Embracing Winter-Sledding Vol. II

Unlike the gloom and doom forecast from two weekends ago that fortunately never came to pass, last weekend the weather folks were more on target. Rain, followed by freezing rain, followed by several inches of snow arrived as winter got its money’s worth. While it made for some treacherous travel, it also provided some quality conditions at the neighborhood sledding hill.

And sticking to the theme of embracing winter, a couple of the kids were pushing to get out and take advantage. That meant a Saturday morning trip to get in some fun before bone chilling temps arrived. What started as a mid-30s sunup would soon plummet into the single digits combined with high winds resulting in below zero wind temps.

Even so, the proper amount of bundling up allowed us to hang in there for over an hour. Me and our youngest sledder, Zac, were joined by big sister Carly on the slopes. All were troopers as the winds had pushed the windchill temps to near zero by the time we headed back home at noon.

Once again, we shot plenty of GoPro video during our outing as included below.

First up, some highlights…


And then there were the wipeouts…


I was pretty proud of our effort and dedication in getting outside during the less than comfortable conditions. In years prior, there is no way in heck I would have been out in that stuff. Thumbs up to the kids for pushing me to take them sledding and allowing us to not only make good on the winter embrace concept but also realize several of the 2020 Visions (namely Family, Video and Variety).

We’ll see what the rest of winter holds in store in terms of weather but I’d say we’ve already got our money’s worth of cold weather fun. In fact, a couple of us hit the slopes again today. Talk to you later. Troy

1,000 Words-Friends, Fish & Physics

Date: August 15-17, 1985
Location: Big Creek at Pat’s.
John, Brent, Doug and I went camping for three days and two nights and set out bank poles and a throwline. We started out with twenty poles and a ten hook throwline. During our trip we ran our poles three times, twice the second day and once the last day. We caught three on our first run (one hit a pole we had baited less than a minute and was about twenty five feet behind us). On our final run we caught four (one on our throwline), including a small flathead. The largest channel was 3.5 pounds; we also had a 1.75 pound fish and three or four 0.5 to 1.0 pound fish. Bait – used minnows and crawdads.

Portion of original log entry as detailed above

Beginning around 1984, this crew (and various other assorted characters) dove headlong into fishing (some of us quite literally at times). Along the way, we also did our share of goofing off as big kids get distracted just like little kids. The bulk of our “learning” took place at Lake Bracken although we also frequented Sperry’s Pay Ponds on occasion. We put in a lot of effort targeting either carp in the Lake Bracken spillway or anything that would bite on the main lake. All told we put in hundreds of hours rowing and beating the banks discovering a passion for fishing that remains with me to this day.

This particular adventure was concocted by four teenagers with a penchant for both the angling and the distractions. But this time we took our show on the road for a three day/two night vacation shortly before three of us headed off for college: a time when real jobs and responsibilities seemed about as remote as our campsite in The Big Timber.

A more recent shot of a couple guys from this crew

Starting from the left is John Junk who has been a friend since 1982 when we were teammates on the Galesburg High School sophomore basketball team. Previously we had been junior high basketball and Little League baseball opponents. We would later serve as co-captains for the Silver Streaks basketball team and then room together at Knox College where John continued his impressive basketball career. We then spent several years renting a house along with John’s brother Mark/”Geek” and another buddy, Matt “Hacksaw” Reynolds, worked together at a local plant, took part in each other’s weddings and enjoyed more than a few beers along the way. Though we rarely see each other these days, I’m proud to consider myself an honorary Junk and he will always be held in the same regard by my family.

Youth sports opponent and later teammate and friend, Doug Dawson

Next up is Doug Dawson whom I also befriended during the same time period when we played together as freshman on the Galesburg sophomore baseball team. I’d also known Doug as a rival during two seasons of the heated Lombard-Churchill Junior High basketball series. We took part in the football rivalry only once as he and his buddies (primarily GHS Hall of Famers Joe Dennis and Bob Jackson, who would later become friends and teammates) convinced me that baseball and basketball were much less painful pursuits. We’d also competed in Little League and Junior Hardball before teaming up in high school and American Legion baseball. In addition, we spent several summers working (most of the time) for the Galesburg Park Department. Doug went on to play some baseball at Carl Sandburg College and Olivet Nazarene College and last I knew lived somewhere in Iowa.

The campout wasn’t the first time me (left) and my brother, Brent (right), had been up a creek

I’m next and the kid with the tree branch in front of his face is my younger brother, Brent. Growing up, we used to joke about one of our parents having a tendency to chop heads off in photos. I’m not sure if she snapped this picture but it appears to be a similar mishap (if only we’d had the instant feedback afforded through today’s digital photography). Anyway, I’ve obviously known Brent his entire life. Our hardball careers started out as Little League teammates and would culminate in spending some time covering the left side of the infield together at Knox College. Later we would play softball together for a number of years, serve as best man in each other’s weddings and spend considerable time pursuing various fish species.

At the time of this adventure, Brent and I must have sufficiently matured to the point that Mom and Dad felt comfortable allowing us to go camping together unsupervised. For a number of years there was a distinct possibility that only one of us would have made it back home. As further proof, I don’t particularly recall being forced to let my younger brother tag along, I think we actually welcomed his presence. In fact, he was a more seasoned outdoorsman than any of the rest of us, having spent a fair amount of time hanging out with Dad and Uncle Dick as a youngster. These days I could probably give him a run for his money when fishing or camping but I concede in the areas of hunting and trapping.

The four of us camped in The Big Timber near a small creek that served as both a livewell and a baitshop (seining minnows and crawdads). Each time we ran our bank poles and throw lines we would haul our catch back from Pat’s Creek and stash them in a shallow pool that was dammed up on each end with rocks in order to prevent the fish from escaping. Fortunately, the raccoons didn’t get wind of our trophies as they would have had a fairly captive feast.

Our campsite was not far from The Waterfall which served as a swimming hole for some relaxation. I remember using BB guns to shoot snakes out of the bushes overhanging a portion of the pool prior to taking a dip, giving little thought to the prospect of the angry reptiles exacting revenge. Yet it wasn’t all valor as we were later startled by a large snake while making our way to Pat’s Creek to run our lines. I suspect that Doug was likely the most alarmed of the bunch since he was the one who actually stepped on it.

Checking and rebaiting our lines also held its share of adventures. The incident mentioned briefly in the original log entry was rather unusual as I can’t understand why a catfish would have been anywhere near a group of wild teenagers noisily tromping through the creek. I also recall the rest of us electing John to check several of the deeper holes when it appeared that we may have hooked a snapping or softshell turtle. Often, a turtle will rest on the bottom causing a steady bend in the pole. However, you can also be fooled by the hook or sinker catching on a root or snag. You never really know until grabbing the pole or poking under the water with a stick or dipnet handle. If it’s a turtle, things get quite exciting in the vicinity and equally amusing from a distance. I guess we figured that John had the longest arms which gave him the greatest distance between another angry reptile and human flesh. John was a good sport although I’m pretty certain that he wasn’t quite as fond of the arrangement as the rest of us. Since we did not hook a turtle, John can still boast of his courageousness while I’ve always been left to wonder just how quickly he could have exited armpit deep water with or without an unhappy creature attached to some part of his anatomy.

Most of what the four teenage boys discussed has been lost in the passage of time but I surmise that the majority of topics would either be uninteresting or unfit for print. Yet I do recall my computer genius/scientist younger brother schooling us in the laws of physics. The middle of nowhere, starry skies and the meager light of a campfire provided an ideal backdrop for pondering the complexities of the universe. I clearly remember his dissertation on inertia and momentum using the example of landing in the same spot when leaping upwards inside of a moving train. There was also a discussion concerning the behavior of a ball shot from the back of a pickup truck moving at various speeds in the opposite direction of the projectile. I believe he also explained why The Roadrunner cannot really avoid physical harm by simply stepping off of a plummeting rock platform just before it smashes into the ground at the bottom of a cliff. Interesting stuff for sure but I’m pretty certain he left us baffled as he approached infinity.

As far as table fare and accommodations, I really don’t have a clue although we apparently had a plan as we all returned safe and sound. I would have to guess that the meals were not too involved (read hot dogs, sandwiches and donuts) and shelter was probably somebody’s tent. Whatever the case, I’m sure we felt pretty rough. For me there was certainly a feeling of independence and investment as it was “our” fishing trip with the nearest parent some forty miles away. That meant something as a teenager.

Many years later I discovered a second pic but still favor the original “tree branch” version

Beyond the adventures, the simple image of the four skinny guys always brings a smile. Obviously, we’re no longer teenagers and if you’ve seen us, we’re also no longer quite as skinny. The four men have probably “matured” enough that our additional weight could account for another skinny kid joining the photograph. I am proud to say that through some hard work in the last year, I’m only about twenty pounds (as opposed to formerly about fifty pounds) heavier than that eighteen year old in the camo pants.

Looking back at this photo I can’t help but be reminded that nowadays I’ve got four kids of my own. Sometimes I’d sure like to send them out to the woods for a few days. Talk to you later. Troy

Top 5 All-Time Stats Part II

Top 5 bass stats Part II without further ado.

Public vs. Private Water (2014-2019)
Public = 441 bass (92/52/95/42/92/68)
Public Top 5 Weight = 32-2, 31-7, 30-5, 27-7, 24-5 and 25-4 (2019)
Private = 228 bass (53/48/39/37/24/27)
Private Top 5 Weight = 38-10, 30-0, 32-13, 33-14, 31-9 and 24-3 (2019)
Undisclosed = 17 bass (9/6/2/0/0/0)

Comments: It’s tough to beat having access to some private fishing holes and our sample pool of bass show that such waters can pump out some quality bass. But it is also refreshing that the numbers show that our anglers do quite well when chasing bass on waters where everybody can take their shot.

Boat vs. Bank (2014-2019)
Boat = 412 bass (90/63/103/68/55/33)
Boat Top 5 Weight = 30-7, 31-7, 32-13, 33-14, 31-9 and 25-4 (2019)
Bank = 268 bass (64/43/27/11/61/62)
Bank Top 5 Weight = 40-14, 27-6, 27-12, 20-14, 24-2 and 25-7 (2019)
Undisclosed = 6 bass

Comments: Like many hobbies, fishing can be as expensive as one chooses to make it ranging from bass boats to boots. To each their own as our numbers demonstrate that casting from a seat or on your feet are both effective approaches.

The Baits (44 undisclosed)
165 Plastic Worms (Top Bass 6-8 Mark Balbinot 11/20/16)
76 Spinnerbaits (5-14 Mark Balbinot 10/20/18)
71 Crankbaits (8-0 Kamryn Kaesebier 4/13/14)
55 Jigs (9-4 Jake Bresson 5/23/14)
55 Lipless Crankbaits (6-3 Mark Balbinot 10/20/18)
33 Chatterbaits (Top Bass 4-10 Mark Balbinot 2/20/16)
29 Swimbaits (8-10 Gary Le 5/4/14)
29 Swim Jigs (6-13 Jake Bresson 4/9/15)
27 Creature Baits (6-15 Mark Balbinot 5/13/17)
24 Buzzbaits (5-9 Troy Jackson 4/25/17)
20 Jerkbaits (5-10 Ty Hartlipp 6/5/14)
13 Underspins (Top Bass 7-7 Mark Balbinot 12/11/16)
12 Topwater Frog (6-11 Ty Hartlipp 6/11/14)
12 Tubes (Top Bass 5-0 Jake Bresson 4/28/15)
5 Livebait (5-14 Jim Junk 7/4/14)
5 Stickbaits (6-6 Mark Balbinot 8/27/17)
5 Ultralights (3-1 Paul Kessler 10/12/17)
3 Propbaits (6-2 Jake Bresson 5/1/15)
2 Inline Spinners (5-2 Jake Bresson 9/17/17)
1 Blade Bait (5-3 Mark Balbinot 11/16/19)

Comments: Chatterbaits (18 bass in 2019) made a strong showing for the second consecutive year although they still have a ways to go in order to crack out Top 5 lures. Spinnerbaits (15 bass) and lipless cranks (13 bass) also held their own in 2019 while crankbait production was quite lean (3 bass). And what can you say about the tried and true plastic worm (27 bass)? Those counterfeit wigglers are still getting it done in a variety of presentations and still holding their own against the ongoing parade of new lures vying for angler dollars.

The 20-Pound Club * = 2019 entry
33-14 Mark Balbinot 2017 (7-4,6-15,6-13,6-8,6-6)
32-13 Jake Bresson 2014 (9-4, 8-8, 6-6, 4-10, 4-1)
32-13 Mark Balbinot 2016 (7-7,6-8,6-5,6-5,6-4)
32-0 Gary Le 2014 (8-10,6-8,5-12,5-10, 5-8)
31-9 Mark Balbinot 2018 (7-2,6-12,6-3,5-14,5-10)
29-7 Austin Chapman 2015 (6-4,6-2,6-0,5-14,5-3)
27-12 Jake Bresson 2015 (6-13,6-2,5-5,5-0,4-8)
27-6 Randy Sampson Sr 2015 (7-0,6-1,4-13,4-12,4-12)
27-6 Jake Bresson 2016 (6-3,5-13,5-4,5-2,5-0)
26-13 Troy Jackson 2017 (6-2,5-11,5-9,5-0,4-7)
26-4 Austin Chapman 2016 (5-14,5-10,5-2,4-14,4-12)
26-1 Brice Wangler 2014 (5-11, 5-5, 5-2, 5-0, 4-15)
25-8 Brice Wangler 2015 (5-7,5-4,5-2,4-14,4-13)
*25-4 Mark Balbinot 2019 (5-5,5-3,5-1,4-14,4-13)
24-14 Ty Hartlipp 2014 (6-11, 5-10, 5-5, 4-0, 3-4)
*24-14 Jim Junk 2019 (5-3,5-1,5-0,4-14,4-12)
24-9 Terry Isbell 2014 (5-8,5-4,5-2,4-8,4-3)
23-12 Jake Bresson 2017 (5-4,5-2,5-2,4-3,4-1)
23-11 Randy Sampson Sr. 2017 (6-0,4-14,4-12,4-11,3-6)
23-8 Jim Junk 2018 (5-4,5-2,4-9,4-5,4-4)
22-15 Adam Bean 2015 (5-13,4-9,4-6,4-2,4-1)
22-13 Mike Mooney 2014 (6-4, 5-7, 4-3, 3-9, 3-6)
22-12 Troy Jackson 2015 (5-13,4-13,4-10,3-12,3-12)
21-8 Randy Sampson Sr. 2016 (5-12,5-8,4-11,3-1,2-8)
21-7 Brice Wangler 2016 (4-8,4-7,4-4,4-2,4-2)
21-3 Troy Jackson 2016 (5-9,5-4,3-9,3-7,3-6)
20-15 Chris Schwarz 2018 (4-11,4-11,4-8,4-0,3-1)
20-14 Troy Jackson 2014 (4-13, 4-6, 4-2, 4-1, 3-8)
*20-12 Chris Schwarz 2019 (5-3,5-0,3-11,3-10,3-4)
20-9 Austin Chapman 2014 (4-15, 4-4,4-0,3-13,3-9)
20-1 Bruce Zilkowski 2014 (4-11,4-3,4-0,3-12,3-7)

Comments: Three more entries into the coveted 20-pound club in 2019. Mark Balbinot makes it four in a row with another limit exceeding 25 pounds. Jim Junk posts his personal best total for the second year in a row while impressively reeling in nearly all of them from the bank. No sophomore jinx for Chris Schwarz either as he posts another 20-pound limit nearly identical to his 2018 weight.

Top 10 Top 5 Bass
9-4 Jake Bresson 5/23/14 Jig
8-10 Gary Le 5/4/14 Swimbait
8-8 Jake Bresson 5/23/14 Jig
8-0 Kamryn Kaesebier 4/13/14 Crankbait
7-7 Mark Balbinot 12/11/16 Underspin
7-4 Mark Balbinot 10/29/17 Jig
7-2 Mark Balbinot 11/23/18 Underspin
7-0 Randy Sampson Sr. 3/22/15 Jig
6-15 Mark Balbinot 5/13/17 Creature Bait
6-13 Jake Bresson 4/9/15 Swim Jig
6-13 Mark Balbinot 12/10/17 Creature Bait

Comments: The impressive Top 10 list above stands pat as a 5-5 was the best our group fooled in 2019. Truly takes a trophy to crack this list as a near seven-pound fish just doesn’t come along every day, often the fish of a lifetime for most anglers.

And just for fun…

All-Time Weights (40-pound minimum “career” mark)
(Note: not all anglers have participated each year)
123-8 Mark Balbinot (33-14,32-13,31-9,25-4)
121-7 Troy Jackson (20-14,22-12,21-3,26-13,15-9,14-4)
111-11 Jake Bresson (32-13,27-12,27-6,23-12)
89-9 Jim Junk (11-7,16-5,13-7,23-8,24-14)
80-14 Brent Jackson (18-7,6-10,13-2,10-2,19-2,13-7)
76-4 Austin Chapman (20-9,29-7,26-4)
73-0 Brice Wangler (26-1,25-8,21-7)
72-15 Bruce Zilkowski (20-1,17-0,17-14,18-0)
72-10 Randy Sampson, Sr. (27-6,21-8,23-12)
66-12 Paul Kessler (18-6,17-6,16-6,14-10)
45-11 Mike Mooney (22-13,4-9,18-5)
41-11 Chris Schwarz (20-15,20-12)

Comments: Mark Balbinot takes over the all-time weight lead and has only needed four years to claim the title. The runner-up fellow has found it tough to find some quality bites the last two years despite ample opportunity to hit the water. Look for 2020 to add at least one more member with Jim Junk barely ten pounds away. And if my brother, Brent, can find time to get out, well, maybe he can find a 20-pound limit to push him over the century mark.

Year six is in the books, year seven is off and running in 2020 and you’re all invited whether you are reeling in or tuning in. Once again, we’ll take all species this year if you chase after or happen upon something other than bass. What do you say we push it past 100 submissions this year?

Talk to you later. Troy

Top 5 All-Time Stats Part I

It’s time for the annual Top 5 all-time record book look as the 2020 version is already off and running. This post and another tomorrow will get us up to speed as I suspect that our regular Monday Top 5 Updates may be on hold for a while as winter decided to arrive this past weekend. As we await some further 2020 additions, here’s a look at the numbers from the six year history of the Top 5.

In 2019 we fell just short of 100 bass as our participants submitted 95 bass along the way. This batch brought the all-time total to 686 bass submitted. 2019 also marked the second year of a Top 5 expansion to include other species but only five fish were added to the “Other Species” portion of the record book (3 catfish, a bluegill and a muskie). We’ll kick things off there before moving on to the bass breakdown.

Other Species All-Time Records

1-8 Teagan Mills 6/2/19 Private pond

Channel Catfish
13-0 Teagan Mills (2019)
13-0 Teagan Mills (2018)
8-2 (25”) Chris Schwarz (2018)
6-9 Chris Schwarz (2019)
34-35” Chris Schwarz (2019)

Green Sunfish
0-13 Jayce Jackson (2017)

131” Jake Bresson (47”,31”,29”24” – 2017) on Rapala X-Rap
*70+” John Kirkemo (40”, 30+” – 2018)
29” Troy Jackson (2017) on Mann’s Baby 1- crankbait
6-4 Chris Schwarz (2019)

Northern Pike
167.25” Jake Bresson (37.0”,35.25”,33.5”,32.0”,29.5” – 2017)

Rainbow Trout
22” John Kirkemo (11”,11” – 2018)

118” Jake Bresson (26.5”,26.0”,25.5”,20”,20” – 2017) on Rapala X-Rap or jig & minnow

Moving on to the bass, let’s take a look at how our fish stack up with respect to the calendar. Six years, 34 different anglers and 686 bass (all but 22 from Illinois waters) make up the all-time record book. Here we go.

Group Totals = 686 bass
2014 = 154
2015 = 106
2016 = 136
2017 = 79
2018 = 116
2019 = 95 (Knox, Warren, Fulton and McDonough Counties)

Submissions by month (2014-2019) * = new record
144 April (43/33/31/11/12/14)
118 May (27/23/19/13/24/12)
88 June (34/14/15/1/10/14)
76 March (13/11/34/10/0/8)
67 July (18/11/8/11/8/11)
53 October (4/5/4/8/24/8)
47 September (6/4/6/6/16/9)
29 February (2/2/7/13/5/0)
27 November (6/0/4/0/8/*9)
20 August (1/3/1/4/4/*7)
10 December (0/0/7/1/0/2)
7 January (0/0/0/1/5/1)

Comments: While Spring continues to rule the day in terms of submissions, it was fun to see an uptick of summer bass in 2019. Among the summer entries was a record breaking bunch of bass in August, easily our leanest warm weather month of the year. November also saw a record number of submissions as a couple anglers kept up the late season casting.

Top 10 Top 5 Monthly Weights (group total)
37-9 May 2014
29-8 June 2014
29-7 March 2016
29-2 April 2014
28-9 October 2018
28-7 December 2016
27-14 April 2015
27-12 March 2015
27-11 July 2014
27-10 April 2016

Comments: Takes nearly 28 pounds of combined weight from our anglers to crack the Top 10 all-time which is getting to be pretty tall order as we kick off our seventh year.

Top 5 Weights per Month (group total) * = new record
January (2018) = 13-5 (3-15, 2-7, 2-6, 2-6, 2-3)
February (2016) = 22-9 (6-7,4-15,4-10,4-1,2-8)
March (2016) = 29-7 (6-5,6-1,5-14,5-10,5-9)
April (2014) = 29-2 (8-0, 5-11, 5-10, 4-15. 4-14)
May (2014) = 37-9 (9-4, 8-10, 8-8, 6-1, 5-2)
June (2014) = 29-8 (6-11, 6-4, 5-10, 5-8, 5-7)
July (2014) = 27-11 (6-6, 6-0, 5-5, 5-0, 5-0)
*August (2019) = 19-4 (4-14,4-10,4-6,2-14,2-8) old mark 18-9 in 2017
*September (2019) = 24-5 (5-3,5-0,5-0,4-12,4-6) old mark 23-8 in 2018
October (2018) = 28-9 (6-3,5-14,5-10,5-10,5-4) old mark 26-11 in 2017
November (2018) = 26-1 (7-2,6-12,4-3,4-0,4-0) old mark 24-9 in 2016
December (2016) = 28-7 (7-7,6-5,5-13,4-11,4-3)

Comments: Thanks to a first full limit, August sets a new record while the September total is bested for the third year in a row.

Monthly Top Bass
3-15 Mark Balbinot 1/27/18 Crankbait
6-7 Mike Overturf 2/27/16 Plastic Worm
7-0 Randy Sampson Sr. 3/22/15 Jig
8-0 Kamryn Kaesebier 4/13/14 Crankbait
9-4 Jake Bresson 5/23/14 Jig
6-11 Ty Hartlipp 6/11/14 Topwater Frog
6-6 Jake Bresson 7/11/14 Plastic Worm
6-8 Gary Le 8/16/14 Swimbait
6-0 Austin Chapman 9/19/15 Jig
7-4 Mark Balbinot 10/29/17 Jig
7-2 Mark Balbinot 11/23/18 Underspin
7-7 Mark Balbinot 12/11/16 Underspin

Comments: It’s going to take quite a catch for an angler to unseat one of our current monthly Top Bass. Sharpen up those augers as the January weight is the lightest of the bunch but still a tall order.

This will put a wrap on Part I of the Top 5 record book update. Plenty more to come tomorrow with a look at the how, what and who. Talk to you later. Troy

Embracing Winter

I can’t say that I have really ever been much of a winter fan despite spending my whole life around West Central Illinois. You never know anymore what you’re going to get in these parts with winter but you will get some. Nothing you can do about it and lately my means of dealing has simply been staying inside unless I’m shoveling.

Well, 2020 is going to be different as I’ve elected to “embrace” winter.

Heading into last weekend, the local forecasters were all gloom and doom with as much as 7-10” of snow on the horizon. In preparation, I stopped at the store on Friday afternoon to pick up a few sleds as well as a couple young boy sized shovels. Of course, the snowfall barely covered the ground which I can’t say was overly disappointing despite my aim to get outdoors.

The boys, however, were a bit bummed and made me live up to my boast. Barely enough snow but plenty of fun as evidenced by the videos below.

First up, we sot some basic footage with the GoPro.


Next, we got a little fancier with our tricks and video technique.


Of course, there were also a few wipeouts.


Winter is in full force this weekend with plenty of snow, some ice, gale force winds and bone chilling temps. Not sure what we will accomplish but looking to pull a few more stunts while my least favorite season lasts. Talk to you later. Troy

1,000 Words – Old Days

This photo is easily the most ancient of this series. It was taken in November of 1976 during part of a two day trapping/coon hunting outdoor adventure. The location in the picture is Henderson Creek in Warren County somewhere near Angling Road, southeast of Alexis.

The sheer number of outdoorsmen (and boys) that took part goes a long way towards making this a classic. My uncle, Richard Jackson, was the photographer and those in the picture are as follows: front row from left to right – Brad Burt, Troy Jackson, Ronnie Van Fleet and Greg Smith. Back row from left to right – Bill Burt, Terry Jackson and Jody Jackson. The dogs are Buck and Susie from left to right. Also included on the adventure was a friend of Dad’s named Bob Coe who joined for the coon hunting portion.

Having been rather young at the time, I have only vague memories and had to recruit Dad for some help on this one. It seems that the agenda began with the crew setting traps in some Henderson County creeks. We then returned to a spot we called The Big Timber which would serve as our home base for some supper, apparently chili or stew that required only a fire for final preparation. The evening culminated in a group coon hunting excursion with a couple adults herding us kids back to camp before the rest of the coonhunters called it a night.

Accommodations were an old machine shed with evergreen boughs covered with canvas tarps to serve as makeshift mattresses. Blankets and sleeping bags rounded out the setup as a final barrier between the adventurers and the elements. The following morning, breakfast was donuts or rolls before heading out to run traps culminating with the picture of our load of fur.

Our deluxe accommodations at The Big Timber “Lodge”

Were that all that this photograph means to me, I would fall well short of my “1,000 Words.” Although my memories of this specific moment in time are mostly lost, the photograph represents other memories that were a substantial slice of growing up. Tastes and interests influenced by several of my fellow adventurers remain with me to this day and are being passed down again whether intentionally or inadvertently.

Dad and Uncle Dick are no doubt at the top of the list and their influence runs through all of my past articles and will continue to surface as long as I keep writing. So, for this posting, I’ll focus on two of my fellow “youngsters” in the photograph (although it’s funny to think that I’m now older than any of the grownups were at the time).

My cousin, Ronnie, is decked out in his Oakland A’s jacket that I thought was just about the coolest coat around. However, the heyday of some outstanding Oakland clubs had reached its end by 1976. Brash and sometimes bizarre owner, Charlie Finley, had already traded away Reggie Jackson, and “Catfish” Hunter. Sal Bando, Gene Tenace, Bert Campaneris, Vida Blue, Joe Rudi, Billy North, “Blue Moon” Odom, and Rollie Fingers (with his unforgettable trademark handlebar mustache) would soon follow. Such a talented bunch of players, the stuff of legend even to a youngster who was genetically predisposed to be a Cubs fan.

Ronnie was like another brother in our family in those days and we spent weekends and summers getting up to various hijinks. Both of our homes were located near Cedar Fork, a creek (rhymes with stick) that snaked its way through Galesburg and provided ample opportunity to explore and make a mess. We were also frequent visitors to the neighborhood Park Drive dairies for sports cards of all seasons and Saturday morning donuts when finances permitted.

Music and baseball ruled our summers. We consumed a steady diet of pop and rock, enamored by hits such as “Rubberband Man”, “Why Can’t We Be Friends”, “The Things We Do For Love”, “Lyin’ Eyes”, “Rhinestone Cowboy”, “Convoy” and “S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night.” We tagged along with Dad to softball games, celebrated my birthday in the July heat and played baseball all day with my younger brother, Brent, as designated hitter. Summer also meant the eagerly awaited arrival of the MLB All Star game where all of our heroes gathered. Willie Stargell, Johnny Bench, Lou Brock, Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, Jim Rice, Robin Yount, George Brett, Carl Yastrzemski, Rod Carew; maybe I’m just getting old but today’s players don’t hold a candle to the legends of my childhood.

My cousin, Jody, was eight years older and at times seemed like more of an older brother. He introduced me to a lasting 70s and 80s sampling of the arts. Literature included Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series, which was originally published in 1917 (Burroughs is perhaps better known for creating the enduring character, Tarzan). I also became acquainted with a myriad of characters created by J.R.R. Tolkien and while Jody’s comic book collection would rival my baseball card collection, I was never bitten by that bug.

There were also films such as “Blade Runner” (1982) and “Escape From New York” (1981). Three others remain among my all-time favorites to this day; “An American Werewolf in London” (1981), “The Thing” (1982) and “Excalibur” (1981).

Music was also a shared passion with “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” and “Band on the Run” standing out in my mind along with the risqué (for a kid in 1974) novelty hit “The Streak.” AM radio dominated the airwaves with Chicago’s WLS 890AM leading the way in our neck of the woods. The WLS roster featured Larry “Uncle Lar” Lujack, John Records Landecker and Tommy “Little Tommy” Edwards along with spots such as “Boogie Check” and “Animal Stories” where I’m sure much of the humor went right over my head. Of course, New Year’s Eve was spent with the radio for the highlight of the year, “The WLS Big 89 Countdown.”

Jody also informed me that the strange song that sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before was called “Bohemian Rhapsody,” whatever that meant. Later I remember listening to his recently purchased copy of “Double Fantasy,” John Lennon’s 1980 return to the music industry, released a mere three weeks before he was assassinated outside of his New York City apartment building. “Watching The Wheels” remains one of my all-time favorite songs to this day.

Well, for today’s post, my “1,000 Words” (and then some) certainly wander from the outdoors. Although I have only fleeting memories of the adventure associated with today’s picture, it conjures up other memories that explain some of my philosophies, tastes and pursuits.

Such as…

It’s important to take time to include the next generation (now it’s my turn to set an example).

I much prefer outdoor activities to being cooped up inside (writing helps me pretend nowadays).

Baseball is still “America’s pastime” (despite not taking very good care of itself).

There’s nothing like getting lost in a good book (they’re always better than the movie).

A good movie never gets old (but read the book if time permits).

I’d take tunes over television any day (hence a home with rabbit ears, one TV and half a dozen radios).

I’ll leave you with a few lines from the 1975 Top 5 hit, “Old Days”, another of my all-time favorites, courtesy of a band that was formed in The Windy City and eventually named itself after the hometown of WLS; Chicago.

“Old days, good times I remember,
Fun days, filled with simple pleasures,
Drive in movies, comic books and blue jeans,
Howdy Doody, baseball cards and birthdays,
Take me back to a world gone away,
Boyhood memories seem like yesterday.”

A few simple lines say it just as well as 1,294 words. Oh, to be a songwriter. Talk to you later. Troy

2019 Top 5 Final Stats

Congratulations to Mark Balbinot who makes it four in a row with a late season surge to claim the Top 5 crown. His winning weight marks his fourth straight year with a creel topping the 25-pound mark, very impressive. His efforts have earned him the customary big check, don’t spend it all in one place.

Here’s how it all shook out with the 2019 Top 5 final stats covering 95 bass and 5 additional submissions (3 other species) from a group of 9 anglers.

2019 Totals (* = new record)
January = 1 bass
February = no submissions
March = 8 bass
April = 14 bass
May = 12 bass
June = 14 bass
July = 11 bass
*August = 7 bass
September = 9 bass
October = 8 bass
November = 9 bass
December = 2 bass

Top 5 Weight by Month (* = new record)
January = 3-3 (one bass)
February = no submissions
March = 19-3 (4-8,4-2,4-1,3-5,3-3)
April = 19 -10 (4-1,4-1,4-0,3-12,3-12)
May = 19-1 (4-6,4-0,3-15,3-10,3-2)
June = 19-15 (4-3,4-1,4-1,3-15,3-11)
July = 13-15 (5-3,3-14,1-15,1-8,1-7)
*August = 19-4 (4-14,4-10,4-6,2-14,2-8)
*September = 24-5 (5-3,5-0,5-0,4-12,4-6)
October = 20-6 (4-12,4-5,4-3,3-10,3-8)
November = 25-8 (5-5,5-3,5-1,5-1,4-14)

Boat vs. Bank
Boat = 33 bass
Bank = 62 bass

Boat vs. Bank Weight
Boat = 25-4 (5-5,5-3,5-1,4-14,4-13)
Bank = 25-7 (5-3,5-3,5-1,5-0,5-0)

Public vs. Private
Public = 68 bass
Private = 27 bass

Public vs. Private Top 5 Weight
Public = 24-9 (5-3,5-0,4-14,4-12,4-12)
Private = 25-13 (5-5,5-3,5-3,5-1,5-1)

The Baits
Plastic Worm = 27 bass (Top Bass 4-14 Jim Junk)
Chatterbait = 18 bass (Top Bass 5-3 Jim Junk)
Spinnerbaits = 15 bass (Top Bass 4-5 Brent Jackson)
Lipless Crankbaits = 13 bass (Top Bass 4-8 Jim Junk)
Jigs = 5 bass (Top Bass 4-14 Mark Balbinot)
Underspin = 4 bass (Top Bass 5-5 Mark Balbinot)
Buzzbait = 3 bass (Top Bass 2-4 Troy Jackson)
Crankbait = 3 bass (Top Bass 4-13 Mark Balbinot)
Swim Jigs = 2 bass (Top Bass 5-3 Chris Schwarz)
Blade Bait = 1 bass (Top Bass 5-3 Mark Balbinot)
Creature Bait = 1 bass (Top Bass 2-9 Troy Jackson)
Prop Bait = 1 bass (Top Bass 4-12 Jim Junk)
Livebait = 1 bass (Top Bass 4-1 Jim Junk)
Topwater Frog = 1 bass (Top Bass 1-1 Landon Hannam)

Monthly Top Bass

3-3 Jim Junk
No submissions
4-8 Jim Junk
4-1 Jim Junk
4-6 Jim Junk
4-3 Jim Junk
5-3 Jim Junk
4-14 Jim Junk
5-3 Chris Schwarz
4-12 Jim Junk
5-5 Mark Balbinot
3-4 Chris Schwarz

Top 10 Bass
5-5 Mark Balbinot 11/9
5-3 Jim Junk 7/28
5-3 Chris Schwarz 9/22
5-3 Mark Balbinot 11/16
5-1 Mark Balbinot 11/9
5-1 Jim Junk 11/10
5-0 Jim Junk 9/15
5-0 Chris Schwarz 9/22
4-14 Jim Junk 8/3
4-14 Mark Balbinot 11/16

Angler Weights
Mark Balbinot 25-4 (5-5,5-3,5-1,4-14,4-13)
Jim Junk 24-14 (5-3,5-1,5-0,4-14,4-12)
Chris Schwarz 20-12 (5-3,5-0,3-11,3-10,3-4)
Troy Jackson 14-4 (3-14,2-11,2-10,2-9,2-8)
Brent Jackson 13-7 (4-5,2-14,2-6,1-15,1-15)
Landon Hannam 10-1 (4-3,2-7,1-4,1-2,1-1)
John Kirkemo 6-14 (1-9,1-7,1-6,1-5,1-3)
Terry Jackson 3-13 (1-15,1-1,0-13)
Jayce Jackson 2-13 (1-8,1-5)

Other Species
Bluegill 1-8 Teagan Mills 6/2/19 Private pond
Channel Catfish 13-0 Teagan Mills 4/20/19 Private Pond
Catfish 6-9 Chris Schwarz 6/12/19 Spring Lake – McDonough County
Catfish 34-35” Chris Schwarz 6/2/19 Spring Lake – McDonough County
Muskellunge 6-4 Chris Schwarz 6/28/19 Lake Storey

Well done by our group of anglers and we are off and running already with last week’s Top Update post which featured a January 4 catch. Things have become more winter like with more chill on the way here in West Central Illinois. But if anybody is out there fooling frigid fish I’m ready to hear about it. Until then, I am looking to post a rundown of the all-time Top 5 Stats along with plenty of other things I have up my sleeve. Talk to you later. Troy

Top 5 2020 Invite & FAQ

The Top 5 is back for a seventh year, so time for the annual invitation and rundown of the “rules.”


What is the Top 5?

It is our own virtual brag board. Think of it as an online baitshop counter of scattered Polaraids with the catch info scribbled on them.

Who can participate?

Anybody, as we have had anglers from 8 to 80 submit their catches.

Where do I sign up?

No official sign-up needed just email your name (or pseudonym if preferred), picture (nice to include the angler but not absolutely necessary) weight of your catch (to nearest ounce preferred but at least one-quarter pound increments) and any details (see sample below) to the following:

What kind of fish are included?

The last couple years we have expanded after originally only targeting largemouth and smallmouth bass. Any freshwater catch is now encouraged as we track each species. Weight data is preferred but length is also acceptable and tracked separately.

Does the fish have to be caught by rod and reel?

Yes, to maintain consistency no catches via bankpole, trotline, jug, handfishing and such are eligible. Nothing against these approaches, we just stick with rod and reel.

When do the catches get posted?

Each Monday is set aside for a Top 5 Update if we have submissions. In addition, I try to post a monthly stat update including the breakdowns below and more.

What info should accompany a submission?

Weight/Length: I record weights in pounds and ounces such that 5-4 equates to five pounds four ounces as opposed to decimals so I ask that submissions be reported in this fashion to avoid conversion and/or confusion. For length submissions let’s go with the nearest half inch.

Lures/Bait: if you aren’t willing to reveal specifics such as brand, model, presentation and color, a generic category such as spinnerbait, plastic worm or crankbait would be appreciated. Chicken liver, stinkbait, dew worm, cutbait and so on work just fine as well.

Location: if you don’t want to say “Emiquon Preserve” just go with Fulton County and a designation of public or private would also be of interest. Even West Central Illinois strip mine or Eastern Iowa stream would be beneficial if you prefer not to be too specific.

Date: can’t see much of an issue with this aspect but I guess I’ll just list it as the date I received the submission unless otherwise noted. Once again though, the more accurate the better in my book.

Name: totally up to you whether you want to use your real name or a nickname, just let me know what you prefer.

Photo: A PIC IS REQUIRED so have your cameras or “phones” at the ready. After all, part of the premise of this entire project is to show more fishing pictures on the website than just my little bass. Whether you put your mug in the frame is your choice.

Angler Comments: if you’ve got a story, something weird or otherwise interesting to pass along with the catch, by all means, include your tale. Same goes for structure as it is fun to hear if the fish came off a point, alongside a laydown, amidst a patch of lilypads and so on. I will be happy to use your description, as written, in the periodic updates so don’t use any “bad” words, that way I don’t have to spend time editing.

And here is the general process:

Step One: You catch, weigh/measure, document and photograph a fish that resides in your Top 5 heaviest of 2020.
Step Two: Send your pic and details to troy@troyjacksonoutdoors.com.
Step Three: I track the catches and photos in order to provide periodic updates (typically each Monday) as you build your Top 5. (Note: you send each fish as you work towards a Top 5 rather than waiting until you have five, unless, of course, you wipe ‘em all out on your first trip).
Step Four: Repeat the above, replacing (or culling to use a tourney term) smaller Top 5 fish as larger ones join your ledger. For instance, say your Top 5 by May 1 is as follows: 3-4, 2-7, 2-3, 1-12 and 1-11 for a total weight of 11-5. Then on May 6 you reel in a 3-3 so out goes the 1-11 and the total weight bumps up to 12-13. Same concept for length submissions.

Finally, here’s a sample submission below.

Angler: Troy Jackson
Weight/Length: 4-0 (20″)
Location: Lake Storey
Date: April 4, 1999
Lure: Spinnerbait (blue glimmer)
Angler Comments: Dad and I were able to sneak away for a little Easter Sunday bass fishing on our “home lake.” My only bass of the day and first of the year but a cool way to kick it off, came on a perfect setup as I slowly ran my spinnerbait parallel to a submerged log, just like you read about in the magazines.

With the 2020 Top 5 intro completed look for the final wrap on the 2019 Top 5 coming your way soon. Talk to you later.  Troy

Bass #5157

Bass #5157 November 19, 2019 at 5:37pm Wichita, KS

Coming into 2019 I had this big plan for a countdown to “Bass #5000.” You see, I had finished 2018 with a total of 4895 bass on the spreadsheet that I created back in 1997 when I joined The Computer Age. I thought big fanfare, perhaps a countdown, maybe one of those oversized fundraiser type displays in my front yard or a graphic on the tailgate of my truck…okay, maybe not.

But then I got so focused on just fishing that when Bass #5000 hit the log I completely missed the milestone. Initially, I was kind of bummed at blowing the chance to celebrate via another blog posting but I got over it. After all, I’m usually not at a loss for blog ideas (598 and counting since May 2017). I just feel sorry for the bass that never got a photograph and write-up for its fifteen minutes of fame.

Instead, the spreadsheet now shows 5157 bass and I’m going with that fish for the substitute celebration.

Being a stat guy, here’s some data related to the “milestone.”

3/21/1997 – At 5:04pm Bass #1 of The Computer Age enters the log (no pic taken, shot below is of Bass #2 landed at 5:38pm).

7/13/2019 – At 6:36am Bass #5000 comes aboard and I totally blow my chance to take a picture as originally intended

555 – Approximate number of miles between Bass #1 (Victoria, IL) and Bass #5157 (Wichita, KS)

8,278 – Days between catching Bass #1 and Bass #5157

1998.75 – Hours spent fishing to land those 5,157 bass

127 – Bodies of water registering at least one of the 5,157 bass

Plenty of other numbers along the way too, such as 1 wife, 4 kids, 2 trucks, 5 homes, 4 jobs and 2 floppy hats just to name a few. It’s been a wild ride and here’s to keeping the fish total climbing in the 2020s. Talk to you later. Troy

1,000 Words – 5 Gallon Dipnet

This photograph depicts the first big fish that I ever landed in a “normal” fashion. Prior to this channel cat, the trophies that me, Brent and our buddies had brought home were a handful of carp from the Lake Bracken spillway during a wave of snagging and bowfishing. Other than those, the fish that I’d been catching legitimately usually consisted of a multitude of bluegill, crappie, green sunfish (mistakenly referred to as rock bass for many years) and small largemouth bass that were normally quite receptive to a smorgasbord of ultralight offerings. While ultralight fishing was the way of our world back in those days, the results from April 14, 1985 turned out to be anything but “normal.”

I still have the original story in an old green spiral notebook that served as my fishing log from January 19, 1985 through August 25, 1985. Back then I would record the date, location, time and results along with a brief overview of the day including who I was fishing with and what we were throwing. However, this occasion demanded an extra entry, kind of like one of those “Special Reports” that we are presently bombarded with in our world of twenty four hour news channels. Unlike some of the ridiculous stories that are nowadays passed along as “important breaking news” (fill in your choice of Hollywood knucklehead) this tale was actually worthy. Here are the original submission and the “Special Entry” just as they were documented close to 35 years ago.

Date: April 14, 1985 Time: 7:00-9:00am Temp: 50F Fish Caught: 16
Location: Lake Bracken, followed north shore from Al’s dock down to the levee by holes #11 and 12. Also went along south shore from levee to directly across from West Point.
Summary: Dad, Brent and I got out early to fish for bass, bluegill and crappie. We had a decent day just combing the bank. Around 9:00 I hooked a big catfish just north of Ron Patterson’s dock and fought him for 15 minutes. We finally dipped him in a bucket; he weighed in at 7 pounds 14 ounces.
Bait: Used white crappie jig with a black head and Dad and Brent also tried a Mepps.
Type of Fish Caught: Bass-8 Bluegill-3 Catfish-1 Crappie-2 Rock Bass-2

Special Entry: Catching My Record Catfish (7 lbs. 14 oz.)
April 14, 1985 9:00-9:15am 50F at Lake Bracken
Dad, Brent and I were fishing at Bracken and were going to hit the cove just west of Al’s dock. I threw my white body crappie jig with a black head in just north of Ron Patterson’s dock and got a hit. I set the hook and saw a big catfish come up and then head back under. It tried to go under a dock but we passed my pole around the boat and got him out. He dove under the boat and we could hear the line scraping on the boat. I let him play for about 10 minutes until he got tired and Dad dipped him up in a five gallon bucket. When we weighed him, he came out at 7 lbs. 14 oz.

We called it a day after landing the fish. As I recall, it was then time to brag. We took the fish up to the golf course and showed it off to a co-worker/golfing buddy/friend of Dad’s, Al Dickson. Al lived at Lake Bracken at the time and his dock served as home port for Dad’s rowboat for a number of years. From the golf course we headed into town, hitting both the baitshops that were in business in those days.

First up was Al’s Sporting Goods located on the corner of Henderson Street and Monmouth Boulevard for over thirty years before closing up shop in 2011. Then it was on to Steve’s Bait Shop on the banks of Cedar Fork on Seminary Street. The building is now gone following construction of an overpass but once housed a baitshop and army surplus store into the 90’s if my memory serves me correctly. At each location I got my photo taken, joining the stacks of pictures that rested on the counter and displayed other fortunate anglers (or downright lucky in my case). I remember stopping in each place later just to check them out even when having no money to purchase anything. It just felt cool to be kind of famous. I even got a mention in the Lake Bracken newsletter, all for an unintended catch.

As far as the bucket that was turned into a makeshift dipnet, it was likely taken along to serve as a livewell. In those days, our arsenal mainly consisted of a wide array of grubs, twister tails, puddle jumpers, Gapen Fishies and the like that were quite effective on the multitude of bluegill, crappie and green sunfish that called Lake Bracken home. As such there was no real need to bring along a dipnet and we never did. For one thing, there wasn’t a whole lot of room in an eight foot johnboat carrying three anglers and even our limited tackle. Besides, back in this primitive era, we often succumbed to the superstition that bringing a dipnet was bad luck: something akin to counting your chickens before they hatch. We’ve since evolved and I would have to say that bringing the dipnet has only a positive effect on success. It has come in quite handy on many occasions, surely saving us from losing some nice fish.

Beyond the fish there are also a number of other nostalgic details for me in this photograph. The camper behind me is long gone but served us well over a number of years. The deck to my left is also gone, replaced by a cement patio now decorated with the artwork of grandkids. The blue house has been covered with white siding and now sports central air rather than the single window unit. The large willow tree in the neighbors’ yard has been removed and the tree peeking over the roof has disappeared as well. I still remember when my grandpa planted it in the mid-70s, right in the middle of our baseball field. Speaking of baseball, the spot where I’m standing was a stickball home plate for me and my brothers for a few years. We’d tape up a plastic golf ball and use a broom handle for a bat (in fact it is lying on the ground to my right). It was excellent practice for hand-eye coordination that I can’t even imagine coming close to duplicating these days. Besides, it’s now a gravel driveway.

While much has changed, one thing hasn’t. The fish in the photograph still represents the largest catfish that I’ve ever caught as I’ve been more about scales than whiskers for various reasons. These days I definitely would be satisfied with a simple photograph before releasing the trophy to fight again which makes the accidental catch even more unlucky for the catfish.

Regardless, this particular accident and photo will always remind me of an important part of what fishing means to me: fish stories. In this case, the big one didn’t get away, thanks to a five gallon dipnet. Talk to you later. Troy