Evan Gregor's new fishing column: Fall is the time for smallmouth
It's the annual call of fall. Smallmouth bass enthusiasts should be eager to answer.
Historically, dropping leaves and temperatures serve as reminders for area anglers, prompting them to venture to noted smallmouth mainstays like Sturgeon Bay, Lake Geneva and Saginaw Bay. While such classic haunts have surely earned their premier reputations, there are plenty of local waters where anglers can rope into good numbers of fish, some which measure up to the trophy label.
Among the many fertile smallmouth destinations that dot northern Illinois, three spots in particular are worth checking out in the autumn -- the Fox, DuPage and Kankakee rivers. They greatly differ, but all three rivers have the potential to provide willing anglers with personal-best caliber fish within shouting distance of home.
Let's start with the Fox River, which runs throughout the far Western suburbs. The mighty Fox has given up trophy musky, walleye and Flathead catfish over the years, but its calling card is a robust smallmouth population.
For those who love smash-mouth fishing, this is your spot. Get to the river via Voyageur Landing Forest Preserve, 50 Airport Road, Elgin. Rip crankbaits off rock bars and bridge pilings, hop tube and hair jigs through slack water adjacent to the current or even consider creating surface commotion with a topwater plug.
Also, don't be afraid to throw baits with unconventional color schemes in the Fox. In general, but especially during the fall fishing season, smallmouth are impulse buyers that won't hesitate to crush something that looks out of the ordinary.
The DuPage is a mid-size river system consisting of two branches in the West and Southwest suburbs that converge outside of Bolingbrook. On this river, finesse is the name of the game.
Grab an ultralight rod and reel setup, downsize your offerings and be prepared to do some exploring. With average depths topping out at 3 to 4 feet throughout most of the river, the key to hooking DuPage smallmouths is finding holes and other areas of refuge where fish like to hold position.
Pulling smaller floating crankbaits and plastics through these areas is a great way to draw strikes. Even those who prefer to fly fish can find success on the DuPage, where a higher-weight outfit and classic streamer patterns like the Woolly Bugger and Clouser Minnow can do some damage. Access the DuPage at Warrenville Grove on Batavia Road, one-half mile south of Butterfield Road.
For those in the far southern reaches of Chicagoland, or those willing to go off the beaten path in a quest for smallmouth, the Kankakee River is home to some excellent stretches of water that are loaded with structures and fish. The river is marked by an impressive amount of limestone bedrock that provides pristine habitat for smallmouth and their prey.
There is little doubt that mimicking this distinctive forage base with crawfish, hellgrammite and minnow patterns can lead to an excellent day. Be warned, though, that with dense wood and rock cover, snags and breakoffs are an unfortunate byproduct of a Kankakee smallmouth excursion. This makes lower profile presentations like the Ned Rig or subsurface crankbaits and flies some of the more effective techniques to try. I get to the water via Kankakee River State Park, 5314 W. Route 102, Bourbonnais.
Fall is simply the most productive time to fish, outside of the spring spawn. Even as weather becomes a little more spotty and the nights get shorter, there is truly no other time when fish are as aggressive and eager to feed.
While smallmouth are not the only swimmers looking to bulk up before their winter recess, they are a ferocious, fun fish to target in the fall.