Archive for the ‘Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge’ Tag


Early Whitetail

Early season bowhunting requires tactics needed are different from those in the late fall and early winter. Daytime temperatures are much higher and the deer move less.

Warmer daytime temperatures lead to more sluggish deer activity. They might even become fully nocturnal to escape the heat. This makes for a challenge.

In Illinois, the archery season opens the first of October and hunters often migrate to southern Illinois taking advantage of the vast areas of public hunting. Many state public hunting areas, the Shawnee National Forest, and Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge provide Bowhunters with less crowded hunting opportunities.

Bowhunters key their hunting to water sources. The theory is that the amount of water consumed by a deer is inversely proportional to the amount of water in their food. If the deer can not get enough moisture from vegetation and surface water it will go looking another source.

Early in the season deer do not change their patterns of activity for weeks if left undisturbed. During this period they are less nervous and easier to get close to than later.

The deer’s primary concern in the early season is building up reserves of fat for the winter. Bucks eat heavily building up for the rut period during which they eat virtually nothing at all. Early in the fall they visit good feeding areas each morning and evening unless disturbed. Later they will consume berries, flowers and leaves. They prefer hickory nuts and early acorns, and the so called soft mast. Where available they feed on browse and agricultural crops. They travel long distances to find them. Later they seek crops, such as soybeans, corn and alfalfa.

Although understanding the relationship of food to water for the deer is vital, it is also important to understand scent. The heavy doe-in-heat and rut scents should be avoided. They are unnatural this time of the year and tend to spook deer. The key for hunters is being absent any scent at all. Hunters should wash clothing in unscented soaps, bathe before dressing and use scent retarding products if possible.

On the subject of clothing, camouflage clothing used in the early season tends to be light weight. As the sun begins to head for the horizon it can get chilly on a deer stand. Take a lightweight jacket along in your day pack for use when the temperatures drop. Also take along some good insect repellant as the mosquitoes come out as the day begins to end.

Finally, if you are fortunate enough to harvest a deer, recover it as quickly as possible. Get it out of the woods and into some refrigeration. If that is not possible, skin the deer and cut the carcass into quarters. A quartered deer and an ample amount of ice will fit in a 48-quart cooler until you can get to a meat processor.

Early season deer hunting in hot weather is different but can be just as productive as those rut hunts later in the fall.

CATFISH ARE THUMPING   Leave a comment

Catfish are Thumping

Catfish thump tasty morsels that anglers present to them.  Summer must be upon us.  It is the prime time for fishing for this muscle with fins.

A staple of southern cooking, catfish are also available in restaurants as well as local lakes.  But, it is more fun to catch your own.  Here are some tips for catching your own in Southern Illinois.

One top catfish producing lake is Crab Orchard Lake in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge near Marion.  According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the catfish population of this 7,000-acre lake is self-sustaining and has not required supplemental stocking to maintain the fishery.

The Crab Orchard Lake contains both channel and flathead catfish.  It also contains a good population of bullheads, a member of the catfish family that does not gain the large size of the others.

Fishing for catfish is a laid back type of angling.  The rigs are simple and the baits, although often smelly, are simple as well.

It is a good idea to remember that catfish like cover.  They are bottom feeders that hold around rocks and stumps.  Once one sets the hook, the fish will do its best to break off the line.  Veteran catfish anglers prefer a line that is of at least 12-pound test.

The tough line helps prevent the sandpaper-like teeth of the fish from wearing or weakening the line causing a break.  With high quality tough line, anglers can fish around rocky, stump infested, underwater terrain.

Most often the rig for catfishing is simply a baited hook suspended beneath a float, cork, bobber or whatever you call it.  Cast to a probable location and allowed the rig to sink to the level where you believe the fish are located.

Bait can be live or dead.  Popular baits include minnows, leeches, crayfish, catalpa worms, leaf worms, red worms, nightcrawlers, frogs, and cut bait.  Cheese baits, popular in the spring, are less successful in the summer heat.

During periods of overcast or drizzle, catfish cruise the flats in search of food the same as they do at night.  Under such conditions, a three-way rig works well.  Attach one swivel to the line that goes to the reel, the second to a drop line of about eight inches with a heavy sinker on the end.  Attach the third swivel to a line of about 30-inches with a hook and bait at the end.  The rig allows the bait to float just off the bottom a location popular with catfish.

There are catfish in most of the other southern Illinois lakes including Rend Lake where the above photo was taken.  Another popular place to fish for them is Little Grassy Lake a1200-acres body of water to the south of Crab Orchard Lake but still in the refuge area.  It produces many channel catfish on a regular basis throughout the summer.

Whether fishing from shore or boat, in the evening or morning, night or day, catfish are a marvelous fish for action.  They can be as finicky as any game fish, and yet do not require a lot of expensive tackle to pursue.


This woman took a nice crappie from one of the docks at the parking lot on Wolf Cree Causeway.

This woman took a nice crappie from one of the docks at the parking lot on Wolf Cree Causeway.

Wolf Creek Causeway in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge near Marion is actually a causeway that joins two areas of the refuge.  Fishing along this causeway is generally good all year.

It is one of the few lake areas with good structure and still available to the shore angler.  The lake itself is 65 years old, old for a reservoir.  A lot of the bottom is silted in with the run-off from Wolf and Salt Creeks.

People think that it is just too good to be true that a public area, easily accessible, produces such a good quality angling opportunity.

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is a complex of wetland, forest and lakes located southwest of Marion, Illinois.  The Visitor’s Center located two miles south of Route 13 on Highway 148 is a good place for the angler to begin a trip to Wolf Creek.

Wolf Creek is a 1/3 mile long gravel road that crosses Crab Orchard Lake at about the middle.  Parking facilities are available on both sides of the roadway at the North end.  You can travel across to the other side but parking is limited on the south side of the lake.

Walking south from the parking lot, one comes upon numerous shore fishing sites.  Several floating docks and other shore fishing areas are located at the bridge where the two lake areas join.  West of the causeway a few feet and you come upon the handicap pier and another long dock.

As one walks along the roadway, there are paths down to the shoreline at a number of points.  Each of these leads to a good fishing point.  Anglers who regularly fish from these points wear down the vegetation.  Most of these locations contain submerged brush in 3 to 5 feet of water.

The key to finding fish along the causeway is finding the brush.  Some locations have it near the shoreline and at other locations it is as much as 20 feet out.  It is important to fish tight to the brush.  It may cost a lot of tackle but is worth it.

About half way across the causeway is the bridge that allows boat traffic to pass.  Wooden stairs on both sides of the roadway and both north and south of the bridge allow anglers access to the water.  The shore is concrete and angles into the water with casting docks.  One can fish from the concrete if it is dry.  If it is wet it is best to avoid it, as it is slippery.

From the concrete, one can fan cast the entire area.  In the colder weather crappies are in the current of the area between the bridge supports.  If they are not there, try the area off the points.  They will be either up near the shoreline or as far as out as 20 feet.

Cast from all four corners of the bridge opening.  The floating dock, between the causeway and the shore fishing at the western parking lot, is an ideal place to cast to the shoreline of the western side of the causeway.  In the past the only way one could do that was to be in a boat.  For the shore angler this could be a boom.

Traveling west to the parking lot, there is a bit of brush off the southwest corner of the lot.  The short dock from the parking lot is a popular place for catfish anglers.

A Special Use permit is required to explore the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. Permits either yearly, daily or weekly, are available at the Visitor’s Center.  The center is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  Day permits are available at the door of the Visitors Center 24 hours per day.  Just follow the instructions printed on the box to the right of the door.  There are also brochures and maps available at the center.  Camping is also available on the refuge.

For additional information about the refuge contact the Visitor Center, 8588 Route 148, Marion, Il 62959.



Devil Crappie

A summer of landscaping repair and interior remodeling sure does interfere with one’s fishing activity.  It does not even allow time to test out that new rod and reel combo from Shakespeare via Blue Heron Communications.  Today is time for a change.

Having heard of the Ugly Stick for years one wonders just how to improve on such a product.  This year at ICAST Shakespeare introduced the new Ugly Stick GX2.

According to the press release, the rod blends the old feel with a modern look and balance.    It has a new blank through the reel seat design.  The combination of graphite and fiberglass makes for a strong, sensitive and better balanced rod.  It still maintains the near indestructability of the original Ugly Stick.

In response to consumer demand, the rod has one-piece, stamped stainless steel guides providing durability and to avoid inserts popping out.  The GX2 works with all types of line, including the braided ones.

The clear tip delivers extra strength where needed yet it is sensitive to the lightest strike.

Spooled with some 8-pound mono, a local favorite, it sounds like the perfect combination for the bass, crappie and rainbow trout of Devil’s Kitchen Lake in southern Illinois.

Of all the wilderness lakes in southern Illinois, Devil’s Kitchen Lake is the one most closely akin to Canadian Shield lakes in appearance.  Clear water and submerged timber provide good habitat for trout, bluegill, redear, largemouth bass and crappie.  There is no development on the lake and no marina services.  There are several boat ramps and a 10 horsepower limit on boat motors.

Taking its name from the sulfur fumes the builders noticed when constructing the dam that holds the water, this 810-acre lake stretches over some five miles.

Trout are one of the more popular species for anglers.  They placed in the lake each fall as 8 to 10 inch fish.  By spring they are acclimated to the water.  Most trout fishing takes place in spring and summer.  The best trout bait is a small piece of nightcrawler on a small bait hook fished beneath a slip bobber near the dam.  They are usually in the upper 15 to 20 feet of water despite the depth of water being over 90 feet.

Early in the year redear will feed on the bottoms of shallow coves.  The bluegills will be slightly deeper seeking food in the weeds.  Later they will both be in the submerged trees.  The bluegills are Six to 7 inches in length.  Redear (or Shellcrackers) in the 6 to 9 inch lengths are often found.  The wood in this lake is often standing trees.  What at first appears to be a submerged bush can be the top of a 60 foot tree standing upright beneath the surface of the lake.  Bluegills tend to relate to the vertical portion of the tree and the redear prefer the branches.

The crappies are not numerous but they are big.  Black crappies are in the 10 to 14 inch class.  Jig and minnow combinations are the most popular lures for this species.  Minnows and nightcrawler pieces produce the best crappie catches.

The lake tends to produce a lot of 10 to 15 inch largemouth bass with some 6 to 8 pound bass taken each year.  The latter are an exception.  Spinner baits and crankbaits near the flooded timber are the ticket for most bass.

Inclement weather cuts short this trip but there will be another day once the remodel is completed.


058063-R1-67-67Opening the container of dip bait for the first time the acrid scent that arises is overpowering.  The bait overpowers the fresh smell of spring flowers along the shoreline of Crab Orchard Lake.  Regardless of the odor, dip baits catch catfish.

Crab Orchard Lake in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is a renowned catfish lake.  Although the lake contains channel, blue and flathead catfish, it is the channel catfish that are the most popular with fishermen.  According to IDNR Fisheries Manager, Chris Bickers, the quality and body condition of the channel catfish continues o be excellent.  His most recent survey found 44 percent of the fish larger than 22 inches in length.

Most popular in the early spring and through the spawning season, dip baits are usable all year around.

Pay attention to the entire baiting system for dip baits.  Used properly it becomes a real catfish taking machine.

Preparation of the bait is easy.  There are several catfish baits on the market.  The best are the ones that have a consistency of mayonnaise.  The bait comes in plastic “tubs” that contain enough for several trips on the water.

To maintain the proper texture, simply add water (to make it thinner) or flour (to make it thicker.)  Most dip baits have a cheese base with fish parts and other “secret” ingredients.  The bait requires stirring frequently before dipping the bait holding device.

The bait holding device is usually a ribbed plastic worm through which a monofilament leader passes.  At the terminal end of the leader, attach a treble hook pull up it snug against the end of the worm.  Attach the other end of the leader to a heavy line that goes to the reel.

A secret of getting the bait to last longer is the use of paper towels.  The angler just rinses off the plastic bait holding device and then dries it with the paper towel.  Then he dips it back into the bait.  The dryer the plastic the better it holds the bait.  Another way to accomplish the same task is to use several bait leaders all rigged alike.  Attach the leader to a ball-bearing swivel.  Then remove the leader from the line and allow it to dry out before being placing back into action.  In the interim, a new leader and rig is added to the swivel and the rig dipped into the bait and used.

Some of the areas where dip baits are particularly effective are those where slack water is just off from fast water.  Deeper holes in front of or behind fallen trees, brush piles or log jams in the water.  Any eddy down stream of fast water and some obstruction is a good location.  In other words most any place that is close to structure is a good one.

Try the area for about 15 minutes.  If the catfish are present, they will either take the bait in those 15 minutes or else they are not hungry.  If nothing happens, then it is time to find another place to fish.  You can always come back to the location later.

At the end of your catfishing trip, you just reseal the dip bait container and put it in the garage for the next trip.  It will not spoil.

For lake and refuge information contact the National Fish & Wildlife Service Visitor Center, 8588 Illinois Route 148, Marion, IL62959.  The phone number is 618-997-3344.  There is a small user fee required to fish the area.



Crab Orchard 0001

Quietly trolling the shoreline, anglers pass one another with silent acknowledgment.  Lures are flipped into the shoreline vegetation in search of the fish missed by they angler just ahead.  Line watchers peer into the water in hope of seeing the line travel the wrong way.  Then it happens, the water explodes with the fish that has been aggravated or tempted once too often.

Due in part to the rather shallow nature of this lake, the lures and patterns used in spring on Crab Orchard Lake tend to be effective all summer long.  Anglers experience some degree of success with just about any bait or lure.

Crab Orchard Lake is the largest of the three lakes within the boundary of the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge.  Located near Marion, Illinois in Williamson County, this 7,000-acre lake has benefitted from a combination of limited bass tournaments, a well‑financed program of propagation and a well‑entrenched philosophy of catch and release.

The damming of Crab Orchard Creek in 1940 gave birth to the lake.  It has a fixed‑sill spillway that controls the water level so that the level of water seldom varies more than a foot or two.  Siltation has become a problem in the upper reaches of the lake to the east.  The lake depth averages about 7 feet, with a maximum depth of about 30 feet.

Being a watershed lake Crab Orchard is very fertile with many stored nutrients.  The shoreline is about 125 miles and contains hardwoods, pine and some meadows.  Many rip rap areas cut down on erosion.  The riprap continues to just under the surface.

Development on the shoreline is limited to boat ramps, campgrounds, picnic areas and marinas.  The south end of Grassy Bay and the south part of Wolf Creek is off limits due to nesting eagles.

The area west of Wolf Creek Road is the main part of the lake and the best fishing area.  It contains large necks and vegetation in the form of lily pads and water willows.  Grassy Bay, Cambria Neck and Long Neck are popular fishing locations.

The average large bass seems to be in the 4 to 5 pound area with an occasional 8‑pound fish reported.  Biologists report that the angler spending a day fishing can catch at least one 4‑pound fish.

Anglers should be flexible in their approach to fishing.  Fish seem to be point orientated.  The relatively featureless bottom of the lake makes bass seek out any structure they can find.  The angler can begin by using a spinner bait to cover a lot of water.  Once the fish are located, it is time to slow down and fish the area with a variety of presentations.  Most fish come from less than a foot of water.

Another pattern is to fish a Rat‑L‑Trap and hop from point to point around the lake in search of fish.  Occasionally anglers take a big fish with this method.

Grassy Bay on the south side of the lake is popular because of the expanse of lily pads.  The vegetation conceals the real attraction ‑ stumps.  The stumps are scattered throughout the bay.  Very few anglers know where the stumps are located, so caution is good when boating into the bay.  Some of the largest fish taken on this lake are near those stumps.

Some other bass‑holding areas are main‑lake and secondary points, riprap, logs, shallow‑water rock piles, bays with emergent vegetation and drop‑offs.  Each requires different lures and patterns.

Further information about Crab Orchard Lake and the surrounding refuge can be obtained from the refuge manager or in person at the Visitor’s Center, located on Route 148 about two miles south of the Williamson County Airport.  A nominal user fee is charged.  Season, weekly and daily permits are available.  A special box of payment of daily fees is available at the entrance to the Visitor’s Center for use when the center is closed.

Want a chance at a big fish?  Why not try Crab Orchard Lake?


Rend 0013For the angler in search of some great catfish action, the southern tip of the state the place to go. Locals fish for them using all sorts of gear from the jugs to salt-water bait casting reels. Here are some of the better locations for catfishing.

Part of the tradition of the south is catfishing in the summer. Southern Illinois is part of the south. After all, Marion, Illinois is actually south of Louisville, KY.

Crab Orchard Lake – This time of the year the best bet on the lake is the catfish action. Crab Orchard is accessible from Interstate 57 at Marion. The lake is a sprawling shallow body of water found on both sides of Route 13 about four miles west of the city.

Mid-May the cats will be spawning in the shallow water. Leeches, cut bait and cheese baits all produce fish. Keep the later two on ice as they are susceptible to spoilage. Caught fish should also be iced rather than kept in live wells or on a stringer.

To the south of Crab Orchard Lake on Spillway Road in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is Little Grassy Lake. Little Grassy Lake is a heavily pressured lake this time of the year with the recreation canoe and kayak crowd using the lake during the daylight hours. However, for the angler willing to get out early in the day, catfish are around the points taking red worms, chicken livers, crickets, minnows and night crawlers.

Further to the south, down in Alexander County, is Horseshoe Lake where anglers drift night crawlers along the bottom in the evening. The action holds up throughout the summer. Try the middle of the lake during the night.

To the west of Carbondale, in Jackson County is Lake Murphysboro. This lake is next to Kinkaid Lake, famous for its Muskie fishery. In Lake Murphysboro, catfish action is also good in the evening but morning hours produce fish as well. Late in the summer, try fishing at night. Night crawlers, cut bait, minnows, leeches and stink baits work well.

Up north of Marion in Franklin County is Rend Lake. The lake straddles Interstate 57 at Exit 77. Rend Lake is a large reservoir that is full of bragging size catfish. The action remains excellent in 3 to 4 feet of water. The best action comes in the coves and along the riprap. Fish take cut bait, worms, crickets, leeches, and shrimp.

This summer may be just the time to explore the south, south Illinois that is! As the old song goes, it is summertime and the catfish are jumping.

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