It was a brisk Autumn day as we pulled into the parking lot at LaSalle Game Preserve with a great deal of anticipation as to what the day might bring. There was a soft breeze, so slight that the water in the bayou looked like glass. The leaves were varying shades of gold and orange and red…we sat on the bumper of the car and just gazed across the bayou taking it all in, nature in all its perfection!
There were still trees lining the bayou in those days, long before the DNR decided to “improve” the area for fishermen by removing all the trees along the Western shoreline. The trees provided shelter from the sun, and where the branches touched the water there were insects and minnows and panfish, which in turn drew in the larger bass and pike to feast during the low light hours.
We packed our knapsacks with gear and lunch, traded our shoes for hip waders, grabbed a couple rods pre-rigged with Johnson Silver Minnows and plastic worms, slung the bags over our shoulders and headed towards the North end of the bayou. Walking along the shoreline until we nearly reached the river…standing before her, we paused giving homage our lady, the Kankakee River, before continuing on to our starting point on the North end of the bayou.
Carefully, we made our way across the area where the bayou connected to the river, up through the buttonbush and swamp mallow, and climbed up the steep berm that formed the Southern shore of the river…following a deer trail, a secret we learned on previous excursions, we gingerly made our way through brambles and poison ivy until we came to a point where the bayou nearly ran right up to the berm…down the steep embankment to our favorite starting point. Off came the
sacks, and everything was set up methodically, dry firewood that we had taken earlier in the year was waiting for us – tied in a bundle up in the tree where no one else would find it, taken down and placed in a pit we used frequently.
Now, in our sanctuary, performing our pre-fishing ritual…the gear was laid out, the fire started, we sat on a giant log that had fallen years ago, lit up a cigarette and planned our attack by studying the bayou – the color of the sky, the wind direction, animal activity, where the duckweed settled, where new snags may have fallen from the brittle branches above – the smell of the campfire in the crisp air set the tone.
It was so peaceful then, not many people had gone this far back to fish…there was no boat launch yet, and deer and geese were plentiful as were the fish – this bayou had not yet received much fishing pressure and was the paradise much of us still dream about today.
Today, the Silver Minnow was the key to catching fish…we both had several between us, but because pike loved the bait as much as the bass we were cut off a few times, and lost a few to errant casts. After a few hours I heard my partner say “well, that’s it for me…I lost my last spoon!” and not wanting this perfect day to end, I replied with “no problem Bud, I’ll use mine until I get one, then you can use it…we’ll take turns, OK?”
So the plan for the rest of the afternoon was set, we were going to take turns and keep catching fish…teamwork in action – Bud worked as a spotter pointing out working fish, or minnows popping on the surface…I’d no sooner land a nice bass then we’d switch and I’d act as the spotter while he fished!
After an hour or so, I cast my bait up into a tree…undaunted, I began to climb the tree to retrieve the bait. I was inches away from the bait and reaching out for it when I lost my grip and swung under the branch and was holding on for dear life! Lost my grip! And fell straight down into the water and muck, but somehow, knocked the bait free in the process…Bud just stood there and laughed “what some guys will do to catch fish” he said between his spouts of laughter “unreal”. On the next cast I caught a small bass and gave the lure to Bud…”good, now if you don’t mind, I’m gonna stand by the fire and dry off a bit”…”go ahead, I’ll be right over here” he said as I sat down to get my boots and socks off…and soak up the warmth.
Bud was fishing a large branchless laydown just to the right of where I was sitting, when all of a sudden, the wind kicked up and instead of the spoon hitting the water parallel to the tree, it sailed right into the end of the tree – hanging there, rocking in the breeze like a flag. “No problem” he says “it’s wide enough for me to walk out to” …and with that, Bud starts walking out on this mighty log to retrieve the bait. I advised him not to, but he didn’t listen and continued walking towards the end of the log…well, that log fulfilled every aspect of my concern, because it must have been laying out there for years and he went right through the center of the log…he’s
standing there in a foot of mud and 5 feet of water with a look of total shock on his face…”you gonna help me out of this mess or just stand there and laugh?”
To be honest with you, I just stood there and laughed as he sloshed his way back to the shoreline. “Stand by the fire a bit, you’ll be fine” I said, but it was obvious he was much too miserable for that…it was now late in the afternoon and the chill in the air bit at his flesh…he was done for the day!
I doused the fire, stashed the remaining firewood, packed up the gear and we headed on out…it had been a day filled with exhilaration and fun and mishaps, but none-the-less it had been a great day down by the Kankakee.
Interested in other articles by Mark Toth on fishing? Read Finding Hidden Fishing Treasures, Basic Ditch Fishing, Strategies for Ditch Fishing, and Packing for Mobility. These articles may be found under Bass Fishing Articles, in the Bass Fishing General Tips category.
Mark Toth, The Ditch Fishing Chronicles
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