"There's a trail through the trees that goes down to the river. Come on, it's not very far." The year was 1969 and my older brother, a Boy Scout at the time, was leading me down to The Vermilion's Wildcat Canyon at Mathiesson State Park south of the Illinois River. It seamed such a long way from the parking lot where the scout tents were pitched to the trail head at the tree line. I don't remember much about it. I was only seven years old. You see, I did most of my growing up on the Little Vermilion in an area known as Forty Steps on the north side of the Illinois River. It was there where my friends and I would make half attempts at being fishermen hooking less than average bullhead and bluegill, and spending most of the day swimming, catching crawdads, and pulling the occasional leach from our shins.
Last Saturday I decided to take Jonn Graham's advice and revisit the The Vermilion with my brother-in-law Steve. The walk to the tree line was much shorter this time, even with all my cold weather gear, hip-waders and boots. As we followed the trail down we ran into Tom Levy, Site Superintendent for Starved Rock and Mathiesson parks. He was inspecting the trails for Sunday's mountain bike race. The three of us chatted for a few minutes about the trails, the river, and Jonn's blog at Prairie State Outdoors. It turns out that Steve's son James worked for Tom at the park a few years ago while he was studying forestry. Today James is an Indiana District Forester.
Steve didn't bring fishing gear so he played photographer while I fished. I spotted some nice rip-rap behind a boulder about 20 feet from shore and hooked a nice two pound Bronzie on the fourth cast. My blood was racing because this guy was a fighter, and I was thinking, "This is going to be a great day!"
It was the only fish of the day. I spent the next hour trying different approaches, different boulders, different flies, but nothing developed. Steve, on the other hand, was quite successful.
The Vermilion is a perfect refuge for smallmouth bass. There are plenty of rocks, boulders and rapids to make a happy home. Caution is advised. Footing can get tricky if your used to trekking mud. The Vermilion offers the only true white water in Illinois. Check this out for some interesting facts about Vermilion's Wildcat Canyon.
I'll be making many trips to this river.