Archive for June 2013

FISHING ILLINOIS LARGEST STATE PARK   Leave a comment

Photo by Shawn Hirst

Photo by Shawn Hirst

Finishing a day’s work on the road early and turning to a couple of hours of fishing fun at Pyramid State Park, Illinois largest state park.  A small collapsible rod and some tackle in the vehicle trunk are for just such occasions.

Getting to the park entrance late in the day, there was no one around.  The staff had gone home for the day but there were maps and brochures about the facility in a box outside the Site Superintendent’s Office.

First up is Crystal Lake to the west of the park entrance.  This long narrow tree-lined expanse of water contains such species of common southern Illinois fish as largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish and channel catfish.

A small white Roadrunner lure cast to the shallow areas along the shore near the fishing pier produces one small bluegill.  Moving on to the boat ramp and fishing from the floating pier results in no further fish.

Moving west to Heron Lake and spending the last of daylight hours fishing there with the Roadrunners leads to some short strikes that promised fish of some size.

Although not a lot of time fishing the evening provides thoroughly enjoyable time in the park.  It was a warm summer week day with no wind.  Having the place virtually empty is a bonus.

Located in Perry County between Pinkneyville and Pyatts, Illinois and west of DuQuoin, the park now encompasses some 19,000 acres.  It is about an hour drive southeast of St. Louis, MO.  It is easy to find south of Pinkneyville.  One takes Illinois Route 13 to where it joins with Illinois Route 127.

Originally, a strip mine the original 924 acres was used by a local college as a research facility.  Later donated to the state in 1968 for a state park, more donations adding more land resulted in the park reaching 19,000 acres by 2001.

The park consists of five units:  Original Pyramid, East Conant, Galum, Captain, and Denmark.  The 0riginal area contains some 30 lakes of various sizes.  Captain contains 11 lakes and Denmark has 7.

District 21 Fisheries Manager, Shawn Hirst, from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has spent years stocking game fish in the lakes of the park.  At this point there are numerous species spread throughout the property.  Controls on the fishing maintain a balance in the fishery of each lake.

I suspect there are lakes in Galum and East Conant but have not had a chance to explore those areas.  Hirst’s stocking reports show the addition of about 100 ten-inch Muskie in Goldeneye Lake in Galum.  The stocking began in 2002 and continues.  The lake contains bluegill sunfish, redear sunfish, channel catfish and largemouth bass.

In addition, to the fish mentioned earlier, Green Wing Lake, Canvasback Lake, Mallard Lake and Blue Wing Lake all contain crappie with both black and white subspecies present.  They range is size up to 10 inches.  Canvasback Lake in the Denmark Area has received some stocking of muskies since 2002 at a rate of about 100 ten inch fish each year.  Mallard and Green Wing Lakes also have walleye from yearly stockings done by the IDNR since 2002.  Both Mallard and Blue Wing Lakes have received stockings of Northern Pike and will get more this summer.  If you catch a northern pike please call Shawn Hirst at 618-687-4546 to report it.  These lakes are located in the Denmark Area.

A special attraction in the Captain Area is Super Lake and some striped bass hybrids placed there in June 2003.  In August of 2008, Hirst added some 460 Muskie.  Plans are for some 100 more each year on the even numbered years.  Redear sunfish up to 9 inches are present.

Muskie anglers will find some in Goldeneye Lake in the Galum Area along with some 9 inch redear sunfish.  The lake contains bluegill sunfish, redear sunfish, channel catfish and largemouth bass.

This property is basically a hunting and fishing facility.  However, there are camping and hiking trails available.  The roads kept up and the picnic areas are clean.

All of the lakes have 10 horsepower limits on boat motors and most have boat launches.  Boat launch areas are often on steep inclines so 4-wheel drive vehicles are a good idea.  Some of the lakes do not have launch areas and some are accessible only on foot.  Canoes and kayaks make perfect sense in most of the lakes.  There is no bait shop, marina or boat rental available on the property.

This facility provides excellent surroundings for the angler in search of a quiet, gentle day on the water.  The heavy brush deadens any sound that might otherwise disrupt ones concentration of the task at hand, Fishing.

REND LAKE SUMMER CRAPPIE   Leave a comment

DSCN4249In summer Nick Shafer of Crappie Predator (www.crappiepredator.com) puts his clients on fish using a different set of patterns.

According to Shafer, he finds good crappie fishing all year around.  The months of April through June and October through November are peak months.  But, the fish are there in the other months you just need to know where to look.  The hotter the air temps the more active the fish in summer.

Nick has made a living knowing where to find fish for the past 8 years.  He has fished the lake for 25 years.  In addition he has won numerous contests including the 2006 Illinois State Championship of Crappie Masters.

Nick explains that we will go where the water is deep, explaining the fish are still relating to structure it is just deeper water structure, perhaps 12 to 15 feet.  They travel in schools near good depth where there is brush along the change in depth.  In water adjoining old creek channels, the crappies wait in ambush for schools of shad in the deeper water and away from marauding flatheads which prey on the crappies.

Our first stop is over a brush pile left behind during construction of the lake.  It is in deep water on the edge of an old creek channel.  Brush, rather than burned off or hauled away, was just bulldozed into a pile.  The rising water covered it.

Nick explains that the preferred structure sought out by summer crappie is wood.  They will relate to some rock piles but seem to prefer wood that is deep if they can find it.

We take up the 10-foot rods preferred by Nick.  He likes to use one in each hand at the same time.  The lines sink to two different levels until he finds the desired depth of the fish he wants to keep.  He relies on past experience to choose the beginning depths but adjusts as he begins to catch fish.  The reels are spinning reels with light monofilament line.

Starting out he puts a pink jig with a pink/chartreuse body on one line and a jig with a pink head and green/pink body on the other.  Both jigs are ball heads in 3/16th ounce weight.  He likes the 3/16th size as it gives him a better feel for the bite.  Nick is aware that many crappie anglers like the much smaller jigs but feels this one gives him better results.

We spend the rest of the morning moving from one location to another around the lake.  We stay briefly at a location.  If it is not productive, we move.  Nick explains that one location may be very productive and then nothing.  Or it may produce one day and not the next as the crappies move following the shad.

SMELLY MIXTURES WORK ON CRAB ORCHARD CATFISH   1 comment

058063-R1-67-67Opening the container of dip bait for the first time the acrid scent that arises is overpowering.  The bait overpowers the fresh smell of spring flowers along the shoreline of Crab Orchard Lake.  Regardless of the odor, dip baits catch catfish.

Crab Orchard Lake in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is a renowned catfish lake.  Although the lake contains channel, blue and flathead catfish, it is the channel catfish that are the most popular with fishermen.  According to IDNR Fisheries Manager, Chris Bickers, the quality and body condition of the channel catfish continues o be excellent.  His most recent survey found 44 percent of the fish larger than 22 inches in length.

Most popular in the early spring and through the spawning season, dip baits are usable all year around.

Pay attention to the entire baiting system for dip baits.  Used properly it becomes a real catfish taking machine.

Preparation of the bait is easy.  There are several catfish baits on the market.  The best are the ones that have a consistency of mayonnaise.  The bait comes in plastic “tubs” that contain enough for several trips on the water.

To maintain the proper texture, simply add water (to make it thinner) or flour (to make it thicker.)  Most dip baits have a cheese base with fish parts and other “secret” ingredients.  The bait requires stirring frequently before dipping the bait holding device.

The bait holding device is usually a ribbed plastic worm through which a monofilament leader passes.  At the terminal end of the leader, attach a treble hook pull up it snug against the end of the worm.  Attach the other end of the leader to a heavy line that goes to the reel.

A secret of getting the bait to last longer is the use of paper towels.  The angler just rinses off the plastic bait holding device and then dries it with the paper towel.  Then he dips it back into the bait.  The dryer the plastic the better it holds the bait.  Another way to accomplish the same task is to use several bait leaders all rigged alike.  Attach the leader to a ball-bearing swivel.  Then remove the leader from the line and allow it to dry out before being placing back into action.  In the interim, a new leader and rig is added to the swivel and the rig dipped into the bait and used.

Some of the areas where dip baits are particularly effective are those where slack water is just off from fast water.  Deeper holes in front of or behind fallen trees, brush piles or log jams in the water.  Any eddy down stream of fast water and some obstruction is a good location.  In other words most any place that is close to structure is a good one.

Try the area for about 15 minutes.  If the catfish are present, they will either take the bait in those 15 minutes or else they are not hungry.  If nothing happens, then it is time to find another place to fish.  You can always come back to the location later.

At the end of your catfishing trip, you just reseal the dip bait container and put it in the garage for the next trip.  It will not spoil.

For lake and refuge information contact the National Fish & Wildlife Service Visitor Center, 8588 Illinois Route 148, Marion, IL62959.  The phone number is 618-997-3344.  There is a small user fee required to fish the area.

 

TOWING TIPS FOR BOAT OWNERS   1 comment

DSCN4047Most freshwater boats are trailered from one body of water to another with little regard to the trailer maintenance.  Although the investment in the trailer is less than what most people have tied up in their boats, it is still considerable.

A little trailer maintenance goes a long way.  Many older trailers have survived 50,000 miles in cross country travel.  Not without some work by their owners.  Trailer maintenance is not costly nor is it complicated.  Common sense and a few bucks will go a long way.

To help protect the trailer’s value, keep it clean.  After each use, wash it clean.  If the trailer is painted, a good car wax application will help protect the finish.  Use touch up paint from the dealer to repair the nicks from rocks thrown up from the roadway.

Check the air pressure and wear of the tires regularly.  Also check the lug nuts on the wheels.  Check the lights and electrical components.  Hook the trailer to your tow vehicle and make sure all lights are working.  That includes both the running lights and turn signals.  Also check the lenses over the light bulbs for cracks and holes.  Replace them if necessary.  You can spray the connections with contact spray to keep them clean and free of corrosion.

Be sure to check the hubs and lubricate the wheel bearings.  Look for any unusual wear or damage.  Trailers can have either grease pack hubs or the newer oil bath hubs.  Stick with the grease pack hubs.

According to them Oil bath hubs work well on the highway with trucks.  However, boat trailers are in a different environment.  The hubs can heat up on the highway and then they dip into cool lake water.  The sudden temperature change creates a vacuum inside the hub.  The vacuum will draw condensation, moisture or impurities directly into the bearing.  That leads to premature bearing failure.

Using oil bath hubs on trailers stored over the winter, or only used a few times per year, also promotes condensation.  With many oil bath hubs, it becomes necessary to rotate the wheels every other week to prevent rusting and pitting of the bearings.  Not a popular chore for the owner.

The use of grease-packed hubs provides dependability and reliability.

Before taking to the road, check the inch strap and any tie downs for worn or frayed sections that might fail.  Inspect the safety chains and make sure they are connected.  Check any rollers or bunks for excessive wear.  They are usually OK for many years of use but accidental damage occurs.

Check the hitch and test the breaking system.  On the road allow more time for stopping than would be the case without towing a boat.

Be sure that the boat is level on the trailer and the boat/trailer combination is level when hooked to the tow vehicle.  Proper boat and trailer adjustment reduces wind resistance and improves fuel mileage.  If the boat has pedestal seats, take them down and store out of the wind.  Wind resistance against the seat can cause unnecessary stress to the pedestal mount and decrease its life span.  Boat covers also cut down on wind resistance.

On the road maintain a constant speed.  Accelerate slowly and steadily from a stop.  In areas with speed limits less than 65 mph, maintain a steady and constant speed at the posted limit.  In areas over 65 mph try to maintain speed at about 5 mph under the speed limit to improve mileage of the tow vehicle.

Paying attention to some of the details mentioned above can help to keep costs down and reliability up for your boating pleasure.

SUMMER SQUIRREL HUNTING TIPS   4 comments

Gray0022

Peering through the dim light with perspiration drizzling down the forehead and a clammy feeling creeping through this body it is summer squirrel hunting time.  Looking for movement in the dark recesses of the treetop canopy, the slightest hint of movement among the leaves can be a key to what we seek.  The buzz of insects seems deafening in the stillness of this early morning.

Squirrel season is the first of the major hunting seasons in southern Illinois.  Beginning the first of August, southern squirrel hunting is pretty much a summer thing.   The expansive public land holdings provide ample room for hunters to pursue this king of the treetops.  A quick check of the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping booklet leads to numerous state, federal and local public land locations.

Early season squirrel hunting is a warm proposition, but can be an early warm up (no pun intended) for the fall hunting to come.  Combined with fishing it makes for a great “cast and blast” vacation.

Early season squirrels like the hickory trees that dot the landscape.  Along the rivers, some of these trees are 50 to 100 feet in height.  Elsewhere, when mixed with other hardwoods, they are usually shorter.

The shorter trees make squirrels more accessible.  In the larger forests, good stands of hickory are isolated.  These islands of hickory trees are seldom hunted casual hunters.

To the hunter willing to work a little, the islands of hickory or oak trees are a goldmine.  Their usually is a combination of oak and hickory together.  Oak is another favorite mast for squirrels as well as a preferred nesting site.

While scouting, hunters look for signs of past squirrel activity as well as actual animals.  Clippings of twigs, partially half‑eaten shells or nuts and acorns, are signs of squirrel activity.  Squirrels remove the caps of acorns before actually burying them.  They store a large quantity of nuts for future food.

It is the relationship between squirrels and the nut trees that result in the benefit of both.  The squirrel buries the nuts.  They recover only about 80 percent of the nuts they bury.  The remaining nuts provide seed for future forests as they germinated the following spring and begin new trees.

The quantity of nuts available is an indication of the quantity of squirrels found in an area.  The squirrels seldom venture more than a few hundred yards away from a nest tree.  If the nest tree does not have a good supply of food, then the squirrels move away.

Early season is a time of plentiful food.  The hunters seek travel lanes from the nest to nearby food supplies.  Claw marks on the bark of trees are a sign of activity.  An often overlooked area is near standing corn.  Squirrels love the ripening corn and will raid the fields.

Vocalizations can play a factor in early season hunting.  Difficult to spot in the treetop canopy, squirrels have to move for the hunter to spot them.  However, they are suckers for vocalizations.

A vocal squirrel is an aggravated one.  He will sound off and display a flickering tail as a threat to potential enemies.  The noise and tail movement will give away his position.  Getting a squirrel to give away his position requires a call.

Calling squirrels, unlike other game calling is not to get the animal to come to the hunter.  Squirrel calling attempts to aggravate him and get the squirrel to expose his position.   Then it is the hunter’s problem to get an angle for the shot.

Squirrels are notorious for moving around to the opposite side of a tree trunk or limb when avoiding a hunter.  They like to put something between themselves and perceived danger.  The exception is when they are angry.

WONG WAY FISHING ON PRIVATE LAKE   Leave a comment

DSCN4201With sweat pouring down our hands and faces making even holding on to a rod difficult, it is still hard to give up on the bass catching action.  Ron Wong and I are having a great time as long as we keep hydrated with plenty of water.

Wong is a local angler who is heavily involved in service to the community’s charitable activities.  A familiar face on the local tournament scene he often appears at other functions as a volunteer for children and military personnel.  Ron is also a Media Contributor with a local radio program, “Outdoors with Larry Rea.”

This fishing trip is one I purchased from the auction of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association to whom Ron had donated it.

With morning temps in the 80-degrees, the afternoon found them pushing 100-degrees.  The humidity is about 80 percent.  Not usually great bass fishing weather.  But, on this lake, I suspect any day is good bass fishing.  The owners practice “selective harvest.”

The lake is a private one in western Tennessee owned by a family dedicated to outdoor recreation. It is a pleasure to leave manmade architecture of the city as it gives way to the natural forest canopy covering the highway.

A fish resources company manages and maintains the population using the most modern scientific tools and practices.  Should one particular year-class of a species over populate, they remove fish to stock another lake elsewhere.  As part of the selective harvest they ask anglers using the 50-acre lake to keep all fish under 16-inches.

With fish over 16-inches in length returning to the lake, the end result is some fish now reaching up to 10 pounds.

We readied tackle for the day in the form of crank baits, spinner baits, and some plastics.  The success of the Strike King Rodent results in our not even wetting the other lures.

Ron enhances each of the plastic lures with a little FishSticks Lure Enhancer.  It comes in a stick form.  He applies a little to the front of the lure and some to the area where the Texas-rigged plastic lure conceals the business end of the hook.  “I do not think it is an attractant,” explains Ron, “But it seems to encourage the fish to hold on to the lure a little longer.”  Considering the success we are having, it is difficult to argue the point with him.

With high water temperatures the bass seek out the most comfortable water they can find.  They are not as active as would be the case in spring or fall.  We find them in the deeper water or areas shaded by overhanging vegetation.  The lack of aggressive strikes requires a lot of line watching.  One has to watch for the unusual movement of the line in the water.  It is usually movement to the side that is most obvious.

Despite the hot weather we do catch 17 fish in the under 16-inch class.  They are frozen and presented to the Mid-South Raptor Center in Memphis, TN.  The center rehabilitates wild birds such as raptors and reintroduces them to the wild.  It serves west TN, North MS and eastern Arkansas.  The fish feed for the hawks, owls and eagles in their facility.  Many of the raptors are injured and stay at the centered for rehabilitation and later release into the wild.

We immediately release all fish over the 16 inches class.  Our best for the day is one caught by Ron that weighed 8 pounds 7 ounces.  We also catch several fish in the 3 to 4 pound range.

Although the lake we are fishing is not open to the public, it does stand as an example of what is possible with selective harvest in a managed fishery.  It is a positive model for others to emulate.

 

CLEAN WATER KEY TO FISHING SUCCESS   Leave a comment

Striper0003_edited-1Crossing the Ohio River last week from Kentucky to Illinois, the stained water from spring flooding up river reminds one of how important clean water is to fishing it.

Smithland Pool is a bass factory.  But, finding clear water is the key to success in catching them.  Clear water might be in any of a dozen different locations.

Smithland Pool is a 72 mile long section of the Ohio River up river from the Smithland Lock and Dam.  Completed in 1980, the dam backed water up and caused the level in the creeks to rise 12 to 15 feet.  The result was a 27,000 acre fish heaven.

There are 10 major streams and 12 minor tributaries that enter the river from the Illinois side alone.  From the Kentucky side there are an additional 8 streams and five tributaries.  Because these tributaries and streams are spring fed, they tend to be clearer than is the main river.

The amount of fishable locations in Smithland can be a bit over whelming.  The key is to choose a creek and study it.  The amount of standing and fallen timber is frustrating.  One can work the river and creek bends that contain deadfalls or a divergence of vegetation growth.  The changes in water color are important to the way bass feed. Bass prefer the clearer water.

Leaving from the Golconda Marina, anglers often move right into Lusk Creek only a few yards down river.  It is just north of mile 890.  Because of its proximity to the marina, the fishing pressure, in the creek, is heavy.  It does produce a lot of good fish.  The combination of clear water and cover attract the threadfin shad from the river.  The shad then are the forage base for the bass.

Crankbaits, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits will all work in Lusk Creek.

Dog Creek just north of the dam on the Illinois side of the river allows anglers to go way back in there, if you find the right way.  There are a number of dead end feeder creeks.  One needs to stay with the current.  It is possible to go 3 or 4 miles back to an area full of lily pads.  Throw spinnerbaits and buzzbaits in such colors as shad and blue gill colors.  A red Mud Bug works well on occasion.

Below Golconda are Barren, Bay and Grand Pere Creeks.  Anglers flip and pitch to the standing timber and deadfalls.  Spinner baits and crankbaits are a good start for active fish.

Slow presentations of plastic worms and jigs, often find fish the less aggressive fish.  The slower presentations work well in root systems.

Fishing the main river in June the water is clearer.  It is possible to find stumps in the clear water of the main river that are 10 to 12 feet down.  Tossing a Pop‑R over those stumps can lead to taking a lot of good fish.

Moving north from the dam, some other popular areas for bass anglers are the channels on the Kentucky side of the river.  They run between the shoreline and such islands as Stewart’s Island, Sister Islands, and Pryors Island.  The channels receive a lot of pressure but a lot of good fish come from there.

Slow rolled spinnerbaits and salt craws are popular lures.  Favorite colors seem to be black and chartreuse.

Although the most popular areas are south of Golconda, Love Creek and the Treadwater tributaries to the north are good areas. The same lures used in other areas of the pool work here as well.

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