Outdoors column by Jeff Lampe
The streambank was not remarkable -- aside from a few slabs of limestone here and there. The water was not particularly promising, either.
The current was slow, and there were no rocky riffles evident. No boulders poked above the Spoon River.
But Tim Holschlag stopped the canoe and told Rick Miller of Elmwood and me that the area looked fishy.
"I think this pool should hold some smallies," he said.
Who were we to argue?
Over the past few decades, Holschlag has built a name as one of the top river smallmouth anglers in the Midwest. Part of his billing as "Mr. Smallmouth" comes from a guide business near his home in Minneapolis.
But Holschlag, 58, also founded the Smallmouth Alliance, a conservation group that has chapters in Illinois and several other states. He regularly gives smallmouth seminars, has published two books and hundreds of magazine articles and recently released a DVD.
He is as focused on smallmouth bass as any person you will encounter. I first met Holschlag a few years ago at a conference in Wisconsin when he offered good tips for prime smally rivers in that state.
Last weekend, he stopped in central Illinois for Day 36 of a 40-day
smallmouth odyssey across the eastern United States. During his trip, he fished in 12 states and more than 35 rivers and streams, including the Spoon and Apple rivers in Illinois.
"The idea was sort of biblical, I guess. You know, 40 days and 40 nights" of smallmouth fishing, Holschlag said. "I wanted to see the state of smallmouth fishing in the new millennium."
He made two stops in the Peoria area. In the morning, we fished Mike Kepple's smallmouth-filled strip-mine lake at Double Cluck Farms west of Canton. There we boated more than 40 smallies up to 16 1/2 inches, many that hit top-water baits shortly after sunrise.
From there, we went on to paddle a stretch of the middle Spoon River.
While fishing was tough that day and water was slightly stained, we managed to catch fish in that unremarkable pool mentioned above. And we caught them within a few feet of the bank, just as Holschlag predicted.
Such is the wisdom learned in a lifetime spent wading creeks with rod in hand. Holschlag caught his first smally at age 10 near his hometown of New Hampton, Iowa. He caught a 20-incher at age 16. He's been chasing bronzebacks ever since.
As a youngster, he spent his free time on clear streams in northeast Iowa, often worrying his late mother, Maurine.
"She told me later in life she had actually planned my funeral a few times when I was late coming home," Holschlag said. "Seriously. She didn't know much about rivers, but she knew there were deep holes. She figured one of them sucked me in and I drowned."
Instead, he learned. He learned that Tiny Torpedos are his favorite top-water lure and that finesse worms are one of his favorite sub-surface offerings. Eventually, at age 39, he quit his job as a machinist to pursue his passion full-time.
"I was always kind of a fishing bum and sometimes jobs kind of interfered with fishing too much," he said.
That would be particularly difficult for Holschlag these days. His "prime time" to catch stream smallies is late July and August.
"August is the month when they eat the most because all the young-of-the-year minnows and crayfish are good-sized," he said.
To catch hungry smallmouth bass in Illinois' waters, Holschlag prefers to throw a: 1. Texas-rigged 4-inch finesse worm, 2. 3 1/2-inch tube jig, 3. twister-tail grub, 4. Tiny Torpedo or Pop-R top-water bait, 5. Senko, 6. Rapala X-Rap or Rapala thin minnow, 7. small-sized Cordell Big O crankbait.
Holschlag fishes from a customized 14-foot Old Town canoe fitted with padded seats, oars and an anchor. The seats made our paddle fairly comfortable. Unfortunately, except for the one stretch Holschlag
identified, we caught smallies in few other areas. None topped 12 inches.
That didn't bother Holschlag, who said he was happy to see new water. He had only one problem when we finally left the river - an understandable one after 40 days of fishing.
"Now what state am I in?" he asked, pulling out a map and plotting his course to yet another stream.
Jeff Lampe is Journal Star outdoors columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3212 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star