Archive for the ‘Rend Lake’ Tag

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.

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.

 

REND LAKE SUMMER FISHING   Leave a comment

The big predator fish of Rend Lake provide plenty of angling action for those who plan their activities. District 19 Fisheries Manager for the IDNR describes the lake as “a catfish factory.”

In early May catfish, both Flathead and Channel, action begins to heat up as they move into the spawning mode. Just when it happens is dependent upon the water temperatures.  Warmer temperatures make the spawn begin earlier and it could begin in April.

On Rend Lake, once the catfishing begins it usually will continue all summer right into October and November.  It is at that point that the water begins to cool and the fish become less active.

Rend Lake has an abundance of Channel Catfish.  Well known fishing guide, Todd Gessner maintains that if one is fishing for channel catfish, most of the action will be with fish in the 1 to 1 2 pound size.  Occasionally you are going to catch fish in the 8 to 12 pound range.

Most of the catfishing anglers are hook and line fishermen who fish with nightcrawlers, cut bait, or dip baits. However, some anglers like to jug fish.  This consists of a short line attached to a plastic bottle (soda or milk) and a baited hook with a nightcrawler on the other end.  Jugs are tossed into the water and the anglers sit back to wait.  At some point one or more of the jugs will move about quickly in the still waters.  Often it will be in a different direction from the other jugs.  Then it is time to crank up the motor and go retrieve it.

On hotter days, Gessner recommends going out on the lake in a boat and drift fishing. He will use a throw net to catch shad for bait.  Todd can keep this up all summer long.  He finds these patterns very productive.

Most of the Flathead Catfish come from fishing jugs and trotlines. Occasionally one hears of a fish taken with rod and reel.  Gessner’s guide business does not get a great deal of call for Flathead fishing.

Another popular predator species in Rend Lake are the bass.  Most numerous are the Largemouth Bass but the lake does have Stripers as well.

The Striper fishery is dependent upon proper spawning conditions and water level of the lake. Some fish wash over the spillway.  There does seem to be an increased number of better fish found below the dam.

The fishing down there is basically shore fishing. The fast water comes over the dam and down the chute into a wide area where the water slows.  A good bet according to Todd is casting a small spinner bait or white twister tail to see just what you might catch.  It seems that just about every species found in the lake are in that small still water basin.

Consistently catching Stripers is a very iffy prospect. The fish need high water so that they can move into the river upstream of the sub-impoundment according to Mike Hooe.  Getting the right water level at the right time is not always possible.

Todd reports that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources did stock some 13-inch Stripers hoping to improve that fishery. It will be interesting to see if that leads to more anglers catching fish.

Largemouth Bass in Rend Lake in the 2 to 4 pound classes with a few 8-pound fish weighed in during bass tournaments.

As the summer heat begins fishing becomes very difficult during the day with temperatures in the 90-degree plus area. Gessner proclaims that his business slows down significantly and generally involves just the real hardcore anglers.  They divide up the day, go out for only about four hours in the morning from dawn to about 10 a.m., and then find some air conditioned place to wait out the heat.  About 4 o’clock they will return to the water until about 8 p.m.

Rend Lake is an excellent fishery with good water quality.  The vast expanse of the lake is broken up with brush and old timber in the northern reaches.  It is there that most of the fishing action seems to take place.  For more information about guide service and accommodations contact Todd Gessner on his cell phone at 618-513-0520.

WINTER FISHING   1 comment

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Perhaps at no other time of the year do anglers enjoy a larger variety of fishing opportunities. Weather conditions can vary significantly.

Whether fishing open water of power plant lakes or partially iced-up lakes and rivers, the water temperatures govern winter fishing. Some areas will be warmer due to warm water discharges or underwater springs affecting the temperature of the water surrounding them.  Some lakes and rivers receive water from slowly meandering feeder creeks that pick up warmth as they flow through open country.

So it is that anglers can still be ice fishing in one area and other anglers looking forward to pre-spawn activity. Add the conditions in the power plant cooling lakes and there is the opportunity to experience fishing for many species using a variety of techniques.

Ice fishing anglers use 2- to 4-pound fluorocarbon and small jigs to seek out primarily yellow perch, bluegills and crappies. For bait they prefer small jigs with plastic grubs are the best bet.  White bass and crappies prefer jigging spoons with spikes (maggots) or Fathead Minnows.  The bite is always a light one.

Open water anglers on the Great Lakes find the salmon species are a good bet using spawn sacks slowly jigged just off the bottom. An alternative is a white jig tipped with wax worms for the yellow perch.

Panfish anglers, in open water situations, prefer small plastic jigs or jig/minnow combinations with light line on long crappie poles. Good colors for the plastic jigs are white, pink/green and chartreuse.  Catfish anglers find their best results using cut bait, dough baits and nightcrawlers.

The larger cold water species (walleye and muskie) in open water will take spinnerbaits and some shallow running crankbaits, such as bladeless rattling lures.

CATFISH ACTION IN AUGUST   2 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

BANK FISHING POST-SPAWN CHANNEL CATFISH   Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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