Rend Lake Guide, The Late Cyril Bowlin, Unhooks A Nice Channel Catfish


The popular song of the 60’s said “Summer time and the catfish are jumping.”  Catfish do not jump.  If they did, Rend Lake would have been one jumping place last week when I visited it. 

Cats just rise to the surface, roll over in a swell and snap the small insect or other aquatic life that makes up the bulk of their diet.  We tried a variety of baits and presentations to entice them into the boat.  The brushy areas of the coves and along Gun Creek and the Highway 57 bridges are popular hotspots.  That is not to mention the action that can be found along the railway, Interstate 57 and Highway 37 shallows. 

The boat activity stirred up the shallows and provided and attractant for the catfish to feed on the aquatic life released.  The catfish were everywhere even if they are not jumping. 

Rend Lake is a 19,000-acre reservoir located on the border of Franklin and Jefferson counties.  It is about 300 miles south of Chicago (via Interstate 57) and 100 miles east of St. Louis (via Interstate 64).  Marinas on the south end and in Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park cater to anglers and boaters from across southern Illinois. 

In the park, the Rend Lake Resort and Conference Center is the only waterside resort in southern Illinois.  Visitors will find cabins and a marine motel as well as a conference center, boat rentals, bait and food in the marina area.  A four star Windows Restaurant and a sports bar also add to the atmosphere for the angler.  Fishing guide service is available through the resort office. 

In late summer the good places for catfish include the whole north end of the lake north of Route 154, in the stick ups and other shallow areas.  If there is a north or south wind and the lake is choppy the catfish move deep.  Gun Creek is protected and the fish like that environment. 

On windy days we fish the creeks and coves.  On calm days one can move out into the main lake. 

Fall catfish seem to relate to structure.  We will look for stumps, weed beds, and brush.  A lot of Flathead Catfish fishermen tie jugs to the trees along the shoreline baited with live bait.  Bluegills are the preferred bait for the big flatheads. 

Most of the big trophy size cats are taken with jugs and can run 40 to 76 pounds.  The pole and line anglers suspend bluegills near the top of the water.  Flatheads are not a bottom feeder but they tend to feed above their location.  No float is used in fishing for flatheads and the line is placed on free spool. 

Some Flathead jig fishermen tie a piece of a truck inner tube to a five gallon jug and nail the other end to a stump.  Then they drop a line down from the jug with a hook and bait.  When the fish takes the bait, he can get some give but cannot take the jug away from the location. 

Some of the rod and reel anglers seeking flatheads will suspend a minnow or bluegill about 3 feet below a flat in water with some current.  The rod and reel anglers do manage to take some flatheads.  It is that they just do not measure up to the really big ones that the jig fishermen seem to take. 

One of the nice things about Rend Lake is the access afforded the pole and line angler.  From both the shore and a boat, it is possible to work the shoreline of the lake as well as the river channels for Channel Catfish.  In late summer, the sub-impoundment areas are normally dry.  In the spring, when the water is high with winter run off, these areas are popular catfish locations. 

The average size of channel catfish we caught was 1 to 1 ½ pounds.  That is about average for the lake.  Some will get to 2 pounds.  All are excellent eating size fish. 

Most of the line and pole anglers prefer a stiff 6 foot rod.  Most veteran catfish fishermen recommend line of the 10 to 20 pound test.  A 1/0 hook or something fairly good sized is best.  Most anglers tie a sinker about a foot above the hook, right on the main line.  That way it sits on the bottom and allows the bait to float just above it.  Some will tie the sinker on a drop line off the main line in the same location. 

The bait of choice for the Channel Catfish in this area is generally stink bait.  Other baits include shad cut into pieces, shad guts, leeches, chicken livers and minnows. 

Rend Lake is a summer catfisherman’s heaven.  The fish are plentiful, the food great, and the accommodations excellent.  Only the weather can be a bit overcoming as temperatures tend to be in the 90-plus degree range.  Last week they were near or just above 100-degrees with high humidity.  For information about accommodations and guide service contact the Rend Lake Resort at 800-633-3341.


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  1. where can i find shad guts at rend lake?

    lawrence jefferson
    • I am not really sure who has them. You can try the Rend Lake Resort marina in Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park. Also the Shell station at the intersection of Illinois Route 154 and Route 37 also sells bait. I prefer to catch some shad with a casting net in the shallows in the early morning. I then can make some fillet strips as well as use the head and guts.

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