Tag Archives: waterdog

New Public Land

Originally published on kengortowski.com on February 25, 2019.


When I hear the phrase New Public Land, my eyebrows arch and my eyes bug out a bit.

If I already know the area and the new public land happens to include virtually never before fished water, my head cocks to the side a bit and my fingers drum on whatever surface they’re sitting on. This means I’ve already figured out how this new water is going to get fished, it’s just a matter of figuring out a few details.

I heard about this new public land over a year ago. Years ago when I was actively involved with more things Fox Valley, heads of forest preserves and park districts knew that I was going to head out to this new property to do some exploring. Especially if water was on the property. There were times when I was actually encouraged to go explore and get back with reports on what was found.

Over the last few years I’ve let my involvement die off. People once known have moved on to other things or have retired.

For this new public land I thought I would reach out to a few people, see if they were in charge or had any say on whether or not I could still go explore even though the new public land wasn’t “officially” open to the public. There are properties I’ve visited years ago and still do that aren’t “officially” open to the public, so I didn’t see this being a problem.

I sent out some email and the response was crickets.

I decided to sit on this for most of last year. I was busy with other things. Let those in charge get things together to make the property more presentable, I guess.

The last two weekends of October were absolutely perfect and I decided I was done waiting. Exploring needed to be done.

Initially I thought I would try something I’ve been thinking about for a few years. The new public land is attached to old public land. I figured it can’t be that hard to walk from one to the other.

I couldn’t be more wrong.

For the most part the hike wasn’t that bad, but I then had to descend into a valley and I knew the creek was still some distance away. I normally look for deer paths and simply follow those. Pacing back and forth on the ridge showed no deer paths. Looking down into the valley showed a massive tangle of everything that possibly grows in the woods. You know you shouldn’t go down into something like this when the deer won’t even do it. So I backed out and took the easy route, which I won’t describe.

I did find some old farm fences and posts. They always seem to be photogenic.

Back at the new public land the hike in and around the property was pretty easy. I was surprised at the descent into the valley. I didn’t expect it to be that deep on this side of the creek. It’s nice when this happens. All sound from what I guess would be ground level seems to disappear or at least becomes muted. I tried to capture that in a few photo’s as well as play around with their overall look.

Around 17 years ago I had waded up into this property while fishing and was impressed with what I had found. The landowner of the property I had to go through to get here was a nice enough guy, but I could tell he really didn’t want anyone wandering through. I decided not to push it and let it drop. I never went back.

I know what lives in this creek from the mouth to at least 10 miles inland. I know how good the fishing can be in that whole length of creek. I think these shots show I have a lot to look forward to come spring.

When out wandering, wading and fishing it’s always best to stay as hydrated as possible. Problem with that as you get older is your runs to find a place to get rid of all that water comes in shorter intervals. I thought initially that this new public land solved that problem.

But after closer inspection, those big old three foot wide oaks are a much better bathroom break option.

After capturing some of the big picture, I thought I would look for some details.

A caveat, there’s always a caveat.

I think it was in 2003 in mid May that I waded far up into the Mooseheart property on Mill Creek. Didn’t bother with mosquito repellant assuming none would be necessary. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I got chewed to pieces. While out there a helicopter hovered overhead at one point spraying something down and along the creek. I assumed it was some kind of mosquito abatement process.

For the next few months I felt under the weather, tired all the time. Some time in the summer I read in the paper that West Nile mosquitoes had been found in Batavia, right where I had been wading and got chewed to pieces. I looked up the symptoms of West Nile. Sure enough, that’s what I had and didn’t even know it.

I’m assuming I can’t get it again, but when I go exploring this new public land come late spring and into summer, you can bet I’m going to be pretty well covered in layers of deet.

I have never seen a swamp like area this big along the Fox River or any of it’s creeks. I can attest that without a big swamp area the mosquitoes can get pretty bad, unbearable at times.

I can only imagine what this huge area is going to produce.

Mosquitoes the size of bats, perhaps?

A Drive Down Memory Lane

The first week of September I purposely decided to take myself out of the loop. I let my writing drop off. I decided for the rest of the year I was going to fish alone and I think I only broke that rule once for my friend Ed. When hunting season arrived I was going to go hunting alone. If it weren’t for the FOID card expiring at the wrong time, I would have had more solitary days out in the woods under my belt by now.

I’ve kept in touch with everyone, still fed fishing reports to Dale Bowman. Email, phone, facebook and other ways were all employed to talk to everyone on a regular basis. It got to the point where I was barely going five miles from my house though. No reason to do that. Forest preserves, a state park and the river are all right here.

When I got invited to a luncheon for area outdoor writers, I thought it might be wise to go. A number of them I haven’t seen in a long time and it would probably be a good thing to go be social. Or so I’m told. Even at the last minute I toyed with the idea of blowing it off, but chose not to do that.

I’m glad I went. A few people I hadn’t seen in a few years. The conversations were had in a way as if those years never happened. Slipped right into talk about fishing, hunting, how’ve you been?

The luncheon was held in St. Charles. Even when I was fishing the river extensively further north than where I live now, I never came up this way. Far less water that can be waded. The restaurant was right on the shore of the Fox River. I made the mistake of sitting facing a window that overlooked the river. I’m sure I looked distracted as I stared blankly out the window. Apparently this was noticed and I was asked if I ever fished this stretch.

No, but I bet I could make it across the river to that island, I told them. Even with the water a little high. Of course, everyone had to look. I even described the route across the river. Then I described how it would be hard to get to the other shore, it looked deeper and the fish would be on that shore. We compared a few river fishing notes then got back to the reason for the luncheon. That’s how conversations go when you stick a bunch of anglers in the same room, things drift off.

On the way home I decided to stay on the road that stays closest to the river. I hardly ever come up this way any more. I live a two minute walk to the river, so what’s the point. I was soon driving past old familiar spots. Spots I haven’t fished in over six years.

There were my old parking spots. Off in the background were stretches of the river I knew well. I could still remember specific days I was out wandering down the middle of the river, could recall the fish caught. This kept going down the river. I’ve parked there, I’ve fished there. I went past the spot where I first fished the Fox in 1996. I could recall the car I was driving, the wading boots I had, the gear I was using and even how I had walked just off the shore in the water and how I was casting into the river.

Forty five minutes later as I was getting close to home I was still playing the parked there, fished there game in my head. When I got home I looked up how many miles I had driven, it came to 22 miles. Except for the the pools above the 3 dams in this stretch, I had waded all of it. Comes out to be just shy of 18 miles. It took a few hundred trips to cover that much river and quite a few stretches were fished numerous times. I’ve also canoed the pools above those dams, so I guess I covered all of it.

But that’s only part of it. I’ve also covered quite a few miles of the Fox outside of that area. Then there’s the creeks that feed the Fox. Many more miles there.

Then there’s all the other rivers in the area that I’ve fished. I guess I’ve been out wading and fishing a lot over the past 15 years.

I have a list of rivers in northern Illinois that I want to get to that stretch from the Fox to the Mississippi River. In 15 years I haven’t even come close to achieving that goal. At 55 years old, I’m starting to wonder if I have it in me to accomplish much more over the next 15 years. One knee is starting to fail me, a hip burns when I walk too much. And then there’s that back pain.

On my list of rivers to fish are a fair amount of creeks. One little creek off in the far northwest corner of Illinois, in the driftless area, is rumored to hold trout. Would be nice to go find out for sure before that knee gives out entirely. This river and creek fishing list would make a good book, with pictures. I need a sugar momma to bank roll me.

I was glad to have gotten out this day after all. It’s something I should do more often. It was enjoyable.

Only, I don’t know if I’m talking about getting out more often to meet up with friends I haven’t seen in awhile. Sit around shooting the shit, talk fishing and find out how’ve they been.

Or am I talking about getting out fishing more.

Fishing Reports for the Refined

Over the past 15 years I’ve got to know some of the best anglers that fish the rivers and streams, the lakes and ponds in the Greater Chicagoland Area. From Lake Michigan to out west beyond the Fox River Valley, from the Wisconsin border down to Kankakee. These are anglers that don’t fish tournaments, hawk products or are sponsored by anyone. They go fishing, they have no choice. It would be easier to ask them to stop breathing.

I’ve always considered pulling together fishing reports from this hard core group. Put them up once a week to summarize what the dedicated anglers are doing.

But then, I get an email from Kankakee River Sage Norm Minas this morning. A small two paragraph fishing report. A summary of being out in the river yesterday, in the rain. I can’t help but question that whole idea of fishing reports after receiving one such as this:

As the murky waters inched higher along sodden shores, debris passed swiftly, dislodged from temporary abodes. Under dull, leaden skies, springlike air gave some respite to the frigid waters swirling around my legs. The raw, wetness from above upon my hands however, gave lie to any pleasant promises from man made measurements of nature.

Where the rivulets roiled downward, the creeks crashed in, and at the interface of dirty, debris filled intermittent flows with the sullen and swollen river, the fish feasted. Through the cresendo of rain upon the surface and the rusty leaves running rampant, the rattlebait worked it’s rythymic magic. Broad, bulky bronze, long slender gold and peaceful, solitary serenity were the reward for venturing forth on such a day as this.

The average angler needs GPS coordinates of fishing spots. Maps with pin points clearly marked of exactly where they should be fishing. Is there parking near by? What were you throwing? What were you fishing for and you got any weights on those fish?

And yet, when I read Norm’s report, I know all those answers.

I’ll have to give these fishing reports some thought.

See what the other anglers can come up with. Norm has set the bar rather high with this one.

My Adoring Fans and the Death of Outdoor Writing on the Internet

It all started with what I thought was a semi-humorous, tongue-in-cheek post about Night Fishing for Walleye.

Those who know me personally got it right away, those who don’t took a bit longer.

It was supposed to be funny, in a dry, smart ass kind of way.

Over the past 15 years of posting on Chicago Area fishing forums, I’ve apparently made a number of enemies. I was banned from a couple of sites for reasons I no longer remember, or care about. I was even banned from the Illinois Smallmouth Alliance forum when I was one of their Conservation Directors. I do remember being pretty pissed off about that one, but I no longer remember why or care about that one either. Funny how when the great scheme of things is analyzed, in this case fishing, what was once important becomes almost laughable. Even embarrassing that I was somehow involved.

Oh well.

So, the reaction I got from one person that didn’t see the humor in my night fishing walleye post, kind of surprised me.

He had just signed on to the forum recently under an alias and his very first post was to make fun of another member. Okay, that’s kind of odd. He did that with his next two posts. Okay, after three posts he just became known as the forum pain-in-the-ass. Then he found my post. Apparently I know this guy and his comments quickly became personal.

SIDEBAR: My own personal opinion is that anyone that joins a forum and hides behind an alias so they can attack others is a sniveling piece of scum barely worth tolerating. On my own forum, I had a policy that if I didn’t know you personally you had to sign up with your real name. Which would explain why my forum only had about 60 members. It’s still out there. I may start it up again some day.

Well, anyway…

When I’m attacked, my first reaction, right or wrong, is to attack back. Something I learned from my dad, never let the assholes beat you down and win. I’m not always proud of this personality trait, but there have been plenty of times where it’s come in hand.

I have no doubt I should have kept my mouth shut. As I said, in the great scheme of things, who cares really. When I go back and read what I said, it wasn’t that bad, even tactful in a blunt kind of way.

But the response was personal and uncalled for. Whoever it is knows my past and has been reading me for years, but I still don’t think I deserved this:

Man, you sure do have a high opinion of yourself. Kinda funny really because all I’ve seen from you lately is how you can’t catch fish and how you don’t care about it.
A friend once told me, “I can go catch 50 creek chubs in a few hours, doesn’t make me a good fisherman”. He also said, “Just because you are a character doesn’t mean you have character”. I think both apply to you.
That blog entry was suppose to be funny? I’m not the only one the humor eluded. Look at the first few comments.
There is a reason that website of yours failed. There’s a reason your guide service failed. There is a reason your canoe shop or whatever the hell it was, failed. There is one common denominator in all those things. You.
Stalker? Hardly. I just made an observation about your spam link story and it snowballed. I read it because I thought you might actually have a story about catching walleyes at night. I don’t know what I was thinking, you don’t catch fish. That’s why you never see anyone in the spots you so graciously point out to the internet public. Instead it was a dig at people that actually catch fish with some pictures of cigar walleyes you happened upon while floating a minnow or twisting a Producto. Anyone that has fished the Fox for any length of time has hooked into the occasional walleye. It’s not uncommon. You present yourself as having knowledge as to how to target them on the Fox? Bullshit, if you did you’d blow up this site with your spam links as to how to exactly. You don’t know shit. You actually know less than I first thought.
I’m done with you, your self righteous ass and the sheep that have their lips permanently affixed to your asshole.

You are full of shit and the ones that know better see right through you, sir.

I believe my next response to him started… I appreciate your opinion and I’ll take all that you said under consideration…

And then I let it die.

The funny part about this is that the approach from the attacker, this time and others, is always one of going after the “expert.” The only problem is, I’ve never called myself one and I actually cringe when others call me The Fox River Expert. Maybe they want to be the Fox River Expert. Well then, go ahead. They come after me like they’re expecting a fight and now is their chance to prove to everyone how I know nothing. Okay, go ahead, really, I don’t care.

I have purposely phased myself out of all but one of the local fishing forums, the one where this happened. This is an isolated incident and he was immediately banned from the site. There’s a rumor going around on who it is and if that’s the case, this guy has been banned from this site in the past and just about every other site in the Chicago area except his own. I guess why is obvious.

What is even odder is his timing. It comes at a time when I’ve been questioning the different ways left for outdoor writers to get published. Print, except for a chosen few, is all but dead. There is almost no outlet left in that medium for someone to come along and get published.

Since I’ve been involved with internet fishing forums since 1996 and began leaving these stories on them since 1998, I’ve always questioned whether or not this was the way to go. Was this the way outdoor writing should go. My resounding answer is NO. Take a look at how things are panning out. I write for free for ChicagoNow, a Tribune Media Company. I could write for Patch, Tribune Local and any one of a handful of area so called news sites, all for free. It’s not like they’re going to pay anyone to do it. We’re all now Citizen Writers/Reporters/Correspondents. Our voices can be heard.

It’s a feature.

That being said, then why do I bother?

For me it’s an outlet, something to do after I quit painting and making sculpture years ago. When push comes to shove I expect absolutely nothing to come of any of what I’ve done over these past 15 years. At least monetarily.

Personally, it’s been extremely gratifying. I’ve done guiding, on and off the water fishing classes, seminars and even started a canoe business. All the while writing things down for the hell of it. I’ve got to meet some really great people. It’s been fun.

Because of this incident I was going to walk away from this last forum where I participate.

Then I got a handful of messages.

Guys were telling me that they learned a lot from what I’ve been saying over the years. REALLY?
Apparently I inspired a few to document their own adventures and start their own blogs. I follow their blogs, they’re not bad.
Another said my photos inspired him to go take more of his own and manipulate them differently. Again, really?

I didn’t know any of this. I just put stuff out there and, well, don’t really give it much thought after that. I’m flattered and embarrassed at the same time.

But the one thing that I did learn, the thing I’ve known all along and this has driven home, is that on fishing forums, if I don’t know you or your real name and all you have is an alias you go by, I will completely ignore you. I’m done pretending that aliases are somehow even remotely interesting. They’re not. If you can’t put your name, your real name, behind the things you say and do, then I want nothing to do with you. The forums around the Chicago Area, if you bother to go look at their numbers, have never been all that successful considering the amount of anglers, hunters and wanderers around here. The alias issue is the main reason.

As for that other thing I brought up, that thing about outdoor writing and the internet, that possibility you might be able to make a living from writing and photographing and putting it on the internet somehow.

Don’t quit your day job. There’s a 99.9 percent chance it’s not going to happen.

Get it in your head now that you are doing what you do for the fun of it, for the art of it in some cases. You’ll sleep easier at night knowing that and there’s a good chance it will make your content that much better.

Night Time, Cold Water, Fox River Walleye

It’s that time of year when anglers that are still out angling on the Fox River have turned there attention to Ol’ Marble-eye. That’s right, it’s walleye time.

The air has cooled down and so has the water. Perfect conditions for these toothy critters.

All the experts will tell you that cool water, cool air and some of the worst conditions possible will increase your odds at tying into eyes.

Even better, if you can combine all those things and do it all in the dark, old waldo will bite even more.

Me? I’ll get out there just when the sun sets. Want to make sure those last rays of daylight are off the water.

I can go all night at this point. The deeper the darkness, the better the bite for these Susquehanna salmon.

Of course, I’ll go with what the experts recommend. Those Wally’s love their night crawlers, so night crawler rigs it is.

When that bite shuts down, I’ll switch to all kinds of plastic minnow baits.

Anything that shakes and shimmies and rattles and gets down to where those eyes are hiding out on the bottom of the river.

The heads of pools, the tailouts, current seams, you name it. Fish them all and fish them thorough to get them yellow pike to bite.

At night you got the whole river to yourself and you know what the experts say, why fight the day light crowds, Ol’ Waldo ain’t bitin’ then anyways.

But enough jabbering. I’ll let the pictures tell the story of those night time, cold water, Fox River walleye.