It is catfish time as other fishing begins to slow. Following the prime spring spawning seasons and increasing summer temperatures the catfish action is prime. It is a time when a sharp pull on a line that works away from the angler signals catfish dinner is just a short time away.
In Williamson County and elsewhere in southern Illinois, catfish are in abundance. The variety of waters and state stocking programs result in a catfish fishery second to none.
In summer, catfish tend to hole up in areas downstream from dams and other man-made structures. They seek out deep holes resting on the upstream side out of the current. Absent a hole, cats lay up behind a piece of structure out of the current. In this way they conserve energy and yet are able to move out into the current to partake of some hapless piece of forage that might float past.
Catfishing is an inexpensive sport that is also easy to learn. To be successful does not require a large investment. Basic spinning, spin casting, or bait casting reels on long rods are the bulwark of the sport. Terminal tackle consists of heavy lead weights, circle hooks, and a float to suspend the bait at a desired depth. Because of the heavy weight and fighting ability of many catfish, braided line is often used. Otherwise, line in the heavier weight classes is best. The choice of tackle is often the result of experience and the preference of the angler.
The choice of bait for catfishing often tends to be a matter of just how much your stomach can stand. Catfish baits are notorious for the strong odors they emit. Catfish seek out food sources by scent, including such things as cuts of shad, nightcrawlers and minnows.
In small ponds, the catfish will greedily devour night crawlers, red worms and cheese baits. In medium size rivers, the preferred baits are chicken and turkey liver, dip worm coated with stinky cheese bait. In big rivers, all of the above are applicable but so too are live fish, cut shad and crankbaits. Bluegills and shad are the preferred live fish baits.
Regardless of the type of water, catfish tend to feed in the evening, early morning and nighttime during the summer. It is probably due to their remaining deep in cool water during the day for comfort. Then as the shallow water begins to cool, they will move up to feed on the natural feed available. The exception is when it rains. Following a summer shower, the water cools a little and it seems to encourage feeding habits of the catfish. It is also possible that rain washes some of the terrestrial insects into the water and the fish find them tasty.
There are probably more catfish taken from shore than from a boat. However, boated fish are usually larger. This is more a function of ability to get to where the big ones hide. Most shore caught fish are part of a put and take situation. Small ponds and lakes are often stocked by wildlife agencies as part of programs to introduce kids and novice anglers to the sport of fishing. These programs are very popular and most public waters contain stocked catfish. The hatchery raised fish are stocked by various private and public organizations.
Medium sized lakes and some of the larger rivers are also accessible to shore anglers. In the evenings and early morning, the cats in these waters will move about in the shallows to feed. The rest of the day they hole up in deep holes or near stumps. The key to success is to fish all the water both horizontally and vertically.
Anglers will cast to the holes with bait suspended beneath an adjustable float. If not fish bites within 20 minutes, the angler retrieves his bait and moves to another location. Then repeat the process.
The systematic angler will fish the bottom of the water column first. If no bite is received the middle of the column depth is tried and finally the top portion. Most fish are in either the bottom or the top one foot of depth.
Contrary to the popular song of the 60′s “Summertime” the catfish do not usually jump. But here in southern Illinois they are still biting and fighting. Give it a try this summer.
During a recent visit to Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, MO I stumbled upon the Archery Hall of Fame & Museum (www.archeryhalloffame.org.).
It was not a total surprise as I had been here previously during an outdoor writer’s convention but it was not much to look at. What a change a few years make.
The museum contains a number of artifacts that came from the Fred Bear museum which I saw many years ago in Grayling MI when Fred was still alive. But the present exhibits are much more interesting.
The museum is a professional collection of exhibits that tell the story of modern archery and bowhunting. There is the case with the first compound bow. Others celebrate the exploits of such famous archers as Earl and Ann Hoyt, Fred Bear, M.R. James, Dick Latimer, Art Young and Saxon Pope, Roy Hoff, Ben Pearson and all the 73 members of the Hall of Fame.
Of particular interest were cases containing the bows of Ishi (the last wild Indian) and Geronimo.
The comfortable chairs in front of the fireplace allow one to absorb the atmosphere of the museum amidst these historical artifacts and a collection of books on the subject of modern bowhunting.
If you get a chance to visit Springfield, take some time to visit the museum on the second floor of the Bass Pro Shops flagship store at 1935 S. Campbell Ave. It is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
Traveling along Interstate 40 in central Missouri one passes an unassuming factory on the east side of Lebanon. Inside, Missouri craftsmen build aluminum bass boats, Jon boats and pontoon boats for G3 in a state of the art factory.
On my way home from the annual meeting of Missouri Outdoor Communicators I toured this facility. By industry standards factory is a leader in the production of aluminum boats.
Aaron Waterman, Marketing Service Manager for G3, explained that the original facility had two assembly lines that were sometimes delayed due to the different number of man hours required for each model. For instance, one might require 95 hours from start to finish while another only 50 hours.
Now the factory has different assembly lines for the different models and computer controlled fabrication. Craftsmen use aircraft welding equipment to produce an impressive product.
During the tour we followed the line from rolls of aluminum brought in from outside through the process until, the boat, trailer, and motors packages go out headed for the dealer.
Almost all of the components of the boats are manufactured on site. Exceptions are things like electronics, cushions, carpeting and a few of the extruded aluminum supports. The sheet aluminum is cut, formed welded and polished smooth before being prepared for painting. Prior to painting, the craft is given an acid bath, dried, primed, and then painted.
After the paint has dried, the interior elements are added such as carpet, storage boxes, closed cell foam, seating and electronics. The foam for insulation and flotation exceeds that required by industry and Coast Guard recommendation.
The boat is then matched to a trailer, especially built for that model. The trailers are built of heavier steel and with larger tires than the industry standard. A Yamaha outboard motor is added as is a trolling motor. The entire package is then shrink-wrapped and is ready to go out to the dealer.
The efficiency of a boat motor package is dependant on a number of factors. The following are some of the after market things that one should consider to assure the performance of a boat.
Weight makes a boat work harder as it moves through the water. The heavier the boat the slower it will move. By leaving some of your gear at home, or in your tow vehicle you can cut down on the weight of the boat/motor package. If fishing, it is not necessary to take all your rods and terminal tackle on every trip. Plan ahead as to what you are going to fish for or do with the boat. It also makes keeping the storage areas cleaner and less prone to mold and mildew problems.
Motors, no matter how state of the art, need to be tuned from time to time. This should include examination of the prop. A poorly tuned or damaged prop reduces the engine efficiency when it comes to movement through the water.
You can actually lose up to 5 mph in boat speed with a damaged prop. If the boat travels 50 mph with a new prop and only 45 mph with a damaged or out of pitch prop, that is a lost of 10 percent performance while using the same amount of fuel.
Over the course of the boating year, a poorly tuned motor/boat package can prove to be costly in terms of fuel costs and wear on the engine.
An oft missed aspect of boat care is cleaning the hull. Stuff builds up over the repeated presence in a body of water. It has been described as being like a dull knife. It just does not cut through the water as well when dirty. Slime on the hull slows the boat and increases fuel consumption.
If a boat is equipped with adjustable trim tabs, as most bass and deck boats are, use them wisely. They allow the boat to move through the water more efficiently. Also the distribution of weight in the boat will affect the efficient performance of a boat. A boat in trim uses less fuel. Subsequently it costs less to use over the course of the season.
When towing a boat, the tow vehicle uses fuel and costs more to operate from a fuel standpoint. It also can affect the durability of the equipment. The most efficient trailered vehicle is one covered with a boat canopy that makes it more streamlined as it passes through the air. If the boat provides less wind resistance, it is less expensive to tow. The fuel mileage of the tow vehicle is greater for a covered boat.
Boats with pedestal seats should have the seats lowered and folded up to provide less resistance. This is true either while being towed or moving across the water. Additional wind resistance of a seat left in the upright, or at full height of the pedestal, causes the base of the pedestal to become loose more easily. The pressure of the air will shorten the life the pedestal base mount.
One of the lesser understood aspect of a boat motor is the propeller. The key to selecting the right size is the engine rpm. If the motor is running at its top rpm at full throttle with a normal load then he prop is the right size. If it is not making it to the top then the prop is too small. It the engine is over revving the prop could be too large. Make sure you load the boat as you would in normal use before trying this test.
Props come in a variety of metals and plastic. Plastic is usually reserved for temporary use in case of an emergency. Stainless steel is the most expensive and delivers the most speed. Its thin blades reduce drag and they can be forged into different configurations to optimize performance. That converts into better fuel mileage.
There are two aspects to getting your dog in shape for next year’s hunting season. One is being in condition to a certain level through exercise. The other is the problem with being overweight.
Many overweight dogs get table scraps in addition to their regular meal. You are over feeding them. If they get a quality dog food, there is no reason to feed table scraps.
“Being over weight can really contribute to a lot of health problems,” says Bob West, Director of Purina PetCare’s Sporting Dog Group. He is also a dog breeder.
West believes that the monitoring of a dog’s condition should consist of visual and hands-on evaluations. “You should be able to place both thumbs on the back bone of the dog and spread both hands across his rib cage,” maintains West. “If you cannot feel the ribs easily, the dog may need to lose weight.
West recommends that you look at the dog’s profile. The abdomen should appear slightly tucked up behind the rib cage. Looking down from overhead, you should see an hourglass shape.
According to the Purina scientists, one can adjust the amount of food offered up or down to maintain a dog in ideal condition. According to West, dog food producers take great pains to make sure that all the vitamins and nutrients needed are present in reduced amounts of food. It is not necessary to worry about not getting a complete diet, just back off a little bit.
It is important to weigh the dog weekly to insure that he is not losing muscle mass or becoming overweight. “Dogs that are overweight and poorly conditioned could get in a life threatening situation on a hot day in the field,” warns West. Obesity in a dog is life threatening.
Once in condition the dog requires fewer calories. “The two factors that are major contributors to how many calories a dog needs,” says West, “are exercise and the weather (temperature and humidity) in which they are working.” When they first begin exercising, dogs require more calories. Then they reach a point at about six or eight weeks that it starts to tail off. A well-conditioned dog becomes more of a fat user than a carbohydrate user. Reports Bob, “that is why the high protein, high fat, high energy diet is best.”
Dogs burn fat because it is the most efficient way to run light. It is the most efficient way because of the way they evolved. In some situations they do need carbohydrate replenishment but not to the extent that some diets provide.
West and his staff have found that regardless of where the proteins originate, dogs reassemble those proteins into dog protein. Protein is protein. The source the dog gets it from is not important as long as it is digestible.
Do not get hung up on ingredients of the dog food. Focus on the nutrients and what they contribute to the diet. Are their ingredients that do not provide any nutrition?
An example of an empty ingredient is feather meal. Feather meal is 95 percent protein, which should good. However, it is zero digestible. The result is that it passes through the animal. The species of the meat used in the food is not as important as the protein.
Chicken base, rice base, beef base or lamb based foods should all deliver protein appropriately. The difference is not in delivery. Some ingredients are more digestible.
Digestibility is a function of what you put in verses what comes out the other end of the dog. The difference is what is left for the body to use. There can be a difference in digestibility between different meat sources. Most feed makers make sure there is little difference in digestibility between their various products. It is a matter of formulation.
The dog owner needs to read the label of the food he is using. In products of all the top five dog food makers, you should find top quality proteins. Some of the high quality protein sources are such things as chicken meal, chicken by-product, meat, and bone meal. In fresh meats, chicken, beef and lamb are good sources.
A lot of time you will see corn gluten meal listed. That is a vegetable protein source. It is an excellent vegetable protein source. Some products will have corn, a good source of protein, as is rice. Nevertheless, if you start to see things that say wheat milling, bran and other ingredients, they are of less quality.
In the less active dog, fillings have a purpose in keeping them feeling full. Feeling full keeps them from eating all day. High performance dogs do not need the bulk because they are going to be running.
In reading dog food labels, look for some indication that AAFCO has tested it. AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) is the regulating body in the pet food industry. They report to the FDA.
AAFCO determines three ways to formulate food. It is formulated and fed to dogs. Formulated, and ingredients listed, but perhaps not fed to a dog. Alternatively, is can be so similar to another diet that it can be familyed in because of the close relation. West maintains that for a high performance dog you want some indication it has been fed in live animal testing, a proven system.
West indicates that dogs fed low quality; lower protein diets are prone to injury and generally less healthy. They bruise easily and have joint problems. Professional dog handlers report fewer trips to the vet with dogs fed on high protein diets.
He also reports one clinical study shows, dogs fed properly and exercised regularly, tend to live three years longer than their litter mates not in such a program.
Anglers seeking that big trophy catfish check out the middle Mississippi River. It is this section that produced not only the state record Blue Catfish but also the World Record.
According to Illinois Department of Natural Resources biologist Butch Atwood, all three species are in these waters. Not many of the brown and yellow bullheads are there these days. The Channel Catfish, Blue Catfish and Flathead Catfish are the trophy species.
That Blue Catfish world record came from the area of the river near where the Missouri River empties into the Mississippi. In that area there are three pools: Pool 24, Pool 25, and Pool 26. After that the river is open from Alton to Cairo, Illinois. According to Atwood, that seems to be the area where blue cats are the most prolific. He adds that he has seen them upriver as far as Dam 22 and people do fish for them there.
Since 1980 the biologists have found some Blue Catfish moving from the lower part of the river up into the pools. Atwood describes that section of the river as “an interesting stretch because of the pools and the open river.”
The pools in this section operate a little bit differently than the upper pools near Rock Island, Illinois. Water management and control in the upper sections at the dam point is the primary goal. The control at the dam point tries to maintain a flat pool off the time even during high water. But, in 24, 25 and 26 which the St. Louis District of the Corps of Engineers operates they operate on the hinge point. “In other words their control point is the middle of the pool.
As soon as the waters start to rise, they open the gate to create an open river. They get to open river as fast as they can because they do not own enough real estate in the lower end of the pool like they do upstream. They operate it more like a river.
This type of water management may be why the Blue Catfish seem to like it. They like that more riverine environment. They like more current and as such prefer the main channel. The wing dams kind of give an illusion of a main channel and the blues get things washed down to them.
That northern section of the river has produced some nice Flathead Catfish of larger size. Atwood has personally seen them up to 70 pounds in weight. He has netted other that probably ran close to 100 pounds but did not have a scale upon which to weight them. Those fish came from the tailwaters about a half mile below Mel Price Lock and Dam at Alton, Illinois.
Butch recommends fishing the scour holes off the wing dams. He explains that there are a few catfishermen out there and they are friendly with one another. The anglers share information because there are not a lot of them.
When it comes to bait, the usual rig contains cut shad. For the big blues, skipjack herring heads are the bait of choice. The open portion of the river has a pretty good population of skipjack and they are all the way up to Lock and Dam 22. Beyond that they become fewer. Tailwaters are the best place to find skipjack and fish up to a pound are caught with regularity.
When it comes to Channel Catfish, Butch says one can catch up to 50 pound fish in the open river. He has caught some nice ones in his nets and by electro-fishing. Fish in the 5- to 10 pound class are pretty common. He has found that the open water below Mel Price Dam produces some pretty big Channel Catfish.
When choosing a bait and rig for these giants of the river, it is wise to consider their feeding habits. Flatheads eat in the bottom of the water column, blues above them and the channels are closer to the surface or in more shallow water.
Regardless of the species sought, catfish provide some of the best big fish action and the Mississippi River along the western edge of Illinois is home to some of the largest ones available anywhere in the country.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has available several booklets on the Mississippi River that describe the fishery and access to it. The free publications are available at Department offices across the state and from the main office in Springfield. The address there is IDNR, One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, Illinois62702-1271.
According to Forbes.com, the fish hook is the 19th most important tool in mankind’s history. Consisting of a piece of bent wire with a barb, it has allowed us to eat, without the danger of hunting or the hard work of farming. Have you ever wondered just who is the foremost authority on hooks?
People seeking answers to questions about hooks go to the “Wizard of Wetumpka (AL).” Who is he and why him?
TJ Stallings of the TTI-Blakemore Fishing Group is the go to guy with questions about hooks and their use. This jovial and unassuming man has spent a lifetime studying hooks. He is probably the father of the “bleeding bait” hook, those red hooks that are popping up all over the place in tackle stores and catalog outlets.
Stallings began his career in the hook business as a youngster by selling red jigs in his father’s tackle shop. Customers who tried them came back for more. Later, he reports a friend used a laser light in a large aquarium and found that the fish followed the red dot around the tank.
According to Stallings, fish in test tanks strike dark red more than any other color. His Tru-Turn and Daiichi hooks have a red dye over a bright nickel finish. He explains that the red does wear off but that is good. As it wears, the combination of the bright finish and the red makes for more flash.
There are two basic theories as to why fish will attack the red hooks. Red stimulates the predator fish into thinking the bait fish was injured or that the red amounts to a “gill flash” from a smaller fish that is frightened or excited.
It is possible for the layman to study fish reaction to red hooks. Stallings recommends doing research by tying a crankbait with one red hook and count how many times that hook is deep in the fish’s mouth. Then move the hook to the front or back of the same lure and do the count again.
Stallings recommends another test, Put out several poles with the red hook while rigging others more traditional hooks. Then do the math. A word of caution here in that Illinois limits anglers to two poles and lines in most areas. You can get around that for this test by having more than one angler present.
The gill flash theory could account for the fact that predator fish tend to strike the head of a lure. As a result, Stallings recommends installing the red hook on the front of a crankbait or jerkbait. It is scientific fact that predator fish strike the head of their prey in an effort to swallow it without problems from the fins.
Regardless as to why, years of study in the laboratory ad on the water have found that dark red triggers a feeding response. It just appears to TJ that the red indicates a feeding opportunity and that in turn creates the aggressive response exhibited by so many predator fish.
For more information about hooks, check out the following websites: http://www.daiichihooks.com.