Archive for the ‘Rend Lake’ Tag



Cruising on Rend Lake last weekend we got into a school of Yellow Bass. Since we were running spider rigs as well as one guy single pole jigging, it was really exciting for a few minutes.  There were fish on as many as three lines at a time.  As quickly as it began the action was over.

This small member of the bass family is a pan fisherman’s dream. It grows to a good size for a pan fish.  It is large enough to fillet, is good eating and a hard fighter.  The yellow bass reproduces readily and you can catch them by the dozens with no danger to the species.

Yellow bass are members of the Percichthyidae family that includes white perch, white bass and striped bass. Other names for yellow bass are barfish, stripe, streak, streaker and brassy bass.  It resembles the white bass with a forked tail and compressed body.

The longitudinal stripes (6) of which there are three above the lateral line and three below it. The lower three are not solid as with white bass.  Other differences from white bass are the lack of teeth on the tongue and the lower jaw does not protrude beyond the upper jaw.  Yellow bass have an olive green back, white belly and sides that are brassy to gold or silver.  When sides are silver they are often mistaken for white bass.

Generally 8 to 11-inches in length, yellow bass are not big in the weight classes. The world record is probably just over 2-pounds.  Anything in the 2-pound class is a giant.  Most weigh less than 12-ounces.  All of ours were less than a pound.

The life span of this fish is 3 to 5-years. Those that are 2.5 to 5 inches in length are yearlings.  By the third year of their life they have reached a length of 9-inches and change their feeding habits.

Prior to this point they feed on insects and small crustaceans. Later they change to feeding on small fish.  This accounts for their delight in taking our jig and minnow combinations.  Slip bobbers, jigs, twister tails and small spinners are effective in catching yellow bass.  The best live bait seems to be 2-inch minnows.  Other live baits include such things as wigglers, waxworms, spikes and pieces of nightcrawlers.  The jig/minnow combo is the most popular rig.  Small jigs are best.  The most popular are 1/32nd to 1/16th ounce jigs.

Ultralight tackle or long poles seem to be the ticket for getting in tight places popular with yellow bass. Two to 4-pound test line is best.

Yellow bass are usually rather dormant during winter months. In early spring they become more active on through until fall.  As the water temperature reaches 60-degrees the bass begin to spawn and are in the shallows over gravel beds, stony structures or other structure.

They are always hungry and put up a great fight. The best time to fish for yellow bass is early morning and late afternoon.  Adult fish cruise deep during the day and then head for the shallows to feed.  Yellow bass are a meaty fish even if they do not have length.

Do not hesitate to keep and eat these fish. They are prolific and are better eating than white bass.  In fact they taste something like a bluegill.





This southern Illinois impoundment has produced excellent crappie fishing for the past dozen years. Prior to that, the size and numbers of fish declined since the original damming of Big Muddy River.

In the early days of the lake the Illinois state record black crappie was caught, a record that has stood since 1976. Although fishing has steadily improved in recent years, the record still stands.

The length and creel limits enacted in 2002 and continuing to today have had a significant impact on the size structure and the population according to D-19 Fisheries Biologist, Mike Hooe. “Populations have improved dramatically and remain stable,” exclaims Mike.  The fish are in very good condition and fishing continues outstanding.  The thick fish are the kind anglers refer to as having “shoulders.”

Hooe’s most recent surveys found that the number of crappie has increased for the second consecutive year. This is due primarily to the increase in the population of 2-year old fish in the 6 to 8-inch length.  The number of fish in the 8 to 10 inch class declined in 2013 by 19% over 2012.  They are still about 35% of the total population.  The number of crappie over 12 inches remains abundant enough to provide quality angling.

Mike’s surveys found that the crappie in the 10 to 14 inch group weigh ½ to 1 plus pounds and remain abundant throughout the lake.

The body condition of the fish is at the second highest level in 9 years.

Wet springs mean good reproduction when it comes to crappie in this lake. The high water levels during the spawn the past two years have produced excellent crappie recruitment according to Mike.

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 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.



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.



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.


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

Muddy Waters 1


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,967 other followers

%d bloggers like this: