Two weekends ago I had my birthday, and to celebrate Ruoxi and I went fishing with my friend Bill "Garman" Meyer, a legendary figure who was instrumental in helping me catch my first gar several years ago. We kayaked a tributary of the Illinois River near his hometown.
Bill took us to a spot on the river where he's had good luck with redhorse in the past. We each set out two rods with nightcrawlers, and Ruoxi took a nap in her kayak. Over the next few hours, I caught golden redhorse, shorthead redhorse, channel catfish, and smallmouth bass.
Golden Redhorse (Moxostoma erythrurum)
Bill hooked into a fish that's quite rare in Illinois, a river redhorse! He released it in good health after the photo. As it turns out, the Garman isn't too shabby with non-gar fishing. (Edit - Later in the day Bill did catch a few gar, just to show off.)
River Redhorse (Moxostoma carinatum)
The bite was pretty slow, so we paddled upstream to another spot. Ruoxi hijacked my camera so she could prove to the world that she was done with her multi-hour nap.
This spot turned out to be full of channel catfish. That's almost all I caught, with one or two redhorse and smallmouth bass mixed in.
Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
The following weekend I planned to meet up with Matt Miller, a writer from the Nature Conservancy. If you do a google search you should be able to find a few of his articles. We met after I got off work on Friday at Starved Rock State Park. While I waited for him to arrive, I caught a few fish in the Illinois River near the visitors center. I usually take the easy route and fish with bait, but to get some practice I caught these with lures.
Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu)
White Bass (Morone chrysops)
When Matt arrived the bite had slowed down, and he had to settle with just one small channel cat. I think I caught one bluegill, and that was it for the night. We camped at the Starved Rock campground, and in the morning we headed to the infamous "Garvana" spot to look for shortnose gar. It was a nice hot, sunny day, but the gar were nowhere to be found! After spending some time throwing small spinners and swimbaits, we switched to crawlers on the bottom.
The nice thing about taking someone fishing in Illinois for the first time is that freshwater drum can be a new lifer. Sure enough, drum were biting in full force, and Matt was able to catch a number of them. I wish this was a picture of a gar instead, but I'm eternally grateful that the drum were cooperative.
Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)
We saw a few surface splashes from predatory fish chasing minnows or shad. Whatever they were wouldn't hit any our lures, so I netted a shiner and put it on a silver jighead under a bobber. I tossed it out into an eddy, and right away it got hit. The fight was very short because the fish swam right towards shore! When I pulled it out of the water I recognized it right away and quickly moved away from the water's edge. It was a goldeye, a close cousin to the mooneye that I had caught before in Wisconsin.
Goldeye (Hiodon alosoides) - new hook & line species #295
Matt also wanted to try microfishing, so I tied on a Tanago hook and showed him how to target the school of shiners near shore. He took to it like a fish in water and quickly caught his first sand shiner. Nice work Matt!
Sand Shiner (Notropis stramineus)
After we parted ways, Matt headed east to the same river Ruoxi and I had kayaked with Bill. He caught northern sunfish (another new lifer) and a few other species. The next day I came back up to join him again, and we kayak fished Gar Lake in Mazonia State Fish & Wildlife Area. We were hoping for gar, but once again we came up empty handed. The only fish we caught were largemouth bass, which were actively hitting spinners, shad-mimic swimbaits, and shiners on jigheads. It was a slow weekend, but I think Matt was pleased with seeing some of our hard to reach northern Illinois fishing spots. We hiked and kayaked quite a few miles, and we caught a few fish. That's not a bad weekend any way you look at it.