Archive for December 2015


Blue Catfish

The big river is flooded right now. That means changes in the structure.  It does not mean the big blue catfish will not be still there when the river goes down.

Although catfish are at home the length of this river, the best variety and numbers seem to come from the section between Lock & Dam 22 to Cairo, according to former IDNR biologist Butch Atwood.

There are three separate pools in the river behind dams 24, 25 and 26. From Alton down to Cairo it is an open river.  This part of the river seems to attract all three species of catfish with good young of the year production.

Atwood reports that channels, flatheads and blues are all present. “The blue catfish world record came out of this stretch near the mouth of the Missouri River,” exclaims Atwood.  It was approximately 125 pounds.

Flatheads like the tailwaters below the Mel Price Lock and Dam at Alton.   There are wing dams along that stretch and the fish like the scour holes nearby.  First time anglers in this area can find locals who are fishing the same waters and willing to share information on patterns and tackle.  Atwood reports, “They are a pretty friendly lot as there are not too many of them.”

Cut bait, such as shad, is best for channels which are generally in the 5 to 10 pound class. Occasional fish up to 50 pounds come from the open river.  The blues like skipjack herring heads.  There is a good population of skipjack in the open part of the river.



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Usually thought of as a muskie and largemouth bass lake, Kinkaid does have a growing population of smallmouth bass.

Due to the heavy recreational boating traffic in summer, the best opportunity for catching a lunker on this lake comes in spring. The fish in this lake seem to be slow growing but they do live to ripe old ages.  The average largemouth is about 1.2 pounds and 13-inches in length.

The legal size keeper, either largemouth or smallmouth, must be over 18-inches in length.

Smallmouth bass introduced into the lake beginning in 2005 produced legal size fish over 18-inches in angler creels during 2012. An additional 5,500 smallies were released in 2013.  Fishing is good with the average fish in the population being about 8-inches in length and tipping the scales at .3 pounds.  Look for them in the areas between the new revetment and emerging weeds.

Bass inhabit deeper locations due in part to the boat traffic patterns and heavy angler pressure. Deeper, that is, than would be expected of most bass in this area and time of the year.  In recent years the IDNR, with the assistance of local anglers, has placed porcupine fish attractors in about 50 locations.  Maps showing their locations are available from local bait shops, at Lake Murphysboro State Park or upon request from the local IDNR Fisheries Manager at

Kinkaid Lake is a 2,750-acre lake just northwest of Murphysboro in Jackson County just off Illinois Route 149. There are three public boat launching facilities with the largest one being next to the marina at the south end of the lake near the dam.

Topwater lures produce fun fishing action off the bank. If the water warms later in the month try topwater lures.  Light color spinnerbaits produce fish.


TIMBERRR FOR DUCKS   Leave a comment

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Perhaps one of the more interesting ways to hunt ducks is in flooded timber. It can be cold for the unprepared as often the water temperature is slightly above freezing and often you have to break surface ice.  But, one quickly forgets the cold when a flock of mallards appears out of no here to zigzag through the trees and sets down in a pool in front of you.

Beginning in late summer, far to the north in the breeding grounds, a feeding frenzy begins as ducks step up their food intake. They need the fat for sustaining energy during the annual migration.  The rest of the year ducks use carbohydrates to build their energy.  Muscle tissue used in migration requires fat reserves.  As the migration progresses, they use up the fat and have to go on another feeding frenzy to rebuild it before continuing.  They pig out and then take off again.

With water tending to be about 1 or 2 feet deep it requires boots or chest waders for hunting. On public land site specific rules do not allow permanent blinds.  Hunters usually get into the area at least an hour before sunrise.  Each hunting party should have at least one dozen decoys.  Hunters carry decoys into the area in bags attached to backpack frames.  Regulars have this down to a science and often carry more than a dozen dekes.  Hunter success is usually better with more decoys.

Due to the wide variety of duck species frequenting such areas hunters need to know how to identify huntable species

Being able to call ducks is important in all duck hunting. In timber hunting or other heavy cover hunting it is vital.  By calling the hunter is able to convince them that his area is the best one.  In a public hunting area competition is heavy for the available ducks.  If another hunter is a better caller, chances are he will also get more shooting.

Call the ducks right up until the time one starts shooting. Reduce the volume, as the birds get closer.  Another advantage of calling right up until shooing is in the heavy cover of timber shooting it is possible that another flock you did not see will come in ahead of the one you did see.

In waterfowl hunting it is important to stay dry to avoid hypothermia (a sudden loss of body temperature that can be fatal) a good pair of insulated waders are a must. Waders tend to be better than hip boots because you never know when you might trip or step into a hole.  Waders keep you dry when boots might get you wet.  Warmer than usual clothing is also a good idea.  Standing in 35-degree water for long periods is a lot colder than standing on dry land in the same weather.

The best kind of weather for duck hunting is any kind that is available. Go any time you can.  There are those who prefer overcast days considered traditional duck hunting weather.  Others maintain that the best weather for timber hunting is on bright days.  The idea of the second theory is that birds partially blinded by reflection of the sun off the water look for shaded timber for safety.



The overcast skies begin to clear. There is little wind as we put the boat in the water but that changes an hour or so later.  Temperatures are around freezing but they seem colder once the wind picks up.

Our quest today is for rainbow and brown trout in Lake Taneycomo near Branson, MO. The winter spawn for browns is just over last month.  But the rainbows are just entering theirs.  We actually catch fish full of eggs and sperm in the pre-spawn.

Trout have a lateral line like all fish. They respond to movement, vibration and sound.  The lateral line allows them to pinpoint a direction from which those things emanate.  They move toward that sound and then use their sight to zero in on it.

Trout have tiny scales because they live often times in a moving water environment. This coupled with their slime coat allows them to go nose into the current with less energy.  They are also very slippery to handle while landing.

Lake Taneycomo contains both rainbow trout and brown trout.  Rainbow is the prominent stocking fish.  That is because they are the easiest trout to grow.  They take to the food, they take to the overcrowding and they take the polluted water a little bit better than a brown trout.  The water here is quite clear.

Just because anglers prefer to use dry flys because it is more fun it is not the only way. We are using artificial lures cast from spinning gear.  The jigs suspend about 4 feet below a small float.  Their eyes are mid-range.  That means they are comfortable looking up for food as well as down.  They are multi-directional feeders.

Trout in the wild like cold moving water with a rocky bottom. This describes much of the lake bottom here.  Out best success comes in water flowing over gravel.  Trout prefer water in the 40- to 55-degree range.  This can vary by sub-species.

On rivers where water levels change during the day, they will survive through adaptation. When the current is fast, they will be near the edges of the river system.  As water levels lower and current decreases they will go more toward the middle or anywhere in the river system.

They relate to structure only to conserve energy and preserve calories.

Today we hook into several brown trout but only land one. The rainbows are numerous and we catch a number of them.

Toward the end of our 4 hour trip fingers get numb but it is a trip well worth the effort. To paraphrase a famous World War II general, I shall return.




With the holiday rush, there is always a need for last minute stocking stuffers.  Santa cannot think of everything for everyone.  What follows is a list of relatively inexpensive stocking stuffers for that hunter, fisherman or camper in the family.

Perhaps one of the easiest purchases is for the fisherman.  Fishing tackle comes in such a variety of items at lowest cost.  The variety is endless.  Check to find out what kind of fishing the recipient most often enjoys.  If you do not know, then ask some of his/her friends.  They should be aware of his trips on the water.

Armed with the species information, go to a bait & tackle or sporting goods shop.  They will be able to show you what is available.  This might include rods or reels.  But, it also can include the things anglers never have enough of such as hooks, lines and sinkers.  If appropriate there are crankbaits, jigs, plastic worms, spinner baits, etc.  Catfish anglers are always losing their floats (bobbers).

If the recipient is a boater or usually fishes from a boat, then things like anchor lines (they wear out quickly) boat bumpers (sometimes called fenders as they protect the boat from bumping into the dock) or even polish to shine up that bass boat finish.

Speaking of shining up the boat finish, a certificate good for one boat polishing from you is a neat item.  The certificate idea can also be used to gift someone a fishing trip, picnic, nature walk, etc.  You can get certificate paper at office supply stores and print it up with your computer.  It is also possible to make and download a certificate at

Many of the stocking stuffers for campers and hunters work well for both.  Items of clothing such as gloves and warm hats are good.  They often get lost easily and a replacement is a welcome gift.  On the warm subject, the packages of insulated underwear are good.  Both hunters and campers can always use flashlights.  They range in size from pocket units units barely 4-inches in length to large 1,000-watt search lights.  LED lanterns and bug repellant units are welcome gifts.

Another product for hunters/campers is the hand warmer packet.  These inexpensive packets are worth their weight in cold on a cold day.

Regardless of the purchase, it is a good idea to keep the receipts so the recipient can exchange the item if not needed.


Iowa Whitetail 0006

A biting wind tears at the face like sandpaper.  Cold chills your body to the core.  Late season bowhunting is not for those less than fully committed.  Weather and a reduced deer herd make for hard work. Often the hunt is in cold and snow. To the hunter willing to forgo comfort, this time can provide an opportunity to find a big buck.

Hunting pressure from other humans is less due to most hunters having already done their thing and gone home weeks ago.  Less dedicated hunters have given up and gone home in frustration over the fact that it is difficult to hunt deer.

The experience of being in the woods during snow fall provides a chance to see Mother Nature at her harshest and yet most beautiful.  The snowscape of winter can be a joy to behold.  Fresh fallen snow muffles the sounds of the outdoors and also provides an easier chance to follow the tracks of the critters in the woods.

Skilled hunters can tell much from tracks.  They can find dominant bucks that are often wall hangers.  Late season is the trophy hunter’s chance to shine.

Old herd bucks have tracks that show up vividly in snow.  The old guy will walk with their front hooves angled 30 percent from center on the hind feet.  In addition, he does not place his hind feet in the track of his front ones.

When watching an old buck from a distance, it is easy to spot him by the way he walks.  He looks like he is doing the shuffle.  Does and young bucks are more graceful.  The old buck cannot carry his neck and head the way a lesser buck or doe will do.  The swelling of the adrenal glands in his neck, during and just after the rut, cause him to carry his head low like he is sneaking through brush.  Many believe that he is hiding his horns or smelling the ground in search of a doe that has recently passed the location.

It is more likely that this is more comfortable.

Old bucks are solitary after the rut and move along their own trail and not on the herd trail.  The herd trail is usually wide and well beaten down from extensive use.  The old guy’s trail will seldom be 5 inches in width and not well traveled.  He uses it one way going to the feeding area and uses a different trail in moving from the feeding to his bedding area.  A buck’s trail also doubles as an escape route.

Knowing this, the hunter can wait in ambush on each trail, depending upon the time of the day.  Deer move to feeding areas in the late afternoon and toward bedding areas in the morning.

Hunters, who work with weather fronts passing through, improve their chances.  The weather just ahead of a front in the late season usually is cloudy and often snowy.  Deer feed heavily just before a front and right after it passes.  They lay up for long periods of time, waiting for a front to pass.

On cloudy days deer feed in the open and lay up in the edges of cover.  On the days of the really bad weather they head for the heaviest cover.  Such cover is forest, swamps and slews.

Light snow or drizzle cause deer to move around a lot, feeding and bedding down frequently during the day.  This is most likely because as their fur gets wets, it loses some of its insulating capacity.  Deer move to get water off the coat and to feed so that they can take in more calories to help maintain body temperature.

Deer in areas of heavy human population take advantage of small islands of habitat often overlooked by hunters.  Late season hunters are wise to seek out small areas of brush or marsh in the middle of otherwise open country.  The area may be only big enough to hide a single buck but chances are he will be a big one.

Other spots for late season bucks are brushy tangles connecting one thick wooded area with either, another brushy area, thick slashings in a clear cut, heavy wooded areas, ponds or swamps with heavy cover on the border.

Swampy areas near public hunting areas are often overlooked by hunters who do not want to take the trouble to explore them.  One can set up on some of the open game trails and lay in wait.

The late season hunter who is imaginative and pays attention to detail will do well.  Do not overlook a single patch of habitat.  Study the habits of your quarry and learn to recognize observable habitats.

With luck and having done the homework, late season hunters probably stand a better chance of meeting up with that old dominant buck.  Whether the hunter takes him or not depends upon his ability.  But, that is the subject for another article.

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