Archive for the ‘Rend Lake’ Tag
In recent years a lot of talk has surfaced regarding this southern Illinois fishery. Most of it centers on the crappie population. With two years of decline in the number of fish over 10-inches in length is the cause is subject to a lot of conjecture.
However, last years surveys by the Illinois Department of natural Resources showed a slight improvement according to Fisheries Manager Mike Hooe. Hooe, probably more than any one person is responsible for the good years enjoyed by Illinois anglers fishing for its famous crappies. He was the person who introduced the slot limit that led to the increase in the numbers of larger fish.
In a recent report to anglers at the Williamson County Boat Show, Hooe explained that the size of crappies has begun to turn around and is rising. Says Hooe, “another year or so and the numbers of the larger fish should rise back to peak rates.” Leaving out the fishing pressure factor, Mike still believes the numbers of 10-inch plus fish should continue to increase. The popularity of this lakes fishery for crappie has place some considerable stress on it.
Moving from crappies to largemouth bass, Mike reports that the number of largemouth bass. Mike reports that the number of fish exceeding the 14-inche minimum length limit fell 26-percent in the most recent survey. At this time 28-percent of the adult bass exceeds the 14-inche limit. The number of fish over 20-inches in length is low but stable.
The majority of bass in the 14 to 18-inch class weigh between 1 1/2 pounds and 3 1/2 pounds. With the abundant food supply growth rates should be excellent helping the size structure in the coming year. Bass fishing this year should be about the same as it was last year.
Rend Lake continues to be a catfish factory. Natural recruitment remains strong and thus there is no need to do supplemental stocking of the lake. Channel catfish in the 1 to 3-pound range should be abundant this year, according to Hooe. He also is finding fish up to 6-pounds common.
Word is good on the white bass scene. Reproduction has been good in 2011, 2012, and 2013 and in the fall of 2015. This has resulted in a significant rise in the population to its highest level in 7 years. Mike explains white bass do well in years with flooding. The spawn is critical and the flooding provides great spawning conditions. Here on Rend the numbers are up with most fish being in the 12 to 15-inche length and weighing 1/2 to 1 1/2 pounds.
Another game fish found in Rend Lake is the bluegill, Illinois state fish. After two years of declining populations the overall size of the fish will be in the 6 1/2 to 8-inche length and they should be abundant. The number of fish over 8-inches is about the same as in prior years. Some bluegills will reach a weight of 1/2 pounds. The fishery as a whole is showing above average growth rates with excellent body condition.
Finally there are the hybrid bass. The population has been down for several years. It was almost down to zero. In the past 4 or 5 years the state has been stocking 4 to 5-inch small shad from Newton Lake as they become available.
It is always difficult to find big crappie when moving into the post-spawn period. They are usually scattered all about the lake. Recently a conversation with TJ Stallings, the man in charge of Marketing and Crazy Ideas for TTI-Blakemore Fishing Group, shed some interesting light.
Stallings, a student of fish activity, explains post-spawn crappie break up into small clusters of fish and move around very actively. That is why they are difficult to pattern. The two commonalities of their behavior are that they relate to submerged structure and are easily spooked.
On a crappie-fishing excursion in Alabama, our discussion turned to some anecdotes that seemed confusing. Two anglers fishing side by side in the same boat have a completely different experience. A person on the left gets no bites while the person fishing on the right catches nice big fish one right after another. The anglers are sitting, and are fishing, just inches apart. The pair actually moves the boat to allow the non-catching angler to fish the same spot.
Both anglers use the same tackle and bait, a jig and minnow combination.
“Where is the sun,” asks Stallings. “A Crappie reacts to shadows and other factors over looked by most anglers.” He goes on to explain some of the factors and an education in “crappie catching” follows.
Our intrepid anglers had placed the front of the boat right over a stake bed but the sun was behind them. It cast a shadow over the area fished by one man but not the other. The area in the shadow did not produce fish.
Stallings goes on to explain the necessity of silent running when approaching a brush pile or stake bed. It is a common understanding among crappie anglers that one does not approach such areas with the big motor running. However, TJ also cuts his trolling motor and drifts into his fishing area. He always approaches with the sun in his face to avoid casting a shadow on the area he plans to fish. Stallings uses a “brush grabber” to hook on to any brush instead of an anchor. It is a metal clamp that looks like the ones used to jump start a vehicle except this one attaches to a rope. The rope attaches to one of the boat cleats and holds the boat in place. The clamp attaches to a stationary object like a tree, bush or other stick up.
He also goes to extremes to fish silently. “I turn off the pumps in the live well and bait well too,” explains TJ. He only leaves them off until the bigger fish begin to bite. “You can turn them back on then as it does not seem to be a distraction when they begin biting.”
Another part of his silent running is to not talk or move around in the boat until the fish begin to bite. “I don’t talk to my partner or to any of the other boats nearby.”
Moving around is important in post-spawn crappie fishing. Because the fish are scattered, it is a good idea to only fish for about 15 minutes in any non-productive area. It is a run and gun type of experience. If fish quit biting in a single location, move on. You can always come back to the area later and it may produce more action.
Before moving on be sure that you have probed the entire area as fish may be only a few inches away from your bait and not take it. Nevertheless, if you move it to a location they like better, the fish will take it.
Post-spawn crappies are finicky. However, it you are quiet and watch the shadows success can be yours.
In 1971, the US Army Corps of Engineers constructed a two mile long dam across the Big Muddy flood plain creating the lake for purposes of flood control, water supply to local communities and recreation. The result was a reservoir of 18,900-acres. It stretches across parts of Franklin and Jefferson counties. Rend Lake sits astride Interstate 57 about 6 hours south of Chicago.
The maximum depth of the lake at full pool is 35 feet with an average depth of 10 feet. Rend Lake is 13-mile in length and three miles wide. The shoreline measures some 162 miles. It is the second largest impoundment in the state. There are two marinas, one at the dam and the other in the state park north of Highway 154. Numerous boat ramps are available at marked locations. There are no speed or horsepower restrictions on the lake.
The crappie population, according to Fisheries Manager Mike Hooe from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, is in very good condition. In fact over the past two years he reports it as outstanding. The condition of all the year classes is good. With excellent recruitment the success ratio of catches compared to angler effort increased dramatically during the same period.
Both black and white crappies are present in the lake. The percentage of crappies over 10-inches in length increases some 19% last year. Hooe reports a strong year class of 2-year old fish in the 6- to 8-inch length. At present the crappies in the 10- to 12-inch class average 1/2 to 1+ plus pound range, remain abundant for quality angling. They represent 35% of the total population. Fish in the 10- to 14-inch class remain abundant.
Wet springs mean good reproduction as the high water levels produce a great spawn.
Two sub-impoundments on the north end of the lake serve as settling basins creating relatively clear water condition despite spring flooding from melting snow and rains. Visibility is from 10 to 18-inches.
The area north of IL Route 154 is the more shallow part of the lake. It is loaded with snags and stick-ups causing problems for boaters but providing the best crappie fishing. Much of the shore line contains water willow. In high water conditions these areas are popular spots for spawning crappies.
South of IL Route 154 the main lake is deeper with some shallows near shoreline woods and man-made structures. The area near the Visitors Center at the east side of the dam contains a lot of brush and submerged wood.
The Sailboat Harbor on Route 154 is an excellent place from which to launch. It has ample parking space and a wide concrete ramp. Just outside the harbor, along Route 154, is an extensive rip rap causeway with two bridges. Crappie fishing along the rip rap and under the bridge is popular due to the numbers of fish present.
The south side of the causeway is better fishing than the north side due to the sun warming the water earlier in the season. On windy days, bait fishes wash up on the south side due to predominantly south west winds.
Although the most popular times to fish for crappies in the lake is April through June or October and November, the fish are still present the rest of the year. You just need to know where to look.
The fish relate to structure, it is just deeper water structure, perhaps 12 to 15 feet. They will roam in schools in water adjacent to old creek channels as they wait in ambush for schools of shad.
Stealth and a change in hunting tactics are keys to solo pheasant hunting. Solo pheasant hunting is a challenge but by following some special patterns, it can prove successful.
Pheasant hunting is usually a social type of hunting. Several hunters drive a field with blockers at the end. Dogs probe every patch of vegetation in search of the gaudy import from the orient.
All too often, the solo hunter stays home when he cannot find a companion.
Not everyone can find a hunting partner with the same availability of time in his or her busy schedule. Perhaps they do not know someone else who is as interested in the sport. Others do not have a good dog to work the fields with them. Some times the dog is ill or tired. These are the solo hunters.
A combination of careful selection of habitat and stealth are essential to success for the solo pheasant hunter.
Sneaking up on birds is a profitable technique. They will sit tight allowing the hunter to get into range before they flush.
Nowhere is more productive for pheasant hunting than South Dakota. By studying hunting techniques from there, we can learn a lot about making pheasant hunting in the prairie state all the more productive.
Lee Harstad, veteran South Dakota pheasant hunter, recommends hunters find areas of brush and heavy cover that are next to harvested fields. “You can stalk the birds toward the open areas,” explains Harstad. “The birds will usually flush rather than take a chance running across the bare areas.” Even if they do decide to run, hunters are able to see them and follow.
Another area to work is the fringe land area along streams. Cover is usually good here and the birds have easy access to water and gravel as grit. Late in the season, pheasants do not want to move around, as they need to conserve calories for warmth. They select areas with all they need to make it through the winter if they are undisturbed.
A little less productive are shelterbelts. These are usually areas of brush and planted trees next to grain fields. The cover is good and the birds have access to any spilled grain in the fields. Because they are more open, stalking is a bit more difficult. They do have open areas where the hunter can seek any birds trying to sneak away.
Another South Dakota hunter, the late Tony Dean, recommended solo hunters move steadily but also stop frequently. Because they are moving along in a stealth mode, it is easy to walk right past the bird who is sitting tight.
The solo hunter does better if he confines his activities to the late part of the season. The hunting pressure on the birds is less at that time of the year. Tony also recommends that one hunt the waterfowl and game production areas.
Late season solo hunters can work the areas with a lot of ground cover. Slews, cattail swamps and the like are shelters for birds. Early in the season, everybody hunts these areas but later the birds move back to them for shelter.
This type of hunting is good in public land areas. The birds are concentrated in the heaviest cover. Some birds will flush wild, but you will get some shots if you walk slowly.
Tony urged that one should find a brushy area and walk about 50 yards straight into it. Then stop and wait for about two minutes. Then he walked directly away to the left, circles around to the other side, and come in from there. This confuses the birds and confines those that would otherwise walk out on the opposite side from where the hunter enters.
Some other good areas to seek late season birds are the lowlands where landowners sometimes pile brush from other locations or where it is too wet to plow and seed. Often these areas are but a few hundred feet across and located in the middle of a harvested grain field. Smaller slews or cattail swamps will also fall into this category.
Because brush provides shelter in otherwise featureless fields, birds will huddle up in any cover they can find.
Dried up or frozen up wetlands often hold water part of the year but become dry land in the fall and winter. Due to the nature of the vegetative cover, they attract pheasants in search of a home. Take care to wear waterproof boots as all the water is not always gone or frozen and one can fall through the ice.
“Hunting isolated habitat is a bit different than working grain fields,” says Harstad. For the solo hunter they are perfect. Lee suggests that the hunter “work in a circle around the outside perimeter of the wetland. Then the hunter makes circles again and again in ever decreasing size until he reaches in the middle.” In this way, the birds evading the hunter move into the middle and he sneaks up on them until they have no place left to go except to flush.
If you have no one to team up with to go pheasant hunting, try some of these techniques. Pheasant hunting is not always a team sport.
The past ten years have meant a significant change for waterfowlers. The migration of geese and ducks changed and hunters had to adjust. The huge flocks of geese that once flowed into the southern Illinois refuges for the winter have diminished.
Birds still come but they are fewer and smarter. Ducks that did not stay long in the past are now flowing into grain fields and staying for the entire season. They once moved further south once the geese arrived.
Hunters now combine an awareness of the habitat and technological advances with hunting opportunities open to the public.
Many hunters seek both geese and ducks over flooded grain fields. They place goose pits on the edge of the fields and floating duck blinds out in the water.
Communication between guides and hunter as well as between hunters is important. Sometimes misunderstandings happen when it is one person’s turn to shoot and everyone does not get the message. Regardless, hearing protection is important to prevent hearing damage from muzzle blasts. Especially useful are electronic ear muffs that protect from muzzle blasts yet allow one to hear anyone talking. They are part of the technology for satisfying waterfowl hunting.
Today many of the birds hunted are local birds whereas a few years ago they were many more migrators. The locals are quickly educated as to the location of refuge areas. They quickly learn where hunting pits and clubs are located and avoid them.
Ducks present their own problem. As individual species are usually only present for a month or so, the hunters have to learn their locations and flight patterns quickly.
Both ducks and geese can become call shy as the season progresses and the hunting pressure increases on the migration path. Often call shy birds can be attracted to the decoys with a minimum of calling by a hunter.
Hunters put out decoys in an X-pattern which seems more natural. It sometimes requires up to 1,000 decoys of several types for goose hunting. Later in the season they might cut back to 80 to 200. Duck hunters will use 80 to 200 decoys.
A key to decoy spreads is motion. Using full-bodied dekes with motion stakes, wind socks, Robo-ducks and decoys involving bodies that represent feeding ducks diving like the real thing hunters present a more lifelike presentation.
Late in the season hunters change some of the tactics. Using fewer decoys they place them in a tighter pattern. This works well on public land.
Late season hunters on public land tend to quit calling as soon as the birds appear. You do not need to call as much. Continue the calling until the birds begin to look your way. Ducks need the noise to feel safe and locate feeding ducks. Once they are coming your way it is time to back down to a feeding chuckle.
In hunting on public land it is important to have the right set-up. That means keeping your back to the wind. Ducks, and geese, prefer to land into the wind. If the wind picks up to the range of 15 to 20 mph it becomes important to set-up in protected areas. Make your decoy set-up look realistic.
It is no secret that crappie relate to structure. Finding good structure for them in shallow lakes can be difficult.
Russ Bailey, veteran crappie angler, has developed a pattern for shallow water lakes. He spends countless hours on the shallow lakes near his home in northwestern Ohio.
The home lakes that Russ fishes were once part of a canal system and are only 5 to 6 feet deep with virtually no bottom structure. The only structure is man-made in the form of docks, boat lifts and brush piles.
Bailey finds that aluminum structures hold the best opportunity to locate suspended fish. An aluminum boat lift will hold crappies all year around unless there is a freeze.
Using a 10 1/2 foot jigging pole, he flips jigs to docks. With the aluminum boat lifts and aluminum docks he prefers to vertical jig. On sunny days the water around aluminum structures will usually be one to two degrees warmer in the afternoon.
Russ works the outside edges of the structure first and then the inside as well as the cross members and cables that hold the structure in place. He moves very slowly being especially alert to any slight feel on the line.
The basic pattern is to lower a one-eighth ounce jig head to the bottom and then bring it up about six inches. He dresses the jig with plastic grubs in white, pink or chartreuse. He adds “stinger shad” grubs in the cold weather.
On bright sunny winter days the aluminum structures are the best locations once the weather has stabilized. These are the days of change between seasons of the year.
In cold weather situations, Russ uses “ice corks”. These are small floats that are popular with ice fishermen. He likes the ones with the point end down and a rounded bulbous end up. Once the fish are located, he pins them with a toothpick or the small wooden stick that comes with the corks. Once in place, he breaks the stick off so it does not interfere with the line when retrieving a fish. It also allows Russ to fish the same strike zone immediately after removing the fish from the hook.
In this situation the slightest movement should allow the angler to pop the hook into the top of the mouth. This part of the mouth is thicker and less likely to tear, as will the paper thin lips. Let the rod do the rest of the job. Do not yank the line.
The cork movement can be the float lying over, move sideways, pulled under, or just jiggled. The key is to spot the slightest movement.
A quick look in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources 2015-16 Hunting Digest (www.dnr.illinois.gov) shows that Illinois is rich in public waterfowl hunting locations. Some are available by permit only and others are available on a first come, first served basis. Southern Illinois has a number of both.
Early season duck hunters find such species as pintails, teal, gadwall and wood duck. These fast flying ducks can and will come to mallard decoys. If you are on a tight budget, mallard dekes are the one of choice. Early in the season fewer decoys seem to work better with the larger spreads reserved for later. In some of the public hunting areas there is a requirement of 12 decoys in a spread.
Later in the season the mallards and other species tend to arrive. By the time the mergansers and golden eyes arrive the season is almost over.
The ducks are present in Illinois throughout the season. The geese tend to arrive in November through January. Most geese taken in southern Illinois tend to be Canada or Speckledbelly. Snows and blues stay in significant numbers in some areas. Because the southern Illinois goose hunting is dependent on a migrating flock, the avid goose hunter tends to watch weather reports and social media reports from areas of northern Illinois.
Once snows arrive for a sustained period of time (3-5 days) in northern Illinois, the geese begin arriving in numbers in southern Illinois. They then stay until the end of the season (usually the end of January).
Some popular public waterfowl hunting areas in southern Illinois include Rend Lake, Crab Orchard Lake, Mississippi River, Ohio River and Union County.
Rend Lake Wildlife Management Area contains some 7,690-acres near Bonnie, IL in Franklin County. Site specific information is available by calling the IDNR office at 618-279-3110 or writing them at RR#1 Box 168G, Bonnie, IL 62816. It attracts all species of waterfowl but is especially good for teal due to the exposed mud flats.
Most geese and ducks taken at Rend Lake come from hunters in boat mounted blinds. There are however some walk-in opportunities.
Oakwood Bottoms in Jackson County near Murphysboro, IL is about 3,400-acres of flooded timber that holds sucks throughout the season. Some will even overwinter. For more information contact IDNR at 618-687-1731.
Duck hunter find birds in areas near both the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Both rivers have public hunting available to those with boats who concentrate their efforts on areas off the sandbars and wing dams.
Union Conservation Area is about 2,800-acres near Jonesboro, IL in Union County. The refuge office is available at 2755 Refuge Road, Jonesboro, IL 62952. Their phone number is 618-833-5175.
Another popular area for public hunting opportunities is the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in Williamson County. Operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the 23,000-acres near Marion, IL are a mecca for waterfowl. Parts of the refuge close to human activity during the winter.
Still there are ample waterfowl hunting areas on the refuge in blinds or independently from boats in the west end of the lake. For more information about waterfowl hunting there contact the USF&WS, 8588 Route 148, Marion, IL 62959 or call them at 618-997-3344.
Horseshoe Lake Conservation Area is another IDNR facility. Their address is Box 85, Miller City, IL 62962.
All tolled there are about 60,000-acrtes of public waterfowl hunting area in the southern tier of counties. That is not counting the water holes in the Shawnee National Forest which attracts many ducks and geese each year.
With the variety of site specific regulations, it is vital to contact a specific area prior to hunting there. Officials hare happy to inform the public at to the restrictions in their particular area. IDNR is dedicated to providing a safe and quality hunting experience on public land. Public land waterfowl hunting is alive and well in southern Illinois.