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The Accidental Angler: Tales of a Fishing Newbie

Bluegill caught in Hamilton, IL at Chaney Creek, which runs into the Mississippi River system
Bluegill caught in Hamilton, IL at Chaney Creek, which runs into the Mississippi River system | Source

How It All Began

One day I was chatting with my boyfriend about the outdoors and reminiscing about our childhoods, when he mentioned he would love to go fishing sometime, as it had been a very long time since he had done so. We both grew up down the street from each other and as a kid and he used to fish quite often at Marquette Park Lagoon in Chicago. Myself, however, have never been fishing (up until recently). I am quite an outdoorsy kind of gal; I have a large organic garden where I grow veggies, fruit and flowers. I love to go to State Parks and hike. I enjoy taking nature photography, so you would think this would have been something already in my skill set, but alas, it was something I have never had experience with before. So, my adventurous spirit was piqued and I suggested we go fishing the next weekend.

Duck we named Peaches.  She would visit us every weekend for 6 weeks at Pilcher Park, probably mocking our lack of fishing abilities!
Duck we named Peaches. She would visit us every weekend for 6 weeks at Pilcher Park, probably mocking our lack of fishing abilities! | Source

The First Outing

There are a ton of places to fish near my house, so I suggested we go to Hickory Creek, which is located in Pilcher Park, not far from where I live. It is a very familiar forest preserve for me because I go walking the trails there often. Seemed logical to me, as I have always saw people fishing there and I know there are several species of fish in that body of water. It was summer, July to be exact, so we headed out in the morning when the fish would be the most active. Joe rigged up a floating jig head with a weight and used live bait in the form of a night crawler. We could see lots of activity on the top of the water, which was a good sign. Unfortunately, we caught absolutely nothing that day and we kept going there, 6 weekends in a row, until Joe finally caught something, which was a bullhead catfish. 6 weekends. In the wrong spot. Very frustrating! That began our quest to venture out and research some other fishing spots.

Plicher Park and Hickory Creek
Plicher Park and Hickory Creek | Source
After 6 weeks of fishing in Pilcher Park, this is what Joe caught.
After 6 weeks of fishing in Pilcher Park, this is what Joe caught. | Source

Venturing Out

It all started with visiting the feed store for some live bait and picking up a copy of the 2016 Illinois Fishing Guide, which lists all the bodies of water in the DNR. It is sorted by county and also includes things like types of fish in each body of water and creel limits. This guide has been immensely helpful in picking our spots.

A common carp caught at Johnson-Sauk Trail State Park, Kewanee, IL
A common carp caught at Johnson-Sauk Trail State Park, Kewanee, IL | Source

Important Information

Always make sure you have purchased or are up-to-date on your state fishing license. Fishing licenses can be purchased on-line through the state's DNR website, or in person at several sporting good stores. If you plan on keeping fish (i.e. Trout or Salmon) you will likely also need a Trout stamp (inland and/or lake) and Salmon stamp (lake). Check with your individual state requirements.

A storm moving in at Miliken Lake, Wilmington, IL
A storm moving in at Miliken Lake, Wilmington, IL | Source

Types of Places We Fish

Illinois has varied and vast waterways available for recreational fishing opportunities. Most have shoreline access. Sometime down the line the plan is to get a small bass boat to be able to add some variety to our fishing spots and access larger fish species.

  • State Parks
  • Retention Ponds
  • Rivers
  • Steams
  • Quarries
  • Forest Preserve Lakes (both natural and man-made)
  • Large Lakes (i.e. Lake Michigan)

Live Bait or Fake Bait? What Works?

Here is the thing, what the fish are interested in one week isn't necessarily the same thing they are interested in the following week. Not just that, but it can also vary by the time of day and season! Fishing is kind of like gambling; even when you have a strategy, you aren't guaranteed to catch anything. Fish can be extremely finicky. Trial and error has been the method we have employed on our fishing excursions. Being prepared with a variety of bait is probably the best course of action. There are some generalizations we have found to be effective:

  • Night crawlers or Trout worms work on several types of fish (Catfish, Bluegill, Crappie etc) who doesn't love a live, squirmy meal?
  • Wax worms work best on smaller fish (Bluegill, Sunfish)
  • Plastic worms, aka, power bait, seems to work best on Bass
  • Corn, bread, power bait corn, and fake marshmallows work the best on Carp
  • spoons with small hooks and live minnows seem to work best on Trout

Chaney Creek, Hamilton, IL
Chaney Creek, Hamilton, IL | Source

It's All About the Presentation

You will hear this phrase a lot by fishing enthusiasts. Every time I think of presenting something to a fish, it conjures up a funny visual in my head of presenting a feast on a silver platter to a cartoon fish, but I digress.

Fish not only have a good sense of smell, they also have good eyesight, so it is important to choose rigging that won't spook them away from what you are offering. This includes fishing line thickness and color. Some species of fish cannot see the color green (i.e. Trout) and therefore it would be beneficial to use green line to increase your chances. Some fish prefer to eat off the bottom (i.e. Catfish) so rigging your line with weights to be able to sink down to where they are will increase catch-ability. Some fish prefer eating off the top or just below the surface. Do your research, decide what fish type you are going for and plan accordingly.

How to Catch Trout

Big Ol' Bass caught on a power worm
Big Ol' Bass caught on a power worm | Source

Dealing with Weather and Bugs

Weather and bugs can be challenging, especially near the water. Being prepared for the weather is a must. It goes beyond checking the forecast, as I can attest to, even with no rain in the forecast we have been prone to pop-up storms while out fishing.

Making sure you have the following, especially if you are going to be out all day, is essential:

  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • A first aid kit (getting hooks caught in fingers is no fun!)
  • Water (and snacks too!)
  • Wet wipes (these come in handy when dealing with live bait guts on your hands or if you have to pee in the woods. Don't laugh, it happens.)
  • Hat and Sunglasses
  • Rain poncho, umbrella or just having your car nearby in case of a downpour
  • A change of shoes in the trunk-you don't know how many times we have fished in muddy places!

Encountering Wildlife

Always keep a look out for water foul where you are casting your line. Reel in and let them pass. Most water foul won't stick around in the area you are fishing, but may end up swimming by relatively close to your line.

Channel Catfish caught at Miliken Lake, Wilmington, IL
Channel Catfish caught at Miliken Lake, Wilmington, IL | Source

Keeping Fish to Eat

Let's face it, we live in a world full of pollution. Bodies of water can be polluted with many things, including pesticide runoff, motor oil/roadway runoff, hazardous waste dumping (which is illegal, but some people do it), waste from factories and construction companies. Finding a clean source of water to be able to eat from is getting harder in smaller bodies of water. I would not keep anything caught from a retention pond or any source of water where there is runoff from the street draining into it. Safer places are large bodies of water and major waterways. Even then, limiting your consumption of fish to a few times per month is probably the safest bet unless you know for a fact that the particular water source you are catching from is clean and safe.

Rainbow and Golden Trout we took home to eat because we knew they were safe
Rainbow and Golden Trout we took home to eat because we knew they were safe | Source

Benefits of Fishing

Fishing in itself is pretty fun, but there are actually some other benefits to it:

  • Getting outside away from the city and enjoying quiet nature
  • The act of casting and walking around a pond is a great way to get exercise
  • Watching the seasons change in your favorite fishing holes
  • Seeing wildlife in their natural habitat can be both beautiful and entertaining because animals do funny stuff
  • Lots of nature photographic opportunities

Lock 14 on the I&M Canal, LaSalle, IL
Lock 14 on the I&M Canal, LaSalle, IL | Source

I Will Not Fish in Winter

I know some people right now are probably preparing for ice fishing, but not me! I have a low tolerance for the cold, so I will use this off-season time to reflect on our fishing excursions, what we could do better and planning on some new places to visit in the spring. Hope you enjoyed my little journey into newbie fishing or as I like to call it, Angling for Dummies.

© 2016 Lisa Roppolo

2 comments

johan smulders 8 days ago

Interesting article about your newbie experiences. I am a keen fly fisherman in South Africa but have caught steelhead in Oregon. The USA has great opportunities and I wish you well


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LisaRoppolo 8 days ago from Joliet, IL Author

Thank you!

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    Lisa Roppolo (LisaRoppolo)108 Followers
    74 Articles

    Lisa is a writer with a terrible case of wanderlust! She loves to photograph interesting places and provide tips to the casual vacationer.



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