Northern pike abundant in Des Plaines River
Opportunity is knocking.
Given its central proximity, it's near year-round fishing access and it's fairly robust ecosystem, the Des Plaines River has provided many an angler the chance to expand their fishing skills.
Meandering south from the Illinois/Wisconsin line down to the Sanitary Ship Canal near Joliet, the river drains a watershed of 1,455 square miles, many encompassing the metro area. It is worth checking out.
While accessibility is a calling card of the river, it's a particular species that lives below the surfaces that makes it stand out locally -- the Northern pike. Though these toothy predators can be found sparingly in lakes and rivers around the area, good luck finding waters with a heavier concentration of pike than the Des Plaines.
More commonly found in cleaner northern lakes and rivers, Northern pike have carved out a nice niche on the Des Plaines. They can easily be found in many of the wooded laydowns, current breaks and eddies that are prevalent throughout the system. Though trophy-sized fish may be a rarity, numbers of quality fish are not.
If you're trying to tie into some Des Plaines pike, here are a couple of outfitting points to think about:
Given the fish's sharp teeth, braided line and steel leaders are key. For best results, use a line in the 40- to 50-pound range with a leader graded at a similar weight. As for rod choice, medium to medium-heavy action is perfect.
In regards to bait selection, understand that Northerns are generally not picky. However, you would be hard-pressed to find an angler on the river who doesn't have a spinnerbait, buzzbait or jerkbait in their arsenal.
All three baits take advantage of the pike's aggression and preponderance to hunt. Live shiners and suckers fished below a bobber in slack water can also be effective, particularly in the early and later parts of the year.
Even though Northern pike are the main target of the Des Plaines, this is definitely not a one-fish river. As the years pass, the scores of quality largemouth bass that come out of the system seems to increase. This can be evidenced by the growing number of bass-specific tournaments annually held on the southern end of the river.
Should pike and bass not be your cup of tea, there is a true unicorn of local species calling the river home on the northern stretch -- the bowfin.
A relic of prehistoric times, the bowfin is an aggressive fighter that is sure to excite. They can be easily identified by their tapered tail, plated scales and overall brute strength. While they will chase a lure, cutbait fished on the bottom appeals much more to their scavenger nature.
A river like the Des Plaines will likely never win a beauty contest, though that should not underscore its amazing story. What was once a river noted more for its pollution and turbidity is now the place where many local anglers first encounter the Northern pike, learn to read a river or begin to expand their fishing skill sets.
Hot spots: Half Day Forest Preserve: 24255 N. Milwaukee Ave., Vernon Hills; Chippewa Woods Preserve: 3001 S. River Road, Park Ridge; Thatcher Woods: 8030 Chicago Ave., River Forest.