Archive for April 2012

DEVILS KITCHEN BLUEGILLS   3 comments

Clear water with shoreline weeds and an abundance of submerged wood makes for a blue gill factory. Devils Kitchen Lake is well known for its magnificent scenery and lack of fishing pressure.  As the water warms, anglers find this southern Illinois lake teaming with bluegills moving into the shallow coves at the south end. 

By casting into the woody areas in about two or three feet of water fishermen find plenty of action. 

This member of the sunfish family is a sucker for crickets on a small wire hook.  Later on we have to plumb the water as deep as 18 feet. 

The number three most popular fish inIllinoisis the bluegill.  It is surpassed only by largemouth bass and channel catfish.  In fact the bluegill is the official state fish. 

Bluegills do best in lakes or ponds containing clear water with some submerged vegetation.  This lake has all that in abundance. 

They prefer lakes with simple fish populations.  Lakes with shad and carp populations tend to have small bluegill populations.  Devils Kitchen is basically a bass, shell cracker (redear sunfish), bluegill, crappie and trout lake.  Each of these species tends to move into their own habitat during the year and do not conflict with one another. 

The closest competition is between the shell crackers (redear sunfish) and bluegills.  They can be found in the same water but will be relating differently to the structure.  Bluegills relate to vertical structure and shell crackers to horizontal. 

Early in the year, shell crackers will be feeding on the bottom of shallow coves.  The bluegill will be slightly deeper and seeking food in the weeds or along vertical tree trunks.  Later, they can both be found on the same submerged tree.  Bluegills will relate to the vertical trunk and the shell cracker on the outstretched limbs. 

Some good locations for early season gills are area “17″ in the southeast portion of the lake.  Another is the Panther’s Den area at the south end of the lake.  It has tall bluffs and deep water. 

This lake contains lots of bass.  The hungry bass eat enough to control the numbers of bluegills.  With controlled numbers in place the forage is not over utilized.  The control of bluegill populations also means a population of healthy bluegills. 

Due to the unusual water clarity light clear line is advisable.  If using a float, one that is small and light is preferable to the traditional large bobber.  Lightweight wire hooks come in handy as they can be pulled loose from submerged wood.  It is important to periodically check the point of the hook as they dull or break from time to time.  The hooks should be the size appropriate to trout fishing, a number 10 or 12 hook works well. 

Natural bait is best for bluegill fishing.  Crickets or one inch piece of nightcrawler works well. 

Bluegill fishing this time of year involves finding the beds.  During the May and August spawns, Bluegills tend to give a kind of moderate effort at reproduction.  During the June and July spawns they make a strong effort.  The spawn in each of these months consists of those five days on either side of the full moon. 

A good way to pattern the spawning beds before actually fishing them is to scour the shore making notes of the locations of beds in eight feet of water or deeper.  The clarity of the water makes this a simple task.  It is best done between 9:00 A.M. and 11:00 A.M.  Polarized sunglasses and a baseball style cap make seeing the beds easier on the eyes. 

Once a half dozen beds are located, return to the first one and begin fishing it.  As the fish move off a bed, move to the next one.  By the time all the beds have been fished it is okay to begin the cycle over again.

SHORE FISHING ON REND LAKE   5 comments

May is a time for catfishing from the banks of Rend Lake.  Spawning cats prowl the shoreline of this 18,000-acre reservoir in search of bedding areas, mates and later in protection of the fry.  It is an excellent time for anglers to also prowl the shoreline in search of a mess of fish for a family meal. 

Rend Lake is found in Franklin and Jefferson Counties just off Interstate 57.  It contains some 162-miles of shoreline much of which contains prime habitat for spawning catfish.  Especially productive are the coves near campgrounds and rip rap at boat ramps. 

The “11th Commandment” for catfish anglers is “Know Thy Water.”  Life beneath the surface is dependant upon the plant nutrients, both mineral and organic, dissolved the water.  The nutrients enter the food chain from both wind and water runoff that happens each spring.  They contribute to the plant growth which contributes to forage fish growth.  In turn that leads to the catfish population that is so healthy in this lake. 

Mike Hoe, IDNR Fisheries Biologist for Rend Lake, reports that both the channel and flathead catfish populations of the lake are in good shape.  Fishing prospects for several years has been excellent and he sees no reason to change his prognosis for this year.  

There is a strong natural reproduction in the lake.  Hooe’s most recent surveys of the catfishery find that the Channel cats ranged in the 1 to l 1/2 pound range.  He did find fish up to seven pounds in his survey nets.  The Flathead populations ranged up to 20 pounds with some fish even larger. 

Most of the flatheads are taken by jug fishermen at night.  A few are taken by hook and line anglers.  The latter take mainly channel catfish the basic staple of the lake. 

Shore fishing is permitted virtually all over the lake.  However, anglers should stop by the Corps of Engineers office to obtain a parking permit for the lots that are owned by them.  Parking in the state park areas is free. 

Tackle for shore fishing catfish is pretty basic.  It consists of a rod and reel with monofilament line of about 12-pound test.  The terminal tackle is usually a 1/0 hook suspended about 18-inches below a small float.  Bait is generally a night crawler but other baits such as chicken liver, cut shad, and dough balls are sometimes used.  For those using dip baits (cheese bait) the plastic dip worms are used instead of the bait hook.  Some people prefer treble hooks but those wanting to release their fish are advised to use a single hook as it is easier to remove. 

For those who really like shore fishing, a lawn chair, cooler, and grill might be a welcome addition.  There is nothing like the comforts of home when fishing for catfish. 

Catfish are a basic fish for teaching kids and other novices to enjoy the sport of fishing.  They are easy to catch and pull hard providing and exciting experience.  With the big Memorial Day holiday weekend coming up soon, it might be a good time to plan a trip to Rend Lake for a catfishing excursion.

PANFISHING FOR MEAT AT LAKE MURPHYSBORO   4 comments

Murphy is for meat anglers.  Some anglers want fish for their family fish fry and do not need to catch and release all that they acquire. Some anglers just want some peace and quiet and a few fish for supper.Lake Murphysboro in southern Illinois is just the ticket for the angler in search of eating good fish. 

Sitting on the dock fishing, one soon begins to talk with fellow anglers. It is surprising at the number of anglers who are seeking fish to take home to eat. 

Most anglers are proud to say the first fish they ever caught was a bluegill.  This lake is a great place to pass along that tradition.  Today the thrill of these hard fighting fish is relived and enjoyed by the parents of the next generation.

As the clean waters warm during the summer, the catfish and bluegill fishing does the same. This 145-acre impoundment is located in a state park of the same name can be found about 1.5 miles west of the town of Murphysboro, Illinois in Jackson County. Camping, boat rental and access ramps are readily available. The 10-horsepower limit on outboard motors helps to maintain a tranquility often missing on the more popular nearby Kinkaid Lake. There are no pleasure boaters with whom to compete.

To reach the park travel Illinois Route 149 west of Murphysboro, turn north on Murphysboro Lake Road or Lake Access Road and follow the signs to the park.

The park’s hardwoods provide shaded shoreline for the enjoyment of all on a hot summer day. Docks allow anglers to fish further away from the shoreline in comfort. Picnic tables spread throughout the area often find their way to the shore area. 

Companies like Berkley are constantly improving on tackle for enticing these little battlers.  A visit to a tackle store in the area such as Top of The Hill Bait Shop demonstrates the wide variety of lures.  New coated lines are popular with panfishermen.  The lines are durable and light.  A popular new entry to the field is the Berkley XL Armor Coated line in the 4-pound test.  The coating provides resistance to abrasion from the rocks, brush and tree roots found in the best bluegill areas.

Those wanting to fish without a boat can plant their lawn chair on one of the docks or along the shore and enjoy a relaxed atmosphere. Fishing pressure is not heavy during the week and only moderately so on the weekend. Holidays are another story. Trying to fish with all the family picnics going on can be a bit of a problem.

The numerous brush plies, submerged timber, rocks, drop offs and dead falls are home to an excellent population of bass, redear sunfish, bluegill, catfish and crappie. Fish attractors strategically placed within casting distance of the docks easily located by looking for a steel post sticking out of the water.

For the shore angler, the area from the concession parking ramp west all the way up to the disabled pier is a good bet. Another popular location for finding fish is in the far northeast part of the lake where there are numerous brush piles. Fly fishing anglers catch many bluegills along the well-manicured shoreline.

The dam area and the small boat dock also produces fish.

Weedy areas provide good cover for the lake’s sizable bluegill population during the summer months. Find clear pockets in the vegetation and drop an impaled worm below a float for instant action. Bluegill and their cousin the redear sunfish tend to hold in water 6 to 8 feet in depth. Both will take worms, wax worms and crickets. The fish are near the bottom.  A popular rig is a small wire hook with a piece of nightcrawler impaled upon it. The weight of the bait allows the light line to sink to the bottom. If a float is used, the slip bobber is probably a good choice. Once the depth of the fish is located, the slip bobber allows the angler to fish the same depth with each cast.

During the summer, good numbers of crappie are in water ranging between 12 and 18 feet. The area around the old concession stand is a good place to start. The popular jig and minnow combo is a good idea. It out produces the jig alone. Small minnows are the preference of locals.

In August catfish tend to congregate along the dam and rip rap areas. Nightcrawlers and cut shad are the best baits. Other catfish locations are on drop offs in the north and east necks of the lake.

FISHING BOAT DOCKS FOR BASS   2 comments

Fishing boat docks is a good early spring technique that also works at other times of the year. It is a post-spawn pattern. Joe Thomas, professional bass angler is an expert with the pattern. Sitting on a dock at Lake Fork in Texas, he explained the following.

The Ohio based Thomas offered this advice to those wanting to fish manmade structures.

“There are two primary dock structures: floating docks for lakes and rivers where water fluctuates and the permanent platform docks that have permanent piers,” explains Thomas. “Both are productive but that they require different fishing methods to catch fish.”

Beginning with floating docks, Joe sees two thing happening. In deep cool lakes, especially those with spotted bass, many of the fish will hold on the structures under the dock. These are cables and weights that actually secure the dock in place. In that situation his favorite technique is to take a small jig or shaking worm (a glass bead and a little finesse worm) and shake it up under the dock. He throws it up under the dock along the side of the floating dock. When it comes through and across the cables during the retrieve, spotted bass will position to attack it. 

His other pattern for catching fish on floating docks is when the fish are in that spawn to post-spawn mode. They will suspend, largemouth especially, right under the floats of the dock. Joe then takes a lure that dives 12 to 18 inches and works the perimeter of the floats. The bass will position themselves in the shade and come out to attack the bait. In this situation, his favorite bait is a jerkbait. Joe recommends using a minnow imitating color and jerking the bait along the perimeter of the dock trying to get the bass to come out.

If the fish are not active, Thomas recommends trying a wacky worm, or floating worm. He works that around the perimeters of the docks. “A lot of times they will follow the bait out from under the dock,” says Joe. He is quick to point out that they will not eat it.  If it is stopped and allowed to fall, fish will go down and get it.

When it comes to stationary platforms, Thomas likes to stay more with a flipping method. He prefers to use a jig, Texas-rigged plastic worm or crawfish bait. He tries to get up to the actual structures of the pier. Thomas explains that, “most piers have concrete on the bottom and they can vary in depth from 10 to 15 feet in depth.” To Joe the key is to find the depth where the fish are located. Once you locate that depth, you can then locate all the docks that are in that depth ranger and fish them all.

Joe explains that many people just fish docks and they do not think about the depth those poles are in and where to locate the fish. He believes that if you find the fish are in 3 foot of water you can run the wake and work that pattern in 3 foot of water. The key is to find where the fish are and then use a subtle presentation. He recommends pitching or flipping and heavy enough tackle so that when a fish is hooked and he tries to get out the backside of the pier you can haul in the fish.

Concrete docks are unique according to Thomas. The vertical concrete is usually in reservoirs and consists of such structures as pump houses, docks and bridge pilings. They are not as good at harboring bass but at certain times, they are worth exploring. When the shad hang around the bass will follow them to the concrete structures. Thomas believes that it is a good winter structure because it is vertical.

In winter many lakes are drawn down, the fish will gravitate to vertical structure because they can move straight up and down with the bait and they do not have to travel great distances. That is when concrete is effective. Thomas catches bass with a jerk bait or spoon at this time. His key is to find the depth of the baitfish and then to key on it.

Every dock is different and has its own personality according to Thomas. Joe tries to develop a pattern within a pattern on docks. His theory is that if you realize that the majority of fish are coming on the first two to three docks in a cove, that is something you should register. Within that pattern, you want to know; are they under the catwalks, inside poles or outside poles? Is the dock and isolated dock? Are there groups of docks? More often than not Joe gravitates toward isolated docks because he has less to fish. The fish in that area are going to gravitate toward that one dock. He has found that day in and day out the isolated docks are going to be more productive.

Joe likes wooden ladders that go down into the water. The bass will hold on them and you can step a jig down the steps just as you would ledges. He has also found that people throw brush off catwalks and it attracts fish. On the docks them selves, he looks for rod holders and lights indicating that people fish there. It is important to not only fish docks but also the structure that property holders place in the water along side of them.

GETTING VICIOUS IN THE BUSHES   2 comments

Vicious Fishing Line company has a new convert after last Monday.  

Anyone who has fished with me generally finds I am a big fan of monofilament line, especially the clear stuff.  Last Monday I took to the water at Rend Lake with guide Kyle Schoenherr (allseasonsguide@yahoo.com) in search of some spawning crappie in the buck brush and bushes.  Kyle uses BnM poles and reels spooled with Vicious Fishing Line.  This line was different. 

Kyle was using the company’s braided line.  It is 20-pound test, which is equivalent in size to 6-pound mono.  There was not the stretch experienced with mono either.  

Fishing flooded bushes of Rend Lake this time of year is tough on tackle.  One is  bound to lose a lot of hooks and other terminal tackle.  The brushy shoreline of the lake is thick with tangles of limbs and root systems that try the patience of the most ardent angler.  To fish this mess for 6 hours and not lose a single hook or float boggles the mind.   We did it.

The lake level is down and the fish are really in shallow.  It requires a minnow rigged on a hook that was about 12-inches below a slip bobber.  Between the bobber and the hook is a small bead to protect the knot on the hook.  Above that are a slightly larger bright green bead as an attractant and two split shots to aid in achieving neutral buoyancy. 

With all that on such a short bit of line, one would think tangles are a problem.  None was experienced.  Snagged, line was simply jerked out of the brush with no broken line or lost terminal tackle.  A few minnows were lost but not as many as one would expect. 

The lack of broken line or knots under such conditions is amazing.  We just kept dipping the line in those openings in the brush and catch crappie.  Also catching bass and bluegill with the same rig adds to a very fun day on the water.

GROUND POUNDING ALONG FRANKLIN CREEK   1 comment

I first visited this small creek in the late 1990’s with two friends in search of tranquility in fishing. Not known as a great fishing location, Franklin Creek flows through the lovely valleys of a park by the same name. Located in Lee County, Illinois, about one mile northwest of Franklin Grove, Franklin Creek’s low lying areas along the waterway supports a bottom land forest of silver maple and hackberry.

The creek supports as many as 19 species of fish. The most common species are smallmouth bass, carp and creek chub. The flooding of the nearby Rock River aids in the stocking of fish as it backs up into the creek.

Franklin Creek is not a wide body of water and one could cast from one side to the other. Trees such as white oak, red oak, black oak and shagbark hickory line the shoreline. Slippery elm and Kentucky coffee trees are in the area. Ravines support an upland forest of sugar maple and basswood as well as a variety of shrubs normally found in southern areas.

Ground pounders walk the bank fishing in one deep pool after another. It is an experience of being at one with nature. I managed to entice a creek chub in one pool and a smallmouth in another. Ground pounding is probably just another name for stream walking.

Older literature on angling seems to gear all fishing to angling in streams. I have found it a natural conversion from fishing big rivers to moving up the feeder creeks like Franklin Creek. Fish too move up the creeks in search of safety, food and shelter from the heavy currents of big rivers.

Ground pounding can be a matter of wading to another location for better placement of the lure or moving up and down the shore to find a better spot.

After a heavy rain, or when backwaters are otherwise swollen, wading provides and opportunities to get to fish that have taken advantage of the conditions that allow them to forage back into creeks. The ground pounder is a trailblazer into otherwise under fished areas. There is no telling what one might find back there.

I found this time that the park had changed a lot since my first visit. The creek however remains much unchanged. There was no need for specialized tackle or accessories. Primarily all I needed was my waders. My chest waders worked but hip boots would be more comfortable in the warm days of summer.

I do not wade into water that is deeper than my waist even though my waders go up to my chest. The belt around my waist is added protection should I topple over in the water. It will slow the flow of water into the waders and allow time to get up right and out of danger.

Polaroid sunglasses and sun blocker are a constant companion on fishing trips. In addition to protecting my eyes, the glasses aid in spotting fish.

A small tackle box fits in the zippered pocket of my waders and contains enough tackle for a day of ground pounding. If I think I need more tackle, then it is time to break out the fishing vest with space for tackle, water, a camera and some lunch.

The day’s game plan is simple. From the parking lot, just wade into the stream and move down stream. I would normally wade upstream but the waters there are too deep. Wading in streams is stalking. The fish relate to certain structures and conditions in the water.

The secret to this type of fishing is to learn the body of water and analyze the shore to see just where the fish might be located. Some of the structure in the water is obvious. Things like downed trees, sandbars, points of land, bends in the creek, undercut banks and large rocks are good. Other structures require learning through practice.

The ground pounder must constantly analyze the water surface, shadows showing depressions or weed growth. Creek bottoms are subject to frequent changes due to flooding. Underwater riffles are located by casting and bouncing a lure along the bottom. This method is good for breaks in rocks and vegetation in a weed line.

Ground pounding is a challenging way to fish. It takes time, patience and skill. It is interesting to search for a new challenge and to spend a few hours.FranklinCreek has long been that to me. It was good to be back there again.

BILL HARKINS BASS TOURNAMENT   2 comments

One of the most searched for posts on this blog is the Bill Harkins Bass Fishing Tournament held each year on Crab Orchard Lake near Marion, IL.  In an effort to enlighten the reader I have tried to find out some information about it.  The only thing I know at this point is that there will be a pre-tournament meeting (mandatory) on Friday evening April 20, 2012.  I do not know where it will be but if a reader has that information please feel free to comment.

The tournament will be the following two days April 21 and 22, 2012 on Crab Orchard Lake with take-0ff at 6:00 a.m.  The weigh-in each day is usually about 2:30 p.m. but is usually decided at the friday evening meeting.

This is a 4-man tournament with proceeds going the the Shrine Clubs.  If you are interested, you might try the Williamson County Tourism Bureau at 1-800-GEESE-99 or the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge at 1-618-997-3344.

%d bloggers like this: