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Chasing smallmouth bass on small water: The joy of stream fishing

Stream fishing is often as much about the place as the fish.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Two owls hooted as I climbed from the car, right where I wanted to be.

On my last drive with Norm Minas last fall, he showed me some Will County streams, my favorite style of fishing.

Monday morning I gave them a try. At the first, I bushwhacked to the water’s edge. It looked like nobody else had walked there. Nothing like stinging nettles on bare legs as a wake-up. Smart fishermen, like Minas was, wear waders as much for vegetation protection as for the water.

I prefer wet-wading in old sneakers, swim trunks, a drab olive shirt and a camo baseball cap. Earth tones and camo fit my fashion sense and are practical in the clear, low-water of summer (earth tones/camo don’t spook fish).

After wading through nettles, I was not happy to reach the bottom and not see water, only water willow, other plants and dry rocks. Then I found the pools, crouched and made a few casts with a popper. Nothing.

When the far end exploded as fish corralled minnows, I stood and made a long cast. It just hit the water when I hooked the first smallmouth bass.

A fairly typical smallmouth bass from a stream in summer.<br>Dale Bowman/Sun-Times
A fairly typical smallmouth bass from a stream in summer.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

It was barely 11 inches, but my morning was made. I was grateful to Minas, who died in December.

With one decent fish caught and released, I relaxed and soaked up the deer snorting from the bank (never did see it), crows cawing and Canada geese honking.

My camo wet bag has basic tackle, hemostat, needle nose pliers, measuring tape and notebook. I had three light spinning rods: one with the smallest Skitter Pop, one with a Mepps spinner and one with a tungsten micro-jig with a trimmed tail.

The tributary spots I fished were small, so I gave each half an hour, then moved on. I went 3-for-11, all on the topwater, at the first.

It took me a bit to find the second spot. At first, I missed the unmarked road, which turns into gravel.

No nettles but lots of large dried thistles for my bare legs. But I was rewarded with deer hooves and raccoon paws imprinted in sandy mud. A great blue heron flapped off. A wild turkey clucked near shore. This had flatter water and less water willow. I went 2-for-8.

Figured I owed Minas one more nod, so I drove to the Kankakee River State Park to low-water spots around Langham Island. A year ago, it was the last place I waded with him. Couldn’t raise anything on the topwater, but went 1-for-5 with the spinner.

It was time.

I found my favorite picnic table by the river, spread out hard-boiled eggs and fresh cantaloupe, then tugged on memories.

All spots were on public land. And I found another one, which requires a good hike, to try another day.

FAIR: Conservation World is open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday through Aug. 19 at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. You should do it at least once.

STRAY CAST: The NFL helmet rules are too much like the cut-perch regs.

The joy of fishing smallmouth in small streams.<br>Dale Bowman/Sun-Times
The joy of fishing smallmouth in small streams.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times