Archive for the ‘Rend Lake’ Tag


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.



Spring is the most popular time to catch white bass but summer is the most fun time. As the finny wolf packs chase the shad across the surface, anglers speed from one action point to another. It is a time of run and gun.

The white bass is from the sea bass family rather than the largemouth, smallmouth, rock or spotted bass. The latter are members of the sunfish family. White bass more closely relate to yellow and striped bass.

White bass dine on small fish, insects and crustaceans. It is a schooling fish that hunts in large numbers and covers a great deal of water. The schools travel quickly and from place to place herding large schools herd smaller fish before them. They drive the prey species to the surface where they cannot escape.

The feeding action occurs mostly in the early morning and in the evening. They move toward the shore in evening and return to the depths in the morning.

All this action takes a heavy toll on the life of the white bass. They live only five or six years.

Although found in many lakes and rivers they thrive most in reservoirs and big lakes.

As the summer rolls in fishermen move to see the fish start working the shad. The whites form packs of roving schools in order to be in the right place at the right time.

If the anglers are in the right place at the right time the opportunity to catch fish is nearly limitless. Their first sighting may be just a single fish breaking the surface or it can be a boiling action as many fish break out. This is the jumps.

The feeding activity lasts a few minutes as fishermen cast into the boiling water. There is a chance to catch a few fish before the shad move away followed by the feeding whites. Following is a period of inactivity until the whites force the forage fish to the top again. The fishing action repeats.

To help locate the feeding fish the angler is can look to the gulls. It is not rocket science to realize the gulls and white bass are wherever the shad appear. The shad are a favorite food for both.

Calm water is best for finding shad forced to the surface. In stormy weather the whites will force the shad up against wave-tossed banks and feed on them. A good area to find them is any point that juts out into deep water with shallow, small flats or shelf facing into the wind. Shallow-running or lipless crankbaits cast into these areas often yield excellent results.

During the surface feeding frenzy on warm, calm summer days the action is typically topwater. It is exciting, fast and frustrating. If the angler is lucky enough to be in the middle of the school, the problem becomes deciding where to cast. Small topwater lures are effective. Match the size of the lure to the size of the forage fish that are present. If the fish are feeding really voraciously they will attack almost anything cast into the water.

The larger fish are under the smaller ones with the biggest ones just under the main part of the



It seems that one always forgets something in the build up to a hunting/fishing vacation.  In some 50-plus years of taking such trips, I do not recall ever having packed everything needed.  You just need to accept that you will forget something.

Most common items forgotten are such things as toothpaste, shaving cream, tooth brush, soap, etc.  If you think of it soon enough there seems to be a Walmart, Dollar General or similar store in almost every town.  Otherwise many motels, hotels, etc. will provide you with replacement products, usually at no cost.

But what if you forget the larger and often more vital items?  What happens to a bow hunt if you forget the box of arrows you just purchased for this hunt?  How about ammo for that rifle or the flys tied just for this trout fishing trip?  Perhaps you need a change of clothes due to an unexpected change in the weather.

It really came home when I began to travel internationally.  No packing system is “idiot proof.”  Here are some suggestions for your next trip that may help.

About six weeks prior to the trip, begin making a packing list.  You will continue for weeks thinking of things to add or delete from the list.  Leave the list out in the open so it will remind you to examine it periodically.  Also review it after the trip to see what you should have included and did not.

Items for any trip need to relate to that particular activity.  However they usually fall into three categories:  personal, clothing and gear.

Personal items include such things as toiletries, sun glasses (prescription or otherwise), medications, etc.  If travel is to a remote location or for an extended period it is wise to carry a copy of your prescriptions for medications and eyeglasses.  An online source for prescription sun glasses is  Their interactive website offers instant communication about prescription sunglasses and  variety of manufacturers.   The personal items also include items of identification such as driver’s license hunting license and tags as well as passport and visas.

Clothing for trips to such locations as Africa can be limited.  Usually 2 or 3 changes are all that is required as they do laundry daily.  Tailor your selection of clothing to weather and climate conditions.  Check with your outfitter as to what you need.  Polypropylene underwear is handy even in mild weather as it can double as pajamas against cooler nights.

Rifles, cameras, bows, ammo, arrows and fishing gear all fall in the final category.  Trips within the US and Canada usually mean that additional gear is available in the area.  However in other parts of the world replacements probably will not be available.  Depending upon the purpose of the trip tailor your gear requirements to provide the minimum you will need.  Remember that weight is important in planning as the airlines are charging some pretty hefty fees for overweight items.  Pack as light as possible.

It is a good idea to keep a journal while on any trip.  You will be glad you did when you look back on your vacation and remember things you might otherwise forget.  Take lots of pictures.  Digital cameras allow you to take hundreds on a single card.

One final caution is to carry as little currency as possible.  Make use of hidden money belts, travelers checks etc.  Carry your wallet in the front pocket of your pants to avoid pick pockets.  If booked with an overseas outfitter you might want to consider a bank transfer for your guide and outfitter fees.


Family Fish 0008

Summer is here, school is out, vacations scheduled, and everyone is looking to the outdoors for recreation.  Fishing is a timeless activity that brings families together and forges respect for the outdoors.

Lakes offer good access with piers, rip rap, access trails, and fishing platforms as well as fish attractors usually submerged within casting distance.

IDNR fisheries specialists manage the fish populations through habitat enhancement, stocking of forage species as well as game species.

Fishing, properly supervised, provides values that make it a quality outdoor experience.  It offers an alternative to the high tech and social pressures of daily life.  Do not place too much emphasis with youngsters on competition.  Rather allow them to enjoy the experience.   One advantage to fishing with youngsters is that you do not have to be particular as to what species you catch.  Kids love anything that will tug on their line.

A combination of Mother Nature and some sensible regulation has made Rend Lake an excellent place to fish for crappie with the family.  Crappie fishing is the number one choice with largemouth bass and catfish close behind in popularity.

The crappie spawn usually is ending by June.

According to IDNR fisheries biologist Mike Hooe, the crappie population is very good to excellent.  He has found over 36 percent of the population to be over 10-inches in length.   The number of fish over 12-inches in length is at a 10-year high.

Small jigs in the 1/8 to 1/32-ounce sizes are preferred.  Some are with plastic tube bodies of white, chartreuse, or red/chartreuse coloration.  Probably the most popular are plain jigs with a small minnow attached.  They are suspended beneath a float at the depth desired.  This can be anywhere between 2 and 12 feet.  One has to experiment until the fish are located.

The lake and the surrounding land is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park is located on the northeast portion of the lake.  Information on the Corps facilities can be obtained at the Rend Lake Visitors Center at the dam on the south end of the lake.  Just across the lake at the dam is the Rend Lake Marina, a full service facility.


REND LAKE BASSIN   Leave a comment

CB in Gun Creek

Rend is the state’s second largest impoundment.  It’s “Y” shape covers some 18,900-acres in Franklin and Jefferson counties.  Sitting astride Interstate 57, it is approximately 6 hours from Chicago and two hours east of St. Louis.  The upper forks of the lake feed the lake.  They are Big Muddy River and Casey Fork River.

About 47% of the adult largemouth bass in Rend Lake are over 14-inches.  Fourteen inches is the minimum length for a keeper bass.  Mike Hooe, District 19 Fisheries Manager for the IDNR, reports that the numbers of bass remains strong and growth rates are good.  “Maintaining a steady flow of smaller fish into the population through supplemental stocking has helped to improver and stabilize the size structure of the population,” explains Hooe.

The numbers of bass over 20-inches in length remain low but stable.  “With a continuation of the current growth rates and low mortality,” says Hooe, “the numbers should improve in coming years.”

Numerous boat ramps are available on land owned by the State of Illinois and U.S. Corps of Engineers.  Marina service is available on the south end near the dam at the Rend Lake Marina.  On the other end of the dam are the Corps offices and a visitor’s center.

North of Illinois Route 154 is the Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park containing a marina, resort, restaurants and tackle shop.  All are contained in the area called Rend Lake Resort.

Bladeless lures such as the Rat-L-Trap produce good catches of bass.  Also productive are other crankbaits, plastic worms, and other soft plastics fished over submerged brush and shallow wooden structure.   Fish shallow in the bushes with spinnerbaits or soft plastics.  Do not overlook the rip rap, weed beds and drop offs.





The vast expanse that is Rend Lake (19,000-acres) can be a challenge for anglers.  Twenty five years of fishing the lake teaches one that the largemouth bass, yellow bass, crappie and catfish (channel and flathead) that prowl these waters offer excellent angling possibilities.

Located on Interstate 57 about 6 hours south of Chicago and two hours east of St. Louis this reservoir sprawls through parts of Franklin and Jefferson counties.  Owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers and managed by them in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, it is a major fishing location in southern Illinois.

Camping is available in the several Corps campgrounds as well as in the Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park.

Numerous parking areas, boat launch ramps, picnic, and camping areas are open to the public in search of sampling the excellent fishing opportunities.    A Visitor Center at the dam on the south end of the lake provides information about the lake, the dam and recreational activities available.  Traveler’s information is available on the local radio at 530 KHz or by telephone at (618) 435-2765.  The Corps website has additional information on line at

Marina services are available at two locations.  On the west end of the dam is the Rend Lake Marina.  In Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park on the northeast part of the lake is the nationally famous Rend Lake Resort.  Bait and boat rentals are available at both locations.

The best fishing for crappie is near one of the stake beds of other wood structures placed in the lake by both public agencies and private citizens.  There are probably hundreds and no one know exactly how many.   Other structures such as old road beds and building foundations attract such fish species as catfish and largemouth bass.

For the bank angler almost any location along the many miles of the shoreline is suitable for fishing.  Recommended are areas along creek channels for crappie anglers.  Jig and minnow combinations produce best results.  Bass anglers like soft plastics in the shallows early in the day.  Then they move to the channel ledges in mid-day.  For catfish, the old slip bobber with a worm works well on almost any piece of structure in this catfish factory.  Stink bait also works in this catfish factory.

If the water is flowing over the dam spillway, the fishing in the tailwaters is usually good.  If the water is over the spillway the lake level is at a 410 feet.  If it is flowing through the notch in the spillway but not over the top, the lake is at 405 feet.




The blooming of the Dogwood trees signals the crappie spawning period.  The rest of the forest is full of dark shafts of wood rising toward the sun.  On them are small buds and the beginnings of green leaves.  The mantel of green will soon provide shade a plenty.

The sighting of the dogwood and red bud blossoms seems to explode on the scene just in time for the crappies to move in to shallows in search of bedding areas.

Veteran crappie anglers take to the water with long poles and ultra-light reels spooled with 2-4 pound line.  The long poles enable one to dip his offering into the flooded buckbrush where the big ones hide.  Spring is a time of rising water levels.  Most lakes are watershed or flood control lakes.

Jigs are popular offerings by crappie anglers.  They are usually tipped with a minnow (known around here as crappie minnows) or some brightly colored plastic lure.  White, black and pink are popular colors.  Hair jigs or marabou jigs also are popular.  One sixteenth or 1/32nd ounce jigs are the size of choice.

Remember that crappies are a predator fish that likes to feed on insects and small fish.  They relate to structure which conceals them until they can ambush there forage.

Do not work your offering too quickly.  Slowly work the jig in a bouncing motion to imitate an injured bait fish.  Work the offering around any area with wood, rock or concrete structure below the water level.  In some areas brush piles attract fish.  Wooden stakes driven into the bottom in groups also work well in attracting the crappie.  If no structure is visible from the surface, all is not lost.

Some people who put out brush piles hide them so as to have the honey hole to themselves and their friends.  A boat equipped with fish locators or sonar locates these areas and any fish present.

In late spring crappie will first submerged structure more frequently.  Early in the spring they tend to stay in more shallow water as the spawning season begins.  Early go to the shore and later to the deeper water.

If the fish quit biting suddenly move about 2-feet away and try again.  Keep that up for a little while.  If that does not produce results go back to the original location and follow the same pattern with a different color jig.

One old crappie killer technique is to use the scales as an attractant.  The angler scales one of the fish already caught and sprinkles the loose scales on the water.  He waits a minute or two and then begins working the jig in the same area.  The idea is that the scales simulate a bait fish and stimulate the crappie to begin feeding actively.


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