Archive for July 2015



Spring is the most popular time to catch white bass but summer is the most fun time. As the finny wolf packs chase the shad across the surface, anglers speed from one action point to another. It is a time of run and gun.

The white bass is from the sea bass family rather than the largemouth, smallmouth, rock or spotted bass. The latter are members of the sunfish family. White bass more closely relate to yellow and striped bass.

White bass dine on small fish, insects and crustaceans. It is a schooling fish that hunts in large numbers and covers a great deal of water. The schools travel quickly and from place to place herding large schools herd smaller fish before them. They drive the prey species to the surface where they cannot escape.

The feeding action occurs mostly in the early morning and in the evening. They move toward the shore in evening and return to the depths in the morning.

All this action takes a heavy toll on the life of the white bass. They live only five or six years.

Although found in many lakes and rivers they thrive most in reservoirs and big lakes.

As the summer rolls in fishermen move to see the fish start working the shad. The whites form packs of roving schools in order to be in the right place at the right time.

If the anglers are in the right place at the right time the opportunity to catch fish is nearly limitless. Their first sighting may be just a single fish breaking the surface or it can be a boiling action as many fish break out. This is the jumps.

The feeding activity lasts a few minutes as fishermen cast into the boiling water. There is a chance to catch a few fish before the shad move away followed by the feeding whites. Following is a period of inactivity until the whites force the forage fish to the top again. The fishing action repeats.

To help locate the feeding fish the angler is can look to the gulls. It is not rocket science to realize the gulls and white bass are wherever the shad appear. The shad are a favorite food for both.

Calm water is best for finding shad forced to the surface. In stormy weather the whites will force the shad up against wave-tossed banks and feed on them. A good area to find them is any point that juts out into deep water with shallow, small flats or shelf facing into the wind. Shallow-running or lipless crankbaits cast into these areas often yield excellent results.

During the surface feeding frenzy on warm, calm summer days the action is typically topwater. It is exciting, fast and frustrating. If the angler is lucky enough to be in the middle of the school, the problem becomes deciding where to cast. Small topwater lures are effective. Match the size of the lure to the size of the forage fish that are present. If the fish are feeding really voraciously they will attack almost anything cast into the water.

The larger fish are under the smaller ones with the biggest ones just under the main part of the


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Each year on the fourth Saturday and Sunday in September 25,000 to 40,000 sportsmen and their families travel to the campus of John A. Logan College for The Southern Celebration of National Hunting and Fishing Day. They are attending an event designed to teach hunting and fishing skills as well as the ethics, safety and conservation issues associated with them.

Last year’s attendance set a record of 44,000 people attending this, the largest National Hunting & Fishing Day celebration in the nation.

This year’s event takes place on September 26 and 27, 2015. Admittance and parking is free. Food is available from a variety of venders on the campus at nominal prices.

This year Pappy’s Outdoor is the official title sponsor. Other major sponsors include Williamson County Tourism Bureau, Good Guys Motors, McDonalds, Black Diamond Harley-Davidson and the Friends of Crab Orchard.

Children’s activities include a youth goose calling contest as well as archery, shooting sports and fishing. Local sponsors provide the activities free. Volunteers provide instruction and adult supervision.

Dogs and waterfowl activities figure prominently in the celebration with demonstrations by dock dogs, agility dogs, retrievers, search and rescue dogs, police dogs as well as coon and fox hounds. Instruction on training and nutrition for dogs is also available.

The waterfowl calling series begins with the Don Gasaway Youth Goose Calling Contest on Saturday. A number of duck and goose calling contests attracting youth, professional and amateur callers follow during Saturday and Sunday.  They end with the Tim Grounds Southern Illinois World Open Goose Calling Championship on Sunday. A variety of cash and merchandise prizes are available to the contestants.

The High School Bass Fishing Contest involves individual as well as team competition in a fishing contest held on Crab Orchard Lake with the weigh-in held at the Celebration grounds. Area high schools can enter two boats with four anglers and two coaches. The coaches are in the boats but do not fish. The school with the heaviest total weight of bass wins a trophy. There is a penalty for any fish that die. The angler with the largest bass also wins a trophy. Other trophies go to second, third, etc.

Tents erected on the college campus will house some 200 venders. New this year will be an archery tent sponsored by Kevin’s Archery Center, Ava, IL. An adult and a youth shooting range will be inside along with a number of archery manufacturer’s representatives. Instruction will be available along with a chance to get questions answered.

Other activities include wildlife and nature art show, seminars on fishing, game preparation and outdoor cooking as well as a buck skinner’s village with tomahawk throwing area. Displays provide instruction and information about Taxidermy, ATV, RV, boats, deer antler measuring, trapshooting, archery, and a special fishing display.

The Outdoor Art & Heritage Show returns this year inside the college Gymnasium, Skylight Lounge and front lobby. It promotes participation in outdoor recreation through artistic, cultural, natural history, entertainment, and an expanded deer display. Exhibitors include artists, taxidermists, museums, collectors, authors, musicians, not-for-profits, and makers of specialty foods.

Vendors interested in participation should contact Ron Allen as soon as possible. Vendor space is limited and sells out each year. Ron is available at 217-725-7602 (cell), 217-787-8862 (home) or by email at

Free information regarding motel accommodations and points of interest is available from Williamson County Tourism Bureau, 1602 Sioux Drive, Marion, Illinois 62959 or by calling 1-800-GEESE-99. Information is also available online at, the Williamson County Tourism Bureau website. The e-mail address is



From Lake Michigan salmon to the popular catfish, the aquatic version of sirloin steak is the crayfish. Virtually all fish species like to eat them but bass and perch are particularly fond of this crustacean.

Crayfish, crawdad, or crab – they are all the same here in the Midwest. Virtually every freshwater body of water contains them and the fish found there eat them with delight.

Homeowners in many parts of their range find crayfish in small mounds of mud the shape of volcanos in their well-groomed lawns.

Most species of crayfish are omnivorous. They will eat virtually everything.   Some will eat only vegetation. But most eat insects, grass, vegetation, earthworms and anything else they come across.

One way of securing the crustacean consists of lowering a piece of meat into their hole on a piece of string. The crayfish grasps the meat and is reluctant to give it up. You raise the bait slowly and the crayfish removed as it reaches the surface.

Another sure-fire way to catch crawdads is with a minnow trap. It is easiest to use. The trap is a wire mesh cylinder with an inverted cone at each end. Bait ids placed inside. The crawfish crawls into the open end of the cone and cannot figure how to get back out. The bait is usually any type of cut-up fish or cat food.

For those wanting to fish for crayfish try placing a piece of fish or worm on the end of fishing line and lower into the rocky areas of a stream. Dangle it between rocks and in crevices. The crayfish takes hold and can be gently reeled to the surface.

You can keep crayfish alive for long periods of time by storing them in a cooler between layers of wet newspaper. Just alternate layers of crayfish and layers of newspaper to keep them wet. Store them in a refrigerator and use as soon as possible.

For those needing prolonged storage you can freeze them. By freezing only the tails, they take up limited space. Freeze them quickly while they are still fresh. When thawed the meat will still be firm and stay on the hook.

Some anglers use small crayfish whole. Hook them through the last section of the body, just in front of the tail. Some people remove the claws and hook the crayfish through the ridge just behind the head. Either method seems productive.

Others like to use only the tails. They pinch off the tail at the first segment and then peel the shell. Then impale meat on a small hook. If it looks too soft to stay on the hook, try boiling the tails first. The boiling tends to firm up the meat.

Rigs for fishing with crayfish tend to vary according to species sought and water conditions. Split-shot and bottom-walking rigs are popular in water with a hard bottom. With a soft bottom, anglers tend to use jigs. Both methods require moving the bait slowly.

For the most part, the weight of a crayfish is enough to get it down to the desired depth if using a light line. You may need to use some weight when using a heavier line.

Perch and some other panfish anglers tend to use a slip bobber and suspend the crayfish over rocky bottoms or other submerged structure.   They often like “peelers.” Peelers are crayfish that have shed their outside shell. As crayfish shed their shells in order to grow they are without their shell for a day or two. Refrigerated at about 40-degrees, the process can delay the hardening process for 10 to 12-days.

Fishing with crayfish tends to increase angler success. It is not as challenging as artificial lures. But if one is willing to put forth the effort and stands the smell on your hands it is the way to go.



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The full river begins in McLean County and flows in an arc through central Illinois some 250 miles to join the Illinois River near Peoria.  The upper reaches of the river flow east into Champaign County, south through Mahomet, then west through Monticello and Decatur.  It then flows northwest along Springfield.  It is at this point that Salt Creek enters the river and together they flow into the Illinois River about 10 miles northeast of Beardstown, IL.

There is boat access along the course of the river and in particular in the parks bordering Lake Decatur, Rock Springs Conservation Area, Lincoln Trail Homestead State Park, Carpenter Park in Springfield, and the Sanganois State Fish and Wildlife Area.

IDNR fisheries staff finds the catch rates with electro-shocking efforts are generally low at most sites.  However, the site near Roby, in Christian County is a stand out.  All the catfish were less than two pounds but that represents a thriving population for years to come.

A sampling of fish in Salt Creek below the Clinton Lake dam produces catfish that are less than ten inches in length.  Prospects for finding catfish below the Lake Decatur dam are slim.

According to surveys done in the lower portion of the Sangamon River, it is more productive for the angler in search of big fish.  Studies sampling with survey nets and by electro-shocking in areas near Riverton, Springfield, Petersburg and Oakford were more encouraging.

They find the upstream sites at Riverton and Springfield more productive than the other two for both flatheads and channel catfish.  Riverton was the top for channels.  The largest channel catfish were 27-inches long and over 7.5 pounds.  The average channel catfish are 16 to 23-inches in length and 1.5 to 5-pounds in weight.

Trophy flatheads run from 17 pounds to 43 pounds.  The flathead catfish evenly spread across all size classes.  This is an indication of a large, healthy population.

Illinois is a catfish mecca.  The Sangamon River is just one.  Virtually every river contains at least some fish.  Summer is the time to catch them.


Blue Catfish 6-inch

Located between Chicago and St. Louis on Interstate 55, the prairie state capital is also home to some great Blue Catfish action.  The 3,866-acre power plant cooling lake is on the southeast edge of the capital city.  The average depth is 13-feet with 52-miles of shoreline.

Boat launching ramps are available and there are several bank fishing locations.  The most popular one is near the dam on the north end of the lake.  Marina services are available at Lake Springfield Marina (

Blue Catfish appear like a channel except for a blue cast to their skin color.  The forked tail that is prominent in both species is more round on the blue.  The body of the blue is shorter and more round.  Their girth is usually larger.  The anal fin of the channel is rounded.  On the blue it is long and straight.

Thanks to sportsmen from the Lake Springfield Catfish Club a sizable number of Blue Catfish are present.  Back in 2006 they supplied 170 breeding age fish from the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.  By holding tournaments on the rivers and keeping the fish for a Lake Springfield socking program, they supplied the adult fish.  They later supplemented that effort with the addition of a total of 15,000 hatchery raised fish.

Although you are seeking blues excellent channel catfish and flathead fishing prospects are present.

Fishing for the Blue Catfish is with a slip bobber due to the ability to control the depth at which to present the live bait.  Blues prefer live bait which is usually a shad minnow suspended above the area where they are suspended.  They will take chunks of fresh cut bait, crayfish, shrimp and stink bait.  Some experimentation is required be done to determine the depth where the catfish are located.

Blues are usually in deep holes and swift current such as found below the dam and the power plant discharge area.  A 6-8-foot medium-heavy-casting rod is best with a large capacity casting reel with a free spool clicker.  Twenty to 40 pound monofilament line with a one to 6 ounce egg sinker sliding on it is tied a 3-foot leader.  Large circle hooks aid in getting the fish to set the hook himself.

The largest blue catfish taken to date is 81-pounds.



Digital Camera

Digital Camera

Imagine an angler picking his way through brush and a rock strewn stream to cast a fly over the water in early morning light.  What species would you think he was pursuing?  Trout comes to mind, as do bass and panfish.  Catfish?  No way, right?  Well an increasing number of anglers are turning to fly rods and even small nymph like flys to catch channel and flathead catfish.

Catfish are available in almost any waterway in the Midwest.  Once released into ponds and lakes they readily reproduce if the fishing pressure is not too great.  In captivity they readily reproduce for stocking in highly pressured park and forest preserve ponds.

Flathead lurk in deep holes and channel catfish like the drop offs where a riffle meets a pool with a sharp drop in water depth.  In the evening, they move up to shallow eddies and flats to feed, making them vulnerable to the angler with a fly rod.

Catfish tend to feed more by smell than by sight.  That is one reason so many anglers seek them with the use of a collection of awful smelling cheese base baits.  But, they also will take fresh and live bait or the imitation of same.  Some of their favorite foods are nightcrawler, shrimp, crayfish and chicken livers cut up forage fish.

Getting back to fly rodding, the use of fly tackle to take species other than trout has increased dramatically in the past decade.  Anglers like to fish for cats in the early hours when they are up feeding in the shallows.  Lower areas of rivers just before entering larger rivers are good location for finding biting fish.  It is an early morning bite that does not last for a long time.  Anglers can try it for a while before moving on to other pursuits.  Use a long stiff fly rod and a nymph or crayfish imitation.

For those interested in trying catfish on a fly rod the following tackle is a starting point a long, rather stiff, rod with a weight forward line to match.  Something with a sinking tip might be good.  For use with more bulky flies, one might choose a Bass Taper Weight Forward line.  A good tackle shop with a fly fishing department can be a great help in choosing this equipment.

The tippet could be some monofilament of about 5 pound test in a length of 3 to 4 feet as opposed to the lighter tippets preferred by trout anglers.  If seeing the line is a problem, the tippet could be made of a colored monofilament.  Fly fishermen sometimes use a float indicator to help identify a light bite. One could also use one of the ultra-light floats like those sold by Thill Floats.

You can purchase extra spools for your fly rod.  Buy extra spools to hold different lines so that you can change line in response to the lure used during changing conditions.

Because this is a relatively new field of fly fishing, the specific choice of flys is up to the angler.  In general, anything that imitates a:  crayfish, leech, or crawler is OK.  Catfish tend to eat almost anything that lives on the bottom of a river or lake.  In rivers with good hellgrammite populations, such an imitation might be a good idea.  In catfishing, matching the hatch means matching what swims or crawls on the bottom.  Enhance lures with some of the commercial scents on the market.  There are crayfish, leech and crawler scents available.  One can even dip the lure in one of the prepared cheese baits.

For those who are not fly rod purists you can drift small spinners with live bait through catfish holes.  A spinning rig is not much to look at, but it does the job.  Here is a word of caution.  If you are going after big cats with light spinning rigs learn to back reel to release the pressure on the line.

You can fly fish for catfish on almost any river, lake, creek or impoundment in the Mississippi drainage.  If wadding, always do so with great care as holes in the bottom can cause serious problems for the unsuspecting anger to steps into them.


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