Spring mornings in southern Illinois are often wooly with the mists off the water. But, they are for fishing. No more so than on Cedar Lake near Carbondale, Illinois.
Originally envisioned by Wayman Presley as a private lake for land development, Cedar Lake never got off his drawing board. The city fathers of Carbondale, determined that it was more important as a water source for the growing college town. They took over the project. The end result is a deep clear lake with no development along the shoreline and water that the citizens of Carbondale now consume.
Started in 1973, this lake is nestled in the Shawnee National Forest, four miles southwest of Carbondale. Cedar Lake reached full pool by 1975. The shoreline belongs to the City of Carbondale and the U.S. Forest Service. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources manages the fishery.
The awesome hills and cliffs enhance the fishing experience. To those who have fished Canadian shield-lakes, the surroundings will look familiar. The lack of development on the shoreline, rocky bluffs, and towering hills make one think of the unspoiled past frozen in place on this lake. Wildlife abounds in the woods that come right up to the water’s edge. Bass are the most popular species taken, but bluegill, crappie, catfish and a few walleye also prowl these waters.
Largemouth bass fishing in Cedar Lake is good with numbers of legal size and trophy bass. There is a 14″ – 18″ protected slot length limit. Harvest of bass less than 14 inches appears to be almost non-existent according to IDNR studies of the lake. The daily creel limit on this lake is five bass under 14 inches and one over 18 inches. Anglers are encouraged to harvest the bass less than 14 inches to improve the overall condition of the population. Thinning out of the smaller bass increases the growth rate and body condition of the remaining fish.
Largemouth bass take such crankbaits as Pop-R and Rat-L-Traps. During the first half of the month, the bass are usually just completing their spawn. Although the females are not actively feeding, the males are protecting the nests. They guard the nests until the fry hatch and for several days later. This makes the males very aggressive and they will attack lures presented to them. Fish are off drop-offs and ledges, the basic structure in the lake.
Early in the month bass will be in the shallows and bedding areas. The smaller fish seem to be shallow and the larger fish in deeper water. Later in the month they move around the points and break lines leading to deep water. Springs best fishing seems to be in about 20 feet of water. For those deep fish, try a plastic worm at about 25 feet.
Crappies tend to be off structure in 12 to 14 feet of water. They begin to school up near major points, drop offs, and creek channels. They can be quickly located by trolling small crankbaits through the areas over structure. Areas with good cover are best. Minnows and small jigs are the preferred baits, with the average fish running 8 to 10 inches in length.
Bank anglers do well with bluegills. May is usually the first and best spawning month for this species. Early in May, they will take mealworms and red wigglers. Red wigglers and crickets are the ticket later in the month. Suspend the bait is beneath a very small float for the best action. Most fish come from about 6 feet of water early in the month and get deeper as it wears on. By the end of the month they could be as deep as 15 feet.
Channel catfish prowl the shorelines in search of food and a place to spawn. Bullheads, a catfish sub-species are here as well. Worms and nightcrawlers are the favorite food of these fish this month. If the weather is unseasonably cool, then dip-bait, a cheese based lure can produce results. In warm weather, the results are not so consistent.
Most fishing on Cedar Lake is from boats with access in a number of locations. There is a 10-horsepower limit on boat motors. For more site specific information on regulations, contact the U.S. Forest Service, Shawnee National Forest, Murphysboro, IL 62966. The phone number is 618-687-1731.
Most freshwater boats are trailered from one body of water to another with little regard to the trailer maintenance. Although the investment in the trailer is less than what most people have tied up in their boats, it is still considerable.
A little trailer maintenance goes a long way. Many older trailers have survived 50,000 miles in cross country travel. Not without some work by their owners. Trailer maintenance is not costly nor is it complicated. Common sense and a few bucks will go a long way.
To help protect the trailer’s value, keep it clean. After each use, wash it clean. If the trailer is painted, a good car wax application will help protect the finish. Use touch up paint from the dealer to repair the nicks from rocks thrown up from the roadway.
Check the air pressure and wear of the tires regularly. Also check the lug nuts on the wheels. Check the lights and electrical components. Hook the trailer to your tow vehicle and make sure all lights are working. That includes both the running lights and turn signals. Also check the lenses over the light bulbs for cracks and holes. Replace them if necessary. You can spray the connections with contact spray to keep them clean and free of corrosion.
Be sure to check the hubs and lubricate the wheel bearings. Look for any unusual wear or damage. Trailers can have either grease pack hubs or the newer oil bath hubs. Stick with the grease pack hubs.
According to them Oil bath hubs work well on the highway with trucks. However, boat trailers are in a different environment. The hubs can heat up on the highway and then they dip into cool lake water. The sudden temperature change creates a vacuum inside the hub. The vacuum will draw condensation, moisture or impurities directly into the bearing. That leads to premature bearing failure.
Using oil bath hubs on trailers stored over the winter, or only used a few times per year, also promotes condensation. With many oil bath hubs, it becomes necessary to rotate the wheels every other week to prevent rusting and pitting of the bearings. Not a popular chore for the owner.
The use of grease-packed hubs provides dependability and reliability.
Before taking to the road, check the inch strap and any tie downs for worn or frayed sections that might fail. Inspect the safety chains and make sure they are connected. Check any rollers or bunks for excessive wear. They are usually OK for many years of use but accidental damage occurs.
Check the hitch and test the breaking system. On the road allow more time for stopping than would be the case without towing a boat.
Be sure that the boat is level on the trailer and the boat/trailer combination is level when hooked to the tow vehicle. Proper boat and trailer adjustment reduces wind resistance and improves fuel mileage. If the boat has pedestal seats, take them down and store out of the wind. Wind resistance against the seat can cause unnecessary stress to the pedestal mount and decrease its life span. Boat covers also cut down on wind resistance.
On the road maintain a constant speed. Accelerate slowly and steadily from a stop. In areas with speed limits less than 65 mph, maintain a steady and constant speed at the posted limit. In areas over 65 mph try to maintain speed at about 5 mph under the speed limit to improve mileage of the tow vehicle.
Paying attention to some of the details mentioned above can help to keep costs down and reliability up for your boating pleasure.
Spring can be the best and the worst of times for the fisherman. The fish are active and so is the weather.
It seems that spring is just one front after another. Some contain severe weather conditions which require anyone outdoors to seek shelter immediately. But, the angler with his eye to the sky can enjoy some of the best fishing of the year.
In dealing with the weather it is best to error on the side of caution. Watch local weather bulletins and look for significant changes is weather patterns. Keep in mind that some thunderstorms create microbursts, intensive downdrafts over an area up to 3 miles wide. They can produce gusts of wind of 60 to 100 mph. Winds over 35 mph can swamp can capsize small boats.
Any sign of lightning storms should alert the angler to seek safe harbor. Look for a building with a sturdy frame and stay there for the duration of the storm. If caught in open water, get a low as possible and do not hold on to any fishing rods.
Once the weather appears to clear, be sure to scan the horizon for any signs of severe weather, such as lightning strikes. Of dark clouds which could yield further weather problems.
Once the weather has passed or if none is visible in the area, then it is time to fish. A good place to begin is on any wind-blown shoreline.
Such shorelines contain plankton. The wave action creates a process known as upwelling which brings the plankton to the surface and then washes it to the shore. Any shoreline or point that has waves washing into it can be productive.
Bait fish of all kinds like to feed on plankton and they will follow it to the shoreline. This movement of all the aquatic life in the area makes the bass more active. It is a time to dig out those spinnerbaits and crankbaits.
Cast parallel to the bank and a shallow as practical. The baits stir up the bottom. Any place that has wood, it attractive to bass and is good for stirring up more plankton.
Some other food places on wind-blown shorelines are place with rocky shoreline near large flats and coves. These areas tend to stir up the crayfish and crankbaits are imitations of crayfish.
Basically anything the wind hits that stops movement of water will hold bass. These things can be steep bluffs and cliffs out in open water as well as river points and rip rap around breakwaters.
Although these are great locations to find bass, the weather may clear up and the wave action decrease. Bass will move out deeper in such a case and the angler needs to move with them. They tend not to move too far. They may however be a little deeper. Angler may want to change to a worm, jig, or Carolina rig with a plastic critter to relocate the fish.
Weather can be a fisherman’s nemesis or it can create a great fishing situation.
Pulling into the state park 12 miles west of Lebanon, MO, all appears normal. Then the amount of vegetation in the stream appears excessive. There is the sound of an outboard motor. It is an unusual situation because the Missouri Department of Conservation does not allow boats in the trout fishing area. This is going to be a strange day of trout fishing.
The Department of Conservation releases Rainbow Trout into the stream daily during the months of March through October and anglers flock to take part in the excellent opportunity to catch good sized fish. Today the anglers are leaving as they meet in the parking lot and discuss the situation.
The stream divides into three zones for fishing. Zone 1 runs from the Hatchery Dam upstream to the end of the trout fishing area. Anglers who are fishing with flys only are permitted in this zone. Zone 2 runs from the Hatchery Dam downstream to the Whistle Bridge. Only flys and artificial lures are allowed in this zone. Zone 3 runs from Whistle Bridge downstream to the Niangua River. Only unscented soft plastic baits and natural and scented bait is permitted in this section of the stream. All flys and artificial lures are not permitted in Zone 3 even if natural or scent is added.
The normally pristine stream is choked with what appears to be coontail. It is great cover for trout but a mess for the angler. And what about that outboard motor? It only takes a few casts before anglers give up and head for the lodge for lunch and some explanation.
On the way to the lodge parking lot the answer to some of the problem is on display for all to see at the dam and below it.
The Department of Conservation employee was going back and forth across the stream on a small boat equipped with a cutting blade on the front, below the water. The rig was chopping up the vegetation which then washed over the dam. The noise of an outboard on the back of the boat was stirring up any fish in the water. Below the dam anglers were also giving up as the vegetation washing toward them was getting entangled in their lines.
The water that is clear of vegetation is a different shade of green but does not amount to a lot of fishing area at this time. Later after lunch more area is open and the fishing picks up. The work done by the Department of Conservation has kind of ruined the fishing for today. But, there will be others.
As the sun sets it is time to pack up and head for St. Louis.
The name is intriguing. Do you launch crickets into the air to fall again to the surface of the water? Maybe you just launch them across the surface.
Whatever the use, the first seminar at the Mid-South Boat Show on Saturday morning is Thomas Cauley and how to use the Cricket Rocket.
Listening to his explanation of how to use the rocket, dreams of summer days on the pond fishing for bream (bluegills) and other sunfish flood back into my consciousness. Brought back to reality by his asking if I fish for bream, I nod and he tosses one of the Cricket Rockets.
As getting older and due to a recent hunting injury, my left hand is not really effective in handling crickets. Many of them escape from my cricket cage into the boat and into my tackle. Those I managed to get on a hook are often dismembered in one way or another.
The fragile bodies of crickets do not hold up well as bait for anglers. This gadget sees to make up for clumsy anglers. It also allows one to handle one insect at a time.
Baiting a hook is done is four steps. Load the appliance with crickets. Shake one into the nozzle. Set the hook the through a hook slot in the nozzle. Press the release trigger and you are ready to fish.
Cauley points out that you can place a few crappie minnows in the tube. The same procedure will admit a crappie minnow in the same way. The rest stay in the Cricket Rocket placed in your live well.
The Cricket Rocket website at http://www.cricketrocket.com has detailed explanations of the appliance’s use.
Illinois anglers can find good early season bluegill action on farm ponds providing they pay attention to the tackle, the presence, absence, and location of vegetation.
Very dense vegetation reduces predation and as a result has an adverse impact on fish populations. The increase in the young‑of‑the‑year survival leads to an increase in stunted fish. If the pond is on your property, you might think about using a garden rake to remove some of the vegetation.
This is not to say that you need to destroy all vegetation. You just need to thin it. Plants are important in that the microscopic ones form the base of the aquatic food chain. Larger algae and plants provide spawning areas, food, and protective cover. They provide habitat for insects and snails.
Emergent plants and near shore submerged plants protect against erosion of the shoreline. All plants produce oxygen.
Algae growth is the main vegetation that presents problems to good bluegill growth. It comes in two forms phytoplankton and in mats of filamentous algae. Often problem growth relates to the phosphorus content of the pond.
Bluegills prefer water that is deep and clean as well as having a pH of 7.2. Vegetation prefers similar conditions. Ponds abound throughout Illinois providing one or more of these factors and containing healthy populations of fish.
Early season water warms in response to the increasing hours of daylight. Sheltered areas exposed to sunlight are the first to show signs of plant growth.
One of the reasons vegetation is important in fishing a pond is the lack of structure in the bottoms of such waters. Most are smooth bottom waters with no distinct cover other than the vegetation. Fish will be scattered.
Anglers spread their efforts until they are able to locate the fish. By casting to different areas and adjusting the depth at which they are fishing, fish can be located. If an overflow pipe is available, work the area around it carefully.
A pond constructed by a dam between two hills should have a channel in the middle. There may be rocks and stumps near the edge of that channel which will attract fish.
Sometimes a previous angler might have placed a fish attracter, such as a clump of Christmas trees. Once located, the angler can focus his efforts around it.
Casting lures or pitching a live bait offering to any piece of structure often produces that first fish.
Early in the year, bluegills feed on the vegetation in the shallows. Anglers should stalk them in their feeding areas. They feed slowly. A slow presentation of ice fishing spoons and jigs works well under these conditions.
Baits such as spikes, wax worms, etc., can be added to a lure. Another presentation can be a salmon egg hook with a single split shot about 12 inches above the hook. Add live bait to the hook and you are in business.
As water conditions warm, the bluegill’s appetite increases. Scientists have found that bluegills tend to prefer water that has a temperature of 86 degrees or less. Most often they prefer 77 to 79 degrees. Smaller fish prefer slightly lower temperature water. This is not to say that they are not active feeders at lower temperatures.
The fact that ice anglers catch bluegills all winter long attests to that fact. In colder water, tip lures and hooks with a bit of bait fish meat or even small minnows. The use of a slip bobber allows the angler to make his presentation at any desired depth until he finds the schools of fish.
If the bait or lure is presented deeper, the split shot should be moved further from the bait up to a maximum of 20 inches.
Light tackle is a must in bluegill fishing regardless of the time of the year. Spinning reels on ultralight rods should be spooled with 2 to 6 pound test line. The clearer the water, the lighter should be the line.
Some tips to remember are: 1) work the edge of the cover. 2) If working heavy vegetation, set the hook quickly to keep the fish on the surface until you can get it in open water. 3) When the sun is high, work deeper in the vegetation. 4) As the light becomes low, work the edges.
Bluegills in a pond may seem like easy fishing. With the right tackle, this can be a challenging, exciting, and fast‑paced action. Good eating too!
The opening of turkey season is a time of emerging interest in the many acres of public access lands. Each spring turkey hunters prowl the woods in search of lovesick gobblers.
Southern Illinois contains approximately 350,000 acres of huntable turkey territory. Hunters fan out throughout those public lands to hunt their favorite locations.
Nesting success has been good in the area and local residents report seeing large flocks of birds all through the winter. Of particular interest to turkey hunters are the expansive 277,000 acre Shawnee National Forest which offers the single most tract of turkey habitat in Illinois. Hunter success has traditionally been very high in the forest.
Other state and federal lands are also available for turkey hunting in southern Illinois. A complete list of public hunting lands is in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Hunting Digest. It is available free at locations that sell hunting licenses, from all Department offices throughout the state, and on the IDNR website.
Spring turkey hunting is gobbler hunting. The male birds gobble to attract hens for mating. The birds mate, and the hen goes her own way. Once she is successfully bred, the hen will make a nest, lay eggs, and raise a brood of young. If the breeding was not successful, she will seek out another gobbler with which to make.
Hunters seeking turkeys should be sure that they learn how to hunt turkeys before taking to the field. Consistently successful hunters are those that scout the birds prior to the season. They find sign of the bird’s activity such as feathers, droppings, dusting areas and tracks. You can sight birds from roadways with the use of binoculars.
Another way of locating birds in the spring is with the use of a “shock gobble”. Male turkeys will sound off when hens are in the area. He thinks he is king of the woods during this period and will offer a challenge gobble in response to almost any sound. The sound can be the gobble of another bird, the hoot of an owl, or even the slamming of a car door.
In the early morning and late afternoon, turkeys move to areas where two types of vegetation converge. This can be grass, pasture, crop fields, brush or woods. They frequent fence rows, roadsides, weedy ditches, abandoned roads and old railroad rights of way.
It is important to remember safety always when in the woods turkey hunting. Turkey hunter will be sharing the woods with mushroom hunters during at least part of the season. Safe hunters are those who hunt in the traditional fashion by calling birds to a point where a clear kill can be made of a clearly identified target. A hunter’s knowledge of proper hunting techniques and familiarity with the birds’ habits can be helpful in promoting safe hunting.
Turkey hunters can gain information about the sport from the National Wild Turkey Federation. Information is available on line at: www.nwtf.org.
Information about turkey hunting is Illinois is available from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, IL62702-1271. Their website address is http://dnr.state.il.us.