structure to be constructed to allow Emiquon to become part of the natural floodplain of the Illinois River.  While I understand the desire to give more floodplains back to the river by modifying levees, I fear what this may mean for the bass and other fish species that currently live in Emiquon.  The Illinois River is very different from what it was 100 years ago, most notably with the presence of Asian carp, which now account for an estimated two-thirds of the biomass in the river.  By connecting Emiquon to the Illinois River, Asian carp will have the opportunity to enter Emiquon, which they surely will do. Experience has shown us that once Asian carp become established in a new area, they can quickly overwhelm that waterway, endangering native fish and plant species.

An online petition has been started to try and prevent this project, it can be found here.

Fish caught: Largemouth Bass - ~35
                     Bowfin - 1
Successful Baits: Booyah Poppin' Pad Crasher(shad frog, swamp frog), Booyah Pad Crasher(bullfrog), 5/16 oz Crabby Bass Swim Jig(white/blue) with Big Hammer trailer.
Weather:  Mostly Sunny, calm winds in the morning shifting to ESE 10mph, upper 70's.
Water Temps:  unknown

Friday, March 28, 2014

LaSalle Slow Evening

Tried the south bank of LaSalle this evening.  Winds were not as strong as forecast, no signs of shad in the area, and a rising barometer, a bad combo.  Barely avoided the skunk with a small channel cat on a nightcrawler.

Weather: Mostly Cloudy, N winds 0-10mph, low 40's.
Water Temp: 58

Friday, March 21, 2014

LaSalle Lake Big Blue Cat

After a long and brutal winter we finally had a nice day so I went out to LaSalle Lake to try for some striped bass hybrids and blue catfish.  I brought my bike for this trip since I planned on fishing the center dike with the weather forecast calling for southwest winds. I like to fish the windblown shore at LaSalle Lake whenever possible as the fish will often follow the bait which are feeding on the plankton that gets stirred up on the windy banks.  When I arrived at the lake late morning the winds hadn't shifted yet and it was pretty much a due east wind.  The lake was pretty busy and a few of the bank fisherman who had probably been there since the gates opened in the morning had a few nice hybrids on their stringers.  I decided to fish a few spots along the south shore as I made my way out to the center dike and waited for the winds to shift.   Fishing was tough for the first few hours.  The sun was out and fishing seemed slow for everyone other than the occasional small hybrid I saw being pulled in from a few guys fishing with chicken livers. Eventually I got the skunk off with a little smallmouth bass while using a cicada blade bait.

I made it out to the center dike by mid-afternoon and the winds were finally starting to come around to the south.  I tried my go-to hybrid bait, the relax shad, but wasn't getting any hits so I got my catfish rods rigged up. I hadn't had any luck netting shad with my cast net so I started out fishing with nightcrawlers.  I quickly caught a small channel catfish and filleted off a few pieces of it in hopes a blue catfish would go for some fresh cut bait.  About half an hour later I got my first bite and it was obvious this fish wasn't messing around as my line was tearing off my reel at a very fast pace.  I picked up my rod and kept tightening my drag in hopes of slowing down the fish.  Eventually the fish slowed down and I could see I had something big as I saw a big splash at the surface about 100 yards out.  Normally catfish stay towards the bottom while being reeled in but this one made several runs to the surface as I fought it in, it was a very strong fish.  The closer it got I realized it was even bigger than I first had thought.  After I landed it I measured it at 36" and a weight of 23lbs on my digital scale, my biggest Illinois catfish that I have caught to date.  After getting a few pictures, the fish was released.  Hopefully in a few more years someone can hook into this fish when it's even bigger!

Re-energized by fighting and landing the blue catfish, I went back to trying for hybrids while I kept one catfish pole out. The wind had picked up out of the southwest and clouds had moved in, conditions seemed perfect for hybrids to be near shore where I was at.  I decided to switch to a pearl fluke on a jighead and on my second cast I got a hit right near shore and landed my first hybrid of the day.  A nice and fat 20" fish.

The next hour was great fishing and I ended up catching four more hybrids and a couple more smaller blue catfish. 

I shot a little video showing that it can be a little difficult to be fishing for both hybrids and blue catfish at the same time while the bite is hot, it is best to stay a little closer to your catfish rod than I was.

Fish caught: Hybrid Striper - 5
                   Blue Catfish - 3
                   Channel Catfish - 2
                   Smallmouth Bass - 1
Successful Baits: Pearl flukes and superflukes on 1/4 oz. jighead.
                          Cut channel catfish(santee rig).
Weather:  Increasing clouds, E winds shifting to SW 10-20mph, mid 50's.
Water Temps:  58(south shore), 63(south side center dike), 76(north side center dike)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Florida Family Fun Fishing

To celebrate my parents 40th wedding anniversary I met up with the rest of my family for a vacation on Sanibel Island, Florida.  Of course, I had to bring along some fishing gear and I was able to get some fishing in just about every day I was down there.  The weather was great for the most part and plenty of fish were caught between myself, my brother-in-law Russell, my brother Tim, and my Dad Bill.

Day 1: Beach Fishing 2/23/2014
After stopping by The Bait Box in Sanibel to purchase licenses and some bait we went back to the condo and decided to walk down to the beach and see if we could catch anything out in the Gulf.  The employees at the the bait shop recommended that we walk out to the second sand bar and fish from there.  The depth between the sand bars was about chest deep so it wasn't too hard to get off the beach a ways. We started off trying frozen shrimp and fiddler crabs but weren't getting much more than a few nibbles.  Russell was the first one to try some cut bait(greenbacks) and eventually he hooked up with something.  As he got it in closer we realized it was a small hammerhead shark!
Russell  aka "Macho Man" 

The joy of catching our first fish was short lived however as in my excitement I had forgotten I still had the cut bait in my shirt pocket.  Upon release, the maneater went straight for me in a vicious attack.  My brother thought it was hilarious of course.

We all switched to cut bait after Russell's catch and eventually I hooked up.  It ended up being a small gafftopsail catfish.  We later learned the venom in the spines of this catfish can cause extreme pain if you happen to get stung and you should avoid handling them.  Oops.

These would be the only two fish we caught this afternoon but it was good to know that fish could be caught right in front of the condo we were staying at.   Tim also hooked up with something larger right before we headed in but unfortunately it broke the line.

Day 2: Under The Bridge 2/24/2014
We headed out for some evening fishing under the Sanibel Causeway.  We brought some frozen shrimp, crabs, and cut greenbacks for bait.
Dad and I doing some birding while waiting for a bite
It wasn't long before Dad had a bite and his drag started peeling.  After a good fight we finally got a look at the fish and I was able to grab the hammerhead shark by the tail.  This would be one of two decent sized hammerheads that Dad caught that evening.

Surely a shark wouldn't attack me twice
Dad didn't want to lip it for some reason
Tim and Russell with a gafftopsail catfish
Russell with a blacktip shark
Tim with a blacktip shark
This guy would of looked good in an aquarium
In addition to the two hammerheads Dad caught, Tim and Russell also landed a couple small sharks and catfish.  I barely avoided the skunk with a small lane snapper right before we left. It was a beautiful evening to be out fishing.

A couple fisherman admiring the sunset under the Sanibel Causeway
Day 3: Pontoon Fishing 2/25/2014
My Dad scheduled a pontoon rental for a half day out of Tarpon Bay on Sanibel Island for the morning. The whole family headed out on this trip and the women quickly figured out they had been hoodwinked into more than a simple cruise around the bay.  Although everything we caught was small we had a nice variety of species bite our live shrimp including spotted seatrout, jack crevalle, spanish mackeral, pinfish, ladyfish, and even a stingray.
The captain
Some nice pointing by my niece Claire here with Grandpa and Grandma

We got the net out for the stingray

My Dad had the hot hand early in the morning
Claire helps calm the fish so her Dad can get the hook out
Double shot of Jack? Yes please!

I believe this was the only Spanish Mackerel caught
A lady(my sister Sarah) and a ladyfish
My brother with a ladyfish
No love for the pinfish
A great day

Day 3: Guided Captiva Fishing 2/26/2014
We had a guided trip scheduled for the morning out of Captiva Island with Captain Jim Burnsed Sr.  We arrived at the dock bright and early and we were off to go fishing right away.  
Ready to Fish!
We first stopped at Redfish Pass as the tide was coming into the bay to try for some sheepshead.  We had pretty simple setups for this type of fishing, a splitshot pinched right above a swivel with a few feet of leader and a J hook.  For bait we used fiddler crabs and shrimp.   Fishing was slow starting out while we missed a few bites but Tim was able to get the skunk off with a small sheepshead.
Good way to start the day
Russell and Dad soon followed suit.

Captain Jim admires Russell's nice sheepshead

Dad lands his first of many fish on the day
Tim then hooked up with what might have been the biggest fish of the morning.

Nice one!
We moved to another spot on the pass where the incoming tide was swirling around a small rock jetty.  This was definitely an area where experience was needed as the current was strong.  Captain Jim did a great job of putting us in the spot we needed to be and it didn't take long before I was hooked up!

The sheepshead were a good fight, especially against the current
This was a hot spot and if you cast your bait in the right area and let it drift with the current it was almost a guaranteed bite.

My biggest sheepshead of the day
It didn't take long before we had a decent number of sheepshead in the box.

They made for a delicious dinner later
With a lot of missed bites, we had gone through a lot of bait in a short amount of time.  Captain Jim asked if we wanted to cast lures and we said that we did so we moved to the other side of the island.  Fishing was great at this location as well as we drifted with the wind across a shallow flat while throwing rootbeer colored gotcha grubs on jigheads.  We caught a mix of jack crevalle, ladyfish, and spotted seatrout.  

Jack crevalle put up a great fight, even if not very big
A nice spotted seatrout for Russell
The ladyfish provides some nice aerial acrobatics when hooked
Tim with a nice spotted seatrout
Time flew by as we continued to have fast action through the rest of morning during our drifts.  I'm not sure of the total number of fish we caught but I would guess it was somewhere close to 100 between the four of us by the end of our morning trip.  We returned to the dock and Captain Jim and his son Captain Jimmy cleaned the fish we had kept during our trip.  Captain Jim was a great guide who had us on fish all day and I would highly recommend him if you are looking for a guide in the Sanibel/Captiva Island area.

The pelicans know where to hang out for an easy meal of fish scraps
Some of the bigger keepers.  Thanks for the trip Dad!

Day 4: Tarpon Bay Kayak Fishing 2/28/2014
While the rest of family went out to visit the Naples Zoo, I decided to rent a kayak from Tarpon Bay and do some more fishing.  I paddled out to an inlet where some current was coming into the bay, anchored on the edge of some mangroves, and tried some frozen shrimp beneath a splitshot weight.  While I didn't catch anything near the size of the fish we caught on our guided trip, I still managed to bring several small sheepshead into the kayak.
The sun can be brutal even during the winter in Florida
Sheepshead have to be 12" to keep, this one didn't  quite make it
I also caught a spotted seatrout, a few ladyfish, and a puffer fish that made some cool grunting noises.

I didn't dare touch it and was happy I could shake the hook out
Day 5: Sanibel Fishing Pier 3/1/2014
For the final day of fishing Tim and I headed down to the Sanibel Fishing Pier for a little more than an hour in the morning. It is a popular spot on Sanibel Island and fishermen were shoulder to shoulder at the end of the pier. Eventually a good spot opened up. I let my piece of shrimp fall down along one of the support pillars and I was able to land a mangrove snapper and a sheepshead right before we were about to leave. We brought them back to the condo, filleted them, and grilled them up before we had to leave for a spring training game between the Red Sox and the Twins.  A nice end to a very memorable week of fishing and time with the family.

The mangrove snapper was the envy of at least a couple fishermen on the pier

Filleting with a nice cutco knife Sarah and Russell got me for my birthday last year

The whole family