Archive for March 2014



Illinois spring catchable trout program opens in April. It opens in other areas at different dates but the scene is still the same. During the season Illinois anglers have a chance to catch this great tasting cold water species.

Under a program funded by the Inland Trout Stamp required of participants in the program, The IDNR stocks hatchery raised trout in the 10 or 11-inch class.

Rainbow trout prefer water that remains below 72-degrees. Most of our Illinois waters do not stay that cool all year. Trout like to stay within 4 feet of the surface when stocked. Later they move to the bottom except to feed. This cold-water denizen survives in spring-fed lakes and ponds. Baring these conditions, they are stocked in colder waters surviving until late spring.

This hardy fish and aggressive eater eats commercial fish pellets at the hatchery prior to transfer to other waters. On opening day, the rush to catch some trout results in many locations having crowds of anglers elbow to elbow along the shore.   After the first day fishing tends to return more to normal levels of anglers.

Once in the water at a site location, trout take a variety of bait, artificial or natural.

In the first few days of survival in stocked ponds, trout attack in-line spinners, casting spoons, chunks of cheese and marshmallows. Even Velveeta cheese spread placed on a very small hook catches fish. Other grocery store baits include corn and shrimp. Place the baits on a hook suspended beneath a bobber about 18 inches.

After the first day it is advisable to switch to live bait. It is then that worm dunking comes into play. Rainbow trout have about 2,500 taste buds. That compares with about 9,000 in us. Trout are one of the least selective feeders. But, they soon turn to only baits that contain tastes commonly found in living tissue. The top of that list contains members of the worm family.

The more acclimated fish prefer live baits such as mealworms, red worms, maggots, minnows and nightcrawlers. A one-inch piece of nightcrawler threaded on a number 10 hook makes a good presentation. This bait is suspended beneath a slip bobber about 18-inches deep to start. The slip bobber is adjustable to place the nightcrawler piece at a specific depth. Ultimately the right depth is where one finds the fish are cruising in search of forage.

Fresh from the hatchery, trout feed in the top 1 to 2 feet of water. They are accustomed to eating pellets thrown to them. Due to the competition from other fish in the raceways, the pellets do not get a chance to sink much deeper. As the trout become use to their new home after stocking they become hold on the bottom in groups except to rise up while feeding. They also take live bait suspended just off the bottom.

Fishing on the lower depths requires a live bait rig. It consists of a hook with live bait at the end of the line. About two feet up the line attach a small split shot. Above that is an egg sinker that slides up and down the line. The split shot keeps it from going all the way to the hook. The egg sinker sits on the bottom. The two feet between it and the hook allows the live bait to float just off the bottom or in the case of minnows to swim around.

Most of the ponds with these 10 to 11-inch fish have relatively featureless bottoms. If there is any structure or vegetation available they soon find it and make it their home. Otherwise it is a good idea to fish facing into the wind.   The wind forces indigenous forage toward you.


Turkey 0002

Watching a big tom turkey approach from some two hundred yards across a field to within a few feet is a thrill in and of itself. Watch Ralph Duren use a call and a turkey wing to get the job done is an honor. When he finally said, “I think you need to shoot this one” I was still marveling at the job he had done.

Ralph is one of the premiere game callers in the country. He has appeared on television and in person from one end of the country to the other. Turkeys are not all he calls. He is an accomplished bird imitator as well as someone who can call all sorts of animals. Having seen his program at a writer’s conference one year, it is an honor to be able to sit in a turkey blind and watch him do his thing. So much so that I forgot some of the basics of shooting.

Calling turkeys is the subject of a lot of articles this time of the year. We tend to forget that all the calling the world is of no use if we can not hit the bird. Turkey hunters in particular are prone to forget the patterning of their weapon prior to going into the field.

It is vital that we know the exact point of impact of the shot. If the bulk of the hot is not going where the gun is pointed, then shooters need to adjust accordingly. It is an easy point that I neglected that day in the Missouri river bottom with Ralph.

Once one has decided upon a particular gun and shot load to use on a hunt, it is time to pattern the gun. Patterning is very simple and inexpensive way to make sure it shoots where the hunter is aiming. All you need is a gun, shells, a sheet of plywood, some targets with a turkey head on them and ear and eye protection. A bench rest is helpful in being consistent from one shot to another.

Targets, available at sporting goods stores, usually consist of a large white sheet of paper with a turkey head in the middle. Most are about three foot square. Some target makers have lines of head targets that are stuck to any large sheet of paper. They are brighter in color and stand out more. They are realistic in size to the real thing.

In the interest of time, one can put up several targets and use different size shot on each. The mix of pellets from different size shot is different with each gun.

If the shooter is shooting at the center of the target and the bulk of the shot is consistently hitting off to the side, perhaps the stock needs adjustment by a gunsmith.

If the bulk of the shot is just a little off from center, then the hunter can adjust his point of aim to compensate. If he is shooting a shotgun with a scope, then you adjust the sight to compensate. The idea is to deliver at least six pellets to the head and neck area of the bird.

In patterning a shotgun it is wise to use different chokes. Most modern shotguns have the screw-in choke systems that allow the hunter a variety of shot patterns. Most turkey hunters prefer the full choke, but if another one will work more effectively, this is the time to find out.

Once you establish the pattern of the gun at a specific range, it is time to test it at other increments of distance. If the hunter knows where the shot is going at 30 yards, then it would help to know where it will be at 10 or 20 yards as well. Turkey hunters in the Midwest seldom get a shot at birds that are in excess of 30 yards. Additionally, most loads begin to loose their effectiveness beyond such a range.

Patterning a turkey gun goes a long way toward building a familiarity with the weapon. That in turn aids one in putting a bird on the table. It is something forgotten on the eventful day with Ralph. He did his homework and I did not. I saw a bird up close and personal and watched it run away after I shot clean over its head.


Pond 0010

Sahara Woods Fish and Wildlife Area has risen from a plated out strip coal mine operation to an interesting outdoor recreational complex despite an unprecedented uphill battle.

First there was the site itself. When first deeded to the state it was in the middle of a law mandated reclamation process. Then there was the legislative atmosphere that saw the budget for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources budget reduced by over 50%. It tightened expenditures for such new projects. Improvements made through a phased development plan now allow use by the public.

Somehow the property has made what looked like a scrap yard for old mining equipment into a habitat for wildlife with the flooded pits now holding game fish.

The plan included grading, covering and planting vegetation on eroded mine refuse piles, reclaiming mine roads, removing dilapidated mine building, tree planting to control erosion and enhance wildlife habitat as well as treatment of ponds damaged by mine refuse runoff.

Today, the Sahara State Fish & Wildlife Area is 4,000-acres on the south side of Illinois Route 13, about 5 miles west of Harrisburg. The fishable waters are composed of the 98-acre Sahara Lake and numerous strip cuts. There is a 35-hp motor limit on the lake and electric motor only limit on the cuts. Two boat ramps are available. On is on the lake and the other on one of the cuts just to the east.

Shore fishing is available on all the cuts and the lake. Anglers wishing to fish from canoes, kayaks and small jon boats have to carry them into the cuts.

The main lake is about 98-acres and does have a handicap accessible boat ramp, parking lot and restroom. Parking is limited in the rest of the park and there are no other facilities.

Fish surveys done by IDNR Fisheries Manager Kurt Daine (618-949-3432) show this area now has a quality bass fishery with most fish in the 8 to 22-inch class. Most of them are in the 15 to 18 inch size. There is a one fish limit that must be over 18-inches in length. Daine rates the fishing for this year as good to excellent.

The majority of bluegills in the area are between 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 inches in length. There is a daily creel limit of 15 fish per day for both bluegills and redear sunfish. The rating for fishing is good to excellent.

Anglers report good crappie fishing. Both black and white crappie are present with a total daily creel limit of 15 per day.

Kurt reports good fishing for channel catfish between 16 and 18 inches in length. The daily limit is six fish.



The past week was spent attending the annual conference of the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA) in Knoxville, TN and touring some of the area waters trying to catch a few fish.

This conference is a national gathering of most of the hook and bullet writers as well as major manufacturers of outdoor equipment and outdoor destinations. It is an chance for all of us to gain hands-on information and experience. In addition it is a networking experience. The latest digital information and photographic presentations are presented.

My day to day activity is chronicled in my Facebook journal at

If you are interested in the life of an outdoor writer check it out.



Biologists tell us that bluegills prefer water that is deep and clean with a pH of 7.2. Most of the lakes, ponds and unused strip pits of southern Illinois fit that description.

The need for such an environment has resulted in bluegills becoming to the war on terrorism what the canary was to early coal miners.

The miners would take the birds down in the ground. If there were a gas leak, the birds would be the first to succumb and their death would alert the miners to the danger.

When it comes to eating habits, bluegills are about as selective as a junkyard dog in what they will or will not bite. They eat: worms, crickets, aquatic nymphs, larvae, shrimp, crayfish tails and small fish. Their eating habits make them such a sucker for artificial baits like spinners and plastic grubs. But, when it comes to their environment there is another story.

Bluegills are known for thriving in clean water as well as a fighter on the end of a fishing line. Now they have a new job in the front lines of the war on terrorism.

Several major cities across the country have employed this member of the sunfish family in protecting water reservoirs. The fish are kept in tanks with constantly replenished water from the city supplies. Their sensors register change in their breathing, heartbeat and swimming patterns. These changes are known to take effect when the fish is exposed to such pollutants as: cyanide, diesel fuel, mercury and pesticides.

As long as the fish are stress free the water supply is OK. When minute toxins enter the water the fish become stressed and alert humans monitoring the water supply.

A member of the sunfish family, bluegills are sometimes referred to in southern Illinois as bream or brim. They are a flat, muscular fish with a dark olive green back and dark-blue vertical stripes on the sides. The breast of a male fish is bright red-orange while the females display a dull yellow color. The chin and lower portion of the gill cover is blue, giving rise to the name bluegill.

The long growing season and abundance of desirable clear water in southern Illinois has produced the healthy populations of these fish. Their aggressive feeding behavior is an indication that the bluegill does not flourish due to it intellect. They will attack an artificial lure twice their size and are often caught by bass anglers using spinner baits.

Bluegills are often seen as forage fish for larger predators such as catfish, bass and Muskie. It is only their ability to reproduce faster than other fish can eat them that maintains this fishery. Bluegills will begin reproducing at age l and a female lays about 18,000 eggs per year. The spawn begins about the time of the first full moon in May and can continue through the summer with the eggs being hatched in four to seven days after they are laid. The most active spawning takes place during the period of three to four days either side of the full moon.

During the period after the spawn, bluegills seek comfort in the shallow water early in the morning and late in the evening. During the day they will seek deeper water structure or suspend in open water. Usually, they will be schooled up. If an angler catches one he will catch many in the same spot or very close to it.

Bluegills do best in lakes with simple populations of fish without common carp or gizzard shad. For this reason they tend to be stocked into lakes with only bass. Biologists find that they can better control the populations of both species with just the two with which to work.

Ultra light tackle is best for bluegill fishing. The light rod and reel spooled with two to 4 pound line will produce a challenging fishing experience for beginner and expert alike. Fine wire hooks in number six or eight sizes are ample to catch these scrappy characters. The wire hooks can be pulled free when snagged in some underwater vegetation. They straighten out and can be just bent back into shape with the fingers.

Bluegill fishing is popular with children because they are so easily hooked and tug aggressively on the line. They are popular with adults because they provide an excellent meal at the end of a day’s outing.



Turkey 0001

Modern day turkey hunters enjoy some of the best turkey hunting.  Some overlook this opportunity because they do not have a place lined up to hunt.  Illinois also has some of the country’s best public land turkey hunting.  The public land hunting programs have and are used as models by many wildlife management agencies of other states.

The public land hunting opportunities help to meet the demand that cannot be met by private property.

Illinois hunters can receive several permits for the single spring season.

Application forms are available from the IDNR Permit Office in Springfield or on line at the IDNR website:  Most IDNR regional office also will have them available.

Additional state regulations and site specific rules can be obtained by contacting the public land site and from the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations.  The later is available free from the IDNR online at the above website.

Like most hunting, public land turkey hunting requires one to know the habits and habitat of the birds.  It is important to know how turkeys react under hunting pressure and different weather conditions.  Weather, the type of cover and having the proper hunting equipment all play a part in finding birds.

Experienced public land hunters learn to concentrate their efforts on areas that do not receive human traffic.  Hedge rows offer concealment opportunities for birds that become call shy early in the season.  Another such cover situation is any brushy areas next to grain fields.

Weather during turkey season is a real iffy proposition.  Passing cold fronts bring with them spring storms.  The time just prior to the passing and just after a storm usually means that the birds will be actively feeding.  Grain fields, or any other place where spilled grain might be found, are good places to seek out Mr. Turkey.  Out of the way roads offer promise of feeding birds.

Scanning the woods is another tool of the turkey hunter on public land.  One not only scans the property looking for birds but also for other hunters.  In the interest of safety it is wise to know where your fellow hunters are and what they are doing.  Any movement in public land hunting should be done slowly and with purpose.  The best rule of thumb is to move only when entering or leaving the woods.  Never use a turkey call when entering or leaving the hunting area.  It is too easy to be mistaken for a turkey moving through the brush.

If you should spot another hunter moving toward you it is recommended that you whistle softly.  It will not spook turkeys or the other hunter but will make him aware of your presence.  Do not wave lest he mistake you for a bird.

Once in place it is wise to begin calling with soft calls.  This is particularly true after the birds have been hunted for some time.  The birds have been hearing lots of calls and tend to regard hard calls as danger.

Soft calls attract a gobbler’s attention out of curiosity.  The purr calls whether hen or fighting purr calls get older birds to respond in response to their desire to dominate their territory.

Well hunted areas can be totally unproductive on any given day.  That does not mean that there are no birds, only that they are not responding to calls.  This could be the result of the gobbler being with a hen or are not paying attention to hen sounds because they have become call shy.  The next day one may find turkey hunting productive in the very same area.

Even pressured birds are aggressive in the spring.  By sitting still and listening for the sounds of the woods, it is possible to hear the disturbance of leaves as gobblers move about in search of hens.  In their pursuit of hens, with which to mate, the gobbler will strut and drum giving away his location.

With a little scouting of the area you plan to hunt, and by paying attention to safety while moving about in the woods, one can enjoy a very fruitful experience hunting turkeys on public land.


Trotline 0012

Beginning with its headwaters in Champaign County, the Kaskaskia River flows some 280 miles to the southwest to join the Mississippi River.  The upper reaches of the river above Lake Shelbyville do not produce large catfish.  According to Trent Thomas, Region III Streams Biologist for the IDNR a survey in 2007 produced channel catfish up to 2.5 pounds and only a single flathead.

Today channel catfish in the 2 to 5 pound class are common throughout the river.  Some fish in the 10 to 15 pound class are available to anglers.

The area between Lake Shelbyville and Carlyle Lake produce channel catfish in larger numbers and are somewhat larger.  The larger channel catfish come from the tailwaters at Carlyle Lake and the deeper pool with cover along the length of the river.

Flatheads up to 60 pounds are in the oxbows.  Near Cowden fish near 40 pounds are reported.

The area below Carlyle Lake begins at the dam tailwaters, a popular angling hot spot.  This is the province of IDNR Stream Biologist Randy Sauer.  The 95 miles of river has a lot of 1-5 pound channel cats and some 25 pound flatheads.  The best flathead area seems to be in the rocky section near the Gen Dean suspension bridge.  Occasionally a large blue cat caught.

Blues are a big river fish.  They are most often in the river proper in sizes up to 25 pounds.  The deep navigation channel affords year round habitat but some spawners are found near shoreline rocks and brush in late spring and early summer.  Two good locations seem to be near Venedy Station and just above New Athens.

The deeper pools near root wads and brush hold cats during daytime.  They move to the rocky fast water stretches to feed at night.  Most are in the 5 to 25 pound size range but some of the older and much larger are caught each year.

The meandering channel between Carlyle Lake and Fayetteville does not receive a lot of pressure.  But there are usually some bank sets and hoop nets, especially near the many clubhouses along the shore.

This area is typical of many Illinois rivers in summer.  Boating can be a tricky experience.  The lower summer flows and the amount of structure in the water can be hazardous.  In-stream habitat of bank holes, brush piles and wads of roots provide great fishing for both channels and flatheads.  Sauer recommends anglers in summer probe the holes on the outside of bends.  They are usually 10 to 15 feet deep and the best fishing is on the upstream side of the hole.

According to Sauer, the 36-mile navigation channel below Fayetteville is the best fishery in the river.  “The steam flow is virtually non-existent,” says Randy.  He explains that not having to contend with current, the catfish devote more energy to body growth.  They feed on the abundance of shad and young sunfish.

While the central channel holds water in the nine foot depth range, there are a number of oxbows connected to the main river at their downstream ends.  The channel catfish like to feed along the shore of the main channel and the flatheads prefer the oxbows deeper holes.  The largest blue cats tend to hang in those oxbow holes as well.



Weather conditions, water level and clarity affect the spring fishing conditions on this southern Illinois lake.

A fixed level spillway was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers across Big Muddy River makes this lake different from most Army Corps of Engineers Lakes. The spillway does not regulate the water level.

A small gate at the west end of the spillway allows water through but is not large enough to significantly regulate the lake level.  If the water is flowing through the gate the lake level is 405 feet.  If it is flowing over the dam the level is 410 feet.

In March the water is usually high and floods the bushes and brush.  Water temperatures will tend to be in the mid 40’s to low 50’s with the warmer water in the north end of the lake.

Because of the murky water, the sunlight cannot penetrate and there is little weed growth.  Most of the structure fished by anglers is wood in the north end.  Approximately 30 percent of the north end of the lake has wood.  It comes in the form of stumps, logs and some standing trees.

Most fish suspend awaiting the beginning of the April spawn.  The forage base is gizzard and threadfin shad.  The gizzard shad are native and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources stocks the threadfin.

Siltation is a problem.  Sub impoundments at the northern portion are silted in and very shallow.  They tend to warm sooner than other areas of the lake.  Anglers do find fish in the very shallow water.  Some say that if you are not turning up mud with the trolling motor, you are fishing too deep.

For those fishing the deeper water, there are several holes where once were ponds.  A good map, such as the Fishing Hot Spots maps will help to locate them.  In addition on the west side of the lake there are areas of subsidence.

Coal mining goes on under the lake.  Once a shaft is closed, the supports are withdrawn and the land falls into the shaft.  This drops rocks and brush into the water creating more structure to which the bass can relate.

Good electronics and knowing how to use it are keys to finding the structure.  There are big fish out there and they get bigger each year.  Most fish are in the 2 to 3 pound range but larger fish are caught each year.

Some anglers prefer a slow crankbait in a crayfish pattern.  Those bass are feeding on the crawdads in March as they suspend off main lake points.  Try casting crankbaits to crappie sets in 6 to 8 feet of water.

Flipping a jig and pig into the brush can yield a couple of bites.  Another lure that will produce is a spinnerbait.  Slow roll a chartreuse or white spinnerbait across main lake points.

Gun Creek can pay dividends in early season bass.  The water warms more quickly in Gun Creek than the rest of the lake.  Passing weather fronts and the accompanying winds can make the rest of the lake rough.

In spring, it is hard to get under the Interstate 57 and Route 37 bridges.  The mouth of the creek silts in and becomes muddy after rains. The muddy water tends to ruin the bass fishing.  But, one can follow the mud line back up the creek to clean water for bass.

Exercise caution and stay in deeper water of the channel to avoid hanging up.  White or chartreuse spinnerbaits are good for the channel and stumps.


MO Call 0005

Chris Parish breaks down the hen call note by note in an attempt to imitate it.  He believes if you are that good at breaking it down then you are also capable of knowing what that calling means.  There are so many subtleties in turkey communication that breaking down the call will tell you what that hen is saying to the gobbler.

Chris Parrish of Centralia, MO has been a competitor and champion in national turkey calling competitions.

There is no way that a human can sound better than a hen turkey.  But, it is possible to sound almost as good.  In the woods, turkeys do make a lot of mistakes in their calls.  They are not always perfect in their calls.  The hunter who listens to the hens and does not worry about the gobblers is the one who will be successful.

What is important is the rhythm of the call not specially the notes.  Whether high pitched, low pitched or raspy it does not make a difference.

A good woodsman can kill turkeys and never use a call.  But, calls add to the experience and challenge of the sport.  Calling does make the outdoorsman a more rounded turkey hunter.

A caller can make a gobbler’s temperature rise and have him seek out what he believes to be a hen.  Or he can get aggressive with a hen and make her so mad that she will seek him out.  Some callers can actually sound like multiple birds.

Some hunters have trouble with mouth calls.  They do not fit the hunter’s mouth comfortably. Sometimes they do not get a proper air seal.  Everyone’s mouth is different and no single call will fit any two people the same.  This results in differences in sound between two callers using the same call.

What is the best call to buy?  Parrish recommends buying one of everybody’s call and try them all until you find the one that works best for you.  Then stick with it.  Do not worry about the name appearing on it.

Hunters will put toothpicks between the reeds to let them dry out nice.  Some hunters will dip their mouth calls in a small cup of Listerine and then wash them off quickly.  If done every two weeks it tends to prevent getting colds and sore throats from calling.

A good call will last you three or four years if you take care of them.

One good way to learn how to mock a turkey is to use a CD of the birds and learn how to match your calling to their vocalizations.  It helps to copy the little soft subtleties that turkeys do.

Callers need to open their mouth when using a mouth call.  Although birds respond with the mouth closed down, the open mouth calling is more clear and distinct.  It makes for a sound of a more excited hen.  Opening the mouth and dropping the jaw give you that realism to the call.

People are reluctant to open the mouth for fear of movement that will scare the bird away or that they will spit the call out.  But, once you learn to call with the jaw dropped you begin to get realism in your calling.

Birds in the woods will yelp just one time.  Callers do not seem to want to do that.  They want to go through a routine.  Parish believes that turkeys do not know what a routine is and do not talk like the contest judge wants to hear.

This year when you are out in the woods listen to the birds and copy them.  It will lead to more success if you learn to speak the fowl language of the turkey.



A warm spring day promises peaceful trout fishing.  Anglers with fly rods and those using ultra-light spinning tackle, ply the cold-water streams of rural “Little Switzerland” in search of rainbow, brook and brown trout.  And we find them.

Water quality is a problem with trout stocking programs.  Particularly in streams where a disturbance in the watershed adds sediment and flooding reduces the steam bank over story.  Flooding also affects the food supply.

Some areas are “walk-in” types because they are accessible only by foot.  Others are near campgrounds that are open to the public with both “primitive” and pack-in camping.  Each area is marked with a large yellow and brown sign that acts as a guide.  The sign marks areas where the Iowa DNR has negotiated public fishing access with local landowners.

All catchable trout steams are on a “put-and-take” basis.  The fish are catchable size of 10 to 13 inches and a weight of about a half pound before placing into the streams.  They added on a quota basis.  Most of the fish are rainbow trout but some are brown trout.

Between three times per week and monthly the fish go into the streams.  Frequency is dependent upon water levels and temperatures.  Hot summers are hard on trout due to low water conditions and warm water temperature.  Trout do best in water that is below 70 degrees.

Tackle for trout comes in a variety of sizes and shapes.  Of course there is the ever present fly rod and a limitless variety of flies.  In recent years longer rods and thinner lines have become the preference for trout angling.

Ultra light spinning outfits are popular.  The light line coupled with small ice fishing spoons and little in-line spinners or casting spoons work well.

Natural baits like trout eggs, salmon eggs, cheese, worms, night crawlers and spikes of course are the choice of some anglers.  Velveeta cheese is a favorite because it molds well to the hook and trout love it.  The presented below a small float and allowed to drift into fishy areas, almost anything catches these hungry trout.

Areas such as lay downs, brush piles, weeds, rocks and boulders will hold fish.  Trout can be an opportunity feeder, holding in slack water awaiting some tasty morsel that might drift past.

As we catch and release a number of “bows” the other sub-species evade us.  There will be another day.  For today we are done and have to get back on the road.

For the angler seeking more information about trout, the Hatchery at Manchester, Iowa is a good place to visit.  Located three miles east of Manchester and just a little south of Route 20, the hatchery produces most of the trout used in the trout program.  Other information about trout fishing in Iowa is available on Iowa Department of Natural Resources website.

%d bloggers like this: