Watching the line slide out from the submerged tree branches is a thrill. Knowing a sunfish was on the other end of the line means that we feast tonight. Shell Crackers (redear sunfish to northern anglers) are a staple in the clear waters of Devil’s Kitchen Lake in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. Further south the shellcracker feeds on snails. Snail habitat has little live vegetation. The feeding on snails gives rise to the name shellcracker.

Light tackle aficionados find great action for Shellcrackers in Devil’s Kitchen Lake. It is located 12 miles southwest of Marion, IL.  The Williamson County Lake is an 810 acre, clear water reservoir. At it deepest point, the lake is over 90 feet deep. The average depth is 36 feet.

The 24 miles of shoreline contains no development other than three boat ramps. Most of the shoreline is composed of steep, sloping cliffs wooded down to the water line.

The vegetation, in addition to the standing trees beneath the water, is composed of coontail and some pondweed. Water clarity is excellent with anglers reporting being able to see weed growth down to a level of 10 or 12 feet. The clear water sometimes presents a problem for the angler. Fluorocarbon lines in recent years have solved the problem of line visibility.

Fluorocarbon line does not absorb water and maintains 100 percent of its knot and line strength. This line is abrasion-resistant which helps in the many tree limbs of Devil’s Kitchen Lake.

Small baits on light fishing line are the norm with panfish. The bite is sometimes very finicky and requires some close observation. With light line, fish are not spooked.

An angler can usually count on finding shell crackers in the ½ to 3/4 pound range. However, fish up to a pound and a half prowl these waters.

Like their cousin the bluegill, shell crackers spawn during the first full moon of May. The three or four days on either side of the full moon are the best days for fishing. The bluegill, not a bottom feeder, will feed on baits and lures presented at their level or above.

The Shell Crackers (redear sunfish) are a bottom feeder. You can watch then around the docks and shore as they turn their tails upward to feed below themselves. Out on the lake in the boat lanes fish for the sunfish by using pieces of night crawler, about 1 inch in length.

A four-pound line with a light wire hook works well. Because of the heavy timber in this lake, the wire hooks work best. You can reel down until the rod is pointed right at the hook and then pull straight back. The hook will straighten and come loose. Then check the point for damage. If the point is OK, then bend the hook back into shape and use it again.

Use a small split shot to help get his line quickly down to the feeding level of the shell crackers. Place the split shot on the line about 15 inches above the hook.

Because of the structure of this lake, weeds grow down as far as 12 to 18 feet below the surface. The unusual water clarity allows for this deep weed growth. Anglers work the water between the shoreline and the trees. Shell crackers prefer a hard bottom with some weeds nearby.

By casting the night crawler piece and allowing it to fall to the bottom, ground pounders are able to fish it like a plastic worm fished for bass. Slowly jig it across the bottom and wood structure as you retrieve the bait.


Posted 06/01/2012 by Donald Gasaway in Freshwater Fishing

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