Fox River Deadfall
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January 15, 2011

Midwest Stream Fishing Report: After a busy work week and two dinner parties, I was ready to spend some time in the outdoors. I didn't mind if it was only a nature hike and some photography, I needed to feel cool air in my lungs and let my thoughts wander. Luckily, my fishing buddy Jonn Graham shares the same passion for fishing and we had plans to meet at a Midwestern stream in hopes of coaxing a few fish into biting. I drove south through a snowy countryside and met Jonn mid-morning under overcast skies, 24 degrees, and a rather chilly northwest breeze. No matter, each of us had winter fished numerous times, were dressed for the weather and enthusiastic to get on the water!

Jonn is a successful smallmouth guide, author, outdoor personality, and overall ambassador of smallmouth in Illinois. His latest venture is Warrior Jigs, a business he started with his father-in-law. They create quality swim jigs, hair jigs, and hand-tied flies. New ideas are constantly being developed and field-tested. I'm lucky enough to get some samples now and then to try on the river in confidence.

We suited up and ventured out, stalking the frozen bank in search of a first spot. We started fishing Jonn's small, hand-tied hair jigs around two feet beneath 3/4-inch foam floats at a slow, deep pool. After an hour in the wind with nothing to show, we switched areas. Our second spot offered some seclusion from the wind, deeper areas to try, and renewed hope. Jonn bounced a larger hand-tied hair jig off the bottom in a three- to four-foot-deep hole. The craft hair's subtle movement enticed a good-sized rock bass into biting and Jonn nailed his first fish. I tied on the same lure and we continued to work the area. One fish can really make the day feel warmer so imagine our jubilation when Jonn hooked into a beautiful bronzeback. It thrashed wildly as it reached the surface and Jonn grinned from ear to ear as he proudly held up his first smallmouth bass of 2011. It was a beauty and taped just shy of 18".

Jonn was so happy after landing that smallmouth, I swear his voice became a few decibels louder. He stepped back and let me have a crack at the area. I tried and tried to no avail. We figured all the commotion from the big smallmouth being caught might have any remaining fish on guard, so we switched areas yet again and returned to fishing the float-n-fly.

The float-n-fly just wasn't cutting it and we kept wondering if the fish would "reload" in the previous spot. After another chilly half-hour of nothing, we returned to where Jonn had his success and bottom-bounced the hair jigs again. Our intuitions were correct. I finally felt the "thump" of a fish inhaling my lure and the fight was on! My bronzeback gave a spirited fight and taped at 18". We stood in awe watching it slither back to its frigid hangout. What a day! We were as happy as two kids on Christmas.

Winter hair jig fishing Winter hair jig fishing Winter hair jig fishing Winter hair jig fishing Winter hair jig fishing Winter hair jig fishing Winter hair jig fishing Winter hair jig fishing Winter hair jig fishing Winter hair jig fishing

Creek Chub Pikie
January 9, 2011

Lake Ice Fishing Report: Fished for bluegills and bass through the ice with my buddy Stephen. We used tiny teardrop jigs tipped with waxworms on 2 lb test and fished around 15 feet deep. Bites were light and typically happened when jigging around a foot off the bottom. The bluegills and bass were plentiful, as were the laughs out on the ice. Always nice to meet up with Stephen and catch a few. Great time. All fish released.

Winter day Ice drilling Ice hole! Two tiny chairs Bluegill on ice Gone Drinkin'

Creek Chub Pikie
January 3, 2011

Fox River Fishing Report: Winter loosened its icy grip long enough for the air temperature to climb above freezing. Knowing I wouldn't have to worry about my guides icing up was all the motivation I needed to hit the Fox River for a solo wade in the late afternoon. Five common mergansers paddled nervously downstream and took flight as I neared the water. I brought my stock 18-55mm lens and had it tucked safely in my backpack. Go figure. As I set foot in the river, a mature bald eagle took flight from the tip of a dead tree directly across from me. The raptor was lit up beautifully in the sun. It flew upstream and I never saw it again the rest of the outing. A few years ago I would have been skeptical myself about reports of bald eagles along urban areas of the Fox River. Now their frequency is to the point that it seems odd not to see at least one per outing.

The recent rain and melt had the river up. I waded toward my eddy and could feel the river's push even in the shallows. Gravel bars that are typically an inch deep were eight inches below the surface. Not much ice near shore but chunks occasionally drifting down the middle of the river. The size and frequency of the ice was nothing compared to a week ago. Still, it was no day for exploring. I worked a single eddy with a chartreuse and white hair jig varied from 16" to 22" beneath a foam float. It took fifteen minutes to get two nice bites from smallmouth bass, and about an hour longer to prove there were no more takers nearby.

My first fish came on the fifth drift through the eddy and taped at 14.75". It was a beautiful smallmouth bass -- about as perfect of a specimen as you can find in the Fox River. It provided a nice battle and I hope it grows to be a topwater-destroying brute in those parts. It certainly did not give up easily. When I reached shore and readied my camera, I let the hooked fish swim freely and it dove between a grouping of large rocks and wedged itself in tightly. I had to rollup the sleeves on my right arm, reach into the icy water, and gently free the fish from its hiding spot in order to unhook it and take the photo.

After the release I continued to fish the same area and got bit about a dozen casts later. I set the hook into a solid fish that I could immediately tell was larger. It felt like a smallmouth but for a second I thought it might be a nice-sized walleye or a very large white bass. I was glad to see it was a toad of a smallmouth -- dark bronze and very stocky. I had intended on taking close-up photos of the fish I caught but this one was my January 2011 cover shot for sure! I turned the fish and waded towards shore so I could put my camera on my tripod. The fish thrashed, turned, and came unhooked. I'd guess it in the 17"-18" range. I normally don't get angry about losing fish but since winter fish can be scarce I did mutter a choice word or two out of frustration. It would have been my largest smallmouth bass caught from this particular eddy on the float-n-fly. With all the luck I've been having, I guess I was due to take one on the chin.

The remainder of the outing was spent casting, anxiously watching the little florescent float, varying depth, and re-casting. I stayed about an hour longer. I wasn't cold at all and it was enjoyable to be out. The late afternoon sun provided a warm glow across the entire eastern shoreline. I called it a day once the light show faded, glad to have landed at least one river bronze to ring in the new year. USGS 11.67' / 1,390 CFS and falling.

Fox River smallmouth bass Fox River smallmouth bass Fox River shoreline in winter ZipCut Pro

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© 2018 Fish The Fox. All Rights Reserved. | "Fox River Deadfall" artwork by Paul Turnbaugh. Used with permission.