FISHING FOR THE HARDY ON LAKE OF EGYPT   Leave a comment

Power plant lakes provide southern Illinois anglers winter bass and crappie action. Lake of Egypt is one of the best.

Even during the coldest days the artificially warmed waters offer spring like fishing conditions. The warmer water is a byproduct of the cooling of electrical generators at the north ends power plant location.  The water warms as it passes over the generators before it ids returned to the lake through the discharge.  The result is the warming of the surrounding waters to as much as 60 degrees.

Anglers who fish by temperature have no problem finding water in the 50-degree range or warmer. Then they find fish.  Usually the water in the center channel (an old creek bed) warms first.  The warm water travels from the north down the channel to the south.  The warmest water is, of course, nearest the plant outlets.

On warmer days wind plays a part in just where to find the warmest water. The wind pushes the warmer water to a nearby point or a stretch of shoreline.  These wind swept points are great for the bass as they follow the forage fish.

If the water is shallow on the points you might catch a fish every 15 to 20 minutes. Most of the spring time lures produce fish.

Cold fronts do not usually have an adverse effect on the power plant bite. But, the cooling effect on the surface water might drive the bass deeper.  They might go down to depths of 10 foot or more.

Bass boat electronics assist fisherman to find just how deep the fish are sitting. Then it is a matter of changing baits to reach them.  Lures such as Rat-L-Traps and the bottom-bouncing Little Georges are a good choice.

Lake of Egypt is about 9 miles south of Marion, Illinois, via Interstate 57 and Route 37. The 2,300-acre lake has 93 miles of shoreline.  There are three full service marinas on the lake.  All are on the eastern side of the lake.

 

A PLAN FOR FISHING TACKLE ORGANIZATION   Leave a comment

It is snowing and cold outside.  This is a time to find some outdoor activity that relates to fishing to keep busyPerhaps it is time to work on a tackle system. 

This system is dependent upon your planed fishing.  It is simple if all of the fishing is from a single boat for one species.  If wading, then organization takes some planning for weight and limited storage space.  There are just so many pockets in a fishing vest. 

Maybe your plan is to fish for different species in different locations under a variety of conditions.  It is easier to have a number of tackle boxes.  Then label the boxes by species which you anticipate finding. 

A simple way to keep tackle separate is to use clear plastic tackle boxes.  They come in a variety of sizes with moveable dividers.  Into each box go lures for a specific species. 

Check to see if any lures need hook replacement or other repair.  Advance checking saves time later on the water.  Why spend time sharpening hooks when there are fish out there for the catching? 

In a single box, you may put a few lures that work on the surface, with some that are deep diving.  Just to be on the safe side add some that work in between those areas.  When it comes to soft plastics, also put several of each favorite color in zip lock bags and add to the boxes.  Putting them in the plastic bags prevents the colors from bleeding into each other. 

For live bait fishing all terminal tackle goes in these same boxes.  There is a variety of hooks and a selection of weights and/or floats. 

For wade fishing and fly fishing, small plastic boxes which fit into pockets are good idea.  It is also good to include a few lures for each situation for unexpected situations. 

Label each box as to species.  An additional box holds, a few band aids, a knife, compass, flashlight, pliers and forceps. 

When it comes time to go fishing, add the boxes you need in day pack.  Add a camera and take off. 

This is not the only system in the world.  But, any system is better than none.  Once you have a place for everything and everything in its place, you can concentrate on catching fish.

 

 

LATE SEASON DEER STALKING IN SHAWNEE NATIONAL FOREST   Leave a comment

Early settlers to Illinois country found the diminutive Virginia white-tailed deer.  It supplied food and the hides provided shelter.  By the beginning of the twentieth century, the deer were fewer and more difficult to find.  The transplanting of whitetails from other states and a wise use of the resource strengthened the deer gene pool during the 21st century.

The deer of Illinois began as an experiment in wildlife management that took place in the Shawnee National Forest.  Wisconsin deer transplanted in the forest bred with the smaller Virginia subspecies.  The Biologists of the then Illinois Conservation Department transferred their progeny to other areas of the state under controlled conditions.

Illinois has major river bottomland country that is typically very fertile.  The silt deposits result in good soil.  The rough ground along drainage is difficult to clear for agricultural purposes and thus remains good deer habitat.

Deer hunting in the Shawnee National Forest is great and the public access is extensive.

Stretching from Cave-in-Rock on the east to Grand Tower in the west, Shawnee contains parts of some ten counties.  The hills of Bald Knob (elevation 1,048) and Williams Hill (elevation 1,064) cap some 277,000 acres of hardwoods and pines.  In fact, the forest area is a transition zone between North and South, East and West.  It consists of a variety of habitat.

Deer typically travel river bottomland corridors.  The travel forces them together for a good genetic mix.

Good phosphorous content in the soil of the western part of Illinois coupled with the availably of forage in the Shawnee National Forest, affects antler growth.  For deer, grasses, weeds, browse, fruits and mushrooms are as important as acorns and other nuts.  Most hunters neglect weeds as food sources for deer.  But, they digest easily and provide high levels of protein and phosphorus.  The same is true of mushrooms a popular springtime food for deer.

In winter deer seek high carbohydrate foods such as corn and acorns.  The Shawnee has a high number of oak trees combined with scattered agriculture fields often containing corn and soybeans left from agricultural practices.

All of these food sources are in abundance in the forests of southern Illinois.  The additional factor of mild winters leads to a low winter kill.

The Shawnee is the largest tract of public hunting land in Illinois.  Its appearance is more like the Ozark Mountains to the west than the flat agricultural fields usually associated with Illinois.

Trophy potential of the area is good and each year provides several Boone and Crockett bucks.  However, the general body size of the deer is slightly less than one would find in central or northern counties.  This is simply because they do not have as easy access to corn and soybeans that the deer in those agricultural areas.

Counties such as Pope in the Shawnee can be as much as 70 percent wooded with rolling grass and crop fields intermixed. The large expanse of wooded wilderness means that a hunter will have to walk as much as two or three miles before coming to a road.

Hunters do not usually experience crowded conditions after the end of the firearms season.  Leasing of private ground around the forest is becoming more common.  If a hunter spends time in the area knocking on doors, they might find landowners receptive to hunting.  Orchard farmers take a beating from deer populations and are anxious to rid themselves of some of the animals.

For more information about the Shawnee National Forest and the hunting regulations of the State of Illinois, contact Illinois Department of Natural Resources, One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, Illinois 62702-1271.  For information about the forest contact the United States Forest Service Office, Harrisburg, Illinois 62946 or 800-699-6637.

 

THE FRUGAL DUCK HUNTER   Leave a comment

Because we late season waterfowlers are dependent upon a migrating flock for the most part, we should not count out our ducks and geese until the season is over. It means we need to reserve places at commercial clubs and state sponsored hunting areas for those late season hunting dates.

Maybe we need to be a little frugal too. This is especially the case for early season days when the return on investment might be a little skimpy.

Most of our birds are born up north and things have been tough in recent years. Most of the ducks migrating into Illinois follow the Mississippi River and stop off on the Illinois River early.  They move on to southern Illinois as the weather up north begins to deteriorate.  Another factor is the lack of grain fields in many areas of the north.  Summer drought can keep farmers out of the fields until a point where they figure their crop is a write-off.

What does this mean for us? It is time to do a “snow dance”.  Seriously, it means that we need to find hunting locations more to the far southern part of the Illinois or near the Ohio River.  Private hunting clubs take up many of these areas but there are public hunting areas available.

Because we are hunting late in the year, pressure from other hunters is lower. The ducks and geese respond more to smaller spreads of decoys than to the large fields of dekes often employed early in the season.

The frugal hunter can get by with a few decoys strategically placed on small bodies of water. This means less spent on decoys.  He often can buy the unused shotgun shells of early season hunters for a reduced cost.  Sporting goods dealers often have end of the season sales of gear and ammo providing an additional savings.

Need a place to hunt, check with local landowners who now have their crops harvested and might let you hunt for free.

The Union County State Fish and Wildlife Area and Horseshoe Lake State Fish and Wildlife Areas require a purchased permit. Those under 16 can hunt for free.  This is an example of some of the inexpensive hunting available.  Even those areas where permits are for the year can have cheap hunting on weekdays.

An example might be a location with blinds allocated and the person assigned to that blind might not be able to hunt every day. On those days when the assigned person is not using the blind others can use it on a first come first served basis.  Check with the site superintendent to get the details that apply to the area you wish to hunt.

Williamson County Bureau of Tourism (1-800-GEESE-99) has a free brochure on waterfowl hunting opportunities in that area. It contains names and addresses of hunting clubs in the area as well as information on hunting the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge 618-997-3344) near Marion.  Additional information about the refuge hunting opportunities is available from the Refuge Visitors Center, 8588 S. Illinois Route 148, Marion, IL 62959.

Frugal duck and goose hunters can still enjoy their sport at minimal cost if they just do a little research and are willing to hunt on weekdays in public hunting areas. Check it out.

 

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS WATERFOWL HUNTING   Leave a comment

 

Flocks of ducks and lines of geese crossing the winter skies provide a reassurance of winter being on the way to southern Illinois.  A little behind the northern part of the state, and perhaps milder, winter still means waterfowl hunting aplenty.

Skilled and novices hunter attempt to lure birds from the flock into gun range of their hiding places in the fields and watery areas. Daily the birds lift off from the protection of the refuges in search of food in far distant grain fields.  Most return each evening to spend the night.  This is winter in this part of the state.  The birds will repeat the cycle again tomorrow.

With commercial hunting clubs that cater to the needs of waterfowl hunters on a daily basis, southern Illinois also has public access areas for the freelancer with a boat and dozen decoys.  Hunters, who check with local Chambers of Commerce and tourism bureaus, can still find low cost waterfowling.

The public access areas of the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge consist of two types: Public Hunting and Controlled Hunting Area.

Those wishing to use the Public Hunting areas are required to possess a Recreational User Permit ($2 per day) which can be purchased at the Visitors Center on Route 148 about two miles south of Illinois Route 13 on Route 148. Only temporary blinds can be used in these areas.  They must be removed at the end of each days hunt.  Both water and ground blinds must be at least 200 yards apart and can contain up to five hunters.  Generally speaking, the open hunting area lies at the west end of the refuge property.

The Controlled Hunting area is located just south of Route 13, between the open and closed areas of the refuge. It consists of 14 water and 15 land blinds.   There are also 2 handicap accessible blinds which are available on a reservation basis.  Physically challenged hunters with a Class II Disability Card can reserve one of the two blinds for up to 5 days per month.  For details contact the Refuge at 618-997-3344.

All hunters, regardless of the area in which they hunt, are required to have an Illinois General Hunting License, Federal Waterfowl Stamp and Illinois Waterfowl Stamp. Local sporting goods, bait shops, and other venders in the area have an ample supply of all of these.  Licenses are also available on line at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website.

Free information about the Refuge and hunting programs can be obtained from the Visitors Center at the phone number listed above.  A free color brochure on hunting in Williamson County is available from Williamson County Tourism Bureau, 1602 Sioux Drive, Marion, Illinois, 62959.  Their phone number is 1-800-GEESE-99.  Information is also available on line at: or by email to: info@visitsi.com.

STRIPER FISHING   Leave a comment

Are you looking for reel screeching runs from a big brawny fish that is sure to break tackle? The striper is hard to beat.  For anglers in a number of Illinois lakes these transplants pay big dividends in fishing action.

The striper is a saltwater relative of the white bass.  It resembles the white, but is more elongated and less compressed with a nearly straight back.  The color of the striper is a dark greenish to bluish on top with sometimes a brassy tinge that becomes lighter on the sides.  The underside is silvery.  Most prominent are the seven to eight narrow stripes along the sides going lengthwise giving rise to their name.  Weights vary, but generally they reach about 5 pounds by their third year.  Anglers are now catching fish in the 20 plus range.

Originally a salt water fish that returned to freshwater only to spawn, the striper became popular with freshwater biologists in the 1940’s. When Santee Cooper Lake in South Carolina became an impoundment it trapped some stripers that had gone up the river to spawn.  The fish thrived in this freshwater environment as they gobbled up the numerous shad of the lake.

Biologists taking note of the situation began to stock them in other large freshwater lakes in the eastern U.S. The successful stocking efforts created a new fishing opportunity for open-water anglers on large reservoirs.

Stripers do not usually reproduce naturally in fresh water and require restocking by local state fishery departments. Myths about stripers depleting populations of other game fish are false.  Biological study or surveys have established this fact.

Feeding on gizzard shad, they provide a service to the other populations of game fish in that they are the only predator feeding on the larger shad which are too big for other predators. Adult stripers eat primarily shad and do not eat spiny fish like black bass, white bass, or crappie.

One key to locating stripers seems to be stable water levels.  In the early days, local anglers caught some of the stripers, but not consistently.  The marauding schools moved up and down the lakes.

Although stripers spend most of the year roaming deep open water in pursuit of shad, they seem to be fond of the dam tailwaters.  Anglers move in and cast both lures and live bait into the fast moving waters.

Heavy bass gear will work for these fish.  A medium or heavy rod and bait‑cast reel with 15 plus pound monofilament line will work well.  A 7 foot rod with a flexible tip is a good choice.  The flexible tip allows the fish to grab the bait without meeting with a lot of resistance before they are safely hooked.

The fish’s voracious eating habits allow it to gobble up the bait before the angler is even aware of the strike.  They hook themselves.  The bait on a 2/0 to 4/0 circle style hooks seem to be the most popular.

Some stripers will take topwater lures such as the Cordell Redfins trolled in the early morning hours.  Later, one can move up close to dams and locks to cast large jigging spoons and Sassy Shad.  One ounce jigs with plastic bodies in pearl or white seem to work well.

Electronics locate the large schools of fish as they chase the shad.  Once a school is located, anglers either jig or trolls lure or live bait on downriggers.  The jigging is more exciting and productive.

Downstream from dams or locks rip rap banks attract stripers.  The gizzard and threadfin shad are attracted to the plankton and algae in the rocks.  The stripers follow them in and feast on the shad.

Basically, the striper will go anywhere that there is a current break and a good food supply.

Fishing for stripers is an exciting sport and if you decide to keep a couple, they are excellent eating.

 

DON GASAWAY YOUTH GOOSE CALLING CONTEST   Leave a comment

On the third Saturday of September for the past 13 years I have sponsored the youth goose calling contest at the Southern Celebration of National Hunting & Fishing Day on the campus of John A Logan College, Carterville, Illinois.

I do not sponsor it for any personal gain other than a chance to see youngsters have fun carrying on the calling traditions of their parents. The judges for the contest donate their time and pay their own travel expenses.  The judges are sequestered behind a curtain on the stage.  They cannot see the participants and the callers must not talk while competing.  This year’s judges were Michael Ritter, David Renfro, Zach McCurdy, Gabe Evrard and Cory Niccum.  All are national known winners of calling contest around the country.

Contestants are divided into two age categories named juniors and Intermediates. They participate under the same rules as adults in similar calling contest nationwide.  Each judge scores the participants presentation.  The highest and lowest scores are thrown-out and the three in the middle become the callers score.  The youngsters draw numbers from a hat to select the order in which they participate.  The drawing is held again for the second round.  The contestants call twice as a minimum.  If there are any ties a call off it presented.

This year’s winners in the Junior category are Payton Wottowa (1st), Hunter Chapman (2nd) and Audrey Ham (3rd.) The winners in the Intermediate category were Ty Draper (1st), Caleb Ham (2nd) and Alex Webb 3rd.)  They all received a huge amount of waterfowl related merchandise and the first place in each category also received a shotgun.

CATCHING ILLINOIS CATCHABLE TROUT   Leave a comment

Each October, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources stocks rainbow trout into lakes around the state.  While they refer to this program as the catchable trout program, to some the term catchable does not apply.

While some anglers will quickly catch their limit, others will fish all day for a fish or two, perhaps none.  The highest percentage of fish taken comes on opening day.  All too soon anglers catch the most stupid fish.  Catching then becomes more challenging.

Trout taken early are the more aggressive feeders that have learned to muscle out the other guys.  They seem to take just about any bait presented leaving the more shy fish.

Trout react to temperature of their surroundings.  They move to locations within the lake that are most comfortable for them.  It could be a particular depth or a cove where the water temperature is ideal.

They prefer a temperature range of 56 to 61 degrees Fahrenheit.  When water temperature reaches the 80 degree or higher level, fish die.  Trout also prefer water with a pH in the range of 5.8 to 9.5 which is a range between acid and alkaline. Most southern Illinois lakes have a pH of 7.5.

Catchable trout are hatchery reared fish.  They grow up on a diet of trout pellets.  When released into a lake or pond they continue those hatchery feeding habits for a few days.  These adaptable little fish soon adopt the wild trout feeding habits and maintain them until caught by an angler.

This adaptability means that the angler must also adapt his patterns to continue to catch the fish.

Early on the trout will take spinners and marshmallows.  Even Velveeta cheese spread placed on a very small hook suspended about 18 inches beneath a small float.

After a few days, anglers must switch to live bait.  It is at this point that worm dunking becomes popular.  Rainbow trout have about 2,500 taste buds.  That compares with about 9,000 in humans.  Trout are one of least selective feeders.  However, they soon turn to only baits that contain tastes commonly found in living tissue.  They seek out live baits such as mealworms, red worms, maggots, minnows and nightcrawlers.

Pieces of nightcrawler on a number 10 hook are very effective.  About one third of a nightcrawler can be skewered onto the hook making the bait last longer.

Fresh from the hatchery fish tend to feed within the top foot or two from the surface.  Late season fish become bottom huggers.  Slip sinker rigs tipped with nightcrawler seem to be most productive.

In the late fall weather can also be an indication of fish location.  On a windy day, it is advisable to fish with the wind in your face.  Most of the catchable trout locations are lakes with relatively featureless bottoms.  Structure such as drop offs and points become the only thing to which the fish can relate.

On opening morning, these catchable lakes often have anglers standing elbow to elbow.  However, if you can wait a day or two, the lake you may find a more normal trout fishing opportunity.

For a list of waters open for the taking of catchable trout, contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources regional office near you or the site superintendent of a park listed in the Illinois Fishing Information booklet published by the IDNR.  The booklet is available wherever fishing licenses are available and on line at http://www.il.gov.us.

CHUKARS ARE CHALLENGING   Leave a comment

Most hunters are familiar with the fact that Ringneck Pheasants came to North American through efforts by. But, there was another exotic introduced a few years later in l893 that has not received as much notoriety.  They are the Chukar Partridge or Chukars which came to at least 4l states and six Canadian provinces.  The stockings began with just five pairs but now include millions of birds that are available in the wild in l0 western states as well as on hundreds of shooting preserves throughout the country.

In the wild, these imports from India are not difficult to hunt, but the areas they choose for habitat are difficult to negotiate. They love hilly areas and run uphill and flying downhill when flushed.  They do not hold well for a dog because they are a nervous bird that likes to keep moving.  Because of its choice of habitat it does not displace any of native birds and it provides a gamebird in areas where none existed previously.

Chukars do not do well in all areas due to their particular dietary requirements. They are members of the Phasianidae family which includes domestic chickens, wild fowl such as Francolins, guinea fowl, partridges, peafowl, pheasants and snowcocks.  These birds feed primarily on the ground even though they will take food from shrubs and low tree limbs.  The young feed on insects while the older birds tend to feed on what is available.  They prefer such things as buds, fruit, roots, and seeds but will eat insects, snails, worms and other small animals.  It is this eating of worms, slugs and snails that is their downfall in most of the country.  This food supply is often the host of disease organisms that kill the Chukar.  They eat grubs and worms where they are available and as a result tend to die out in such areas.

Early attempts to establish huntable populations of Chukar in the eastern states met with failure due to the bird’s inability to avoid eating grubs and worms. Shooting preserves met with moderate success raising them on wire.  Flight pens with mesh floors kept the birds off the ground where they could not get access to worms and grubs.  But, the birds became too accustomed to the presence of humans.  As a result, they seemed to lose much of their wildness.  This made the birds less suitable for hunting preserves.  Breeders overcame the problem by the raising of the birds in isolation.  They do not have human contact and thus retain the wildness that makes them flush when approached.  The end result is a very good game bird for the shooting preserve.

Chukars are about the size of a ruffed grouse with a striking appearance. The back and breast are a subdued olive-gray tone set off by the deep crimson of the bill, feet, and legs.  The white throat and cheeks separate from the breast by a jet-black necklace which loops upward to form a mask across the eyes.  The sides are buff colored and barred with dark black and chestnut vertical stripes.  The tail is a rust-brown color.

In the wild, the chukar is as much a covey bird as the bobwhite quail. On a shooting preserve they are often in groups of 3 or four.  When flushed they burst into the air, their short, broad, cupped wings enable them to attain a speed of 35 to 40 miles per hour in just a few seconds.  As soon as they reach top speed the chukar glide.  Upon landing, they tend to run uphill and hide in the nearest cover.  Once the hunter is out of sight, chukars will reassemble the covey.

Flushing dogs are the ticket to hunting these little uphill racers. Pointing dogs will often point to a spot where the birds were as they race away through the cover.  The flushing dog will charge through the birds sending them scattering into the air.  After they have been scattered, chukars will often hold tight in the tallest grasses or in clumps of grass and brush.

As for what gun and ammo to use, the best gun will have an improved cylinder and modified choke. A lightweight, fast handling shotgun is best.  12 or 20 gauge with 26 inch barrels is a good choice.  No. 7 1/2 shot is ideal.

If you would like to take the challenge of the chukar contact any shooting clubs. Many of them will offer chukar shooting in addition to the pheasant and quail shooting.

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS NATIONAL HUNTING AND FISHING DAYS CLELEBRATION   Leave a comment

 

An estimated 30,000 people will flood onto the campus of John A. Logan College, Carterville, Illinois over September 23 and 24.  Southern Illinois Hunting & Fishing Days is a southern Illinois tradition for the past 30 years.  The purpose of the event since its inception has been to introduce the public to the outdoor experience and ethics.

The huge crowds mean the two hundred plus vendors will present everything from food to hunting and fishing equipment for sale. Each year the vendor space expands due to increased demand.

Fishing activities include weigh-ins for both the popular King Catfish Contest and the High School Team Fishing tournaments. Fishing experts on a variety of species will present seminars for anglers from all levels of expertise.  The 5,000 gallon Bass tub contains a variety of Illinois fish.

A myriad of dog demonstrations include retrievers, foxhounds, coon dogs and pointing dogs. Other dogs include search and rescue dogs, agility dogs, and dock dogs.

The “dock dogs” display is one of the most interesting to visitors. There is a competition by the “pros” for the longest distance covered by a jumping dog and in between contests other dog-handlers can train their dogs in the sport.

Popular activities in the Kids Village sponsored by McDonald’s restaurants of southern Illinois include such things as fishing and nature seminars, BB gun shooting, and archery shooting. Children fish for stocked fish in the campus pond and win prizes such as bicycles.

Another popular activity at Southern Illinois Hunting & Fishing Days is a variety of waterfowl calling contests. Held each year they attract callers from across the nation to compete with the best of the best.

Waterfowlers compete in the popular waterfowl calling contests each day beginning with the youth contests and winding up with the World Open contest on Sunday afternoon. Contestants compete for pride, money and merchandise.

Archers can shoot in a field archery course set up on the campus. A smaller target range is available in the Archery Tent.  Dick’s Sporting Goods, sponsor of the tent, will have free drawings every hour.

In the Deer Tent the “Tucker Buck”, the largest non-typical buck ever harvested in North America is on display. Also the Tennessee state record typical buck is on display.  Inside the college the Illinois state record Hybrid Black Crappie, caught at Kinkaid Lake this year will be on display.

Artists, taxidermists, and other artisans display their work in the campus gym. Food venders are available across the campus.  Recreational vehicle (RV) and boat dealers will also be displaying their products.

Make plans now to attend the 30th Anniversary of the Southern Illinois Hunting and Fishing Days September 23 -24, 2017.  You and your children do not want to miss this one.

 

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