Sarley: Don't let cold weather keep you from a trophy fish

Summer doesn’t last forever, no matter how tightly we cross our fingers. I love fall even though in our area it only seems to last for days rather than months. The weather this past week has had a tinge of the coming of winter, hasn’t it?

The cold weather will spark plenty of whitetail deer activity and it also puts fish on the prowl for many a meal so they can bulk up for the winter. October and on into November can be prime time for trophy fish for those who are stout of heart and are willing to do combat with the weather.

McHenry’s Hall of Fame fisherman, Spence Petros, is a guy who loves chasing muskies in frigid temperatures. Of the hundreds of photos that Spence has in his scrapbooks from the pages of outdoors magazines, his favorite may have been taken in late fall on northwest Ontario’s Lake of the Woods. In the picture, Spence is covered in snow and sleet. He looks a lot like Jack N'cholson in the final scene of “The Shining,” when Jack Torrance sits frozen to death in the English maze garden.

One fall, Petros and I ventured to Lake in the Woods on a muskie trip, but first we stopped in Brainerd, Minnesota, to spend a day on the Mississippi River fishing for muskies with the legendary James Lindner.

The day was cold, darned cold, just the way Petros likes it. It was also quite rainy, and nobody likes that. The three of us hit the water and fished hard, throwing big baits nonstop.

Lindner and I were wearing the same model rain gear, jacket and bibs. We had both recently purchased the suits. We quickly found that the rain suits had a flaw built into the design. It seemed that rain was entering the suits at neck level, and water was dribbling down the inside front of our jackets. Man, that was cold.

After a few hours, Petros looked at me and said, “If you are too cold, we can go in. I won’t bust your chops about it. We can just quit and head in and dry off and get warm.”

The thought was appealing, but I figured if I threw in the towel, he’d never let me hear the end of it. “I’m good. Let’s keep fishing,” I responded.

Thirty minutes passed, and Petros said, “Come on, you look like you are freezing. We can stop now. I won’t bust your chops about being a quitter.” Again, I declined.

Another half hour went by, and he said, “You know, I don’t want to have to listen to your wife hollering at me because I got you a case of pneumonia by keeping you out in the cold. It’s going to be your fault if you get sick because you are too stubborn to know what’s good for you.”

It now dawned on me that Petros was freezing and wanted to head in. It’s just that he is the most stubborn person in the world and wanted me to be the one to raise the white flag. Petros is the toughest, most macho human being I know, and there is no way he was going to admit that it was too cold for him to continue. It looked like this was going to be a titanic battle of wills.

He asked me whether I wanted to bail out a couple of more times over the next hour. I kept saying no. I figured I would rather freeze to death before I would be the one who gave in. Male pride and ego can be very dangerous things, and both of those traits were on display to the max between the two of us.

Finally, common sense won out, thanks to Lindner. He said, “I’ve had enough listening to the two of you. You are both so stubborn. I’m freezing my butt off, and we’re getting out of here.” He fired up the engine and headed to the launch.

I breathed a deep sigh of relief and swore that in the future I’d never put my pride before my health and safety. Dry clothing and heat never felt so good. Thank you, James.


Northern Illinois: Dave Kranz from Dave’s Bait, Tackle and Taxidermy in Crystal Lake reports: “The dams at McHenry, Algonquin and Carpentersville all have higher water levels due to the recent rains. The temperatures have cooled, and the fall bite should be better. Jig and minnow combos should work for walleye, smallmouth bass and white bass.

"The marina at Crystal Lake’s Three Oaks Recreation Area is closed for the season, but shore fishing is open.

"McHenry County Conservation Area’s the Hollows is open all year, even for ice fishing when it is safe. This is a no-minnow area.

"For info on northern Illinois fishing, call 815-455-2040 for an updated report.”

Fox Chain O’ Lakes: Chris Taurisano of T-Bone Guide Service ( – 630-330-9090) sends word, “Crappies are the word right now. Fatheads and jig and plastics are very good presentations. A few walleyes are being caught in 10 to 15 feet on minnows. White bass are hit or miss, but when they school up, it’s easy pickings. Muskies have been tough lately."


Archery deer hunting: Through Sunday, Illinois archery deer hunters harvested a total of 11,396 deer, compared to 11,335 for the same period in 2016. The harvest to date has consisted of 66 percent does and 34 percent males. The top five counties were Jefferson (311), Pike (303), Fulton (290), Williamson (236) and Franklin (234).

The totals for some selected northern Illinois counties are McHenry (90), Lake (49), Winnebago (105), Kane (58), DuPage (7), DeKalb (45), Boone (23) and Cook (24).

Hunting closures: McHenry County Conservation District sends word about sites that will be closed on certain days this fall to allow for the district’s recreational hunting program:

• Oct. 20 to 22: Hickory Grove Riverfront & Highlands, Lyons Prairie, Silver Creek, Stickney Run

• Nov. 3 to 5: Hickory Grove Riverfront & Highlands, Lyons Prairie, Silver Creek, Stickney Run

• Nov. 10 to 12: Hickory Grove Riverfront & Highlands, Lyons Prairie, Silver Creek, Stickney Run

• Nov. 17 to 19: Coral Woods, Marengo Woods

• Nov. 30 to Dec. 3: Glacial Park & Lost Valley Visitor Center, Rush Creek

• Nov. 1 to Jan. 14: Brookdale Multi-Use trail, High Point, Fox Bluff, Winding Creek

Residents also should be aware that hunting also may be happening on private property. While out hiking, wear blaze orange as a precaution. Avoid white, blacks, browns, earth-toned greens and animal-colored clothing. Choose colors that stand out, such as red, orange or green. Blaze orange vests and hats are advisable.

This is the 15th year of the district’s program that includes archery and firearm hunting. Under the philosophies of the program, the conservation district supports hunting practiced in a legal, responsible, safe and ethical manner. Regulated hunting is the utilization of a renewable resource and fits within the definition and framework of conservation.

“Safety is the top priority of the hunting program. The highest standards of safety are demanded from all participants and staff involved in the program,” said Brad Woodson, Restoration Ecologist and program coordinator. “Only ecologically, self-sustaining wildlife populations are included in the scope of the program. The definition of ‘ecologically self-sustaining’ is those populations naturally found in viable numbers on district sites.”

• Steve Sarley writes about the outdoors for Shaw Media. Write to him at Steve does a weekly podcast about fishing called “WeFishASA.” You can find it at

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