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Mid-winter Obsession

At this time of year, the dead of winter, it is always something. I am yearning for spring and latch on to some adventure or piece of equipment to enhance an adventure that I am looking forward to, and obsess over it. This winter I just can’t contain my desire for a new kayak.

My wife has reminded me that I have two already. She has reminded me more than once. Doesn’t matter because what I don’t have is a kayak designed for stand-up fishing, and I am convinced that is what I need to make fishing and paddling special this coming season.

I’ve been wearing out YouTube looking at videos, mostly of the Jackson Kilroy and Old Town Predator models. Both are tricked out with everything one can think of to make fishing from a kayak easier, and both companies boast that their boat is very stable for stand-up fishing. I became convinced that the Kilroy was the boat for me when I watched a video from a kayak shop in California offering to add a stand-up support bar for customers. The bar is a kind of leaning post for support when standing up.

I didn’t intend to travel to California for a boat, so I emailed local kayak shops. By local I mean from central Wisconsin to southern Indiana. I was told that a Kilroy was available in Wisconsin in “Yellow Jacket” color. I guess that is a pattern made up of yellow, black and white. I’ll have to get a look at that before deciding if I can live with it. What happened to all kayaks being solid color yellow, green, or beige?

I was also told that the shop would not install the stand-up bar on advice from the manufacturer-Jackson. They said the warranty would be void if the bar was installed. So now what? Do I start looking again? Do I live without the bar?

Spending money on an expensive toy is more work than it ought to be. I want to get the right kayak this time, no buyer’s remorse. I can’t keep buying another boat, or wanting to buy another boat, every few years. I’ll keep you posted.

Taste of Summer

I had a little taste of summer in the days following Christmas. It was unseasonably warm for Chicagoland, near 50 degrees on Friday and still above 40 degrees on Saturday, but it was what I did with it that felt like summer.

On Friday, I took the kayak off its place on the garage wall. It hadn’t moved in at least two months and had gathered dust. Wearing waders on my bottom, and multiple layers on top, I paddled the length of Wooster Lake and back into two feeder creeks that are weed choked in the summer. The quiet water in the creeks was splendid for paddling. Ducks were hidden back there walking on patches of skim ice. It was a smart way for them to survive hunting season. Using my paddle to test for water depth, I found a few deep holes back in a creek that I’ll want to visit with a fishing rod next spring. I didn’t stay out long. Fifty isn’t warm when you’re sitting atop water that is just above freezing.

Saturday, I bundled up again, and fitted my bike helmet over a ski mask type stocking cap. I rode the bicycle about 30 minutes, enough to work up a sweat under the winter coat I was wearing. Managing body temperature during vigorous winter exercise can be quite a challenge for me. While I was sweating my nose was feeling the wind chill from the speed of the bike.

April, and warm spring days, are a long way off. I’m going to work on a strategy for managing my body temp during paddling, biking, hiking, and cross country skiing this winter. Getting face, feet and core in sync is the challenge. I know that I should be cool when starting out, so that I’m not over-heated later, but proper judgments about the various parts of me are tricky. If you have any secrets, please share them.

First Bass, and First Bat

It’s about 35 degrees today; gray with overcast. Looks and feels a lot like November. I just looked out again and it is snowing. But Friday was a glorious day, and a reminder that it really is springtime.

Friday afternoon it was 70 degrees. A quick walk beside the neighborhood pond wearing polarized glasses revealed what I hoped it would. Bass were pushing into shallow water. I ran back to grab a rod and some bait. Often the bass ignored the bait, and would turn and slowly head back to deeper water, but there was a flurry of action.

I landed 10 bass in about 90 minutes. The sun then went behind a cloud, and the wind picked up. The bite stopped.

That evening my wife wondered if the bat would be back. Last summer, a bat would fly back and forth at dusk, just above our deck. “Too early,” I said. But there he was just before dark, flying figure eights over our deck. April 11th 2014: first bass and first bat of the year!

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Traveling With My Son

ImageMy son is 25 years old. To say we have had challenges getting along is probably an understatement. While Bonnie and I were planning our trip to the Ozarks he was talking about 2 or 3 different options for vacations with friends. The friends bowed out one-by-one, or the trips were unaffordable, so suddenly Matt was without a vacation plan. We asked if he wanted to go with us. The price would be right for him; zero. he readily agreed.

When I asked if he wanted to join me on a full day fishing during the trip, I expected he would decline. He hasn’t shown much interest in it. To my surprise he said yes.

Bonnie wondered if he would find an excuse to stay home, but he didn’t. When he didn’t appear at the designated hour for departure, I wondered too, but he raced in right away and was packed and ready to leave.

Overall, I would give the father-son experience a big thumbs up. There were a few testy moments, like running wild through Elephant Rocks State PImageark. I expected to find him broken at the bottom of a cliff, and no amount of coaxing could slow him down, but we all survived. When he insisted on climbing up into the window frame in the ghost town of East Calico, we only needed one Band-Aid to cover the wound.

He was attentive throughout our fishing day, caught trout, and had fun. He may have even caught one or two fish more than me, but who’s counting? throughout the week he helped carry luggage, grill meat, and read maps.

I don’t know if this will be the last family road trip or not, but it was memorable. I mean that in the good way.

 

 

 

Ozark Spring Break

Ozark spring break, 2014 edition, was a great adventure. I plan to post twice about it. This post will focus on the outdoors, the second on interactions with my 25 year old son that went with us.

The Ozarks are filled with geologic wonder. Porous rock creates countless caves, springs, cliffs, and other curiosities. While down there, I read about a river that disappears underground and appears again 20 miles away. They know it is the same river because they tested with dye (think Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day) and found the dye appearing above ground that distance away. We visited several springs, including Mammoth Spring, which produces 9-10 million gallons per hour, creating a floatable river with constant water level and a constant temperature of 58 degrees. One could easily fill several week-long vacations visiting such sites in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.

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Many Ozark rivers have been dammed to harness their power for electricity. On little streams these dams powered personal businesses; such as grinding flour and sawing lumber. On larger rivers the dams have created renown fishing lakes such as bull Shoals and Table Rock. These larger dams release water from the bottom, creating “tailwater” fisheries. The water released from the bottom is constantly cool, so it creates trout water. The amount of water released varies with demand for electricity, so water levels on the tailwaters can fluctuate, sometimes multiple times in a single day.

Perhaps the most famous tailwater river in Arkansas is the White River. We fished it for one day. I came prepared to throw crankbaits for big trout, but was advised to follow the locals.The typical White River technique is to use a bell sinker on a three way rig to drift bait along the bottom. When water is low, the drift is slow and easier to control. In high water the bait drifts faster in powerful current. I didn’t study enough to realize that on a Monday demand for power would be higher than the weekend, and would affect the water level, so we dealt with high and rising water all day. next time I would plan to fish on Sunday, when water is predictably low. With thunderstorms approaching, Matt and I caught 20 trout before lunch, keeping three to eat and releasing the rest. After lunch we landed two more before thunder chased us off the water ahead of schedule. We were satisfied.Matt trout

The next day we toured Blanchard Springs Caverns, an amazing cave on National Forest land. We were not allowed to photograph the gigantic and varied formations because of concern for bats. 250,000 bats were still hibernating in Blanchard Springs Caverns, but not one was spotted in the rooms we were allowed to visit.

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After my fourth trip to the Ozarks in recent years I haven’t tired of it. I haven’t seen everything I’d like to see there, and I want to catch more trout now that I understand better how to fish that unique water.

Check back in a day or two for reflections on traveling with my son.

Spring Break Road Trip

Spring finally appears to be around the corner. As we wait for it to arrive, I’m going on a road trip to see if I can find it somewhere else. My family and I will be traveling 500+ miles south to the Ozark Mountains.

I plan to fish the famous White River while we are in Arkansas. This is a place where brown trout grown to 20 lbs. No little trout baits were recommended. Bring the countdown Rapalas is what I was advised. (For those that don’t know, these are typically used for bass or walleye fishing.) Those that know me will not be surprised to know I have been selecting and organizing gear for weeks already. I wonder what important thing I’ll leave behind despite all the planning.

Besides a little fishing; we hope to golf, hike, explore a cave, photograph a waterfall, and listen to live music. Like all our vacations, I’m planning a surgical strike, ferreting every experience possible out of a 6 day road trip. I’ll report back to you when we return.

The Bronzeback Blowout

The Illinois smallmouth Alliance’s annual banquet, The Bronzeback Blowout, was held last Saturday. My streak of not winning any raffle prizes remains intact-I was skunked again-but I enjoyed the party none-the-less.

Catching up with old friends and acquaintances was great fun. Pete Plauck, an extraordinary fisherman, was recognized as an original member of the organization on its 20th anniversary. He looks like he was about 14 years old when the ISA was created.

Ed Buric was making fishing plans for spring that include me. Thanks Ed. Somebody needs to be thinking ahead.

The featured speaker was someone I’ve known for about 15 years, Dan Basore. I know Dan as one of the most persistent collectors of old fishing lures, and one of the most knowledgeable. He has a huge collection that he displays at outdoor shows around the country. For the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club, or NFLCC, Dan runs the honorary member program. His goal is to recognize lure making innovators and pioneers while they are still around to enjoy the recognition.

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But, Dan’s program at the Blowout was not about old fishing lures. I learned that he was around at the beginning of the bass fishing tournament  trail, hanging out with and competing against all the biggest names in fishing. Dan’s program was called “My Life in Fishing” and concluded with, “Fishing is not just what I do, it is who I am.” The program was interesting; a nice mix of self-disclosure, war stories, and information.

As always, the Blowout has me longing for spring, anxious to get out on a lake or river somewhere. It is going to be 50 degrees this week. April can’t be far away, can it?

Good Beer, From Here

I enjoy the microbrewery boom. My wife and I try lots of beers, rate them, and form an opinion about various little breweries. When we travel we always include microbrewery stops wherever we’re at. Last year we sampled in Asheville North Carolina, Cincinnati, Traverse City Michigan and around Madison.

But….

Until recently we haven’t had a microbrewery within 10 miles of home. There was no brewery to call our own. That has changed. Now Chain of Lakes brewery is open in McHenry, Light the Lamp (a hockey themed brewery) in Grayslake, and Tighthead Brewing in Mundelein. I am happy to have them all,

But…

Tighthead is special. Tighthead refers to a position in rugby. From what I gather the picture in our heads of Offensive Lineman is similar to a Tighthead. The big uglies. Anyway, names of beers at Tighthead are a glossary of rugby terms. They always have a lot of beers on tap, from common styles to real experiments. I tend to stick with ales, have had several there, and they are all good. On a recent stop they were touting being named “Best beer in Chicagoland.” I can believe it.

Tighthead is a convivial bar, with an efficient, friendly staff. The place was packed on my recent Sunday afternoon visit, so they have been discovered. The owner (a former Tighthead) was organizing a tour of the brewing operation. They don’t serve food at Tighthead, but they encourage you to bring in your own or have something delivered. It is not uncommon to see a table with sandwiches from Subway, and carry-out pizza at the next table.

My wife is all about IPA, the super hoppy ales modeled after beer brewed in England for shipment to India. She loves the IPA at Tighthead. I think we have found our home brewery.

Gregg

Embracing Winter

It has been a brutal winter. It seems to me we have two choices: embrace winter by getting outside and doing something, or be apart of the majority that seems to wallow in complaining about it. I suppose a third choice is to go somewhere warm, but when you are a working man that option is not so readily available so…….

I am choosing to embrace it the best I can. Two weeks ago I got out ice fishing for the first time in years. The focus on a seven inch hole is not the same as open water fishing, but it will do as a substitute. It would have been more fun if I had caught some fish, but I discovered that a cold beer tastes great even when you’re sitting on a block of ice. My neighbor/friend Greg Battle caught a couple of nice bluegills. I’ll post a pick of Greg, but he has got to learn that fish look bigger when we hold them out toward the camera. This was a very nice bluegill he is holding.

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I have gotten out several times on the cross country skis, usually with Bonnie, but there is so much snow I can just step out the door and ski away. I tried to return to a state park where I used to ski challenging trails 25-30 years ago. Evolution has taken place, however. I saw no skiers on the trails, but there were several people snow shoeing. Years ago the area would have been crowded with cross country skiers of all skill levels. The snowshoes had completely matted the snow on the trail making it difficult to ski, so it was back to the picnic grove in our neighborhood. Bonnie and I have a well worn ski rut to follow in a large oval. Two times around is about 30 minutes of exercise.

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Think spring. Until then I’ll try to keep finding ways to embrace it.

Gregg

The fishing show

I went to the fishing show in Schaumburg on Friday. Snuck out of work early and spent two hours there. I ran into a couple of old friends, which was nice, but mostly I was reminded that I don’t like fishing shows.

As much as I like fishing, I really don’t like fishing shows. Just my opinion, but it seems like they haven’t changed in 30 years. They showcase the same products, the same speakers, and the same resort owners and guides are there saying, “You should have been here last year (or last week).” It doesn’t take long for me to get bored. It is not a substitute for actual fishing, or for doing anything outdoors. C’mon spring.

When I was a kid my dad took me to a show at the old International Amphitheatre, on the south side of Chicago. This venue had hosted Republican and Democrat national conventions, The Beatles, and a boxing match featuring Joe Frazier. It was also the first place Elvis wore a gold lame suit. Our trip was before the Chicago Bulls played their inaugural season there.

The show was crowded and dirty, but I was impressed by Victor the “rasslin’ bear.” Volunteers from the audience would try to tackle or push over the full grown black bear. No luck. After a minute or two of tolerating this, Victor would gently pin the volunteers’ shoulders to the mat, and the match was over. Then Victor’s handler would give him a bottle of Pepsi. The bear held it between his paws and guzzled it down. Chugged it. I know I’ve changed, but the shows have changed, too. That was a show!

Gregg