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

Rewriting a Curse

Really, it totally depends on how you look at it.  Either we took a long storied tradition and proved it's really just a fisherman's tale, or we missed out on a day that truly would have been epic.  

Anytime you can land a ride in a guide's boat on his day off, you don't turn it down.  Two hundred and twenty days a year, people pay for that chance.  And a beautiful day was expected. 

Per the weatherman's best guess, it would be a great day to be outside - the perfect Spring day.  I left the house early, and in a rush.  Scrambling to get the coffee going and my contacts in my eyes, the dog nipping at my ankles trying to get a morning treat after sniffing the bushes in the backyard.  As the sun began to fill our bedroom, I reached for the first pair of pants I could find, threw them on, grabbed some socks and a couple of long sleeve shirts and bounded down the stairs.  I filled the Hydroflask with a triple shot espresso, grabbed some ice for the cooler and headed out to the garage.  Tossing the last few things in the car, the sun stopped peaking over the horizon and quickly filled the sky.  Before I knew it, I was rolling in to Warner Bridges.  

As I rolled in, Austin appeared around the bend and hopped in.  Bill was waiting at Bird Park, drift boat loaded and ready to roll.  As we met Bill, I quickly noticed neither happened to be wearing their waders.  "It's gonna be beautiful," Austin said.  "Whatdaya need waders for?"  At that exact moment, I couldn't have agreed more.  But quickly a realization came over me - I was wearing my work pants.  Business casual, heavy cotton slacks - exactly what you don't want to be wearing on a drift boat for a warm day of fishing in the sun.  Suddenly I was hoping my Lucky Brand khakis were just that, lucky.  

As we got the rest of the boat packed up, Bill was the first to notice.  One of the most superstitious rules in the fly fishing world was broken - a banana had made it's way on board.  I won't point fingers, but it's presence was immediately feared, mocked and laughed at all at once.  Some of us tried to fight it, hesitating to get in the boat.  But it was what it was, and had already been tossed on board.  Our fate was sealed, or was it?

As we made our way down river, we jockeyed from one side of the river to the next, with Austin sliding us from hole to hole, looking for prime water.  Strip, strip, strip, pick up, re-cast.  Strip, strip, strip, pick up, re-cast.  The thing about streamer fishing is what it does to my heart.  I can't speak for you, but with every strip, I'm hoping to feel the tug.  The anticipation building from cast to cast, I truly expect a fish to be in every perfect spot, and hope every good cast is awarded.  It wouldn't be too late in the day before my desire for a tug was satisfied, the skunk was knocked off the boat and we could forget about the curse of the banana and focus on finding "the" pattern for the day.  

A nice fat smallie rolled on my streamer, putting a nice big bend in my Fenwick six weight.  It was great, the first fish on my new, classic fiberglass rod and a my first smallie of the year.  With a fish on the board, I busted out the powdered donuts and someone ate their banana.  And that's when things turned on.  

Bill, chilling in the back of boat, decided to flip the switch.  It wasn't before long that it seemed like I was merely inviting the smallies to the dance, but Bill was filling their dance card.  From the front of the boat, I couldn't have been happier.  It's fun watching someone catch the biggest smallmouth of their life, and then doing the same thing with the next fish.  The kid was on fire!  

With every cast and oar stroke, Austin and Bill put on a clinic.  Austin showing us the best parts of the river, hitting the best holes, rowing upstream to help me get my streamer out of the trees, and Bill was picking fish out of every run it seemed.  From alongside the boat, to inches from the shore, in deep holes and on shallow banks, Bill had it zeroed in.  

It's days like these where I tend to wish the river wouldn't end, the pull out would just stay another mile down stream.  The fish were biting, the conversation and laughs were flowing and the weather was outstanding.  Just the kind of day you'd order up, given the chance.  And best of all, the Kankakee hippos stayed just downstream of us.  Or were they staying just ahead of Bill, waiting for us to slip up?  But in the end, the question still remains - had we debunked the myth of the banana, or was a great day tempered by a storied curse?  I'll go with the former and stand confident that with the right guide and fishing partner, the fish will be found.