Archive for November 2013


Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Moving into the New Year, many outdoor oriented men and women spend increasingly more time in the outdoors.  It may be waterfowl hunting, wildlife watching, hiking, biking, and fishing.  Each of these has its own risks.  Preventing dangerous situations becomes a top priority.

Although it is tempting to enjoy the outdoors alone, it is not the safe way.  Enjoy the outdoors with a friend.  Simple actions such as telling someone where you are going and when you’re are coming back as well as watching weather for sudden changes are important.

Know the limits of your physical condition and do not press your luck.  Always carry a compass or G.P.S. unit and consult it regularly.  Know where you are at all times.

In sports where firearms are used, gun safety is a priority.  Always be aware of the direction in which the muzzle is pointed.  Not only view the distance from the weapon to the quarry, but also the area beyond it.  A good rule in waterfowl hunting is never to shoot a target when your gun barrel is pointing below the horizon.

Hunters must always be in control of their weapon.  In a boat or blind it is important to have the weapon in a secure rest with the muzzle always pointing in a safe direction.  If none is available, hold the gun tightly with the barrel pointed up and away from the boat, dogs and hunting companions.

When entering or leaving the boat, or blind, be sure the weapon is unloaded and cased.

Hiking is not normally considered to be a risky sport.  Each year many people are injured or killed while engaged in this activity.  If hiking on a roadway, always walk on the left side of the road facing oncoming traffic.  If hiking in low light conditions it is wise to wear bright color clothing.  An inexpensive blaze orange vest is a good idea.  They are available where ever hunting gear is sold.  The orange color will not spook animals you may want to observe and still alert drivers to your presence.

For those hiking in off road areas, a cell phone is a good idea.  You never know when an emergency might happen.  One person in the group may have a medical emergency such as heart attack, broken leg, sprained ankle, etc.

It is a good idea to carry a whistle and a Space Blanket from camping sections of most stores.  The emergency signal with a whistle is three blasts in a row.  The Space Blanket is a foil sheet that can be wrapped around the body to keep warm until help arrives.

The whistle is a good idea for each member of your group, adult or child.  Affix it to the zipper of a coat.  It is vital that everyone understand that the whistle is to be used only in emergency situations.

It is important that children understand that anyone can become lost.  They should know to stay put in one location and keep blowing the three blasts until they are found.  Knowing help is coming aids them in dealing with the situation and not to panic.

Hikers need to pay attention to the trail conditions.  During winter and early spring, paths can become muddy and slippery.  It is easy for some one not paying attention to slide down a hill or from a rocky outcropping while observing the scenery.

A small first aid kit can be very helpful with less serious injuries.  Small cuts and injuries can be treated in the field making the trek back to the vehicle much less unpleasant.  Field treatment of a cut might also prevent infection which could cause more serious problems later.

Early season fishing is often some of the best fishing of the year.  But, the cold water temperatures can present life threatening situations for anglers who fall out of a boat.  Hypothermia is the sudden loss of core body temperature when suddenly dunked in cold water.  Always wear a personal floatation device (PFD.).  It will keep you afloat incase you are injured or too numb to swim.  Get out of the water and out of wet clothing as soon as possible.  If you are turning blue, shivering uncontrollably, then get medical attention right away.

The outdoors is a wonderful world to explore.  With some advance planning and care, it can also be a safe one.  Just be careful out there.



white crappie mo

White crappie caught on rainy day teaches one to fish under hardship.

Thunder and lightning punctuate the night time skies.  But, we are anxious to get out on the water and catch some crappie.  Rain or no rain the goal is to learn how to catch crappie in unfavorable conditions.  Getting up in the morning it is immediately apparent that the day’s fishing excursion is going to be a wet one.  Overcast skies and the rain were just a prologue.

The guide is a full time guide and tournament bass and crappie competitor.  He is accustomed to fishing in bad weather.  We load up the boat, put on our rain suits and head out.  Almost immediately it begins to lightly rain.  It continues virtually all day.  Weather reports say we are fishing in the edge of a spent hurricane coming up out of the gulf.

We are basically fishing in frontal conditions weather wise.  There is a cold front coming in from the northwest during the day.  It is a tough day for fishing.

After a short boat ride we pull into a cove with standing tree trunks and stumps readily visible.  The water is about 10 feet deep and we fish with jigs about a foot off the bottom.  We cast to the stumps and trunks and then jig the lures back to the boat with a slow retrieve.

The guide catches two good size crappies almost immediately.  They are placed in the live well for photos once the rain lets up.  The pressure to find a picture fish is off and now we can relax and get into serious fishing.

This trip was an introduction not only to the lake but also to weedless crappie jigs.  The jigs are 1/16th to 1/8th ounce weedless jigs.  They are similar to the bass jigs with a grub and live minnow added.

For the early part of the day I stick to my Road Runners and marabou jigs with seemingly few bites.  I find out that the bite is so light I may have missed bites and not known it.  Switching to one of the 1/8th ounce jigs yields a feel of a couple of hits.  I am too slow to react in order to catch a fish.  One needs to really focus on the task at hand to catch crappie with this set up.  We end the day with one black crappie and 14 white crappies.

Moving around in several coves and creek areas we find the fishing tough.  The rain falls in a kind of steady drizzle during most of the day.  It quits for a few minutes during which we take the opportunity for some photos.

Finally, we are so completely soaked under our rain suits that we call it a day and head back to the marina.  The excursion is a fun but 8 hours in the rain is a bit uncomfortable in the long run.


Reedy crappie from rend lake

Jim Reedy displays nice Rend Lake Crappie

Perhaps one of the most important factors of winter crappie fishing is to know just how deep the fish are. Depth is particularly important in cold when the crappies are less likely to move around. Using electronics we found the big fish down 40 feet and relating to logs or boulders.

Jim and Barb Reedy employ a technique called Spider Rigging. It is a team effort all the way. Jim runs the trolling motor, watching for fish on the locater as well as catching and netting fish. Barb retrieves 14-foot poles from a rack in the stern and passes them to Jim in the bow. She also places caught fish in the livewell and as passes minnows to Jim as needed. Both are responsible for their own poles when it comes to catching fish.

Spider fishing us basically jig fishing with the long poles. Brackets mounted on the front of the boat hold multiple poles. These brackets can also be on the back. Fishing from the front is spider rigging and from the back it is long lining.

Each pole has two hooks on 6-pound Hi Vis line. Pre-rigged minnow rigs have a hook at the end of the line, with ½ ounce egg sinker 8-inches above it. Twenty-two inches above the sinker is a three-way swivel. One eye of the swivel ties to the main line going back to the pole. The other has a 9-inch line with a hook at the end. Both hooks have a minnow as bait.

Each rod is set at a different depth from one foot off the bottom and in one foot increments up from there. The anglers slowly troll over submerged boulders and other structure approaching from the downwind side. They explore each location both on the sides and top. Once fish of the desired size take the offerings they adjust the other rods to the same depth as the one producing results.

Once a fish is on a hook it is important to maintain pressure and not drop the tip of the rod. It will produce slack in the line. Slack line allows fish to escape. Net larger fish in a dip net once they surface to avoid loss due to broken line.

He Talks To The Fishes   4 comments

Danenmueller/Rend Lake

Dan Danmueller prowls the cove at Rend Lake Resort talking to the fish.

The cove at Rend Lake Resort near Whittington, IL is alive with shad breaking the surface and then vanishing.  Dan Dannenmueller and I are trying to catch a few crappies and do an interview about the tactics and bait he uses as he competes as a professional angler.  The cove is alive with the shiny silver torpedoes skimming the still water.

Dan explains that gizzard shad, the dominant forage in this lake, produce sounds that attract crappies.  They make a clicking noise.  When they jump out of the water as these are doing, they make a different noise.  Predator fish to hone in on the shad’s location use the second noise.  It is different from the sound of something tossed into the water.

The sound emitted by shad is very quiet.  Biologists tell us they make the sound by releasing gas through the anal duct.

The inventor of the HydroWave ( device developed it to imitate the sound of shad and stimulate predator fish to begin actively feeding.  Dan’s unit mounts in the bow of the boat next to his other electronics and trolling motor.  It is easy to reach while fishing.

Dannenmueller uses a HydroWave as a tool to catch more fish.  The key is to get them actively feeding by use of the frenzy shad setting.  Different settings produce different shad activity and the volume of the unit’s sound.  The production of natural sounds that bait fish make produces an instinctive response on the local predatory fish.  The predatory fish can hear the sounds and feel the vibrations of the sound waves.

When an angler uses the device it draws the fish in the direction of the origin of the sound.  At that point it is up to the angler to present the right lure or bait.

A first reaction might be that this is but another gimmick to catch more fishermen than fish.  But, anglers like Dannenmueller in the world of crappie competition and Kevin Van Dam from the ranks of professional bassers make effective use of this device.


Kyle Schoenherr displays nice Rend lake Crappie taken out of a stake bed located in a stump field.

Kyle Schoenherr displays nice Rend lake Crappie taken out of a stake bed located in a stump field.

The afternoon light is fading and the bright autumn colors are perfect for photography. With that in mind, we plunge away from the launch ramp at Gun Creek Access. Gun Creek is one of the waterways that create Rend Lake near Whittington, IL.

Kyle Schoenherr selects a particular location for catching crappies and photographing them against the fall colors of the shoreline.  It is located well for the late afternoon sun to highlight the fall colors but it not particularly known as a crappie haven.

The abundance of seagulls feeding on shad does indicate the possibility of crappies being present. There are a couple of dead trees and a few stumps visible. But, the area does not appear to be a hot bed of crappie action.

Turning on the Lowrance electronics, Kyle begins some instruction on how to read the side scanner to find crappies. “I look for structure within structure,” explains Schoenherr. “It might be a stake bed in grass.” Other examples are stump fields with laydown logs on the bottom, stake beds in stump fields, or logs piled in submerged brush.

Kyle explains that he and partner Rodney Neuhaus explore any new water with their electronics before ever wetting a line. They use the side scanner to locate the different structure. They mark the points on their GPS. Then when it is time to fish, the guys record the structure that has fish on it and marks them with a buoy marker.

By backing away and then approaching it very slowly they reach out to fish the points with very long BnM poles. Sometimes they troll jigs.  Live bait anglers use line slip bobbers with a jig and minnow suspended at the desired depth where fish are located. Actually they suspend the jigs slightly above the fish because crappies tend to feet above their location.

Through long experimentation, Kyle has found that crappies like tight structure in shallow water. For instance a stake bed in a stump field will yield the most fish in the stake bed. The structure is much closer together than are the stumps. They like logs in a stump field more than just the stumps. The most numbers tend to come from heavy cover.

When fishing laydowns, Rodney and Kyle usually find more fish in the root system of the tree than relating to the trunk or limbs.
Turning to the Lowrance, Kyle explains that he ignores the middle of the screen. The two views on either side present a “view from above” that is a picture of the bottom on either side of the boat. It is almost like a photo of the bottom. It is easy to identify logs, brush, etc. as they look like just what they are.

This pattern takes a little getting accustomed to but it has proven effective in a number of crappie tournament wins for this team.


Jim Reedy with Rend Lake Channel Catfish

Jim Reedy with Rend Lake Channel Catfish

Regular followers of the crappie scene are familiar with the husband/wife team of Jim and Barbara Reedy from Missouri. But today we are not after crappies. Jim has a new catfish rod he wants to try out on the Rend Lake (IL) crappie factory.

The weather, although sunny, is a bit chilly and the waves a little choppy. Fishing in a small cove, we find an 18-foot hole in hopes of finding some of those 2-pound channels that this lake is well-known for producing. The Hummingbird electronics are marking fish.

B n M Fishing ( is an established producer of crappie rigs and poles and is one of the Reedys’ sponsors. This year they released the Silver Cat Catfish Pole. It is 100% fiberglass with a graphite reel seat that fits any size reel. Nylon cord wraps the handle giving a firm grip. As with the crappie poles sensitivity is important in the catfish line.

The poles come in seven and eight foot lengths in either a spinning or casting model. The 7-foot models are the choice for today. Three rods have spinning reels and three are bait cast models. The silver shaft with a glow in the dark tip is ideal for those night time forays for Mr. Whiskers.

Catfish anglers use an unending variety of baits. Jim has introduced a new one. Snow goose meat that got freezer burn and is not very good for human consumption marinated in garlic and salt.

The catfish rig is 100 pound test Hi-Vis Vicious braided line in yellow. The yellow allows Jim to see the slightest motion. A 20-inch clear fluorocarbon leader is added to the terminal end. A bead above the swivel protects the knot from the movement of a 1 ounce egg sinker above the swivel. A number 2/0 hook holds the bait.

Jim explains that this rig is what he usually uses for those big blue cats in larger rivers.
The rods are placed in Driftmaster rod holders so that each angler can have three (the legal limit on this lake) rods in action at the same time.


Gun Protect 1

We have all done it.  And we will do it again.  You come home from a hard day afield, drop your cased gun and gear off, and go on with life.  Later you or the spouse put the gun wherever you store it normally.

Sometime later you either remember you forgot to wipe it off or when you are going out again, you notice rust forming on the metal parts.  If you wait too long the problem will be out of control and require re-bluing by a gunsmith.

Sitting with TJ Stallings of TTI Industries following a day of crappie fishing out of the world famous Rend Lake Resort this subject comes up.  TJ explains how some of his cohorts have come up with Gun Protect, a firearms cleaning treatment and storage system.

The system comes in a kit for total corrosion protection.  The Spray Shield and Weapon Wipe part is for protection, lubrication and cleaning of the weapon. There is a Safe Environment Module to place in your gun case or safe that contains modules that attach to metals for protection at a molecular level.  If the safe is more than 20 cu feet you place a module in the bottom and another in the top.

The third product in the kit is a Rifle-Shotgun Cloak.  Just place the weapon into the plastic cloak and close with a reusable plastic tie.  It provides up to a year of protection from rust and corrosion.  Target shooters are also putting ammo in the cloaks for protection of the brass.  The theory is that bright jackets eject faster which is handy in the field.  They spray it first and them place in the cloak.

The cloak and modules emit molecules to form a corrosion inhibiting skin (CIS) on the metal surfaces.

That is a lot of recovery and future protection for less than 30 bucks.  For more information go to



Recently, while doing an interview and photo shoot on Rend Lake with Jim and Barbara Reedy, we were in for a surprise.
Trying to get a photo of the Spider rig used by the Reedys requires moving to another boat to take the picture head on. As we maneuvered into position, one of Barbara’s poles took a nose dive.


Grabbing hold of the pole it was apparent that she had the “Mother of All Crappies” or some other species. During the brief encounter, most of us believed she had one of the channel catfish well known in this lake.
With Jim’s netting assistance they were able to boat a nice big freshwater drum. Not the crappie she was hoping for, nor even the channel catfish, still Barbara had fun with another denizen of the deep from Rend Lake.




Trolling crankbaits is a great way to fish as it allows you to cover a lot of water when going after aggressive fish.  You get aggressive strikes at speeds upwards of 3 mph.  The strikes are from the fish’s reaction to what they see.  Walleye are a predator and they just naturally want to bit that crankbait.

On the Mississippi River water levels are somewhat under control in late winter.  Dependent upon conditions upriver, the ice may not be moving downstream.  The result is deep water conditions both above and below the dams.  Public boat ramps are available in each of the river towns and at the dams.

Fishing the diverse habitats created by the river/dam combination is somewhat intimidating to some anglers.  Each dam creates its own habitat both above and downstream.  Anglers need to select a specific dam/pool combination and study water flow, levels, and depths.  One dam may have deep water holes that hold suspended crappie relating to the rocks and logs that have wash into them.  By contacting local bait shops and anglers, a profile of the pool is constructed.

Fishing around anything that looks like deep water structure in slack current is a good idea.

As a predator Walleye and Sauger want to take advantage of timber, of structure so they can get out of the current and have things floating past.  The do move out to get their forage and return to the shelter of the structure.

Walleyes are going to be on the front sides and backsides of wing dams.  Typically there is a wash hole on both sides of the wing dam.  Active fish like the front side.  They feed on the front side and rest on the back side.

Fishing the river you learn to read slicks.  You see these water slicks of everything from trash to leaves and seeds that have fallen in the river.  Fish in the slicks can feed with little effort as the river brings them food.  The fish are on the side of the slick with the least current passing.

Anglers often troll downstream because they believe that the fish sit facing the current.  That is true if they are in the main current.  However wash holes in the bottom create eddies.  In an eddy the current is flowing the opposite direction from the main flow above the fish.  As a result the fish are actually facing downstream.

Anglers trolling downstream think they are putting the lure in front of the fish and they are not.  They are bringing it along side of the fish and not giving him enough time to look at it.

As one goes south on the river, the waters tend to be more muddy.  Up north the water tends to be clearer, an important factor to consider in lure selection.

In muddy water it is advisable to go with lighter colors especially white.  Dark colors in dark water can actually be good.  Fluorescent colors tend to lose their color in dirty water.  It is not that the water is stained, but rather that it contains particles blocking the vision of the fish.  When a fish looks up against the light from the sky it is easier to see the profile of a bait.

In the clearer water up river the more natural colors or shad, perch, crayfish work well.  White always seems to work everywhere in the river.

The fish tend to be shallower this time of year.  If you pay attention, you can walk crankbaits over submerged wood.  Walleye and Sauger will hold right by timber just like bass.  Pitch the right bait up against trees and run them along bumping occasionally.

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