Archive for the ‘outdoors’ Tag

SUMMER CATFISHING   Leave a comment

Buzzing mosquitoes are deafening in still morning air.  A river flows along slowly to some unknown destination.  A float suddenly disappears beneath the surface jolting a fisherman back to the present.

It is not just any fish that took that float under, it was a channel catfish.  The forked-tailed channel and his sluggish flathead cousin are the most frequently encountered member of the catfish family.  Maybe gamefish are just prettier but none can match the catfish pound for pound in the fighting ability.

Fishermen with long poles and smelly baits prowl the banks of rivers.  Mostly they concentrate on the large rivers systems.  However, there are some big fish found in the smaller waterways.

Large catfish move from larger rivers into the feeder waters to spawn.  Many find areas to their liking and remain as king of the waterway.  The competition for forage is not great and they tend to grow old and fat in these smaller waters.

Channel catfish will seek out areas where fast water turns into slow flowing water.  Cats like current breaks.  Shore anglers look for a point of land or a large tree that has fallen into the water and blocks the current.  Often the flowing water will wash out a hole and the big cats move into it.

Cats take up residence on the downstream side of the hole and move up to the edge on the upstream side to feed.  Then they return to the slack water to rest in peace.  The angler who casts to the upstream areas from these holes can allow their bait to float into the fish’s feeding area.

Early in the day, it is a good idea to fish any water were fast moving current meets slower current.  Catfish feed along slack water borders.

Downstream, rocks that break the speed of the water current are good locations for finding fish.  An eddy forms behind them and fish stack up waiting for food washing to them.  By casting upstream of these areas, anglers can allow their bait to float right to the waiting fish.  As with the holes, the fish feed on the upstream side and rest downstream.

Regardless of the water, it is a good idea to remember that catfish prefer cover.  They feed near the bottom and around rocks and stumps.  Often they will stay in the deep water near structure except when feeding.  During warm water periods they move up to feed in shallow flats late in the day and during the night.  In the morning they move under any existing vegetation such as weed cover or submerged logs.  Once the water warms to the point they are uncomfortable, they will return to the deeper water.

Tackle for catfishing is simple.  It usually involves along pole or rod.  It can vary from a simple cane pole to the more sophisticated graphite or fiberglass rod.  The rod must be sensitive enough to detect a bite, yet stout enough to horse in the big ones.  Most are 7 feet or more in length.  Ideally it will have a stiff center section and flexible tip.

The reel must cast well; have a smooth drag and preferably a clicker mode.

Nightcrawlers, crayfish and minnows make good baits.  For those who do not mind a mess, cheese baits and cut pieces of bait fish are effective.  Sucker, shad and chubs are good bait fish.

Rigs for catfish fishing are uncomplicated regardless of the bait used.  There are four basic styles.  The first is a swivel tied to the line and a 12-inch leader down to the bait.  The second rig is a variation of that with a snap attached to a short leader of 6-inhes or less.  These two rigs are popular with dip bait anglers as they permit the quick change of dip bait worms.

The third rig is a three-way swivel tied to the main line.  A 6-inch drop line holds a heavy lead sinker.  The third part of the swivel ties to a 12-inch leader holding the bait.

A fourth rig involves a slip float that is held in place by a bead and stop knot.  The movable stop allows for the adjustment of the float to control the depth of the bait.  The line continues to a swivel, weight to hold the bait near the bottom in slow water areas.

In all of these cases the swivel prevents a twisting catfish from tangling the line as it attempts to get off the hook.  Speaking of hooks, Kale and circle hooks seem the best bet as they aid the fish in hooking himself as he grabs the bait.

Summertime is catfish time when anglers enjoy a banquet of fishing opportunities.  Do not neglect those channel catfish.

 

PLANNING A DOVE HUNT   Leave a comment

September dove hunting begins just prior to the teal and other waterfowl seasons by just a few days.  It provides a warm-up opportunity for the waterfowl hunter.

With backswept wings and long pointed tails, these little gray rockets have a cruising speed of 30 to 40 miles per hour and can reach 60 in short spurts.  Couples that with their ability to bob and weave at the same time and you have a very tough target.

Estimates are that the hunter fires three times for each bird he hits.  Many hunters, if they are truthful, will not do that good. They are a bird that can humble the best shotgunner.

Perhaps the three basic elements of dove hunting are location, concealment, and patience.

Understanding the flight habits of the birds the key to selecting a stand location.  In the morning they fly into water or areas containing gravel for grit.  In the evening they fly to the water again and then to trees to roost for the night.  Advance scouting an area prior to the hunt helps to learn the flight path of the birds.

A good pair of binoculars comes in handy.  You can scout a number of locations more quickly if you do not have to travel all the way into the fields.  A drive down nearby roads can allow the hunter to look over a variety of locations in less time.

On the day of the hunt study the flight of the birds already traveling in and out of the field.  Then choose a location that best allows you to be within 40 yards of that flight path.  Forty yards should be a maximum shooting distance.  Such things as wind direction and structure on the ground influence flight paths.

Avoid locations that require you shooting into the sun.  Nothing spoils a shot than swinging into the sun just before you pull the trigger.

Once you select the shooting position find a place for concealment in that location.  The good locations are often on the edge of grain fields or beneath a large tree with bare limbs.  Doves like to land in such trees to survey the field below for danger.  Once satisfied that there is no danger, they then drop down into fields to feed or to water holes to quench their thirst.

Some hunters prefer a hill near the fields allowing better vision of approaching birds.  But, that also exposes them to approaching flights.

Wherever one choose to set up camouflage is important.  That is both clothing and the surrounding vegetation.  Bushes and tall grass are usually good to help conceal the hunter.  Camouflage clothing must match the surrounding environment.

The spot must be comfortable so you do not fidget.  It is vital to sit still as movement often spooks approaching birds.  A cooler is often a chair of choice.  It not only provides a place to sit, but can also store, soft drinks, and sandwiches. It also can hold harvested birds.  Be sure to bring plenty of water.  If you are hunting with a dog, double that amount of water.

On the subject of water, in hot weather dehydration it is very easy for both you and your dog without being aware of it.  There is a saying among desert hunters that fits very well.  “Once you become thirsty, you are already dehydrated.”  For that reason take regular sips of water even if you are not thirsty.

Dove hunting is not physically demanding sport.  But, it does demand shooting skill.  Trips to the trap and skeet ranges are a good idea.  They not only sharpen shooting skills but they also help to train the eye to spot small targets flying at fast speed.

 

REND LAKE (IL) A CATFISH FACTORY   Leave a comment

 

 

 

On a quiet summer evening one can hear the slurping sound of a catfish as he rises to the surface and rolls over in a swell as he devours a small insect or other aquatic life.  Anglers use a variety of baits and presentations entice this whiskered wonder.  The brushy areas of the coves and along Gun Creek and the Highway 57 bridges are popular hot spots.  That is not to mention the action found along the railway, Interstate 57 and Illinois Highway 37 shallows.

Boat activity stirs up the shallows and provides and attractant for the catfish to feed on the aquatic life released.  The catfish are everywhere.

Rend Lake is a 19,000-acre reservoir located on the border of Franklin and Jefferson counties.  It is about 300 miles south of Chicago (via Interstate 57) and 100 miles east of St. Louis (via Interstate 64).  A Marina on the south end caters to anglers and boaters from across southern Illinois.

In late summer the good places for catfish include the whole north end of the lake north of Route 154, in the stick ups and other shallow areas.  If there is a north or south wind and the lake is choppy the catfish move deep.  Then the fish like the environmental protection afforded by Gun Creek.

On windy days fish the creeks and coves.  On calm days one can move out into the main lake.

Catfish seem to relate to structure.  Look for stumps, weed beds, and brush.  A lot of Flathead Catfish fishermen tie jugs to the trees along the shoreline baited with live bait.  Bluegills are the preferred bait for the big flatheads. Under Illinois law the bluegills used as bait must come from the lake.

Some of the rod and reel anglers seeking flatheads suspend a minnow or bluegill about 3 feet below a flat in water with some current.  The rod and reel anglers do manage to take some flatheads.  It is that they just do not measure up to the really big ones that the jug fishermen seem to take.

One of the nice things about Rend Lake is the access afforded the pole and line angler.  From both the shore and a boat, it is possible to work the shoreline of the lake as well as the river channels for channel catfish. In the spring, when the water is high with winter run off, the sub impoundment areas are popular catfish locations.

During the summer months the fish are plentiful.  Only the weather can be a bit oppressive, as temperatures tend to be in the 90-plus degree range with high humidity. Anglers often prefer to fish during the low light hour of late evening or early morning.  Night fishing is also a possibility.

In late summer, the sub-impoundment areas are normally dry. But the area just below the sub-impoundment dam is a good catfish area.

The average size of channel catfish caught is 1 to 1 ½ pounds.  That is about average for the lake.  Some will get to 2 pounds.  All are excellent eating size fish.

Most of the line and pole anglers prefer a stiff 6 foot rod.  Most veteran catfish fishermen recommend line of the 10 to 20 pound test.  A 1/0 hook or something fairly good sized is best.  Most anglers tie a sinker about a foot above the hook, right on the main line.  That way it sits on the bottom and allows the bait to float just above it.  Some will tie the sinker on a drop line off the main line in the same location.

The bait of choice for the channel catfish in this area is generally stink bait.  Other baits include shad cut into pieces, shad guts, leeches, chicken livers, nightcrawlers and minnows.

Rend Lake is a summer catfisherman’s heaven.

FISHING TO AND FROM BOAT DOCKS   Leave a comment

 

 

With falls cooling waters the fishing around the relatively shallow areas of docks begins to pick up.

Most approaches to fishing boat docks focus on approaching from the open water. There is another kind of dock fishing, that of fishing from the dock.

Growing up in the 50’s we did all of our fishing from shore or a boat dock. Most of it was from boat docks on Clear Lake, a large spring fed body of water in north-central Iowa.

Dad knew some people who had summer cottages on the lake and would allow us to fish from their dock in the evening. When none of their docks was available there was always a commercial dock that charged a fee to fish from it.  It had a small restaurant that served great hot dogs and also sold nightcrawlers and minnows.  The last resort was one of the state or city docks available for free but often crowded with anglers.

The only real advantage of using the public docks was a chance to learn other people’s techniques for catching fish. It provided a youngster with a chance to see what worked and what did not.

The first rule I learned was that fish followed the edges of weed beds in search of forage fish that fed on the insects that called the weed home. Casting to the weeds sticking up out of the water would yield a bullhead or two.

From there is was a simple step to bobber fishing at about 18 inches deep in the more open water between the dock and the weeds. Stripers as we called them would take a minnow suspended below the bobber and give a thrilling bit of action.  These were actually small striped bass.

Blue gills and sunfish congregate around a specific dock piling and are easy to jig for by dropping a piece of worm on a hook. You just lower it down and bring it up.  Somewhere along the way a little sunny will grab hold.

Basic patterns came from experimentation and from old timers who would sit on the benches and tell a youngster how to catch fish.

Some of the fishing technique learned during those golden summer days was simple but often overlooked.

Most docks are private property. To gain access, one must get permission from the shoreline owner.  Not doing so is to trespass an offense that can result in a fine or worse.  A better choice is to find public docks or piers.  Many state parks have such facilities.

Choose a fishing location by observing the wind. Fish follow the forage blown toward shore.  Docks located on the downwind side of a body of water are a haven for forage fish and the larger predatory fish follow.

Night is a good time for catfish and walleye. Fishing from a dock at night can be a very pleasant experience.  The night time on a lake is one of peace and quiet.  It is a very relaxing environment.  Other good times for dock fishing are early morning and sunset.  Low light conditions cause fish to lower their alertness to danger.

The end of a dock is usually in the deepest water. But along its length are locations that attract certain species of fish, like the bluegill and sunfish.  They were in about 3 feet of water about half way down the dock.  They were there because no one looked for them there and they found food washed in from deeper water as well as shade from the sun.

Many docks have artificial and natural structure within casting distance. The secret is to find them and remember where they are for next time.  You find them by watching other anglers.  They will cast to their honey-hole locations.  If they cast to a certain spot more than once it is a sure tipoff that they have caught fish there on more than one occasion.

Being observant and paying attention to what others are saying pays off in dock fishing. One day while eating a hamburger in that restaurant at the commercial dock one guy was telling another that the best action he gets were catfish just off the 4th post on the dock.  He said he suspended a nightcrawler on a small hook about 18-inches under a bobber.  After the two of them had gone home, I moved to that location and did as the man said.  By the time dad came to pick me up, three 5 pound catfish were dancing on my stringer.  That spot would yield many more over the years.

There is no telling what was down there to attract those fish. Whatever it was produced fish for several years.

Over the dock fishing years a pattern in the use of tackle has developed. Use a casting rod to reach out away from the dock.  At the same time use another rod to drop a bobber and bait up close to the dock in hope of drawing a fish out from the shade under it.

Terminal tackle is simple. It consists of ultra light, but visible bobbers, a few different sizes of bait hooks, and bait, either minnows or nightcrawlers.  Cut the nightcrawlers into thirds to extend the amount of bait available.

REND LAKE AN ANGLERS DREAM IN SUMMER   Leave a comment

 

 

In the early days of the flooding of Rend Lake, following the building of the spillway, the bottom was relatively featureless. Construction crews piled much of the wood structure in a few areas, burned it or carted it away.

Later as coal exploration developed there were as many as 9 mines on the shore. Many dug under the lake to form mine shafts supported by construction called patterns.  Later as the mines ceased to produce they pulled the patterns and the bottom of the lake subsided forming an uneven bottom structure.  Fish of all species began to use that uneven bottom and the bass and crappie population exploded.

Probably one of the best known crappie lakes in southern Illinois is Rend Lake, a Corps of Engineers reservoir of 18,900-acres astride Interstate 57 in Franklin County.   For the past 3- years the lake has experienced high water in the spring during the crappie spawn.  This can be a blessing or a curse.  It creates lots of young smaller fish reducing the percentage of large fish in the population.  It does hold well for the future, as the significant numbers of crappie provides ample larger fish in the years ahead.

In the early days of the lake the Illinois state record black crappie came from here. The 4-pound 8-ounce record stood since 1976 until beaten in 2017 by a fish from Kinkaid Lake.

As word of the fantastic crappie fishery expanded people began to over harvest the fish. There was no limit in those days and anglers would fill coolers with fish to feed their families.  That had to change and did when a new biologist came to the area named Mike Hooe.  He was not a popular figure in the early days but today he is something of a hero.

The IDNR enacted length and creel limits in 2002 which continue to today producing a significant impact on the size structure and the population according to that D-19 Fisheries Manager, Mike Hooe. “Populations have improved dramatically and remain stable,” exclaims Mike.  The fish are in very good condition and fishing continues outstanding.  The thick fish are the kind anglers refer to as having “shoulders.”

Due to high water conditions the last 3 years in a row, there are more of the smaller fish than in years past. As a result the larger fish are beginning to represent a small proportion of the total fishery.   In future years those year classes will become the larger fish in the lake boding well for future crappie fishing.

The younger year class of which Mike speaks includes fish in the 6 to 8-inch class.   Crappies in the 10 to 12-inch class are abundant and average a half to over a pound in weight.  Creel limits on this lake are a total of 25 fish with not more than 10 fish exceeding 10-inches.

There are numerous fish attractors around the lake providing supplemental structure. Maps and GPS Coordinates are available online at http://www.mtvernon.com/newtourism/fishattractor/pdf.  The Corps and the IDNR received badly need funds in 2017 to add more.  Many local anglers and organizations placing their own fish locators supplemented these structures.  Mike Hooe recommends using electronics to locate any structure.

 

NIGHT FISHIING IN SUMMER   Leave a comment

Night fishing becomes important in summer for two basic reasons weather and recreational pressure.  The heat and humidity of the day is often oppressive.  The cooler temperatures of evening bring out feeding fish as well as anglers looking for relief.  Recreational boating pressures make the daylight hours less productive for fishermen.

As the weather fronts pass through they set off thunderstorms.  Usually a late afternoon situation, these storms present dangerous situations from wind and lightning.  When out in a boat or on shore, it wise to keep one eye on the horizon while fishing.  But, the fishing can be really good just before and just after these storms pass through the area.

During summer, a fish’s metabolism is at a high point and he feeds frequently.  The weather may be hot but there is a distinct lack of fronts going through to upset his lifestyle.  The lush vegetation provides ambush pints for fish to lay in wait and allow hapless minnows to come to them.  Competition for the forage from other fish is low, as the weeds tend to scatter fish of all species.

Surface water temperatures are warm and tend to be uncomfortable for fish.  Small fish generally inhabit it as they try to escape the big guys who are trying to eat them.  The larger fish are deeper in their comfort zone.

Night fishing is not all that productive right after sunset.  One can use those hours to get into position for the night action.  By getting into position, one can be sure of finding just the right location for the evening’s activities.  Know where all your tackle is in the boat so you can find it in the dark.

Once on the water at night, it is advisable to make sure the night vision is working.  Do not look at bright lights, as it will spoil ones night vision for several minutes.

Night fishing is comfortable from an angler’s point of view.  It is a time to soothe and heal. But, it also is a time when senses become more alert and fine-tuned to the environment.

Just be careful not to sit on a crankbait.

 

FINDING POST-SPAWN CRAPPIE   Leave a comment

Southern Illinois lakes provide excellent crappie fishing during the pre-spawn and spawn. However, once the spawn is over, these tasty little critters seem to disappear.  Granted it is possible to find a few around tree stumps and other vegetation, but the numbers of fish just seem to decline after they finish the spawn.

On Crab Orchard Lake, you can pretty much go any where on the lake and catch crappie. Concentrate your efforts in the main lake, Grassy Bay and in the tributaries to the north of Route 13.  Fish anywhere there is rip rap, especially that along Route 13 where it crosses the lake on the north side.

On Lake of Egypt look to the shallow grass areas, points and small pockets as the water begins to warm. Early on it produces crappie because of the warming of the water from the power plant on the north end of the lake.  As the warm water filters down the lake, the fish also migrate along.

The fish follow the old creek channels and hold up on deep water stumps. They are often caught in 20 to 30 foot of water.  Many guys catch them out there year around.

Local anglers prefer 1/16th ounce jigs with a chartreuse head and red hooks. Other colors on the jigs are black/chartreuse, watermelon/chartreuse, red/chartreuse and Junebug/chartreuse.  Use the popular vertical pattern or cast to under water structure such as weeds and brush.  The later pattern is for those with a lack of patience.

With a heavier jig you tend to reel a little faster than with 1/16th ounce jigs. The idea is to reel slowly enough to stay in contact with the cover.  Crappie will not go down to get forage fish.  They prefer to look upward at all times and the angler who keeps his jig above them will be more successful.

Crappie move to deeper water and relate to the structure found there.   It can be submerged points, rocks, brush pile or ledges.  They find the depth of water that is most comfortable to maintain their desired body temperature.  Forage fish seek out water of their desired temperature.  Crappie usually congregate below them and move up to feed before returning to their comfort range.

Shallow water is where most anglers catch crappies, they move away to deep water structure in an effort to find their comfort zone. The forage fish they pursue for their livelihood seek out water that is comfortable for them.  Find the forage fish near the structure and the crappie should be below them.

 

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