With gas prices above $4 a gallon, a fishing trip to one of my favorite Midwestern lakes has become a $150 ordeal.
Fill the vehicle, fill the boat tank and watch the numbers roll up at the gas pump. Oh yes, let's not forget launch fees, outboard oil and other ancillary items.
Two trips a week, eight trips a month. My monthly fishing expenses now exceed my home mortgage.
So I've found an alternative to traveling to distant fishing lakes. The good news is that I'm catching plenty of fish, and it's relatively cheap. Let me pass it on to you.
Try fishing nearby retention ponds from shore. No vehicle or boat gasoline bills and no launch fees here. And with an explosion of new residential subdivisions throughout the Fox Valley, the opportunity is there if the ponds are accessible.
Access is easy for homeowners with retention ponds in their backyards or nearby — just head out the door and you're there. If there's no pond behind your house or in your subdivision, then buddy up with a friend who's got a fishy-looking retention pond in his subdivision. Guests are usually allowed to fish these ponds, as long as a homeowner is present.
If you don't have access to a residential retention pond, then do some homework. A few Fox Valley residential construction builders recently bought farms with existing ponds, and in some cases, the builder has been required to turn the pond over to the local village as part of a public park project. Presto, free access for everyone!
And let's not forget the Kane County Forest Preserve District's long list of sites. Several of the forest preserves have lakes teeming with bluegill and bass, such as Big Rock Quarry west of Aurora and Burnidge/Paul Wolf west of Elgin.
So opportunities to fish nearby ponds do exist, and you've gotten access. Now it's time to figure out how to catch the fish.
For bluegills, the equation is simple. As aquatic weeds form around the perimeter of these ponds, bluegills will seek the shade and shelter the weeds provide. Getting live bait (usually a chunk of a nightcrawler speared on a small No. 10 hook) into the weeds is hard, but suspending live bait above the weeds is easy, and slip floats are the key.
Slip floats have a hollow center that monofilament fishing line can be threaded through. This allows the float to slide up and down the line. I like a ¾-inch oval Thill float for heavy-duty bluegill fishing.
A small bead is threaded through, and a quick-stop string is tied to the line above the float. With this set-up, it's easy to slide the string up and down the monofilament line to set the depth you'd like your live bait offering to stop at. Just set it so your bait offering suspends just above the weeds.
In ponds with relatively clear water, largemouth bass become extremely weary of people walking nearby, and they consequently shy away from shoreline areas. The same rule applies to forest preserve lakes.
This weariness also leads me to believe they are more susceptible of being caught on smaller finesse-styled lures. One of the best finesse techniques I've ever used is drop-shotting.
With drop-shotting, a hook is tied in-line approximately 18 inches above the tag end of a fishing line. The nose of a small finesse-style plastic worm of 4 to 6 inches is threaded through the hook. Then a 3/16-ounce drop shot weight is clipped to the tag end of the monofilament line.
An illustration of a drop shot rig can be found on my website at www.mikenorrisoutdoors.com .
With this weighted rig, I can toss the plastic worm to deeper water beyond the shallow weeds and slowly drag it back. With the drop shot weight at the bottom of the rig and the worm suspended above it, I lightly shake my rod tip. The worm will shimmy ever so lightly and entice a bass to bite.
Keep an eye out
I'm still not giving up boating and fishing trips to my favorite lakes during fishing peaks, but I am keeping extra money in my pocket and satisfying my fishing needs by fishing nearby ponds more often. Browse through an aerial Web site like the new maps.google.com, or just keep you eyes open when driving around the Fox Valley.
There are more ponds out there then ever before, and many of them are being underfished.
For more information on his fish guiding service, Mike Norris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org