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Ramble with Gortowski: Open-water quest

Ken Gortowski began seriously seeking

open water on Monday in the western suburbs.

Click here for Gortowski’s full blog with photos for his full take on river options on the western suburban end and beyond of Chicago fishing.

Here’s the fishing report/rumination:

Since the air temperatures went above freezing on Saturday, the long awaited melting of snow and ice is happening at a quick pace. As I write this Monday evening, the marker in my yard shows that almost 8 inches of snow has disappeared. The walls of snow that lined my driveway and the roads around me no longer look so formidable.

The arctic air that settled over the area for the past week did a good job of locking up the Fox River with ice. Small rivulets of open water were still making their way through, but a good 80 percent of the river was all ice.

Looks like this will soon be a distant memory. History shows that those deep arctic blasts are rare from here on out. Meteorological spring is only a couple of weeks away with the official March 21st spring date not far behind. If cold air does rear it’s ugly head, it will be short lived and that ice won’t return.

It’s about time.

I had to do some wandering today. Wandering that took me across and along a couple of the premier wading rivers close to Chicago. I crossed the DuPage River in Plainfield as I came down Route 126. When my wife is in the car I get screamed at, “you can’t just stop in the middle of the road.”

Sure I can. Besides, I don’t stop, I’m still rolling along at about 10 mph. Luckily she wasn’t with me, so I slowed to 5.

The DuPage River was wide open for as far up and down stream that you could see. There was a little bit of ice along the edges, but nothing else. On the way back home I crossed the DuPage again at Hassert Boulevard. People get so impatient when you’re doing 15 in a 45. They probably know nothing about river fishing. Again, the river was wide open. More ice along the edges, but I think that will soon be gone.

It had me thinking that later this week I should consider wading this river. From Bolingbrook, through Plainfield, down through Shorewood to Channahon, the whole river is probably wide open. I have a feeling if an ambitious wading angler really wanted to increase their odds at catching a winter smallie or a handful of rock bass, somewhere in that long stretch of river would be the place to go.

I knew what the Fox was starting to look like below my house, but I thought I should check out the rest of the river before making a decision. Why drive the extra distance if you don’t have to.

The Fox from Montgomery down was recovering nicely. There was still ice, bit it was quickly losing the battle of the warmth. Whole stretches that were solid ice just a few days earlier were now almost completely open. By Thursday, the projected warmest day of the week, I have a feeling much of the ice that I saw today will be gone.

As I stood on a bridge watching the river, large chunks of sheet ice were flowing downstream. I know from experience that if you do go wading in these conditions you have to constantly keep looking over your shoulder. I had a sheet of ice about 3 inches thick and the size of a car hood sneak up on me and nail me in the legs one year. Hurts like hell and I wound up with pretty good sized bruises on my thighs.

Further downstream at another bridge I was watching the ice floes drift down the river. One was a good 40 feet wide and about 15 feet the other direction. You don’t stand a chance if one of these things sneaks up on you. You will lose if it hits you and it will knock you down. Then it will slowly make its way downstream with you underneath. It probably won’t kill you, but it will definitely be one of the most unpleasant experiences of your life.

The plan for sure is to hit the Fox on Thursday at the earliest. It’s hard to check the stream flow because the ice screws up the reading on the gauge, but I don’t worry about that much. I think the fastest the river has been flowing while I was out wading was 6,000 cfs, normal is 750. It shouldn’t get that bad in the next few days. I don’t recommend anyone else try that. I know what I’m doing and I know stretches of the river like the back of my hand. You don’t know it, you screw up, you die. It’s that simple.

I’ll probably take the easy way out and hit a treatment plant outflow with it’s warmer water. One of the reasons the DuPage is tempting is because the whole river is basically one big treatment plant outflow. Between the East and West Branches of that river, there are 18 treatment plant outflows. Since that whole river system is much narrower than the Fox, the whole thing winds up behaving like one big treatment plant outflow. For those that don’t know, that’s why it’s easier to catch winter smallies and rock bass out of that river.

Out on the Fox, the main river will be cold for some time yet. But the fresh water just may turn on the walleye and those few muskie that hit. Smallies will be hard to come by, but not impossible. So where to go?

Location, location, location.

Up in Geneva, from the dam to the railroad tracks would be the best bet. Wandering a little further down stream may find you a couple of more spots. I’ve always wondered about Fabyan Forest Preserve, but I’ve only gone there in warmer months.

In Batavia, start at the dam and head down stream for say, about 3 miles or so. I once met a guy at Les Arends Forest Preserve that claims to have caught a walleye that pushed the 14 pound mark. Based on how many times I’ve been cleanly bitten off through this stretch, I have no reason not to believe him.

In North Aurora go from the dam all the way down to I-88. Indian Trail Road might be worth some effort, east side. I’ve caught some of my biggest walleye there.

Right in downtown Aurora you might be caught by surprise at what you catch. It’s been years since I tried it myself.

Montgomery dam down to about Oswego. It’s only 3 miles, piece of proverbial cake. A little down from the treatment plant there’s a big pool before the high tension wires. Might be worth spending some extra time along that pool.

Yorkville from the dam down to just past the mouth of Blackberry Creek. Everyone fishes the creek mouth, you may want to consider the other side of the river. I only live there, so what do I know.

And of course the one spot that everyone loves to pound the crap out of is the mouth of Big Rock Creek. The best walleye spot is on the other side of the river.

About a mile and a quarter down from there is a pretty good spot, possibly better. As tempting as it is and probably worth it, if you’ve never done it before, I would first go explore it during the summer months. Next year you can come back and try it in late winter/early spring. There’s a reason I’ve nicknamed that stretch The Death March.

You can probably take this write up out and read it every week into April and do well along any of these stretches. As we get into April things will improve dramatically on the river, but by then, I won’t be fishing it. I have 5 creeks to hit starting the last week of March, so I’ll be busy elsewhere.

You can bet I won’t be giving out that kind of detail about the creeks. Maybe a name, then you’re on your own.