Archive for February 2012


Ever since man first began his love affair with those bony protrusions on the top of male deer, he has been collecting them. First he hunted them and used the antlers for tools and weapons as well as trophies. Today, he also collects racks after the deer discard them.

Sheds, as they are called are dropped by deer following the end of the mating season. Most are allowed to decay anonymously in the woods. But, a growing number of hunters have found that collecting deer sheds is a fun way to extend the deer hunting season. It also is a great way to tell what deer made it through the hunting season and will be available on the land next year. It reflects the health of the deer herd in general.

Shed antler gathering is like being on a treasure hunt. You never know what you will find.

There are some tips that will aid in finding the sheds of trophy bucks. The big guys are usually the first to drop their antlers. Beginning in late December or early January, the bucks are in a worn down physical condition. They have been through the rut that takes a tremendous toll.

During the rut, they are breeding and fighting to defend territory. There is little time to eat. As a result their body condition suffers greatly. Their lack of good nutrition contributes to the dropping of the antlers.

By following deer trails one can pattern the activity of the herd. Big bucks will often remain just off of these trails but still in contact with them. Since bucks will have similar patterns of antler points from one year to the next, it is possible to pattern individual bucks from one year to the next.

After the buck gets to be eight or 10 years of age, his antler size begins to decline but the configuration remains much the same. In the wild, deer do not often get to be that age. But, if one finds one, he may be a wonderful trophy.

Key to finding sheds to know deer habitats that are in use during this period. One can drive the roads and observe deer in fields and woods. A good pair of binoculars will allow one to observe the animals without spooking them.

It helps to keep a record of deer sightings in a notebook or on a map of the area. Do not rely upon your memory. Of particular interest are bedding areas. Since the animals spend most of the day in them, the bedding areas are good locations to find sheds. Easy travel areas between feeding and bedding areas are also important. These are usually changes in vegetation or cover which make it easier for the deer to travel through them.

Once the game plan has been worked out by watching deer behavior during this period, it is time to take to the field. In the field, look for signs of bucks in the area. These can be old scrapes or rubs. Often the best location for antler finds is in an area where rubs are found.

Walk slowly and scan every inch of the ground. Often only a point or two of the rack will be visible in the first sighting. It is exciting to see a point protruding out of the grass or snow. It becomes like Christmas to pull it out of its hidden location and find much more than you expected.

Who knows, perhaps you will find the rack of a monster buck that you did not even know existed. And if you can find both sides, and they will be near one another, you will have the trophy of a lifetime.

Shed hunting helps one to pattern deer activity for next year’s hunting season. One can see the growth of a particular buck and know that he will be there for you to pursue during hunting season. Finding the same buck’s rack year after year whets the desire to finding him during the season next year.



A fishing rod has two purposes: to cast and to retrieve. In casting, the rod is a launching platform. It guides the line, provide a lever and spring action that gets the bait out. Then the rod guides, lever and spring are used to retrieve fish.

Fishing probably began with a spear. That was followed by nets, poison, hooks and then came the fishing rod. We trace fishing rods back to ancient Egypt when reeds or light flexible wood was used to catch fish in about 500 A.D. In the 1840’s, lighter more flexible and durable bamboo rods replaced wooden rods. They remained the choice of anglers for over a hundred years.

The 1940’s gave birth to tubular steel and aluminum rods. They were quickly replaced in the mid 40’s with solid fiberglass construction. By the 1950’s tubular fiberglass rods came into use followed in the 70’s by tubular graphite rods.

Graphite is a well-known conductor of electricity. During an electrical storm, put down your rod immediately. Better yet place it in the rod locker of your boat. Failure to take precautions makes a lightening rod out of you.

Making a fishing rod is a many step labor intensive process. Companies do not just turn out rods on a rod machine with raw materials going into one end and a gleaming finished rod coming out the other.

Four of the key features of the fishing rod are: the blanks, reel seats, guides and sensitivity.

There are three factors in a rod blank. The strength of the blank is the expected weight the rod can lift without breaking. The action is the deflection curve of the rod when loaded, either during the cast or retrieve. Power is the resistance of the rod to bending. A heavy power rod will begin bending at the same point of the lighter power rod of the same action, but the heavy power rod will bend less.

Strength, action and power of the rod are dependent upon several variables. The first of these is the mandrel diameter and taper(s). This is the base design of the rod, determined by the planned purpose. An ultra light is for finesse fishing and perhaps a heavy rod for a big flathead catfish. The second variable is the material used in construction, followed by the quality of the materials and placement.

While the basic processing steps used to manufacture tubular rods have remained the same for over twenty years, significant improvements have been made in the raw materials, and the ability to efficiently process the materials with consistent results.

The reinforcing fibers used are predominantly fiberglass, graphite, or a combination of both. A composite is formed of a matrix resin which binds the reinforcing fibers and holds them together. The use of graphite in rods has significantly improved the actions and functionality of the rod. Resin systems have continuously improved for adhesion to the fibers, toughness, and durability with more processing ease.

Manufacturers place great emphasis on the quality of materials and placement. The pattern shape, placement and orientation of the material positioned on the mandrel forms the action and bower of the rod. Interactive techniques are used to reach the desired design.

In consideration of the parts of a rod, you need to look at each with a discerning eye. Reel seats on a rod demonstrate a number of significant improvements. The reel seat connects the reel to the rod. One the first improvements comes with the connecting the reel seat to the blank.

Lighter weight materials and design enable one to connect the reel to the rod with a good tight fit and yet still be able to easily remove the reel with no marring of the reel foot.

Guides are aptly named in that they guide the line along the rod blank. The materials from which they are made must be wear resistant and smooth so as not to harm the line. Rods are designed with guides sized and spaced to maximize casting distance and retrieve without the line touching the rod blank. The design of the guides themselves has improved with lighter weight: double foot for strength at casting heavy lures and single foot for lighter weight and more unrestrained action.

A rods sensitivity is the ability to feel the fish strike or the bait action. It can be linked to: reduced weight, high modulus, fiber orientation and rod action.

Reduced weight begins with less overall material, the use of high modulus material, lighter reel seats with less dampening material between fingers and the rod or reel seat design. Handle material, such as cork and EVA, that is light weight, vibration carrying and non slip also contribute to the rod sensitivity. Often overlooked is the fact that the ferrules, which join sections of a multi section rod, will provide good vibration sensitivity tip to butt if crafted properly. Balance also contributes to the sensitivity of the rod. Less fatigue provides not only for better casting accuracy but also sensitivity.

High modulus is also called modulus of elasticity. It refers to the slope in a stress strain curve where deformation is reversible and time independent. In engineer language that translates to, “Bend it and it will return to the original shape.”

High modulus materials can be extremely stiff. Less overall material can be used to obtain a given action. Being able to achieve a given action with less material has the advantage of increased sensitivity.

Less material can make the rod more susceptible to damage. It is therefore very important that the rod be designed using an appropriate use of material to achieve a good casting/retrieve action, while maintaining damage resistance so that the rod can survive normal use.

Fiber orientation will transmit vibrations along the rod blank extremely well. The use of unidirectional fibers is those orientated in a longitudinal direction. They are complemented by the use of hoop fibers which are fibers laid perpendicular to the rod blank axis. These hoop fibers provide the burst strength, the resistance to splitting along the blank axis.

When it comes to rod action, the angler is looking for a faster tip with a backbone in the rod blank. Faster tip action limits most of curvature during casting to the upper portion of the rod.

Modern rod construction has provided the means to have increasingly faster tip actions. These actions provide more sensitivity but are not suited for all fishing situations.

Rod construction is a continuing process of evolution. It is a process of change from a lower simple, to a higher more complex state.

When fighting a fish, do not hold the rod above the handle area. To do so causes the load to be transferred to a small diameter section of the rod. That increases the stress on the rod rather than reduce the pressure on yourself or the fish.


Casting to the stick up, the angler sees a bass suspended just next to it. Why does he ignore the lure? The answer may be that this particular spinnerbait is the wrong color or has the wrong shaped blade for this fish at this time.

There are seemingly an endless variety of spinnerbait blades and skirts in an infinite variety of colors. All of them produce if used in the right combinations and under the proper conditions. They are used in clear as well as stained water. They work in cold water conditions and in the heat of summer.

The most popular colors are white, chartreuse, black or a combination of these colors. Both the blades and skirts are found in these colors.

Blades come in three basic shapes: Colorado, willow leaf and Indiana. The later is a kind of tear drop shape, while the Indiana is more oval and the willow leaf is more oblong. The less streamlined Indiana and Colorado have more resistance in the water and provide more vibration. The streamlined Willow leaf provides little vibration but gives off more flash.

When choosing a color the nickel or silver work well in clear to slightly stained water. The gold or brass is used in the rest of the water spectrum, up to muddy water. The colored blades work well in most water when flash is not being attempted.

Fishing spinnerbaits is a skill that the beginning bass angler should master before going on to more sophisticated lures and patterns. There are such patterns as slow rolling or bush bumping or perhaps buzzing and dropping. These techniques are too numerous to further explore here.

As you can tell by the above, there is a variety of uses for the spinner bait. Many bass anglers have a number of rods rigged up with different spinnerbait combinations of skirts and blades. When they encounter different water conditions or structure they drop one rod and pick up another. The idea is to maximize the time one has a productive lure in the water. Time spent removing one spinnerbait and tying on another, is time not spent fishing.

The Speed Bead Terminator spinnerbait is a good example of how science has made the multiple spinnerbait use simple. They have the same wire spinnerbait shaft as the other baits in their line except there are two subtle differences.

Half way up the blade portion of the shaft is a small twisted wire for attachment of a tandem blade. The difference between this and other spinnerbaits is that this one allows the blade to be twisted onto the shaft and it still spins free. Other baits would require the cutting of the section of the shaft that contains the blade in order to change blades. By allowing the shaft to be twisted on and off blades can be interchanged in seconds instead of several minutes.

At the end of the same shaft standard baits have a wire lock that holds the other blade of tandem bait. Usually this loop has to be bent out in order to remove a blade.  The blade is changed and then the loop bent back. The end result is a weakened shaft and lost fishing time. The new style bait has a small bead that can be slid back for changing of the blade. Upon the completion of the change the bead is slid back in place and you are ready for action.

Changes in spinnerbait construction allow anglers to fish different sizes, colors and configurations of blades on the same bait shaft with little or no loss of fishing time. One can effortlessly make a single blade spinnerbait into a tandem and vice versa. Couple that with the ability to change the rubber skirts. Anglers fish deep or shallow, clear or stained water, under all weather conditions.

The spinnerbait is easy to fish and one of the most versatile baits in the angler’s tackle box.


Spring comes early in southern Illinois much to the delight of Hall of Fame Legendary Guide, Todd Gessner of Todd Gessner Outdoors).  Todd is a crappie fan of over 20-years duration.  His guide service does cover other fishing and hunting, but crappie is his first love. 

Gessner describes March fishing for crappie as a big time.  He begins by fishing on a cooling lake such as Lake of Egypti n Williamson County. Lake of Egyptis a cooling reservoir for the local power plant.  It is located seven miles south (via I-57) and three miles east of Marion, Illinois.  The 2,300-acre lake never freezes over in the winter.  Gessner continues through early April in those waters as the spawn begins sooner than other lakes.  By mid-April the spawn begins on Crab Orchard Lake four miles east of Marion and Rend Lake 25 miles north of Marion, in Franklin County.  These two bodies of water are larger and do not have the warming benefits of a power plant discharge.  

If you really want to catch fish at Rend Lake, says Todd, book anytime in April.  Later in the summer the fish seem to scatter throughout the lake.  During the past few years Gessner and his clients have been finding good numbers of crappie early in the morning during the summer months. 

In the rising temperatures of summer, it is best that one is on the water at daylight.  Surface water temperatures will often be in the low 90’s.  Gessner fishes until about 10:00 a.m. and then comes in during the heat of the day.  He and his clients go back out about 4:30 p.m. and fish until about 8:30 p.m.

 “I am convinced,”  says Gessner, ” the crappie limit they set on Rend is working.”  It was set by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in order to get more of the bigger fish.  The IDNR came up with the limit of 25 fish with only five of which could be more than 10 inches in length.  They were trying to get anglers to take more of the smaller fish out of the lake. 

 After two years the number of fish taken over 10 inches was raised to 10.  As a result, the number of larger fish found seems to have increased.  Gessner maintains that one should be able to catch 10 fish that are 1/2 to 3/4 of a pound without any trouble.  In 2006 Todd began catching larger fish with the biggest crappie that he had ever gotten out of Rend Lake.  It was a large female Black Crappie that weighted 2 pound 9 ounces and had already spawned out.  He estimates that she probably would have been more than 3 pounds had she not already laid her eggs.  The fish was almost 20 inches in length.  Since then he has routinely caught larger fish each year.  Some three pounders were taken last year.

To reach Gessner, telephone him on his cell number of 618-513-0520.

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