Steve Timzak, the former concessionaire at the Devil’s Kitchen Boat Dock introduced me to the garden hackle and its use on that lake. Both Steve and the boat dock are gone now but I am still using the garden hackle.

The combination of a small wire hook on 8-pound test line seems a bit strange. As drops down into the Devils Kitchen treetops I jiggle it slowly along the limbs. The bit of nightcrawler threaded on the small hook is called a “garden hackle.” It has become a combination of the techniques of small terminal tackle, like that preferred by fly fishermen, and the basics of panfish bait fishing.

Moving the worm vertically along the tree trunk attracts bluegills. No action. Then working it horizontally along the limbs in search of shellcrackers (redear sunfish) produces success!

Although the name Devils Kitchen Lake allegedly comes from the sulphur fumes experienced by construction workers during the building of the dam, the lake has more in common with heaven than hell.

Located 12 miles southwest of Marion in Williamson County, Devils Kitchen Lake is an 810-acre, clear water reservoir on the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. Because it is owned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, there is no development on its shoreline except for a primitive campground on the north end. The rest of the shoreline is composed of steep, sloping cliffs that are wooded down to the water line.

Regardless of the many advances in lure and bait development, the “garden hackle” is my choice in this southern Illinois lake. It does not matter if one is using a fly rod, ultra light rod, standard casting rod, or a long crappie rod.

The garden hackle is a small wire hook with the piece of nightcrawler threaded onto it. The wire hook is used due to the amount of submerged wood in the lake. If the hook becomes imbedded in some wood, the strong line allows the angler to pull it straight and out of the tree. Once retrieved, the hook can be reshaped and a new crawler piece is re-threaded.

The trout, stocked into the lake each fall, will also go for the garden hackle. Suspended below a slip float, the bait can be allowed to fall to a depth of 15 to 20 feet where the trout tend to congregate in the hot weather of summer.

When the lake was originally flooded, most of the standing timber was allowed to remain. Some pathways were cut through it and today are the areas of choice for the boater wanting to get through without hanging up. But the trees are the place to go. Some are sticking up from the surface of the lake. Most of them lie somewhere beneath the surface. The tops of the submerged trees in the deep water appear to be hands reaching up to grasp the careless angler.
Anglers complain of getting hung up in the trees. But, with a little effort it is possible to get loose without much of a problem. It is just an annoyance. The trees are really the angler’s friend.

In general the water is clear with some vegetation in the form of coontail and pondweed. Because of the water clarity, it is possible to view the vegetation down to a depth of 10 or 12 feet.

In shallower waters, the redear sunfish feeds on the bottom. The depth of Devils Kitchen (up to 95 feet) has caused them to modify their feeding habits. The redear in this lake like to feed on the outspread tree limbs in depths of eight to 12 feet. They will sometimes be found feeding on the same tree as a bluegill. The gills like the vertical portion of the tree. Namely the trunk is their favorite area. The redear tend to stay with the outstretched limbs.

In some of the more shallow areas of the lake the redear will look for the hard bottom. If there are some weeds nearby, all the better. In these areas, one can cast the garden hackle and allow it to sink to the bottom. A split sinker will help but is not entirely necessary. Then jig the bait across the bottom and the wood as you retrieve it.



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  1. Pingback: GARDEN HACKLE FOR DEVIL'S KITCHEN LAKE « Don Gasaway's Blog | Hunting Tips

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