DSCN4244The vast expanse that is Rend Lake is a challenge for anglers in search of crappies. It is also a crappie factory thanks to effective management through controlled harvest. Located astride Interstate 57 about 6 hours south of Chicago, it is two hours east of St. Louis in Franklin County.

Nick Shafer a local guide ( fishes the lake all year with his clients. Although the spawn is a peak season, Shafer maintains the fish relate to structure all year. It is just that in the fall they are using deeper structure.

Shad remain the prime forage for crappies. Both threadfin and gizzard shad are favorites of both the white and black crappie. The gizzards are the major species but some stocking of the smaller threadfin occurs in May if available.

As the air and water temperatures cool in fall, the crappies travel in schools following the shad. They move along the old creek channels in an attempt to find water warm enough to keep them alive. Shad soon perish as the lake water cools and even becomes iced over. The crappies are also looking for hiding places from the flathead catfish that use them for forage.

Crappies conceal themselves in submerged brush piles as protection from catfish and from which they can ambush the passing schools of shad.

Jigs or jig/minnow combinations are the most popular bait used in this area for catching crappies.

Nick uses a 3/16th ounce pink ball head jig with a 2-inch pink body shad imitation. He prefers the larger shad body to match the larger size shad in the lake. “The dying shad in the lake have a pink color around the belly and gills,” explains Shafer.

Shafer uses two 10-foot crappie rods with his lures at different depths until he locates fish. Then he runs both lures at the same depth. Nick fishes over rock piles in deep water on the edge of an old creek channel. As the water cools his focus is more on wood structure such as stake beds and sunken logs or brush piles. His main focus is on structure located near the creek channels where shad pass.

There are numerous launch ramps around the lake. One of the more popular ones is at the Rend Lake Resort. Accommodations for lodging and food are also available.   The resort is in the Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park off of Illinois Highway 154 on the northeast side of the lake. Camping is also available in the park. Information on the location of ramps, camping and marinas is available on the IDNR website



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