Due to the abundance of submerged trees and stumps in Reelfoot Lake, necessity is the mother of invention. Early on the Calhoun Reelfoot Boat became a reality. The craft is a rather nifty local product in the area surrounding this lake in western Tennessee. Over the years the construction of these boats passed along from generation to generation until recently.
Although there is talk of resurrecting the business of building these interesting craft, no particular plans seem to have emerged. The boats have become collectors’ items as they vanish from the lake. The best preserved one I have found is at Blue Bank Resort on the shore of the lake in Hornbeak, TN next to the state park.. There is one in the museum on the refuge but it is in rather shabby shape.
Invented in the 1800’s to cope with the huge amount of submerged timber and relatively shallow nature of the lake, the boat is particularly adapted to such conditions. It is 17-feet in length and canoe shaped. The original boats were only 12-feet in length.
The bottom of the flat bottom craft is of 7/8th inch lumber. Over the years they were made of a variety of locally grown lumber the cypress is preferred. The side boards are only 3/8th inches thick. They have to be steamed and then bent to form the curve required when nailed to the frame.
The Reelfoot boat also has a unique oarlock system. In 1880 an Illinois duck call maker and avid duck hunter designed and patented it. The Calhoun family purchased the patent for the oar locks 1959. They system permits the anglers to sit facing and row in the direction in which they row. In conventional systems the rower faces away from the direction he is heading.
The addition of handmade boat sets and oars for the oar lock system completes the finished product.
Propelled by a single cylinder engine, it is steered by a unique rudder mounted that tilts up when coming into contact with an object beneath the water.
The propeller protection by a sheet of plate steel keeps it from sheering off the prop in contact with solid objects so often found in these waters.
Groaning through the mists, a bass boat slips away from the ramp and out on to the lake. The driver pushes forward on the throttle and the boat goes up on plane and disappears into the pre-dawn fog. Long after it is gone from sight, one can hear the roar of the big engine carrying anglers to a meeting with Mr. Largemouth Bass.
Bass fishing in southern Illinois begins to heat up in March. Warming temperatures, tending to average about 10 degrees warmer than the northern part of the state, spark the activity of both fish and angler. Williamson County contains several prime bass lakes. They contain many fish in the 2- to 6-pound class.
Crab Orchard, Little Grassy, Devils Kitchen, and Lake of Egypt all hold good populations of trophy size largemouth bass. Together they provide some 11,200 acres of water available to the angler in search of fishing recreation.
The largest of the “Great Lakes of Williamson County” is Crab Orchard Lake, located in Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge five miles west of Marion, Illinois. This 6,965-acre impoundment is astride Illinois Route 13. The lake is 8.5 miles in length with a maximum depth of 30 feet and an average of seven feet.
Growth rates for bass in this lake, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, are good due to lake productivity and abundant gizzard shad. If available, The IDNR will add threadfin shad to the forage base. Some annual supplemental stockings of advanced fingerling bass contributes significantly to the fishery. There is a 15-inch minimum limit on keeper fish.
There are camping and marina services on the northwestern portions of the lake. Details and Recreation User Fee information is available online and from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Visitors Center on Route 148. It is two miles south of the Williamson County Regional Airport. User Fee permits are for 1-day, 5-day and yearly. The pass is required for use of all three of the Refuge lakes; Crab Orchard, Little Grassy and Devils Kitchen. The phone number is 1-618-997-3344.
Little Grassy Lake is a 1200 acre lake on Giant City road, south east of Carbondale, Illinois approximately 8 miles. It has over 36 miles of shoreline with an average depth of 27 feet. Site specific regulations include a 10 horsepower motor limit. The slot limit means you must release all fish between 12 and 15-inches in length.
The only marina and camping services are available at the Little Grassy Boat Dock (618-457-6655) found at the north end of the lake. The address is Route 1, Box 340, Makanda, Illinois.
Devils Kitchen Lake is a twin sister to Little Grassy Lake. This impoundment and surrounding environs look much like a Canadian Shield lake with pine trees on the shoreline. The impoundment is deep and clear. Rock outcroppings dot the shoreline of this 810 acre lake. There is also a 10-horsepower motor limit. There is no marina service. For information contact the Crab Orchard Visitor’s Center office.
The lake provides some trophy size bass in the springtime and there is no size limit on them.
The last of the “Great Lakes of Southern Illinois” is Lake of Egypt. This hot water discharge lake in southern Williamson County is a 2300-acre reservoir located about 7 miles south of Marion. It is 3 miles east of Interstate 57.
With an average depth of 18.5 feet and a maximum depth of 52 feet, the bass thrive in the brush piles and coves of this expansive lake. Milfoil and other weeds form the shoreline to a depth of 8- to 12 feet in some areas. The average size of bass taken is in excess of 3 pounds making this a popular lake with recreational anglers.
There are three marinas on the lake. Pyramid Acres (618-964-1184) and Lake of Egypt Marina (618-964-1821) are on the northeastern part of the lake. The third, Egyptian Hills Marina (618-996-3449) is on the eastern shore, further south.
Although there is no motor size limit on this lake, there is a boat launch fee. Speeds are limited to 35 miles per hour and all boats must stay more than 100 feet from the shoreline of any residence.
The nip in the air is refreshing. But, the tug on the line is even more stimulating. The only drawback to spring crappie fishing is reaching out to grab hold of an icicle called a fish. They numb the fingers as you try to control their movement.
The ice is gone from rivers and crappies are moving into their spawning areas in the backs of coves and feeder creeks. Early ice out there can be a great deal of pre-spawn angling in the channels and bays especially if the water is too cold for spawning.
Crappies suspend in relation to points, sunken islands, sand bars, creek beds and debris found in lakes and impoundments. When it comes to spawning they lay eggs in water three to eight feet deep once the temperature nears the mid 60-degree range near cover.
White crappies tend to like brush piles, bushes or sunken logs. Black crappies like reeds or other weed growth.
It is best to begin seeking likely summer holding areas. Then backtrack to the nearest deep creek bed. Follow the channel to the best available holding area. Some creek beds are more promising than others. Ones with wood in or near the creek bed are best.
Standing timber and sunken wood is excellent. Even stumps will do the trick. The more dense wood has the best chance of holding fish.
If the river or creek does not seem to have any wood available, either visible or concealed, then try the bends and intersections. Sharp bends or intersections with roads and secondary channels often produce. Dark bottoms on the north side of lakes are good sources of fish. They get the early sun and hold warmth longer.
Channels that dead end minimize current flow that draws off warm water. Good bays with no channel or at least not an adequate one, serve the same purpose. If all else fails try deep water and fish deep.
Jigs are the bread and butter of crappie lures. A good assortment of 1/16- to 1/64-ounce jigs, in colors of white, black and yellow, are basic. Couple them with tube bodies of the same colors. For natural baits, the basic is minnows or waxworms.
Still fishing with slip bobbers and minnows can produce a lot of fish. It is important to remember that crappies are very spooky. If disturbed, they will stop feeding. The best pattern is to locate the fish and then make long casts to them. Make short pauses in the retrieve of about 30 seconds each.
The strike will usually come as the jig begins to settle to the bottom of the length of line below the bobber. Small sensitive bobbers help anglers notice the very light bite that often occurs.
Blue Bank Resort’s head guide Billy Blakely (R) has taught hundreds the ins and outs of crappie fishing on Reelfoot Lake in TN.
With the outdoor show season upon us, many people are seeking a fishing vacation in a remote location. They feel the need for a guide and use the shows as an opportunity to interview some. Guides are often miracle workers for those of us who do not have the time and chances to hone skills to the extent we desire.
Yes it is true. A guide is a miracle worker. They can turn a trip right side up. There are guides and then there are “guides”. Choosing the right guide for you requires a little time and consideration.
A great guide has not only the outdoor skills needed for the job but also the people skills to make the experience enjoyable for the client. Guides, like everyone else, have a reputation. If you check out his references be sure to check his ability to get along with his client as well as his ability to put them on fish.
Everyone who has spent much time in the outdoors realizes that some times you just do not find fish. Hiring a local guide improves your chances of finding out where to look. You can check with local bait shops but do so with caution. Some “guides” are guys who hang out with their pal the bait shop owner and may or may not be a good guide.
Generally guides that are associated with boat and marine manufacturers have the best equipment. It also means that the manufacturer checked him out and keeps tabs on his business practices. After all, a guide’s actions can reflect upon the company. The company has too much tied up in their own reputation to risk it on a guide who lacks ethics.
Communication is important is booking with a particular guide. It is important that you can get hold of him in case of need. Your family should also be able to contact you through him while you are fishing with the guide. There may come a time when a member of the family has a problem and needs to contact you. Get a phone number for emergency situations before you leave home. Leave with the family. Not all fishing locations have land line capability. You may need to have a cell, satellite or radiotelephone number. Satellite phones are most reliable in remote locations. If the guide does not have one then look into renting one for the duration of your trip.
It is logical that you and the guide agree on what species of fish you are to pursue. That would seem obvious but one needs to be positive that both guide and client are on the same page. It is your trip and you are paying the bills. You should be able to choose the species being sought. If the guide misunderstands what you want then part of the problem is yours for not making your desire clear. This does not preclude a change of tactics at the last minute due to local conditions. If the species you want to pursue is not biting, then it is appropriate that another one be sought.
Ask what tackle will be used. Will the guide furnish it or should you bring your own. If you are to bring tackle, then what specifically does he recommend?
What will be the actual on the water time? If you are fishing for a half day or full day, it is important to know the actual time that you will be fishing and not including the time spent traveling to the fishing location and return. Know what you are paying for exactly. If the time he is quoting is not satisfactory, then negotiate for the time you want. If the guide is to clean the fish, ask if that time is included in the price. Some guides charge extra for cleaning and packaging the fish. This is not inappropriate but you should know in advance.
Many of today’s anglers are supporters of catch and release. If you want to release all of the fish, ask if the guide will agree. It is far better to know up front than to begin releasing fish and find that the guide is upset. Or worse yet have a guide that wants to release all the fish and you planned to take some home for dinner.
The key to effectively planning a pleasurable fishing trip with a guide is communication. If both parties are in agreement, it is possible to have a great trip and to learn from the experience of the guide. If things are not going according to plan, a guide can recommend changes that may turn a mistake on the lake into a fishing trip to remember.
Finally, if the guide gives you a good trip on the water, then plan to tip him. How much? It is a difficult decision but remember that you tip the waitress at the marina or the bartender the night before about 10 to 15 percent of the tab. That is a good place to start with the guide. If he gives especially good service then 20% is not unreasonable.
Whether you are booking a week long trip or just a half day get acquainted with the lake fishing trip understanding is important. Make sure both of you are on the same page and that can only be accomplished with open communication. A fishing guide may be only a temporary employee but with mutual understanding he might provide you with the trip of a lifetime.
The Kaskaskia River supports a large variety of game fish as it winds some 300 miles through 22 counties in Illinois. There is a variety of habitats as one fishes the Kaskaskia River Project. Composed of 36 miles of navigational channel below Fayetteville and the reservoirs of Carlyle Lake and Lake Shelbyville, the river provides many local fishing opportunities.
To that end one can fish for numerous species below the Carlyle Dam. Most popular species for the angler are bass, channel catfish and crappie. At this time of year of particular interest, and least known, are walleye and sauger.
Saugers populate the tailwaters due to their washing over the dam from the lake. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources stocks millions of fish each year into the lake. The saugers are in the 2 to 4 pound class. Just down river below the General Dean suspension bridge is one of the best places to find them.
Successful anglers throw light-colored lures. White, chartreuse or pearl are a good bet. You can increase your odds by adding a fathead minnow as an extra enticement.
Current is a major factor in fish activity. A steady flow below the spillway is a tip off to active fish. Fishing along current breaks is a good place to start. Slack water eddies where they meet faster current and along deeper holes or gravel areas are good bets.
Below the Shelbyville Dam a similar situation exists for the walleye that are in that lake. Those fish are reaching up to 8 pounds.
Weather and river conditions are the basic factors in fish activity. Sauger and walleye are most active in February and March when there is good water flow.
Looking at Charlie’s cellphone one cannot help but realize how technology and good old fashioned ground pounding can aid in taking that deer next season. Deer hunting in the 21st century has come a long way.
Hunting season is upon us. Modern technology allows hunters to observe their quarry all year with the use of trail cameras. Some can even connect to cellphones and computers so the hunter can monitor the activity on a specified piece of land.
The hunter who consistently takes big bucks year after year spends hours in the field, reads all he can find about the animals and makes effective use of trail cameras to pattern their activity. He does not overlook any opportunity to learn.
In the case of white-tailed deer, big bucks have different feeding patterns and travel different trails in summer and early fall than later in the year. In response to hunting pressure deer change their travel patterns at the opening of deer season.
Tracks lead to either feeding or bedding areas. Deer will move toward bedding areas in the morning and toward feeding areas in the evening. This tells you where to focus your hunting during those periods of the day.
Bucks make rubs along the trail on the side of the tree he is facing. This is another clue to which direction he is moving on a trail. Seldom does he use the same trail both coming and going to the feeding/bedding areas.
Later the rut activity makes for more changes as they drive off rival bucks and seek out the does still in estrus.
Bucks maintain these habits until late winter when feeding habits force them to change in concert with the change of diet from brose to grasses.
Sign found by the scouting hunter in spring is sign of most importance to the hunter in pursuit of a dominant buck. Post season hunters can get a clear picture of where he will be in the fall by scouting a deer’s home area.
By making field notes one can map the planned hunting area. Expertise in map making is not a requirement. You just have to be able to find the same terrain in the fall. Mark wooded areas, swamps, sloughs, ridges, scrapes, rubs, bedding areas, feeding areas, water, doe trails, buck trails and where you sight game. The use of a GPS unit helps by using way points in the same manner.
For those wanting a more accurate map, local governmental agencies often have maps for sale at a nominal price. They portray roads in the area. Add some of the things mentioned earlier and some additional items might include changes in terrain such as small valleys with bluffs on each side that funnel deer activity. Creek crossings often are full of sign as animals depend on the water sources. Small ponds, stock tanks, and creeks become regular watering holes for all wildlife.
A benefit of post season scouting is that signs found are from animals that have made it through the season and the winter. They should be still around the next fall.
Due to the lack of vegetation late in the season the amount of sign is not as clear as is the case in late summer. Rubs are a bit hard to find, as they are aged and difficult to distinguish from ones of previous years. Scrapes are easy to spot. Mark them for future reference to see if they are refreshed.
Fresh rubs in an area with older ones leave the impression that the deer making them has been around for a while. Deer return to old scrapes from one year to another. Once they begin to use them they will return to refresh them every 12 to 48 hours.
Scrapes usually are located along field edges where there is a change from one type of vegetation to another. They are almost always beneath an overhanging branch that is about 4 to 5 feet off the ground. In making the scrape the buck leaves his scent on the tree by depositing his saliva as he licks or chews the branch.
If no suitable tree is available deer make scrapes next to saplings and leave a rub on the tree itself.
Rubs serve two purposes. They aid in getting the velvet off of antlers during the early season. Later they mark the buck’s territory. The territory is the buck’s breeding ground. The best prospect is an area with both old and new scrapes and rubs in large numbers. The chance of a big deer being there is good.
Deer tracks tell one of the presence of game. A single track of an animal wandering aimlessly through the woods is not one that needs recording. It is the track of a feeding animal and one probably not likely to use the trail again. Tracks of lots of deer indicate a major trail going to or from feeding and bedding areas. Such trails should be recorded and check frequently for activity. Check the tracks for size.
If tracks are large mixed with small ones then you are looking at a trail used by does and fawns. Check the area to the side of such trails for large tracks running in the same direction but not on the trail. Bucks usually leave these tracks. Bucks like to stay near the does but seek heavier cover.
By setting up stands to use the appropriate trails at the time of day indicated by the sign, a hunter increases his chances.