Claire and I pulled up to Jim’s house, it must have been 2am or close. At least it felt that way. The sun was a long way from showing its face. Sam greeted us, walking down the sidewalk from the house as we loaded our gear into his minivan.
Pretty soon we were on the road, headed to an ultra-top-secret location. I finished off the remainder of the pot of coffee I started drinking at 4:30am as we pulled up to the gravel “parking lot.” It wasn’t really a parking lot, it was really just gravel. The three of us suited up- Claire in her new waders (yes, I have an awesome wife who has waders). There were no other cars on the gravel.

After what seemed like a 3 mile hike (but was more like 1 mile) we were at the creek, our first stop. The idea was to catch creek chubs for bait, then use them at the creek mouth to catch some river snakes… aka northern pike. I was already sweating profusely in my waders, even in the chilly morning air. The three of us tossed tiny jigs into the diminutive creek, immediately getting hits from unknown small fish. I think Sam was the first to really connect with a fish, and he held up the greenie proudly. Or maybe not so proudly, as it was only about 4″ – but that was the perfect size for bait.

We worked a few pools; I was only able to land a greenie once I entered the tiny creek and waded up to my ankles. It’s really fun to fish tiny little creeks like this one, it’s fishing in miniature. The creek has all the same features as a big river, but much smaller. There are still riffles (water rushing over shallow rocks) and pools (slower, deeper areas) and eddies (little spots where the water goes in a circle). It’s good to put my river vocabulary to use- I’m still learning, hopefully I used those words correctly. I’m still not sure what an oxbow or a weir is.
Slowly wading downstream, we would stop every now and then to fish the micro-sized spots that we soon discovered held fish. Just upstream of a railroad bridge, in a little eddy created by the bridge supports, I caught my first creek chub on my 1/32oz jig with a .5″ twister. I found it a lot like a little trout; the way it fought, the way it wiggled when I went to unhook it, and I didn’t think it smelled too bad. Creek chubs have a bad rap for being smelly, but I liked the little fish. I plopped it into the bait bucket where it met the little greenies and creek chubs already there.

I really, really liked the creek. It reminded me more of rivers I’ve fished in Michigan than the typical Illinois creeks I’ve explored. Lots of rocks and gravel, undercut banks; nice eddies on the outside bend of every little curve, not too much “fart mud”… The deepest it got, at least where we were wading, was about two feet. If that.
Once we had enough bait, 8 or so little fish, we hit the path and hiked through the forest. Sometimes there was a clear path; other times we ended up creating our own path through the tall grasses. Grass that hid large holes in the ground and many tree limbs that threatened to trip us if we didn’t pay attention. Aside from the clear sounds of cars driving in the distance, we could have been a hundred miles out in the wilderness. It was beautiful!
And then we were there. A big bend in the creek that seemingly created deeper water on the outside of the curve; a nice big downed tree perhaps providing a lot of cover/structure for some creek snakes… It looked very fishy. A small set of riffles transitioned into what was basically a big long pool leading to the river proper- this was the spot. Sam hooked one of the baits, tossed it in, and waited. I got Claire rigged up- big red “J” hook, creek chub hooked through the tail, no weight. She tossed it in, I tied on my own hook and joined in on the fun.
Sam was the first to hook up; it seemed like we couldn’t have been there two minutes before he had a fish on! After a quick fight, he pulled it up on the shore and held it proudly. The pike spot is real!

We took pictures, Sam rebaited, and we were all fishing again. I stood there, holding my rod and feeling the regular tick of the swimming greenie on my hook, admiring the natural beauty surrounding us. This was just the kind of place I like to fish: Seemingly far from everything, beautiful, very green. I wonder if the whole area looked like that before people came in and paved over the prairies and cut down the trees.
And then Claire had a fish on!
Her rod was about bent in half, something big was on the other end… At first I thought she was just stuck, but then I saw some thumping and thrashing in the water.. it was a fish! I dropped my rod, bait still in the water, and ran over to Claire to help. I saw the pike in the water, in bits and pieces through the boil is was making… Some spots there, some teeth there, a flash of its orange tail there…
I grabbed the line, trying to help Claire bring the fish in… It was one of the biggest pike I’d ever seen, even in pictures! At one point I think we made eye contact, but all I could see was the huge mouth full of teeth. Its mouth was wider than my clenched fist; it was like a big bass, but toothier and longer. And meaner. I was intimidated.
And then with an incredibly violent shake, I saw the hook fly out of its mouth and the big mean fish slid back into the water.
I felt very, very bad… Claire had a GREAT fish on, and I helped her loose it. She didn’t seem too distraught; I know if I had hooked that fish and lost it, the forest would echo with profanity for miles… She seemed disappointed, but was surprisingly not too angry at me.
A while later Sam hooked into one, but lost it. I didn’t get so much as a hit, but it didn’t really matter. We got some nice pics of a nice fish, had a close encounter with a VERY nice fish (Claire’s first pike!) and got to hang out in a beautiful creek. For a while I tied on a big streamer to my fly rod, hoping to entice some of the resident pike that weren’t interested in live bait, but no luck. I also remembered I have no idea how to fly cast big streamers.
After a couple hours, we decided to call it and head back to the car. I kept fishing with my fly rod, which being conveniently 4 piece was able to fit entirely in my fishing shoulder pack. I stuck my spinning rod in the little rod holder on the pack and targeted chubs and gills. I managed to hook into many of the low-hanging trees, but I also managed to land a pair of little tiny bluegill on my favorite hopper fly. If I could navigate the grass and brush and get the fly right under the trees, the bluegill would greedily slam the hopper. I don’t know what kind of cast I was using to get the fly under the trees, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a “legal” fly cast. It was more of a “chuck it over there” kind of cast.

I hit this spot on the way back and got two little bluegill on the fly right under that tree on the right

We hiked back to the car, sweaty, tired, and satisfied. At least I was; I didn’t feel bad about my lack of pike action, and I was happy Claire got to hook into that monster (even though I kind of lost it for her…). It was good times on an awesome creek.

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