Archive for the ‘Flathead Catfish’ Tag

RIVER RATS CATCH CATFISH   1 comment

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Catfish anglers know the water and its surrounding structure above and below the surface.  For those who ply the rivers of Illinois this often can be quite a challenge.

They study the vegetation to find where the fish feed and why.  They know which rocks provide shelter from current and are good places for ambushing forage.  They know where bluffs have broken off and boulders lie beneath the surface.

Known as river rats these anglers study current breaks created by the things that fall into the water to find the shelter and food the fish require.  To be a successful catfish angler one needs to be a river rat.

By observing water quality, they are usually the first to notice any problems from pollution and/or run off that damage the ecosystem.  At various times of the year river rats will use varying techniques and tackle.  Their plans relate to the conditions on the river.

Beginning by fishing for flatheads early in the year over deep water structure, they change in June and July to seek out the deep holes over which to drift. The big fish will suspend only in light current.

Flathead feeding during this period is somewhat selective.  Flatheads remain in deep holes by day venturing up on the flats late in the day and during the night.

On the Mississippi River, anglers will fish the back of a wing dam, as there is less current.  The wing dam of choice must be one that is not silted-in.  They also like the end of the wing dam in the swirl working the outside edge of the swirl. Damaged wing dams create two currents and are very good.

Perhaps the most popular areas are the tailwaters below dams.  The astute angler will fish the grooves.  When water flows over a dam, there will be slower water in some areas.  These are the grooves.  A heavy weight on a three way swivel will get the bait down deep.  The bait will float off the bottom above the weight.

Once the weight is on the bottom, the angler can lift the rod tip slightly and the current will move it down stream.  By allowing the current to carry the bait, it moves right to the fish holding in the groove.  After a short period retrieve the bait and repeat the process.

Early in the day, it is a good idea to fish fast moving water as it meets still water.  Catfish will feed along the borders such slack water.

Downstream, one can look for rocks that break the current in fast moving areas.  Behind them can be an eddy hole where fish will stack up.  One can cast upstream, let the bait wash around the rock and into the hole.  Feeding fish will feed on the upstream edge of the hole.

If one fishes from a small boat or canoe, the use of an electronic depth finder comes in handy.  Look for bottom breaks that drop off 1 to 4 feet.  Anchor downstream below the break.  Cast upstream, allowing the bait to role along the bottom and fall off the edge into the hole where catfish are waiting in ambush.

Points of land or large trees that have fallen into the water block current.  Many times the part of the tree above the water is only about 20% of the entire tree.  The rest is beneath the surface.  This often creates an eddy hole behind the current break.  Fish the eddy.

Late summer means low water conditions on most rivers.  Water temperatures often get into the 80’s and low 90’s as the channel catfish move to the shallow water up tight against dams.  The flatheads move to the deep holes.  As a result, catfish are in deep water, fast running well oxygenated water, or both.

Beneath most dams are deep holes created by the water cascading from one level to another.  Casting up under the dam can catch fish.

On the Ohio River, some anglers use crankbaits to catch fall cats.  They will get their boats right up in the shallow water at the dams and then cast floating Rapalas.  The river flow helps to provide action to the lure.  They prefer blue ones in the #13 and #18 sizes.

September is a time when artificial lures also are productive.  A 1/4 ounce jig, crankbaits or a 5-inch salt craw are good choices.  As the fish move into their fall feeding, movement of the bait becomes the key.

In the fall, use a trolling motor on a Jon boat.  Troll over deep holes in the 30 foot depth class.  The electronics identify fish in the bottoms of the holes.  Experience has taught that they are flatheads about to go on a fall feeding spree.

Other structure in the holes such as submerged trees, rocks and some other kinds of “home habitat” the catfish likely hold fish.  Bounce jigs right on their nose.  A 2- ounce jig with salt craw attached works well.  In order to get the fish to take the jig, it must be right on top of the fish.  Not being a bottom feeder by nature, the flatheads eyes are located to find food slightly above it.

Rivers are a constantly changing ecosystem.  Floods, temperature changes, civilization, and currents are just some of the factors that cause change.  If one wants to have success, he has to study it like a river rat.

CATFISH THUMPING SUMMER BAITS   4 comments

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Catfish are thumping those tasty morsels that anglers present to them.  Summer 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 Williamson County.

Top catfish producing lake in the county 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 Williamson County lakes.  Another popular place to fish for catfish 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.

SMELLY MIXTURES WORK ON CRAB ORCHARD CATFISH   1 comment

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.

 

CATCHING AMERICAS FISH   Leave a comment

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Most Midwestern and southeastern anglers begin their fishing careers by catching one of the catfish species from the lowly bullhead to the larger flathead, channel or blue cats. It is truly America’s fish. Catfish inhabit large rivers, impoundments, creeks, salt water or fresh. They are everywhere!

I began with bullheads in a creek near my home in northern Iowa. It has become a life long love affair with the whiskered wonders.

Channel catfish are probably the most popular single species of fish for eating and catching. Almost every angler with whom one speaks has a theory on how to fix catfish bait and where to find the big ones.

Catfish anglers are probably the most laid back and comfortable anglers. They tend to like a leisurely time. The rigs are simple with a weight and hook on a line cast into the probable location.

A long slender fish, the channel catfish is a pale blue or greenish above and whitish or silver below. Although similar in size and shape to other catfish, the forked tail and black spots on the side identifies the channel cat. Popular with aqua culturists, they are very suitable for fish farming operations.

Channel catfish reach a keeper size of 12 to 14 inches by their third or fourth years. This age class is generally the best eating fish. The largest fish reach at length of 40 inches and a weight of 30 pounds. Larger ones do exist but they are rare and usually constitute record class.

Channel catfish tend to seek out clean water with sand, gravel or rock bottom. A nocturnal feeder, channel catfish spend most of the year hidden in cavities or lying in deeper pools during the day. They move to shallower water to feed during the nighttime.

The external taste buds of the catfish are located in the four pairs of barbels or whiskers of the animal. These bottom-feeding senses of taste and touch are more important than its sight. While moving across the bottom, they feed on fish, insects, crawfish, mollusks and some plant material.

Cast the line, and then prop the rod up on a forked stick sunk into the bank. Other variations on this theme work from boats or on shore. The basic technique is common to all fishing for channel catfish.

Bait used for catfish is either live or dead and can range from minnows to leeches, crayfish, catalpa worms, leaf worms, red worms, frogs and cut bait. Some people will use chicken or turkey livers.

For the most sophisticated catfish angler there are patterns to fish. One of these is especially popular on small rivers and streams during summer.

Ground pounders wade and fishes live bait. The pattern involves fishing the bait below a slip float and allowing it to drift downstream over the larger holes, washouts, undercut banks, beneath brush piles and 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 manner. The bait is set so that it floats just a few inches off the bottom. Good baits for this kind of fishing include minnows, grasshoppers, crayfish and nightcrawlers. These are natural forage for the catfish usually swept away into the current during rain or flooding.

During periods of overcast or drizzle, channel cats cruise the flats in search of food much as they do at night. Fishing in such conditions calls for a 3-way rig. One of the swivels attaches to the line that goes to the rod. The second swivel attaches to a drop line of about 8 inches that has a heavy sinker on it. The third swivel goes to a line of about three-feet in length and has a hook on the end. The bait on the hook floats off the bottom and present either a minnow or leech in a natural looking presentation.

Cast upstream, allowing the bait to wash along the bottom and fall off the edge into any holes. Catfish will often be waiting in ambush.

Another pattern for the ground pounder is looking for a point of land or a large tree that has fallen into the water and is blocking current. Often fish are in the eddy hole behind the current break.

It is a good idea to remember that catfish love cover. They will hold around rocks and stumps in rough areas. Once one sets the hook, the fish will do his best to break the line. It is a good idea to use a tough line of at least 12-pound test and the same color as the water. If seeking larger fish, try one of the braided lines with more strength.

Tough line helps prevent the sandpaper-like teeth of the catfish from wearing or weakening the line. That can cause a beak at the most inopportune time. A high quality tough line will allow the angler to fish around rocky, stumpy underwater terrain.

Catfishing is a great way to spend the day or to introduce someone new to the sport. It provides action and good chance of success with a great dinner in the evening. With some of these tips, anglers can fish more rivers and streams closer to home. It will increase quality time on the water for young and old.

CATFISH ARE BITING IN S. IL   Leave a comment

Boy with Cattfish 0005It is catfish time as other fishing begins to slow.  Following the prime spring spawning seasons and increasing summer temperatures the catfish action is prime.  It is a time when a sharp pull on a line that works away from the angler signals catfish dinner is just a short time away.

In Williamson County and elsewhere in southern Illinois, catfish are in abundance.  The variety of waters and state stocking programs result in a catfish fishery second to none.

In summer, catfish tend to hole up in areas downstream from dams and other man-made structures.  They seek out deep holes resting on the upstream side out of the current.  Absent a hole, cats lay up behind a piece of structure out of the current.  In this way they conserve energy and yet are able to move out into the current to partake of some hapless piece of forage that might float past.

Catfishing is an inexpensive sport that is also easy to learn.  To be successful does not require a large investment.  Basic spinning, spin casting, or bait casting reels on long rods are the bulwark of the sport.  Terminal tackle consists of heavy lead weights, circle hooks, and a float to suspend the bait at a desired depth.  Because of the heavy weight and fighting ability of many catfish, braided line is often used.  Otherwise, line in the heavier weight classes is best.  The choice of tackle is often the result of experience and the preference of the angler.

The choice of bait for catfishing often tends to be a matter of just how much your stomach can stand.  Catfish baits are notorious for the strong odors they emit.  Catfish seek out food sources by scent, including such things as cuts of shad, nightcrawlers and minnows.

In small ponds, the catfish will greedily devour night crawlers, red worms and cheese baits.  In medium size rivers, the preferred baits are chicken and turkey liver, dip worm coated with stinky cheese bait.  In big rivers, all of the above are applicable but so too are live fish, cut shad and crankbaits.  Bluegills and shad are the preferred live fish baits.

Regardless of the type of water, catfish tend to feed in the evening, early morning and nighttime during the summer.  It is probably due to their remaining deep in cool water during the day for comfort.  Then as the shallow water begins to cool, they will move up to feed on the natural feed available.  The exception is when it rains.  Following a summer shower, the water cools a little and it seems to encourage feeding habits of the catfish.  It is also possible that rain washes some of the terrestrial insects into the water and the fish find them tasty.

There are probably more catfish taken from shore than from a boat.  However, boated fish are usually larger.  This is more a function of ability to get to where the big ones hide.  Most shore caught fish are part of a put and take situation.  Small ponds and lakes are often stocked by wildlife agencies as part of programs to introduce kids and novice anglers to the sport of fishing.  These programs are very popular and most public waters contain stocked catfish.  The hatchery raised fish are stocked by various private and public organizations.

Medium sized lakes and some of the larger rivers are also accessible to shore anglers.  In the evenings and early morning, the cats in these waters will move about in the shallows to feed.  The rest of the day they hole up in deep holes or near stumps.  The key to success is to fish all the water both horizontally and vertically.

Anglers will cast to the holes with bait suspended beneath an adjustable float.  If not fish bites within 20 minutes, the angler retrieves his bait and moves to another location.  Then repeat the process.

The systematic angler will fish the bottom of the water column first.  If no bite is received the middle of the column depth is tried and finally the top portion.  Most fish are in either the bottom or the top one foot of depth.

Contrary to the popular song of the 60’s “Summertime” the catfish do not usually jump.  But here in southern Illinois they are still biting and fighting.  Give it a try this summer.

 

MIDDLE MISSISSIPPI RIVER CATFISH GROW BIG   4 comments

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Anglers seeking that big trophy catfish check out the middle Mississippi River.  It is this section that produced not only the state record Blue Catfish but also the World Record.

According to Illinois Department of Natural Resources biologist Butch Atwood, all three species are in these waters.  Not many of the brown and yellow bullheads are there these days.  The Channel Catfish, Blue Catfish and Flathead Catfish are the trophy species.

That Blue Catfish world record came from the area of the river near where the Missouri River empties into the Mississippi.  In that area there are three pools: Pool 24, Pool 25, and Pool 26.  After that the river is open from Alton to Cairo, Illinois.  According to Atwood, that seems to be the area where blue cats are the most prolific.  He adds that he has seen them upriver as far as Dam 22 and people do fish for them there.

Since 1980 the biologists have found some Blue Catfish moving from the lower part of the river up into the pools.  Atwood describes that section of the river as “an interesting stretch because of the pools and the open river.”

The pools in this section operate a little bit differently than the upper pools near Rock Island, Illinois.  Water management and control in the upper sections at the dam point is the primary goal.  The control at the dam point tries to maintain a flat pool off the time even during high water.  But, in 24, 25 and 26 which the St. Louis District of the Corps of Engineers operates they operate on the hinge point.  “In other words their control point is the middle of the pool.

As soon as the waters start to rise, they open the gate to create an open river.  They get to open river as fast as they can because they do not own enough real estate in the lower end of the pool like they do upstream.  They operate it more like a river.

This type of water management may be why the Blue Catfish seem to like it.  They like that more riverine environment.  They like more current and as such prefer the main channel.  The wing dams kind of give an illusion of a main channel and the blues get things washed down to them.

That northern section of the river has produced some nice Flathead Catfish of larger size.  Atwood has personally seen them up to 70 pounds in weight.  He has netted other that probably ran close to 100 pounds but did not have a scale upon which to weight them.  Those fish came from the tailwaters about a half mile below Mel Price Lock and Dam at Alton, Illinois.

Butch recommends fishing the scour holes off the wing dams.  He explains that there are a few catfishermen out there and they are friendly with one another.  The anglers share information because there are not a lot of them.

When it comes to bait, the usual rig contains cut shad.  For the big blues, skipjack herring heads are the bait of choice.  The open portion of the river has a pretty good population of skipjack and they are all the way up to Lock and Dam 22.  Beyond that they become fewer.  Tailwaters are the best place to find skipjack and fish up to a pound are caught with regularity.

When it comes to Channel Catfish, Butch says one can catch up to 50 pound fish in the open river.  He has caught some nice ones in his nets and by electro-fishing.  Fish in the 5- to 10 pound class are pretty common.  He has found that the open water below Mel Price Dam produces some pretty big Channel Catfish.

When choosing a bait and rig for these giants of the river, it is wise to consider their feeding habits.  Flatheads eat in the bottom of the water column, blues above them and the channels are closer to the surface or in more shallow water.

Regardless of the species sought, catfish provide some of the best big fish action and the Mississippi River along the western edge of Illinois is home to some of the largest ones available anywhere in the country.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has available several booklets on the Mississippi River that describe the fishery and access to it.  The free publications are available at Department offices across the state and from the main office in Springfield.  The address there is IDNR, One   Natural Resources Way, Springfield, Illinois62702-1271.

THE HOOKMASTER ON HOOKS   1 comment

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According to Forbes.com, the fish hook is the 19th most important tool in mankind’s history.  Consisting of a piece of bent wire with a barb, it has allowed us to eat, without the danger of hunting or the hard work of farming.  Have you ever wondered just who is the foremost authority on hooks?

People seeking answers to questions about hooks go to the “Wizard of Wetumpka (AL).”  Who is he and why him?

TJ Stallings of the TTI-Blakemore Fishing Group is the go to guy with questions about hooks and their use.  This jovial and unassuming man has spent a lifetime studying hooks.  He is probably the father of the “bleeding bait” hook, those red hooks that are popping up all over the place in tackle stores and catalog outlets.

Stallings began his career in the hook business as a youngster by selling red jigs in his father’s tackle shop.  Customers who tried them came back for more.  Later, he reports a friend used a laser light in a large aquarium and found that the fish followed the red dot around the tank.

According to Stallings, fish in test tanks strike dark red more than any other color.  His Tru-Turn and Daiichi hooks have a red dye over a bright nickel finish.  He explains that the red does wear off but that is good.  As it wears, the combination of the bright finish and the red makes for more flash.

There are two basic theories as to why fish will attack the red hooks.  Red stimulates the predator fish into thinking the bait fish was injured or that the red amounts to a “gill flash” from a smaller fish that is frightened or excited.

It is possible for the layman to study fish reaction to red hooks.  Stallings recommends doing research by tying a crankbait with one red hook and count how many times that hook is deep in the fish’s mouth.  Then move the hook to the front or back of the same lure and do the count again.

Stallings recommends another test, Put out several poles with the red hook while rigging others more traditional hooks.  Then do the math.  A word of caution here in that Illinois limits anglers to two poles and lines in most areas.  You can get around that for this test by having more than one angler present.

The gill flash theory could account for the fact that predator fish tend to strike the head of a lure.  As a result, Stallings recommends installing the red hook on the front of a crankbait or jerkbait.  It is scientific fact that predator fish strike the head of their prey in an effort to swallow it without problems from the fins.

Regardless as to why, years of study in the laboratory ad on the water have found that dark red triggers a feeding response.  It just appears to TJ that the red indicates a feeding opportunity and that in turn creates the aggressive response exhibited by so many predator fish.

For more information about hooks, check out the following websites: http://www.daiichihooks.com.

BEST LOCATIONS FOR FINDING WABASH RIVER CATFISH   Leave a comment

Wabash River Catfish

Wabash River catfishermen find a magnificent gladiator which will challenge the skills of the best angler.  The placid face of the river conceals a fishery unmatched in other area streams save the Ohio River.  When a bobber disappears beneath the surface only to reappear for a second or two there is one of two fish ready to do battle.

The Wabash flows some 200 miles between Indiana and Illinois along the southeast border of Illinois.  Old broken dams, rocks and riffle areas offer excellent fishing for catfish.  The water is accessible from ramps on either the Illinois or Indiana side. Annual surveys by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and creels checks have long shown a healthy population of blue, flathead and channel catfish.

Les Frankland, IDNR fisheries biologist, speaks of the river and the fishing with a spark that betrays his love of the river.  He reports, “The entire section of the river along the Illinois border contains water where anglers can drift in search of holes and other structure.”

By allowing baits such as chicken livers, worms, etc. to drift into the holes and other structure from upstream, the fish are enticed to bite.  In many areas, anglers can wade and cast into the submerged wood in the water.

Frankland recommends the old dam and its shallows at Mt. Carmel, in Wabash County as an example.  He has taken as many as 40 channel catfish per hour while doing shocking surveys.  Old dams like the one at Mr. Carmel once harnessed the power of the Wabash River.  Today, the Wabash is the longest undammed river east of the Mississippi.

The wide, flat bottomlands along the river are peaceful and fall away to the gently rolling hills in the distance.  Wisconsin glacial episode nearly 22,000 years ago is responsible for the formations.

Another good location is near Mauine, Illinois in White County.  Frankland points out that there “is a railroad bridge about 2 miles south of town with three islands.”  “Channel catfish can be found where the shallow water dips into a hole,” says the biologist.

At New Haven, in Gallatin County, there is a boat ramp on U.S. Route 141.  The water just above the boat ramp is good for channel catfish according to Les.  In performing his duties, Les has taken good numbers of fish from the holes in the river.  Downstream, there is an old dam and more good catfish habitat.

Surveys of the river held in recent years show good populations of flathead and channel catfish over 3 pounds through out the river.  Blue cats in the lower 50 miles of the river are in good numbers as well.  Anglers report taking trophy flathead and blue catfish over 50 pounds in weight.

The peace and tranquility of the Wabash River is deceptive to the catfish angler.  The quiet lulls one into thinking that nothing will disturb it.  Catfish may just change ones thinking about that scene.

WHERE DID ALL THOSE FISH COME FROM   Leave a comment

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Recently while walking around in the Nashville, TN Bass Pro Shop it occurred to me that there are a lot of questions behind those huge fish tanks found in all the stores.  A week later I sat down to learn about the program with Larry Whiteley from the company.

Every day hundreds of people walk through Bass Pro Shops stores throughout the United States and Canada.  Besides shopping they enjoy the fish and wildlife exhibits that are a vital part of the store.  Most do not give a thought to what it takes to present these exhibits.

Larry explained that they have a division within the company called the Live Exhibits Team that cares for the animals.

The idea of having native fish on display began with the first store in Springfield, MO.  It was actually a mail order outlet and a location where people came to pick up their Tracker boat from the factory.  There was an aquarium inside the door and people would stop and look at all the local species such as bass, crappie, bluegill, etc.

As the company expanded into retail stores at that location and across the country the fish and wildlife exhibits did too.  Every store plan contains the idea of having a wildlife exhibit.  Johnny Morris, owner of Bass Pro Shops, probably did not really realize just how popular they would become in the future.

Larry explains, “Currently there are over 10,000 animals on exhibit in the retail stores.”  Fifty-eight stores have tanks.  Most of the fish are quality (big) fish.  The collections include the largest number of double digit bass in captivity.   They also have alligator gar, the largest of which is over 180-pounds.  The staff trains these and the larger blue catfish to target feed so that they will not eat their tank mates.  They sometimes still eat between meals.

The size of exhibits varies from 600 gallons up to the 50,000 gallon waterfall exhibit at the anchor store in Springfield, MO.  All together, the company maintains some 1,820,209 gallons of fresh and saltwater exhibits.

Exhibits include a wide variety of fish and wildlife that is indigenous to the location of the store.  For example, stores in salt-water areas include saltwater aquariums.  They tailor the displays of fish and animal life to the specific geographic area of the store.

Some stores have sharks in tanks that have scuba divers feeding them in aquatic shows.  As added features are some of the small ponds in stores that have attracted customers who drop coins into them as “wishing wells.”  According to Whiteley, “the staff collects the money from the tanks during routine maintenance and donates it to local charities.”

The Live Exhibits Team caring for the inhabitants of these exhibits consists of 75 aquarists and 5 veterinarians on retainer.   They transport fish across the country in a merchandise truck without the advantage of monitoring the animals in transit.  The trips can take up to 4 days.  They experience very little mortality with this system.

Incoming fish go into quarantine for 30 days to prevent the spread of any health problems.  Some remain in quarantine for up to 6 months to heal problems in an effort to show quality in the exhibits.

Some of the procedures required to keep the animals in good health include such things as surgery to remove tumors, egg sacks, and even repair broken jaws.  They also are involved with laparoscopic exploratory procedures, antibiotic shots to fish and other animals and even the removal of hooks from a gar’s stomach while it was under anesthesia.

At first glance the establishment and maintenance of these exhibits appears much less sophisticated.  It is surprising the lengths Bass Pro Shops goes to in providing these educational exhibits so customers can relax and enjoy them while shopping.

JOURNAL YOUR WAY TO FISHING SUCCESS   Leave a comment

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In fishing, like life, you get out of it what you put into it.  A careful study of past success on the water can lead to consistent success in the future.  However, it requires some effort on you part.  Keeping a fishing journal is a big part of that effort.

We all know that fish are creatures of habit.  During certain times of the year, and under certain weather conditions, they will do certain things.  They feed and move about in response to weather situations.

With the professionalism of angling in the past 20 years, we have learned that the person who knows what the fish are going to do is the one who catches them.  Good anglers keep records of fishing trips, what worked, when and why.  You can too.

The first step is to get a journal in which to record you activities.  This can be a file box or a book.  The book is simpler to handle and takes less space.  Either will work just fine as a fishing journal.

Next set up a system of questions needing answers for each trip on the water.  The questions can be things like date, time of day, day of the year, season, and type of fish pursued and/or caught.  Others might be weather conditions, location of the lake, water temperature, moon phases, etc.

In order to gain the most information, answer the same questions for each trip.  That way you can consistently examine each trip for comparisons and differences.  Look for patterns in fish behavior under the same conditions.

Here is one way to set up your journal.  Start at the top of each page with the date of the trip, time of day, and species pursued.  Then provide the name of the body of water and its location as well as the area you fished.  If you have a GPS, what were the coordinates of the location where you fished and where you found the most fish, largest fish, and whatever other information you find important for catching fish?  What is the elevation of the lake?  Was the water level rising or falling?

The next area might be what lures were used and how they were used.  Did you fish a crankbait over wood, or flip a lizard to the bank, etc.  What presentation caught the most fish, the biggest fish, or struck out.  Were the fish on points, rip rap, over wood, in main channels, or wherever?  At what depth did you find fish and were they in a feeding mood?  Were fish suspended, spawning, or what?

Then describe the water conditions.  Was structure present?  If so, what kind is it?  What kind of bottom was below the boat and how deep?  At what depth did you find fish?  Is the water clear, or stained?  What is the water temperature?  What is the moon phase?  What is the Ph of the water?

What were the weather conditions?  Was it cloudy or clear?  What was the barometer reading and was it rising or falling that day?  What was the air temperature?  What was the weather like the night before your fishing trip?  Did any fronts move through that night or during your fishing session?  Was it rainy, foggy, or clear?

Later when you have a season or two in your journal, you will be able to see patterns emerging.  You will be able to see what tackle, presentation, or pattern is most successful under what conditions and in what body of water.  Keep good, organized records and you will have very productive days on the water.

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