Somehow, Claire and I found ourselves standing in the Fox River at 6:30am on the Fourth of July.

I had planned to go regardless; as any faithful reader knows, I will forgo sleep at the drop of a hat to do some good fishing. The night before, Claire suddenly announced she wanted to go with me. She hesitantly asked what time she’d have to get up. I said 4:30am. She groaned.

We had packed the car, drank our coffee, said goodbye to Walter- standing there, confused to see both of us up so unnaturally early- and hit the road. After a short drive we were now in the river, fishing, just as the sun was coming up.

On Claire’s third cast, she got hung up on some rocks, she thought. Then she started yelling “Fish! Fish!” I looked over and saw her light rod doubled down… and heard the drag sending line out to the river. “And it’s pulling my line!” I yelled some celebratory profanity and waded over to her as fast as I could.

The fish broke the surface a few times as Claire furiously tried to reel it in. I caught glimpses of a big brown figure in the water. For a moment I wondered if she’d gotten a flathead, but it wasn’t fighting like the ones I’d seen. Then I saw the snout of a smallmouth bass, but I wasn’t sure how big it was.

I reached behind me, grabbing the new net I got for fly fishing, and scooped up the smallie. As it came out of the water I saw how big it was and probably released some more profanity. Holy crap. This was a big fish!

I was torn between admiration and jealousy for my wife, the big-smallie-catcher. I don’t think I’d ever caught a smallie that big on the Fox. I got some nice fish on the Rogue in Michigan, but still. Claire, on her third cast, caught a monster. I lipped it, took out the comparatively tiny jig, and gave it to my lovely wife to hold.

Claire got a biggun

I busted out the tape measure (something I don’t often do, but I wanted to know how big this one was) and it measured at least 16″. It seemed like it should be longer; perhaps I measured wrong, maybe I have a bad sense of length. Either way it was a giant fish, and both of us were overjoyed. We placed the big fish back in the water, and a few moments later she came to and swam away in the splash of tail I’ve come to expect. I wiped the water off my glasses.

We celebrated for a moment, I changed to the fish/grub Claire was using, and started casting. We both got some hits, but neither one of us could set the hook. One hit I got, a sharp, single “TAP” cleanly cut off the tail of my twister. Could it have been a walleye? After a while I suggested we move upstream and see if we couldn’t find some more fish. Claire reluctantly obliged, not wanting to leave “the promised land” of the big bass.

We worked our way upstream, occasionally getting some hits. I saw a guy fishing on the other side of the river, he was working his way downstream as we went upstream. That stretch of the river is wide enough I couldn’t quite make him out, but I had a hunch who it was… based on the particular hat, the cigar…

“Are you Chris?” he shouted across the river. I said I was.. paused.. “Who are you?” I asked.

“Ken!” he shouted back, working his way toward us. Ken G! Ken G of Waterdog Journal and years of fishing the Fox- the same Ken who uses jigs with white twisters (which accounted for my first Fox smallie).

Claire and I fished our spot as Ken waded over to us. We started to get lots of hits, caught some fish; things were turning on. Ken came over and we met face to face, although in some ways I felt I already knew the guy. We’d exchanged messages and emails; I’d read his blog a lot, and I think he’d read some of mine too. It was good to meet the man behind the posts, so to speak. He asked us what all the shouting had been, and we told him about the big fish. Actually, that’s not what he asked… he asked “What was all that ‘oh #%^$ oh #%@$’ about?” Apparently my voice carries down the river. Ken said he knew it was me by the beard and the laughing.

As we talked, Claire and I had clearly found a good spot to fish- the water on the surface was slightly different in this one particular spot, which is why I first cast there. Hit after hit came from this area, although as before we had some trouble setting our hooks. Ken said there was a dropoff right where we were fishing; some deeper water, apparently stacked up with smallies.

In the next hour or so, I hooked into somewhere around 15 fish and landed 8 or so. I lost count. Claire and Ken hooked into a bunch of fish too. All the fish I got were fairly small, but they didn’t know it. It was a great time! Maybe even the best time I’d ever had fishing the Fox.

Pretty little fish

All three of us had issues setting our hooks, but we counted the ones we almost landed. All the smallies I got came from around the same spot, bouncing the 1/16oz jig and chartreuse grub/fish along the bottom, downstream.

After a while, we tried some other spots where baitfish were breaking the surface, but none of the big fish under them wanted to play. Eventually Ken headed back upstream and we headed back to our entry point- where Claire caught the giant. I tried busting out my fly rod, which I’d been carrying on my fancy (and heavy, now filled with river water) fishing backpack. I think I casted ok, at least in terms of hitting my targets, but I definitely have a lot to learn. I switched back to my spinning gear but it seemed the bite had dried up.

Smallie stash

Claire and I called it a day, at least a morning- we hiked back up the trail to our car. As we were leaving Panera I realized I left my fly rod on the grass by the car- we scrambled back to the park, and thankfully it was there.

On our way home, we stopped by the Dupage to check out the spot where Claire caught so many fish a few weeks back. We saw plenty of green sunfish swimming among the weeds and shadows in the extremely low and clear water… Exploring upstream of the bridge, we found an area that looked amazingly fishy. Right now the water seems too shallow for it to hold many fish, but my guess is with a little more depth that spot will be on fire! I can’t wait to come back. I really like exploring new spots, although Claire is usually the one finding the spots.
I lifted up some rocks to see what was under them, and was intrigued to find crawfish scurrying away. Looking at the bottom of the rock, I saw tons of little shiny moving things I could only guess were the larval stage of some river bug. I thought about nymphs in fly fishing, those weird flies I don’t quite understand yet. Maybe when these squirming puddles of mud things grew up, they would rise up threw the water, some of them being eaten by hungry river fish. Maybe that’s what was up with nymphs…
Slowly wading, not really fishing, I found some really big crawfish. They were very pale, almost white, with pink around their head and claws. I reached down to pick them up, slowly, but not slow enough… With their characteristic backwards jumping move, they escaped my grasp, perhaps only to become some smallie’s next meal. It occurred to me I should get some white tubes with pink tentacles for when I return to this spot…

2 responses

  1. I think after I asked if you were Chris, I said the laughing, the beard and the woman pretty much gave it away.

    Wound up with 8 caught and 9 missed that morning. Not bad for being off the water by 8:30.

    You remind me of me back when I started fishing rivers. It’s refreshing Chris and I enjoy you’re observations. Took me 14 years to burn out a bit putting things in words and I’m taking a break. Yes, I read what you’re writing, even if I don’t always comment. Keeps me inspired and reminds me of why I’ve done what I’ve done all these years.

    You ever go exploring, down stream, I don’t know up stream of Geneva, just ask questions. I’ll put you on some spots.

    It was a pleasure meeting you and Claire.

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