Tuesday, July 23, 2013

DuPage River Smallies

Smallmouth bass mustache
         It is so great to be back in the Land if Lincoln. Just being in a place as green as it is up here in northern Illinois is doing me well. I even have a little pep in my step. Being able to spend time with my niece has been awesome in more ways than I could have imagined, she has grown so much since I last saw her. Seeing family after two years of being away has brought me more joy than I have felt in a while, but I have to say that watching my sister get married was the highlight of the weekend. Seeing family I have not seen in over two years feels pretty good too. Helping prep for the wedding was fun, and I am glad I could help it run a little smoother.

         My wife left early in the morning to drive to Maryland to see her mother so I had a little extra time on my hands. I started the day off with a trip to Cabelas   where I picked up two packs of grubs, a pack of jigs, and a ten day non-resident Illinois fishing licence. I also bought a kite which I flew with my niece before hitting the water. I just wish the wind was a little more steady, I couldn't get the kite higher than thirty feet. The first time I had to buy a non-resident licence in Illinois, and it felt a little weird, but the water still feels like home.

        I can honestly say I owe Ken G of the Waterdog Journal  for my favorite small river smallmouth pattern. It is just a simple grub on a jig, but with all the great looking lures on the shelves I don't think I would have bothered with a simple grub and jig without the direction of this man. I took a special shine to the five inch Kalin's Lunker Grubs in blue salt and pepper pearl, watermelon, and bluegill. These things simply catch fish, and do not take up much room. Going out with a lure that produces, fishes shallow water, and is cheap allows me to focus on my footing, reading the river, and taking a photo or two. It is better than therapy.
Both of these colors do well in stained and clear water. I got six off the pearl today and  six off the bluegill color. 
Simple 1/16th ounce jig and a medium light rig, the Fireline helps cut through the current so the jig can get closer to the bottom of deep pockets. 
The first few were pretty small, but fought hard leaping several times before I could catch them. 
Most of the smallmouth bass were a dark brown color on their backs much like the clay banks of the river with white bellies with no bars or blotches on the bodies at all. 
I missed  a lot of fish that followed my lure all the way to my feet only to strike as I was lifting it out of the water, but only one of these was of any good size. 
Minus the road noise I felt as though I was thousands of miles away. I only saw two people the entire two hour trip. 
              I am not sure how many I missed, but it was a lot. I caught twelve, I think that is pretty good seeing as I have not fished this river in over two years and we have been getting thunderstorms every other day or so. Hopefully I will get to go out three or four more times before I leave Illinois for California next week.

Thank you for reading,

Check out Ken at The Waterdog Journals in the link below. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

100,000 Posts!

What a great way to wake up with over 100,000 hits. 

Not a bad milestone seeing as I started this blog up back in October 2011.

Thank you for reading. 


Friday, July 19, 2013

Mill Creek BIg Sur Kayak Fishing.

Coming down the mountain into the fog 
            Big Sur is a bit of California too rugged and isolated to be heavily populated, and it is the primitive charm of this area that makes it so special. I was up by two in the morning and on the road, driving the winding road through the coastal mountains with Caleb and Derrick in my truck. Driving around hair pin turns with three kayaks sticking out the back of my pickup truck as we talked about hunting and fishing the whole way up. We drove into the fog, then climbed above it, and once again plunged back into it as the sun came up.
Derrick and Caleb navigating the rocks

            Will was at the launch when we got there patiently waiting  in his car. We got our gear together and got on the water. My kayak flipped in the surf before I even got a chance to jump on. Derrick made it with little difficulty from the rocks, and Will and I got out on the same break. Caleb did pretty good for a newb, despite getting caught in a discarded rope that was tangled in the kelp.
Sand Dab double

           The only bite we could find for the first few hours was sand dabs. Caleb and I lightened up a bit on the amount of squid we were using and started getting double hookups. Sand dabs for those of you not on the west coast are a prolific flat fish that grows to around nine inches long and is normally in between fifty and two hundred feet of water. People fish for these guys with Sabaki rigs tipped with shrimp and regularly hook up with five and six at a time. Scale'em, cut the head and guts off, and cook them bones and all for delicate sweet white meat (I will get to more of that later).

           We caught some for bait and some for eating before heading off to find rocks. I got out as deep as 230 feet and it was all flat and sandy. Even the kelp seemed to be covered in sand. None of us had fished the area before so the lack of structure was an annoying surprise seeing as rockfish live in the rocks. Will managed to catch a juvenile white sea bass in one hundred and fifty feet of water. I was hoping a ray or shark would bite at least, but my efforts went unrewarded.  After striking out in deeper water we decided to head in and fish the kelp beds near the launch.

Big Sur kelp bed

         Back at the kelp beds the rocks seemed to be covered in sand as well. The bottomed looked soft on the fish finder but the good thing is I did not have as many snags. Once I started working the kelp roots I started catching fish. First fish on was a gopher fish followed by a blue and another gopher fish. As I was fishing the wind and the swell started picking up. I hooked into a good sized ling and lost it just before it hit the surface, but it coughed up a baby octopus I was able to scoop up. I caught five more fish off that octopus.
Undersized ling

          I managed to get one ling cod on the deck off the octopus; however, it ended up being a quarter inch under the legal limit so he went back.  I had another fish hit as I was reeling in quickly, but I think it hit the weight at the bottom of my rig and had no chance of getting caught. From time to time I pull up a small ling cod who has attached himself to the four ounce weight at the bottom of my rock cod rig. Unfortunately for us no legal lings were caught this trip out.
Epic fail
My Gillie Yak

              With the wind picking up, my skin burning from the sun, and my loaded stringer it was time to go. One lesson I learned this trip is to keep better count of my fish. I thought I had nine fish on the stringer, but I had ten. Derrick radioed me saying he was headed in and I was wanting to hit on spot again before calling it quits. Good thing I did because I managed to loose my Hawg Trough without realizing it. Lucky for me I modified it so it would float and the kelp kept it from being blow too far away.  I got to the spot I wanted to hit again and dropped down. I felt a tug and went to set the hook. I snagged the bottom and simultaneously broke my forty pound test rig and my cheapo Berkeley Big Game MH rod.  I couldn't believe it, normally one will break before the other, but I have never seen two things break at the same moment.

               To cap things off on the way in I got tossed in the way in the lost my favorite baseball hat. When I stood up I was covered in stringy sea weed. Caleb said I looked like I was wearing a gillie suit. Soaked head to toe I helped the guys get the kayaks back up to the cars. I brought extra shorts and underwear but neglected to bring a extra tee-shirt. Driving back up through the winding road over the mountains and back into the valley I couldn't wipe the smile off my sun burnt face it was a good day on the water. The rest of the day was cleaning the fish, washing down the kayak, rinsing the fishing gear, and getting some much needed sleep.
Cleaning up some dab

Copper rock fish
I can't wait to get back to Big Sur. Thank you Caleb, Derrick, and William for the great trip.

And thank you for reading,



Sunday, July 7, 2013

How to Grill Chicken with Moist Meat and Crispy Skin.

Chicken leg quarter with french bread and white bean salad
         Grilling a whole chicken on the barbecue is a daunting task for most backyard cooks. I am a little late for the Fourth of July, but there is still plenty of grilling days left in the summer. I remember my grandfather's grilled chicken, if you were to bite into a leg the bone would chatter into carbon dust. The dryness of the bird was compensated with by a bucket of BBQ sauce and pitcher of sun tea. That was what chicken tasted like for most of my childhood. If that is what you like don't let me get in your way, but if you want to get yourself a moist bird with crispy skin I have a decent method for you.  

Spatchcocked chicken after two days in the fridge

         I start by treating the chicken like another bird I like crispy, duck. I start by spatchcocking the bird, which is not only fun to say but a great way to flatten the bird out and keep you from overcooking the legs and wings. To spatchcock a chicken you have to remove the spine by cutting it out, slice the keel bone down the center or remove it completely, and tuck the wings and legs into slits you make in the skin to help hold the bird out flat. Spatchcock!

My egg-like Charbroiler
           I use kosher salt to coat the inside
(underside) and skin (topside) of the bird to draw moisture out of the skin separating the layer of fat so it can render out for crispy skin. The salt also lightly cures the bird, adding flavor and moisture. Use a lot of salt because believe it or not this is what kosher salt was made for, and it will produce a juicer bird. Some folks say it is because the salt breaks down proteins in the meat, but however it works it works. After two days in the fridge on a rack over a sheet pan the skin looks a little papery and thin in spots but this means it is ready to go.

Burning like a jet engine
       I use real charcoal because it is cheap, burns for longer, and makes everything just taste better. A bag of mesquite chunk charcoal is pretty reasonable at $3-4 for a 15lb bag. A little newspaper in my charcoal starter means I can quickly prepare the coals and don't have any lighter fluid taste in my food. Once the lumps are ashy looking they are good to go. Just keep an eye on them, because with all the oxygen they get in the starter the coal burns a lot faster than it does in your grill.
Spatchcocked bird on the heat


     I let the chicken sit at room temperature for an hour or so to help reduce the cook time. If you throw chicken straight out of the fridge on the grill chances are you will burn the outside and have raw chicken on the inside. The grill is at about 400 f and I put down the lid to speed up the cooking time. Once it firms up a bit, five to ten minutes, I flip the chicken breast side down directly over the flame for a few minutes.

Look at the skin crisping up

      After a about five minutes the skin is crisp and I flip it back over facing the breast towards the heat. This is where you have to keep and eye on it. I was aiming for a cook internal temperature of 160f, but 155f works just as well. Once it started looking ready I used my instant-read thermometer to check the breast and thighs. The nice thing about butterflying the bird like this is the bones help protect and cook the meat evenly. I brush a little sauce on the thick parts of the bird for a little char, because a little char can be a good thing. Once the temp is at 160 ferinheight your bird is done. I like to slather mine in BBQ sauce but the choice is yours.  

The final product
         You would think the kosher salt all over the bird for two days would make it salty, but it works out to be just about right. The meat was tender and moist, but the skin was the star of the meal. Crispy and full of fatty flavor, what else could you ask for from a chicken? The backs and innards went into a ziplock bag in the freezer to be used later for stock or for crab bait so they won't go to waste. Most of the prep is done by the salt while the bird rests in the fridge so I can say the prep time is easily under thirty minutes if you do not count the time in the fridge or the time getting up to room temperature before you cook it.

Thanks for reading,



Saturday, July 6, 2013

Getting out of the Heat up at Huntington Lake

Huntington Lake as it is before the sun rises too high and summons wakeboats, jet skiers
swimmers, sailboats, and all the other loud annoying things that ruin a peaceful day fishing. 
            Over the last two weeks California's central valley has been an oven baking its citizens low and slow with temperatures between 104 and 110.  The predominant outdoor activity appears to be sweating and racing from the car to an air-conditioned space. I sit in my air-conditioned office reading fishing blogs and following threads on CCKF in the breaks between tasks at work daydreaming about getting off early to cast a line. I open the door leading to the parking lot on my way home and immediately get overwhelmed with the blazing sun. Getting in the car becomes a daunting task as I try to decipher what is cool enough to touch and what will burn me.

             My wife was excited to go camping, I was excited to get out of the heat and fish with Derrick again. We left the valley by six PM and got to the campground around dusk. I highly recommend Racheria Campground. It has great access for kayak fishing, newly renovated campsites, good bathrooms, bear lockers for every site, and the staff is pretty relaxed.
Many of the photos I took to not show the true beauty of this place. The lake sits around 7000 feet above sea level, so it was about fifteen degrees cooler than in the valley, which was a welcome relief. The lake holds brook trout, rainbow trout, German brown trout, and land locked sockeye salmon known as kokanee. My luck was not so good, I got two hits the whole time. Many other people agreed the bite was super slow. Derrick ended the trip with a rainbow and three kokanee.
Derrick rigging up
They see him trolling...
Derrick really liked that rock for some reason
There is something about being one of the first people on the water, before the motor boats and screaming kids hit the water.  The first day I woke up a little late and decided to make breakfast at the campsite. Once I was ready to go it was nine o'clock. I got out on the water and started letting out line when my fish finder ran out of battery. I figured I could do without it and started letting out leadcore. I got my lines set and the winds started picking up to the point there were small whitecaps in the water.  After that it was a mess, I got hung up, and in the time it took to untangle I would get blown back thirty feet. My handheld GPS clocked my speed at 2.1 MPH just sitting dead with the wind pushing me. That is faster the the recommended trolling speed for kokanee! I gave up, it was time to go back to camp and eat. After lunch we hit several shore spots with no luck.
Got a little bored waiting for derrick, so I had a photoshoot
          The second day started a lot sooner, I had a hit on my leadcore once I switched to an orange dodger and orange squid tipped with shoepeg corn, but it came unbuttoned before I even got to see it. I trolled around from seven AM until the winds picked up again around nine thirty, because I was exhausted and defeated. I have still to catch a trout or salmon besides a brook trout in California.

Derrick's 2nd day catch
         I got back to the campsite to find my wife and fed Derricks girlfriend my breakfast, so we broke camp and headed down to Shaver Pizza in Shaver Lake, California for some chicken pesto pizza. It was great spending most of the weekend with Derrick but I wish I could have gotten my wife out on the water. Her being pregnant didn't really help though... I'll get them next time. When we got back to the valley the heat hit me like a slap to the face. I left the gear in the truck and on the trailer because I didn't feel like sweating for two hours after unloading it. Too bad for our gummy vitamins that melted into one solid gooey mass in the bottle. Back into the heat. My wife and I just kept saying "why couldn't we live here?" the entire trip. Places like this make California, most of the state does not live up to the hype, but areas like this make it seem worth it. Worth the traffic, smog, crazy people, and even the summer heat in the valley.

Thanks for reading,