Escape to Hennepin Canal: A morning long gone largely alone with beauty and largemouth bass

Exploring a get-away morning on the Hennepin Canal with Pete Riedesel, catching largemouth bass and soaking up the isolated beauty.

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The long view down a section of the Hennepin Canl near Sheffield. Credit; Dale Bowman

The long view down a section of the Hennepin Canl near Sheffield.

Dale Bowman

SHEFFIELD, Ill.—Between launching at 6 a.m. Monday on the Hennepin Canal and returning at noon, Pete Riedesel and I only glimpsed a couple flashes of brightly clothed bike riders on the shoreline path and a handful of shore anglers.

It’s hard to disappear that completely in Illinois in public space.

Of course Pete Riedesel pointed out that this stretch of the Hennepin Canal is busier on weekends and busier this spring because of the pandemic shutdown drawing more people going outside.

All the same, it was good to disappear for a morning and have some decent fishing. We caught and released 20 largemouth bass, the heaviest going 2 1/2 pounds.

We launched from the Hennepin Canal Parkway main complex area, which includes the Visitor Center, a mile or so south of Exit 45 (Route 40) from Interstate 80. It was a two-hour trek for me, an hour for Riedesel, a retired educator in Ottawa who fishes around northern Illinois and Wisconsin (check his Fishin Friend Guide Service page on Facebook).

The tone for the main Hennepin Canal Parkway main complex area is set right away at the launch. Credit: Dale Bowman

The tone for the main Hennepin Canal Parkway main complex area is set right away at the launch.

Dale Bowman

The Hennepin Canal State Trail is 104.5 miles long in five counties (Rock Island, Bureau, Henry, Lee and Whiteside). The canal, built between 1892 and 1907, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

One of my dreams for years was that our family would spend a couple nights and days hiking or biking the trail days and camping at night. That went over like a rock splashed in a fishing hole. So I was quite happy to at least fish it with Riedesel.

“I have always had fun here,” he said. “There is so many places to fish, it is so much fun.”

He was right.

Beside plenty of camping and fishing, the canal offers hiking, biking, sightseeing, boating, kayaking and canoeing from multiple parking and access points. There’s even horseback riding and snowmobiling.

Before we launched, Riedesel pointed to a bottle of Vanilla Bug Spray and said we might need it. But we made it largely bug free.

He started us fishing under the I-80 bridge. It was startlingly to be in this idyllic ribbon of calm water between tree- and brush-lined shores while 18-wheelers rumbled over the bridge and cars hummed. But we caught small largemouth right away on a mix of topwaters and spinner-type baits.

I hadn’t fished with Riedesel in several years, so he tried to catch me up above the din. Then we were away from the highway and talk flowed naturally.

“Oh my God, it is so beautiful,’’ he said. “You’re casting under trees or on weed lines. They could be anywhere.”

He meant that literally. Early in the morning, we even caught a couple in the middle (even there it is only a few feet deep).As the sun rose, fish were concentrated in shade or on weed lines.

I enjoyed throwing a frog into the slop and weeds near shore. It looked like an automatic way to fish it, but I only caught one on a frog (my first-of-the-year). Our best success was pulling a Texas-rigged worm (1/16th-ounce) or Senko over the weed tops on the bottom.

As we worked down the canal, I asked Riedesel, who favors LaSalle and Heidecke lakes and the Illinois River, how he found this place.

“I was looking for a place to go when I was not fishing with Cameron [his youngest son],’’ Riedesel said. “Where is that next place? I kinda landed on this one.”

Good place to land. Even with the wind blowing hard through the shoreline trees, the water was calm. Well, kind of calm, carp were spawning and raised a ruckus on shore.

It is a good crappie and bluegill water, too. But we didn’t catch either of them. But I only made a few casts with a spinner and none with a jig.

“It can be very good, today was average,” Riedesel said.

Pete Riedesel holds one of the better largemouth bass caught and released Monday on the Hennepin Canal. Credit: Dale Bowman

Pete Riedesel holds one of the better largemouth bass caught and released Monday on the Hennepin Canal.

Dale Bowman

As we fished in the building heat, it struck me this is the first time I had been in a boat in Illinois since March 1 when I fished with Jimmy and Chaser Ellison at the Braidwood Lake opener.

It’s been a different year.

At least I found my rhythm and ability to skip a Senko under overhanging brush and limbs.

I finally latched into a better largemouth when I skipped a Senko far back under an overhanging tree. But the largemouth came unhinged just after I pulled it out of the tree and had a good look at it.

It was time.

On our way back, Riedesel caught a couple more small ones around the I-80 bridge to end the morning.

“It is remote, just pretty,” Riedesel said.

I should come back to hike and camp solo. Sort out 2020.

Click here for information on the Hennepin Canal. Click here for recreational information on the Hennepin Canal.

The sign for the Hennepin Canal Parkway main complex area. Credit: Dale Bowman

The sign for the Hennepin Canal Parkway main complex area.

Dale Bowman

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