Archive for July 2011



Summer sunshine in August is often a sure sign that the fish will not bite during the day. Most anglers switch to night fishing or at least early morning and late evening. But, that is not the whole story.

Guides like Walter Krause ( have clients who want to fish and he needs to find fish for them to catch. In response to the extreme heat southern Illinois experienced last year, Walter decided to experiment with his fishing patterns. The result was a change of program for his clients and some nice fish caught.

At the time of his experiment, Walter was fishing 90-degree water in a variety of lakes. In particular he focused on Kinkaid Lake near Murphysboro, Illinois. This 3,750-acre impoundment is probably best known as a muskie fishery. It also contains smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, white bass, walleye, crappie, bluegill and some assorted other fish. Walter was focusing his attention on the channel and blue catfish.

Kinkaid, as do other southern Illinois lakes, experiences a thermocline effect in the water during the hot summer months. Here the thermocline is at about 20 foot depth. The water below that level lacks adequate oxygen for most species of fish. As a result most of the fish are suspended above the 20 foot depth.

The thermocline is a band of water in which the temperature is 5 to 10 degrees cooler than the water the water above. Below this band the water is even cooler but there is insufficient oxygen. The fish will be in the water above the thermocline all summer.

Using a barometer and his fish locators on his boat, Walt studied where the fish suspended during the hot days. He found that the catfish species were usually found at about 20 foot depth and other species above them. He also found that they would relate o any structure that might be found at those depths. For instance, the humps he found at 18 foot attracted catfish. He also found that these fish were active in hot weather contrary to popular belief that they might be inactive in response to the lack of oxygen in the water.

By using the barometer he found that as the barometric pressure fluctuates during the day the fish responded accordingly. The pressure change was more prominent during morning and evening. Regardless of whether the change was up or down, it caused the fish to bite. He has found that fish in a river are less susceptible to barometric pressure.

Walt marked the location of any islands under the water with way points on his GPS. On nearby Carlyle Lake he found sunken islands as shallow as 6 to 8 feet yet the fish suspended near them just the same as the deeper locations in Kinkaid Lake.

The shad in a lake will be in the top section of the water. They are often driven there by white bass. The result is that seagulls will be flying over the shad as they break the surface. It is their presence that alerts fishermen to the presence of potential action. Below the white bass is where the catfish lurk.

Other advice from Walter includes the use of crankbaits in shad imitation shapes and colors to be used in clear water. In rivers he suggests working slack water behind structure as well as hollowed out holes in the bottom. He finds that there is more current above them and less deep in the hole. In river situations, you probably will have to travel more to find schools of fish.

As for color in the use of crankbaits, he adjusts according to water clarity. Murky water calls for orange, chartreuse or yellow fire tiger baits. In clear water he likes blue to the more natural colors of brown and black.

Although this is primarily a catfish pattern, Walt has found it often works for other species as well.


The south is full of traditions and none is more honored than the relationship between coon hunter and their hounds.

If you are in the area it is an interesting side trip to stop off at the Freedom Hills Wildlife Management Area near the Natchez Trace Parkway. Within the area is the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard. Admission is free.

Dedicated as a burial site for coon dogs it is the only cemetery of its kind in the world. Only coon dogs can be buried at the site and nearly 200 are so interred. Reading the grave stones gives one a look at the relationship between man and hound as well as a history of coon hunting in the south. The grave markers range from commercial made stone to personal messages carved in stone and wood that show the sentiment shared by houndsmen.

Key Underwood, a local hunter, began the tradition of the coon dog memorial when he buried his 15-year old dog named Troop in an area where they had shared many hunts. He placed a headstone on the grave and chiseled the dates of Troop’s birth and death. It was far from his mind that he might start a tradition of a last resting place for coon hounds.

As other local hunters lost their dogs, they began to add graves. Legend has it that on a still fall night one can still hear the bugles and barks of the residents as they hunt again in spirit. Several national champions as well as some not so good coon hounds are all together in this resting place.

Each year on Labor Day weekend, many coon hunters migrate to the area with flowers for the graves. The event now involves bluegrass music, barbecue and a liar’s contest. The event is free.

To get to the cemetery travel 7 miles west of Tuscumbia, AL on US Highway 72, turn left onto Alabama Highway 247 for 12 miles. Turn right and follow the signs.

For burial information, (coon dogs only) one can contact the Colbert County Tourism & Convention Bureau, PO Box 740425, Tuscumbia, AL 35674 or check their website at: Colbert County


Recently I had time to do a little ground pounding for catfish at Rend Lake in southern Illinois. It was after the spawn was over but the action was no less. Post spawn catfish are still healthy eaters and constantly on the search for an easy meal. They are also one of the most popular sport fish available throughout the Midwest.

Each spring, the catfishermen prowl the shores of Rend Lake in search of the spawning catfish so prolific in this lake. All seem to enjoy the same success because the fish are on the rocks. But, catfish action does not end with the spawn.

Biologists tell us that catfish are most active from sunset to sunrise. Our fathers knew this and fished mostly at night. Another gem of wisdom from biologists is that they are most often in shallow water near standing and downed timber.

Channel catfish are found near snags about 73 percent of the time and preferably in shallows. By summer the catfish are mostly in the shallower southern arms of a lake. During fall and winter they use the middle and southeastern arms of lakes.

The conclusion is that one should fish the shallower arms of an impoundment such as Rend Lake on the warmer days. Cats move to the shore when water temperatures reach the middle to upper sixties. They spawn in earnest when the water reaches 72 degrees. The biologists recommend fishing in water 2 feet or less in depth and near timber in the shallower head-ends of coves.

Rend Lake is a large Corps of Engineers impoundment in south-central Illinois on Interstate 57 at Exit 77. The lake is spread over part of Franklin and Jefferson counties about five hours south of Chicago. The 18,000-plus acres of water with its 160 miles of shoreline provide some excellent catfish habitat. This comes primarily in the form of rock and rip rap areas with flooded timber. This structure and the flooded roadbeds attract catfish in the early summer as they mate lay eggs and guard the nest while the young mature.

Fishing for spawning cats is simple. Move slowly along the shoreline casting to likely looking spots. In terms of tackle, all one needs are: good sharp hooks, a float, small pieces of lead and a can of worms.

As the season move along, the fish may move a little further out, but not much, until they move out to the deeper water in late June or early July, after the young are on their own.

The mistake many anglers make is in using hooks that are too large. A number 4 hook that is stout and sharp will do very nicely. Skewer a nightcrawler onto the hook and you are in business.

By using ball swivels about 12 to 18 inches above the hook the line will be kept from breaking as a hooked fish twists and rolls. As they roll and twist, the line can become frayed and break. With the use of a ball swivel, the lower portion of the line can twist with the fish and not have any effect on the main line.

Channel catfish feed by smell and a small piece of worm is all that is needed to catch any size fish. 12-pound line that matches the color of the water is a good choice. The float is placed 2 ½ to 3 feet above the bait, depending upon the water depth. The small sinker should be placed about 6 inches above the bait to keep the float upright and the bait just above the bottom of the lake. Use only enough weight to keep the float upright.

Catfishing is great fun and a good source of fish for the freezer.

For information about boat rentals, accommodations, bait, guide service and restaurant facilities contact Rend Lake Resort at 1-800-633-3341.


For bird hunters doves are the first of the fall hunTs

Rocketing out of control, the dove swoops into the pond before he is met with a load of steel from a shotgun. He helicopters down into the pond and lays motionless on the surface. The first game bird of fall had been taken.

The key to finding doves is three things: habitat, water, and structure. Doves are a beautiful little bird with a plaintive call and whistling wings. Finding them in huntable numbers requires some preseason scouting.

Doves require drinking water daily. They obtain it from lakes, streams or ponds. Although they can survive with a once-a-day drink usually they will visit water in both the morning and afternoon.

Their diet consists of seeds and waste grains. Doves are not equipped for scratching and scrounging for hidden food sources. Instead they prefer seeds and grains on relatively bare ground.

It is the responsibility of every hunter to be positive that he is not hunting over illegally baited ground. Key to determining whether or not a field is legal is whether established agricultural practices have been employed. If the grains have been planted and harvested in a normal manner it is legal to hunt. If grain has been poured on the ground in large piles then it is an illegally baited field.

If grain is left over from harvesting it is OK. If it has been added it is not OK to hunt that field. If in doubt leave the field. No dove is worth the fines involved.

Doves will usually feed after they arise at sunrise. After several hours of feeding, they tend to move to water for a drink. That is followed by loafing in trees, hedgerows or woods until mid-afternoon. They then feed again until sunset. After a drink of water the birds roost in trees for the night. If you can find a location with all of these elements it is dove hunting heaven.

The most productive way of hunting doves is at the feeding and watering areas. The birds tend to use the same flight path to and from such desirable locations. Setting up in a concealed spot along these flight paths hunters take advantage of the habits of the dove. Some hunters build light blinds. But, sitting in any type of cover also works.

A bucket and cushion are good for a movable stand. If birds are coming in out of range the bucket can be quickly moved to a better location. It also doubles as a cooler to hold soft drinks, snacks, water and doves.

Dark or camouflage clothing is recommended. A good pair of sunglasses helps save your eyes on bright days. A few decoys can be placed in the open branches of nearby trees.

Doves prefer exposed dead limbs, wires and poles for roosting and resting locations. A big old dead cottonwood on the edge of a grain field or creek is ideal. Often they alight there and survey a field before flying down to feed.

The secrets to hunting success in a dove field are: water, grain and weed seeds, scattered legally on the ground, and structure in the form of trees, poles and wires on which to sit. Find all of these elements and shoot straight and you will be successful.


Finding early season busytails can be improved through the use of calls

Early season squirrels blend effectively into the treetop canopy. In the warm summer months they move and feed early or late in the day. The rest of the time they tend to loaf in the treetop canopy safe from sight. Their downfall is often a strong sense of curiosity.

A hunter’s first step is finding signs of feeding activity, travel routes and nesting areas. He then either sits or still hunts. Sitting is a matter of staying in a comfortable position and waiting for the squirrel to come to you. Still hunting calls for skill in moving slowly through woods at a time when the vegetation on the ground seems to make everything noisy.

A skillful hunter with patience and ability to effectively still hunt can call squirrels. To do so he needs the help of any of a number of calls on the market. Most emit a challenge to the squirrel he cannot seem to ignore.

Squeakers work well in getting the squirrel to get around to an open side of a tree trunk. When squirrels attempt to elude a hunter they often will change sides until they stop on the side away from danger. With the squeak a curious squirrel will move around to investigate.

Two more types of calls are: the squawk or a whistle. A few squawks from a call can incite a challenge. The whistle on the other hand imitates the sound of a baby squirrel being attacked by a hawk or owl. Both of the later are mortal enemies of squirrels.

With the whistle, a hunter uses a tree branch to beat the ground with a zest. At the same time he makes a series of high pitched whistles with the metal, button shaped call which he is holding between his lips. Squirrels tend to begin barking and chattering. It is as if they are trying to gang up on what they perceive as a hawk that has invaded their turf.

Another interesting call is a child’s toy that consists of a wooden mouthpiece and a flat rubber tube. When blown, toy emits a sound not unlike the old “whoopee cushion” of Laurel and Hardy movies. Although effective, this type of call tends to lead to verbal abuse from one’s hunting partners.

An old time call has two coins in a small wooden matchbox. The box is shaken so as to make the coins strike one another. These days a small wooden matchbox is difficult to find. However, two quarters can be snapped together and get a squirrels attention. The squirrel must be close as the sound does not travel well in the woods.

A popular call with most manufacturers is the wooden tube with a rubber bellows attached to one end. Hunters hold the tube with one hand and tap the rubber bellows with the palm of the other. Such a call is easy to master and the cost is not excessive.

Finally, there is the old back of the hand squeak. With fingers held in the position of a military salute, place the hump made by the thumb and index finger on the back of your hand, with the crease at the center, against the mouth. Suck hard while vibrating the hand. The resulting sound can arouse a squirrel’s curiosity.

Off season care should be taken with calls. It helps to keep calls in clean pockets or on a lanyard. If they become plugged, try blowing them backward. If necessary, carefully disassemble and clean the call. Wooden calls can be rubbed with boiled linseed oil to restore the finish. Do not varnish or spray calls.

Calling is the best way to con the king of the canopy. Being less difficult than waterfowl calling it is easily mastered. Usually it is comical to see squirrels respond to these calls. It adds another dimension to ones fall hunting.


Stripers caught in survey nets by Shawn Hirst, IDNR Fisheries Manager in a Pyramid State Park Lake

Pyramid State Park in Perry County presents a tailor made fishing experience for anglers of all levels of expertise. Twenty-two lakes spread over the 19,700 acres of the park provide anglers with a wilderness fishing experience, a child’s experience, bass boat experience, deep water fishing, and wade fishing. Just match your fishing style to the lake that provides the species you seek.

This unique fishing opportunity includes a chance to catch, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, muskie, northern pike, both black and white crappie, bluegills, redear sunfish and channel catfish. One lake also has striped bass hybrids. Gizzard shad, common carp and brown bullheads are found in some areas as are spotted gar, freshwater drum and quillback.

The park is accessible from DuQuoin, Illinois via Illinois Highway 152 West (7 miles) or from Pinckneyville, IL on Illinois Highway 127 South (6 miles).

Site specific regulations are posted as well as being available at the IDNR park office on the property. They also have a list of the lakes and what species are stocked into them. The idea of the stocking plan was to place fish in a way that does not give a specific species the advantage over all others. For instance, Green Wing Lake (Lake #2) has an excellent crappie population. Also present are channel catfish, common carp, gizzard shad and brown bullhead. A few walleyes up to 25 inches have been caught.

Striped bass hybrids up to 20-inches in length are found over in Super Lake (Lake #13). These fish come from a one time only stocking of 1150 two-inch fish in 2003. There are a good number of hybrids in the lake as well as common carp, bluegill, channel catfish, freshwater drum, quillback and largemouth bass.

Goldeneye Lake is known for redear and other sunfish the lake.

The clear clean water of these lakes can be as deep as 70 feet but the water quality is so good that fish do very well. It also means that fish have an excellent view of surface activity such as approaching anglers. Some lakes can be fished from boats, canoes, or even a bass boat with a 10 horsepower or smaller engine. Others must be approached only on foot via hiking trails.

For those with physical limitations there is Crystal Lake at the entrance to the park. It has several boat docks from which people can fish. There are some big bass in that area.

Canvasback Lake (Lake #4) contains crappie, bluegill and channel catfish. Mallard Lake (Lake #5) has black and white crappie, common carp, bluegill and gizzard shad. Bluewing Lake (Lake #6) produces white crappie as well as a number of white bass, channel catfish, common carp, gizzard shad and spotted gar.

For information about park hours and site specific rules contact the IDNR Site Superintendent’s office at: Pyramid State Park, RR #1, Box 115A, Pinckneyville, Illinois 62274. The phone number is 618-357-2574.


Dropshotting is a basic yet effective technique for those days when the sun is high and the fish have lockjaw.

Fishermen who like to pursue lunker panfish during the warm summer months can find them in the many ponds and lakes of the midwest. Where there is water there are panfish.

Dropshotting is a light-line finesse presentation also known as controlled depth fishing.

It is particularly effective with light line regardless the type of rod and reel combination. For flooded brush fishing a long rod with four to 6 pound line is recommended. In jigging situations from boats stationed over a brush pile shorter rods can be used.

In rigging the line you tie a Palomar knot in the line about 18 inches from the end with a very long tag end.

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

A piece of nightcrawler is threaded onto the hook. When the line is dropped into the water the worm and hook float above the sinker. Thus as the rod tip is moved, the action is applied to the bait not the sinker.

This rig can be cast, jigged or drifted. The key is to not move quickly. Wiggle the bait rather than jerk it. Cast out and let the bait sink. Watch the line float, twitch it and the watch it float. Give it a shake occasionally which will cause the worm to twitch.

Bluegills relate to vertical structure such as sticks, trees and other vegetation in the water. Sunfish tend to relate to horizontal structure in the water. On hot, sunny days they will seek out areas shaded from overhead light. This can be under docks or a tree hanging over the water.

Fishing for these members of the sunfish family is a great way to introduce children to the sport as well as provide some tasty eating for the family table.

The bluegill and sunfish action is usually great all summer. One can get up to date site specific information by calling the fishing hotlines and checking the fishing reports of various newspapers in the area you plan to fish.


Vegetation provides food and security for bass even though it is frustrating to fishermen

When it comes to fishing small ponds and during the summer many anglers tend to get angry at the weed growth. Weeds are wonderful!

By themselves, small bodies of water do not look like much. Counted in the thousands, they add up to a lot of fishing opportunities. Ponds are found everywhere on both public and private property.

The wise angler makes good use of these waters. They are good places to sharpen one’s skills and at the same time avoid crowds. They also provide close to home action.

Ponds are a complex interlocked chain of plants and animals. The food supply for fish is dependent upon the presence of plant nutrients dissolved in the water. The nutrients contribute to the growth of aquatic plants.

Most common aquatic vegetation comes in the form of coontail, pondweed or Eurasian water milfoil. All hold fish but sometimes take over a pond as they become matted up.

Green plants grow and multiply serving as food for microscopic animals. These animals in turn become forage for larger animals such as small crustaceans and insect larvae. Small fish such as panfish eat these animals. They are then eaten by larger fish.

Because of greater sunlight penetration to the bottom shallow water areas have a greater abundance of plant growth. This results in more dissolved oxygen.

A pond with a shoreline depth of about three feet will have a reduced growth of shallow water plants. These plants are needed to contribute to the health of fish populations. A maximum depth of 10 to 15 feet is best. Smaller ponds, under one acre, tend to be poor fishing because the fish population is usually unstable.

Many other ponds support excellent populations of panfish. If one examines the record books nearly half of the state record panfish come from small ponds.

Panfish, such as, crappie, bluegill and sunfish, are found in ponds. They will take live baits as diverse as small minnows, worms, mealworms, and insect larvae. Artificial lures such as small spinners and plastics work well on these pond dwellers.

Fly fishermen like to probe weed beds in small ponds with their insect imitations. The light line and flexible rods provide plenty of action when a panfish slurps down a fly.

Because pond water warms quickly the spawning season begins earlier than on large bodies of waters. Thus the growing season for young of the year is longer.

Weeds and other vegetation provide food, comfort and safety for panfish. They also show the angler the bottom structure. If the weed growth disappears near shore it is an indication that the bottom has dropped off. Weeds need light and if the water is deeper, the light is cut off and they do not grow. A long area of weeds extending out from shore is an indication of a gently sloping shallow bottom.

If you find an island of weeds in otherwise clear water, it is an indication of shallow water. It also tends to be a fish attraction providing shelter from predators lurking in the deeper water. Anglers fish right on the edge of weeds in an attempt to lure panfish out of their hiding place.

Weed beds are seldom continuous carpets of plants. Usually there are openings. Panfish will frequent these areas. They contain a lot of food and are shaded from the summer sun. Bait or lures presented to them in these secure confines often produce fish. Thanks to weeds, ponds provide excellent panfish action all summer long. They are easily located, scouted, and fished.

Water weeds are wonderful.


Jugging requires one to read the structure, current and forage conditions. Southern Illinois has an abundance of habitats that are fished by juggers in the hot summer evenings

A jugging rig is composed of an airtight plastic jug or bottle tethered with three to six feet of monofilament line and a 5/0 hook or 3/0 treble hook. Forty or 50 pound mono or braided line is recommended.

Two liter soft drink bottles make good jugs. Any plastic bottle will work.

For storing or transport the nylon cord can be wrapped around the bottle. The single hook can be neatly tucked into the plastic base cup.

Before taking to the water check local site regulations to make sure no laws will be violated. Most lakes allow jug fishing but some have site specific conditions.

In fishing a reservoir or lake it is a good idea to get a map showing the bottom contours. Begin by placing jugs about 100 yards on the upwind side of the target structure and about 10 feet apart. This broad coverage increases the odd of finding fish.

In a clear water body situation night fishing is probably the most productive. During the daytime the hook should be about two or three feet off the bottom. At night, in summer, the hooks can be suspended about two feet below the surface. The shallower pattern can be used during the daylight hours on shallow lakes with river channels winding through them.

Jugs can be used either day or night with some degree of success. Many anglers will put out the jugs at dusk and return to collect them in the morning. Such a pattern works better on small bodies of water since sometimes catfish will travel long distances with the jug.

For those very deep areas you can try a deep water rig. This rig consists of Number 18 braided nylon line in brown or green. At the end of the nylon line attach a brass swivel. Then 6 feet of 50 pound monofilament line. Finish the rig with a 2/0 hook and 1/4 ounce bell sinker a foot above the hook. Then adjust to keep the bait a foot or so off the bottom.

On large rivers structure tends to be more obvious. Sandbars, wing dams, bends, and drift piles of wood all produce fish. Jugs are allowed to drift down stream toward the structure with you drifting along behind them.

Baits for jug fishing tend to be worm, minnows, cut bait or catalpa worms. No single type of bait seems to outclass the others.

Once baited up and released, jugs have to be watched like an unruly flock of sheep. On rivers they seem to like to run behind wing dams and hide or get lost from each other.

Some anglers like to paint the jugs orange for visibility. It is fun to watch 3 or 4 jugs dancing at once with fish on the hook. A long sturdy pole with a strong hook on the end will help to release an entangled jug or capture one rapidly leaving behind a fish.


As the fishing traffic increases on larger lakes in Illinois anglers in the southern reaches turn to smaller lakes. They can fish for the same species and practice their techniques without heavy competition. A variety of locations are available with little fuel expense. Techniques for catching fish do not vary from large lakes or rivers to small ones. Only the fishing pressure changes. Often it is possible to have a location without any other people around.

To find small bodies of water one can look at a road map. Most maps show creeks and rivers as blue lines. Locate where a blue line crosses a roadway and you have a fishing place that might yield hours of enjoyment.

Small bodies of water may require lighter tackle. Ultra light rods are a great way to fish the skinny water. The smallest of fish can seem like a real tackle buster on two pound line. Small bodies of water can be fished very effectively from shore using fan casts.

By making a single location home away from home for a weekend it is possible to fish a variety of locations with a minimum of travel and the resulting fuel savings. For example, in Williamson County Illinois on Interstate 57 anglers find small ponds on the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge and two lakes near Johnston City in the northeast part of the county.

Johnston City Lake is 80 acres of water stocked with channel catfish, striped bass, black bass, crappie and sunfish such as bluegill and redear. There is a boat launch and trolling motors are allowed. Camping is permitted but there are no facilities at the lake. A permit is required which can be obtained from the city clerk.

Arrowhead Lake is another Johnston City lake of about 60 acres. It too has a boat launch and a fishing dock. Trolling motors are allowed. This lake is also stocked with the same species of fish. Fishing is free at both lakes. Camping is also permitted at this lake. There are some 45 pads, water, electricity, bathrooms, showers, general store and a laundry.

To the south in Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge a number of ponds are available for fishing on a walk-in basis. Nearby parking is available. A refuge permit is required and available on a daily, weekly or year basis. The permits can be purchased at the Visitor’s Center on Route 148, about two miles south of the Williamson County Regional Airport. After business hours it is possible to buy a permit at a stand outside the main entrance to the Visitor Center.

The ponds of Crab Orchard Refuge are spread throughout the area. The people at the Visitor Center can direct you to pond fishing areas within the refuge. They have refuge maps for assistance in locating the many waters.

For more information about lodging accommodations in Williamson County, contact the Williamson County Tourism Bureau, 6102 Sioux Drive, Marion, IL 62959. Their phone number is 1-800-GEESE-99. For those with Web access, Williamson County Tourism Bureau has a web page at: Their e-mail address is:

Site specific information about the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is available by contacting the Visitor Center, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 8588 Route 148, Marion, IL 62959. The phone number is 618-997-3344. The center is located on Route 148, two miles south of Illinois Route 13 and the Williamson County Regional Airport.

Small waters abound in Williamson County and most have public access. Want to get away from the crowds of summer and experience fishing the way it was meant to be? Try the great lakes of Williamson County or a skinny water location near home.

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