Archive for the ‘Catfish’ Tag

FALL CATFISH IN LAKE BALDWIN   Leave a comment

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Usually when one talks about Illinois catfish lakes, they are Channel Catfish waters. Baldwin Lake, in St. Clair and Randolph counties, does have a channel catfish population it is not the one producing large fish.  The competition for food is too great in this lake.  Catfish action here is with the Blues and Flatheads.

Blue catfish in this lake run from 8 to 60 pounds in weight. Sixty-three pound fish have been caught.  Flatheads tend to be from seven to 30 pounds with 63-pounds being the largest caught.  It is believed that 70-pound plus fish live in the lake.

The blue catfish feed on the extensive shad forage base and are most often taken by anglers using shad for bait. There both Gizzard Shad and Threadfin Shad are present.  Both populations do well in the warm water of this cooling lake.  Threadfin shad die in other lakes when the water temperatures reach 47-degrees and lower.  As a result, some IDNR fisheries managers from other parts of the state will capture threadfin at Baldwin and transfer them to lakes in their areas.

The Flatheads also like the shad but will feed just as well on bluegills. Because of the flathead consumption of bluegills the bluegill population is just OK.  No real large fish are caught.  However, another sunfish is doing very well.

Redear sunfish have flourished since being reintroduced into the lake. They are about 10-inches in length at this time which has surprised biologists. The Longear sunfish and Bluegills are not doing as well.

Largemouth bass in the 3 to 5-pound range are present but they are not caught by anglers in any great numbers. Hybrid bass, a cross between white bass and stripers, were once a great species in this lake but they have not been stocked in the lake for a number of years and do not reproduce.  Some hybrids are caught each year but not in large numbers.

Smallmouth bass were introduced to the lake and have adapted well. Today they are found all over the lake.  When water is being pumped into the lake on the south end from the Kaskaskia River smallmouth tend to be attracted.  If smallmouths are not present in that area you can check at the hot water discharge area.  It is where water is pumped out of the plant in the north end of the lake.

The smallmouths are up to 5 pounds in size and 22-inches in length. Most are in the three to five pound class.

Most people tend to fish the north end of the lake near the levy at the hot water discharge in the fall and winter. Most of the south half of the lake is closed then as a refuge for migrating waterfowl.

Parking for levy anglers can be found in the northwest portion of the lake area. The boat launch is just south of the parking area.

Baldwin Lake is found in the Baldwin Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area. The 2,018-acre perched cooling lake is owned by the Illinois Power Company but is leased to the IDNR to manage for recreational use.  Illinois Route 154 runs through the town of Baldwin.  In Baldwin, anglers can turn north on 5th Street and travel 4 miles to the intersection of 5th and Risdon School Road just past the power station.  Turn west and the park entrance is about a mile.

FALL FISHING LOCATIONS IN SOUTHERN ILLINOIS   Leave a comment

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Lake Glendale in Pope County tops the list for nice peaceful fall fishing locations in southeast Illinois. Pope County is one of the prettiest counties in the state during the fall color changes.  The lake is located in the Shawnee National Forest and is part of the Lake Glendale Recreation Area.  It is located three miles north of the junction of Illinois Routes 145 and 146 and about 25 miles south of Harrisburg via route 145.

The heavily forested area near the lake provides excellent campsites for the fall hunter/fisherman. Because the lake waters come from a heavily forested watershed, it is clean and clear.  This makes it popular with swimmers, boaters and picnickers.  Swimming is limited to the beach area only.

The lake itself is 80-acres with clean clear water and an abundance of vegetation that is home to some nice bluegills and channel catfish. The largemouth bass are present but only about 12 to 14-inches in length and below the 16-inch legal size limit for keepers.  Regular stocking the lake has resulted in a steadily improving fishery.

There is a boat ramp at the northeast side of the lake and a 10 horsepower limit on motors. Anglers can access the lake from a variety of locations along the shore.  Boat rentals are available.

For those wanting to fish additional waters, Sugar Creek Lake is located just west of Lake Glendale near Dixon Springs. The crappies, catfish and bass are good in Sugar Creek Lake.  Shore fishing is good and boating is allowed with electric motors.

Outdoorsmen fishing and camping at these two lakes can easily take advantage of the ample hunting lands of the Shawnee National Forest.  Deer, squirrel, quail and turkey are found there.

For the hunter/anglers who wants a quiet place to camp and participate in hunting or fishing activities these two locations are ideal. They are perfect for a day or several days cast and blast vacation.  For more information contact the Lake Glendale Recreation area at 618-949-3807 or the U.S. Forest Service at 618-658-2111.

LABOR DAY FISHING WITH THE FAMILY   Leave a comment

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The last holiday weekend of summer presents an opportunity to reinforce the fun of fishing in the minds of youngsters. School begins soon and they need fond memories of the summer past.

For children to enjoy fishing, it is important to know the child. Pre-school children are more interested in chasing minnows and casting rocks than they are in spending a day “chunkin’ and winding” a bass rod.  It is important adults recognize the short attention span of young children.  To them fishing is something that you do for a little while until bored.

Adults need to watch for signs of boredom and then switch the activity either temporarily or for the day. It is important youngsters catch fish in order to maintain interest in the activity.  Just sitting and watching a bobber float on the water will get old in a hurry.  That is why bluegill and sunfish are such a great fish for kids.  They are also easy to find in the late summer and early fall.  Youngsters can actually see the fish swimming in the water.  Small sunfish are voracious eaters and will take a piece of night crawler presented by young anglers.  The tug on the line is exciting to the novice angler even if it is not from a giant bass.

Regardless of how many fish the youngster catches it is important to be able to recognize the opportunity of teaching “catch and release.”

Picnic lunches and snacks are good alternatives to fishing for the bored child. Remember that children get hungry more quickly than an adult.  Talk along a cooler with snacks and plenty of liquids.  Be sure that everyone stays hydrated.  Nothing can ruin a future fisherman’s love of the sport than a trip to the hospital for an IV to combat dehydration.

A bat and ball or football to throw around can be a break from the rigors of fishing.

It is important to have and use sun blocker. Fond memories of a trip will be ruined by sunburn.  It is also a good idea to have any child near water wear a personal floatation device.  You cannot watch them every second.  Kids have a way of finding a way of falling into the water when you are not looking.

The ultimate idea is to make fishing a fun time and then youngsters regard it as an experience they will wait with anticipation all winter to repeat.

CATFISH ACTION IN AUGUST   2 comments

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Summer sunshine in August is often a sure sign that the fish will not bite during the day. Most anglers switch to night fishing or at least early morning and late evening. That is not the whole story.

If you adapt your program you might catch some nice fish.

In southern Missouri and Illinois, fishing 90-degree water calls for a change of tactic. These southern lakes and ponds contain smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, white bass, walleye, crappie, bluegill and some assorted sunfish.

I recently was introduced to a new pattern for these suspended cats.

Lakes and rivers experience a thermocline effect in the water during the hot summer months. The water below that level lacks adequate oxygen for most species of fish. As a result most fish suspend above the thermocline which is usually at a depth of about 20-feet.

The thermocline is a band of water in which the temperature is 5- to 10-degrees cooler than the water above. Below this band the water is even cooler. The fish will be in the water above the thermocline all summer but tend to hang close to it.

Catfish are usually at about 20-foot depth and with other species above them. They relate to any structure at those depths. For instance humps and sunken islands attract catfish. These fish are active in hot weather contrary to popular belief.

The shad in a lake will be in the top section of the water column driven there by white bass. Seagulls fly over the shad breaking the surface. It is the presence of the birds that alerts fishermen to the presence of potential action. Below the white bass is where the catfish lurk.

All the traditional catfish baits and lures will work in August just as they do the year around. Channel catfish will take almost anything but the blues and flatheads prefer live bait such as a sunfish or shad. It is important to place the bait/lure at the right depth. The slip bobber rig is a good choice to keep the bait off the bottom. In the case of crankbaits one can count down to a desired depth before retrieving the lure. A deep diving crankbait trolled at 2-miles per hour should run at about 18-feet down.

Crankbaits in shad imitation shapes and colors work in clear water. In rivers work the slack water behind structure as well as hollowed out holes in the bottom. There is more current above them and less down deep in the hole. In river situations you probably will have to travel more to find schools of fish.

As for color in the use of crankbaits adjust according to water clarity. Murky water calls for orange, chartreuse or yellow fire tiger baits. In clear water you can use blue or the more natural colors including brown and black.

 

FOR ANGLERS CATFISH ARE THE BEST CHOICE IN SUMMER   Leave a comment

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Throughout the Mississippi River drainage, catfish seclude themselves in root wads, submerged brush, deep holes and bayous. Ever since man arrived on the scene, the cat has been a primary source of food and sport.

Catfish are probably the most popular single species of fish for eating and catching.  Almost every angler has a theory on what bait to use as well as where to find the big ones.  Most towns have favorite locations for a fish fry, be it a restaurant, church social, civic function or someone’s backyard.  The catfish is king.

But, what about the angler who wants to catch his own catfish? Williamson county and southern Illinois are the places for him.  The large lakes of The Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge and Lake of Egypt have excellent populations of catfish.  It is not that people do not fish for catfish.  It is just that there are just so many fish in these fertile waters.

Of the catfish species mostly anglers pursue mostly channels and flatheads. All area lakes are home to both of these species with Channel catfish readily added to many area ponds.

The channel catfish is probably the most popular with anglers. Channels seek faster flowing and cleaner water with sand, gravel or rock bottoms.

Catfish anglers are usually the most laid back of fishermen.  They tend to prefer a leisurely time.  Their rigs are simple with a weight and hook on a line that cast into the probable location of some fish.  The rod is propped on a forked stick sunk into the bank.  There are other variations used from boats and shore.   But the basic is the same.  Bait used for catfish can be alive or dead and can range from minnows to leeches, crayfish, catalpa worms, leaf worms, red worms, frogs and cut bait.

More sophisticated catfish anglers have other patterns to fish. One of these, popular on small rivers and streams during the summer, an angler wades and fish live bait.  This involves fishing live bait below a slip bobber and allowing it to drift downstream over the larger holes, washouts, undercut banks and beneath brush piles or other dark hideouts.

The idea is to present a natural presentation of the bait by allowing the current to drift the bait in a natural way. The bait is set so that it floats just a few inches off the bottom much the same as any other food source.  Popular baits for this kind of fishing are grasshoppers, night crawlers and crayfish.

During periods of overcast or drizzle, catfish cruise flats in search of food much as they would at night. At this time one can employ a three-way rig. You attach the line going to the rod to one of the swivels.  The second goes to a drop line of about 8-inches that has a heavy sinker on it.  The third swivel attaches to a line of about 3-foot length with a hook at the end.  The float keeps the live bait, either minnow or leech, in a natural presentation.

Going back to the more leisurely approach to catfishing, one need only take a look at jug fishing and trot lining. Jug fishing is best in water with slow or no current with little or no snags under the surface.  Bait suspends below a plastic milk jug and allowed to float free.  A large number of jugs are usually used.  The angler sits back to wait for a jug to take off in a direction that is different from the rest.

Trot lines on the other hand are a line with a series of baited hooks tied in at intervals along its length. The snells are at varying lengths and baited with cut bait.  Varying lengths of snells cover the water at all levels from the bottom to the surface with baited hooks.  Anglers usually tie the line along the shoreline for easy access.  Sometimes they will go from shore to midstream.  Usually left overnight, or for several hours, then the angler retrieves the line and removes the fish.

Catfish are a marvelous fish for both sport and eating. They can be as finicky as any game fish and yet do not require a lot of expensive tackle or boats to pursue.  Catfish are king anywhere they are found.

 

 

BANK FISHING POST-SPAWN CHANNEL CATFISH   Leave a comment

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This is a good time to do a little ground pounding for catfish at Rend Lake in southern Illinois. It was after the spawn was over but the action was no less.  Post spawn catfish are still healthy eaters and constantly on the search for an easy meal.  They are also one of the most popular sport fish available throughout the Midwest.

Each spring, the catfishermen prowl the shores of Rend Lake in search of the spawning catfish so prolific in this lake.  All seem to enjoy the same success because the fish are on the rocks.  But, catfish action does not end with the spawn.

Biologists tell us that catfish are most active from sunset to sunrise. Our fathers knew this and fished mostly at night.  Another gem of wisdom from biologists is that they are most often in shallow water near standing and downed timber.

Channel catfish hang out near snags about 73 percent of the time and preferably in shallows. By summer the catfish are mostly in the shallower southern arms of a lake.  During fall and winter they use the middle and southeastern arms of lakes.

The conclusion is that one should fish the shallower arms of an impoundment such as Rend Lake on the warmer days.   Cats move to the shore when water temperatures reach the middle to upper sixties.  They spawn in earnest when the water reaches 72 degrees.  The biologists recommend fishing in water 2 feet or less in depth and near timber in the shallower head-ends of coves.

Rend Lake is a large Corps of Engineers impoundment in south-central Illinois on Interstate 57 at Exit 77.  The lake spreads over part of Franklin and Jefferson counties about five hours south of Chicago.  The 18,000-plus acres of water with its 160 miles of shoreline provide some excellent catfish habitat.  This comes primarily in the form of rock and rips rap areas with flooded timber.  This structure and the flooded roadbeds attract catfish in the early summer as they mate lay eggs and guard the nest while the young mature.

Fishing for spawning cats is simple. Move slowly along the shoreline casting to likely looking spots.  In terms of tackle, all one needs are good sharp hooks, a float, small pieces of lead and a can of worms.

As the season move along, the fish may move a little further out, but not much, until they move out to the deeper water in late June or early July, after the young are on their own.

The mistake many anglers make is in using hooks that are too large. A number 4 hook that is stout and sharp will do very nicely.  Skewer a nightcrawler onto the hook and you are in business.

By using ball swivels about 12 to 18 inches above the hook the line prevents the line breaking as a hooked fish twists and rolls. As they roll and twist, the line can become frayed and break.  With the use of a ball swivel, the lower portion of the line can twist with the fish and not have any effect on the main line.

Channel catfish feed by smell and a small piece of worm is all you need to catch any size fish. 12-pound line that matches the color of the water is a good choice.  The float is placed 2 ½ to 3 feet above the bait, depending upon the water depth.  The small sinker placed about 6 inches above the bait will keep the float upright and the bait just above the bottom of the lake.  Use only enough weight to keep the float upright.

Catfishing is great fun and a good source of fish for the freezer.

For information about boat rentals, accommodations, bait, guide service and restaurant facilities contact Rend Lake Resort at 1-800-633-3341.

CATFISH CULTURE   Leave a comment

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A ribbon of blacktop stretches across the Mississippi Delta, Mickey speaks alternately on the telephone and two-way radio of his truck. This is his office and his way of maintaining contact with producers, the processing plant and his truckers with their loads of catfish.  In a business where freshness is an essential, it is important to coordinate the actions of all the players.

A truck that is late to the plant can result in a production line shutting down at significant cost. That cost in turn goes into the price to the consumer.  Late trucks are not really the problem in the production of catfish fillets.  But, there are plenty of others.

Time was when commercial fishing was limited to wild fish taken out of rivers and lakes with large nets. Beginning in the middle to late 1950’s catfish farms began to appear in the south.  Around the mid l970’s the farmers in the Mississippi Delta area between the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers were searching for another crop.  They had over used their land and depleted the production of cotton they obtained from it.

In Humphreys County, near Belzoni, MS, a local farmer by the name of J.B. Williams started raising catfish. He sent his first fish to put-and-take ponds in the north.  Soon other farmers began to realize that Williams was on to something.

With the development of a floating feed pellet, the raising of pond raised catfish increased. The pellet is composed of corn, soybeans and some of the non-edible parts of catfish that are processed.  It is a high protein, light feed that has a sweet taste and the catfish love it.

The land in the area is ideal for the building of catfish ponds. The clay content of the soil retains water, unlike other areas with non-sandy soil which does not. The underground aquifers are huge and near the surface.  They only have to drill down 250 to 500 feet for a seemingly unlimited source of water for the ponds.  The Mississippi River and the Yazoo River replenish the water of the aquifers.

They construct the ponds using a series of levees. Most are in the 10 to 20 acre size because they are most manageable.  The ponds produce 3,000 to 10,000 pound of catfish per acre.

From April to September, fish farming is a very labor intensive business. It begins with the hatching of the fry.  Eggs hatch in troughs at the hatchery.  A series of constantly rotating paddles agitate the water to supply oxygen.

Once hatched, the fry stay in the hatchery for 7 to 8 days. Then they transfer to brood ponds for 6 months.  During this time they grow to a length of about 4- to 6 inches.  To facilitate their growth the fish farmers divide them into several groups and place them in other ponds.  These levee ponds are usually about four feet deep.  Here the fish live, fed daily, until harvesting time about at age 18 months.

Fish farming for catfish is very effective for food production despite being labor intensive. For instance, a beef producer must feed his stock 8 pounds of feed to produce l pound of meat.  The catfish farmer has to feed 2 pounds of feed for each pound of catfish.

As we drive along, Mickey explains that before he buys a shipment of fish, they have to be tested at the processing plant.

In the last 7 days before the shipping, the farmer provides a few fish sample to the plant. A five-person panel tastes it after being microwave cooked.  The purpose is to make sure that the fish do not have any offensive smell or taste.  Three samples come in during the last seven days prior to loading with the final sample taken the same day as the proposed shipment.  This insures a flavorful product.

Sometimes, if the fish has been in a pond that has a heavy population of blue-green algae, the fish will smell rancid as it cooks. They reject such a sample immediately.  The farmer will sometimes place the fish in a pond with cooler and cleaner water.

Cooler weather will also cut down the amount of algae in the water and thus improve the taste of the fish.

Mickey turns off the blacktop onto the levee road and up ahead are several trucks parked on the road. Two of the trucks are Mickey’s with their large tanks to hold live fish.  The third truck contains a crane to hoist a large basket of fish from the water and weigh it at the same time.

In the water five men draw a seine net across the pond and corner the fish in a small area. The basket dips into the water and scoops up the fish.  When the truck is loaded it contains some 14,000-pounds of fish in sizes from 2 to 5 pounds each.

Mickey explains that the best fish for commercial use are those in the size of 2 to 4 pounds. They produce the fillet that is in most demand.  If more than 10 percent of the fish are over 4 pounds there is a reduction of 10 percent in the price paid to the farmer.

With the fish loaded, we head back to the processing plant. A spotless, processing operation produces fillets, nuggets and a variety of by products from the fish.  Fillets are sometimes breaded, other times marinated and sometimes just frozen.  Some packaged fish have the insides and head removed for the whole fish market.

Fish that are quick frozen can be stored up to 120 days. Those that are in ice have a shelf life of 11 days and as a result they are off to the consumer within 24 hours. This scenario repeats each day, all year around.  Hundreds of millions of pounds of catfish to market go each year from the Delta area.

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