Archive for the ‘Rend Lake’ Tag

CATFISH ARE THUMPING   Leave a comment

Catfish are Thumping

Catfish thump tasty morsels that anglers present to them.  Summer must be upon us.  It is the prime time for fishing for this muscle with fins.

A staple of southern cooking, catfish are also available in restaurants as well as local lakes.  But, it is more fun to catch your own.  Here are some tips for catching your own in Southern Illinois.

One top catfish producing lake is Crab Orchard Lake in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge near Marion.  According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the catfish population of this 7,000-acre lake is self-sustaining and has not required supplemental stocking to maintain the fishery.

The Crab Orchard Lake contains both channel and flathead catfish.  It also contains a good population of bullheads, a member of the catfish family that does not gain the large size of the others.

Fishing for catfish is a laid back type of angling.  The rigs are simple and the baits, although often smelly, are simple as well.

It is a good idea to remember that catfish like cover.  They are bottom feeders that hold around rocks and stumps.  Once one sets the hook, the fish will do its best to break off the line.  Veteran catfish anglers prefer a line that is of at least 12-pound test.

The tough line helps prevent the sandpaper-like teeth of the fish from wearing or weakening the line causing a break.  With high quality tough line, anglers can fish around rocky, stump infested, underwater terrain.

Most often the rig for catfishing is simply a baited hook suspended beneath a float, cork, bobber or whatever you call it.  Cast to a probable location and allowed the rig to sink to the level where you believe the fish are located.

Bait can be live or dead.  Popular baits include minnows, leeches, crayfish, catalpa worms, leaf worms, red worms, nightcrawlers, frogs, and cut bait.  Cheese baits, popular in the spring, are less successful in the summer heat.

During periods of overcast or drizzle, catfish cruise the flats in search of food the same as they do at night.  Under such conditions, a three-way rig works well.  Attach one swivel to the line that goes to the reel, the second to a drop line of about eight inches with a heavy sinker on the end.  Attach the third swivel to a line of about 30-inches with a hook and bait at the end.  The rig allows the bait to float just off the bottom a location popular with catfish.

There are catfish in most of the other southern Illinois lakes including Rend Lake where the above photo was taken.  Another popular place to fish for them is Little Grassy Lake a1200-acres body of water to the south of Crab Orchard Lake but still in the refuge area.  It produces many channel catfish on a regular basis throughout the summer.

Whether fishing from shore or boat, in the evening or morning, night or day, catfish are a marvelous fish for action.  They can be as finicky as any game fish, and yet do not require a lot of expensive tackle to pursue.

WEATHER AND LAKE LEVEL KEYS TO REND LAKE   Leave a comment

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Weather conditions, water level and clarity affect the spring fishing conditions on this southern Illinois lake.

A fixed level spillway was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers across Big Muddy River makes this lake different from most Army Corps of Engineers Lakes. The spillway does not regulate the water level.

A small gate at the west end of the spillway allows water through but is not large enough to significantly regulate the lake level.  If the water is flowing through the gate the lake level is 405 feet.  If it is flowing over the dam the level is 410 feet.

In March the water is usually high and floods the bushes and brush.  Water temperatures will tend to be in the mid 40′s to low 50′s with the warmer water in the north end of the lake.

Because of the murky water, the sunlight cannot penetrate and there is little weed growth.  Most of the structure fished by anglers is wood in the north end.  Approximately 30 percent of the north end of the lake has wood.  It comes in the form of stumps, logs and some standing trees.

Most fish suspend awaiting the beginning of the April spawn.  The forage base is gizzard and threadfin shad.  The gizzard shad are native and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources stocks the threadfin.

Siltation is a problem.  Sub impoundments at the northern portion are silted in and very shallow.  They tend to warm sooner than other areas of the lake.  Anglers do find fish in the very shallow water.  Some say that if you are not turning up mud with the trolling motor, you are fishing too deep.

For those fishing the deeper water, there are several holes where once were ponds.  A good map, such as the Fishing Hot Spots maps will help to locate them.  In addition on the west side of the lake there are areas of subsidence.

Coal mining goes on under the lake.  Once a shaft is closed, the supports are withdrawn and the land falls into the shaft.  This drops rocks and brush into the water creating more structure to which the bass can relate.

Good electronics and knowing how to use it are keys to finding the structure.  There are big fish out there and they get bigger each year.  Most fish are in the 2 to 3 pound range but larger fish are caught each year.

Some anglers prefer a slow crankbait in a crayfish pattern.  Those bass are feeding on the crawdads in March as they suspend off main lake points.  Try casting crankbaits to crappie sets in 6 to 8 feet of water.

Flipping a jig and pig into the brush can yield a couple of bites.  Another lure that will produce is a spinnerbait.  Slow roll a chartreuse or white spinnerbait across main lake points.

Gun Creek can pay dividends in early season bass.  The water warms more quickly in Gun Creek than the rest of the lake.  Passing weather fronts and the accompanying winds can make the rest of the lake rough.

In spring, it is hard to get under the Interstate 57 and Route 37 bridges.  The mouth of the creek silts in and becomes muddy after rains. The muddy water tends to ruin the bass fishing.  But, one can follow the mud line back up the creek to clean water for bass.

Exercise caution and stay in deeper water of the channel to avoid hanging up.  White or chartreuse spinnerbaits are good for the channel and stumps.

WANT CRAPPIE – GO TO THE BUSHES IN SPRING   1 comment

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Fishing the heavy buck brush and shallow openings is a key to finding early season crappie.  Sometimes anglers must pole their boats far into the shallows to find the big ones.

All kinds of jigs work in water from 2 to 10 feet deep.  Anglers probe the shallows with cane poles to more sophisticated fly rod tackle.  Popular are spinning and bait casting rods and reels.  The newer crappie poles are fast becoming the tackle of choice.

Light line is a must.  Two to four pound test clear line is best.  If one is going to fish the heavy cover then perhaps 4 to 8 pound test clear line is better.

Small jig and minnow combinations with jigs of 1/8 to 1/32 ounce are good.  Plastic tube bodies of white, chartreuse, or red/chartreuse combinations seem to work well on jigs.

Some anglers fish for crappie along rip‑rap near dams and spillways with bank fishing tackle.  This is a long pole, light line, and a small wire hook with a minnow suspended below a small balsa float.  Allow the bait or lure to bounce along the bottom with an occasional jigging by the angler to entice a bite.

The above is fine for the casual crappie angler.  But, then there are the guys who REALLY want to get those big fish.  You can tell them immediately.  They have rods in the 9 1/2 to 12 foot length.  The side of the boat is scratched from rubbing on the bushes.

The long rods are sensitive in addition to being very long.  They need the length to reach into the brush and the backbone to yank big fish up and out.  The key is to fish straight down and straight up and keep a pretty tight line at the same time.

A jig and minnow combination with a slip bobber, set at about two feet, to dip down in the middle of a real thick brush.  The combo provides more weight to control going down and the wind will not hinder the action.

Lake levels are usually high during the spring.  This makes it just right for fishing bushes.  The best is when the level is 2 to 3 feet above normal pool.  If it gets higher, the fish get really back into the brush.  That may require polling or wading and pushing the boat back as far as possible.  You will notice scratches on the boats of the guys in the know.

Early spring crappie fishing can be excellent.  Nothing beats fresh crappie, taken from cold water, for the table.  Whether you are a novice or a grizzled old pro, give it a try.

SPRING WHITE BASS FISHING   Leave a comment

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White bass provide a variety of angling opportunities on Rend Lake as they move from staging areas to the spawning areas of the lake.

White bass are a cousin of the saltwater striped bass and as such have much of the savage instinct of their brethren.  They will hit light tackle and give the angler all he can handle.

Anglers on Rend Lake sometimes confuse white bass with the hybrid stripers stocked into the lake.  What is an immature hybrid can be confused for a mature white bass.  It is important to the hybrid population that these immature hybrids return to the water, while the white can go home for dinner.

A 14‑inch white bass is a good size white bass, but it is small for a hybrid striper.  A 14‑ to 18‑inch hybrid stripers weighs 2 or 3 pounds.  If returned to the lake, they can grow in three or four years into 10‑pound fighters.

Hybrid stripers have two tooth patches at the back of their tongues.  White bass have only one.   The hybrids have distinct horizontal dark lines on the upper part of the body and the first stripe below the lateral line which is distinct and complete to the tail.  Stripes on the upper part of a white bass’ body are faint and the first stripe below the lateral line is indistinct and incomplete.

Following the warm rains of April, the white bass go on a feeding frenzy that will last into June.  These water tigers become more active as the water temperature rises above 50 degrees.  Once the temperature rises above 58 degrees, the fish move out of the staging areas and into the spawning areas.

The average size white bass taken by anglers tends to run in two classes.  One group is 8-10 inches in length.  The second is 12-14 inches.  Exceptions do occur.  The whites caught in IDNR surveys run from 0.7 to 1.5 pounds.

Catching white bass is easy, finding them is the tough part.  In the spring, the pre‑spawn fish position themselves on sand bars and gravel banks in fast water.  During the spawn, they make runs into the major feeder streams looking for suitable gravel beds.  After the spawn, they head down stream into creek channels or roam out into the main body of water.

White bass are an active fish that feeds constantly.  Whites prefer to spend their time in water deeper than 10 feet but will often move into the shallows to feed.  Their favorite meal is shad.  If the angler can find large schools of shad, chances are that the white bass are near.

When feeding on the surface, concentrations of seagulls will pinpoint the location for the angler.  If seagulls are not present, he can find them by spotting the splashing water caused by the feeding fish breaking the surface as they chase the shad.  At times the fish will stay up for ten to fifteen minutes.  More often they will feed for only a minute or two and then dive back down. Usually they will surface again a hundreds yards or so away.

White bass working points and flats are easier to find and fish.  One can troll to zero in on white when the surface action does not tip off their location.  One can begin trolling at the 5 or 6 foot level before testing the shallower or deeper areas.

One can run with moving baits like the Teeny‑R or Bomber crankbait.  Lighter line will get the bait down deeper while heavier line can make it run as much as a foot more shallow.

Anglers need to position their boat in the general area of the feeding and wait for the white bass to come to them.

In the more shallow areas, blade baits are good to use.  If the fish are on feeding binges, spoons heavier than one ounce work well because they get down to the fish quickly.  If the fish will not actively feed, then smaller, flashier spoons are better.  The 1/8 ounce Rat‑L‑Trap works well.  If the fishing is really slow, then something like a leadhead jig with a tube-bait is the ticket.  The shad imitations are best.

Light tackle is a must for these fish.  Small crankbaits, spinners and jigs are good with line in the four‑ to eight‑pound test range.  The lighter the line the more likely jigs wind up on submerged wood and vegetation.  Tip small tube jigs with a minnow or a plastic grub.  Plastics with contrasting dark and light colors work well.  White is best if picking a solid color plastic.

The astute angler will notice the size of the bait fish and match his lure to that size.

Angling success tends to be dependent on year hatches.  A year with incredible numbers can help carry the population over lean years.  The best fishing, in a particular body of water, is likely to be about two years after a large year hatch.

White bass fishing on Rend Lake is a ball.  For more information about bass fishing and guide service available contact Todd Gessner Outdoors at 618-513-0520.

Accommodations on the lake are available at the Rend Lake Resort in the Wayne Fitzgerrell State Recreation Area.  The phone number at the resort is 800‑633‑3341.

Camping is available in the park.  For information contact the site superintendent’s office at 618‑629‑2320.

For additional information about the lake in general, contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for its Rend Lake Fishing Guide.  The guide is free from IDNR, Office of Public Information, One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, Illinois 62702-1271.

BUNTING’S NEW CRAPPIE BAIT IS A WINNER   Leave a comment

Travis Bunting proudly displays crappie caught using his new bait while Charlie Bunting looks on with admiration for his son.

Travis Bunting proudly displays crappie caught using his new bait while Charlie Bunting looks on with admiration for his son.

Sitting in the sports bar at Rend Lake Resort waiting for other anglers to come in off the lake, Charlie Bunting began talking about his son’s new business venture. Travis and his father are partners in their professional crappie fishing endeavors.

They took the 2012 National Championship title on the Crappie Masters tournament trail as well as many local contests.

Today the reason for the gathering of anglers is a media event sponsored by BnM Fishing Poles and Road Runner lures. The purpose of outdoor writers being present is to learn about new products and gather story material. To that end each writer fishes with a fishing pro(s) for various periods of time during the next few days.
Once in the boat with Charlie and Travis the discussion immediately turns to the Muddy Water baits.

Travis explains that he dislikes having the tail of his bait fold back on the hook point. Sometimes it actually became like a weed guard that keeps the crappie from firmly grasping the hook. Worse yet, it sometimes causes the fish to spit it out before Travis has a chance to set the hook.

Following much experimentation Travis has developed a plastic body strong enough to take quite beating and yet remain soft enough and realistic enough for the fish to hang on to it and not spit it out. The body is about the size of small shad and presents a similar profile.

Travis believes that scent is also a factor in consistently catching crappie. He adds garlic to all his baits despite no shad ever smelling like it. According to Travis the garlic helps trigger strikes.

Recommending a worm nose jig in the 2/0 size Travis likes 5/16th ounce jigs for most applications. But when dock shooting, he will downsize to 1/16th ounce. He uses 10 to 12 pound test line with an 8-pound leader. He rigs a jig at the end of the leader and a drop line just above it with another jig at the end of it. Travis does not use any swivels. Instead he prefers to tie all lines together.

Travis uses Power Poles on his boat. This allows him to lock in on structure and hold on it even in windy conditions. He also has Drift Paddles on the Power Poles that can act like planner boards when required. Although he was initially skeptical of these rigs Travis has become a believer. They allow him to hold his hooks and baits steady.

Muddy Water baits are available in some 30 color combinations from Grizzly Jigs through their online catalog http://www.Grizzleyjig.com.

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SPIDER RIGGING FOR CRAPPIE   1 comment

Reedy crappie from rend lake

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.

He Talks To The Fishes   4 comments

Danenmueller/Rend Lake

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.

STRUCTURE WITHIN STRUCTURE FOR CRAPPIES   Leave a comment

Kyle Schoenherr displays nice Rend lake Crappie taken out of a stake bed located in a stump field.

Kyle Schoenherr displays nice Rend lake Crappie taken out of a stake bed located in a stump field.

The afternoon light is fading and the bright autumn colors are perfect for photography. With that in mind, we plunge away from the launch ramp at Gun Creek Access. Gun Creek is one of the waterways that create Rend Lake near Whittington, IL.

 
Kyle Schoenherr selects a particular location for catching crappies and photographing them against the fall colors of the shoreline.  It is located well for the late afternoon sun to highlight the fall colors but it not particularly known as a crappie haven.

 
The abundance of seagulls feeding on shad does indicate the possibility of crappies being present. There are a couple of dead trees and a few stumps visible. But, the area does not appear to be a hot bed of crappie action.

 
Turning on the Lowrance electronics, Kyle begins some instruction on how to read the side scanner to find crappies. “I look for structure within structure,” explains Schoenherr. “It might be a stake bed in grass.” Other examples are stump fields with laydown logs on the bottom, stake beds in stump fields, or logs piled in submerged brush.

 
Kyle explains that he and partner Rodney Neuhaus explore any new water with their electronics before ever wetting a line. They use the side scanner to locate the different structure. They mark the points on their GPS. Then when it is time to fish, the guys record the structure that has fish on it and marks them with a buoy marker.

 
By backing away and then approaching it very slowly they reach out to fish the points with very long BnM poles. Sometimes they troll jigs.  Live bait anglers use line slip bobbers with a jig and minnow suspended at the desired depth where fish are located. Actually they suspend the jigs slightly above the fish because crappies tend to feet above their location.

 
Through long experimentation, Kyle has found that crappies like tight structure in shallow water. For instance a stake bed in a stump field will yield the most fish in the stake bed. The structure is much closer together than are the stumps. They like logs in a stump field more than just the stumps. The most numbers tend to come from heavy cover.

 
When fishing laydowns, Rodney and Kyle usually find more fish in the root system of the tree than relating to the trunk or limbs.
Turning to the Lowrance, Kyle explains that he ignores the middle of the screen. The two views on either side present a “view from above” that is a picture of the bottom on either side of the boat. It is almost like a photo of the bottom. It is easy to identify logs, brush, etc. as they look like just what they are.

 
This pattern takes a little getting accustomed to but it has proven effective in a number of crappie tournament wins for this team.

CATFISH INSTEAD OF CRAPPIES   Leave a comment

Jim Reedy with Rend Lake Channel Catfish

Jim Reedy with Rend Lake Channel Catfish

Regular followers of the crappie scene are familiar with the husband/wife team of Jim and Barbara Reedy from Missouri. But today we are not after crappies. Jim has a new catfish rod he wants to try out on the Rend Lake (IL) crappie factory.

 
The weather, although sunny, is a bit chilly and the waves a little choppy. Fishing in a small cove, we find an 18-foot hole in hopes of finding some of those 2-pound channels that this lake is well-known for producing. The Hummingbird electronics are marking fish.

 
B n M Fishing (www.bnmpoles.com) is an established producer of crappie rigs and poles and is one of the Reedys’ sponsors. This year they released the Silver Cat Catfish Pole. It is 100% fiberglass with a graphite reel seat that fits any size reel. Nylon cord wraps the handle giving a firm grip. As with the crappie poles sensitivity is important in the catfish line.

 
The poles come in seven and eight foot lengths in either a spinning or casting model. The 7-foot models are the choice for today. Three rods have spinning reels and three are bait cast models. The silver shaft with a glow in the dark tip is ideal for those night time forays for Mr. Whiskers.

 
Catfish anglers use an unending variety of baits. Jim has introduced a new one. Snow goose meat that got freezer burn and is not very good for human consumption marinated in garlic and salt.

 
The catfish rig is 100 pound test Hi-Vis Vicious braided line in yellow. The yellow allows Jim to see the slightest motion. A 20-inch clear fluorocarbon leader is added to the terminal end. A bead above the swivel protects the knot from the movement of a 1 ounce egg sinker above the swivel. A number 2/0 hook holds the bait.

 
Jim explains that this rig is what he usually uses for those big blue cats in larger rivers.
The rods are placed in Driftmaster rod holders so that each angler can have three (the legal limit on this lake) rods in action at the same time.

NOT ALWAYS THE RIGHT FISH   Leave a comment

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Recently, while doing an interview and photo shoot on Rend Lake with Jim and Barbara Reedy, we were in for a surprise.
Trying to get a photo of the Spider rig used by the Reedys requires moving to another boat to take the picture head on. As we maneuvered into position, one of Barbara’s poles took a nose dive.

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Grabbing hold of the pole it was apparent that she had the “Mother of All Crappies” or some other species. During the brief encounter, most of us believed she had one of the channel catfish well known in this lake.
With Jim’s netting assistance they were able to boat a nice big freshwater drum. Not the crappie she was hoping for, nor even the channel catfish, still Barbara had fun with another denizen of the deep from Rend Lake.

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