Windy City Tangent

Quick - when I say Chicago, what comes to mind? Great food, pro sports teams, Capone. Fly fishing.

Fly fishing?

Earlier this week, it was by accident that I happened to see an Orvis shop, tucked away on a small side street, about a half a block from my hotel on the Magnificent Mile - and it made me laugh.

An Orvis shop in the middle of downtown Chicago? To me, that makes about as much sense as the guys from Motley Crue spear-heading the local D.A.R.E campaign. But then again, I'm trying to use common sense.

The point I'm trying to make is, when one thinks of fly fishing, Illinois is not the first place that comes to mind, let alone Chicago - Great Lakes not withstanding.

But therein lies the crux - Orvis tries to appeal to all manner of buying clout, (emphasis on 'buying clout') not just the angler, and that's why you'll find their shops nestled among other major retail names, like Saks Fifth Avenue, Disney and Nordstom.

Which is another story in and of itself....

Anyway, I'm always quick to throw a few jabs in Orvis' direction, mainly because of the prevailing attitude that seems to be the norm in their shops - and after visiting stores in 9 different states...the trend is anything but coincidence.

As a side note, two of the worst have been the shop in Scottsdale, AZ and the one here, in Englewood, CO. In particular, the Englewood location has really set the standard - the first time I entered that shop, I was 'greeted' with a sharp "Do you need something?"

With attitudes like that, they're just begging to be messed with - which is what keeps me going back yet never spending a dime. Ha!

This time, however, I chanced upon David, who was cordial and inviting - a far cry from past experiences. With no preconceived notions (that were outwardly visible, anyway) we talked, as fellow anglers, and I wound up actually enjoying my brief visit.

And he also schooled me on the 'lack of fly fishing' in the great state of Illinois.

That's right - apparently there's some killer fly fishing to be had in the state, and from what I saw in the pictures, I wouldn't mind having a little taste if the opportunity ever presents itself.

David also runs his own blog, The Chicago Trout Bum, which I need to peruse a little closer when time permits.

So a huge thanks to David, for showing me the error of my ways, in that not all Orvis shops are staffed with uptight, elitist nubs and that there is some quality fishing in Illinois.

Wow...I really need to get out and fish....


Highway to Hell

So another opportunity presented itself to hit the river....well, actually, it didn't really present itself. I sort of made it happen. Alright, I forced it to happen. Even though I should have stayed home, snuggled up to my better half - who, by the way, used some common sense and decided to sit this one out.

Me? Nah....I'm about as thick as they come. For starters, I'd spent the week battling a nasty cold that decided to take up residence in my lungs, and I can say with a fair amount of certainty, that I'll probably be having a date with bronchitis sometime soon. On the plus side, it's far better than getting hooked up with her ugly sister, pneumonia, who's about as nasty and skanky as they get.

Throw in a week of 11+ hour work days, mix in a steaming pile of less than desirable sleep...blend it all together, and it basically comes down to deciding which suit I'd like to be buried in.

But I have some unfinished business on the water, and it's not that I need to go, I have to go, and I am really fortunate to have a wonderful woman that understands. Sort of.

It's been too long since I've had a stellar day out on the river, and I'm going to have one, even if I have to take it by force, Reaper be damned. If I can kick some major ass, then I'll drive myself into the bowels of hell when I've finished, and sweat out eternity with a smile on my face.

So, it was up early and on the road...which was really foggy, and put a damper on my exhibition of speed and unsafe driving habits. Hey, I'm an adrenaline junkie, what can I say?

On the way up, I passed a truck that was pulled off to the side of the road - hello! potty break. Anyway, this same truck pulled in to the parking lot about ten minutes after I did. As we were gearing up, the other guy said to me "That piss break cost me pole position..."

HA! True enough. I was the first one at the lot that morning, and only managed to pull it off because coffee has no evil grip on my morning routine. Instead, I drink coke...and wear adult diapers. No, not really. I'll just piss myself if I have to go that bad when driving to the river.

Anyway, turns out, Jim (if memory serves me well), is a great guy. We talked on the walk into the canyon and, Jim....if you happen to see this, I hope you had a stellar day on the water. I'm sure our paths will cross again - I've seen your truck up there countless times, and now I have a face and a name to put to it. A fellow junkie....gotta love it.

I started off at the Family Pool - which was low and slow. But as usual, there was one monster parked in the usual deep seam - which I managed to spook about three casts in. Damn.

After that, I located a smaller shadow just behind where the pig had been, and started tossing my San Juan his way. After a few turns I managed to hook him...and it turned out to be a sucker. Ugly fish, those suckers, and I don't like how their skin feels - gray and rough. Gives me the heebie jeebies.

With that I decided to move up to the Ice Box - I'm sure there were more fish in the Family Pool, but I was craving some big game action, and the Ice Box did not disappoint.

I immediately spotted a big fish....maybe 22 inches or so, in about 2 feet of water. He was down low and not showing a whole lot of activity - plus, he was in a funky drift that, had I been on the opposite bank, would have been easier to hit. Being the idiot that I am, however, and a slave to my primitive instincts, I dialed up the OCD to eleven and spent the next 3-4 hours trying to hook him.

You know, I do enjoy the company on the river, but it's this type of mental disorder that drives people I fish with insane - which is why I fish solo for the most part. Guilt-free fishing.

Back to the fish: I have to admit, that he won out. He broke me. Between the angle of my cast, my precarious position on the rock, and the fact that I could no longer feel my legs, I gave in. But let it not be said that I didn't try. Damn, did I try.

So after a quick bite, and the patching up of my pride, I went over to the same rock that I was on the last time out, and let me tell you something, there were some big fish in there. Not just one or two piggies....but upwards of 10-15 big fish. Plus a lot of 'smaller' fish....in the 15-20 range.

But it was the big ones that made my jaw drop - seriously. While most of them were in the 20-25 inch range (I am not kidding here....I'm being serious) there was one that was uber big. Initially, I thought he was a large rock - until it moved.

Given the depth of the water, and his relative size, I would have to guesstimate...that he would have given the state record a good run for it's money, if not outright beating it.

Call me crazy....tell me I am exaggerating....I don't care. I was there. I saw him. I watched him. And I damn near soiled my britches when the sun lit the water, and the ripples smoothed out. I watched this behemoth, come up in the column and engulf something in his huge maw, and then settle back down again.

The one fish that I did net, was parked behind this freak - and it wasn't anything to sneeze at. But compared to this monstrosity, it looked like a wee young lass. All of the fish is this section looked small compared to this.....freak.

A lot of folks laugh when you tell them that there are 30+ inch fish in this river. Stop into Flies and Lies and take a look at the pictures they have there. Last July I watched (and tried to snag) a 30+ inch fish in the lower section.

Two years ago, with the help of Eva on a rock above me, I managed to hit a 35 inch dinosaur near Deckers.

I've fished steelhead many times while living in the PNW....I've seen big fish. I've seen and caught my share of big tail-water trout....and this was the biggest fish I've ever seen that wasn't ocean/lake run.

So anyway...from this point forward, I'm calling this section of the Ice Box (above), the Hog Trough II.

Ok...so back to this particular spot - the water is deep and fast and you have to fish between two massive boulders, while standing on top of another. The drift itself can be a bit tough - not impossible, but after my last outing, I have it figured out for now (until the flows increase).

Naturally, I'm going for the big guy - why not? If not him, then any of the other fish hanging around him will do...

Right out of the gates I set one....not huge, but nice and fat, and probably in the 18 inch range. And feisty. Trying to keep him from the rocks on either side, while getting him close enough to 'attempt' to net is tricky. Perched on top of a boulder, it's a real feat to be able to lean down with the net, far enough, to get them bagged while trying to hold your pole and keep your balance without falling into the water yourself.

This particular fish - three times I had him close enough to net, and every time I tried to, he powered away from me. I had three chances to score...and I missed all three, and finally, my line gave out after the beating it took against the rocks, not to mention being stretched and jolted. Grrrrr!

Second one - hooked him, and he bolted, right around the rock to my left and downstream. No chances to get him in, as the rock chowed through my leader like Oprah at the Buffet Line (below).

Third one - stayed in the relative area (like the first one), coming out of the water, once. Twice. Three times. And my heart started racing - he was BIG, fat, and pissed. And he slapped the water hard each time.

After his aerial display, he did manage to get under the rock on the left. But, I played it safe and let him sit and idle while keeping some slight tension on the line. Plus, having just had to change out my leader and tippet, I knew I had some breathing room.

So I waited - every once in a while I would apply a little more pressure, gently trying to coax him out from under the rock - the entire time nervously eyeballing my leader as it pulled against the boulder....striking silent deals with the Devil and bartering what little bit of my soul I have left.

Finally, he tired out, and I was able to gently pull him from under the rock...and he swam towards me, where I was able to lay on my stomach and get him to net. Damn. That was a rush.

And for those of you with a need to know - all fish were caught on Zebras.

The last one I managed to 'almost' snag, I basically pulled the hook out of his mouth - actually, I didn't even know he had taken my fly - my line was drifting close to the rock on my left, and I pulled my line out to recast, when I felt a 'set' and saw a flash of silver under the water, just as my fly popped out and he swam away.

So not a bad February day overall.

I've long since passed the point of finesse and the finer art of fly fishing to challenging myself with the hard scores - larger fish, deep water, one fly and an indicator that is practically useless, other than to allow me to see where my line is in the water.

I don't always walk away with the big ones, and sometimes, like yesterday, I spend hours and have nothing to show for it.

But when it does all come together, for me, there's no greater feeling in the world, unlike this nasty virus and cough that is slowly beating me into the fetal position.

Ah well...it was worth it.