The old adage is that you can never go home. In most cases I would agree to this. Actually, in this case I would still agree but my recent trip to fish the Kankakee with Jim Daugherty (an old friend) and Austin Adduci (of Grab Your Fly Charters) was in many ways… like going home.
First, I have to let you know I grew up in Kankakee. I wasn't born there but my family moved there in '67 when I was just four years old. My father, his father and mother and many other relatives, are native Kankakeeans (I'm guessing at this one). My father and mother moved to K3 to setup their own medical practice. Being an internal medicine doc and a dermatologist they had the ins and outs covered and were a welcome addition to the growing medical community. They had a practice right next to Riverside Hospital and were actually instrumental in Riverside even getting off the ground. When we arrived at Kankakee Riverside Hospital had only been open a few months. OK, now I am sounding a bit like an old guy. Soon I might even mention we would see plains Indians in town as a kid! Well, not me but maybe my great grandfather. Anyway….
The short version is many memories came flooding back as Jim and I drove in on State Road 17 and down Court Street. Buildings I had been in, schools, restaurants, my parents first medical offices, parades at the Court House, the movie theater… like a walk back through time. We met Austin at Bird Park off Court Street on the West side of the river and dropped off our gear. After swapping cars at the take out below Warner Bridge we were back at the launch and shoving off. Bird park is right up stream from Riverside Hospital so it was interesting floating down and seeing the hospital from the riverside (no pun intended). I had run around Bird Park plenty as a kid. My father, as a kid as well as me, swam in the old limestone quarry in the center of Bird Park. So old ghosts were floating around as we slipped out onto the river. The launch and the present was brought back into focus as Jim brought in a nice 16 inch smallie about 100 yards down stream from shoving off. A perfect start!
I had run around the river plenty as a kid. In some ways the water was more my home than land. I would rather have been splashing in a puddle, wading through a creek or fishing in the river than most anything else. My father was not a fisherman but my Grandfather was. Grandfather had taken up fly fishing after being married for seven years (and having four kids [one of them my father]). He used to tell folks that if they wanted to get into fly fishing "all they had to do was be married for seven years". My Grandfather fly fished up and down the Kankakee from Indiana to the Illinois river. Unfortunately, the fishing bug had not bitten me by the age of six when he passed away in '69. But when the bug did bite a few years later I got out on the Kankakee most often around Aroma park and the State Park. Rock creek was heaven to a eleven year old boy. The waters around Rock creek and the Kankakee were a great playground because in the summer they were pretty much wadeable from one shore to the next.
As we drifted down the Kankakee our focus on May 13th was the smallmouth and not the ghosts of my past. Austin did us right by turning us onto a great yellow and white marabou clouser style fly that ended up being the fly of the day. By lunch time Jim had chalked up a few more smallies than me but that was because I was experimenting with some flies and he stuck with what they wanted [your supposed to listen to the guide right?]. After Jim caught three fish just after lunch I resigned to the yellow and white streamer and the fun began in earnest. Many fish were caught with a total of three double. One of which we both set the hook at the exact same time.
The water was up a few inches from normal and running a little stained and cold for the middle of May. None the less, Austin did a great job of keeping us in the right position to be where the fish were. This can be a daunting task because the Kankakee is a wide river. Much wider than the White River we have around here and even wider than a good portion of the Wabash. Plus, it has so much good structure though out the river it can be a nightmare for a fly fisherman with ADD. I would be all over that water hitting this "good looking" spot and that "good looking" water. But we stayed where Austin new there to be fish and his experience did not let us down.
As we traveled through the State Park and got close to Rock creek memories of swimming, fishing, splashing and having fun came flooding back. Most recently, I remembered catching my first walleye and gar on a fly right below Rock Creek. Lucky for me I landed the biggest fish of the day for me in the same general are. A dark colored smallmouth that reminded me of why I love warmwater fly fishing so much. This seventeen incher came out of nowhere and went straight back to where he came from with great force. He was a deep rich brown, almost black, that will be burned in my memory forever.
The float ended around 4:30pm (we put in at 7:30am), quicker than I thought. I had fished and tromped around both end of this float many times but had never been down through the middle. I expected it to be a longer Day. The Kankakee does not wind back on itself much, at least in this section, therefore one travels it faster. Plus, the flow was up some. All in all, just the right amount of time and the right amount of fish. Beside, Jim was just tied out from fighting with the wind.
Long or short, it was float to remember. It had been about nine years since I had set foot in the K3 and cast a fly on it's waters. My siblings are all scattered now living their lives. Both my folks rest not far from the State Park and close to the river. I may not be able to walk into the old house on Poplar street but then my home was always on the water. So, in a way I did get to go home again. I look forward to when I get back to the Kankakee. Maybe this time for some fall smallies! – Ian Anderson