Updated: September 9, 2012 6:19AM
So many smallmouth bass chased bait to the surface that at one
point I stuck my fly rod out and dabbled a streamer at one rising a few feet
downstream of my waders. The fish flashed.
With smallmouth busting bait between us, Matt Mullady and I took turns casting to active fish Monday on the Kankakee River in a form of freshwater sight-fishing.
‘‘When I see one rising, I want to put it about 11/2 feet upstream,’’ he said. ‘‘You don’t want to spook them.’’
It was a special morning. I am a rank amateur as a fly fisherman and should’ve spooked fish all over, but I didn’t. The wide-open feeding window made us giddy.
‘‘Rainbow trout have nothing on these smallmouth,’’ Mullady said with a laugh. ‘‘Except color.’’
Mullady, a Kankakee guide for decades, found a particularly active pool of fish last week on the upper end of Kankakee River State Park.
What he looks for in hot, low water is oxygenated water near deeper holes. He found it in a large flat with a deep hole fed by a large riffle cutting across the riverbed.
We started upstream and worked a quarter-mile down, at least in part because I think he wanted to give me time to work the kinks out of my casting.
Mullady uses 6- or 8-weight fly rods. He used the heavier one Monday in the wide-open water. The lighter rod is for finesse situations, streams or casting under trees. I used a 9-foot, 7-weight rod on permanent loan from Muskie on the Fly author Robert Tomes.
As difficult as it is for me, working a fly rod made the morning more special. With the first cool morning since June, fog rolled off the Kankakee in thick wisps as we waded out. I felt damm glad to be alive, writing and fishing.
Not much went at first. I lost a small one below a riffle. Two deer drank on a rock point. I began to think about how to write about the ambience.
Then we reached the hole, and it was on. Mullady waded one side of the deeper water. I worked in and out of weed pockets and feeding riffles on the other.
Mullady landed the first one, a small, feisty one. Then I picked off the best one (15 inches) near the head of a small riffle within the deeper water. It hit with heaviness, then bulldogged enough to announce its presence with authority.
Then I caught my first back-to-back smallmouth on a fly rod. Mullady picked off a feeding one with a perfect cast. We lost a few. Meanwhile, fish kept rising all around us. Mullady timed the frenzy from 7:45 to 8:50 a.m. That was odd because the sun had cleared the tree line by then and was on the water. If my count was right, we had a dozen smallmouth hit in our two hours on the water. We landed landed half of them.
I asked Mullady if he had figured out why smallmouth sometimes feed at the upper end of pools and other times at the bottom. He invoked the late Gordon Graves, a great conservationist of the Kankakee, and said how he talked about ‘‘roamers and homers’’ for Kankakee smallmouth.
This stretch of the Kankakee is famous for its limestone bottom. At first, I hung up enough that Mullady showed me a trick. Allow the line to float downstream, and it naturally pulls the fly free.
As we walked out, a beaver slid off the bank, dove deep and disappeared underwater. It was time.
Back at our vehicles, Mullady said, ‘‘One of the greatest natural resources in the country, and we are the only ones out.’’
One of my regrets is that more fans coming to Bears training camp don’t use the chance to experience that greatness.
For Mullady, call (815) 932-6507.
Places and faces
Some tickets remain for ‘‘Outdoor Channel Night at U.S. Cellular Field’’ on Saturday, with Mark Zona of ‘‘Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show’’ throwing out the first pitch. The first 20,000 fans will receive a camouflage White Sox hat. . . . The Riverside Fishing Club (riversidefishingclub.com) holds its swap meet Thursday at the LaGrange American Legion Hall. The public is admitted at 6:45 p.m. . . . The Northern Illinois Conservation Club offers a youth event from
9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in Antioch. Preregister — $10 per child includes food — at mynicc.org.
Theo Epstein reminds me of a guy talking about his favorite fishing spot.