Sunday, August 15, 2010

Barren Creek Vacation

My wife and I just got back from vacation spent in the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois.  We got to spend a week enjoying the outdoors and relaxing.  We weren't exactly roughing it due to the heat.  We had planned on tent camping, but we went for cabins instead.  What a great idea that was.  Air conditioning was a blessing when I would come off the water and it was 102 by noon.  I was on the water as much as I could be.  We took the canoe and had a private dock by the cabin.  Barren Creek, which is a tributary of the Ohio River was literally our backyard.  I took the fly rod and some conventional tackle along with me.  This was my first experience fly fishing on anything but a lake.  The creek was a super muddy brown and extremely slow moving.  However, there were some big fish in this creek. 

We hardly had the bags unpacked when I made the casual, "hey honey, is it ok if I take the canoe out for a bit."  I had a strategy in this trip.  Fish as often as I can.  This meant getting up at the horrible hours and braving the heat if I was going to get any solid amounts of time fishing.  My wife is a trooper and super cool about fishing, but she doesn't fish, she hates the heat and she only likes to be on the canoe for less than 1 hour at a time.  All those statements are perfectly normal and very logical.  Actually, she is a sane human being where as I am not when it comes to fishing.

Anyways, I go out for a few hours before dinner and I see fish jumping, popping the water and surfacing all over the place.  I swear the heavens opened up and a chorus of angels sang to me.  Then, I spent the next 3 hours and next day getting skunked all over the place.  I was out of my element.  I didn't know the water, what fish where in it and what they were eating.  And don't forget, I usually suck at fishing.  First time on a creek fly fishing and first time getting skunked while fly fishing.  Not even a puny bluegill.  That wasn't so bad, but fish would surface all over the place.  Even right next to the canoe.  That frustrated the daylights right out of me. 

Come to find out, the surfacing fish were short-nose gar.  I didn't know a thing about them.  I called my dad for some recon since he had the internet.  The wise old advice from my father went something like, they have teeth...and what are you going to do with it!  We found out they eat shad and other bait fish and attack in the middle of the bait.  So I tied up a long sinking wooly bugger to no avail.  I gave up fly fishing and went to the spinning rod.  No luck.  Fly rod, no luck.  I was going insane.  I couldn't catch a heat stroke even regardless of my extended hours in the high temperatures. 

My brains kicked in and I just sat in the canoe for about 1 hour and just watched stuff.  (now that may not sound like brains to some of you).  I observed what the fish were doing and what they were eating.  Where they were hanging out and the like.  Then I grabbed the spinning rod setup and tied on a rapala black and white minnow that looked just like the baitfish in the creek.  BAM.  Gar on.  That sucker pulled the canoe around the creek and had the drag working overtime.  Then came largemouth bass and even a catfish.  Skunked no more!!!  I probably laughed like a mad man with the whole muuahhahaha thing being all heat stroked and all.  I even had luck with the fly rod and caught a mess of bluegill on the last day. 

We also took a great canoe ride on the lower cache river.  It is a wetland with a canoe trail.  Freaking sweet.  The trail leads you buy a 1,000 year old cypress tree. 

All in all, it was a great trip.  I highly recommend the Ohio River Smithland Pool area on the Illinois side.  Great water and awesome woods.  Abbie and I got to see bats in the evening, hawks, turkey, deer, turtles and of course cows! 

Check out the Barren Creek Cottages where we stayed.  Not a luxurious place, but it was cheap and right on the water.  To me, what more could one ask for?

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