Archive for the ‘Rend Lake’ Tag


Male Hunter 0013

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.



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A quick look in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources 2015-16 Hunting Digest ( 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).


IMG_0011Some 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.


DSCN4244The vast expanse that is Rend Lake is a challenge for anglers in search of crappies. It is also a crappie factory thanks to effective management through controlled harvest. Located astride Interstate 57 about 6 hours south of Chicago, it is two hours east of St. Louis in Franklin County.

Nick Shafer a local guide ( fishes the lake all year with his clients. Although the spawn is a peak season, Shafer maintains the fish relate to structure all year. It is just that in the fall they are using deeper structure.

Shad remain the prime forage for crappies. Both threadfin and gizzard shad are favorites of both the white and black crappie. The gizzards are the major species but some stocking of the smaller threadfin occurs in May if available.

As the air and water temperatures cool in fall, the crappies travel in schools following the shad. They move along the old creek channels in an attempt to find water warm enough to keep them alive. Shad soon perish as the lake water cools and even becomes iced over. The crappies are also looking for hiding places from the flathead catfish that use them for forage.

Crappies conceal themselves in submerged brush piles as protection from catfish and from which they can ambush the passing schools of shad.

Jigs or jig/minnow combinations are the most popular bait used in this area for catching crappies.

Nick uses a 3/16th ounce pink ball head jig with a 2-inch pink body shad imitation. He prefers the larger shad body to match the larger size shad in the lake. “The dying shad in the lake have a pink color around the belly and gills,” explains Shafer.

Shafer uses two 10-foot crappie rods with his lures at different depths until he locates fish. Then he runs both lures at the same depth. Nick fishes over rock piles in deep water on the edge of an old creek channel. As the water cools his focus is more on wood structure such as stake beds and sunken logs or brush piles. His main focus is on structure located near the creek channels where shad pass.

There are numerous launch ramps around the lake. One of the more popular ones is at the Rend Lake Resort. Accommodations for lodging and food are also available.   The resort is in the Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park off of Illinois Highway 154 on the northeast side of the lake. Camping is also available in the park. Information on the location of ramps, camping and marinas is available on the IDNR website



Crankbait catfish

Carefully picking his way through the rock strewn tailwaters, the angler casts a 1/8 ounce jig up under the dam. Almost immediately the line heads for deeper water. Carefully the angler retrieves a 2 pound catfish. Catfish on artificial lures?

Both flathead and channel catfish will take artificial lures instead of bait. Beginning in late summer as the water temperature gets into the 80’s and low 90’s channel catfish will move to the shallow water up tight against dams. The flatheads will move to the deep holes. In both of these areas, catfish will take an artificial lure.

Some experienced catfishermen use bass fishing techniques to catch flatheads. Each September they begin by trolling with a trolling motor on a Jon boat. They troll over deep holes. Most are in the 30 foot depth. Electronics tell them there are fish in the bottoms of the holes. Experience teaches that they are flatheads about to go on a fall feeding spree.

They look for structure in the holes. Submerged trees, rock structure or any other kind of “home habitat” that flatheads are known to frequent.

The idea is to bounce jigs right on their nose. They use a 2-ounce jig with a salt craw attached. In order for the fish to take it, they maintain that the jig has to be right on top of the fish. Not being a bottom feeder by nature, the flatheads eyes are located to find food slightly above it.

Late summer also means low water conditions on most rivers. Cats, be they flathead or channel, seem to seek out deep water, fast running well oxygenated water, or both. Beneath most dams are deep holes created by the water cascading from one level to another.

Anglers have long known to cast up under a dam to catch fish. However, few try it with a small jig. A 1/8 ounce leadhead with a dark plastic grub body will do a good job enticing channel catfish.

Over on the Ohio River flowage, some anglers use crankbaits to catch fall cats. They get their boats right up in the shallow water at the dam and then cast floating Rapalas. The #13 and #18 are most used. Blue is the preferred color.  They use the current to provide action to the lure.


Carlyle Lake 0003

A summer of record rainfall has resulted in high water situations in most of Illinois lakes and rivers. As a result many fish washing over dams creating rejuvenated fisheries n the tailwaters downstream.

Tailwaters are changing habitats and fishing them can be frustrating. What is a good area one day washes away by changing water conditions. Floods move logs and wash away points. Tailwater addicts welcome the challenge providing some of the best action regardless of the species sought.

Catching a first fish downstream from a power dam in northern Iowa made an instant tailwater addict out of the 5 year old. It was a 6 pound bass and was caught on nightcrawlers from his grandmother’s garden. The nightcrawler floated below a bobber on “cat gut” line attached to a bamboo pole. I was the youngster in question.

The roar of water rushing over a dam or through a spillway makes the water flow become highly oxygenated. Baitfish seek shelter in eddies which attract predator fish. One can fish for numerous species. To an angler, on shore or in a boat, it provides action not often available in other water.

Tailwater is the generic term for all water downstream of a dam. Although spring is best for tailwater fishing, these waters provide fishing action through the year. The fishing is consistently good because the fish tend to congregate near rough water where they find ample food.

Dams fall into four basic types: navigational, wing dams, stationary and spillway dams.

Deeper pools upstream from a dam tend to be more popular with recreational boaters and swimmers. Often the water backs up into low lying areas to form wetlands for waterfowl and other wildlife. Wetlands also filter the water which is later used for human consumption.

Tailwater below a dam contains water of relatively stable temperature. The churning action oxygenates the water making it useful in attracting and holding baitfish. The current creates shoals, pockets of slack water, fast turns, rocky points, creek moths, eddies and deeper pools.

Although fishermen ply the humps, underwater islands and secondary points downstream, the best action is right below the dam.

The immediate area downstream from most dams contains wing dams, rip rap, turbulent water discharged by turbines and often deep pools. Changing water configurations present a challenge to anglers. Wing dams are often good places to find white bass, catfish, drum, saugers and walleye.

Patterns, lures and presentation vary from one tailwater to another. Some basic tips include remembering that tailwater fish are feeding on dead or injured baitfish. Spoons and jigs imitate wounded prey and are a good choice. Depending upon the current larger fish is generally found along the edges of the fast water. It is easier for them to sustain their position in the slow water and yet dart into the fast water as “lunch” washes past.

Eddies formed below dams have a current that runs opposite to the direction of the main river flow. They occur behind logs, stumps, large rocks, and points of land. When the current flow hits one of these obstructions it changes speed and direction. The flow becomes either a slack water or a slow water area. Cast upstream and allow the bait to drift into the eddy. Bucktails and rubber-skirted jigs can be drifted into the dead water areas and then pulled back out into slow water.

Slow water areas attract crawfish and insects washed from the fast water into the calmer area. Predator species see this as an easy food source. The upstream portion of an eddy contains the more aggressively feeding fish.

Side channels beneath a dam are water separated from the main channel containing current during normal water stages. Often they are passages around small islands. The population of fish in them is generally the same as that found on the edges of the main channel. Fish such as white bass, catfish and drum like the side channels.

Perhaps the most popular way to fish tailwater is with a heavy weight on a three-way swivel. As water washes over a dam it creates groove areas down stream. The heavy weight will settle on the bottom and allow bait to suspend just a little above it. This rig is most commonly used for catfishing, a very popular tailwater activity.


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