We just returned from a week with our grandson near Peoria, Ill., which sits on the west bank of the Illinois River. Peoria and several of the nearby communities have lovely park systems; I’d even rate Peoria’s as outstanding. Access to water isn’t much of an issue, with several parks on or near the river, but access to fishing is something else again. The Illinois River is badly silted in and requires constant dredging to keep the navigation channel open. It’s also heavily infested with invasive Asian carp, including the silver carp, famous for their spectacular jumping. There isn’t much of a fishery due to the terrible habitat conditions. Silver carp would be exciting to catch with their obvious speed and athletic ability, but they’re filter feeders that strain algae and plankton organisms out of the water and aren’t attracted to typical baits. Streams in the area are little more than creeks, and public ponds and lakes are few.
My grandson loves to fish, and I was looking forward to taking him. The one small public pond in Washington, Ill., his hometown, is stocked, but was heavily infested with a ring of water weeds all the way around that made it nearly impossible to cast out a worm. We drove to nearby Eureka, where there’s a lovely park and small lake. That, too, was pretty badly weed-infested, but we tried fishing some of the more open areas. A great blue heron that landed nearby wasn’t catching much and seemed to be watching us to see if we had any better luck. We caught nothing there, either, and I found out later that the shallow lake had suffered a severe kill last winter.
I’m not sure how far we’d have had to travel to find healthy, fishable water in central Illinois. Central Iowa may not be a big tourist destination for fishing, either, but a week in Illinois made me thankful for what we have. Within a little more than an hour’s drive, there are dozens of public access fishing opportunities that include large flood control reservoirs like Saylorville and Red Rock; larger artificial lakes like Hickory Grove, Big Creek, Brushy Creek and Ada Hayden; smaller lakes like McFarland and Dakins; rivers like the Des Moines and Skunk, and even Little Wall, our nearest natural lake. Many private ponds are stocked as well, and can offer outstanding fishing with permission.
There will always be days when the fish aren’t biting. Like an old fisherman from Story City used to say, “when the fish aren’t biting, you just can’t stop ‘em.” We’ll have periods of unsettled weather or drought that make fishing difficult, and there’ll even be some fish kills that knock out some fishing spots for awhile. We, thankfully, have a diversity of fishing water, though. Even if some are compromised for a time, other nearby sites are still likely to offer good fishing.
I had visions, when I retired, of fishing a lot more than I have. Life continues to offer many options, and as hard as it may be to believe, some of them trump fishing. I’m thankful for that, too. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy going fishing (or hunting, for that matter) as much as I do. I look forward to those outings and they’re all the more special when they finally come. Maybe my grandson will visit us here in Iowa later this summer. There’s nothing like catching a few fish to keep a youngster hooked on fishing. I bet we can find a few for him to catch, and I have a fishing pole already rigged and waiting for him.
Steve Lekwa is a retired director of Story County Conservation.