There was a time when an angler in search of a boat for fishing big water just bought an aluminum boat with a seat cushion, tackle and an outboard engine. Boy, have times changed. With the advent of competitive fishing and new materials for crafting boats fishing is a lot more sophisticated. A vital part of that sophistication comes in the form of the boat and motor packages offered by manufacturers.
Here in Illinois anglers should consider a big water boat when fishing on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. They might be advisable for the larger reservoirs such as Rend Lake and Carlyle Lake.
The basic purpose of the big water boat is different from that of a bass boat. To a bass angler, the boat is a casting platform and he moves his bait with the rod and reel. The big water angler uses his boat as a tool to move the bait.
Moving more often big water anglers benefit from the newer model 4-stroke engines. Being able to use a four-stroke large engine to back troll allows better boat control.
Four stoke engines allow anglers versatility. Fishermen are able to roll and back troll with ease. The larger motors perform well and the quietness of the engine sound is a bonus.
The lack of noise from the four strokes can cause anglers to think they are going slower than is really the case. They were accustomed to relating noise with speed. Smaller waters and trolling speeds under a mile per hour can require the use of a kicker motor. But, on large waters one can troll with just the larger motor.
For back trolling in big water, some anglers prefer the use of a drift bag out from the bow and the large four stroke engine. With this set up it is possible to control the boat completely in waves more than three or four feet. The conversion from two stroke engines to four strokes is something whose time has arrived. Once someone tries the four-stroke there is no desire to go back to a two-stroke.
Four-strokes tend to be more reliable than the two-stroke both in fuel economy and maintenance.
So what other elements are essential for a good big water boat? Anglers usually begin with an 18-foot boat and the four-stroke engine. Hold off on a kicker motor until you see how the engine meets your needs.
Rod holders are must. A good drift bag and anchor are important to control the movement of the boat. Most packages come with a good trolling motor on the front. This is not a time to fudge on the cost and quality of a trolling motor. Buy the best you can afford. A long shaft on the motor is a good idea in that one can always lift up the motor but you cannot add to the shaft.
High thrust trolling motors do provide almost the same amount of boat control that can be obtained back trolling with a tiller motor.
A 24-volt electrical system is best for this type of fishing. They cost more but are more reliable.
A fish locator, side scanner and G.P.S. system are important. If you can get a unit incorporating all three so much the better. It is a better investment. Split screen units allow the angler to use systems simultaneously. If you want to run one you can do that too. These units have all the capabilities for mapping and all the other features that come with modern G.P.S. systems.
Finally, there is safety equipment. Never skimp on the safety equipment, such as flares, life vests, etc. You never know when you are going to need them and your life may depend upon it.
A basic big water fishing boat is a big investment. Take time in making a decision and do so only after checking out as many makes and models as possible. The up coming boat show season offers an excellent opportunity to compare costs and packages before buying.
Kyle Schoenherr displays a cold water White Crappie from Lake Kinkaid, IL
Preferring the warm confines of home to fishing out on a lake in 40-degree temperatures does not make one unusual. But a while back Kyle Schoenherr’s tales of 2-pound crappie became irresistible.
In addition to the cold weather the idea of fishing with 16-foot poles was also new. The limber poles provide the sensitivity to feel virtually everything that comes into contact with the terminal tackle.
All Seasons Crappie Fishing (www.allseasonscrappiefishing.com) is a guide service dedicated to crappie fishing all year. Kyle is also a tournament crappie fisherman who rather successfully competes on the Crappie Masters tournament trail.
Cruising along on Lake Kinkaid near Murphysboro, Illinois the wind is down but the air cold. We begin fishing along some bluffs. Kyle explains that the bluffs continue into the water. Below the surface are rocks and brush. What is surprising is that the structure is some 40 feet below the surface.
The terminal tackle is a standard crappie rig of a heavy sinker at the end with a tag line tied about 18 inches up. On the tag line is a small jig or a hook with a minnow. The rig is jigged vertically. A slight twitching motion is applied to give the minnow or jig a realistic presentation. Usually in deep water a shorter rod is used. Kyle prefers the sensitivity of a long pole.
We slowly troll parallel to the underwater ledges beneath the bluffs. Kyle explains that he prefers to follow the lay of the land beneath the surface as opposed to the shoreline. The bottom here drops off three or four feet which seems to make a difference in the fish we see in the locator.
Kyle catches several fish and I have some hits and a fish. We relocate across the bay. I begin to reel in my line when it suddenly goes sideways. I do not feel a hit until I set the hook. The flexible rod allows for some fun fishing action as I bring my crappie to the surface. It is over 2 pounds in size.
Kyle quickly nets the fish and places it in a Slabmaster Crappie Saver. This fish came from 33 feet beneath the surface. If we are to save it alive, immediate attention to the air bladder is required. The Slabmaster holds the fish so that it can be measured for length, and an estimate of age and weight can be taken. In order to keep it alive, the air bladder must be deflated.
A needle inserted into the air bladder at a 45 degree angler deflates it. Where is the air bladder? The Slabmaster has a slot that marks the location. Kyle inserts the needle and the process is over in seconds. The fish is alive and will stay that way in the live well. In tournaments that is important as all fish weighed in dead result in a points penalty which could make the difference between a winner and an also ran.
Catching this fish is the highlight of the day. Kyle maintains that 2-pound fish are not uncommon in the lake but it is a new experience for this angler.
Dress warm and enjoy winter fishing other than on ice.
The cool water of late fall allows fish to spread out and find comfort zones in a variety of levels. Thanks giving weekend has given anglers in southern Illinois a chance for some very late season fishing. The break in the weather and our normally mild temperatures were great. The water carries oxygen down to different levels of the lake. Fish will go to a variety of levels and still be comfortable.
Some anglers mistakenly seem to think that fish are like bears and that they go into hibernation in winter. Many large game fish are taken from cold water. Fish are not as aggressive when the water temperature is below 55 degrees, but they still eat and will take a properly presented lure.
Cold water anglers may have to fish a variety of locations. It makes winter fishing more difficult as the fish are not congregating in a single type of location or habitat. Fish located in a single area may or may not be a specific species. What might be thought of as a crappie location may prove to be a school of bass.
Bass patterns vary in cold waters. The techniques are much the same only slower. Although one can catch bass on crankbaits and spinner baits, it is a good idea to downsize for winter fishing. One might even want to try jigging spoons or small jigs.
In cold water fish suck a lure in gently and leave only the sensation of a tic on the line.
Cold water fishing means warm clothing and it is a good idea to take along an extra clothing just in case yours get wet. A ski suit, hand warmers, ski mask and rubberized gloves are a good idea. It would not hurt to have a thermos of hot coffee, hot chocolate or soup.
It is important to use care around cold water situations. Wet rocks or a dock can have ice on it and cause an angler to fall into water or other wise injury himself. When launching a boat, care must be taken that both boat trailer and tow vehicle can get back up the ramp. Ice on ramp can be a problem.
Getting back to fishing patterns, any current in a body of water will increase the oxygen content and fish will relate to it. Generally, fish will be in the 12 to 20 foot deep range. In larger impoundments without warm water discharges, the warmer water will be in the section closer to the dam.
In the main part of a lake, the combination of structure and current is a good location. Fish tend to be just out of the current near structure. Forage fish are there picking up the small plankton that flows with the current. Bass hang around such areas close to stumps, beneath undercuts, rocks, or just on a sharp breakline.
Runoff increases a river flow and current. Warming temperatures signal a feeding frenzy in predator fish. For some reason the larger fish are the first to react. Often one will have to fish hard and for a long time to get bites. Often the fish that bite will be the larger ones.
Disruptions such as sudden noises on shore or in the water makes the fish shut down. Light also seems to have an effect on fishing action. The brighter the day, the closer to the bottom fish seem to be located.
Weedy areas or those with dark bottoms warm sooner and are areas likely to harbor fish. The weeds and the dark muddy bottoms absorb what heat there is available on a sunny day and hold it longer.
Cold water lures fall into two categories, jigs and deep diving crankbaits. Rods should be very sensitive and the line very light test. The bite will be just a tic and therefore the light line is necessary to identify a bite. One piece rods are also more sensitive than a two piece one.
Fish all lures very slowly. The lure needs to get down to or near the bottom. Crankbaits should slowly bounce along the bottom kicking up small clouds of mud. A loose wobbling crankbait that disturbs the silt on a branch or stump is more likely to attract a fish’s attention than one that just passes over it quickly. Because the bait fish are just a slow reacting as are the larger fish, crankbaits need to move in slow motion. The idea is to make the crankbait imitate the action of the baitfish, that is, to dart, slow down, shimmy in one spot and then move off.
Remember that the lure is going to have to be right in front of the larger fish’s nose for him to react. Long retrieves are a must in order to get the crankbait down to the strike zone of a fish sitting on the bottom.
Jig fishing is a little easier. A 1/16th or 1/32nd ounce jig fished right below the boat will work well. With a fish locator, one can park the boat right on top of the fish and bounce a jig right in front of their noses. Thoroughly cover the fishing zone with the jig. The fish will not be more than a foot off the bottom. One can do well with just about any type of jig or jigging spoon as long as it does not weigh more than an ounce.
Jigs must be fished slowly and right up against any structure available.
In the case of both the jig and crankbait, it is important to pay close attention for the tic of the bite and to set the hook quickly. They will not hold the lure for long. Any variation in the action of the line calls for a quick hook set. This is a game of total concentration on the job at hand.
Cold water fishing means sluggish fish that bite lightly but it often means big fish. Be safe, fish slowly and you to might tie into one of those lunker bass and crappie. Why not get out there and give it a try?
Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Moving into the New Year, many outdoor oriented men and women spend increasingly more time in the outdoors. It may be waterfowl hunting, wildlife watching, hiking, biking, and fishing. Each of these has its own risks. Preventing dangerous situations becomes a top priority.
Although it is tempting to enjoy the outdoors alone, it is not the safe way. Enjoy the outdoors with a friend. Simple actions such as telling someone where you are going and when you’re are coming back as well as watching weather for sudden changes are important.
Know the limits of your physical condition and do not press your luck. Always carry a compass or G.P.S. unit and consult it regularly. Know where you are at all times.
In sports where firearms are used, gun safety is a priority. Always be aware of the direction in which the muzzle is pointed. Not only view the distance from the weapon to the quarry, but also the area beyond it. A good rule in waterfowl hunting is never to shoot a target when your gun barrel is pointing below the horizon.
Hunters must always be in control of their weapon. In a boat or blind it is important to have the weapon in a secure rest with the muzzle always pointing in a safe direction. If none is available, hold the gun tightly with the barrel pointed up and away from the boat, dogs and hunting companions.
When entering or leaving the boat, or blind, be sure the weapon is unloaded and cased.
Hiking is not normally considered to be a risky sport. Each year many people are injured or killed while engaged in this activity. If hiking on a roadway, always walk on the left side of the road facing oncoming traffic. If hiking in low light conditions it is wise to wear bright color clothing. An inexpensive blaze orange vest is a good idea. They are available where ever hunting gear is sold. The orange color will not spook animals you may want to observe and still alert drivers to your presence.
For those hiking in off road areas, a cell phone is a good idea. You never know when an emergency might happen. One person in the group may have a medical emergency such as heart attack, broken leg, sprained ankle, etc.
It is a good idea to carry a whistle and a Space Blanket from camping sections of most stores. The emergency signal with a whistle is three blasts in a row. The Space Blanket is a foil sheet that can be wrapped around the body to keep warm until help arrives.
The whistle is a good idea for each member of your group, adult or child. Affix it to the zipper of a coat. It is vital that everyone understand that the whistle is to be used only in emergency situations.
It is important that children understand that anyone can become lost. They should know to stay put in one location and keep blowing the three blasts until they are found. Knowing help is coming aids them in dealing with the situation and not to panic.
Hikers need to pay attention to the trail conditions. During winter and early spring, paths can become muddy and slippery. It is easy for some one not paying attention to slide down a hill or from a rocky outcropping while observing the scenery.
A small first aid kit can be very helpful with less serious injuries. Small cuts and injuries can be treated in the field making the trek back to the vehicle much less unpleasant. Field treatment of a cut might also prevent infection which could cause more serious problems later.
Early season fishing is often some of the best fishing of the year. But, the cold water temperatures can present life threatening situations for anglers who fall out of a boat. Hypothermia is the sudden loss of core body temperature when suddenly dunked in cold water. Always wear a personal floatation device (PFD.). It will keep you afloat incase you are injured or too numb to swim. Get out of the water and out of wet clothing as soon as possible. If you are turning blue, shivering uncontrollably, then get medical attention right away.
The outdoors is a wonderful world to explore. With some advance planning and care, it can also be a safe one. Just be careful out there.
White crappie caught on rainy day teaches one to fish under hardship.
Thunder and lightning punctuate the night time skies. But, we are anxious to get out on the water and catch some crappie. Rain or no rain the goal is to learn how to catch crappie in unfavorable conditions. Getting up in the morning it is immediately apparent that the day’s fishing excursion is going to be a wet one. Overcast skies and the rain were just a prologue.
The guide is a full time guide and tournament bass and crappie competitor. He is accustomed to fishing in bad weather. We load up the boat, put on our rain suits and head out. Almost immediately it begins to lightly rain. It continues virtually all day. Weather reports say we are fishing in the edge of a spent hurricane coming up out of the gulf.
We are basically fishing in frontal conditions weather wise. There is a cold front coming in from the northwest during the day. It is a tough day for fishing.
After a short boat ride we pull into a cove with standing tree trunks and stumps readily visible. The water is about 10 feet deep and we fish with jigs about a foot off the bottom. We cast to the stumps and trunks and then jig the lures back to the boat with a slow retrieve.
The guide catches two good size crappies almost immediately. They are placed in the live well for photos once the rain lets up. The pressure to find a picture fish is off and now we can relax and get into serious fishing.
This trip was an introduction not only to the lake but also to weedless crappie jigs. The jigs are 1/16th to 1/8th ounce weedless jigs. They are similar to the bass jigs with a grub and live minnow added.
For the early part of the day I stick to my Road Runners and marabou jigs with seemingly few bites. I find out that the bite is so light I may have missed bites and not known it. Switching to one of the 1/8th ounce jigs yields a feel of a couple of hits. I am too slow to react in order to catch a fish. One needs to really focus on the task at hand to catch crappie with this set up. We end the day with one black crappie and 14 white crappies.
Moving around in several coves and creek areas we find the fishing tough. The rain falls in a kind of steady drizzle during most of the day. It quits for a few minutes during which we take the opportunity for some photos.
Finally, we are so completely soaked under our rain suits that we call it a day and head back to the marina. The excursion is a fun but 8 hours in the rain is a bit uncomfortable in the long run.
Jim Reedy displays nice Rend Lake Crappie
Perhaps one of the most important factors of winter crappie fishing is to know just how deep the fish are. Depth is particularly important in cold when the crappies are less likely to move around. Using electronics we found the big fish down 40 feet and relating to logs or boulders.
Jim and Barb Reedy employ a technique called Spider Rigging. It is a team effort all the way. Jim runs the trolling motor, watching for fish on the locater as well as catching and netting fish. Barb retrieves 14-foot poles from a rack in the stern and passes them to Jim in the bow. She also places caught fish in the livewell and as passes minnows to Jim as needed. Both are responsible for their own poles when it comes to catching fish.
Spider fishing us basically jig fishing with the long poles. Brackets mounted on the front of the boat hold multiple poles. These brackets can also be on the back. Fishing from the front is spider rigging and from the back it is long lining.
Each pole has two hooks on 6-pound Hi Vis line. Pre-rigged minnow rigs have a hook at the end of the line, with ½ ounce egg sinker 8-inches above it. Twenty-two inches above the sinker is a three-way swivel. One eye of the swivel ties to the main line going back to the pole. The other has a 9-inch line with a hook at the end. Both hooks have a minnow as bait.
Each rod is set at a different depth from one foot off the bottom and in one foot increments up from there. The anglers slowly troll over submerged boulders and other structure approaching from the downwind side. They explore each location both on the sides and top. Once fish of the desired size take the offerings they adjust the other rods to the same depth as the one producing results.
Once a fish is on a hook it is important to maintain pressure and not drop the tip of the rod. It will produce slack in the line. Slack line allows fish to escape. Net larger fish in a dip net once they surface to avoid loss due to broken line.
Dan Danmueller prowls the cove at Rend Lake Resort talking to the fish.
The cove at Rend Lake Resort near Whittington, IL is alive with shad breaking the surface and then vanishing. Dan Dannenmueller and I are trying to catch a few crappies and do an interview about the tactics and bait he uses as he competes as a professional angler. The cove is alive with the shiny silver torpedoes skimming the still water.
Dan explains that gizzard shad, the dominant forage in this lake, produce sounds that attract crappies. They make a clicking noise. When they jump out of the water as these are doing, they make a different noise. Predator fish to hone in on the shad’s location use the second noise. It is different from the sound of something tossed into the water.
The sound emitted by shad is very quiet. Biologists tell us they make the sound by releasing gas through the anal duct.
The inventor of the HydroWave (www.hydrowave.com) device developed it to imitate the sound of shad and stimulate predator fish to begin actively feeding. Dan’s unit mounts in the bow of the boat next to his other electronics and trolling motor. It is easy to reach while fishing.
Dannenmueller uses a HydroWave as a tool to catch more fish. The key is to get them actively feeding by use of the frenzy shad setting. Different settings produce different shad activity and the volume of the unit’s sound. The production of natural sounds that bait fish make produces an instinctive response on the local predatory fish. The predatory fish can hear the sounds and feel the vibrations of the sound waves.
When an angler uses the device it draws the fish in the direction of the origin of the sound. At that point it is up to the angler to present the right lure or bait.
A first reaction might be that this is but another gimmick to catch more fishermen than fish. But, anglers like Dannenmueller in the world of crappie competition and Kevin Van Dam from the ranks of professional bassers make effective use of this device.