Archive for April 2011

CATFISH BY HAND   Leave a comment

Perhaps one of the most unusual fishing trips I have experienced occurred a few years ago with the late Cyril Bowlen.  It was a fishing trip on the Big Muddy Riverto catch catfish by hand.  No I did not do it but rather watched him.  My mother did not raise any foolish children.

Whether one calls it Grabbin, Hoggin or Noodling, it is hands‑on catfishing.  Practitioners are known for theirs prowess at sticking a hand into the mouth of large catfish and yanking the beast out of his den.

What is probably a rude surprise for the catfish is great fun for these anglers. 

Taking catfish by hand is practiced by a declining number of experts.  The reason it began is lost in history.  Grabbin probably began when some hapless angler needed food and did not have a line and pole.   

Though techniques vary a little, grabbers are brothers of the spirit when it comes to catching catfish.  Catching fish in this manner takes hours of exploration and a special kind of fortitude. 

Grabbers usually begins with underbanking.  Underbanking consists of reaching up under the riverbanks and pulling catfish out by the lower jaw.  

Practitioners tend to limit their activities to the months of May and June.  The success seems to depend upon water temperature and oxygen content.  That is, during the spawning season when water temperatures are in the 65 to 75 degree range. 

When it comes time to do the actual grabbing, some grabbers have a problem with people following them.  The word gets out that they catch big fish, and others want to find just where they are finding them.  

Once grabbers evade the followers they head for the honey holes that repeatedly produce fish.  Stopping the boat about 10 yards from the den, they use a trolling motor to move closer.  Once in the water the partners move to the den.  

Grabbers probe the den with a thin stick to “feel out” the outline of what ever is in there.   In this way they can be sure they are not trying to grab a snake or turtle.  The stick is used to “fish the hole”.  With a little practice one can tell the difference between a catfish and a turtle.  The stick also allows one to move the fish into position.  Once sure where the mouth end of the fish will be found the grabber reaches in and takes hold of the lower jaw.

 Grabbers are easily identified by the numerous scars on the backs of their hands from this sport.  The blue catfish is the worst one for grabbing due to its sharp teeth and tendency to bite. 

InIllinois, grabbers find mostly channel catfish and flatheads.  They do not have a severe snake problem.  Most of the snakes they encounter are non poisonous.   Turtles are more likely to be encountered. 

Most grabbers learn the sport from a relative, neighbor or friend.  They begin exploring small rivers.  By probing sandbars, boulders and other areas of little current they are able to locate fish.  Once one catches his first fish he is hooked. 

A reason for having a partner is that most dens have two or more entrances.  The partner can block one exit.  The other grabber probes the tunnel for fish.  They usually probe the downstream side of rocks with their pole.  Some of the dens can go back under the rocks six to eight feet. Others go extend under rocks so far that one is unable to probe all the way to the back. 

Concrete slabs that form boat ramps are good locations for fish dens.  Catfish go in and fan out the silt to make a clean bottom surface.  The male fish cleans out the perspective den and then the female comes in to lay her eggs.  Later, the male returns to fertilize the eggs and stand guard.  He will stand guard until the fry hatch and for a week to ten days thereafter. 

Sometimes dens can be located by sliding a foot along the bottom.  Other times, it becomes necessary to dive down and search by hand and the pole.  Most promising dens are found in water that is about chest deep.  This could be because few anglers take the time to probe deeper waters.

Catfish prefer a clean gravel surface for the nest.  When checking out a den, if it has silt, one knows that the cats are not using it.  If the bottom is free of silt the fish maybe using it but just not home.  Several catfish can occupy the same tunnel system.  Sometimes they are a male and female spawning but other times they are just several males guarding different nests. 

In addition to rocks and boat ramps catfish like holes in old foundations and submerged roadbeds.  In larger impoundments a number of such structures are usually flooded as the lake is allowed to rise to full pool after construction.  Rock piles and piles of discarded concrete are also good.  A topographical map or electronic fish locator are helpful in finding structure. 

Old road beds are good in that the fish dig out under the old concrete.  These holes are profitable some times.  On other occasions concrete collapses from the removal of the supporting soil. 

Grabbing is not for the feint hearted.  It is an adventurous part of our fishing heritage that should be saved for the future.  Thanks to men who practice the sport its techniques will be passed along for at least a little while longer.


Changing water conditions are often a bane of the river angler.  High water conditions often found in the spring can be perplexing.  Often bass anglers use the rule of thumb of “water high go shallow, water falling go deeper.” 

Pool 19 in theMississippi Riveris a good example of how a large river can frustrate the angler.

 This pool, commonly known asLakeCooper, is 46.3 miles in length fromBurlington,Iowadown toKeokuk,Iowa.  It contains some 30,466 acres.  High water and cool temperatures will often delay the bass spawn. 

 Some of locations to investigate in search of bass are as follows.  Launch out ofFortMadisonand move upriver to the area just north ofDallasCityon theIllinoisside of the river.

 There in the Shokokon Slough the water is usually about 20 feet deep. Just off the slough the water becomes shallower in Turkey Chute and the associated backwaters.  The more shallow water warms faster and spawning bass move into the stumps and submerged weeds. Cattail and arrowhead are the vegetation found in the shallows.  Pond weed varieties and lotus are in the deeper water.

 Finding areas that are shallow with a northern exposure is a good idea.  Bass winter in the deep water and will move into shallows to spawn.  Under flood conditions bass can be found back into the flooded grass.

 Also in the same area are theBurlingtonIslandsand their associated lakes: FishLake,RoadsLakeandLongLake.  These areas contain shallow water out of the main current and warmer temperatures.  Water can be in the low 60’s in the main current but in the mid to high 60’s in the backwaters.

 Going south fromFortMadison, one comes toRabbitIslandandDevilsIslandon theIowashore.  The stumps and laydowns along here are promising locations.  Milfoil and some pondweed species can be found among the stump fields.  Again it is important to look for cover and shallow water retaining warmth.  Wood is the best cover.  The creeks tend to be muddy and cold with the runoff making them poor locations for fish.

 The forage base in the river and backwaters is predominantly shad.  There are also some chub species and young bullheads. Local anglers tend to throw spinner baits. The color depends upon water conditions.  For muddy water a chartreuse with a chartreuseColoradoblade is good.  Chartreuse/white combinations are effective as well.  In stained water the same colors are good but one might want to change the blade to copper or a gold willow blade.

 Because the fish are in shallow crankbaits are difficult to use effectively.  If the water is unusually cold 1/4 ounce rattling jigs in black or chartreuse can produce.  Sometimes the addition of a black pork frog is helpful.

 As a back up have one rod rigged with a 4-inch ringworm in (black/chartreuse) on a 1/8 ounce leadhead jig.  In cold water a slow presentation for the sluggish fish is desirable. If the water is clear, black/blue combinations are good.  Pumpkin/orange is another choice.

 Although this information is for Pool 19, the principles work in other pools all along the river.  Most large river systems are pretty much the same in nature.  Master one and you can enjoy others.



I have just returned from a fishing and work related vacation at Eddy Creek Marina on Lake Barkley inKentucky.  One of the activities was to view the latest kayak products from Hobie.  We fished for panfish in the harbor at Eddy Creek Resort about five miles outside of Eddy Creek, KY. 

The kayak is no longer a means of transporting people across arctic waters or down raging rivers.  In this time of increasing fuel costs anglers are turning to the kayak as a lean mean fishing machine. 

I am impressed with Hobie’s line of fishing kayaks.  They are neat little fishing machines that pack easily into vehicles with limited storage space. 

You do not have to go on a seal hunt to use it.  Try some of the backwater coves on your favorite lake or pond.  The new kayaks are for all waters and particularly those wanting to spend quality time fishing. 

Movement on land is easy via to bow and stern carrying handles along with carrying handles on each side. 

The cockpit contains an adjustable high back seat with lumbar support.  This boat has a patented pedal mechanism that allows hands free propulsion.  One model even has a specially designed trolling motor.  Unlike traditional kayaks the Hobies propel themselves by two underwater flippers much like penguin wings.   The user’s feet rest naturally on the pedals for effortless back and forth motion.   The system allows users to cover long distances with little fatigue even against current or in the windy conditions we encountered onLakeBarkley. 

By not requiring a paddle the crafts allow virtually hands free operation.  A fisherman can really appreciate this as we are able to tie on lures or bait a hook and still move about.  Casting become less complicated when one does not have to pick up and put down a paddle to get into position to reach that hole in the weeds where you just know there has to be a fish.  A paddle can be used to provide faster travel when coupled with the flippers. 

Steering is accomplished by use of a finger tip control on the side of the boat.  It controls the rudder system which can also be rotated out of the way in skinny water.  It permits you to silently move into those backwaters where the big bass hide.  Rod holders provide a place to put the rod out of the way while working on tackle or enjoying lunch and a soda. 

Tackle can be stored in the bow storage chamber which is easily reachable from the seat.  A bungee cord keeps the lid firmly in place against the O-ring seal for a watertight compartment. 

In the off season I see this craft as a neat little duck boat.  Early season teal have a way of finding skinny water and with a kayak there is no need to wade in to retrieve downed birds.  The silent drive system allows for silently approaching those backwater places where ducks are often concealed. 

Kayaks have an endless number of possible uses and their relatively low price tags make them an affordable option for the sportsman.  For more information about the line of boats and prices check out their website at:

Posted 04/25/2011 by Donald Gasaway in Boats, Freshwater Fishing

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Pontoon boats have shed their “party barge” image and moved into the mainstream as family recreation craft.  They are found towing water skiers, or serving as a water-based RV campers.  The most popular change is the pontoon boat as a fishing craft. 

With the addition of a few accessories they are an economical and practical craft that expand outdoor recreation capabilities. 

The shallow draft of pontoon boats allows one to move into fishable shallows for angling action. 

A stable craft, pontoon boats transcend problems with the wake of other boats, potential currents, or windy conditions.  All are factors that cause difficulties. 

The stabile large deck areas and comfortable amenities make pontoon boats a natural for teaching children to fish.  It is a safe environment in which they can move around and take rests from the “work” of fishing.  Young children often have short attention spans.  They can bring along toys and other things to occupy the slow times between bites.  Ice chests, either mounted or carried onto the craft, can be used to store water, soft drinks, and snacks.  Some pontoon boats also have portable toilets.

 Manufacturers offer fishing packages with some models.  Packages include such amenities as: live wells, fishing chairs, anchor boxes and mounts for trolling motors and fish/depth finders.  Convenient rod holders secure poles out of the way when not in use. 

Many of these features are also available as after market items. 

Fishing patterns vary from sedentary pole and line or jug fishing to more active bass angling styles.  The versatility of the pontoon boat is enhanced by the four-stroke engines.  The quiet performance of the four stroke engine allows the angler to approach potential fishing areas while reducing the chances of spooking fish. 

To approach fishing water quietly it is advisable to cut the motor and cruise into an area.  It is important to keep the boat away from the bank that one intends to fish.  By anchoring and then casting to the bank fisherman do not spook tightly grouped fish.  By working the edges of the location first, then moving toward the center fan casting, the lure is kept from spooking fish in the potential strike zone.

 Boats to be used for fishing should have two anchors.  By placing anchors at each end of the boat the position of the boat can be controlled.  One anchor leaves open the possibility of the boat swinging into the strike zone of the fish.  It is important that anchors be lowered slowly into the water to reduce disturbance of the fish. 

In a river situation one anchors downstream of the intended fishing location.  Fish face into the current that brings them food.  By casting into the current and allowing the bait to float downstream a natural food presentation fish are accustomed to seeing is simulated. 

On windy days anchor the bow into the wind and pointing toward the water to be fished.  It allows for greater boat control.  The same applies to underwater currents that might be encountered. 

Fishing from pontoon boats may be different.  If done correctly it can be equally as efficient as other methods from more traditional fishing craft.

Posted 04/24/2011 by Donald Gasaway in Boats

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It would appear that Crab Orchard Lake produces many quality bass.  Whether it is a bass factory might be a stretch.  Results from local bass tournaments lend some credence to the idea that the lake is producing a large number of giant bass once again. 

Once know as one of the state’s premiere bass lakes, Crab Orchard Lake on the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge near Marion, Illinois had a noticeable decline in production for a few years.  Through the efforts of fisheries biologists as well as a local bass fishing organization the lake’s production of large bass has come back.

This was made very apparent in mid-April with a tournament.  Despite difficult fishing conditions fish caught each day up to seven pounds.

 The fish being caught this year in this lake are some times referred to as “footballs” for their rather hefty size and general body shape.  Anglers competing in tournaments generally do not catch many 7 pound fish.  A number of such fish are brought in to the weigh station.

 Shocking surveys conducted by wildlife officials last fall show bass in Crab Orchard Lake are on the increase in size and numbers.  Why this return to the days of yesterday?

 The main changes in fishery management of the lake have been the supplemental stocking of Threadfin Shad and the movement of major bass fishing tournaments to the cooler months of April and May.  The tournament date changes and a limit on smaller tournaments have increased the survival rate of bass in the lake.  Stocking increases the food supply for bass.

 Crab Orchard is the largest of the three lakes within the boundary of the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge.  The 7,000-acre lake was built in 1940 by the forming of a fixed spillway that controls the water level to the extent that the lake level seldom varies more than a foot or two.  The lake has an average depth of 7 feet with a maximum depth of 35 feet.

 Although bass are point oriented, the successful angler remains flexible in his approach.  The bottom of the lake is relatively featureless.  Bass tend to concentrate in areas that do have some structure, be it wood or rocks.  Most are found in areas of water with a depth of a foot or less.

 The area and coves north of Highway 13 tend to hold the best fish structure.  Other areas popular with bass angler include, Grassy Bay and the rip rap areas in the western portion of the lake.  Anglers are cautioned to proceed slowly in Grassy Bass due to an abundance of stumps often concealed by emergent vegetation.

 Bass jigs, crankbaits and spinnerbaits are the most popular terminal tackle used to catch the largemouth bass of Crab Orchard Lake.  There are size and creel limits in effect on the lake.  Catch and release anglers are not effected.  Catch and release is practiced by most of the anglers plying these waters.

 More information about the refuge, the lake and the fishing available can be obtained at the Visitor’s Center, (618-997-3344) on Route 148, about a mile and a half south of Illinois Route 13.  The nearest tackle and bait is available at Cooksey’s Bait Shop on Illinois Route 148 just north of the Visitor’s Center.

 Camping facilities are available on the Refuge, and motel accommodations are available in Marion, Illinois, few miles to the east.  There is a nominal fee for visiting the refuge on a daily basis or longer if desired.  Information about the area and a free color Fishing Guide can be obtained from Williamson County Tourism Bureau (1-800-GEESE-99) in Marion, Illinois.



This is the lucky angler (name unknown) who caught the first legal size smallmouth in Kindaid Lake.

Last fall I presented an entry telling the story of the smallmouth stocking that has gone on in this southern Illinois lake and the capture in a survey net of the first legal size smallmouth.  (Finally, A Lake Kinkaid A Smallmouth)  The entry is available in the Freshwater Fishing section of the archives.


Probably the most confusing aspect of boating is the choice of a right propeller.  There are multiple factors that go into the choice.  Such factors include the hole shot, top speed, fuel economy and the life of the prop. 

The higher the speed of operation the more likely it is the prop blades will leave the water momentarily during each revolution.  The resulting stress can cause cracks or even break off blades during expended use. 

One recent survey of boat owners found that most (well over half) run 2 to 4 props trying to find the best performance for their engines.  Less than 20 percent ran 1 prop and an additional 20 percent ran more than five. 

Experienced boaters find that getting the right prop for their boat is important.  Thanks to the availability of different hubs, materials and blade design boaters can experiment and find the right prop for their equipment.  It is best to strike a balance between price and performance. 

Thanks to the folks at Yamaha, here is a quick guide to prop terms.  

Most fishing boats, such as bass boats, come with a four blade steel prop.  Larger boats, such as pontoon boats, also have four blades for getting quickly up on plane and improving the grip to help maintain plane at slower speeds.  The later usually has larger blade areas to provide the thrust needed for turning control. 

When it comes to construction materials, props come in steel, stainless steel and aluminum.  Aluminum is usually the least expensive but is also less durable.  Steel props are a compromise between the aluminum and the polished stainless steel.  The later is best for salt water environment as they are more durable and reliable in such applications. 

Propeller size is referred to by a number.  For instance a 14 x 17 prop has a 14-inch diameter and a 17-inch pitch.  Pitch is the distance the prop travels in one revolution.  The shallow angle has a low pitch that produces greater pulling power and acceleration accompanied by lower top speed.  The sharp angle of a high pitch produces the opposite result.  As pitch increases so does the diameter of the blade.

Larger diameter props push more water and are often found on boats with heavy loads and motors that have more horsepower. 

The rake is the angle of the blade in relation to the centerline of the hub.  High rake means more speed and stability in rough water.  The downside is that it needs more horsepower to be most effective.  Without that horsepower performance suffers. 

Because most boat owners do not use their boats for the same purpose all the time one may want to have two or more props and change them to suit the use planned.  For instance someone wanting to fish may want a better acceleration from one honey hole to another.  A person taking the family for a cruise does not need that top end and is interested in fuel consumption.

A wise boat owner should discuss his planned use of the boat with the marina or marine mechanic before choosing a prop.

Posted 04/08/2011 by Donald Gasaway in Boats, Freshwater Fishing

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