When is a Guide, Not a Guide?

Eugene Collins says he's not a guide. He then takes people out on the Rock River and puts them on fish. If you go to the smallmouth alliance Blowout you can bid on a guided trip with Gene. And this year, I know that I'm going to bid on every ticket that has his name on it. 

So it's time for a personal disclosure. I love the Rock River. He too shares this passion. I have fished a lot of it and lot of the tributaries that feed into it. Most of my fishing has been south of Oregon but not quite to Dixon and then north of Byron up to where it comes out of Lake Koshkonong. For a few years there was a problem after a chemical spill killed a lot of fish. But the river has recovered and the fishing is back to where it was before the spill. 

Eugene fishes a section that’s out of Dixon. He has fished most if not all of the Rock and this is the section that he knows best, be it for bass or walleye or even the giant cats that prowl the bottom. But like all good fishermen, if this section isn’t producing, he’ll move to where the fish are. 

You can wade Rock but it's mostly a boat river. The good thing is, there are no fly-fishing guides on the rock except for Gene, who’s not a guide. But he'll guide you, of course he's not a guide so he'll fish which is why I think he says he's not a guide. But if he says, "I want to see you catch fish," he's not lying. So what he's doing is using casting gear and a kick ass sonar unit, to find fish and then he puts you on them. (Because he's not a guide. So he says.)  

I'd been trying to fish with him for over a year and got an email from him asking, “Hey, you doing anything Sunday?”  So I had no plans and it was going to be a nice fall day. I met him at one of the prettiest parks I’ve been to, Lowell Park in Dixon. There’s a nice scenic drive to the boat launch, good parking and for a November day we couldn't have had asked for better weather.

Good guides know a river, really good guides know more than where to fish. They notice things. It's one of the reasons I like fishing with Austin Adduci, he has stories about the river, the history, and so on.  It’s why fishing with Eugene is more than just getting into a guy’s boat and going fishing. He knows where the eagles nest, where people write their names in the bluffs that line the river, and where the smallies and muskies can most likely be found. 

While Eugene isn’t a fly fishing guide, he’s not bad with the long rod and certainly knows what flies work and is learning more every time he goes out.  He doesn’t supply flies or tie them on, cuz he’s not a guide but he has an interesting selection of flies that I tried and one of them, a Craig Riendeau construction name the Sonic Boom worked well. I like Craig, and yes his flies catch fish, but tying them can be a pain. This one was like a roadrunner,  a weighted woolly bugger with a spinner. It got the fly down deep where it needed to be. I think next time I’ll use a 7wt and a small sink tip to get a minnow or crayfish pattern down near the bottom, unless they’re feeding on top. I did use a crawfish pattern and minnow patterns and caught fish on both. Nothing of size mostly 10-13 inch fish but enough to keep me interested and busy. 

Eugene’s boat handling and control are excellent. He uses a high powered trolling motor to position the boat and maintain a steady drift. His boat is quiet and the 50hp Evinrude that he affectionately calls Rudy, can run at top speed and you can carry on a conversation as you travel up or down river. 

The boat layout is better suited for spin and casting gear but I didn’t have much trouble casting from the back of the boat or front of the boat. You might bring a line tamer but I didn’t catch Rudy or Gene, so that was a good thing. Most of your casts will be relatively short so you don’t need a lot of line laying on the deck. 

At the end of the day, the fishing was okay. Eugene threw swim jigs,  a mix of plastics as well as hard baits. I stuck with minnow patterns and crayfish. I think if I’d of gone with a sink tip there would have been more fish but that’s why there is a next time. 

Gene is an excellent guide by the way, for someone who’s not a guide. 

But I bet if you called him and asked him to guide you on the Rock, you’d have an excellent time fishing, you’d see some eagles, a lot of unique landscapes, and oh yeah, catch some fish as well. I don’t think he’ll be tying your flies on for you but he’ll have a selection. You might want the following: clousers, craft fur minnows, a short sink tip, and some crawfish patterns. 

So can you book Gene for a guided trip?

Sure, drop him an email at efcfish@gmail.com.


Stuart Van Dorn

Salmon Watching

There are fall days where you look for spots where the sun is shining because the shade is full of cold. You wear wool socks and fleece pants under your waders. No long underwear yet because whileit's cold it’s not steelhead cold. There is no ice forming in the guides and the fly line is still soft and gentle in your ungloved hand. 

The rains fell and the river rose. The salmon start their run to reproduction and death. In areas of Michigan the water is clear, cold and free from the silt. The eggs are laid in small redds and fertilized. Male and female salmon throw themselves in the air. Leaves give up their grip and float like small kites into the flowing water. 

My fly line is still supple and easily shoots through the guides. A salmon jumps a few feet away from me. A small pod of fish swim upstream. A kingfisher makes a dive into the water and pops out with a small minnow wiggling in its beak. I move into a pool of warm sun. 

The salmon jumps. I cast above the growing rings and watch the line, waiting for any sign of a take, waiting, watching, and looking for a twitch in the line. It drifts and slides down the current and I cast again. I cast again and again covering water with each drift. 

The salmon jumps. 

I repeat the drill.

I reel up my line and find a sunny spot on the bank.

The salmon jumps.

The current carries gold and yellow leaves, like small boats, to the lake. They pile and crash into one another forming small marinas of color. 

The salmon jumps. 

The Kingfisher makes another dive and comes up with an empty beak. 

I step into the water and head downstream. 

There is a large pool just past the bend. The shadow of the railroad bridge bends across the pool, breaking into bits where the sun has driven past the leaves.  A salmon leaves the water and appears to fall back on itself. Then another jumps and another. 

I cast to indifferent fish. 

As if this were a dance, the fish jump as if in rhythm. One just out of reach, one within range. I watch and wonder about all of this, an ocean fish, now bred for the lake, a fish that created an industry of charter boats, downriggers and tinsel flies.  

I have fished for them in the ocean, along the pacific coast. They made your line sing out, smelled of the sea, and made you work for them. My mind wanders back to when I was young and lived in Seattle.  We’d keep the fish we caught, my father and I. When we got home we’d clean and plank them. When done, they’d taste of the ocean and a touch of lemon. 

I reel up my line and head for the car. I can hear them in the pool behind me. They splash and jump and I am reminded of the times I spent fishing with my father.  

A salmon clears the air. 


002 salmon.jpg

The blog post that got away - ISA Early Show

It's recently come to light that I've dropped the ball and had a few blog posts from Stuart that got lost in the mail.  My apologies to those who contributed to Stuart's adventures!  

The Early Show

The nice thing about the Early Show is, to state the obvious, it’s early. November is a good time to have a show. The weather is usually changing, bass fishing is coming to a close, and steelhead fishing is starting up. Tying clubs are in full swing and the shops are filling up with warm weather gear, tying materials and posting about warmer locations for you to choose from, be it Belize or the Amazon River. 

So is the show worth going to? Yes. 

Because it’s a regional show, you get to meet the local folks who sell stuff: DuPage Fly Shop, Orvis, Hawkeye fly tyer, the folks who bought Chris Helms business, Whitetail Fly Tieing, and many others who have traveled a distance to show and sell items for fly fishing. Matt from Driftless Angler who always has something interesting, from ceramics to t-shirts. Also there was Tightlines including Tim and the crew-always entertaining and if you’re looking to book a trip, they have a number you can choose from. And for those of you interested in Tenkara-Badger Tenkara was there. 

My buddy Austin Adduci and his guide service, Grab Your Fly Charters had a table, and the sign of a good show for guides is do they book any trips, and a couple of them, said,  “I’ve booked a couple of trips, so this is a good show for me.”  As usual, John Graham was there to talk about his first and perhaps only love, smallmouth Bass. Austin gave an excellent talk on fishing the Kankakee and he is now branching out for steelhead fishing on the St. Joe, which has been producing a decent run of steelhead these days. I talked with PJ for a while and watched a number of people tie a lot of Bucktail to hooks. Or as I like to call them, “Stuffed Animal Flies.” 

After wandering about a bit and visiting some of tying groups like Drift, Nifty and my buddies from Chi-Tie, I headed out to see what Doug Taylor was up to with the long rods. Doug is an instructor for all of you two handed fans and had set up a mock river to help those having trouble with river right, river left and what direction the cast should eventually go. 

Drift was teaching the single handed method out in front of the show, also out front - the root beer folks. Always a treat to get a hotdog or burger from them. Good root-beer floats by the way and you can talk to the knowledgeable guys at Rocktown Adventures if you’re interested in getting a kayak or setting one up for fishing. 

Brian Smith was set up and demonstrating Bamboo fly rod building and was demonstrating a platform he’d created to hold a planning form at a more comfortable angle. Brian is an excellent teacher for all things bamboo and I know of a number of people who have built good cane rods under his tutelage. 

I spent a bit of my time at Coren’s table, that is, when I wasn’t asking Rich McElligott about his patterns and materials or cruising over to Hawkeye Fly Tyer or Whitetail for materials. I host the Coren’s tying group and it’s always interesting to see what other groups are doing and how they’re run. 

Ilike the Early Show, it’s the only all fly fishing show in the Chicago Area. It’s hosted by local people and it’s a solid regional show. I’m going to chide the organizers of it for not having a website and doing a bit better job of promoting it. I would hope that in time some manufacturers would make it to the show. It’s at a good location, been there for a couple of years and its’ getting a decent draw. It also has good raffle drawings and the speakers are local guys who know the local waters. It is very easy to get to, has ample parking and from what vendors say, people come there to spend money. I know what I spent including a jungle cock neck, additional tying materials, a fly line and more hooks. 

But best of all, I got to catch up with the folks from the local fly shops and not so local fly shops and people that I either fish or tie with. 

So back to the line, is it worth going to? Yes it is. Is it like driving to Indianapolis for the Indianapolis Fly Fishing Expo? No, but it’s a show that in time, with a little more advanced promotion, a website, a bit more social media presence and so on might draw a bigger crowd and a few more vendors.