My best day on The Illinois By Gary L. Setters (Graywolf44) The drive from Marseilles to Ottawa was longer than the usual fifteen minuets due to the patchy fog. At places on Rout 6 the fog hung just over the roof of the truck like a spider’s web trying to catch its prey. Where at other times the truck was engulfed in the wet cloud hidden from view, the trip was ten minuets longer. Five thirty AM. August 19, 2004. I show up at Ed Katz house in Ottawa, Illinois, for a day of fishing on the Illinois River. Ed came out of his house, coffee in hand. I was putting my gear into his boat. After which we hooked the boat to his truck and headed to Marquette Park on the Fox River to launch. The Fox is where we start hunting for Shad (Dorosoma cepedianum). The boat is launched; Ed fires up the trolling motor, pulls his cast net from the five gallon bucket. “I can throw my cast net from the back of the boat while you are on the bow.” I say. Ed says, “No, we will probably get them tangled and messed up.” After six casts we have four shad in the live well not a one of them over four inches long. The river is down not much current. We seem to get Shad better when the river is up and running. When the river is rolling we would get thirty or so from one cast of the net, now after twenty or so cast we get two or three, if we are lucky. Today was no different. The trolling motor pulled us all over the Fox as Ed threw his cast net. Ed says, “Stinking shad, where are they. It sure is tough finding them.” After forty minuets or so and entering the Illinois River we had just over a dozen small Shad. Saying nuts with it Ed put the cast net away and brought the sixty horse Evinrude to life. Moving into the Illinois main channel we turned upriver towards Marseilles. The fog was lifting making visibly better. No barge traffic on the River made us very glad. Even though they don’t really pose any special problem they are the kings of the River and have a job to do. As a rule the Captain’s and crews are courteous and friendly. You must watch your self when they are around. A large tow is harder to stop than our boat. They also throw large waves as they pass. This morning the Illinois is smooth as glass. Mornings on the river I feel like Mark Twain. Except we got power and electronics, Ed watching the depth finder is heading for one of many spots he has had luck finding old MR Whiskers. Ah, yes. The catfish is what we are after. “Look at the screen,” Ed says. We are running mid channel in thirteen feet of water, heading toward the south bank of the Illinois. I have never really used a depth finder. I am learning something new. Ed slows the boat as I watch the screen. The bottom of the river is coming toward the boat now. Nine feet, a hump appears with a large hook shape on the down river side. “That’s a fish,” I say? “Yup, and I bet it is a catfish too,” Ed says. The bottom levels off on the screen, than a depression appears at nine and a half feet. More hooks are seen also. Ed slows the boat more, turns left then brings the boat broadside of the river. I am in the bow with anchor in hand. Ed hollers, “Now.” I toss the anchor as far as I can. Ed throws the stern anchor out at the same time. Both anchors grab the bottom and hold the boat sideways to the current in the Illinois. Ed takes a small piece of plywood about two foot square places it on the back of the boat then grabs a couple of shad and starts cutting them up. “Ed, I can help with that,” I say. “No problem I got it,” he says. “You should go into the guide business. You do all the work.” “I just might do that some day, “he said with a smile. He hands me a shad head. I use it to bait my pole with the Zebco P220 bait caster with a 4/0 circle hook. My son gave me this reel this year. I have been looking at bait casters for a while but haven’t purchased one. Mike said I could have this one. It is ten years old or so and hasn’t been use over six times. I am getting the hang of it and have not had any major birds nest yet. I know one is coming. This is also my first year using circle hooks and cut bait. I like the circle hooks but fifty years of setting the hook is hard to forget. I love using cut bait; it is free if you can find it. I also bait up my Shakespeare open face reel with a gut packet. I am fishing from the bow Ed is at the stern. He also has two poles out with circle hooks. Ed says, “There isn’t hardly any current in this river. Look at the buoy over there. It isn’t leaving any wake as the water passes by it.” “Your right, they must have all the gates closed at the dam in Marseilles.” “They sure do. I checked the computer this morning and it showed only about two to three thousand cubic feet a second coming over it.” “Oh, yeah what is normal? “About five or six thousand a second,” Ed said. The pole with the bait caster started bending over the gunwale, tip looking at the river. Circle hook on this pole. Raise the tip easy and crank. I kept telling my self. Heart started pounding. “Raise the tip easy and just crank,” Ed said. “Yeah, I know.” Turning the crank the pole bent again and the fish ran to the right. The hook was set as I turned the handle of the reel he stayed on. Ed grabbed the net as the fish came along side the boat. As he netted the fish and swung him into the boat my line broke, but the fish was in. we couldn’t understand why the line broke. It was new fifteen pound line. We had the fish that is all we cared about. It wound up being a one and a half pound flathead. I think the last time I caught a flathead was when I was a teenager in South East Kansas. I was feeling good when this flattie came aboard. Some day I will catch a much bigger one. I restrung my pole after checking the line very close. Neither of us could find any ware marks, kinks, or abrasions in the line. I use what I believe they call a “Carolina Rig.” Egg sinker on the main line with a split shot crimped and tied below it and a foot or eighteen inches from the end of the main line, a swivel on the end of the line, and this day a 4/0 circle hook. I find I like the circle hook more every time I use them. The day has started out good, fish in the boat in a short period of time. Both of us caught a few small Channels the next thirty or so minuets. Ed suggested we go into the marina and see if we could get larger shad. Anchors in the boat away we go. Twenty minuets later we are back in the river with the same size shad and a torn cast net. You never know what is lying on the river bottom. We head down river and anchor in the middle of the channel. Depth finder showed a depression with several hooks above the bottom. Again we are anchored crosswise to the river in ten foot of water throwing our shad into the hole. In a few minuets the pole with the bait caster starts bending over. I get him hooked and he comes into the boat. It is a four pound channel. Now I know this isn’t a big channel to most folks, but it is the biggest I have ever caught and I use the above picture for my profile on the BOC. I am hoping there are bigger ones in my future. I bait up and cast out again. Ed and I bring in a few more channels. Ed catches a small walleye. As we are setting there Ed speaks up saying, “we got to move out of the channel.” “Why?” “Look what’s coming around the bend.” I look up and clearing the bend a thousand yards from us is a tug. He wasn’t pushing any barges, which helped us. As I go for my poles I get another bite I grab the pole and the reel starts spinning. “Crap, Ed. My reel just went nuts. I got a birds nest, and I got to get the anchor.” Tug is not eight-hundred yards from us, not slowing down. I get my other pole reeled in and start pulling in the line hand over hand from the bait caster. Tug five hundred yards, not slowing. Ed moves to the front of the boat past me to get the anchor. I keep pulling line in, Ed is pulling anchor line. I say, “Ed I got a fish on this line.” “No you don’t either.” Ed throws the anchor in the bow of the boat, heads aft. Tug one-hundred yards away. I say, “Oh, yeah. What’s this?” I had a sheephead, threw it on the deck. Tug fifty yards away. Ed fires up the Evinrude. We move to the south side of the river. The tug passes us heading upriver. After we are anchored again Ed resets his poles I reset the open face and start digging out the backlash. Once that was cleared the handle reengaged and the reel has worked fine ever since. We fished for an hour or so more than headed for the trailer. All fish were returned to the river so could become bigger. Yes this was the best time I have had on the Illinois River to date. I will remember it for a long time.