Archive for the ‘Ohio River’ Tag


Wabash River Catfish


Les Frankland, Region V Fisheries Biologist for IDNR is the expert on the Ohio and the Wabash River.  His recommendation is Smithland Pool for catfish.  Fishing is available in the other two pools and the open water at the lower end where the river joins the Mississippi at Fort Defiance.

Smithland is the largest pool running some 72 miles from Uniontown, KY down to the dam.  It contains some 27,000 acres of water plus small embayment that hold fish.  An embayment is a small tributary impounded when they built the dam.

Frankland reports that the main channel of the river is probably too big to do much drifting. Anglers will put in and seek out areas around the grain elevators as well as any structure habitat areas such as brush piles and fallen trees.  Two good locations are at Mound City and Old Shawneetown.  Atwood reports that any place where grain is loaded attracts fish to the spilled grain.

Anglers anchor out of the channel along the edge in the shallows. Those fishing below the dams will drift fish with cut shad.

The blue catfish anglers like cut bait using skipjack or shad as they fish at Smithland off the rock pile. Flathead and channel anglers tend to prefer live bait and find fish the entire river anyplace where there are trees or brush in the water.

The river level can vary from 9 feet to 90 feet in depth. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controls the water level for navigational and flood control purposes.  Information about the water flow and depth is available on their website at

The main channel and island borders of the pool provide flatheads, channels and blue catfish action. Tailwaters below the dam also produce the same action.

Access to Smithland Pool is at Old Shawneetown, Cave in Rock, Tower Rock, Elizabethtown, Rosiclare, Golconda Marina, Golconda and Barren Creek on the Illinois side of the river. One can lock through the dam to fish the tailwaters.  Otherwise one has to use the boat ramps at Smithland, KY.

Frankland has spent a lifetime in and around the Wabash River. Growing up in the area, he fished it and later as a fisheries biologist for the IDNR, he has studied it.

The Wabash is one of the largest free flowing rivers east of the Mississippi River.  The Illinois portion is over 200 miles in length.  It starts about 15 miles below Terre Haute, IN near Darwin and ends at Wabash Island on the Ohio River.

You can find blues, channels and flathead catfish throughout the entire length. There is angling access virtually all along the river.  Some of the better known locations, according to Frankland, are around Darwin, along Vincennes, IN the stretch at Mt Carmel, the areas at New Harmony, IN and the area at the mouth of the Little Wabash near New Haven.  The stretch of river below Maunie and the mouth of the Wabash River above Old Shawneetown are good locations.

There are public boat ramps on the Illinois and Indiana sides of the river. Public ramps on the Illinois side are at Hutsonville, Westport, St. Francisville, Mt. Carmel, Grayville, Brown’s Pond near Maunie, and New Haven via the Little Wabash River.

There are no navigational channels or commercial fishing on the Wabash.  Water depth can be challenging to boaters.  Depths can range from 6 inches to 50 feet.  When the water is lower there are areas unpassable to boat traffic.




Reel screeching runs from a big brawny fish break tackle.   Hybrid Stripers of the Ohio River are a hard challenge.  Anglers in southern Illinois find these transplants pay big dividends in fishing action.

The striper is a saltwater relative of the white bass.  It resembles the white but is more elongated and less compressed with a nearly straight back.  The color of the striper is a dark greenish to bluish on top with sometimes a brassy tinge that becomes lighter on the sides.  The underside is silvery.  Most prominent are the seven to eight narrow stripes along the sides going lengthwise from which they gain their name.  Generally they reach a weight of about 5 pounds by their third year.  Fish in the 20 plus range are often caught.

In the 1960’s striper fry were introduced into Lake Barkley and began to flourish.  It was part of a number of such stockings across Kentucky and parts of Tennessee.  Some larger fish were stocked into Kentucky Lake.   Over time they moved out of the lake and down river into the Ohio River.  Additional stocking by the Kentucky fisheries people added to the population.

Feeding on gizzard shad they provide a service to the other populations of game fish in the area.  They feed on the larger shad which the bass and catfish ignore.

Stable water levels are important to striper fishing success.  Both Kentucky and Barkley Lakes vary in water level beginning in April through September.  The Tennessee Valley Authority controls the levels.  Although water levels can vary from day to day generally they are stable from October through March.

Over the years stripers made their way through the Kentucky dams at the north end of the lakes and established strong populations in the downstream waters especially those below Smithland Dam.

Although stripers spend most of the year roaming deep open water in pursuit of shad, they seem to be more confined in the spring.  Stable water conditions coupled with spawning shad cause the stripers to move to the more shallow water and dam tailwaters.  Anglers move in and cast both lures and live bait into the fast moving waters.

Heavy bass gear will handle these fish.  A medium or heavy rod and bait cast reel with 15 plus pound monofilament line will work well.  A 7-foot rod with a flexible tip is a good choice.  The flexible tip allows fish to grab the bait without meeting with a lot of resistance before being safely hooked.

Live bait, either shad or skipjack are productive bait.  The rockfish’s voracious eating habits allow it to gobble up the bait before the angler is even aware of the strike.  Bait is usually placed on a 2/0 to 4/0 hook.  Kahle style hooks seem to be the most popular.

Some rockfish are taken by trolling topwater lures such as the Cordell Redfins in the early morning hours.  Later in the day one can move up close to the dams and locks and cast large jigging spoons and Shad imitations.  Large jigs (l ounce) with plastic bodies in pearl or white colors seem to work well.

Electronics are used to locate the large school of fish as they chase the shad.  Once a school is located it can be fished by jigging, trolling lures or with live bait on downriggers.  The jigging is more exciting and productive.

Downstream from the dams or locks, rip rap banks are most productive.  The gizzard and threadfin shad are attracted to the plankton and algae between the rocks.  The stripers follow them in and feast on the shad.

Another good downstream location is the sheltered side of islands.  Small islands deflect current.  As the bait fish move into eddies to rest, the stripers will be waiting for them.  Some stripers are found on the upstream end of islands but not as many as will be found downstream.  Generally stripers can be found anywhere that there is a current break and a good food supply.

Fishing for stripers is an exciting sport and if you decide to keep a couple, they are excellent eating.



There is nothing that will stir the heart like the whine of a reel when a Striper or Hybrid Striper has taken your bait.  These striped rockets are the state’s greatest battler according to Steve Pall, former IDNR Fisheries Chief.

Although Illinois does not aggressively stock the river, Illinois anglers benefit from the extensive stocking program of Kentucky.  Although the stripers and hybrid stripers are to be found all along the southern edge of Illinois in the Ohio River, it is one of the under fished for species.  The river produces 3- to 10-pound striped bass and 8- to 10-pound hybrids.

Most of the stripers and hybrids are probably caught incidental to catfish and sauger fishing.  They bite on both cut bait and artificial lures.  If they are in feeding mode, the fish takes topwater lures like the Zara Spook, according to local angler Charles Vaughn.  He fishes the river frequently for stripers.  In high water conditions, he prefers the Rat-L-Traps and other crankbaits.

If the water is clear, he recommends chrome and black or another other shad imitation.  In darker water he selects bright colors.

Vaughn prefers 7 to 7 ½ foot rods spooled with 12-pound line in areas where there are rocks.

Charles fishes the fast running water in the tailwaters below Smithland Lock and Dam.  Fishing from a large flat bottom boat, he anchors with the bow into the current for safety.  He reaches the fishing waters by putting in at the Golconda Marina (618-683-5875) and then traveling down stream and through the Lock and Dam.  Once through the locks, he then moves back up to the dam area.

Stripers are a saltwater relative of the white bass.  Stripers have a straighter back and are dark green on top with a brassy tinge that is lighter on the sides.  The underside is silver in color.

The most prominent feature is the presence of seven or eight narrow horizontal stripes on the sides.  Hence the species name.  The side stripes on the hybrid are less distinct and definitely broken.

Hybrids tend to grow faster making them more popular with anglers.  They usually are 5 pounds by the third year of their life.

Fishing for the Smithland striped rockets is usually best when he water is at normal pool and moving well.  Water in this area of the river can change quickly due to weather and storm water run off from up river.  In high water as well as low water conditions the turbidity affects the fishing adversely.  Regulars on the river check the U.S. Corps of Engineers website for water levels.  The site is at www.CorpsLakes.US.

Information on accommodations is available from the Southernmost Tourism Bureau at their website of



DSCN4025Decisions, decisions, decisions.  What is the right rod to produce satisfactory results on your next fishing expedition?

As an angler becomes more and more proficient he soon decides just what works.  And what is less successful.  Then there are those of us who can spend lifetime fishing and not get it just right.

On a recent fishing expedition with Rick LaPoint the subject of rod choice came up.  It was a perfect time to pick the brain of this rod czar of Razr Rods LLC (  With some 18-years experienced in guiding fishermen across the Midwest, Rick has tried all sorts of rod made from an infinite choice of materials.

For a bass set-up Rich recommends a 6 or 7 foot medium to medium light action rod with light line and light lures.  For flipping he finds medium heavy to heavy action rod of 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 foot is his choice with heavier line and lure choice.

The bigger guide holes are good for largemouth bass fishing.  Rick likes to use a Redfin #1 topwater lure.  For the slightly smaller spotted bass he tends to use a finesse presentation.

Later in the year he will use a drop-shot rig of a 6 1/2 foot to 7 foot medium light rod.  The idea is that when the bass grabs the lure, the tip of the rod loads up creating less stress on the line.

The generally smaller smallmouth bass seem to prefer tube jigs.  LaPoint prefers colors like green/pumpkin, purple flakes, and mustard.  For smallmouth bass Rick likes a 6 1/2 foot medium rod with 8-pound line.  He also recommends a 7 foot medium heavy rod with 10-pound line.

When seeking crappies, Rick’s choice is a two-piece 8 or 9 foot rod.  His light action rod is especially for crappie fishing.  He uses the long rod to make the float he prefers dance by jigging it with the very flexible end.  LaPoint prefers the action of a stationary float over the slip-float often preferred by crappie anglers.  His theory is that the stationary float with a jig suspended below will travel more horizontally and the jig moves more like a minnow.  He does not like the slip float because it causes the jig to hop up and down vertically.  As proof of his preferences he offers his success in catching 5 times more crappie with the stationary float rig.

Getting back to rod selection and turning to bluegill and sunfish Rick says his choice of rod length and action is basically the same as that of the crappie rods.  However he does make a different choice with shore fishing.  There he likes a 5 1/2 foo to 6 foot rod.  He still uses the stationary float and a jig with a piece of worm attached.

For those walleye and sauger Rick lies to use a 6 1/2 foot medium light rod or a 7 foot medium heavy rod.

The longer and heavier rods are Rick’s choice for northern pike and Muskie.  He likes 7-foot medium heavy rods or a 7 1/2 foot heavy rod.  The 7-foot extra heavy rod is for use in casting those large wooden Muskie plugs.

Virtually all of the rod choices mentioned above are of graphite construction.  For those people really looking for high end components, Razr Rods makes a graphite rod wrapped with Kevlar and scim cloth.  Called the Platinum Rod, it features rod guide inserts of steel to prevent guide failure.  It is 30% lighter than traditional graphite rods “for the fish you have been missing.”



DSCN4047Most freshwater boats are trailered from one body of water to another with little regard to the trailer maintenance.  Although the investment in the trailer is less than what most people have tied up in their boats, it is still considerable.

A little trailer maintenance goes a long way.  Many older trailers have survived 50,000 miles in cross country travel.  Not without some work by their owners.  Trailer maintenance is not costly nor is it complicated.  Common sense and a few bucks will go a long way.

To help protect the trailer’s value, keep it clean.  After each use, wash it clean.  If the trailer is painted, a good car wax application will help protect the finish.  Use touch up paint from the dealer to repair the nicks from rocks thrown up from the roadway.

Check the air pressure and wear of the tires regularly.  Also check the lug nuts on the wheels.  Check the lights and electrical components.  Hook the trailer to your tow vehicle and make sure all lights are working.  That includes both the running lights and turn signals.  Also check the lenses over the light bulbs for cracks and holes.  Replace them if necessary.  You can spray the connections with contact spray to keep them clean and free of corrosion.

Be sure to check the hubs and lubricate the wheel bearings.  Look for any unusual wear or damage.  Trailers can have either grease pack hubs or the newer oil bath hubs.  Stick with the grease pack hubs.

According to them Oil bath hubs work well on the highway with trucks.  However, boat trailers are in a different environment.  The hubs can heat up on the highway and then they dip into cool lake water.  The sudden temperature change creates a vacuum inside the hub.  The vacuum will draw condensation, moisture or impurities directly into the bearing.  That leads to premature bearing failure.

Using oil bath hubs on trailers stored over the winter, or only used a few times per year, also promotes condensation.  With many oil bath hubs, it becomes necessary to rotate the wheels every other week to prevent rusting and pitting of the bearings.  Not a popular chore for the owner.

The use of grease-packed hubs provides dependability and reliability.

Before taking to the road, check the inch strap and any tie downs for worn or frayed sections that might fail.  Inspect the safety chains and make sure they are connected.  Check any rollers or bunks for excessive wear.  They are usually OK for many years of use but accidental damage occurs.

Check the hitch and test the breaking system.  On the road allow more time for stopping than would be the case without towing a boat.

Be sure that the boat is level on the trailer and the boat/trailer combination is level when hooked to the tow vehicle.  Proper boat and trailer adjustment reduces wind resistance and improves fuel mileage.  If the boat has pedestal seats, take them down and store out of the wind.  Wind resistance against the seat can cause unnecessary stress to the pedestal mount and decrease its life span.  Boat covers also cut down on wind resistance.

On the road maintain a constant speed.  Accelerate slowly and steadily from a stop.  In areas with speed limits less than 65 mph, maintain a steady and constant speed at the posted limit.  In areas over 65 mph try to maintain speed at about 5 mph under the speed limit to improve mileage of the tow vehicle.

Paying attention to some of the details mentioned above can help to keep costs down and reliability up for your boating pleasure.


Striper0003_edited-1Crossing the Ohio River last week from Kentucky to Illinois, the stained water from spring flooding up river reminds one of how important clean water is to fishing it.

Smithland Pool is a bass factory.  But, finding clear water is the key to success in catching them.  Clear water might be in any of a dozen different locations.

Smithland Pool is a 72 mile long section of the Ohio River up river from the Smithland Lock and Dam.  Completed in 1980, the dam backed water up and caused the level in the creeks to rise 12 to 15 feet.  The result was a 27,000 acre fish heaven.

There are 10 major streams and 12 minor tributaries that enter the river from the Illinois side alone.  From the Kentucky side there are an additional 8 streams and five tributaries.  Because these tributaries and streams are spring fed, they tend to be clearer than is the main river.

The amount of fishable locations in Smithland can be a bit over whelming.  The key is to choose a creek and study it.  The amount of standing and fallen timber is frustrating.  One can work the river and creek bends that contain deadfalls or a divergence of vegetation growth.  The changes in water color are important to the way bass feed. Bass prefer the clearer water.

Leaving from the Golconda Marina, anglers often move right into Lusk Creek only a few yards down river.  It is just north of mile 890.  Because of its proximity to the marina, the fishing pressure, in the creek, is heavy.  It does produce a lot of good fish.  The combination of clear water and cover attract the threadfin shad from the river.  The shad then are the forage base for the bass.

Crankbaits, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits will all work in Lusk Creek.

Dog Creek just north of the dam on the Illinois side of the river allows anglers to go way back in there, if you find the right way.  There are a number of dead end feeder creeks.  One needs to stay with the current.  It is possible to go 3 or 4 miles back to an area full of lily pads.  Throw spinnerbaits and buzzbaits in such colors as shad and blue gill colors.  A red Mud Bug works well on occasion.

Below Golconda are Barren, Bay and Grand Pere Creeks.  Anglers flip and pitch to the standing timber and deadfalls.  Spinner baits and crankbaits are a good start for active fish.

Slow presentations of plastic worms and jigs, often find fish the less aggressive fish.  The slower presentations work well in root systems.

Fishing the main river in June the water is clearer.  It is possible to find stumps in the clear water of the main river that are 10 to 12 feet down.  Tossing a Pop‑R over those stumps can lead to taking a lot of good fish.

Moving north from the dam, some other popular areas for bass anglers are the channels on the Kentucky side of the river.  They run between the shoreline and such islands as Stewart’s Island, Sister Islands, and Pryors Island.  The channels receive a lot of pressure but a lot of good fish come from there.

Slow rolled spinnerbaits and salt craws are popular lures.  Favorite colors seem to be black and chartreuse.

Although the most popular areas are south of Golconda, Love Creek and the Treadwater tributaries to the north are good areas. The same lures used in other areas of the pool work here as well.

KAYAKS FOR FISHING   Leave a comment


Being in a kayak or canoe is a different experience than being in a bass or other fishing boat.  It is nearer the water surface.  It is quieter allowing for a nearly silent approach to wildlife or target water.

For the observant and analytical angler it offers an opportunity to gain insight into the habitat without disturbing the environment.

You can get away from traditional paths followed by power craft into the skinny water where fish often await some hapless baitfish and shelter from the elements.

Like all adventures on the water, fishing from kayaks and canoes does have its hazards.  The paddler must think out his course to make the optimum use of the water available and still not exhaust himself.  Be aware of you physical condition and stamina. An exhausted fisherman can have a tough time getting back to his launch point.  Novice paddlers probably should limit their early trips to one or two hours of travel.

It helps to plan your trip to travel with the wind as much as possible.  Keep an eye on the weather.  If it deteriorates you will not have as much time to get to shelter as with a power boat.

As is the case with most adventures, it is a good idea to leave a note as to where you will be traveling and what time you plan to return.  That way if you experience a problem and cannot meet your schedule, help will have a place to begin the search for you.  It is best to paddle with someone else.

Beware of converging currents around rocks and points.  Avoid dam areas as fast water in the tailwaters can suddenly submerge your craft.

Always wear a personal floatation device (life vest) at all times.  Other emergency equipment should include a first aid kit and whistle.  The whistle can come in handy if you are trying to attract attention should you need help.  The whistle will last longer than your voice.  If fishing in low light conditions and there is a possibility you may be out after dark, have a flashlight with fresh batteries.

Should you encounter power boats, do not assume that they will see you.  Wave your paddle until they acknowledge your presence.  And always point the bow of your craft into their wake.

Do not drink alcohol while paddling but do keep hydrated with water or sports drinks.  If you become dehydrated paddling will be nearly impossible.

Kayaks are fast becoming the choice of the angler in search of solitude and skinny water in which to fish.  Safety is a prime concern but the satisfaction of moving back into coves otherwise in accessible is awesome.

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