Planned a day trip to the Lower Illinois this past Sunday with a couple of buddies, Donny and Chris. They are both new to the addiction and wanted to get some time on the water. The lower Illinois is USUALLY a pretty easy place to get into some fish so our confidence was high.
It was a normal morning of gathering gear and making coffee for me. Got everything loaded up, jumped in the truck, and set a course for the Tulsa Bass Pro Shops to pick up Donny and Chris. Got to love early mornings with good coffee and the anticipation of a day on the water!
Picked up Donny and Chris along with all their gear so we pointed the truck towards Gore, Oklahoma. Talks of fly selection, reading water, and worries of what Chris's home-made breakfast burritos could bring later in the day passed the hour drive and before we knew it, we were pulling up at the Watts parking lot to see that we were the 1st ones there. Everyone got geared up then I got Donny and Chris lined out with a setup to start the day off.
I wasn't sure on where to start the boys at on the river. It had fished differently than in the past when I was there a few weeks before but I went ahead and decided to head downstream so we could fish our way back up. We put in at the little run down below the parking lot, I picked up a couple rainbows really quick so things looked promising. Again though, like last time, it went dead after those first couple of fish. Donny and Chris didn't even get a strike the whole time so I was feeling a little pressure to get these guys on some fish.
I took the guys upstream to the hole where all the trout were stacked up last time feeding and there they were once again, eating bugs like crazy! I put the guys on hold while I tied on a softhackle and made a cast. A few quick strips and it was fish on!! I got the guys rigged up with soft hackles, gave them a crash course on how to fish them, and put them in a couple of prime spots with several fish feeding in front of them.
At this point in the day, at least for me, is when things really got stupid. I was missing fish left and right. When I actually would hook a fish, the knot would come undone or the tippet would break. Frustration had set in so I took a timeout from fishing and walked up to where Donald and Chris were fishing to help them out for a bit. After a few minutes of fine tuning their presentations, I decided to walk back down to my spot and see if I got the monkey off my back. I had no more than take a few steps and I tripped over a rock which caused me to lose my balance and take a swim in the river. Luckily, I had my wading jacket cinched down pretty tight around my waist and only a little water came in the back of my waders to where just my lower back and butt got wet. It still added to my frustrations for the day as I was wet and everything in my waist pack was soaked.
We were able to get into some fish before the sun came all the way out and the fish quit feeding. Donny caught his first rainbow and but it slipped from his hands before we could get a photo. This happened a few times so no photos for Donald of his first trout. Chris was having a pretty rough time with his casting and had missed a few fish but we still had most of the day left to fish. We packed up and headed upriver to fish by the dam.
We hiked up to the dam to fish the boulder area and a few other holes that normally hold lots of fish. Once again, the fish were not where they have been in the past. I think a lot of this can be attributed to the fact that the river was completely bottomed out. I hadn't ever seen it that low before after they had turned off the generators on the dam. The holes that normally held fish were barely ankle deep and the area next to the boulders was vacant of any fish. Come to find out the fish had moved out into the "pond" that forms next to the dam and were cruising around in little schools. I perched up on one of the boulders to watch the water for a little while and noticed lots of fish cruising around. The guys walked on up a little ways and began tossing the soft hackles again while I tied on a olive bugger.
We got into several fish quickly with Donny really putting it to them. I caught a few on buggers and a couple more on a olive sculpin...the fish were killing it by stripping it back to you at a fast pace. I still was having issues with knots coming undone and the tippet breaking on fish though, I almost threw my rod down at one point I was so pissed. I hadn't had a rough day like this in a long time, just couldn't figure out what the deal was. My tippet was new and my knots seemed to be cinching up just fine so I was clueless. I finally completely rebuilt my leader from the butt section to the tippet and called it good.
We hiked back downstream to fish the area around the island in front of the parking lot. I hadn't spent a lot of time in this area but was impressed by what I found as far as numbers of fish even with the super low water. Again, they were just cruising around the deeper water or around the laydowns looking for food. I hooked a few more and caught 1 more rainbow before the horn blew to notify everyone that they were about to start generating. I put Chris on a hole with a big laydown that had several fish holding around it but we couldn't get a solid hookup. The guy was trying his butt off but either flat out missed the strike or broke the fish off. The water started coming up shortly afterwards so we hauled butt over to the truck and drove down to the T&M gravel pit access.
We hiked downstream and found several fish in a pod actively feeding. I put Chris on these fish and tied him on a olive bugger to see if we could make something happen before we ran out of time. He got a little anxious on one of the 1st few casts and broke a fish off on the initial hookset. I gave him my rod and re-rigged his while he tried his luck again. We couldn't get another strike before the water started to come up so we called it a day.
We put in a solid 7 hours of fishing and had a pretty productive day. I think we could of caught more sheer numbers of fish if I wasn't in a slump and the guys had their technique down a little better but it was a good day though. Donny and Chris are now engulfed with the addiction of catching fish on the fly. They were already talking about their next time out and what other gear/flies they needed to buy on our way home.
All in all...not a bad day...