REND LAKE SUMMER FISHING   Leave a comment

The big predator fish of Rend Lake provide plenty of angling action for those who plan their activities. District 19 Fisheries Manager for the IDNR describes the lake as “a catfish factory.”

In early May catfish, both Flathead and Channel, action begins to heat up as they move into the spawning mode. Just when it happens is dependent upon the water temperatures.  Warmer temperatures make the spawn begin earlier and it could begin in April.

On Rend Lake, once the catfishing begins it usually will continue all summer right into October and November.  It is at that point that the water begins to cool and the fish become less active.

Rend Lake has an abundance of Channel Catfish.  Well known fishing guide, Todd Gessner maintains that if one is fishing for channel catfish, most of the action will be with fish in the 1 to 1 2 pound size.  Occasionally you are going to catch fish in the 8 to 12 pound range.

Most of the catfishing anglers are hook and line fishermen who fish with nightcrawlers, cut bait, or dip baits. However, some anglers like to jug fish.  This consists of a short line attached to a plastic bottle (soda or milk) and a baited hook with a nightcrawler on the other end.  Jugs are tossed into the water and the anglers sit back to wait.  At some point one or more of the jugs will move about quickly in the still waters.  Often it will be in a different direction from the other jugs.  Then it is time to crank up the motor and go retrieve it.

On hotter days, Gessner recommends going out on the lake in a boat and drift fishing. He will use a throw net to catch shad for bait.  Todd can keep this up all summer long.  He finds these patterns very productive.

Most of the Flathead Catfish come from fishing jugs and trotlines. Occasionally one hears of a fish taken with rod and reel.  Gessner’s guide business does not get a great deal of call for Flathead fishing.

Another popular predator species in Rend Lake are the bass.  Most numerous are the Largemouth Bass but the lake does have Stripers as well.

The Striper fishery is dependent upon proper spawning conditions and water level of the lake. Some fish wash over the spillway.  There does seem to be an increased number of better fish found below the dam.

The fishing down there is basically shore fishing. The fast water comes over the dam and down the chute into a wide area where the water slows.  A good bet according to Todd is casting a small spinner bait or white twister tail to see just what you might catch.  It seems that just about every species found in the lake are in that small still water basin.

Consistently catching Stripers is a very iffy prospect. The fish need high water so that they can move into the river upstream of the sub-impoundment according to Mike Hooe.  Getting the right water level at the right time is not always possible.

Todd reports that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources did stock some 13-inch Stripers hoping to improve that fishery. It will be interesting to see if that leads to more anglers catching fish.

Largemouth Bass in Rend Lake in the 2 to 4 pound classes with a few 8-pound fish weighed in during bass tournaments.

As the summer heat begins fishing becomes very difficult during the day with temperatures in the 90-degree plus area. Gessner proclaims that his business slows down significantly and generally involves just the real hardcore anglers.  They divide up the day, go out for only about four hours in the morning from dawn to about 10 a.m., and then find some air conditioned place to wait out the heat.  About 4 o’clock they will return to the water until about 8 p.m.

Rend Lake is an excellent fishery with good water quality.  The vast expanse of the lake is broken up with brush and old timber in the northern reaches.  It is there that most of the fishing action seems to take place.  For more information about guide service and accommodations contact Todd Gessner on his cell phone at 618-513-0520.

WALLEYES ON THE CHAIN O LAKES   Leave a comment

SHORE FISHING ILLINOIS CHAIN-O-LAKES

About 50 miles northwest of Chicago a string of lakes connected by the Fox River flows south out of Wisconsin. Called the Chain O Lakes they are just off Illinois Route 173 and U.S. Route 12 near the communities of Antioch and Fox Lake.

This month is the prelude to the influx of recreational boaters and anglers that will take over the waterway for the summer beginning next month. Anglers enjoy great fishing.

Although most species are available in the various lakes of “The Chain” a special opportunity is available to bank fishermen during the month.

Walleye become active in the channels between the lakes and around bridges. Both the upper and lower sections of the chain always have current.  The current attracts baitfish, which in turn attract the walleye.  Any river bends have current and usually at least one deep hole.  Bridge pilings divert the water creating faster current flow.

Walleye are a popular quarry all year around but bank anglers are at a disadvantage to boat fishermen during most of the year. With current flow the walleye tend to move just off the current to wait out the baitfish caught in the current.

During the month of May, the fish are closer to the shore in the channels and around the bridges. Bank fishermen can park along the roadway and fish the areas around the bridges and in the channel by casting slip bobber rigs.  Beneath the bobber is suspended a jig and minnow combination that proves quite effective.

If you catch a fish remember the amount of current flow. When you move to another location seek one with a current of a similar speed.  The speed of the flow can vary from location to location depending upon the amount of rainfall and wind speed.

Boaters can launch at most or the resorts and motor over to the bridges or into the channels. Bouncing the jig and minnow without the bobber around the pilings works well for boaters.

Walleye fishing on the chain can be difficult. But, this spring fishing seems to be the best opportunity.

THE TROUT OF DEVILS KITCHEN   Leave a comment

For most practical purposes trout fishing’s best days are over for the summer. The state regulated program stocks trout in small inland lakes in April and October.  After a beginning flurry of action, the number of anglers declines in number.  The catch rate declines significantly.  A small residue population of the fish continues into the summer when the water usually gets too hot for them.

There is one significant exception to this experience.

An 810-acre lake near Marion, Illinois is a surprise trout fishery. Stocked each October with 7,000 to 12,000 rainbow trout, the fish are plenty wild and scattered by the following spring when the anglers venture forth.

Devil’s Kitchen Lake accessed is available via Interstate 57 exits 53 and 54 west. The lake is on the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge just off Spillway Road.  Day use passes, directions, and site specific regulations are available at the refuge Visitor Center 2 miles south of Route 13 on Route 148.

Rainbows are torpedo shaped with a square tail. They have many small spots over the entire body and tail.  Rainbows have a white mouth and gums and sport 10 to 12 anal rays.

Trout are a cold water fish and in most downstate lakes, the water warms quickly in the spring. That makes for the potential of a quick die-off.  Due to the depth of Devils Kitchen Lake, the problem is not as severe.  It is over 90 feet deep near the dam area and the fish tend to congregate there on warm summer days.  In a lake situation, the rainbow trout acts a little differently than would be the case in a small stream.  For that reason it is advisable to do a little scouting of the water prior to wetting a line.

If fishing from shore or without the modern electronics available to some anglers with boats, a good topographical map is important. In either case fishermen search for shoreline structure.  Trout seem to be particularly susceptible to the suns rays.  To avoid the sun and predators they will often be in or near a sheltered area or deep water.  Most shore fishermen fish in the early morning or late evening during the summer months.  Water is cooler during those periods according to locals.

Devil’s Kitchen Lake has a number of ledges and drop offs. The map and electronics come in handy in locating such areas.  The area just to the south of the dam area has a number of such ledges.  They look like steps going from the shore into deep water.

During the summer the area just out from the dam attracts trout. They often will appear on a graph as a cloud of bait fish suspended at about 15 to 20 feet deep.  In the hot weather of a southern Illinois summer heats the surface water to a point where it is not comfortable for trout.  They will move down to about 20 feet depth where the water tends to be more comfortable for them.

Early in the morning and late in the evening, when the water tends to be cooler, the trout will come to the surface in search of bait fish and flying insects that land on the water to rest.

Rainbow trout are most comfortable in water that is 56 to 70 degrees F. Once the water gets to 79 and above, they leave that water in search of more comfortable environments during cooler weather.  As the water warms, they seek out deeper water which usually means the dam area at the north end of the lake.

The shad forage in the lake also like the cooler water. But they seem to be willing to go into warmer water to avoid the trout seeking to eat them.  In the cooler evening temperatures both predator and prey will rise to feed.  In the brushy areas at the north end of the lake, insects will come out.  The fish will seek to capture any hapless insect in that area.  Further south, there are some trees that attract trout.  Any area where there is runoff from the shore will also attract trout.  They hang out there in hopes of getting any terrestrial insects that wash into the lake by a summer rain.

Most trout take natural baits like mealworms, red worms, minnows or pieces of nightcrawler. You can usually cut the nightcrawler in thirds and threaded them onto the hook for best results.

There are no longer any facilities available in the form of boat rentals, bait and food services.

Bait, tackle and fishing licenses are available at Cooksey’s Bait Shop on the corner of Old Route 13 and Highway 148, just north of the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center. They are also available at the marina on Little Grassy Lake just south of Devil’s Kitchen Lake about two miles on Spillway Road.

TIPS FOR FISHING ICE OUT CRAPPIES   2 comments

dscn2314

As spring brings warmer water temperatures to the Land of Lincoln, crappies begin to move from deep water haunts toward their traditional spawning habitat. As they stage in the more shallow water, anglers seek them out.

Two waters can present different fishing challenges while also containing a prominent crappie fishery. One is a long stretch of water with rocky bluffs and deep water close to shore.  The other is shorter and much wider with a kind of bowl structure with great shoreline vegetation.

The challenge of fishing for pre-spawn crappies is mostly finding them. This involves knowing their seasonal movements.  The spawn dominates the habits of fish in spring.  Water clarity is a factor in finding fish.  Turbid water following flooding and low light penetration limits vegetation growth to shallow water.  In very clear, undisturbed water the fish remain deep.  As predators they seek preferred forage.  Knowing where the forage is located goes a long way in finding crappies.

Fishing for pre-spawn crappies requires stealth, patience, ability to read the water and a sound knowledge of the species.

Crappies feed according to changes in weather and barometric pressure. They cause the fish to move tight to cover and become inactive.  Successful anglers look for warmer water seeking out colored water, a windward shoreline, a dark soft bottom, shallow water, tributary streams and heat absorbing cover such as wood.

Early on in the month crappies will be in shallower water on dark, warm days and deeper on clear ones. High water is common.  Fish will often move up into the temporarily flooded vegetation.  It is advisable to check a variety of depth zones and not overlook checking odd locations.

Cold water crappies are not usually aggressive feeders. Fish slowly.  They will not chase bait or lure very far.  It is best to keep a lure right on their nose.

Jigs are the bread and butter of crappie lures. A good assortment of leadhead jigs in 1/16th to 1/64th ounce, in crappie colors or white, black and yellow are basic, but not the end all.  Other colors produce action, as feeding habits of the crappie can be finicky.   Couple them with tube bodies of the same colors.  For the natural bait aficionado jigs with minnows and wax worms are the ticket.

There are three basic methods to catch crappie: vertical jigging, dabbling, and casting/retrieving jigs.

Vertical jigging involves parking over a known crappie location and dropping a jig straight down into it.

A related technique is dabbling. This requires a long pole to drop the jig into pockets and holes in heavy brush or flooded cover.  Using a short section of line, move the jig from one spot to another.  It is jigged a bit and then pulled up and moved to another location.

Casting jigs involves casting up a shoreline and then retrieving it with a slow swimming motion. Speeding up or slowing down the retrieve varies the depth at which the jig travels.  Once fish are located at a specific depth, the angler concentrates on that depth.

It is important to stay within five feet of the desired level, as crappies tend to concentrate feeding activity to one depth. You need to keep the jig right among the crappies.  Larger fish are usually in a layer just under the smaller ones.

Often in cold water the fish will suspend off of the bottom. Anglers can drop a jig to the bottom, then crank or lift it back up.  Since crappies feed up due to the placement of their eyes, they will tell you what level they prefer their forage.  You can then concentrate your fishing at that level.

As with all fishing, it is important to keep an open mind, use the right equipment, fish slowly and try to keep your lure where there are fish.

 

CRAPPIE USA LAKE OF EGYPT 2017 TOURNAMENT   Leave a comment

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Big money purses and national sponsors make this tournament different from crappie tournaments of the past. Crappie USA is coming to Lake of Egypt March 10 and 11, 2017.  With a total guaranteed local purse of $10,000 plus and chances at a national purse of $125,000 plus.  Local sponsors are the folks at Williamson County Tourism Bureau.

Information on the event is available from the Williamson County Tourism Bureau at 1-800-GEESE-99. It also is available at http://www.crappieusa.com/Tournament Informaton.  Advance registration is required.  The weigh-in site is Mack’s Lake of Egypt Marina, 12024 Laguna Dr., Marion, IL 62959.

Crappie USA is a national organization formed in 1996 to establish and expand family-oriented, cost effective and competitive tournaments for amateur and semi-professional crappie anglers. Nationally there are tournaments in numerous states.  Anglers compete for a place in the field for the “super bowl of crappie fishing” the $125,000 Cabela’s Crappie USA Classic to be held on Kentucky/Barkley Lakes out of Paris, TN October 26 to 28, 2017.

Although the tournament is the main attraction it is not the entire event. On the evening before the tournament many national sponsor field test teams and local experts will be present to answer questions in a seminar.  The seminar site, which is open to the public, will be the Williamson County Pavilion, 1601 Sioux Drive, Marion, IL.  Starting time is 7:00 p.m.

On March 11, 2017 there will be a Crappie Kids Rodeo for kids 12 and under accompanied by an adult. Just bring your fishing pole.  There is a sign up period from 8-9 a.m. and the fishing tournament will run from 9-11 a.m.   All participants will be eligible to win one of six &1,000 scholarships to be drawn in October at the Crappie USA Classic.  The site of the Crappie Kids Rodeo is the Marion Elks Lodge Pavilion located on the north end of Lake of Egypt near the dam.

Information regarding the event is available from Williamson County Tourism Bureau, 1602 Sioux Drive, Marion, IL 62959 or by calling 1-800-GEESE-99.  Information is also available online at Visitsi.com, the Williamson County Tourism Bureau website.  Their e-mail address is info@visitsi.com.

 

CWD AND ME   3 comments

dsc04594

Like most people who hunt deer species in North America, I have a minimal knowledge of the disease known as CWD. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal (to deer species) neurological disease.  A misfolded protein called a prion causes the disease.

It passes from one deer to another through animal to animal contact. The shedding of prions through bodily fluids and/or the decay of infected animals creates a contaminated environment which allows the spread of the disease.

The disease does not pass along to humans or domestic livestock. But it can have a devastating effect on deer herds, especially if they are concentrated in a location such as those yarding up in winter and those in a breeding facility.

Biologists have tried numerous programs to limit the spread of the disease but as yet there is no known cure.

Most programs involve isolating infected areas and the sampling of brain tissue to find infected animals.

Last fall produced the harvest of the best deer of a 60-year hunting career. When told testing for CWD is required, anxiety set in.  Visions of some college kid working for the game officials butchering the cape to get at the brain tissue came to the fold.  Such was not the case.

Squaw Mountain Ranch where the deer was taken is also a deer breeding facility for sale of deer to ranches across Texas. In order to protect their property and herd, the ranch participates in a number of studies with the wildlife officials of the state.  It is no near any of the areas where CWD has been found in the state and the hope to keep it that way.

Any deer that dies on this ranch is checked.

Concerns about damage to the cape are unwarranted. Watching the process turned out to be a good learning experience.  Dusty, a guide on the ranch follows normal capeing procedures.  However as the cape is rolled toward the head, an incision is made at the joining of the spinal column to the base of the brain.

With some specialized tools he is able to remove a two inch section of the spinal column. He places the sample in a container and sent out for testing.  At the lab they section the sample and examine it under a microscope for any folded prions.

After two years of sampling every deer, this ranch has not found a single infected animal.

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THE DECLINING DAYS OF WATERFOWL SEASON   1 comment

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For many ducks and other waterfowl of the Mississippi Flyway, western Tennessee is a wintering location. They may leave occasionally but always seem to return.  The duck migration is prominent but some geese are also present.

Late season includes teal (both blue and green-winged) ring-necks, shoveler, gadwall, widgeon, pintail, mallards and occasionally some Canada and speckled belly geese. Not all the species are there all the time.  They move out and maybe travel to warmer areas for a few days only to return.

Waterfowl hunting is a major wintertime activity around Reelfoot Lake and area ponds and small lakes. They provide field, open water and pot-hole hunting.  Area resorts and camps provide hunters with needs such as guide, blinds, and boat rentals.

Hunting continues until the end of January for all species. Special seasons for snow geese run until early March.

Born of the violent earthquakes of 1812-13, the lake and surrounding area consists of some thirty to fifty thousand square miles that underwent dramatic topographical changes visible today. During the quakes left sunken areas, fissures and land domes.  The reversal of the flow of the Mississippi River flooded much of the area creating the lake as well as flat fertile land for agricultural purposes.

As the migrating flocks arrive the birds feed heavily on protein rich grains. They rest at night on large water areas for protection from predators.  By day they move to the grain fields available in the area.  Once they have rebuilt sufficient stocks of protein they turn to the invertebrates found in more shallow water areas including pot holes and ponds.

The birds hold in big water during colder air temperatures as the big water stays open longer and is not prone to freeze over.

When hunting small areas of water near large areas, the late season birds pitch out of the air and decoy easily. By watching live ducks, and how they react to other live ducks, one finds they the flocks are composed of even numbers of birds.  This may mean that combined with their becoming so territorial, they have already paired up.  They do not want to endure any harassment from other members of the flock.

Using this information, you may want to change your use of decoys in the small water. Try scaling back the decoy spread and constantly change it each day.

Waterfowl tend to be a little more active before weather fronts. A change in barometric pressure occurs right before the front comes in.  Right after the front the pressure rises.

The birds become more active after a front passes because they can fly at higher altitudes. The hardest part of a duck’s exertion is the exhaling part.  In high pressure situations birds can fly higher and it is easier on them to make long distance flights.  The long distance flights make hunters want to pull their hair out.  The hunting in any one given spot becomes hard.

Late season waterfowl hunting and calling is a constant case of analyzing what is going on with the birds. You may never figure it out completely but you might get a little bit closer.

 

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