If anglers were unlucky at the start of the Illinois trout catch-and-release season last weekend, they at least have an excuse for not getting a bite: the bad weather.
Rain Friday and Saturday created less than ideal fishing conditions for catching rainbow trout at Rock Creek, a tributary of the 4,000-acre Kankakee River State Park, located about 60 miles north. southwest of Chicago.
While the sun was out and the sky was clear, the water was not on Sunday. According to fisheries biologist Seth Love of Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
“The water is a bit murky, so they’ll have to work hard to make it attractive to fish,” Love said. “Some anglers try brighter colored lures just to increase their chances of success.”
Fly fisherman Rich Rousseau said he had no luck catching trout, but still enjoyed the scenic trail along Rock Creek, which empties into the Kankakee River North.
“I knew the creek here, but I had never fished it,” said Rousseau, who lives in Crete, Illinois. “And then you come here and it’s wonderful. It’s hiking and fishing and you can wade here and catch fish in little holes in the creek and it’s great fun.”
Rainbow trout, a species of trout named for their blue, green and yellow coloration, congregate in the deepest parts of stream beds amidst strong currents to rest and await the passage of food such as insects, crustaceans and other fish.
Fly fishing is a popular technique for catching trout. The graceful motion of casting the lightweight, insect-like lure brings peace to angler Luis Gonzalez, who traveled to Rock Creek from Chicago.
“When you cast and drift a fly, the only thing you can think about is your drifting fly because if you think about anything else, you’ll miss a bite,” Gonzalez said. “So during that moment when you’re drifting, you pay attention and you can’t put anything else in your head.”
Rainbow trout is a popular game fish for recreational anglers, but the cold water fish is not native to Illinois. In the United States, rainbow trout are native only to the west of the Rocky Mountains—along Pacific coastal waters and tributaries from Alaska to southern California—although research programs trout stocking are popular across the country and date back to the 1800s.
To promote recreational fishing, the IDNR stocks 160,000 rainbow trout annually in Illinois’ inland lakes, streams, and ponds—80,000 in the fall and 80,000 in the spring. The fish are raised in state-owned and private hatcheries before being stocked at 57 locations across Illinois.
But freshly caught trout is not yet on the local menu.
A two-week statewide catch-and-release period for a few bodies of water, including Rock Creek, began Saturday. But the official start of the spring trout fishing season is April 2, when licensed anglers will have a daily catch limit of five trout.
Illinois anglers fishing for trout on in-state supplied grounds must purchase a $15 resident fishing license and a $6.50 inland trout stamp.
While it was a quiet day at Rock Creek, there was at least one catch.
Vic Basil of Manhattan, Illinois was wading waist deep in Rock Creek when he landed a ten inch rainbow trout using a green lure. He gathered the fish in a net then carefully removed the hook from his mouth before releasing it.
“That’s a good size for a stocked fish,” Basil said. “It would definitely be the size of a dinner party if we tried to keep them.”
Anglers also target smallmouth bass and walleye at Rock Creek and the Kankakee River, but unlike rainbow trout, these fish are native to the area.
Hatchery-raised rainbow trout may be easier for anglers to catch than wild fish because they are raised with readily available food and may be less discriminating in what they eat.
This trend has led some researchers call rainbow trout an invasive species given its potential to outcompete native fish for food and completely consume native fish. Rainbow trout can also interbreed with other trout or fish species, which impacts the genetic purity of the fish.
The IDNR did not respond to a question regarding the classification of rainbow trout as an invasive fish species.
Despite environmental concerns, rainbow trout remain a globally popular fish for commercial farming and stocking in water bodies.
And at the end of a quiet day in Rock Creek with a few bites on fishing lines, Love pointed out an important aspect of the hobby: soaking up the scenery.
“To me, [fishing is] half – I like having fun and catching fish, but part of it is just being outside in nature,” Love said. “I just experience everything outside – the noises, sounds and smells – everything.”
More information on fishing licenses and the IDNR trout stocking program can be found at the agency’s website.
Note: This story will be updated with a video.