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Pond-hopping with Ken ‘Husker’ O’Malley



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Kids’ Fest, co-sponsored by Fishin’ Buddies! and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. It’s the biggest free outdoors event for kids.

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Where: Wampum Lake, Lansing.

Info and registration:

‘‘Tour de Fat,’’ sponsored by New Belgium Brewing. Bicycle advocacy through beer, bikes and bemusement.

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. Where: Palmer Square.

Info: or

Updated: August 10, 2014 6:39AM

At our first pond, Ken ‘‘Husker’’ O’Malley and I parked in a dead-end turnaround and walked in on a path, which dog-walkers, strollers and exercisers used regularly while we fished.

It was a big-fish spot, which is why O’Malley wanted to hit it first.

Once you learn ponds, you know which are for numbers and which are for big fish. And you learn which have bluegills and which have crappie. The first pond we fished came with history and a couple of koi swimming in it.

‘‘A friend told me, ‘Hey, there’s a nice pond back here, a nice little spot to cast in the evening,’ ’’ O’Malley said.

In one of those curiosities of suburban fishing, it was tough to access at first. But the shorelines opened as development came.

Everybody needs a few spots near home for quick getaways. I think the minimum is three. O’Malley figures he has 20 in his repertoire, though he concentrates on a handful and tries to add one a year.

I met O’Malley, a commercial banker from Mokena, for pond-hopping Saturday in the south suburbs around Frankfort, Tinley Park and Mokena.

‘‘You don’t have to waste a lot of time driving,’’ he said. ‘‘You can get out for a few hours and catch a few bass.’’

That’s the main point.

His starting point is Google Earth, a far different thing than earlier times of marking an interesting pond and trying it. Or asking that crazy fishing buddy who always has a rod stashed behind the seat of his car.

‘‘Accessibility is the big thing,’’ O’Malley said. ‘‘Then size, then depth.’’

Even with modern technology, new spots are hit-and-miss.

‘‘Some are a gem, some are a complete bust,’’ O’Malley said. ‘‘That is the way it is.’’

It’s summer, so we targeted outside weed lines, throwing wacky-rigged (hooked through the middle) or Texas-rigged (hooked through the head with the point buried) Senkos or Texas-rigged plastic worms for largemouth bass.

We used both spinning and baitcasting reels. O’Malley was using 17-pound Trilene XL; I prefer braided line to haul fish out of the weeds.

Sometimes he casts a Bandit Footloose, a shallow running crankbait that he runs parallel to the bank along the weed edges to keep it in the strike zone.

His starting point is his whim that day.

‘‘Do I want to experiment, or do I want to catch a lot of fish?’’ mused O’Malley, whose nickname comes from his love for Nebraska football, even though he graduated from Western Illinois.

With only a few caught at the first pond, we moved to the second. Two others fished the north end. After they left, two families fished the opposite bank with worms and minnows under slip floats.

O’Malley and I talked and picked our way to some 14 bass, though we couldn’t bring in a big one.

When I caught our last bass, one of two boys trying to catch frogs with a net said: ‘‘That’s a small bass.’’

Everybody’s a critic.

It was time.

Starved Rock

The Visitor Center and Lodge are open at Starved Rock State Park, but the main trail system remains closed by storm damage. The trail to Starved Rock and the Illinois, Ottawa and Kaskaskia Canyon trails are open, though. Trails at Matthiessen State Park are open.

CPO exam

The Illinois Conservation Police Officer trainee exam will be offered Monday through
July 17 around the state. Go to

Stray cast

I understand the logic of trading Jeff Samardzija. I also understand it is leaving fish to find fish.

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