Three species of “bass” inhabit the tailwater below the Carlyle Dam. The three are Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, and White Bass.
The 26,000-acre impoundment that is Carlyle Lake is on Illinois 127 and US 50 at the midway point between Interstate 64 and Interstate 57 in Clinton County. The city of Carlyle is located at the south end of the lake near the dam. The 15-mile long lake is 3.5 miles wide. The deepest part is 40-feet deep.
The most popular fishing location for shore anglers is the tailwater area below the dam. Often anglers are almost elbow to elbow along the shoreline on both sides. The least fishing pressure comes during the week. Weekends are busy virtually all year.
With a regular stocking of fingerlings of largemouth, a number of very successful bass tournaments have returned to the waterway. It is host to the High School State Championships in the spring.
Although the best bass fishing is in the oxbow lakes, adjacent to the river current, largemouth bass are in the entire waterway. They like the abundant woody cover to avoid the current. Local anglers report commonly catching fish in the 3 to 5 pound class.
Habitat development by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has brought the smallmouth back from the brink of elimination. The best locations to find them are north of the Carlyle area but some fish are finding their way down to the tailwater below Carlyle Dam. Fish in the 2-4 pound range are usually in areas with rock or gravel bottoms. Look for them in the slower water.
The lake areas are usually home for the white bass. But in the spring the greatest numbers of fish make spawning runs up river from below the dam until their path is blocked by it. Anglers often catch fish in the 10 to 15 inch class. Look for them in the gravel bottom areas with the swift running water of the tailwater.
Lake of Egypt provides plenty of early season crappie action.
Located about 10 minutes south of Marion, IL, it provides challenges for the crappie angler.
Local anglers fish for crappie all year if there is no ice on the lake. A power cooling lake ice is somewhat of a rarity. It is a matter of knowing what type of cover the fish relate to under specific weather conditions.
On Lake of Egypt, the water temperatures are warmer than other lakes in the area. It is a cooling lake for the power plant turbines. The fish relate to structure but it is different structure than is usually found in crappie lakes. The lake has a variety of structure and vegetation from creek channels, rip rap, fallen timber, stumps, roadbeds and weed flats.
This 2,300-acre lake has 93 miles of shoreline with a maximum depth of 52 feet and an average depth of 19 feet.
When the crappies of Lake of Egypt are deep, finding them can be very tough. Casting jigs tipped with minnows to the outer edge of the weed lines in search of crappie suspended there is the most popular pattern. A favorite rig is to suspend a jig about 2 1/2-feet beneath a float. Then mooch the jig back to the boat in deeper water.
The fish tend to relate to wood if they can find it in deeper water. Anglers find suspended fish over wood in 12 to 18-feet of water. Locating wood is problematic. The lake they are usually conceals it beneath the surface.
Egypt is a lake with many necks and coves. Points at the main lake coves often have brush and will hold fish in spring. To stay on fish in deeper water you need electronics to stay on fish and to get a minnow down to the right depth.
Local anglers sometimes use light line, seldom exceeding 4-pounds test. They lose less tackle with the light line but catch more fish with 2 pound test. Resident anglers like to cast Road Runners with re heads and white bodies in the 1/16th and 1/32nd sizes. They also have good luck with hot pink jigs and occasionally fishing a minnow below a float on the weed lines.
A staple of crappie fishing, the jig and minnow combo is also popular on this lake. It can be cast to weed lines and jerked slowly back to the boat or dropped vertically into the crappie’s strike zone.
Water temperature effects the location of the fish. The power plant at the north end affects the water temperature of that portion of the lake. A north wind will usually push the warmer water over the weed beds.
Most anglers begin their day on the lake at the discharge and work south. The warm water attracts bait fish and the crappies follow. If the power plant is down, the fishing slows. If the water temperature is in the 50’s the fish will be in a transition period. If they are not yet in the weed lines one can look for rocky breaklines and woody areas on the east side of the lake. Sunny coves on the north end of the lake are also a good place to look for fish. The best fishing seems to come in the early morning and late afternoon.
When fish are deep the crappie rig of sinker on the line below two hooks can be deadly at locating the proper strike zone for feeding fish. On warmer days one can switch to a wood pattern.
In spring frontal systems pass through southern Illinois. They are full-fledged cold fronts that blast down from Canada to collide with moist warm air masses pushing up from the south. This combination can cause severe thunderstorms and accompanying lightening. Anglers need to pay attention to these conditions, as they can be deadly.
Fish are more “catchable” just prior to the passing of one of these cold fronts.
Although they are still popular the jig is not as dominant on the professional bass fishing circuit, as was once the case. With the advent of pitching and flipping, the jig was a natural lure. According to BASS pro-angler Kelly Jordan most anglers today are flipping and pitching tube baits. He maintains they catch more fish.
A while back we sat down on the deck of his Skeeter bass boat to discuss this issue.
Jordan prefers soft plastics most of the time. He likes the Lake Fork Craw Tube as it has produced a lot of his income in tournaments. The many bites he gets with this tube have made it his go to lure.
The bass angler uses a salt and garlic impregnated tube for dragging matted grass, in timber and rocks. He does report that his friends use it to catch smallmouth bass in the Great Lakes.
“A jig has its place,” says Kelly, “but the reason I like to flip a tube over a jig is that the tube falls better.” He finds that in cold water the jig gets better action.
Throwing a tube, however, is a little more weedless. Sometimes you can get them through the thicker stuff. Using a Texas-rig, you can use a larger hook. Jordan puts a really big hook in them to increase his landing rate on really big fish.
Speaking of landing big fish, Jordan has an interesting theory on bass bites.
Anglers usually set the hook instantly when they feel the thump. When a fish picks up a lure and begins to move with it, you see line movement. The fish has already had it for a second or two in order to get a full grip on it.
Jordan maintains that this is the time when one really wants to wait and let them load up on you to take the slack out of the line. Then set the hook. Here is why.
In fishing a plastic jig, look where your knot is on your hook or jig. A lot of the time when you land a fish the knot is on the back of the eye. If you’re fishing Texas-style or flipping a tube it will be on the hank of the hook. The knot may be next to the shank of the hook on the backside of the eye. It is where the gap is on the ring of the eye. What causes that?
As a fish thumps the lure hard or eats a minnow it is always head first. When bait is falling they always get them head first. That means your hook is facing the back of their throat. The bend in your hook is against the front of their mouth. The weight on a Texas-rig, flipping tube or head of a jig is usually farther back in their throat.
You set the hook, it pulls that knot right around. When you are fighting the fish it is pulling straight up. What your lure has to do is turn around and hook them. If you set the hook on a really hard thump you miss the fish. You just jerked the lure out backwards.
If you let the fish load or have it for a second and actually get just a touch of pressure you can actually turn that lure around in their mouth when they are chewing it. A lot of times when you hear someone say they had a fish spit it out they do not known the fish was there until too late.
Jordan is not talking about counting to ten. Let them load on you maybe 2 or 3 seconds. Get a little load pressure if you are having trouble hooking them, especially if you are getting that hard thump.
He explains if he gets a bite, he lets them pull down. That makes sure he gets maximum hook penetration. You get it when you hook is in the right position to get them. Jordan maintains that you get a good hook set almost every time and you will hardly ever lose a fish. It is especially true in a heavy cover situation if you just let the fish pull down. They are just not going to let loose of the lure.
In practice, Jordan will cut off the hook of a jig or fishes soft plastics, like a tube, without a hook.
He finds it great practice because he can pitch it into a brush pile and nasty stuff. He does not get hung-up unless the line wraps around something. You can fish faster and then when you do get a bite you can actually lean on them. You are not going to hook them even if you try. You can pull them up to the top half the time and if not, you sure can feel how big they are.
Practicing without a hook is an eye opening experience of the habits of bass. When you find out just how long a bass will hold your bait it will blow your mind. It will amaze you to play a fish when you are getting a lot of bites. Jordan finds he learns much about how fish hold a bite.
You will not believe how they will hold on if you do not pull too hard. You can actually walk them like a dog. They will hold on to the lure for 2 or 3 minutes. You can follow them out into the lake with your boat. They will fight you for that lure. He has had them boil around a stump and does not even have a hook. They are fighting that lure.
To catfish anglers Baldwin Lake offers some prime water. A cooling lake for the power plant, the lake provides an active growing season all year. Home to channel, blue and flathead catfish, it also contains a good population of bluegills and crappie upon which the larger fish feed.
Recently it was closed due to a valve being accidently left open and affluent being dumped into the lake. However today word has been received all is OK and the lake is open again.
Located about an hour southeast of St. Louis in St. Clair and Randolph counties, Baldwin Lake is about 3-miles north of Baldwin, Ill. Prime fishing location is near the levy at the hot water discharge. Most of the south half of the lake closes in the fall as a waterfowl refuge.
The average depth of the lake is about 8 feet. It is a perched cooling lake actually owned by the Illinois Power Company and leased to the IDNR for management of the fishery. The lake is 2,018-acres in size with 15 miles of shoreline.
A perched lake is one that is higher than the surrounding countryside. As such it is susceptible to windy conditions in winter and spring as weather fronts pass through the area. Anglers need to get off the lake in such conditions, as the waves can become quite a problem.
The access to the lake for bank fishermen seems to be very limited and probably not really the best of fishing locations. Bank fishing is limited to the west and north sides of the lake. Most of the shoreline appears to be in control of the power company and off limits. Boaters have more flexibility to choose locations around the lake. Boat motor restriction is a maximum of 50-horsepower.
The warm water is home to an extensive shad forage base. Both threadfin and gizzard shad are present. Illinois lakes experience heavy die off of shad in the fall as temperatures fall below 47-degrees. The burgeoning shad population in Baldwin Lake provides great forage for the predator fish of this lake.
The blue catfish are abundant with an average size of 8-pounds. Channel catfish are extremely abundant with the average fish weighing a half pound. The flatheads average 4.5-pounds.
Other fish located in the lake are largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, hybrid bass and longear sunfish.
Every year in February and March as the gloom of winter subsides and deer hunters begin to get cabin fever, it is time to go deer hunting again.
One can hunt deer in the spring. Not the kind of hunting one does in fall but still it is hunting deer. Deer activity tells a lot about what the upcoming season some eight months away will be like.
Spring hunting takes place before the undergrowth gets thick and covers much of the signs of deer activity. It is possible to observe the animals from greater distances than is possible later as the trees and bushes green up.
If you have exclusive hunting rights to a piece of property you can check permanent stands and clear shooting lanes. Lanes cleared in spring allow the deer to become accustomed to the environment before the beginning of the fall seasons. Repairs made become old hat to deer by the end of summer. Changes made in late summer may spook game from the area.
Early spring hunting is an opportunity to find shed antlers. All too soon, antlers rodents consume discarded antlers or vegetation covers them. A shed provides one with an idea of the size of the bucks that made it through the season and winter. The buck who dropped the shed is probably still in the area or at least his genes are in the local gene pool.
Spring is a good time to be acquainted with land owners. They are not too busy yet with the planting and not harassed by people wanting to hunt their land. The land owner may even take time to tell you where they see game on their property. They might be in a better frame of mind to grant you permission to hunt next fall after getting to know you now.
If you are not familiar with the piece of land then now is a good time to become acquainted. Make a map of deer activity. Mark sightings of deer, which way they are traveling at what time of day. Note feeding and bedding areas. Scrapes and rubs from last season will probably be active again next fall. Note their location. Use of the map in fall will cut down on the need to explore the area in fall prior to the season beginning. This cuts down on the stress to the deer.
If you are not map making inclined, then purchase a local map of the area from local governmental offices such as the recorder of deeds or highway department.
Detailed notes are important. You might also interview land owners, postal workers and others who regularly pass through the area. Not on your may their sightings and the time of day. Do not leave anything to memory.
If hunting public land you may find others have put up stands in the area you planned to hunt on a given day. If you have your map, it is possible to move to Plan B. If you have escape trails on the map you might move your stand to one of them and let other hunters pressure deer to you.
So do not just sit there. Pick up your binos, get some hunting clothes on and go hunt some spring whitetails.
One of the late winter rites of passage is ice out crappie fishing.
Locating the ice out crappie is a matter of going where they should be and going where they are. The latter probably requires electronic fish locators. The former is a matter of experience in that you go where they were during past springs.
A good topo map is helpful. Dark bottoms on the north side of lakes are a good prospect in that they get early sun and hold warmth.
Of the tow crappie species, the white crappie prefers the large open water. Both species will suspend in relation to lake points, sunken islands, sand bars, creek beds and debris found in most waterways. Both can and do inhabit the same water.
Both crappie species have roughly the same spawning habits, laying eggs in water 3 to 8 feet in depth, once the water temperature approaches the mid-sixty degree range near cover.
White crappies tend to like brush piles, bushes or sunken logs. The black crappies like reeds or other weeds. There can be a great deal of pre-spawn angling in channels and bays due to early ice out and the water being too cold for spawning.
Deep creek beds are a key to cold water crappie locations. Begin by searching likely summer holding areas and then back track to the nearest deep creek bed. Then follow the channel to the best available holding area. On a large lake this can be a considerable distance. Some creek beds are more promising than others. One with wood in or near the creek bed is best.
Lacking any wood either visible or hidden try bends or intersections. Sharp bends or intersections with roads and secondary channels often produce fish.
Good bays should have no channels, or at least not adequate ones serve well. If all else fails try the deep water and fish deep.
Jigs are the bread and butter lure for cold water crappie. A good assortment of leadhead jigs in 1/16th to 1/64th ounce in colors of white, black or yellow is good basic tackle. Couple them with tube bodies of the same colors. For the natural baits minnows and waxworms are best.
It is important to remember that the fish are very spooky this time of year. If scared, they will stop feeding. The best bet is to locate fish and then make long casts to the school with a slip float rig. Make short pauses in the retrieve or about 30 seconds each.
Crappie strikes come as the jig begins to settle to the bottom of the length of line below the float. Small floats are more sensitive and show very light bites that often occur.
Fishing for crappie just after ice out requires stalking to find them as well as a lot of hunting to find schools. It is however very productive and provides time to unlimber that old casting arm and get rid of Spring fever.
Our best fighting fish is a pretty apt description to anyone who has ever hooked one. These shad eating machines prowl a number of Illinois waters providing excitement for any angler who is lucky enough to hook one.
A wonderful fighting fish, this transplant to Illinois waters spends most of his day roaming deep water in pursuit of threadfin shad. Stable water conditions, clear skies, and the presence of shad cause this wolf of the water to move into more shallow water and dam tailwaters. Once there, their presence is visible by the action on the surface.
Stripers will force shad to the surface and then crash the surface as they goggle up the hapless bait fish. In tailwater situations the striper takes advantage of the injured shad that wash through locks and over dams. Most stripers and hybrids bite on live threadfin shad or skipjack. Some people have good luck with cut bait while others prefer artificial lures.
The Illinois State Record is 31 pounds 7 ounces for striped bass and 20 pounds .32 ounces for hybrid striped bass. The average fish from these species range from 2 to 15 pounds.
Most anglers refer to both the hybrid striper and the pure strain fish as “Stripers.” The hybrids are not able to reproduce and have some different physical features that make identification possible.
A saltwater relative of the white bass, stripers resemble them in appearance but have a more elongated and less compressed body. Stripers have a more straight back and they are dark greenish is color on top with a brassy tinge that becomes lighter on the sides. The underside is a silver color.
The most prominent feature is the presence of seven to eight narrow horizontal stripes along the sides which leads to the name striper. The stripes on the Hybrid are less distinct and definitely broken. The first stripe below the lateral line is distinct and complete to the tail. Hybrids tend to grow faster making them popular for stocking. Hybrids can reach 5 pounds by their third year.
These imports are present in some 28 waterways and lakes of the Prairie State. They consist of three subspecies: striped bass, hybrid striped bass and striped/hybrid striped bass. Regardless of where in the state a fisherman lives, he is but a couple of hours away from a striper fishery.
Historically, the IDNR has had problems meeting the stocking needs for this fishery. Today they are able to produce a reliable good quality source of fry.
State hatcheries are involved in the production of striped bass and hybrid striped bass using fry purchased from out of state. Currently Illinois stocks both striped bass and hybrid striped bass.
The best angling opportunities center on following the shad. Both threadfin and gizzard shad are the primary food source for all three subspecies. Many are caught incidental to fishing for other species. Catfish anglers will often catch them in the spring using chicken livers fished near the bottom of a lake.
Most fish are caught trolling shad or shad-like imitation baits. Both live bait and cut bait from shad work well. The use of electronic fish locators allows the angler to locate schools of shad. Then the angler knows at what depth to troll his offering. Shore anglers look for points and deep water flats near current. Current is a chief locator to find stripers.
Perhaps the best cure for fingers numbed by the cold and the chill of cold winds is the screech of a reel paying out line. The sound of the reel means striper on the other end of the line.