Archive for February 2011

FREE ONLINE CRAPPIE FISHING MAGAZINE   4 comments

I have “borrowed” the following from the blog of my good friend TJ Stallings.  He and others are producing this on line magazine.  I know Tim and TJ and they are two of the most knowledgable crappie fishermen around.  You can get the orginal of this message from TJ’s blog by clicking on his name in the left hand column of this blog.

New magazine is a vision of three anglers that are also in the fishing industry. Pro angler, Dan Dannenmueller builds fishing related websites and is the publisher. Crappie expert Tim Huffman is the senior writer and publisher of six crappie-fishing books. Co-publisher, TJ Stallings is a 40-year veteran of the tackle industry.

All three shared their ideas and it quickly became a vision of a publication for today’s angler.

The vision statement is simple. Provide a free, monthly publication for crappie anglers’ pleasure, knowledge, and success. Crappie NOW is an on-line magazine that will feature: * Timely articles about how to fish for crappie, NOW * Feature articles by some of the best writers in the country. * Destination articles will help you plan your next fishing vacation. * Interactive articles with links to photos and more information. * You will see tournament coverage, not just for the major trails but also for your regional crappie clubs and organizations. * A calendar of events from tournaments to seminars will be a monthly feature.

Our objective is not to compete with printed crappie publications. They do a great job. We’re more about the “NOW” apsect of Crappie fishing, every month. I had no idea that three anglers from three backgrounds could bring so much talent to the table. Each issue will get bigger and better. I think of this as “your” magazine more than “ours”. Please let us know how we’re doing. Blessings, TJ

Posted 02/28/2011 by Donald Gasaway in Freshwater Fishing

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AFTER OPENING DAY AT TROUT PARKS   1 comment

Missouri’s trout parks this week will provide anglers with great opening day fishing.  What about after the opening day crowds are gone?  The fish are still there.  They may be a bit more difficult to catch but that is the secret of their attraction.

 Rainbow trout are torpedo shaped with a square tail.  The many small spots over the entire body and tail easily distinguish it from its cousin the Brown Trout.  Rainbows have a white mouth and gums and sport 10 to 12 anal rays.  Hatchery raised rainbows have a stripe on the side that can be red, pale pink or even absent.  Stocked fish tend to have less hue than wild fish.  Because of the crowded living conditions at the hatchery, some stocked fish have damaged fins.

Because of their fast growth and suitability to hatchery life, rainbow trout are the most often stocked.   Hatchery raised fish usually has small eyes and heads in proportion to their length.  It has something to do with their fast growth rate.

Gone are the lines of anglers masking the shoreline as they stand elbow to elbow on opening day.  That first week of trout season at the Missouri trout parks can be hectic and not very pleasing to the sensibilities of the dyed in the wool trout angler.  Wait, better times they are a coming.

Freshly stocked trout raised in a hatchery tend to cluster in large groups and remain in one spot.  As they become more acclimated the trout begin to spread out and are more difficult to locate.

Trout anglers have all summer to find those trout that escaped the opening day crowds.  Once the opening day anglers are gone, it is time to seek out those big fish.  It is a time of great challenge and rewarding catches.

Veteran anglers fish the faster water and cast upstream and across.  Then they reel in the slack as the bait comes to them.  As the bait swings toward the angler, he lowers the rod tip.  Often the strike comes as the bait ends the drift.  Let the bait swing for a few seconds as its weight tightens the line below your position. 

True trout anglers seek out the grasses and out of the way structure.  It is these areas that fish turn to for protection and in search of the bait fish forage.  Being sensitive to sunlight, trout also seek structure to protect them from it.  They are often found on or near such protection whether it is natural or manmade. 

Keep moving, working downstream, until you have fished all the water and have found which holds fish.                                                           

Weeds and overhanging vegetation provide food as well as protection.  Insects fall from such plant life and land in the water.  A lucky trout can then gobble them down with great relish.  Any marshy areas in a creek should hold good numbers of trout.  Additionally any area where water from summer showers washes terrestrial insects into the water is also a good location.  Areas downwind from land can also attract trout as they lie in wait for insects to be blown into the water. 

For those who want to try a variety of baits this time of the year can be a fun experience.  The basic flys and streamers work well with a fly rod.  Spin tackle can include small minnow imitations and blade baits.  The real fun is with some of the more unusual baits. 

Corn is cheap and produces bites.  Berkely Power Bait will work on some days.  Nightcrawler pieces are a classic in trout fishing.  Salmon eggs are a bit expensive but the large ones are proven performers.  Garlic dusted, red colored mini marshmallows are an unusual bait with proven performance.  Velveeta cheese works well with trout that are in cold water.  In warm water the cheese tends to soften and fall off the hook.  Some old timers are known to use a piece of hot dog. 

The bait, whatever the choice is placed on a small fine wire hook attached to 4 to 6 pound test monofilament line.  The hook is tied to the line using a Palomar knot that allows it to move freely.  A single split shot weight is attached about ten inches from the hook.  The size of the shot is dependant upon stream flow and water depth. 

If the fish are not striking the bait with this rig, and you are not occasionally hitting the bottom, add more shot.  If the bait is continuously hanging up on the bottom then switch to a smaller split shot.

HOT WEATHER DEER HABITS   Leave a comment

I have often heard these past few years how the hot weather during the summer helps the deer hunting in the fall.  The theory in my part of the country is that with hot weather, the farmers harvest their grain in plenty of time to have it all out by deer season.  This reduces the amount of cover to conceal the deer from hunters and other predators.

Such was the case last year and the annual deer harvest in Illinois was down in some areas from the year before when it rained a lot.

 Then I came across a paper published on the website of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.  (http://ckwri.tamuk.edu/research-programs/deer-research-program/)

 The study by Tim Fulbright and Dean Wiemers focused mostly on the behavior of south Texas deer during drought.  They found that food availability affected deer movement.  Wet years produced good food supplies and drought led to a scant supply.

 They found that during drought conditions the deer became active at about the same time of the morning but maintained a higher level of activity when considering distance traveled to feeding areas.  They also began searching for food earlier in the afternoon. 

The scientists concluded that the spent more time foraging in drought years simply because it took them more time to find enough food to meet their needs.  However they did not seem to travel further to obtain that food. 

The deer appear to make certain tradeoffs to spend more time searching for food during drought.  Active deer are at greater risk from predation.  Coyotes may be more inclined to pursue deer during drought because populations of rodents may be low.  If the deer restrict their foraging to night time it increases the risk of predation. 

Walking around in the morning and evening during summer drought increase heat loads, raises their heart rate and increased the amount of energy expended in searching for food.  If they do not gain enough energy from eating to compensate for the energy used they begin to use body fat to support metabolism.  If this continues it can lead to starvation.  

In addition to managing their activities deer also turn to drought hardy woody plants. 

For more information about this study refer to the website mentioned above.

SPAWNING BASS REQUIRE CARE   5 comments

As the boat glides silently into the cove, bass can be seen hovering over the bare spots on the bottom.  With the water temperatures in the low 60’s, the fish have begun to spawn and are at their most vulnerable.  Anglers look forward to this time of the year for some fast bass catching action.  But, should they? 

Perhaps no other aspect of bass fishing is more controversial than that of fishing for spawning bass.  Does it hurt the species?  Is it fair?  Can it hurt individual fish? 

The answer to all three of these questions could be yes.  But, it does not have to if the angler acts in a responsible manner.  Spawning bass are a resource that can be used but should not be abused during the spawn.

The majority of anglers support fishing during the spawn.  They give two reasons for their opinions: They favor a mandatory catch and release season during the spawn; and that spawning bass would be caught, often accidentally by anglers targeting other species such as crappie.

Each spring the mating ritual of the largemouth bass begins as soon as water temperatures begin to rise.  Male bass move into shallow protected areas to clear out a nest about 2 to 3 feet in diameter.  Here he waits for a receptive female to come along.

When the females begin to move into the area, the males herd them into the nesting area by nudging them along.  The female will lay the eggs and the male then fertilizes them.  She returns to deeper water and the male stays to guard the nest until the young are born.  He will stay there for a few days after they hatch and then he too moves off to deeper water.  This is the spawn.

What does all this mean to the angler?  It is possible to catch these bass as they are not difficult to aggravate into taking a lure presented in the general area of the nest.  The males, which are smaller than the females, will very aggressively defend the nest site from anything they perceive as an invader.  The angler with a pair of polarized sunglasses can usually pick out the shape of fish on the bed.  With a little practice he can learn to tell the males from the females.

In addition to their size being a key to the sex of the fish, their behavior will tell one which sex is involved.  The larger female will almost always be accompanied by the smaller male, while the male will guard the nest alone if necessary.

 If the males swim away from the nest when the lure is cast into the area, he has not established his territory.  He will be hard to catch.  If he has established his territory, he will attach the lure in defense of the bed.  He may only attack the lure if it lands in a certain part of the bed.  The key for the angler is to find that part. 

These male fish can be caught off the bed, released quickly and unhurt, they will return to the bed.  They will continue to be aggressive and will hit other baits presented to them. 

The females on the bed can also be caught.  They must be released immediately.  If unhurt and not worn out from a long battle, the female will return to the bed and continue her egg laying in 3 or 4 minutes. 

The important key is in setting the hook immediately.  It should be set as soon as a bite is felt.  This prevents the fish from taking the hook deeper than just the lip.  Lip hooking prevents injury.  Once hooked, the fish must be landed and released as quickly as possible so as to not exhaust it.  Stress is the enemy of spawning fish.

 Fishing for spawning bass can be an interesting and educational aspect of bassin’.  It is important for the angler to understand the biology of the fish and the way it fits into nature.  If done properly, the angler poses no threat to the survival of the species or of any individual fish.  He can enjoy catching a lot of fish and still allow them to reproduce for the future of the sport.

FISHING IN WILLIAMSON COUNTY 2011   Leave a comment

Excellent fishing prospects can be found this year in southern Illinois.  This is especially true of Williamson County.  Williamson County sits astride Interstate 57 at Marion.  It is about two hours from St. Louis and 6 hours from Chicago. 

Three large publicly owned bodies of water are found in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge about 4 miles west of Marion, Illinois.  Owned by the US Fish & Wildlife Service the fishery is managed by D-22 Fisheries Manager Chris Bickers of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. 

Chris finds the bass fishery doing well in 7,000-acre Crab Orchard Lake.  The lake is the largest of the three lakes.  His surveys find that 24% of the fish are longer than the 16-inch minimum for keeper bass. 

The bluegills in the lake are doing well too.  Fifty percent are over 6-inches in length and 15% are over 6 inches. 

The white and black crappies are about evenly divided.  Thirty percent of the white crappies and 7 percent of the black crappies are over 10 inches in length. 

The white bass are getting established in the lake with two classes of fish coming on.  One class is 5 to 7 inches in size and the other is 10 to 13 inches. 

Then there are the catfish.  Both flathead and channel catfish thrive in this lake. 

Over in 1,000-acre Little Grassy Lake 30% of the largemouth bass are over the 15-inch minimum size limit.  

Bluegills are not as promising with only 9% over the 7-inch mark.  However, the Redear Sunfish, often called shellcrackers, are coming on strong.  Fifty-four percent of them were over 7-inches and 36% are over 8-inches in length. 

Between these two lakes is 810-acre Devil’s Kitchen Lake.  Chris finds the largemouth bass are predominately 7 to 13 inches in length.  But it is not unusual to find some fish in the 7 to 9 pound class.  

Seventy percent of the bluegill population is over 7-inches.  Ten percent are over 8 inches in length. 

A bonus in the lake is the seven to twelve thousand rainbow trout that are stocked each October.  During the winter they scatter and then congregate during the summer near the dam in the deep cool water. 

To the north of Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is the community of Herrin, Illinois. 

For those seeking the solitude of small lake fishing, there are Herrin Lake Number One and Herrin Lake Number 2, south of the city of Herrin.  Both are about 60-acres.  

Herrin Lake Number One contains largemouth bass and bluegills.  65% of the bass are larger than 12-inches and 19% exceed 15 inches.  Eighty-one percent of the bluegills are over 6-inches in length.  Some redear sunfish, channel catfish and crappie are also present.  A supplemental stocking of channel catfish took place last year. 

In Herrin Lake Number 2, the bass are smaller with most fish shorter than 13-inches, but 13% are over the 15-inch minimum size for keeper fish.  Good size bluegills are to be found and the black crappie range in length from 6- to 11 inches. 

To the north of Marion and along Interstate 57 is the community of Johnston City.  On the eastern edge of the city is 30-acre Arrowhead Lake. 

Although bass numbers in this lake are up significantly, the quality of fish is down.  Chris finds that this is an indication that the bass population is somewhat overcrowded relative to the available food supply. 

On the positive side, the bluegills and redear sunfish population has improved.  Their size and body quality is excellent.  Other species included are white crappie in the 8 to10-inch lengths and black crappie in the 6- to 10 inch size.  The channel catfish are in the 18 to 24 inch class.

SOLVING THE BASS FISHING PUZZLE   2 comments

Bass fishing is like putting together one of those puzzles that you get for Christmas and spend the next year trying to figure out the solution. 

Puzzles have to be figured it out one piece at a time.  In bass fishing it is one area at a time, one fish at a time, one strike at a time and one cast at a time.  Some bass fishing trips are like putting the puzzle together and leaving the room only to find that someone dumped it on the floor in your absence. 

Mother Nature has a way of undoing everything you have figured out.  In the blink of an eye Mother Nature can change the entire situation.  The change can come in the form of a big rain, big wind, a change of conditions, or a cold front.  If the weather stays the same you probably will do very well.  

Depending upon the time of year, certain conditions are more important than others.  In spring you want a long sustained warming trend.  It could be the opposite in the fall.  You want the cold fronts to come in and stimulate the fish to start feeding as the water cools. 

Change is important but you want a positive change.  If you get a negative change, like several days of warm weather followed by several days of cold weather it hurts your pattern.  Wind and rain some times can destroy what you are doing.  It really hurts your chances of catching lots of fish depending upon the water your fishing. 

In the spring fish are easier to locate because they are going to migrate to shallow water.  In the fall fish are hard to find as they school up.  They are not spread over the lake but rather in tight groups on little key spots.  Without finding a key place, you might not get a bite all day.  If you find those places it may be the easiest time to catch fish because of their being concentrated. 

Shallow water fish in the spring stop in staging areas.  A staging area is usually the first deep water off a spawning flat.  Bass try to go shallow, they hit a cold front and they pull back to the staging area.  As the weather warms they try it again. It is often back and forth, back and forth.  They repeat this action for a few days or even a few weeks.  When the water gets the right clarity and temperature the fish will move up and spawn. 

In the post-spawn period the process reverses and they move back off the beds.  Bass do not all spawn at the same time.  There will be waves of fish on and off the spawning beds.  There will be two and sometimes three waves of fish. 

When they move back deep bass begin relating to structure and cover.  Then it is time to bring out the crankbaits. 

You have to play it by ear.  You might develop a mind set or game plan of what you think might work.  Early on you play that out and you find out your guess is wrong. Let the fish tell you what they are doing.  Try to keep and open mind and play the situation by ear. 

Look at the water first.  Try to find out what the normal water color is and then determine if there is highly stained water or if it is clear.  Water clarity is important in lure selection and line size.  Determine what portion of the lake will have clear water and what portion might have stained water. 

Pay attention to the temperature of the water.  It will help you identify what the bass are doing.  It will help tell whether the fish have spawned or not.  This is a consideration only in the spring. 

Look at the structure available to the fish.  What is the predominant cover where the fish are being found?  It can be wood or grass.  If grass, what kind is it?  You just try to dissect the lake as to what structures are available.  Not all lakes have ledges.  Not all have huge beds of vegetation, and not all have rock piles, etc. 

Bass fishing is a puzzling experience.  By paying attention to the surroundings and time of the year, you solve the puzzle.

Posted 02/22/2011 by Donald Gasaway in Freshwater Fishing

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HUNTING AMERICA’S BIRD   Leave a comment

Pursuit of the wild turkey probably began as soon as the pilgrims landed.  Suffice it to say that throughout recorded history in America, this bird has provided food and sport for hunters.  In the South it is one of the most popular game animals available.  Much is said about its intelligence.  That is probably more due to instinct than to actual intellect.  The turkey is not a super bird.  He can be taken if one does his homework and pays attention to detail in the woods. 

Turkey hunters learn the habits and habitat of the quarry in order to be successful.  Some hunters each year are successful without preparation.  They are not the ones who take birds year after year.  

Most birds are taken during the spring hunts even though some are harvested in fall hunts.  In spring, the male or gobbler has love on his mind and is less aware of other things in the woods, such as hunters.  This is not to say that he will ignore a hunter that he spots.  Quite the contrary, he will be long gone if he sees a hunter or hunter’s movement. 

Each spring, the hen mates with a gobbler every day until she conceives.  She then begins to lay one egg per day for 10 to 15 days.  Once she has her eggs, the hen will stop breeding with the male.  The result is that each gobbler has fewer hens to mate with as the season wears on.  Late in the season, gobblers are more vulnerable as they seek hens with which to mate and find fewer available. 

Generally gobblers are solitary animals.  Sometimes two males will be found together.  These are usually brothers.  They travel together but their functions are different.  One will be a strutter and a lover while the other is a fighter, warding off other gobblers in the area. 

In order to overcome the instinctive defense mechanisms of the wild turkey, a hunter must pick an area with birds in which to hunt.  That sounds obvious but it requires some pre-season field work.  Equipment for the job at hand must also be prepared.

The first work is divided between scouting and practice with the weapon to be used in the hunt.  One should scout for an area to hunt.  Talk to locals about birds they might have seen.  Topographic and other maps are handy for marking where one has seen birds as well as sign of their presence.  Binoculars are good for use from a roadway.  One can drive a lot of roads and scout without having to actually walk all over the countryside.

 During scouting look for birds, or their droppings, feathers and tracks.  Turkeys will often respond to a Barred Owl call.  Turkeys hate Barred Owls and will often gobble in response to hearing their call. 

Pre‑season practice with a shotgun should include patterning the gun.  Remember the smaller the shot the more pellets in the load.  The idea is to get most of the shot in a 30 inch circle at 40 yards.  Most hunters are comfortable with number 4 or number 6 shot.  Two ounces of shot per load is recommended.  Experiment with different loads, size of shot, and ammunition fro different manufacturers. 

Full camouflage of both the hunter and gun are vital.  Once in the woods it is a good idea to sit against a tree wider than your shoulders.  This helps to conceal your outline and also is a protection from shots made by another hunter from behind you.  

Hunt defensively.  Never stalk a turkey.  Someone may be concealed from you and about to shoot in the direction of the bird.  Never wear the colors of red, white or blue in the woods during turkey season.  All of these could mean turkey to another hunter.  It is best to set up on a side hill and make the bird come to you.  One can set up 75 to 125 yards from the bird and then call him into range. 

There are six basic types of mechanical calls on the market.  They are the box call, diaphragm, corn cob‑slate call, push button, wing bone, and tube call or snuff box call.  Each has its advantage and disadvantage.  You should try each and make up your mind as to which works best for you.  Box calls are probably the easiest to master and are thus the most popular.  Diaphragm calls are popular because their use frees up your hands for use of the weapon.  Calls take much practice.  All of them will bring in birds. 

Turkeys will respond to seven or eight basic calls from a hunter.  They are the Yelp, mating call, assembly call, cluck, purr, cackle, cutting call, and the fighting gobbler.  The latter is a combination of purr, cluck, and broken gobble that is made by using two push button calls at the same time.  It is a two man operation to be used in mid to late morning. 

Another call the turkey hunter carrys with him is the Barred Owl call mentioned earlier.  It is used at first light.  The call is a “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all”.  Gobblers in the area will often gobble in response to this call giving away their location.  A crow call used later in the morning will sometimes elicit the same response. 

Turkey hunting is an interesting sport.  We have huntable flocks throughout the country.   Study the sport, study the calls and practice the calls and with the weapons.  If you do your homework chances are good for a safe and successful hunt.

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