Taking on the Illinois River from topwater fishing to trolling

Fishing the Illinois River with Pete Riedesel went from topwater fishing to trolling to end with six species.

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The mysteries of the Illinois River near Ottawa starred Friday on a fine morning for fishing.

The mysteries of the Illinois River near Ottawa starred Friday on a fine morning for fishing.

Dale Bowman

OTTAWA, Ill. — Pete Riedesel leaned over and handed me a rod as we motored upstream from one feeding station to the next Friday on the Illinois River.

‘‘Throw this out,’’ he said.

‘‘You want to troll going from spot to spot?’’ I asked.

Yes. The fishing made that an emphatic yes.

In four hours, we boated more than three dozen fish (I lost the exact count around 20) of six species, including a keeper walleye, a 2-pound freshwater drum, two undersized sauger, three white bass, four largemouth bass and the rest smallmouth bass, mostly what Riedesel calls ‘‘10s to 13s.’’

Pete Riedesel holds a typical smallmouth bass from Illinois River. Credit: Dale Bowman

Pete Riedesel holds a typical smallmouth bass from Illinois River

Dale Bowman

Riedesel, a retired educator, has fished the Illinois River for decades and has A, B and C spots — feeding stations — around Ottawa near the confluence of the Illinois and Fox rivers.

Feeding stations are basically current breaks: rock humps, rock bars, wing dams, islands and inflows or streams. Anything that concentrates fish.

That’s what Riedesel aimed to fish. Sometimes the water suggests a different strategy. We pecked out a fish or two at most feeding stations, but when he had me start trolling between stations, it changed the game.

I’m just glad I finally was able to fish and catch up with Riedesel.

I started on fire, not missing a bite for half the morning while throwing a large-sized Pop-R. When I led 5-2, I pointed that out to Riedesel.

I can be an impish ass about such things. Riedesel outfished me every time in the last 20 years. Riedesel, who coached in his career and was a competitive bowler and golfer, is competitive enough to feel a goad.

‘‘At least my Cubs are doing better than the Sox,’’ he quipped.

Some things are too pathetic to jest about.

A pair of belted kingfishers darted after each other by a stream mouth.

Riedesel fishes more than 200 days a year, and it shows. Trolling that section of the Illinois came from watching late guide Mike Hanson trolling with customers.

Riedesel had me let line out until the bait was just above snagging the bottom. I trolled a blade bait; he trolled a hard jerkbait. We lost our share of hits trolling, but catches were evenly split between the baits. We did slightly better trolling upstream than down.

‘‘It’s easily the best day I ever had trolling on the Illinois,’’ Riedesel said.

Casting at the feeding spots, I caught the most on the large Pop-R, which worked until 10:10 a.m. Riedesel caught his on a small Pop-R, a classic white twister tail, a blade bait and a fluke.

Late in the morning, we finally spotted the eagle that we heard calling from shoreline trees.

It was time.

‘‘It’s always a measure of the day when you get the net wet, and I say, ‘It’s like in golf when you have at least one birdie,’ ’’ Riedesel said.

That was about the only thing missing: a fish big enough to net. Sometimes it’s OK to make par on every hole and take your 36 on the front nine.

A feisty smallmouth bass fights on the way to the boat on the Illinois River. Credit: Dale Bowman

A feisty smallmouth bass fights on the way to the boat on the Illinois River.

Dale Bowman

Illinois hunting

Applications may begin Tuesday for free upland-game permits, the coolest hunting program in Illinois. . . . Squirrel season opens Tuesday.

Stray cast

I thought getting deeply fin-speared by a smallmouth bass Friday was the lowest — until Sox baseball Sunday.

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