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Roberts goes where others won’t

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Sight-fishing with flies for carp is hard enough. Doing it the day after Christmas on the Fox River .  .  . well, I think you would have to be Chuck Roberts to wade in there.

He illustrates one of the great divides in Chicago fishing in winter: those who can’t wait to ice-fish and those who rather would scramble to find patches of open water.

It doesn’t really surprise me that Roberts would try something such as fly-fishing the Fox in the dead of winter.

The west suburban man would get my vote as the top outdoorsman in the Chicago area. Foremost are his conservation credentials. He’s a Trout Unlimited guy and for a long time was the soul of Friends of the Fox River. One of my favorite times with him was wading with a large group on a tributary of the Fox, surveying mussels.

His broad-based outdoors skills are well-proven, most recently when he posted the top score among Illinois entries last spring in the Total Outdoorsman Challenge (archery, air rifle, bait-casting).

And he is somebody who has honed his skills on urbanized waters. The day after Christmas, he was ‘‘sight-fishing for cruising carp — poor man’s tarpon’’ on the Fox at Yorkville.

‘‘I caught the fish below a discharge pipe from a sanitation district,’’ he e-mailed. ‘‘The water is warmer there and attracts fish in the winter.’’

One of the secrets of plying open water in winter around Chicago is to fish below a dam or find a sanitation-plant discharge. Roberts caught his carp with a crawfish-pattern fly he ties himself.

‘‘It is really amazing how much cleaner the Fox River water is in the winter due to lack of algae,’’ he said. ‘‘I mean clearer. The sanitation district doesn’t have to treat the effluent as much in the winter.’’

One thing remains constant whether ice fishing or trying to find open water.

‘‘Of course, you have to dress for the conditions,’’ Roberts said.

Part of the great divide in Chicago fishing in winter is due to a dramatic division in climate and geography. Those north of the city generally have ice fishing available from two to four months. In some warm winters, those south of the city barely get a week of ice fishing.

This winter has favored fans of ice fishing. We are well into our second month straight of ice fishing.

All the same, my heart leans toward those strange people who try to find open water, even in a winter like this.

I have a building itch to drive down to Powerton, the cooling lake outside of Pekin.

Wild things

The timing looks perfect for the Starved Rock Eagle Weekend at Starved Rock State Park and the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center. The Illinois River should be locking up by the end of the week, concentrating bald eagles around the Starved Rock Lock and Dam.

Stray cast

I hope to live long enough to see a 205-inch typical whitetail buck arrowed, a 15-pound walleye caught off Chicago and a Bears-Steelers Super Bowl. In this, the luckiest of all seasons, one feels closer than the other two.



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