Archive for September 2015

WATERFOWL HUNTERS ARE ADJUSTING THEIR TACTICS   Leave a comment

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The past ten years have meant a significant change for waterfowlers. The migration of geese and ducks changed and hunters had to adjust. The huge flocks of geese that once flowed into the southern Illinois refuges for the winter have diminished.

Birds still come but they are fewer and smarter. Ducks that did not stay long in the past are now flowing into grain fields and staying for the entire season. They once moved further south once the geese arrived.

Hunters now combine an awareness of the habitat and technological advances with hunting opportunities open to the public.

Many hunters seek both geese and ducks over flooded grain fields. They place goose pits on the edge of the fields and floating duck blinds out in the water.

Communication between guides and hunter as well as between hunters is important. Sometimes misunderstandings happen when it is one person’s turn to shoot and everyone does not get the message. Regardless, hearing protection is important to prevent hearing damage from muzzle blasts. Especially useful are electronic ear muffs that protect from muzzle blasts yet allow one to hear anyone talking. They are part of the technology for satisfying waterfowl hunting.

Today many of the birds hunted are local birds whereas a few years ago they were many more migrators. The locals are quickly educated as to the location of refuge areas. They quickly learn where hunting pits and clubs are located and avoid them.

Ducks present their own problem. As individual species are usually only present for a month or so, the hunters have to learn their locations and flight patterns quickly.

Both ducks and geese can become call shy as the season progresses and the hunting pressure increases on the migration path. Often call shy birds can be attracted to the decoys with a minimum of calling by a hunter.

Hunters put out decoys in an X-pattern which seems more natural. It sometimes requires up to 1,000 decoys of several types for goose hunting. Later in the season they might cut back to 80 to 200. Duck hunters will use 80 to 200 decoys.

A key to decoy spreads is motion. Using full-bodied dekes with motion stakes, wind socks, Robo-ducks and decoys involving bodies that represent feeding ducks diving like the real thing hunters present a more lifelike presentation.

Late in the season hunters change some of the tactics. Using fewer decoys they place them in a tighter pattern. This works well on public land.

Late season hunters on public land tend to quit calling as soon as the birds appear. You do not need to call as much. Continue the calling until the birds begin to look your way. Ducks need the noise to feel safe and locate feeding ducks. Once they are coming your way it is time to back down to a feeding chuckle.

In hunting on public land it is important to have the right set-up. That means keeping your back to the wind. Ducks, and geese, prefer to land into the wind. If the wind picks up to the range of 15 to 20 mph it becomes important to set-up in protected areas. Make your decoy set-up look realistic.

SPINNERBAIT SUCCESS   Leave a comment

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You cast to a particular location where a big bass is located. The fish just casually looks at your offering but does not attack it. Why doesn’t he want it?

The answer may be that this particular spinnerbait is the wrong color or has the wrong shaped blade for this fish on this date and time.

One of the advantages to a spinnerbait is the seemingly endless variety of spinnerbait blades and skirts in an infinite variety of colors. All will produce if used in the right combination and under the right conditions. They work in clear as well as stained water and in cold water conditions and in the heat of summer.

Many anglers set up several rods with different spinnerbaits to cope with this situation.

The most popular colors are white, chartreuse, black or a combination of these colors. Both the blades and skirts can be in these colors.

Blades come in three basic shapes: Colorado, willow leaf and Indiana. The latter is a kind of tear drop shape, while the Indiana is more oval and the willow leaf is more oblong. The less streamlined Indiana and Colorado have more resistance and provides pre vibration. The streamlined Willow leaf provides little vibration but gives off more flash.

When making a color choice the nickel or silver works well in clear to slightly stained water. The gold or brass is for the rest of the water spectrum up to muddy water. Colored blades work well in most water unless seeking flash.

Fishing spinnerbaits is a skill that the beginning bass angler should master before going on to more sophisticated lures and patterns. There are such patterns as slow rolling or bush bumping or perhaps buzzing and dropping. These techniques are too numerous to explore further here.

As one can tell by the above there is a variety of uses for spinnerbaits. Many bass anglers rig a number of different spinnerbait combinations or skirts and blades. In this way when they encounter different water conditions or structure they can drop one rod and pick up another.

The idea is to maximize the time one has a lure in the water that can be productive. Time spent removing one spinnerbait and tying on another is not time spent fishing.

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Changes in spinnerbait construction allow for an angler to fish different sizes, colors and configurations of blades on the same bait shaft with little or loss of fishing time. One can make a single blade spinnerbait into a tandem and vice versa with little effort and time. You can couple that with the ability to change rubber skirts that make spinnerbaits so popular and the angler can fish deep or shallow, clear or stained water. The bait is productive in all weather conditions.

The spinnerbait is easy to fish and one of the most versatile baits in the tackle box.

GET CRANKY WITH CRANKBAITS IN FALL   2 comments

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Shallow water cranking is an effective fall technique. As the water cools the surface swarms with schools of bait fish. Working crankbaits just under the forage fish on the surface produces action from the predator fish preying upon them.

A blue September sky and relatively clear water sends anglers in search of darker water. Easing a boat into shallow coves allows for the use of crankbaits. If the water is slightly stained and there is a lot of wood to be found so much the better.

Cast crankbaits beyond submerged trees and brush. Then slowly twitch them into position on the edges of the wood. Letting it sit still for a minute entices wary fish that cannot help but attack this invader of their space.

Start cranking with small light colored lures. Color is less important than size. By beginning with small white, green or chartreuse colors you locate the fish. Then change to the larger crankbaits. The larger crankbaits take any size fish. Smaller lures tend not to attract many large fish.

A crankbait’s running depth is affected by the length of a cast, line diameter and the design of the lure. Do not just cast and crank casually retrieved. Change the speed allowing the fish to react to it. The depth a bait will run is marked on the package by manufacturers.

Once out of the package a marker pen can be used to write the running depth on the bill of the lure for future reference. A shallow running crankbait will run 3 to 4 feet down and is used to fish over the top of weeds or in shallow water. Deep running crankbaits run 8 to 10 feet down and are used in dirty/deep water.

Anglers count on a bait with a larger lip running deeper than one with a less prominent lip. It is possible to trim the lip on a deep diving crankbait to find a depth to make it run just right for the fish present. In this way you have a lure that will run between the zones of the traditional shallow running or deep running baits.

Another way to vary the running depth of a crankbait is to add weight inside the body of the lure. The more weight added makes the lure suspend or run deeper.

Colors are the preference of the angler. Subtle colors seem to work best in clean water. Bright colors are preferred for dirty or stained water.

The most important factor is having the lure in the fish’s strike zone. Lure speed has been found to not significantly effect the depth at which it runs. In fact some lures actually run shallower at faster speeds. Be consistent and learn from experience just how deep the lure is running.

Line diameter does affect the running depth. For each two pounds of line weight subtract about one foot from the lure’s depth.

Crankbaits are great tools for covering a lot of water and finding fish. By finding a good pattern, knowing the lure color to use and the right cover to fish, a fisherman covers more water with a crankbait than any other type of lure.

EARLY SEASON TREESTAND PLACEMENT   Leave a comment

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Successful white-tailed deer bowhunting here in the Midwest is particularly dependent upon intelligent placement of tree stands.

The primary thing to remember about treestand locations is that they be flexible. That is, a stand placement in the early part of the season can be right then but totally wrong later in the season. If carefully chosen a strand can be red hot even in a heavily pressured hunting area.

A stand placed on an escape route in a heavily hunted area gives the bowhunter all kinds of action. You are allowing other hunters to drive deer toward your position.

Pre-season scouting aids in locating deer during the first part of the season. Their trail toward a feeding area can be located and a stand placed near it. At the very beginning of the hunting season, deer are not as easily spooked as later in the year. Therefore, a stand located near open areas works well. However, a few days into the hunting season and deer, particularly big bucks, change their feeding habits. They come to open feeding areas much later, usually after dark. At this point it is time to move to another stand location.

Some hunters move 20 to 30-yards back into heavy cover along the same trail to the feeding area and about 15-yards to the side and downwind. Big bucks seldom walk directly on game trails but will follow it off to the side. If the hunter is downwind from the usual prevailing wind, the chance of deer smelling him is less.

Bucks tend to hang back from does and yearlings. As the does move into the open, the bucks tend to stay in the heavy woods until darkness conceals them completely. If the hunter is there he is set to take him.

The hottest area to stake out is a crossing. This is a place where deer have to cross to get from their daytime bedding or resting area to the nighttime feeding location. Being a prey animal, a deer is nervous by nature and will stay concealed as long as possible while traveling.

Crossings are where the edges of two or more types of cover meet. As an example, a point of woods extends out into an open field that in turn touches a grain field. The deer are likely to cross along the wooded portion closest to the grain field. In this way they remain hidden for a maximum amount of time as they enter an open area.

Deer wait until the last possible moment to expose themselves in the open.

This is why they are often observed moving along drainage ditches, fence rows and fingers of woods that extend out into agricultural fields. If this situation is present, a good stand placement is on the thicker side of the heavy cover.

Crossing areas are particularly good stand locations because deer also use them as escape routes to safety when startled. If a hunter is in an area with other hunters, being in at a crossing can be quite productive.

Regardless of whether you are making your own stand or placing a commercially made one, you need to use your head to think like a deer. It is work, hard work, but pays big dividends during the early hunting season.

HOMEWORK FOR PUBLIC LAND HUNTERS   Leave a comment

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Every year some big whitetails grow old and die on public land. They live their lives just out of sight of hunters.

Finding that elusive deer takes work, but it is doable.

Here are five homework assignments that can increase your chances this year.

Study the habits of deer during different times of the year. A deer behaves differently in early fall than during the rut. He is a different critter in the post-rut period. They feed and bed according to the hunting pressure in the woods. With a lot of hunters in the area during the start of the season deer tend to go nocturnal. They hide out in thick cover and emerge only in low light or at night.

In cold weather deer feed more often. They need the additional calories to maintain body temperature. In rainy weather they often hold up in thick cover where they drink from standing water in puddles near feeding and bedding areas. In dry hot weather deer move to creeks and p0nds to drink.

The number of times a deer drinks depends on weather and his physical activity. During the rut a buck frequents a water source more often than during the pre-rut. Post-rut he needs m0ore water to replace that lost during the rutting frenzy.

Keep a map and notes of deer activity in the area you plan to hunt. Collect maps and G.P.S. waypoints. Get maps from your county highway department if they are available. They are usually accurate and still have room for adding notes right on the map. Topographical maps are also good. They reveal elevations. A spiral notebook makes a good place to note deer activity from one season to another and during the various seasons of the year. Make notes of deer movements under specific weather conditions too. Keep notes Keep notes from scouting and hunting expeditions.

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Scout the area as often as you can without disturbing wildlife movements. The deer do get accustomed to your presence and do not change their patters as frequently. Wear your hunting clothing while scouting so they relate your presence to a harmless intrusion into their environment. Use binoculars to observe wildlife from a distance and a range finder to note distances to specific landmarks and game trails. G.P.S. units make this latter much easier. The maps on the unit are really helpful.

Select your treestand locations with prevailing winds in mind. Locate them so as to allow you to approach the stand from downwind and yet not cross any game trails. Be aware the wind might be coming from a different location in the morning than would be the case in the afternoon.

Time your deer. Keep notes on when the deer are doing what. You should know which direction they wander when going to water or feeding areas and at what time of day they do it. The same is true of trips to bedding areas or loafing areas during the day. Deer are always doing something. If you know what, then you can be there before them.

The more time you spend studying deer, the more intelligent your hunting will be. On public land other hunters will disturb the deer patterns, but the deer will return to their routine as soon as possible. If you know their escape routes the hunting pressure will work in your favor and drive deer to your location.

The number of other hunters decreases as the season wears on until toward the end you could have the place to yourself.

If you have done your homework public land hunting can yield a big buck that has been hiding out from everyone.

FINDING CRAPPIES IN SHALLOW WATER   Leave a comment

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It is no secret that crappie relate to structure. Finding good structure for them in shallow lakes can be difficult.

Russ Bailey, veteran crappie angler, has developed a pattern for shallow water lakes. He spends countless hours on the shallow lakes near his home in northwestern Ohio.

The home lakes that Russ fishes were once part of a canal system and are only 5 to 6 feet deep with virtually no bottom structure. The only structure is man-made in the form of docks, boat lifts and brush piles.

Bailey finds that aluminum structures hold the best opportunity to locate suspended fish. An aluminum boat lift will hold crappies all year around unless there is a freeze.

Using a 10 1/2 foot jigging pole, he flips jigs to docks. With the aluminum boat lifts and aluminum docks he prefers to vertical jig. On sunny days the water around aluminum structures will usually be one to two degrees warmer in the afternoon.

Russ works the outside edges of the structure first and then the inside as well as the cross members and cables that hold the structure in place. He moves very slowly being especially alert to any slight feel on the line.

The basic pattern is to lower a one-eighth ounce jig head to the bottom and then bring it up about six inches. He dresses the jig with plastic grubs in white, pink or chartreuse. He adds “stinger shad” grubs in the cold weather.

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On bright sunny winter days the aluminum structures are the best locations once the weather has stabilized. These are the days of change between seasons of the year.

In cold weather situations, Russ uses “ice corks”. These are small floats that are popular with ice fishermen. He likes the ones with the point end down and a rounded bulbous end up. Once the fish are located, he pins them with a toothpick or the small wooden stick that comes with the corks. Once in place, he breaks the stick off so it does not interfere with the line when retrieving a fish. It also allows Russ to fish the same strike zone immediately after removing the fish from the hook.

In this situation the slightest movement should allow the angler to pop the hook into the top of the mouth. This part of the mouth is thicker and less likely to tear, as will the paper thin lips. Let the rod do the rest of the job. Do not yank the line.

The cork movement can be the float lying over, move sideways, pulled under, or just jiggled. The key is to spot the slightest movement.

 

 

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A quick look in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources 2015-16 Hunting Digest (www.dnr.illinois.gov) shows that Illinois is rich in public waterfowl hunting locations. Some are available by permit only and others are available on a first come, first served basis. Southern Illinois has a number of both.

 

Early season duck hunters find such species as pintails, teal, gadwall and wood duck. These fast flying ducks can and will come to mallard decoys. If you are on a tight budget, mallard dekes are the one of choice. Early in the season fewer decoys seem to work better with the larger spreads reserved for later. In some of the public hunting areas there is a requirement of 12 decoys in a spread.

 

Later in the season the mallards and other species tend to arrive. By the time the mergansers and golden eyes arrive the season is almost over.

 

The ducks are present in Illinois throughout the season. The geese tend to arrive in November through January. Most geese taken in southern Illinois tend to be Canada or Speckledbelly. Snows and blues stay in significant numbers in some areas. Because the southern Illinois goose hunting is dependent on a migrating flock, the avid goose hunter tends to watch weather reports and social media reports from areas of northern Illinois.

 

Once snows arrive for a sustained period of time (3-5 days) in northern Illinois, the geese begin arriving in numbers in southern Illinois. They then stay until the end of the season (usually the end of January).

 

IMG_0011Some popular public waterfowl hunting areas in southern Illinois include Rend Lake, Crab Orchard Lake, Mississippi River, Ohio River and Union County.

 

Rend Lake Wildlife Management Area contains some 7,690-acres near Bonnie, IL in Franklin County. Site specific information is available by calling the IDNR office at 618-279-3110 or writing them at RR#1 Box 168G, Bonnie, IL 62816. It attracts all species of waterfowl but is especially good for teal due to the exposed mud flats.

 

Most geese and ducks taken at Rend Lake come from hunters in boat mounted blinds. There are however some walk-in opportunities.

 

Oakwood Bottoms in Jackson County near Murphysboro, IL is about 3,400-acres of flooded timber that holds sucks throughout the season. Some will even overwinter. For more information contact IDNR at 618-687-1731.

 

Duck hunter find birds in areas near both the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Both rivers have public hunting available to those with boats who concentrate their efforts on areas off the sandbars and wing dams.

 

Union Conservation Area is about 2,800-acres near Jonesboro, IL in Union County. The refuge office is available at 2755 Refuge Road, Jonesboro, IL 62952. Their phone number is 618-833-5175.

 

Another popular area for public hunting opportunities is the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in Williamson County. Operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the 23,000-acres near Marion, IL are a mecca for waterfowl. Parts of the refuge close to human activity during the winter.

 

Still there are ample waterfowl hunting areas on the refuge in blinds or independently from boats in the west end of the lake. For more information about waterfowl hunting there contact the USF&WS, 8588 Route 148, Marion, IL 62959 or call them at 618-997-3344.

 

Horseshoe Lake Conservation Area is another IDNR facility. Their address is Box 85, Miller City, IL 62962.

 

All tolled there are about 60,000-acrtes of public waterfowl hunting area in the southern tier of counties. That is not counting the water holes in the Shawnee National Forest which attracts many ducks and geese each year.

 

With the variety of site specific regulations, it is vital to contact a specific area prior to hunting there. Officials hare happy to inform the public at to the restrictions in their particular area. IDNR is dedicated to providing a safe and quality hunting experience on public land. Public land waterfowl hunting is alive and well in southern Illinois.

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