Blog Banner – Redear Queen

My daughter, Carly, has turned into quite an angler over the course of her eleven years. Along with her skills while wielding a rod and reel, she is also a dedicated sort as without fail she outlasts her siblings when our bunch goes out casting. And she is one of those anglers who just seems to have a knack for fooling a variety of fish.

Today’s photo from June 2016 displays her propensity for fooling redear sunfish which are generally pickier than their cousin, the cooperative bluegill. Hard to explain when the rest of us are in close proximity and tossing the same waxworm on a slip bobber setup and being completely ignored by the redear, but that’s fishing.

August 2015 with a redear hybrid variation

It’s cool too as she routinely claims the species title including a Grand Slam sort of limit last spring during an hour of casting from the bank with her siblings. Her haul consisted of bluegill, crappie, largemouth bass and a green sunfish. While no redear on that occasion, I suspect if we’d had more time one would have shown up to extend the species count.

June 2017, not redear but the fact that it is dark and we’re the last two on the bank says it all

But no matter what the catch it’s always enjoyable to spend time together pursuing a shared hobby. The following excerpts from the original post detailing an August 2015 outing sum it all up quite well.

“I had planned to go on a solo bass trip that particular morning while the rest of the crew slept off a late night of tacos in a bag and s’mores around the campfire. But at 5:30am, as I rolled around out of the tent, I was met by Julie and our youngest daughter, Carly, who was interested in accompanying Dad on the water.

While a nine year old girl and her forty eight year old dad’s interests are sometimes separated by the traditional generation gap, during those few hours in the wild we were right in tune. An ‘experienced’ outdoorsman, an eager pupil and the natural backdrop were a perfect combination.”

An early 2017 birthday gift that she picked out and put to work so she no longer needs to borrow one of my “ancient” spinning rigs 

Looking forward to more in 2018 as she’s got her eyes on adding a new species to her list, one with whiskers. Stay tuned and talk to you later. Troy

Friday Flashback – May 19, 1994

It’s always fun when I get to include some fellow anglers in one of these Friday Flashback posts and today’s pair go back a ways in terms of friendship. And the fishing hole goes back even a little farther than that.

My buddy, Mark “Geek” Junk (above) made an appearance two weeks ago in the Keith Whitley flashback post and he’s back again with a quality Lake Bracken Spillway carp from this outing, one of many climbs down that old, rugged path. Been friends with Mark dating back to the early 80’s as we played some basketball together along with a year of baseball in the old Galesburg Senior League with Hi-Lo Grocery. Later we crossed over for a couple years at Knox College and even rented a house together with another buddy, Matt Reynolds, and Mark’s brother, John, in the early 90s. Plenty of tales there too but not outdoor related, which is probably for the best.

The young lady in this post, Lisa Browne, was also a companion of that crew and would become Lisa Junk not too long after this pic upon marrying Mark’s brother, John. She was also my boss at the Knox County Mary Davis Home for fourteen years even later down the road. Her prowess at the Lake Bracken Spillway, as shown here today, would earn her the questionably endearing title of “Carp Queen.” Obviously, lots of memories with these fishing partners.

The Lake Bracken Spillway also holds a special spot in fishing lore going back to the late 70s but it was during the early 90s when it was a frequent stop. For you see, as our crew migrated from the rented house I found myself purchasing a cottage on the shores of Lake Bracken. Thus, “The Spillway” was only a handful of curves down the road and with limited responsibilities at the time, what better getaway than tangling with some of the carp that called it home.

Twenty five years later, we’re scattered about in different towns with different occupations and a combined total of eight kids. Life moves on but those fish stories and beyond live on. Talk to you later. Troy

A Really Crappie Day

                                                                         Mother’s Day weekend crappie chasing success

While there are no fish on hand for the Monday Top 5 Update, we do have a fishing report as a suitable substitute.

And it goes like this…

My boys and I were invited down to a “secret” destination by a noted local guide who goes by the name of “Papa” for our crew and several others. For decades he has had the crappie dialed in at this fishing hole during the Mother’s Day weekend. While the weather forecast left much to be desired with early rain, barely 50 degree high, gray skies and a stiff breeze, we confirmed our reservation around lunchtime and headed out for the late afternoon outing.

First casts were made at roughly 3:35pm and in no time the bite was on. My brother, Brent, and his kids joined the fun a little after 4:00pm and our bunch hung in there until 5:15pm during a bite with barely a lull.

            Jayce called this contorted technique “Pretzel Fishing”, can’t argue with the results

All told we combined for somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty crappie and a few bluegill courtesy of waxworms on a jighead hung from a bobber. Location was key as the fish were flat out shallow and on the inside edge or first pockets in the abundant surface vegetation. Not uncommon for this fishing hole, been there done that before.

Weather was really pretty crappy for the second weekend in May but what was cool is that there were zero complaints from our young anglers. In fact, we grownups were the only ones who commented on sore and somewhat numb fingers and a chill that just kind of stuck. And mind you, those kids handled and released a bunch of fish.

                                                                                          Cousins conquering crappie

Post fishing fun included hot dogs over the much needed warmth of a campfire at the area campground along with some kid led hiking. Good stuff considering that Brent and I have been on the kid end of such adventures on those same trails dating back to the 1970s.

      Our guide led us to a sizeable earlier dead muskie discovery

All in all a great outdoor day in less than great conditions. Plenty of practice for the youngsters in terms of casting, catching and fish handling and always fun to watch their confidence grow in regards to each aspect. Also fun to teach in the same outdoor classroom with the guy who taught Brent and me the same lessons well over 40 years ago. Yet again proves that the best time to go fishing (or get outdoors) is anytime you can.


One other impressive observation was the fact that the only devices in use were in the hands of me and Brent as we preserved some quality memories for posterity (and a blog posting). Never heard a peep from the kids either as they were too busy having some old fashioned, low-tech fun, gotta love it.

And thus ends today’s fish “Storey.” Talk to you later. Troy

Emiquon Pitfall #1 – Deception

It was easy to pat yourself on the back on the way home from one of those early Emiquon trips.

And don’t get me wrong, you deserved it.

But you were also wise to engage in a little reality check on the drive as well.

Originally Posted 8-29-10

Things have definitely gotten tougher for bass fisherman this year at Emiquon but you’ve still got to be mindful that the place has the potential to spoil you. In my eight trips to the area my fishing partners and I have hauled in hundreds of bass despite being sent packing twice by the wind and once by illness. Even a trip shortened by a frustrating replacement trolling motor wild goose chase resulted in 98 bass for me and Dad. My best outing was a combined 154 bass day with my brother, Brent. The smallest bass I’ve recorded from Emiquon was seven inches while the largest tipped the scales at just over seven pounds. However, those bookends were the exception as the vast majority of bass were in the twelve to fifteen inch range.

But even those results paled in comparison to other anglers who’d reported one hundred bass days for each angler in the boat. Another instance had a lone angler sitting in one spot for seven hours and reeling in 160 bass. Dad stopped at the ramp last year while in the neighborhood for the Fulton County Fair and immediately observed an angler nail bass on four consecutive casts. I’ve seen pictures of two bass on one lure and saw Dad duplicate the feat with a Rat-L-Trap. Anglers also reported eight to ten bass following a hooked fish to the boat as they attempted to get a piece of a perceived meal.

The seemingly tall tales go on and on with a frequency unheard of at other fishing holes. Such occurrences may have diminished this year but if you are in the right spot when the fish turn on, Emiquon can still live up to the initial hype.

And therein lays the final pitfall.

I’ve found myself telling Emiquon stories using the word “only”, as in “we only caught fifty bass.” It might take me several good days on some of my other fishing holes to log fifty bass. So I must bear in mind that my Emiquon results likely say more about the fishery than the fisherman. A 150 bass day is a remarkable thing to behold but I actually felt more of a sense of accomplishment when Dad and I hauled in fifteen at Lake Storey a couple weeks prior.

If you haven’t paid a visit to Emiquon, I would encourage you to give it a shot this fall. Just be very careful. I can’t speak for anyone else but I know that during several rides home I’ve had to decompress a bit and remind myself that I’m really not that smart.

Much has changed over the years at the unique fishing hole. Water levels have risen, fallen and risen again, visible structural landmarks have succumbed to the elements over time, exotics have found a home and the bass have gotten smarter or scarcer.

Oh, but there was a time…

Talk to you later. Troy

Emiquon Pitfall #2 – Facilities

Tough call on whether this one should be ranked #1 or #2. Not entirely my call though I guess, more of nature’s call as they say. Anyway, Pitfall #1 provided a better overall summary for our series which wraps up tomorrow.

Originally posted 8-27-10

Not so coincidentally, facilities happen to be Pitfall #2.

While Emiquon offers up plenty in the way of fish and water, angler comforts leave something to be desired. But don’t get the wrong impression, I’m not complaining. I’ll take whatever I can get when a new fishing hole is offered up, especially one stuffed with uneducated bass. In addition, the lack of facilities (combined with no gas motors on boats) has also likely kept the crowds down which is fine with me in a selfish sort of way.

I haven’t been down to Emiquon since June but I understand that work is underway on improving access and making the site more user friendly. However, during my last trip it was still a shallow muddy ramp, a lone rutted dirt, grass and rock lot and the nearest public restrooms were at Dickson Mounds, Havana or Lewistown.

Even so it is still a great fishing opportunity and that’s truly what it is all about for me. Besides, with some planning, a manageable carry in boat, a little muscle and a coffee can you are ready to go.

Strictly BYOTP back in the day at Emiquon

Having been away from the site for nearly six years I have no idea if anything has improved in regards to the amenities. I don’t believe I will be checking anytime soon either as I just learned that the stretch of US 136 that runs past Emiquon has been closed due to flooding.

One more Pitfall to go during the yearlong celebration of The Emiquon Preserve turning 10 years old. Talk to you later. Troy

Emiquon Pitfall #4 – Bass Thumb

Anybody who says that fishing doesn’t give you a workout is somebody who never experienced an Emiquon feeding frenzy.

Originally posted 8-25-10

Potential Pitfall #5 wrapped up with the observation that “the chipped paint and scarred lips are simply the hard earned battle scars of success” in regards to crankbaits. Well, another tangible sign of success on the lake is something we’ve always referred to as “bass thumb.” If you run into a few of the periodic feeding frenzies that can occur at Emiquon, it can leave you with a pretty good (or bad) case of this malady. Similar to slime, it falls under the category of a “good problem to have.”

The sand paper like patches of teeth on a largemouth bass don’t seem like much at first glance but handle enough of these fish and they begin to leave their mark. At Emiquon we’re talking a multitude of 12-15” bass that are rather feisty and often still a bit active when hoisted into the boat. After a while the scrapes start to add up.

Not uncommon to be lipping a “double” when the bite kicked in.

To combat this issue I have taken to bringing along a Boga Grip style tool that I originally purchased to help out with the occasional walleye or muskie that wind up on the end of my line. In comparison these species have “real” teeth, as in puncture your skin, draw blood and inflict pain sort of thing. Anyway, the Boga grip also comes in quite handy as I’m partial to crankbait fishing. Call me a wimp if you’d like but a mouthful of treble hooks isn’t particularly appealing when trying to lip a bass, I got lucky for a long time so now I frequently take the easy way out. Besides, I prefer wimp over wounded, the latter of which can ruin your fishing trip. Once I get a handle on the fish and use my pliers to dislodge the hooks I lip them anyway as I can’t let them go without collecting some length and weight data. By this point the bass are usually a bit more subdued and seem to relax when I tell them that I’m strictly catch and release on their kind. And in the interest of showing at least some remaining bravado, I do land them the old fashioned way when throwing single hook stuff like spinnerbaits or soft plastics.

Of course, the human body and its remarkable opposable thumbs are quite resilient so those shredded badges of courage don’t last forever (a scar from a treble hook can however). Some of Potential Pitfall #3 also takes a look at how long things can last.

Hands down the old Emiquon Preserve deserved a well-earned thumbs up. Talk to you later. Troy

Friday Flashback – April 29, 2009

4-29-09 these two seem impressed by Dad’s meager morel haul

As a mushroom hunter I’m not what one would term a success. A couple noteworthy finds over the years but generally speaking if I can hit double digits I’m lucky. Today’s flashback got it all done at once as noted below in a morel wrap-up from 10 years ago this week.

Originally posted 4-29-09

While approaching the entrance to Banner Marsh we spied a pair of mushroom hunters. From the looks of their grocery sacks (should use mesh bags by the way) it appeared that they were enjoying some success. A co-worker also reported finding around five pounds in the Wataga area this past weekend.

As for myself, I actually found a couple dozen during a few hours roaming Little John on 4/29. Fifteen good sized ones came from one spot including ten that were growing together in a clump. I’d never seen that many clustered so close together and considered leaving them so someone else might also enjoy the spectacle. Okay, maybe not. I did take a photo to share the find with others and then picked them so I could also share them with my family. Considering my past morel history, I guess it’s already a banner year.

Even I couldn’t miss this clump of ten morels 

Well, that’s probably as close as I’ll get to mushroom hunting this year as just too much other stuff going on. Definitely enjoyable roaming the woods but going to be spending time instead prowling the ball diamond as an assistant coach and if I do find free time I am one to choose fish over fungus. Talk to you later. Troy

Emiquon Pitfall #5 – Expense

Fishing is one of those hobbies that can be as expensive and time consuming as you choose to make it. And when you find a crazy fishing hole there’s a little more leeway in making the investment.

Originally posted 8-22-10

This pitfall is twofold; time and money, both of which I typically have little to spare.

The two and a half hour round trip cuts into my time on the water and can make for a long day when I have an opportunity to leave early and stay late. Don’t get me wrong, I can still fish all day; it’s the next day where there are some occasional technical difficulties. I’ve also gotten spoiled by the proximity of my regular spots (roughly 25 minutes to Little John Conservation Club or Snakeden Hollow and less than ten minutes to Lake Storey). Sure, exotic locations have beckoned over the years but as far as day trips this distance is probably pushing my limit. And was it not for the insane bass fishing that took place down there last year I might not have made multiple visits (but that’s a discussion for another Potential Pitfall).

Travel also translates to money in fuel costs so even if I had routine chances to fish Emiquon I’d still spend most of my time closer to home. I usually pack a lunch but the occasional stop at the convenience store can also run up the tab. Of course, having complained about cost, I will admit that Dad typically foots the bill when we fish Emiquon together (once to the tune of nearly $300 for a replacement trolling motor as detailed in my April 22nd entry “Emiquon – Three Dollars A Bass”).

Finances can also be an issue if you prefer soft plastics. I’ve had days where the bass have run me through a fair amount of baby brush hogs, wooly hawgtails, wooly curltails and such. My Senko setup allows me to catch multiple bass on each bait before it eventually gives out but the dollars still add up on a good bite when paying around eight bucks for a ten pack. My advice is to find a knockoff imitation and see if it will work so you can save the pricey stuff for somewhere else. Along those lines I also leave the tungsten weights in my tacklebox and stick with brass or lead. I once calculated that while the tungsten weights were roughly ten times more expensive than conventional weights the naïve Emiquon bass of 2009 were easily ten times dumber than normal bass. Thus I still hauled in numerous fish and did not have to shed a tear when busting off on the occasional snag.

I enjoy fishing creature baits, finesse presentations and definitely a wacky rig but if I had my way I’d just as soon run into a crankbait bite at Emiquon like we did last fall.  As long as you check your line for abrasions, retie when necessary and keep an eye on your hooks you can just keep casting and catching at virtually no extra cost in time or money.  The chipped paint and scarred lips are simply the hard earned battle scars of success; which oddly enough leads right into Potential Pitfall #4. 

Having added another hour and a half to the round trip in moving to the Quad Cities back in 2014, the cost has outweighed the reward over the years. Maybe someday, but for now reminiscing will have to suffice. And speaking of, Friday Flashback coming your way tomorrow. Talk to you later. Troy

Emiquon Pitfall #6 – Wind

A 2012 shot of the family at a windy Emiquon

Emiquon features the tough and potentially dangerous combination of wide open water and a trolling motor only restriction (no gas motors even allowed on boats). This necessitates both some planning and some on the water decision making that can be a real dilemma if the bass are biting.

Originally posted 8-20-10

This one can really ruin your day; been there, done that, twice. My first trip to Emiquon on April 23, 2009 left me disturbed for quite some time as after all of the hype, the new fishing hole threw me a shutout. However, I was more disgusted with Mother Nature than The Emiquon Preserve. Following about an hour of distraction as whitecaps battered our eight foot johnboat and at times threatened to fill it up, Dad and I called it quits and headed home (Dad did catch four bass in the ugly conditions by the way).

A similar situation occurred on Friday the 13th last November as I got blown off the lake with a ten foot borrowed johnboat after landing a solitary 13” bass. On a couple other occasions we were able to withstand winds that were a little less nasty and hung around long enough to load up on the bass that were stacked up by the wave action. It was interesting, however, upon returning home to find that my equilibrium was off and I was still riding the waves as I sat in the recliner and later laid down for bed.

Such is Emiquon, a wide open expanse of water surrounded by virtually no wind breaks. Winds from the south or east get particularly bad as there is ample surface for the waves to pick up steam as they head towards the ramp and the western half of the lake that is open to anglers. A couple of my favorite spots require a roughly (and often rough) ten minute troll. As noted in Pitfall #7 this not only gives your batteries a workout, it also necessitates some planning. The wind can pick up in a hurry down there so you need to decide on how brave you want to be based on your watercraft, either sticking with the bite a long way from the ramp or playing it safe and moving closer to home.

I’ve learned my lesson and now find myself checking the wind forecast while keeping my fingers crossed for days before heading out. If you’re fortunate to find a moderate day, fishing can be a blast on Emiquon (about 12 mph is the limit for our setup). Typically, I get all wound up at home worrying about the wind and wind up changing my mind numerous times about visiting Emiquon. After all, a two and a half hour round trip for forty minutes of fishing gets a bit frustrating. Pitfall #5 also comes into play as part of this dilemma.

Halfway through our list and the Pitfalls keep on rolling into May. Hope you’ll continue to tune in. Talk to you later. Troy

Emiquon Pitfall #7 – Juice

Did I ever mention that Emiquon is a unique fishing hole?

Sure I did, nearly every time I wrote about it I referenced that fact. But it wasn’t only unique in regards to the phenomenal bass fishing. If you read the rules and regulations prior to hitting the water (as you always should), you found that it was also unique in different respects. Today’s pitfall explores one of those aspects.

Originally posted 8-19-10

As I worked my way through the list it made sense in my mind to have juice follow slime. But in this case, juice refers to the electricity needed to power a trolling motor. Most places I’ve fished over the years prior to encountering Emiquon rarely made me think twice about using up a battery. On farm ponds and strip pits I usually relied on a pair of oars anyway as it was often unnecessary and inconvenient to have to haul the extra gear. And when using Dad’s Bass Tracker on larger trolling motor only waters we typically have an extra battery, a spare trolling motor and the gas outboard in case of emergency.

Of course, the gas motor plan is out the window at Emiquon as they are not even allowed on your boat. On one outing last year we also discovered that our trolling motor was broken prior to launching which was frustrating at the time but really good timing in the big picture. That situation led us to routinely taking the repaired motor as a backup to the new motor that Dad purchased after a wild goose chase that day. In addition, we also take a spare battery.

The vast expanse of water can tempt you to wander a long way from the lone ramp. Throw in some wind and weeds and your setup can get a real workout. Thus it is important to make sure you have plenty of juice before setting out. I’ve seen several boats limping back to the ramp or even being towed and have worried at times that I was going to wind up in the same boat, so to speak. If all else fails, make sure to invest in a good set of oars in case you need to resort to manpower. However, by the end of a long day on the water I’ve often found that to be in short supply as well.

The next Pitfall is one of the major reasons you need a lot of juice. But before we get to that item we’ll take a break for another Top 5 Update so stop on by tomorrow for your fishing fix. Talk to you later. Troy