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Chitown-Angler

Joined: 07:33am - Feb 15,03
Posts: 1593
Location: Yorkville

Post Posted: 10:40pm - Mar 9,03 
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Rich Delaney and I wandered off and wound up somewhere on the Fox River between Montgomery and the mouth of the river where it dumps into the Illinois. Okay, that's a little vague. We wound up somewhere between Montgomery and Yorkville. This stretch of the river not only looks promising, the few miles we have learned so far have turned out to be some of the best fishing on the river. So far I've combed more than Rich, but he works less than I do so I feel he will quickly catch up this year.

We combed a stretch that had an amazing diversity in terms of structure. Deep holes, long slow runs of deep water and plenty of fast water over rock creating some outstanding looking current breaks. We wandered around small islands, into deep holes up to our chest and I taunted Rich into exploring a deeper hole until he had to back out of it or risk filling his waders. We wandered around in awe at the amount of water flowing through this area. The Fox Rivers' water level is at the lowest level it's been in years and yet, the river was a good 250 feet wide in this stretch and we were backing out of deep holes to avoid filling our waders with icy cold water.

We explored stretches of river that I've fished over the past year. With the water clear, I wanted to go check out sections that were very productive to see what was under the surface that held so many fish. We got to the rocky shoreline and it didn't look any different than any other rocky shoreline. Rich walked into a deeper hole just off the shore that I already knew about which would explain the the walleye I caught here, but what I wasn't aware of were all the boulders in the water. In waist deep water there were boulders over two feet in diameter sitting a few feet from shore. I had never bothered walking this close to shore before and it wouldn't have mattered during the summer. The river was almost a foot higher than and the clarity of the river was barely 12 inches. I wouldn't have seen these unless I tripped over them.

We were walking up stream at the tail end of a pool that was a good 200 yards long. I guess we were walking in the lift before all this water spilled over into the riffles we had just walked through. Rich stopped and called me over sounding startled. He said he was looking at a catfish lying dormant on the bottom of the river. We were only standing in knee deep water so this didn't sound quite right, but I have heard of this. I've talked to the IDNR fisheries biologists about where fish go during the colder water months. The prevailing thought is that fish search out deeper water in order to winter over or go dormant. The biologists said they were finding fish wintering in two feet of water. It makes sense that if you don't have anything real deep, the fish would adapt to what they have. We were staring at a flathead catfish proving this point.

When I walked up I immediately thought it was dead. There was no movement and it was covered in silt. I poked it with the tip of my rod and it didn't move. "It's dead," I told Rich. He didn't believe me. He said he read about how this. That flatheads will go dormant and lay perfectly still on the bottom of rivers. They would get covered in silt after sitting still so long. He also mentioned that he read that DNR personnel don't like to talk about where these flathead wintering spots are located. The fish simply won't move, making them susceptible to being easily caught. Only "catching" isn't really the word for it. Anglers drag treble hooks across the cats, snagging them and dragging them off the bottom. You can imagine this isn't catch and release fishing.

We stared at it, it had to be dead. Rich lifted it with his rod tip, it rolled slightly onto its side, straightened back up and settled back down on the bottom of the river. Definitely alive and well. Because of the dam removal issues I'm involved with on the Fox, one of the issues that anglers harp on is where will the fish winter over. Some insist that the fish need the deeper pools above the dams for this purpose. Flathead cats are one of the fish that anglers seem to be the most worried about. A simple conversation with the IDNR already cleared up where a lot of fish will winter, in under two feet of water when necessary. This flathead shows that the tail end of a pool in 18 inches of water is enough. We looked up stream at the length of the pool and wondered how many more were in there.

Image

I tried to take a picture of the fish through the water. This doesn't always work because the camera tends to focus on the surface of the water. This photo is the original unretouched shot. You can just make out the shape of the catfish in the center.

Image

This is the same photo only I went to the Adjust menu in Photoshop and picked auto levels. I tried playing with all kinds of other settings, but they didn't work as well as picking auto levels. It brought out the shape of the catfish a little more.

Image

I went back to the original and selected a smaller section of the photo. I went to the Adjust menu again and picked auto contrast. It completely screwed up the colors, but the outline of the fish became very distinct.

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Salmon Unlimited Member
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Joined: 10:27am - Feb 12,03
Posts: 3331
Location: Villa Park

Post Posted: 08:11am - Mar 10,03 
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That is very cool Ken. I have heard alot about the wintering of the flathead. I am sure Tim Scott and Denny Halgren would be very interested to hear and see what you found. I know that they have done a lot of research on the subject.
Cory

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Chitown-Angler

Joined: 10:06pm - Feb 11,03
Posts: 378
Location: IL

Post Posted: 08:33pm - Mar 12,03 
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You definitely opened a can of worms with this thread Ken :D

It's been a known fact for many years that flatheads have been seen supposedly wintering in shallow water. Its also a known fact that a few flatheads also get trapped in fields and ditches during high water episodes spring summer or fall IF the water falls fast enough. Do they want to be there? I wouldnt think so. Can they survive if necessary? Certainly. Do they do as well as far as health and natural selective growth patterns? Maybe but I would doubt it. Maybe it doesnt bother a flathead to winter in super shallow water but it seems that a very small percentage are found in shallow water unless the water temps fall dramatically in a big hurry. It's almost like they get "trapped" if they arent in the preferred winter spots. Seemingly "imobilized" by a certain difinitive water temp whether it be 40 or 37 or 33 degrees. Ive talked with Denny about this very thing for years and he keeps perty good track of the water temps day to day throughout the winter and usually finding flatheads shallow goes with a 3 to 5 degree drop when its right at the brink of 38 to 33 degrees. When this happens he sees way more flatheads "trapped" / "imobilized{" before they can get to the winterimg holes which in several particular areas is not far. He says that if one gets trapped by temperature at any depth say 1 foot of water, it will remain in the same spot till the water warms above the dormancy temp level.--- sometimes for months.

As far as dam removal goes and the relationship between flatheads and deep water for wintering areas:

I dont believe that removing dams on the fox will have much affect on the wintering habots of any fish in the Fox if the Dams are removed. If the Dams are removed most all the fish will return to the "mother river" (IL River) and winter there. Its just the nature of the fish(all fish) to travel upstream during high water and migrate back downstream during fall transition and the cold water period---its simple as that.

The Fox with no dams is nothing more than a major tributary of the IL River in which fish will come up it in spring to spawn and after about July 4th will migrate back to the mother river and subsequently be vulnerable to commercial fishing pressure which is quite repressive to the sucess of trophy fish of the IL River system.

Dont get me wrong, there will still be fish that winter in the Fox but the populations will not be a large percentage of the overall populations as it is now.

Great posts Ken... I've enjoyed your perspectives and pics :D

Good Fishing,
Tim

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Chitown-Angler

Joined: 07:33am - Feb 15,03
Posts: 1593
Location: Yorkville

Post Posted: 12:09pm - Mar 14,03 
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I've always come across channel cats hanging out in shallow water in the winter, sometimes just moving around a little. But this is the first time I've come across a flat head. I don't target cats while fishing, so its probably the fish I know the least about. Except that channels like to spawn in tributaries and I know where a few of those are. It was interesting to see. This was a perfect eating size fish so you could see how vulnerable they are at that point. I could have reached down and grabbed it.

The one thing that did happen this year was water temps dropped quickly in the fall and our winter was hard, more ice on the Fox than I've seen for awhile. Just like you mentioned.

I've seen the results of telemetry studies done on smallies on rivers with longer stretches of free flowing water. They moved upwards of 50 miles. One fish got a bug up his butt and actually moved 20 miles in one day.

Even with this low water I'm finding a number of holes around 5 feet deep. Makes you wonder if a fish would just stop there instead of going further. I'll have to talk to the IDNR folks about this.

Thanks Tim, now you gave me something else to obsess about. :D

Tried to make it to see you at Dukes thing, but I work too much this time of year and it didn't work out. I hear it was excellent.

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