Archive for June 2011

SHOOTING PRACTICE   1 comment

Photo courtesy Howard Communications

Perhaps the most significant fault in hunting preparation is the lack of practice on the range before opening day. We often assume that since the gun shot OK last season it will do the same this year.

That may or may not be true. Will you shoot as well after nearly a year away from the range? Not likely. We all need practice as well as to sight in the scope equipped rifle and shot gun. Besides it can be the source of a lot of enjoyment.

Punching paper is fun and can be a source of frustration at longer ranges. When shooting 50 to 100 yard targets you often have to use a spotting scope or binoculars to verify bullet placement. This is especially true with those of us with vision problems.

A great development in targets is the Caldwell Orange Peel Target. The black surface of the target flakes off on impact to show a green ring around the bullet hole. This occurs outside of the bull’s-eye as well as in it. The orange part of the target also flakes off and reveals a white ring. This makes scoring marginal shots easier. The targets have an adhesive back making them easy to stick up at the range without the use of tacks, nails or tape.

The bright colors make a hit stick out like a sore thumb making observation easier even without the use of optics even at long distances.

The instant range kits on the market from Caldwell provide the shooter with all he needs for practice. Each kit has a pair of clear lens shooting glasses for safety, ear plugs for hearing protection, orange peel targets, target wires to set a target backer in the ground and some target “pasters” to cover holes for more use from each target.

Birchwood Casey has a similar line of targets called Big Burst Targets. They show the bullet hits instantly in a high visibility white ring. It shows the hits from border to border so even a marginal hit is visible. Targets that have not been hit provide an orange and black color surface. Against this backdrop the white ring of a bullet hit stands out.

The Birchwood Casey targets are also self-adhesive so as to make an easy set-up. They come in a variety of sizes from 3-inch diameters to 12-inch sight-in models.

All of these targets provide shooters with easy viewing of shooting success with or without a spotting scope or binoculars. They add an ease of scoring and contribute to the fun of firearm shooting as well an opportunity to sight in weapons for the hunting season.

A TWIST ON DROPSHOTTING   1 comment

The basics of dropshot fishing have been around for a long time. First it was used by crappie fishermen to find fish that were staging deep. Later Japanese anglers refined the process to catch bass in their tournaments. California anglers brought it back to this country for use in clear water and heavily pressured bass fishing. Bass anglers use the technique in tournaments.

Some new tackle makes for a refined method of dropshotting. More about the tackle later.

The drop shot technique is for days when the sun is high and the fish have lock jaw. It is a vertical presentation that keeps the bait in front of fish. Most often we use it when the fish are suspended between 10 and 100 feet.

The usual rig is a six to 6 1/2 foot medium action rod with eight to 10 pound monofilament line on a spinning reel. The mono line makes it invisible to fish. The lure is usually a quarter ounce bait. On spinning reel rigs a 4-inch plastic worm works well. A straight tail bait is recommended.

This rig can also be used with bait casting reels. One needs to go to a heavier line and lure package when using bait casting tackle.

The actual rig consists of tying a Palomar knot in the line about 18-inches from the end with the rest of the line being a tag end. Palomar knots are tied as follows: double the line and form a loop three to four inches in length. Pass the end of the loop through the eye of the hook. Hold the standing line between thumb and finger. Grasp the loop with your free hand and form a simple overhand knot. Pass the hook through the loop and draw line while guiding the loop over the top of the eyelet. Pull the tag end of the line to tighten it snugly. Do not trim the tag end.

To the end of the line (on the tag end) attach a sinker. This can be a split shot sinker but be sure to tie a small overhand knot to the very end. It keeps the sinker from slipping off the end when caught in brush or rocks.

The plastic bait, either a grub or worm, is attached to the hook. Hook the worm or grub through the head. Once dropped in the water, the bait should float in a perpendicular position from the main line. The bait floats above the sinker so that the movement of the rod provides movement to the bait on the sinker. It should float horizontally with the bottom of the lake.

The rig can be cast, jigged or drift fished. The rod tip is moved up and down applying the action to the bait not to the sinker. Do not move quickly. It is more like fishing an ice fly. The bait should wiggle not jerk about the area. In casting, the idea is to cast out and let the bait sink. By watching the line float and twitching it the bait will also twitch.

The theory is that when a predator fish spots a meal, the nervous baitfish creates a vibration that is sensed by the predator’s lateral line. The vibration includes increased heart rate in the baitfish. It triggers the predator’s strike before the bait can bolt away.

A while back there was an improvement in the tackle used for dropshotting. TJ Stallings of the TTI-Blakemore Fishing Group and Larry Glavinich of Mojo Pro Tackle combined to produce a new hook and new sinker for dropshotting fans.

The hook is called the StandOUT hook and features two eyes. One eye is for the knot and the other for the line’s tag end creating a fulcrum or lever action. Formerly, the Palomar Knot would weaken eventually and slide onto the hook eye allowing the hook to droop. Twitching the line causes the same action as the old rig with the Palomar Knot. The new hook allows anglers to effectively fish around shoreline structure like docks and stumps.

To make the rig stick near structure Larry Glavinich of Mojo Pro Tackle came up with his own weight instead of the original drop shot style. You thread the tag-end of at least 24-inches into the wire and pull the wire into the weight. Then fold the wire ends forward. The folded wire acts as a claw to hold the bottom.

Dropshotting is one of a long line of fishing improvements thanks to experimentation. It will not be the last. Give it a try yourself this summer.

Posted 06/27/2011 by Donald Gasaway in Freshwater Fishing

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DEVELOPING A WATERFOWL DOG   Leave a comment

To a waterfowl hunter there is nothing more beautiful than a misty morning with low overhanging cloud cover. It presents an opportunity for the hunter’s best friend and partner to do his stuff.

A dog trainer and self-described “driven waterfowl hunter,” Doug Johnson, Marion, IL, has some advice for the hunter seeking to make the experience better for both man and dog.

In choosing a dog, Johnson begins with the bloodline of the parents. He refers to it as picking the litter rather than picking a puppy. “I look for parent dogs that have all the traits that I desire and then try to get a puppy from the litter,” explains Johnson. “I don’t just pick a puppy, I pick the litter.”

At six weeks to 49-days he weans the puppy and takes it home. At home he plays with it, loves it, and teaches the meaning of no. He tries to teach it a little but does not go into any formal training. The idea is to try getting the pup to retrieve a bumper. If he will pick it up and drop it again that is alright with Doug. He wants the puppy to have fun and want to retrieve.

When it is six months of age, Johnson begins the puppy’s formal training. The first step is obedience because that is the cornerstone for the rest of the training. Next he moves to a formal fetch and hold that is referred to as forceful training or force break. The idea is to ingrain the picking up and holding of the bumper. It is not a natural thing for them to do but they need to learn to hold birds.

Force breaking is a difficult thing for the handler to learn. There are books available but professional help should be sought. Johnson is quick to state that amateurs have learned it and can learn it. But, it takes longer for them and they make mistakes. This results in the necessity to go back and fix the mistakes before moving on in the training. “It is just less problematic and develops fewer quirks in the dog to have it done professionally,” says Johnson.

Age 4 to 6 is really the optimum age for a hunting dog. It is when the hunter and dog spend more time hunting than dog training.

With younger dogs the hunter has to watch and make sure they are doing their job and further you have to pay attention to the dog’s stamina. After a day’s hunt the hunter may not notice it but the next morning the dog awakens stiff and sore. It is important that one watch older dogs for signs of weakness in stamina.

Reinforce training all year long. Often with older dogs the hunter has neglected his responsibility. “I have done a tune-up with older dogs about six weeks before the season begins,” explains Johnson. He begins with a short obedience, short fetching drills and then works on conditioning to get them in shape. That is followed by getting the dog to pay attention to the gun again. By way of explanation Doug describes it as, “a sort of Readers Digest version” of basic training.

During this “post-graduate” training he works on the weaknesses in the dog. He does reinforce the strong points but does not stay with it. Basically, he is teaching them to pay attention to what they already know. “We work on their weaknesses and get them in shape,” says Johnson. “A dog that is not in shape is not going to hunt well.

Once the dog is in shape, one can have a great day afield.

RIVER CATFISH WITH A SOUTHERN ACCENT   5 comments

Anglers with long poles and smelly baits prowl the banks of southern Illinois rivers, lakes and ponds to find Mr. Whiskers. Found throughout the Mississippi River drainage, catfish are a favorite with southern Illinois anglers. The forked-tailed channel is the most commonly found, but blue and flathead catfish can also be located.

Along the shorelines of most bodies of water, catfishermen can be seen carefully watching their long poles or rods. Catfish rods vary from a cane pole to more sophisticated graphite or fiberglass rods.

Rods must be sensitive enough to detect a bite, yet stout enough to horse in those big ones. Most are 7 feet or more in length. They usually have stiff center sections with flexible tip. The attached reels must cast well; have a smooth drag, and a clicker mode.

The strong odor of catfish baits are a staple of the sport. The basic theory is to entice the catfish to seek out, mouth and then eat the bait.

Topping the strong odor category are the dip baits. These cheese based mixtures are sold commercially at local bait shops. They are often called “stink bait” for a reason. Many shops stock several different flavors and brands. Water current helps spread the news of easy meals to fish well down steam. The system is composed of a plastic “dip” worm that is submerged in the mixture until a glob is formed. The worm and mix is cast upstream of a likely catfish haunt and the odor spreads downstream with the current. Fish follow the scent back to the bait and hopefully gobble it down.

A little more pleasant to work with are the natural baits used in catfishing. Nightcrawlers, crayfish and minnows yield good catches. These baits do produce an odor that attracts catfish but it is more subtle than the dip baits.

Cut baits are often used by the catfish angler. Bait fish such as suckers, chubs, or shad are steaked and the pieces are threaded on a hook. Some anglers will fillet the bait fish and thread it on the hook.

Rigs for catfishing are uncomplicated. Regardless of the bait being used, catfish rigs come in four styles. The first is a swivel tied to the line and a 12 inch leader down to the bait. Second is a variation of that with a snap that is attached to a short leader of 6 inches or less. These are popular with dip bait anglers who like to frequently change dip bait worms.

The third rig is composed of a three way swivel tied to the main line. A six inch drop line holds a heavy lead sinker. The third part of the swivel is tied to a 12 inch leader holding the bait.

The final rig is composed of a slip float that is held in place by a bead and stop knot. The moveable stop knot allows the float to be adjusted allowing the bait to be suspended at a desired depth. The line continues to a swivel, weight and bait is held near the bottom of slow water areas.

In all of these cases the swivel is used to prevent a twisting catfish from tangling the line in an attempt to get away.

Finding good catfish water is not difficult. The most popular are the tailwaters below a dam. The astute angler fishes the grooves. As water flows over a dam the slower current areas are called grooves. A heavy weight on a three way swivel gets the bait down deep. The bait suspends as the weight sits right on the bottom.

Once the weight is reaches the bottom anglers lift the rod tip slightly. The current moves the weight down stream. Allowing the current to carry the bait and weight along a little and then bringing it back presents it to catfish holding in the grove.

Catfish like current blocks. Shore anglers look for a point of land or a large tree that has fallen into the water and is blocking current. Often fish will be found behind that current break. The water washes will out a hole that attracts catfish.

Another tactic for tailwaters is to cast upstream using enough lead to allow the bait to wash along the bottom. As the bait moves in front of a wing dam or other rock obstruction it is pulled into the eddy behind where fish hold.

Early in the day it is a good idea to fish any water where fast moving water meets still water. Catfish feed along slack water borders.

Down stream, rocks that break the current in fast moving water are good locations for finding fish. Behind them can be an eddy where fish stack up. The angler casts upstream and lets the bait wash around the rock and into the hole. Actively feeding fish are usually found on the upstream edge.

Regardless of the water being fished it is a good idea to remember that channel catfish prefer cover. They are bottom feeders that hold around rocks and stumps.

A hooked catfish it will do its best to break off the line. For that reason it is a good idea to use line exceeding 12 pound test. The heavier line helps prevent the sand paper like teeth of the catfish from weakening the line. Weak lines lead to break offs. With a high quality tough line the catfish angler can fish around rocky or stumpy underwater terrain.

Catfishing small lakes and ponds also requires moving around. Catfish cruise these small currentless bodies of water. Fish need to move as they cannot rely on the current to bring food to them.

Catfish will stay in the deepest part of the water near some structure leaving only to feed. During warm water periods they do not usually feed actively. They will move up to feed in shallow flats late in the day and during the night. In the morning they move under any existing vegetation.

Catfish remain there until the water warms and they become uncomfortable. Then it is back to the depths.

GLEN O JONES LAKE PROVIDES FISHING TRANQUILITY   2 comments

One often has Glen O. Jones Lake virtually to himself. Such small lakes are perfect places to experience fishing. There is something peaceful about the whine of a bait casting reel on a hazy summer morning. The line and lure lurch out across the water in search of a bass.

Jones Lake is found in the Saline County Conservation Area about 5 miles southeast of Equality in southeastern Illinois. It contains 1,248 acres including the lake. To reach the park, take Illinois Route 13 five miles east from Harrisburg, Illinois to Route 142. One mile further, turn right and go 5 miles to the entrance of the park.

If traveling from Eldorado, Illinois one can take Route 142 south some 7 miles and turn right at the sign for Saline County Conservation Area. It is five miles to the entrance of the park.

Early settlers came to the area around Saline County Conservation Area in search of salt. The Native Americans had been making salt in the area and had ceded their “Great Salt Springs” to the government by treaty.

Today, anglers ply the waters of Glen O. Jones Lake in the area in search of bass, crappie and bluegills. The lake, named for a local political favorite, is 105 acres with a shoreline of 2.7 miles. The maximum depth is 33 feet.

Anglers fish from shore or boat. There are two docks and two boat ramps as well as boat rentals during the summer. Motor power is limited to 10 horsepower.

Largemouth bass up to 7 pounds prowl these waters. Most are caught on plastic worms but leeches and crickets produce fish in the spring months. Bluegill, redear sunfish, crappie all will take worms in summer and crickets in the spring. Channel catfish can be caught using stink baits and chicken livers all year. Nightcrawlers are best bet in the spring.

Scattered picnic areas with tables and fireplaces are popular. The concession stand provides eats, boat rentals and bait. Camping areas are available without electric hookups. Most of the camping areas are right on the lake. Camping permits are available from site personnel upon arrival at the site.

Although Illinois Department of Natural Resources biologists have found bass in this lake up to 7 pounds, the average is probably 1 or 2 pounds.

Summer action seems to be best on crankbaits, such as Mud Bugs and topwater lures such as the Pop R. The bottom of the lake appears relatively featureless. One can work the wooded shoreline opposite the concession stand and find a number of points and submerged timber.

Redear and crappie are found almost anywhere on the lake. The area around the beaver dam is excellent. The old dam is between the concession stand and the campground. Small minnows, red worms, and pieces of nightcrawlers make good bait. Small white jigs produce for those who insist in artificial lures.

Catfish action is much better during the summer months. Nightcrawlers and dip baits will produce a cat or two.

For more details about this site, contact the Site Superintendent, Saline County Conservation Area, R.R. 1, Box 30, Equality, IL 62934. The phone number is 618 276 4405.

Gone are the salt makers as the cost of production became too high. Today outdoorsmen enjoy the peace and quiet of the area as they fish Glen O. Jones Lake. For the angler in search of a private place this may be just the ticket.

BEDDING SUMMER BLUEGILLS SPELL FISHING SUCCESS   2 comments

Contrary to some beliefs, bluegills spawn all summer long. They just do so in different locations. I have discovered pattern that makes the most of it on the many lakes and ponds within a few miles of my home.

It is common knowledge that bluegills begin their bedding activities in May. For many the activity is hot and heavy but ends in a few weeks. They miss out on a full summer of bedding bluegill action.

Beginning with the full moon in May and each successive full moon, bluegills move onto saucer-like bare spots in the bottom of lakes and ponds. The females lay their eggs and the males fertilize them. The females remain in the area of the nest and can be caught, the males are the aggressive protectors and most vulnerable to an anglers enticements.

Bluegills are most actively on the beds for the five days on either side of the full moon. But, it is water temperature that is most important to bluegill fishing.

Bluegills have a preferred temperature at which they are most comfortable. They have to regulate their body temperatures by moving into and out of well lit areas and find water temperature zones in which they are comfortable. Water temperatures in the low 70’s seem to be what they prefer for their mating rituals.

In May the water in the shallows is the first to warm into the comfort zone of the fish. As water temperatures rise in the summer go deeper to find the water of their liking. Fish bedding in July and August will be found in deeper water. Still the spawning activities and vulnerability remain the same.

In searching for gills during May, June and September you are best advised to visit the shallows with water in depths of one to 3 feet. The backs of coves and stump fields are good places to seek out this feisty little fish. In July and August you move out to water off points and ledges. In water of about eight to 15 feet you will find the same breeding activity in deeper water that is about the same temperature.

Fishing for bluegill is a simple matter. Child’s play some say. Kids of all ages can use the most simple of tackle to catch a find basket full of these tasty morsels. Light line in the 4 to 6 pound category works well. A simple double rig of a small wire hook at the end and a drop line with a second hook about a foot above it works well. Weight in the form a split shot can be added on the line above the second hook to get it down to the fish. If the fish seem to be a bit finicky remove the weight and allow the line to fall naturally to the level at which the fish hit it.

In the more shallow areas a small bobber can be used as a strike indicator. In deeper water the bobber seems to be more of a hindrance.

Bait is usually small worms, red wigglers, mealworms, crickets and grasshoppers.

Approach bluegill beds quietly and from a distance. Even the backwash of a trolling motor can spook into hiding. Veteran bluegill anglers fish the areas on the outside of the beds first and then work toward the center. One does not spook the entire colony of fish with the landing of a single fish.

Southern Illinois is loaded with good bluegill ponds and lakes. Some of the more prolific ones include the ponds on Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, Devils Kitchen, Crab Orchard, and Little Grassy Lakes. Similar locations can be found throughout the Midwest in state parks and other public fishing areas.

DOWNSIZE FOR BASS FISHING PRACTICE   3 comments

With the increased costs of travel many anglers are making the most of opportunities closer to home. They often need to downsize their tackle and fish the local rivers and ponds instead of large reservoirs and lakes.

Small ponds that have been developed as the result of mining or road building can host good populations of fish. Some are stocked with fish by the state. Others are stocked as the result of some well meaning, but unknown, wood be biologist. This later practice is not recommended. Stocking is a science. It should only be done after study of the possible ecological effects.

Small lakes generally are less pressured and can provide great action. They present an opportunity to test patterns and build skills. Such lakes provide a chance to read water, practice casting, and choose lures to fit different patterns. They are miniatures of larger bodies of water. The fish behave in the same way as on larger lakes at the same time of the year.

By practicing in a small lake it is possible to learn how to read and interpret readings on a fish locater. These sonar units tell the location of fish and structure are found and how the fish relate to the structure. They also tell when neither is present.

Anglers should maintain a daily diary of fishing trips. By keeping track of the locations and conditions under which he is able to catch fish, fishermen can make a comparison and the data later applied to larger bodies of water.

Since one is downsizing the water used he can also downsize the tackle to fit the situation. Ultralight tackle and small lures work well on small bodies of water. Lures in the 1/32 and 1/64 weight range are good. Most tackle companies now make downsized versions of their most popular lures. They come in handy when fishing downsized waters.

It is important for the angler to be flexible in his approach to fishing. He must be willing to change patterns in response to the fickle moods of the fish.

One thing to remember when exploring a new body of water is that fish are not generally too far from their food source. They will be in cover near such food sources as aquatic insects, crayfish, minnows and other small edibles. Small baits seem to be best as the fish are accustomed to feeding on small critters in small bodies of water.

Fishing allows one to study the habits of bass in hope of learning their next move. Successful anglers learn where fish are to be found and why they are there. Bass activity is pretty predictable from season to season and during different parts of the day.

Bass relate to structure such as: vegetation, blow downs, abandoned docks and other things in the water. Fish are cold blooded and as such have to regulate their body temperature by moving in and out of the sunlight and different temperature areas in the water. This is true regardless of the size of water area.

An angler fishing a new body of water will do well by dropping his bait into the edges of pools and near structure.

In order to be successful as a bass angler, either tournament or pleasure, one must practice. Often that practice time is shortened by either travel or waiting at a crowded boat ramp. If you can find a small lake closer to home more quality practice time is available to you.

Posted 06/13/2011 by Donald Gasaway in Freshwater Fishing

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