Archive for January 2015



One of the late winter rites of passage is ice out crappie fishing.

Locating the ice out crappie is a matter of going where they should be and going where they are.  The latter probably requires electronic fish locators.  The former is a matter of experience in that you go where they were during past springs.

A good topo map is helpful.  Dark bottoms on the north side of lakes are a good prospect in that they get early sun and hold warmth.

Of the tow crappie species, the white crappie prefers the large open water.  Both species will suspend in relation to lake points, sunken islands, sand bars, creek beds and debris found in most waterways.  Both can and do inhabit the same water.

Both crappie species have roughly the same spawning habits, laying eggs in water 3 to 8 feet in depth, once the water temperature approaches the mid-sixty degree range near cover.

White crappies tend to like brush piles, bushes or sunken logs.  The black crappies like reeds or other weeds.  There can be a great deal of pre-spawn angling in channels and bays due to early ice out and the water being too cold for spawning.

Deep creek beds are a key to cold water crappie locations.  Begin by searching likely summer holding areas and then back track to the nearest deep creek bed.  Then follow the channel to the best available holding area.  On a large lake this can be a considerable distance.  Some creek beds are more promising than others.  One with wood in or near the creek bed is best.

Lacking any wood either visible or hidden try bends or intersections.  Sharp bends or intersections with roads and secondary channels often produce fish.

Good bays should have no channels, or at least not adequate ones serve well.  If all else fails try the deep water and fish deep.

Jigs are the bread and butter lure for cold water crappie.  A good assortment of leadhead jigs in 1/16th to 1/64th ounce in colors of white, black or yellow is good basic tackle.  Couple them with tube bodies of the same colors.  For the natural baits minnows and waxworms are best.

It is important to remember that the fish are very spooky this time of year.  If scared, they will stop feeding.  The best bet is to locate fish and then make long casts to the school with a slip float rig.  Make short pauses in the retrieve or about 30 seconds each.

Crappie strikes come as the jig begins to settle to the bottom of the length of line below the float.  Small floats are more sensitive and show very light bites that often occur.

Fishing for crappie just after ice out requires stalking to find them as well as a lot of hunting to find schools.  It is however very productive and provides time to unlimber that old casting arm and get rid of Spring fever.




Our best fighting fish is a pretty apt description to anyone who has ever hooked one.  These shad eating machines prowl a number of Illinois waters providing excitement for any angler who is lucky enough to hook one.

A wonderful fighting fish, this transplant to Illinois waters spends most of his day roaming deep water in pursuit of threadfin shad.  Stable water conditions, clear skies, and the presence of shad cause this wolf of the water to move into more shallow water and dam tailwaters.  Once there, their presence is visible by the action on the surface.

Stripers will force shad to the surface and then crash the surface as they goggle up the hapless bait fish.   In tailwater situations the striper takes advantage of the injured shad that wash through locks and over dams.  Most stripers and hybrids bite on live threadfin shad or skipjack.  Some people have good luck with cut bait while others prefer artificial lures.

The Illinois State Record is 31 pounds 7 ounces for striped bass and 20 pounds .32 ounces for hybrid striped bass.  The average fish from these species range from 2 to 15 pounds.

Most anglers refer to both the hybrid striper and the pure strain fish as “Stripers.”  The hybrids are not able to reproduce and have some different physical features that make identification possible.

A saltwater relative of the white bass, stripers resemble them in appearance but have a more elongated and less compressed body.   Stripers have a more straight back and they are dark greenish is color on top with a brassy tinge that becomes lighter on the sides.  The underside is a silver color.

The most prominent feature is the presence of seven to eight narrow horizontal stripes along the sides which leads to the name striper.  The stripes on the Hybrid are less distinct and definitely broken.   The first stripe below the lateral line is distinct and complete to the tail.  Hybrids tend to grow faster making them popular for stocking.  Hybrids can reach 5 pounds by their third year.

These imports are present in some 28 waterways and lakes of the Prairie State.  They consist of three subspecies: striped bass, hybrid striped bass and striped/hybrid striped bass.  Regardless of where in the state a fisherman lives, he is but a couple of hours away from a striper fishery.

Historically, the IDNR has had problems meeting the stocking needs for this fishery.  Today they are able to produce a reliable good quality source of fry.

State hatcheries are involved in the production of striped bass and hybrid striped bass using fry purchased from out of state.  Currently Illinois stocks both striped bass and hybrid striped bass.

The best angling opportunities center on following the shad.  Both threadfin and gizzard shad are the primary food source for all three subspecies.  Many are caught incidental to fishing for other species.  Catfish anglers will often catch them in the spring using chicken livers fished near the bottom of a lake.

Most fish are caught trolling shad or shad-like imitation baits.  Both live bait and cut bait from shad work well.  The use of electronic fish locators allows the angler to locate schools of shad.  Then the angler knows at what depth to troll his offering.  Shore anglers look for points and deep water flats near current.  Current is a chief locator to find stripers.

Perhaps the best cure for fingers numbed by the cold and the chill of cold winds is the screech of a reel paying out line.  The sound of the reel means striper on the other end of the line.



Brad Schad of the Missouri Corn Growers Association

Brad Schad of the Missouri Corn Growers Association

Funny how many subjects we discuss while fishing.  Somehow the subject of ethanol arose on a recent crappie fishing junket in southern Illinois.  It is probably only natural when one of the other anglers in the boat is the Director of Ethanol Policy for the Missouri Corn Growers Association.  Brad Schad is interested in exposing the myths that shroud the use of Ethanol in marine engines.

According to Brad, ethanol is often the victim of all sorts of misinformation and accusations of engine problems to which it has no connection.

Ethanol as fuel is not a new concept.  Henry Ford and other early automakers believed that it would become the primary fuel before gasoline became popular.

The basic accusation against ethanol in fuel is that it causes phase separation.  That is when water separates from fuel and pools at the bottom of the fuel tank possibly causing rust or other damage to the engine.  However fuel that is E10 blend cannot absorb enough moisture out of the air to cause such separation.  If condensation occurs, or water directly splashed into the tank, water phase separation can occur.  This water separation is more likely to occur in straight gasoline than in an ethanol blend.

Gasoline should not be stored for more than 60 days without the addition of a fuel stabilizer.

According to Brad, today’s gasoline is much more than just petroleum.  It is made of more than 150 chemicals and compounds in the form of additives.  He believes that most of the fuel problems experienced have more to do with the additives than with ethanol.  Benzene used to increase octane in straight gasoline is more corrosive to plastics then ethanol.  Some people blame ethanol, a clean burning oxygenate, for small engine issues.

Today 90 percent of the gasoline sold to Americans contains up to 10 percent ethanol with no issues.  It burns cleaner and cooler than gasoline.

Some outdoorsmen blame ethanol for reduced performance of their boat engine.  Actually ethanol contains high octane which produces increased performance in racing boats and burns cleaner.

Some consumers complain that the ethanol will not work in the two-stroke engine.  Following extensive testing manufacturers recommend using a specific fuel blend.  The use of E10 in small engines has gone on for a long time.

There are some mistakes that outdoorsmen make that seem to create problems with ethanol fuel in the systems of their engines.  One is getting fuel that contains more than 10 percent ethanol.  The addition of E15 fuels in marinas has created its own problems.  E15 fuel creates problems to the point of being toxic to marine engines.  Just check your engine owner’s manual.  To avoid this problem, Brad recommends that you read the ethanol rating on the pump.  If it says nothing or says E15, he suggests you purchase you fuel elsewhere.  You can stop at a local service station before arrival at the ramp.  Most service stations carry both grades of ethanol and you can choose the E10.

Ethanol will attract water extremely slowly from the air.  A boat sitting idle for months may experience fuel/water problems.  Even straight gasoline for more than 60 days without the addition of a fuel stabilizer can have water condensation problems.  Routine inspection and maintenance is the best way to avoid problems.

There are a number of fuel stabilizers and driers on the market that will probably minimize or eliminate water and corrosion problems.  If you suspect engine problems caused by ethanol, use a fuel stabilizer that is specifically alcohol free.

To Brad it is vital that one use only E10 fuel in marine engines and that fuel stabilizer be added to the fuel tank prior to storage.  He maintains that the boat owner should not have any fuel problems if they take these precautions.

For more information in ethanol use in marine engines check out the Missouri Corn Growers Association website at


Frog Hair 1

If you think about it there really is nothing as fine as frog hair.

At a recent media event at the world famous Rend Lake Resort Dale Black, President of Black Knight Industries, expounded on the advancements his company has developed in the line of leaders and tippets.

This PA company has become a leader in the field of fly fishing line technology.  How?  They use of Nanotechnology manipulation of matter at incredibly small sizes.  For example a piece of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick.  The technology allows for the development of higher strength structured materials.

This technology is part of a new wave of innovation in science and engineering that is enabling the development of a generation of materials that are stronger, lighter and more durable than ever found before.

The line begins with the molecular structure strong and stiff due to highly aligned long chains of molecules created by extrusion and drawing.  After a Gamma Processing the long chain molecules are broken down and millions of intermolecular bonds cross link creating a structure stronger and more flexible.

The end result is monofilament line with a higher strength to diameter with a built in shock resistance.  The subtle line still maintains a high knot strength that maintains maximum fish fighting capability.  The company is so confident that it’s fishing leaders and tippets are the best performing products available that they have a money back guarantee.

For more information check out the websites of and


Russ Bailey and camera crew record the crappie action on Rend Lake for upcoming TV program.

Russ Bailey and camera crew record the crappie action on Rend Lake for upcoming TV program.

With more and more outdoorsmen and women recording their activities the quality of the recordings can vary significantly.  Videoing hunting or fishing action moments can be a rewarding experience to share with family and friends.

With a little patience and attention to detail everyone can produce a quality video.  Toward that end Russ Bailey has some advice.

Russ is a veteran videographer and crappie fishing professional from Ohio.  He has a television show making its debut this month on the Pursuit Channel entitled “Brushpile Fishing.”  Russ also has a number of crappie fishing videos available through sporting goods stores.

Recently at Rend Lake, IL recording a program for the television series Russ took the time to talk about the process of recording videos.

The discussion began with the choice of cameras.  Russ is very impressed with the Go Pro cameras that have burst upon the market in recent years.  He also indicates that he is using JVC cameras and has had much success.  The feature Russ likes on these cameras is the ability to monitor the recording with the use of the screen on the back of the camera.

Bailey pointed out that HD cameras have become cost effective.  Most Digital cameras on the market have the ability to take videos but they do have some limitations.  Most avid video makers will move up to studio models as soon as they can afford them.  Those prices are steadily declining in the market place.

Videoing on the water does present some problems.  Temperatures, water conditions, etc. do affect the end product.  For instance wind tends to cut out the voice recording.  It is also important to limit the use of the zoom function of a camera.  Russ recommends that if you must use the zoom function do so slowly.

In outdoor recording it is advisable to be aware of the position of the sun.  As with most camera work, be sure to keep the sun either behind the camera position or at best to the side.  Shooting toward the sun distorts the images and often makes them worthless.

For the angler it is important to make sure the camera is water proof.  After all you are on the water and accidents happen.  Speaking of being on the water, if you are alone you can mount the camera on a bracket attached to the boat and let it run.  You never know but what you might catch some great action that would not be the case if you have to dig into a camera bag.

Russ begins every recording session by taking a sample and playing it back.  It gives a chance to correct any problem that might arise.  He also makes sure to take extra batteries as video recording eats up a lot of power quickly.  If possible use a wireless microphone for each person in the video.

Once back home it is time to edit your produce.  There are a number of software products on the market and online.  You don’t have to start with an expensive on.  There is always time to move onto those in the future.  Often the camera comes with a disk that allows for downloading titles and step by step editing.

Russ recommends using background music to enhance your product.  It is important to use only music that is not copyright protected.  You can get such music off the Internet by Googling “Free Music.”

Finally, you can open a free “YouTube” account and place your video on it.  Then send emails to everyone you want to view it indicating that it is available on line.


Cold Rend 0002

While anglers in northern Illinois are fishing through holes in the ice, anglers in southern Illinois are still fishing open water lakes and ponds.


Mild winters allow southern Illinois anglers to fish all year around.  Granted the temperatures are colder than would be the case the rest of the year, the lack of ice permits both bank and boat fishing.  The key to this type of fishing is finding the fish.  Never does the old adage “Ninety percent of the fish will be in 10 percent of the water” seem more applicable.


By knowing at what depth other anglers are taking fish, you go a long way toward being a successful angler on a particular day.  Depth is particularly important during the cold months when game fish are less likely to move around.


Experienced anglers know that winter bass fishing success is dependant upon knowing the depth at which fish are suspending.  It is more important than ph, structure and other factors.


Other anglers on the same lake may not have much success.  Yet you can take good numbers and sizes of fish.  With the aid of electronics, you might discover that the big fish are down nearly 40 feet.  It might be that no one else is fishing even close to that depth.  This gives you the upper hand when it comes to catching fish.


For those without the electronics, a local bait shop operator is the next best source of information.  He can usually tell you how deep other anglers are fishing and their relative success or failure at those depths.  He usually will recommend particular lures or baits that are producing at this time.


Another question is where successful anglers are finding fish.  You can divide most lakes into three areas.  They are shallow areas with stained water and abundant cover, an area of moderate depth with less cover and semi-clear water or a deep area with little cover and clear water.


If you know the depth at which fish are most active then you can probably eliminate two of the three areas and focus on the remaining water.



Lake of Egypt 0001

Some fishermen mistakenly seem to think fish are like bears and go into hibernation.  Large game fish often turn up at this time of the year.  The fish are not as aggressive when water temperatures are below 500-degrees.  But they still eat and take a properly presented lure.  In winter fish suck bait gently in leaving only the sensation of a tic on the line.

Any current in a body of water increases the oxygen content and fish relate to it.  In general fish are in the 12 to 20-foot range this time of year.  On larger impoundments without a warm water discharge the warmer water is in the section closer to dams.  On main part of a lake the combination of structure and currents hold promise of good fishing.  Fish tend to be just out of the current near structure.  The forage fish are there picking up the small plankton that flows with the current.  Bass in particular hang around the area close to stumps, beneath undercuts, rocks or just on a sharp breakline.

Thawing periods increase river flow and current.  The warming trend that occurs signals a feeding frenzy in predator fish.  For some reason the larger fish are the first to react to the action.  Often one will have to fish hard for a long time to get bites but the bites come from the larger fish.

Game fish like to hold on the edge of muddy water concealed from the forage fish so they can ambush them.  The silt attracts the forage fish as it presents a source of food.

Disruptions such as noise on shore or in the water make the fish shut down.  Light also seems to have an effect on the fishing action.  The brighter the day the closer to the bottom the fish seem to locate.

Weedy areas or those with the dark bottom warm sooner and are areas likely to harbor fish.  The weeds and the dark muddy bottom absorb what heat there is available on a sunny day and hold it longer than any other bottom structure.

Lures for ice-out fishing fall into two categories jigs and deep diving crankbaits.  The rods should be very sensitive and the line very light test.  The bite will be just a tic and therefore the light line and sensitive rod are required for the angler to know of the bite.  One-piece rods are more sensitive than two-piece rods.

Fish all lures slowly.  The lure needs to get down to the bottom or at least near the bottom.  Crankbaits should slowly bounce along the bottom kicking up small clouds of mud.  A loose wobbling crankbait that disturbs the silt on a branch or stump is more likely to attract the fish’s attention than one just passing over his head.

Because bait fish are just as slow reacting as are larger fish the crankbait needs to move in slowly.  The idea is to make the crankbait imitate the action of the baitfish.  That is to dart, slow down, and shimmy in one spot before moving off.

The lure is going to have to be right in front of the larger fish for him to react to it.  Long retrieves are a must in order to get the crankbait down to the strike zone of fish sitting on the bottom.

Jig fishing is a little less complicated.  A 1/16th ounce or 1/32nd ounce jig fished right below the boat works well.  With electronics one can park a boat right on top of the fish and bounce a jig right in front of their noses.  It is possible to cover the fishing zone with the jig.  The fish will not be more than a foot off the bottom.  One can do well with just about any type of jig or jigging spoon as long as it weighs less than an ounce.

You also need to fish jigs slowly and right up against any structure available.

In the case of both jigs and crankbaits it is important to pay close attention for the tic of the bite.  Then set the hook quickly.  They will not hold the hook for long.  Any variation in the action of the line calls for immediate setting of the hook.  This is a game of total concentration on the job at hand.

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