Archive for January 2012

TWO WINTER BASS FISHING LAKES   10 comments

Due to the discharge of water used to cool power plant turbines, Bass fishing action onLake of Egypt and Baldwin Lake heats up in February. 

Water is taken in from the lakes, used to cool the turbines, and then returned to the lake at a higher temperature.  Even in mid‑winter water temperatures at the outflow can be well above those near the intake. 

Bait fish are attracted to the warmer water.  Bass are attracted to the warm water for comfort and the forage fish to eat.  Anglers find catching fish in a cooling lake is a good way to counteract cabin fever and a spring warm up. 

Power plants do not produce enough hot water to radically change an entire lake.  One area of a lake near the outflow will be known for the warm water.  A current is created as the water warms and cools.

 The pumping of warmed water creates a torrent.  The water is run through a pipe that pushes the heated water away from the shore under the surface.  Current breaks and eddies are also productive for anglers. 

One pattern for outflow areas is to cast some type of shad imitation around shoreline cover and to the first major point.  Another pattern involves flipping to wood or rock cover along the bank of the same arm.  

The biggest problem encountered can be the abundance of forage fish.  It is good to use larger brighter lures. 

For those fishing Lake of Egypt and BaldwinLake here are some site specific recommendations. 

Lake of Egyptis located in southeasternWilliamson County, near Interstate 57.  This 2,300-acre lake is owned by Southern Illinois Power Cooperative, U.S. Forest Service and some local land holders. Lake of Egypt has 93 miles of shoreline with an average depth of 18.3 feet and a maximum depth of 52 feet.  The power plant is in the northwest corner of the lake. 

Weather on this lake is a challenge to anglers.  It can be 80 degrees one day and have snow the next.  Anglers can fish in shorts one day and have to put on long johns the next.  The stabilizing influence of the power plant keeps the surface water temperature about 56 to 57 degrees.  On sunny days water in the backs of coves can be warmer. 

The best fishing seems to be in the grass weed beds off points.  They have sandbars in the middle that attract bass.  The best areas are in the north end of the lake closer to the power plant.  The water there warms more quickly in the spring. 

Some anglers find topwater lures work well early as the water near the surface warms.  However fish have been taken with darker colored plastic worms.  

There are four boat ramps onLake o fEgypt.  A nominal launch fee is charged.  Three are to be found at the marinas and a fourth is a U.S. Forest Service facility.  Although there is no motor limit on the lake, there is a 35 mile per hour speed limit that is enforced. 

Baldwin Lake lies in the Kaskaskia River State Fish and Wildlife Area.  Although the Illinois Department of Natural Resources manages the area, the lake is the property of Illinois Power Company which operates the electric generating station. 

Water is taken in near the southwest corner of the lake from the Kaskaskia River. The hot water is discharged back into the lake in the northeast corner.  This arrangement allows for the stable elevation of the lake the entire year.  The warm water is also good for the development of the threadfin shad that are the lakes main forage.  Many of them are taken from the lake by IDNR for stocking in other lakes within Illinois. 

Water temperatures tend to be in the mid 50’s to 60’s with air temperatures running in the 30’s and 40’s. 

The lake averages 8 feet in depth but areas as deep as 20 to 50 feet can be found in the old creek channels. 

Located in Randolph and St. Clair counties, the shoreline has little cover to break the wind.  Because the lake was designed to catch wind to cool the water more quickly it can be risky on windy days.  There is one boat ramp on the lake in the northwest corner where site specific fishing regulations are posted. Boat motors are limited to less than 50 horsepower. 

Working the north shoreline rip rap with deep running shad imitation crankbaits is recommended.  Another good area is in the northeast corner where the warm water from the power plant is discharged into the lake.  Third choice is the area near the bridge. 

Power plant fishing is a great way to begin the new year of fun on the water.  Why not give it a try this year?

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CATFISH AND FLY FISHING   1 comment

 

Silently drifting though the air, the line snakes its way across the water. Dawn is just breaking through the mists when the streamer drops delicately on the surface and sinks.

The line tightens as a forked-tail fish mouths the streamer and moves off to deeper water. Catfish like to eat their prize in the safety of deep water. Using a streamer to catch catfish? Streamers are for fly fishing. Catfish don’t bite a fly. Or do they?

Today’s fly angler has expands his list of prey. Catfish are the most recent to join the list of the hardcore fly fisherman, and the most fun. The prolific catfish can be found in almost any body of water in the middle of the country.

Catfish prefer a drop off areas where a riffle meets a pool. In the evening they move up to the shallow eddies and flats where they feed through the cooler nighttime temperatures. It is during these feeding periods that they are most vulnerable.

For those interested in catching catfish with a fly rod, a good starting point in the choice of tackle. Begin with a long, rather stiff, rod with a weight forward line to match. For the more bulky fly a bass taper weight-forward line would be good. A good tackle shop helps with the choice.

If more than one line is to be used, store them on extra spools so that the lines can be changed in response to lure selection and varying water conditions.

Monofilament of about five-pound test works well in a length of three to four feet for the tippet. If seeing the line is a problem, then a colored mono line is OK. A float indicator or a small ultra-light float can help identify a light bite.

For choice of fly lean toward anything that imitates a crayfish, leech or night crawler. Channel catfish tend to be bottom feeders. To match the hatch one has to match what is swimming or crawling on the bottom.

Fishing time is early morning up until about an hour after sun up. This bite does not last a long time.  It can be done for a while and then one can move on to other types of fishing.

You can fly fish for catfish on just about any lake, river or pond. If wadding, do so with great care as holes in the bottom can cause serious problems.

Catfish are a muscle with whiskers on one end and a forked tail on the other. On the light tackle of a fly rod and line it is a formidable challenge. And it is a fun way to begin the day.

BLUEGILLS AND FLY FISHING   6 comments

The tranquility of fishing a pond is only enhanced by the grace with which my flyline snakes acorss the water.  A couple of false casts and I let the fly settle to the surface.  A couple of tugs and the surface of the water explodes with a big bluegill sucking in the feather and steel.

Bluegills are pound for pound one the great fighters of the fish world. On a light fly line with the whippy flexibility of a fly rod they are a tremendous fish to hook and fight.

There is no real mystery to this sport once one has the basic tackle lined up. If one speaks the language of fly fishing or can find someone who does he too can enjoy the finesse or casting a light fly or popper and fooling some unsuspecting fish into thinking it is dinner.

Fly fishing can be used on virtually all species of fish. Here in southern Illinois it is used primarily for a largemouth and smallmouth bass, trout, and bluegill and sunfish. It can also be used for other species if one adapts to the situation.

There are four basic areas of tackle to be approached in taking up the sport: the rod, the reel, lines and lures. In addition, it is a good idea to take some instruction or view a couple of the excellent videos available. Check your local tackle shop for the fly-fishing section and ask their advice. With the right equipment and a little practice one can quickly get started.

Fly rods come in different weights and are marked on the rod with numbers from one to 13. They run in lengths form six 2 feet to 9 feet. The longer ones are usually for casting large wind resistant lures with heavier line. Shorter rods are for fishing small streams.

Beginners are probably better off with the middle size of six or seven which are good for bass and bluegill. Beginning anglers are well advised to stick to one that is made of fiberglass rather than some of the other materials that are more expensive. A glass rod will allow one to cast medium size bass bugs as well as small panfish bugs.

Next, one needs a reel to go on the fly rod. The reel has nothing to do with the casting in fly fishing. It is a simple single action line holder. The spool is usually about 3/4 inch wide with a friction built in so that line does not roll off it without some pull by the angler.  The weight of the reel should balance the rod. It should also match the species you plan to catch. For bass and panfish the reel will only help keep the kinks out of the fly line. For the bigger fish, a different reel with drag, etc. will be required.

A quality reel is a lifetime investment that can be passed on to other generations. It is good to purchase the best reel you can afford.

Fly lines are of many types and weights that are matched to the fish the angler is seeking. The best all around line for the beginner is a floating line. It works for bass and bluegill as well as dry flies. Later one can graduate to the floating line with sinking tips, slow sinking and fast sinking lines which are used to put flies at different depths for fish such as northern pike and walleye. Fly lines are tapered toward the leader end and there is only about 30 yards on the average line.

For bass bug casting one uses weight forward line. The extra weight at the forward end of the line helps push bugs or flies. Most good rods will have the size and type of line that is recommended for that particular rod written on them.

At the end of the line is the leader which is usually about six to 7 feet in length. Most are tapered to a small size at the tippet. Knotless tapered leaders are easiest to handle. Tippet strength is marked by an “X” number. 2X or 3X are good numbers.

For lures begin with small bass surface bugs in plastic, cork, or deer hair for topwater panfishing. Little sinking bugs can be used for bluegills. Number 10 or 12 are good sizes in dry, wet or nymph flies. Number 6, 8, or 10 are good for streamers which are supposed to look like minnows to the fish. As for colors, choose black and browns or grays and white.

Beware angler, once you get hooked on fly fishing it becomes apparent that there is more to it than we are able discuss here. This will get you started in the right direction. Be aware also that this is an addictive sport that will soon consume your thoughts 24/7. It also is good for your blood pressure, unless you take your fishing too seriously. Then perhaps you should take up knitting.

WATCHING WILDLIFE   2 comments

 

A red fox dives for fleeing mice in field of brown grass.  An eagle soars overhead calling to its mate with a shrill scream.  A white-tailed deer browses on the edge of a thicket.  Waterfowl rest in the wetlands.  This is nature at its wildest.

 The woods and fields are alive with wildlife.  Nature lovers can find all sorts of birds and animals to watch throughout the county.  Especially popular are the bird watching as the migrators journey from their winter grounds in the south to nesting areas in the north.  But, other areas can provide equally interesting viewing.

 A variety of vegetation and terrain attracts and holds numerous species of birds and mammals.  Two hundred and thirty-seven species of birds are residents, migrants, or frequent visitors in the area near my home in southernIllinois.

Watching wildlife does not take a lot of expensive gear.  A pair of binoculars and some guide books is a good beginning.  Field guides assist in identification and help at home when reviewing ones notes from a day afield.

 When heading out, be sure to take a notebook.  Field notes should include the date, location, weather conditions and animal behavior, along with any unique observations.

 Beginners must learn to identify animals and birds by sight and sound.  Noting the color, shape and other outstanding observations make it easier to identify species. 

Familiarize yourself with animal behavior and favored habitats.  For example, deer tend to prefer thick cover until late in the day when they move out into fields to feed.

 Learn to recognize animal habitats.  This knowledge assists in identification and helps to eliminate species not associated with a specific habitat.

 Advance wildlife watchers learn the calls and songs of mammals or birds.  This helps to identify those species which may be hidden in dense cover.  By familiarizing oneself with bird songs and mammal calls, one can chase down each sound until he discovers the source.

 The direct approach is not the best way to seek out wildlife.  Wild animals must always be wary of possible danger and when an intruder comes straight at them it usually signals a threat.  By acting disinterested while sneaking a glance now and then, you may be able to observe the unfolding drama of their activities.

 It is important to be patient and avoid direct attention to the animal encountered.  Appear disinterested.  Fiddle with vegetation, look away from the animal while moving slowly closer and you will be able to approach much closer than you would think.  Staring at an animal causes them fear and uneasiness.  Quick looks are much less obvious and less likely to make the animal nervous.

 Some animals such as ducks and geese can become very approachable due to constant association with human activity.  Other animals are so skittish that the first hint of the presence of humans sends them fleeing.

 Generally, however, the use of patience in observing wildlife works well.  It will result in closer views for you and less intimidation for the animal.  Watching wildlife can be challenging and educational.

Posted 01/23/2012 by Donald Gasaway in Conservation

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MONSTER FROM MORANI   1 comment

Squinting through the scope, I cannot see all the points on the whitetail buck.  Suffice it to say there is a bunch.  I have been looking at deer and other animals for several days.  Tonight as we are ending the hunt, I notice a couple of springbok feeding on the top of a hill.  Suddenly there appears a whitetail buck with a high rack.  Since it is post-rut I am leery of there being broken tines.  If the rack is broken it would be better to let him pass and try again next year.  Besides that it is a long way up the hill to the deer. 

My guide, Butch Amlong, Morani River Ranch Manager, keeps reassuring me that the buck is a shooter.  He is confident that my rifle will do the job and that the deer does not have any broken tines.  

We have spent countless hours watching herds of Kudu, Aoudad, and Sable.  Morani River Ranch is a major breeder of super exotics and endangered species.  Whitetails are also raised and sold.  More about this later. 

Butch keeps telling me that this deer is what we have been looking for these past three days.  But he is 316 yards away and I have never shot a deer at so long a distance.  Butch tells me to aim at the top of his shoulder.  I do and squeeze off a shot.  The bullet blasts off a piece of rock above the deer. 

In the fading light I can still see him standing there trying to figure out what has just happened.  Chambering another round, I put the crosshairs slightly lower and the rifle roars again.  No difference in this shot from the first one.  

The deer moves about 10 feet closer and stands broadside looking down the canyon toward where echo of my shot reverberates.  The third time is a charm as he goes down in a pile.  I look over at Butch who has a grin on his face and with shaking hands he gives me a high five.

Once things have calmed down, Butch tries to assure me that I will not be disappointed in this animal.  He explains that the deer is not one grown in their breeding program because he has never seen it before tonight.  He can only guess that it has been living on the ranch and just did not come to any of the feeders where he might have been picked up in a trail camera.

We take a bunch of photos and check the age of my trophy.  He is 7 ½ years old.  He has fourteen points including a nine inch drop tine.  I am not one who seeks to enter trophies in record books although I have a few in the past.  Once scored this deer is 207 5/16.  Butch checks the ears for a scar or hole indicating that it was a deer raised in their program.  It has neither.  

In the breeding program, fawns are tagged with plastic ear tags similar to those used in cattle breeding.  As they get to be about two years of age, the tags are removed and the deer are  sold to other ranchers.  My deer was not raised in the program yet he must have been on the ranch his entire life.  And no one has any recollection of ever having seen him.

VARMINT HUNTING IN SOUTH AFRICA   2 comments

When we think of Africa, it is the big game animals that come to mind.  But there are a number of small game animals, mostly varmints, which present challenging hunting. 

On the last day of my first African safari, I shot a great bushbuck in a cedar choked canyon.  While waiting for the tracker to get the truck down to us, the subject of small game hunting came up.   Africa has a number of small cats, dogs and other varmints. 

Edward Wilson’s (my PH on this hunt) cell phone went off.  It was a local predator hunter calling to see if Edward had a hunter interested in a nice caracal that his dogs were pursuing right now. 

 Taking a caracal was not on my wish list but the idea was intriguing.  My safari was almost over and I had a bum knee that I thought might make keeping up with the dogs impossible.  I was willing to give it a try. 

Earlier in the week we had met a jackal hunter who used red lights and a rifle equipped with a silencer to take his quarry.  These hunters are important to the ranchers of this area.  They are an effective control on an out-of-control jackal population. 

Jackals, caracals and other small predators take a heavy tool on the sheep, goats and cattle of the area.  Their predation of the young and new born is legendary.  They do not return to a kill for a second meal and thus must make a kill every day.  Since wild game ranching involves the raising of young antelope, the jackals are also a problem for those ranches.

 The most popular way to hunt small predators is with hounds.  The large packs of dogs consist of a variety of pure breeds and mixed breeds.  Most popular are the English foxhounds and the American Walker.  Greyhounds are used for speed and the little Jack Russell terriers for tracking and to get into tight places.  Just about any kind of dog will be used if it will run with a pack.

 Driving toward the hunt, Edward explained the dogs were in pursuit of the caracal that had been evading them for an hour.  It seems the dogs jumped the cat while jackal hunting.  It had been seen several times but managed to out run the dogs.  If we were to get a shot at the cat, it would be with a shotgun due to the need for a quick kill in the heavy cedar choked canyons of the area. 

As Edward drove, I poked through the vehicle in search of two shotgun shells he believed were somewhere under the seats.  I found one shell and we agreed that would have to make due. 

Turning on to a road that crossed a mountain ridge over looking Grahamstown we approached the pineapple ranch where the dogs were last seen.  The rancher stopped us to say that the cat had moved onto his neighbor’s ranch.  He jumped in the truck and we were off again. 

A brief stop at the ranch house to get hunting permission and then we drove off past wagons of freshly picked pineapples.  The ranch road was better than many we had been on this week.  In the distance we could hear the baying of the dogs.  After a wrong turn and a little back tracking we arrived near where the hounds appeared to have the cat treed.

 A houndsman came out of the brush to guide us to the tree where the cat was hissing and growling at his pursuers.  He handed me a double-barrel shotgun that had seen better days.  The action was loose and I was not sure it was safe to shoot.  Beggars can not be choosers.  I chambered my one shell and followed the others into the brush. 

The damp ground was slippery clay and intertwined tree limbs made passage a bit difficult.  About 20 yards into the brush Edward signaled me to be very quiet and to follow him.  He pointed into the tree top at a patch of chestnut fur.  “That’s his chest,” said Edward “Aim for it.”

 The shotgun roared and belched smoke that obscured my vision of the cat.  Edward shouted that the gun had done the job.  I had gotten my caracal.  It was then I saw the cat spin out of the tree and hit the ground.  A mad scramble of man and dogs followed.  Each was trying to get to the cat first.  Man won! 

The caracal turned out to be a rather large one and a fine trophy.  Luck and my knee had been with me and I had an excellent trophy.

HUNTING HISTORY AND WILDLIFE IN SOUTH AFRICA   1 comment

“In the early 1800’s the British came to this land,” said the headman who greeted us.  We were standing at the entrance to a reenactment village on the grounds of Shamwari Game Reserve near Patterson, Eastern Cape, South Africa.  “They entered a valley just like this one,” he continues.  “Then, they were faced with the warriors of Shaka, the greatest chief of the Zulu nation.” 

Exploding from behind bushes on the hill above us, came dozens if armed Zulu warriors screaming and shouting.  In a moment, I gained a respect for the soldiers who must have been frightened out of their wits and for warriors who had so successfully entrapped them. 

In our group, some of the women and children scream in fright not knowing what to do or say.  Soon the excitement is over and the headman goes on to explain that they had this surprise greeting to give us an idea of what it must have been like on that day so long ago.

 Leaving hunting of big game for a day, I chose to visit Shamwari to view wildlife and in particular the Big 5.  The Zulu village is on the vast grounds of the reserve and makes an interesting side trip.  My stay also includes a lunch of traditional foods and a chance to photography a number of native game species. 

The reserve contains a multitude of plant, animal and bird life.  Trained game rangers ensure that visitors have a memorable visit. 

Located along Bushman’s River about halfway between Port Elizabeth and Grahmstown, the 18,000 hectare reserve contains history that dates back to the time when game roamed freely.  The name Shamwari means friend in the Shona language.  In the early days of the area lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant (The Big 5) roamed the land.  Early settlers drove them to the brink of extinction so that cattle, sheep and goats could live on the land.  Today the farming of big game animals is popular and Shamwari has brought back the Big 5. 

After lunch, we load up into Land Rovers and move out to find some elephants.  Although this is a trip to view wildlife, the ranger has a .475 rifle strapped across the dashboard of the largely open vehicle.  It is “just in case” he explains.  Just what “in case” might be is not discussed. 

About an hour into the tour, we are viewing wildlife and I am shooting a lot of photos of antelope, birds, and even a white rhino.  But we are not finding the elephants.  We also are not seeing any lions.  

The rangers are talking to each other and no one is seeing either the elephants or lions.  I do not under stand how something as large as an elephant can be so concealed let alone a whole herd of them.  Our ranger explained that they have not been able to locate the elephants for the past three days.  They are mystified as to where they are hiding.

 Driving along a gravel road, looking at an eland near a water hole, I am suddenly aware of a huge gray beast on the other side of the road.  Just as I pointed, I see a number of the animals.  It is the missing elephants.

 The ranger drives closer to the herd so we can take photos without disturbing the animals.  They are grazing on the brush and trees and demonstrate an amazing ability to destroy both.  The great beasts grow impatient with our presence and perform several mock charges before settling down again.  It is exciting to sit in the middle of a herd of some 40 elephants.  They range in age from a few months to several years. 

Females with young herd their inquisitive offspring away from our clicking cameras.  A couple of the bulls come to investigate and we move off from the herd for awhile.  The beasts continue to trash the vegetation as they continue to eat. 

Our focus on the elephants is interrupted by the crackling of the radio announcing that one of the other parties has found the lions.  Moving quietly away we head off to see the lions and other wildlife. 

I wonder if Shaka, the warrior chief may or may not have been proud of modern day South Africa.  His people and the hated white invaders have grown to live together and to be good stewards of the land.  Today an outdoor writer from Illinois has visited the land, hunted its game, enjoy the food, customs and people.  I am glad I did.

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