Archive for February 2016

THE BLUEGILL IS EVERYONES FISH   Leave a comment

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The bluegill is probably the one species every angler has sought at one time in his life. For most it was a first fish caught.  It is especially a favorite of kids and those seeking a tasty addition to the evening’s menu.  Besides being tasty, the bluegill has a reputation for being a feisty battler.  Just imagine if he were 5 pounds instead of ½ pound, what a tussle he would present.

Light tackle is a must in bluegill fishing. Spinning reels on ultra-light rods spooled with 2 to 6-pound line is best.  Lighter line is preferred on clean water.

The most popular location for finding bluegills is a pond.

Small ponds are excellent locations to find fish if one pays attention to detail. Besides tackle the most important aspect of bluegill fishing is the presence or absence of vegetation.

Very dense vegetation has an adverse impact on fish populations by reducing predation rates. It increases the young-of-the-year survival leading resulting in an increase of stunted fish.  Owners of small ponds might consider using a garden rake to remove some of the vegetation.

Plants are important in that the microscopic ones form the base of the aquatic food chain.  Larger algae and plants provide spawning areas, food and protective cover.  They provide habitat for insects and snails upon which the bluegill feed.

Plants near shore protect against erosion. All plants produce oxygen without which no animal life can exist.

Algae growth is the main vegetation that presents problems to good bluegill growth. It comes in two forms phytoplankton and in mats of filamentous algae.

Bluegills prefer water that is deep and clean as well as having a pH or 7.2. Vegetation likes the same conditions.  In southern Illinois the ponds and strip mine pits provide excellent water conditions with a pH factor of 7.2.

Vegetation is important to finding fish due to the lack of structure in small bodies of water.  Most have a smooth bottom with no distinct cover other than vegetation.  As a result the fish are usually scattered.

Wily anglers spread their efforts until they can locate fish. They cast to different areas and adjust the depth at which they present their offering.  If an overflow pipe is present it is a good area to check.

If a dam forms the pond in an area between two hills, then there should be a channel in the middle. There may be rocks and stumps near the edge of that channel which will attract fish.

An angler can cast his lures or pitch a live bait offering to any piece of structure.

If the fish are feeding in the shallows anglers should stalk them. Bluegills feed slowly so they will spend a lot of time in one location.  A slow presentation of small spoons like those popular with ice fishing anglers works well in such situations.  Small jigs also work well.

Natural enticement is added in the form of spoons and jigs with spikes, wax worms, etc. attached. Another presentation can be a salmon egg hook with a single split shot about 12-inches above the hook. Live bait is placed on the hook.  As the presentation is moved deeper the split shot is moved further from the bait up the line to a maximum of 20-inches.

Scientists tell us bluegills tend to prefer water in the 77 to 79-degree range but will be active in water up to 86-degrees. Smaller fish are not active feeders at lower temperatures.

Finally remember to work the edge of cover, work heavy vegetation, set the hook quickly to keep the fish on the surface until you can get it to open water. If the sun is high, work the deeper areas.  Move to the edges as the light becomes low.

 

TACTICS FOR EARLY MISSOURI TROUT FISHING   Leave a comment

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The season for Missouri trout park fishing will open soon. River banks will be wall to wall anglers for the first few days.  Then the crowds of opening day gradually disappear.  Still fishing for these little torpedoes remains excellent.

Classic trout fishermen typically throw very small flys. The reason they can do that is that the fish’s vision is very acute.  Certain environmental conditions call for the use of certain flys.    Trout are sight feeders.

Using dry flys is not the only way. Their eyes are mid-range.  That means they are comfortable looking up for food as well as down.  They are multi-directional feeders.

Simple is good when trout fishing. Try natural bait.  It is never too big.  Trout have an amazing ability to consume large baits when it comes to natural ones.  They are little Billy goats.  If they are hungry they are going to eat it.  They do often prefer only very tiny offerings but it they are hungry they will take almost anything in the tackle box.

Trout in the wild moving water in the 40 to 55-degree range with a rocky bottom. They can survive in pond water but on a more limited basis.

On rivers where water levels change during the day, they survive through adaptation. When the current is fast, they move near the edges of the river system.  As water levels lower and current decreases they go more toward the middle or anywhere.  They will range most of the river system relating to structure to conserve energy and preserve calories.

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

Trout have tiny scales because they live often 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 them.

Southern Missouri has rainbow and brown trout. Rainbows are 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 any polluted water a little bit better than a brown trout.

Taken from a hatchery and placed in any body of water there are two things to remember about trout. Where did that truck back up to? And what do you have a lot of in your tackle box?  For about 3 days trout are stupid.  They spend some time where they are released trying to get acclimated.  They will bite anything.  They do not have the instincts and intuition of a wild trout because they have never had to do anything for their meals.

Stocked lakes do not usually have a trout kill. Anglers remove most of the trout.  Every once in a while someone catches a whopper in a lake where they have been stocking them for a number of years.

Spin tackle is the main mid-western tackle for trout fishing. Out west there is more fly fishing.

Use a relatively light rod to match to your style of fishing. Light to medium-light action is best because it is very soft and very limber.  You can throw very small lures with it.  The reason you might like the open spinning reel for trout is that you can use lighter line.   It works well with 4 to 6 pound test line.

Most of the time trout are going to respond to lures of 1 1/2 inch or less. In stained water you might want to use something a little larger.

You can also get away with a little bigger line of 6 to 8-pound test in camo-green. You might use the bigger line with a 2 foot leader of 4-pound monofilament.

For lures use anything from micro jigs up. Rainbow trout and the color pink seem to go together.  Red, brown and orange are good colors for brown trout.  You can dress a jig by putting a bobber six or eight feet above it.  It is not as much as a strike indicator but to give the line weight for casting.  In clear water a clear bobber is best.  If you need to cast a long way you can put some water in the bobber or add split shot.

If you are getting short strikes because the fish is attacking the feather portion of the jig presentation, trim the tail a little making the whole presentation shorter and closer to the hook.

Adjust the bobber according to the water depth you are wanting to fish.

Spinners catch more fish than any other class of lure. It is basically a piece of metal that goes round and round.  It creates a visual flash and a good deal of vibration.  Fish pick up the vibration through the lateral line and come from a long way away.  In clear water the flash is a big advertisement.

The best way to handle a trout if you plan to release it is to grab the lure without touching the fish and with the fish still in the water. If you use a net, get one that is very fine mesh.  Large mess will damage the fish.  Dunk the net before using it to hold the fish.  Leave the net in the water as you remove the lure.  Forceps are best for removing the lure.

 

PADDLEFISH   Leave a comment

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Paddlefish, or Spoonbills as they are sometimes referred to, present a snagging opportunity during Missouri’s mid-March to the end of April season. The abundant stocking by the Missouri Department of Conservation sustains the population.

The amount of fish stocked varies from year to year depending upon conditions. In 2008 an astonishing 280,000 fish were released.  It was the largest stocking of all time.  They take 7 or 8 years to reach legal size then the number of catchable fish dwindles due to anglers catching them and natural mortality.

According to a Missouri Department of Conservation press release, the 2015 harvest contains a good number of legal, 34-inch fish weighing 25 to 30 pounds. These are the 2007 year class.  There should be some great paddlefish snagging for the next several years.

Snagging of Paddlefish takes place only in the Osage River below Bagnell Dam, Lake of the Ozarks, Truman and Table Rock Lakes, the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.

Paddle fish are easiest to catch when they swim upstream and congregate below dams in response to warm spring rains. The best conditions are when the water temperature is between 50 and 55 degrees and there is an increase in water flow.

BERKLEY HARDBAITS AND HOOKS   Leave a comment

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It is no secret that Pure Fishing is a major provider of fishing tackle, lures, rods and reels. Among the brands under which products enter the market is Berkley.  Pure Fishing Inc. is part of Jarden Outdoor solutions a leader in developing outdoor and active lifestyle products.

When a package comes in the mail it promises an introduction to newer products from Berkley. No outdoor writer can resist a look at them.

Most recently received by this writer are two packages from the Fusion19 line. One contains hooks and the other a number of hard baits.  Both are bass specific tackle.

The Fusion19 hooks have a coating that reduces the amount of energy required to set the hook whether flipping or finesse fishing.

Most anglers know they should sharpen their hooks more often but do not do it often enough. The Fusion19 hook coating gives anglers the sharpest hook that will stay sharper longer.  The needle-point hooks withstand the toughest, thickest cover without damaging their structural integrity.  They penetrate with less force.

The other line is the hard bait (crankbaits) that also have the Fustion19 hooks attached. It is a line that delivers better action, color and bites.  There are 11 initial shapes in colors and designs all hand selected by the Berkley team.

The floating Bad Shad 5 and Bad Shad 7 are casting baits which rise slightly at each pause. For those who like suspended jerkbaits there is the Cutter 90+, Cutter 110+ and Skinny Cutter+ which give a darting action from the slightest rod twitch.  Finally, the Berkley Digger 6.5 and Digger 8.5 crankbaits for covering water with an aggressive wobble and side flash.  They go deep and get there quickly.

DR BOBBY DALE ON HYPOTHERMIA   Leave a comment

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Dr. Bobby Dale, emergency room physician finds problems with hypothermia to be a significant risk to the outdoor public. It results in over 700 deaths per year.  It develops slowly in a deer stand but a fall into cold water can cause rapid hypothermia.  Hypothermia can happen any time of the year when there is a sudden change in temperatures of the surroundings.

Hypothermia occurs when the core body temperature falls below 95-degrees F. The first level of hypothermia has the patient shivering or sleepy.  Treatment is by adding clothing and getting them to a warm place.  You can also do isometrics to generate heat.

The second level involves a slowness of reflexes and impaired judgment. It also includes shivering and sleepiness.  The subject may feel warm and want to shed clothing.

Severe hypothermia results in a loss of consciousness and ridged muscles. Cardiac arrest can occur.  It is important to pile blankets on the patient and immediately get help.

In all cases of hypothermia make use of blankets, sleeping bags, warm liquids, build a fire and get into shelter as fast as possible. Group hugs are helpful.

Preventative measures recommended by Dr. Dale include know your physical limits, avoid wearing cotton clothing, (cotton kills) be prepared for a night out if required, get out of the wind and off the ground, carry fire starting kit, have a bivy bag or plastic trash bag at least 3 ml thick and carry a SPOT locater.

SPOT GPS messenger provides the ability to notify Search and Rescue or your family if you are in trouble. It provides your exact location which saves time in getting help to you.  They are available from outdoor stores.

The life you save may be your own.

 

FISHING FOR CRAPPIE ON REND LAKE   Leave a comment

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In 1971, the US Army Corps of Engineers constructed a two mile long dam across the Big Muddy flood plain creating the lake for purposes of flood control, water supply to local communities and recreation. The result was a reservoir of 18,900-acres.  It stretches across parts of Franklin and Jefferson counties.  Rend Lake sits astride Interstate 57 about 6 hours south of Chicago.

The maximum depth of the lake at full pool is 35 feet with an average depth of 10 feet. Rend Lake is 13-mile in length and three miles wide.  The shoreline measures some 162 miles.  It is the second largest impoundment in the state.  There are two marinas, one at the dam and the other in the state park north of Highway 154. Numerous boat ramps are available at marked locations.  There are no speed or horsepower restrictions on the lake.

The crappie population, according to Fisheries Manager Mike Hooe from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, is in very good condition. In fact over the past two years he reports it as outstanding.  The condition of all the year classes is good.  With excellent recruitment the success ratio of catches compared to angler effort increased dramatically during the same period.

Both black and white crappies are present in the lake.   The percentage of crappies over 10-inches in length increases some 19% last year.  Hooe reports a strong year class of 2-year old fish in the 6- to 8-inch length.  At present the crappies in the 10- to 12-inch class average 1/2 to 1+ plus pound range, remain abundant for quality angling.  They represent 35% of the total population.  Fish in the 10- to 14-inch class remain abundant.

Wet springs mean good reproduction as the high water levels produce a great spawn.

Two sub-impoundments on the north end of the lake serve as settling basins creating relatively clear water condition despite spring flooding from melting snow and rains. Visibility is from 10 to 18-inches.

The area north of IL Route 154 is the more shallow part of the lake. It is loaded with snags and stick-ups causing problems for boaters but providing the best crappie fishing.  Much of the shore line contains water willow.  In high water conditions these areas are popular spots for spawning crappies.

South of IL Route 154 the main lake is deeper with some shallows near shoreline woods and man-made structures. The area near the Visitors Center at the east side of the dam contains a lot of brush and submerged wood.

The Sailboat Harbor on Route 154 is an excellent place from which to launch. It has ample parking space and a wide concrete ramp.  Just outside the harbor, along Route 154, is an extensive rip rap causeway with two bridges.  Crappie fishing along the rip rap and under the bridge is popular due to the numbers of fish present.

The south side of the causeway is better fishing than the north side due to the sun warming the water earlier in the season. On windy days, bait fishes wash up on the south side due to predominantly south west winds.

Although the most popular times to fish for crappies in the lake is April through June or October and November, the fish are still present the rest of the year. You just need to know where to look.

The fish relate to structure, it is just deeper water structure, perhaps 12 to 15 feet. They will roam in schools in water adjacent to old creek channels as they wait in ambush for schools of shad.

YELLOW PERCH IN DEVILS KITCHEN LAKE   Leave a comment

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One little known species in Devils Kitchen Lake is the yellow perch. A small population has existed for a number of years.  The source of that population is unknown.

More recently efforts of biologists to establish a viable, self-sustaining fishery began in 2014. One stocking from that year and an addition stocking in 2015 has produced 8 to 9-inch fish.  A total of 150,000 fish were stocked to this date.  If the results of the spring survey of the lake in 2016 indicate, there are plans for another release in 2016.

Yellow perch are basically a fish of cool deep waters. The same habitat in Devils Kitchen Lake that results in a thriving trout and bass fishery may just do the same for the perch.  The perch look for a hard bottom and minimal weed growth.  They spawn when water temperatures reach the upper 40-s in the early spring.  They provide a steady forage base for such larger species as the largemouth bass.

The 810-acre Devil’s Kitchen Lake on Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge near Marion, Illinois is an exception to the other warm lakes of southern Illinois. Stocked each fall with thousands of rainbows, the fish are plenty wild and scattered when anglers venture forth in the spring.

Perch on the other hand work in pods. Anglers who catch one fish are likely to catch several before the fish move on.  Use of a double hook crappie rig is good.  The top hook holds a minnow hooked through the lips and the bottom hook is for a minnow hooked through the back.  As a result the action of the rig is different.

Whether fishing from boat or from the bank, look for shoreline structure.

Devil’s Kitchen Lake has a number of ledges and drop-offs. A good map comes in handy in finding such areas.  The area just south of the dam has a number of such ledges.  They look like steps going from the shore into deep water.

The most productive times during the summer months for fishing are during the day. Toward evening (low light situations) and on cloudy days they seem to belly up to the bottom and remain pretty much inactive.

In a favorable wind, drift fishing is productive. If two anglers are in the boat they can each fish on their own side using slip float set ups baited with small minnows.  It is best not to use gas powered engines or electronic fish finders.  Perch sensitive to both and tend to avoid them.  Lacking wind for drifting, oars are a good substitute.

Once the water rises into the mid- to upper 50’s, look for fish on points and other drop offs in about 15 to 25-foot level. As the water warms further try deeper water locations.  Be flexible in your approach to try different rigs, depths and locations.  Once you find a pod, fish it quickly before they move away to another location.

REELFOOT BOAT   2 comments

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Due to the abundance of submerged trees and stumps in Reelfoot Lake, necessity is the mother of invention. Early on the Calhoun Reelfoot Boat became a reality.  The craft is a rather nifty local product in the area surrounding this lake in western Tennessee.   Over the years the construction of these boats passed along from generation to generation until recently.

Although there is talk of resurrecting the business of building these interesting craft, no particular plans seem to have emerged. The boats have become collectors’ items as they vanish from the lake.  The best preserved one I have found is at Blue Bank Resort on the shore of the lake in Hornbeak, TN next to the state park..  There is one in the museum on the refuge but it is in rather shabby shape.

Invented in the 1800’s to cope with the huge amount of submerged timber and relatively shallow nature of the lake, the boat is particularly adapted to such conditions. It is 17-feet in length and canoe shaped.  The original boats were only 12-feet in length.

The bottom of the flat bottom craft is of 7/8th inch lumber. Over the years they were made of a variety of locally grown lumber the cypress is preferred.  The side boards are only 3/8th inches thick.  They have to be steamed and then bent to form the curve required when nailed to the frame.

The Reelfoot boat also has a unique oarlock system. In 1880 an Illinois duck call maker and avid duck hunter designed and patented it.  The Calhoun family purchased the patent for the oar locks 1959.  They system permits the anglers to sit facing and row in the direction in which they row.  In conventional systems the rower faces away from the direction he is heading.

The addition of handmade boat sets and oars for the oar lock system completes the finished product.

Propelled by a single cylinder engine, it is steered by a unique rudder mounted that tilts up when coming into contact with an object beneath the water.

The propeller protection by a sheet of plate steel keeps it from sheering off the prop in contact with solid objects so often found in these waters.

 

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FISHING REALLY HEATS UP IN SOUTHERN ILLINOIS   Leave a comment

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Groaning through the mists, a bass boat slips away from the ramp and out on to the lake. The driver pushes forward on the throttle and the boat goes up on plane and disappears into the pre-dawn fog.  Long after it is gone from sight, one can hear the roar of the big engine carrying anglers to a meeting with Mr. Largemouth Bass.

Bass fishing in southern Illinois begins to heat up in March.  Warming temperatures, tending to average about 10 degrees warmer than the northern part of the state, spark the activity of both fish and angler. Williamson County contains several prime bass lakes.  They contain many fish in the 2- to 6-pound class.

Crab Orchard, Little Grassy, Devils Kitchen, and Lake of Egypt all hold good populations of trophy size largemouth bass.  Together they provide some 11,200 acres of water available to the angler in search of fishing recreation.

The largest of the “Great Lakes of Williamson County” is Crab Orchard Lake, located in Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge five miles west of Marion, Illinois. This 6,965-acre impoundment is astride Illinois Route 13.  The lake is 8.5 miles in length with a maximum depth of 30 feet and an average of seven feet.

Growth rates for bass in this lake, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, are good due to lake productivity and abundant gizzard shad. If available, The IDNR will add threadfin shad to the forage base.  Some annual supplemental stockings of advanced fingerling bass contributes significantly to the fishery.  There is a 15-inch minimum limit on keeper fish.

There are camping and marina services on the northwestern portions of the lake. Details and Recreation User Fee information is available online and from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Visitors Center on Route 148.  It is two miles south of the Williamson County Regional Airport.  User Fee permits are for 1-day, 5-day and yearly.  The pass is required for use of all three of the Refuge lakes; Crab Orchard, Little Grassy and Devils Kitchen.  The phone number is 1-618-997-3344.

Little Grassy Lake is a 1200 acre lake on Giant City road, south east of Carbondale, Illinois approximately 8 miles. It has over 36 miles of shoreline with an average depth of 27 feet.  Site specific regulations include a 10 horsepower motor limit.  The slot limit means you must release all fish between 12 and 15-inches in length.

The only marina and camping services are available at the Little Grassy Boat Dock (618-457-6655) found at the north end of the lake. The address is Route 1, Box 340, Makanda, Illinois.

Devils Kitchen Lake is a twin sister to Little Grassy Lake. This impoundment and surrounding environs look much like a Canadian Shield lake with pine trees on the shoreline.  The impoundment is deep and clear.  Rock outcroppings dot the shoreline of this 810 acre lake.  There is also a 10-horsepower motor limit.  There is no marina service.  For information contact the Crab Orchard Visitor’s Center office.

The lake provides some trophy size bass in the springtime and there is no size limit on them.

 

The last of the “Great Lakes of Southern Illinois” is Lake of Egypt. This hot water discharge lake in southern Williamson County is a 2300-acre reservoir located about 7 miles south of Marion.  It is 3 miles east of Interstate 57.

With an average depth of 18.5 feet and a maximum depth of 52 feet, the bass thrive in the brush piles and coves of this expansive lake. Milfoil and other weeds form the shoreline to a depth of 8- to 12 feet in some areas.  The average size of bass taken is in excess of 3 pounds making this a popular lake with recreational anglers.

There are three marinas on the lake. Pyramid Acres (618-964-1184) and Lake of Egypt Marina (618-964-1821) are on the northeastern part of the lake.  The third, Egyptian Hills Marina (618-996-3449) is on the eastern shore, further south.

Although there is no motor size limit on this lake, there is a boat launch fee. Speeds are limited to 35 miles per hour and all boats must stay more than 100 feet from the shoreline of any residence.

FISHING THE ICE OUT CONDITIONS FOR CRAPPIES   1 comment

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The nip in the air is refreshing. But, the tug on the line is even more stimulating.  The only drawback to spring crappie fishing is reaching out to grab hold of an icicle called a fish.  They numb the fingers as you try to control their movement.

The ice is gone from rivers and crappies are moving into their spawning areas in the backs of coves and feeder creeks. Early ice out there can be a great deal of pre-spawn angling in the channels and bays especially if the water is too cold for spawning.

Crappies suspend in relation to points, sunken islands, sand bars, creek beds and debris found in lakes and impoundments. When it comes to spawning they lay eggs in water three to eight feet deep once the temperature nears the mid 60-degree range near cover.

White crappies tend to like brush piles, bushes or sunken logs. Black crappies like reeds or other weed growth.

It is best to begin seeking likely summer holding areas. Then backtrack to the nearest deep creek bed.  Follow the channel to the best available holding area.  Some creek beds are more promising than others.  Ones with wood in or near the creek bed are best.

Standing timber and sunken wood is excellent. Even stumps will do the trick.  The more dense wood has the best chance of holding fish.

If the river or creek does not seem to have any wood available, either visible or concealed, then try the bends and intersections. Sharp bends or intersections with roads and secondary channels often produce.  Dark bottoms on the north side of lakes are good sources of fish.  They get the early sun and hold warmth longer.

Channels that dead end minimize current flow that draws off warm water. Good bays with no channel or at least not an adequate one, serve the same purpose.  If all else fails try deep water and fish deep.

Jigs are the bread and butter of crappie lures. A good assortment of 1/16- to 1/64-ounce jigs, in colors of white, black and yellow, are basic.  Couple them with tube bodies of the same colors.  For natural baits, the basic is minnows or waxworms.

Still fishing with slip bobbers and minnows can produce a lot of fish. It is important to remember that crappies are very spooky.  If disturbed, they will stop feeding.  The best pattern is to locate the fish and then make long casts to them.  Make short pauses in the retrieve of about 30 seconds each.

The strike will usually come as the jig begins to settle to the bottom of the length of line below the bobber. Small sensitive bobbers help anglers notice the very light bite that often occurs.

 

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