Archive for the ‘Rend Lake’ Tag

SPOT AND STALK CRAPPIE HUNTING   3 comments

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One of the late winter rites of passage is ice out crappie fishing.

Locating the ice out crappie is a matter of going where they should be and going where they are.  The latter probably requires electronic fish locators.  The former is a matter of experience in that you go where they were during past springs.

A good topo map is helpful.  Dark bottoms on the north side of lakes are a good prospect in that they get early sun and hold warmth.

Of the tow crappie species, the white crappie prefers the large open water.  Both species will suspend in relation to lake points, sunken islands, sand bars, creek beds and debris found in most waterways.  Both can and do inhabit the same water.

Both crappie species have roughly the same spawning habits, laying eggs in water 3 to 8 feet in depth, once the water temperature approaches the mid-sixty degree range near cover.

White crappies tend to like brush piles, bushes or sunken logs.  The black crappies like reeds or other weeds.  There can be a great deal of pre-spawn angling in channels and bays due to early ice out and the water being too cold for spawning.

Deep creek beds are a key to cold water crappie locations.  Begin by searching likely summer holding areas and then back track to the nearest deep creek bed.  Then follow the channel to the best available holding area.  On a large lake this can be a considerable distance.  Some creek beds are more promising than others.  One with wood in or near the creek bed is best.

Lacking any wood either visible or hidden try bends or intersections.  Sharp bends or intersections with roads and secondary channels often produce fish.

Good bays should have no channels, or at least not adequate ones serve well.  If all else fails try the deep water and fish deep.

Jigs are the bread and butter lure for cold water crappie.  A good assortment of leadhead jigs in 1/16th to 1/64th ounce in colors of white, black or yellow is good basic tackle.  Couple them with tube bodies of the same colors.  For the natural baits minnows and waxworms are best.

It is important to remember that the fish are very spooky this time of year.  If scared, they will stop feeding.  The best bet is to locate fish and then make long casts to the school with a slip float rig.  Make short pauses in the retrieve or about 30 seconds each.

Crappie strikes come as the jig begins to settle to the bottom of the length of line below the float.  Small floats are more sensitive and show very light bites that often occur.

Fishing for crappie just after ice out requires stalking to find them as well as a lot of hunting to find schools.  It is however very productive and provides time to unlimber that old casting arm and get rid of Spring fever.

 

RUSS BAILEY ON VIDEO RECORDING   Leave a comment

Russ Bailey and camera crew record the crappie action on Rend Lake for upcoming TV program.

Russ Bailey and camera crew record the crappie action on Rend Lake for upcoming TV program.

With more and more outdoorsmen and women recording their activities the quality of the recordings can vary significantly.  Videoing hunting or fishing action moments can be a rewarding experience to share with family and friends.

With a little patience and attention to detail everyone can produce a quality video.  Toward that end Russ Bailey has some advice.

Russ is a veteran videographer and crappie fishing professional from Ohio.  He has a television show making its debut this month on the Pursuit Channel entitled “Brushpile Fishing.”  Russ also has a number of crappie fishing videos available through sporting goods stores.

Recently at Rend Lake, IL recording a program for the television series Russ took the time to talk about the process of recording videos.

The discussion began with the choice of cameras.  Russ is very impressed with the Go Pro cameras that have burst upon the market in recent years.  He also indicates that he is using JVC cameras and has had much success.  The feature Russ likes on these cameras is the ability to monitor the recording with the use of the screen on the back of the camera.

Bailey pointed out that HD cameras have become cost effective.  Most Digital cameras on the market have the ability to take videos but they do have some limitations.  Most avid video makers will move up to studio models as soon as they can afford them.  Those prices are steadily declining in the market place.

Videoing on the water does present some problems.  Temperatures, water conditions, etc. do affect the end product.  For instance wind tends to cut out the voice recording.  It is also important to limit the use of the zoom function of a camera.  Russ recommends that if you must use the zoom function do so slowly.

In outdoor recording it is advisable to be aware of the position of the sun.  As with most camera work, be sure to keep the sun either behind the camera position or at best to the side.  Shooting toward the sun distorts the images and often makes them worthless.

For the angler it is important to make sure the camera is water proof.  After all you are on the water and accidents happen.  Speaking of being on the water, if you are alone you can mount the camera on a bracket attached to the boat and let it run.  You never know but what you might catch some great action that would not be the case if you have to dig into a camera bag.

Russ begins every recording session by taking a sample and playing it back.  It gives a chance to correct any problem that might arise.  He also makes sure to take extra batteries as video recording eats up a lot of power quickly.  If possible use a wireless microphone for each person in the video.

Once back home it is time to edit your produce.  There are a number of software products on the market and online.  You don’t have to start with an expensive on.  There is always time to move onto those in the future.  Often the camera comes with a disk that allows for downloading titles and step by step editing.

Russ recommends using background music to enhance your product.  It is important to use only music that is not copyright protected.  You can get such music off the Internet by Googling “Free Music.”

Finally, you can open a free “YouTube” account and place your video on it.  Then send emails to everyone you want to view it indicating that it is available on line.

FINDING FISH IN THE WINTER ZONE   Leave a comment

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While anglers in northern Illinois are fishing through holes in the ice, anglers in southern Illinois are still fishing open water lakes and ponds.

 

Mild winters allow southern Illinois anglers to fish all year around.  Granted the temperatures are colder than would be the case the rest of the year, the lack of ice permits both bank and boat fishing.  The key to this type of fishing is finding the fish.  Never does the old adage “Ninety percent of the fish will be in 10 percent of the water” seem more applicable.

 

By knowing at what depth other anglers are taking fish, you go a long way toward being a successful angler on a particular day.  Depth is particularly important during the cold months when game fish are less likely to move around.

 

Experienced anglers know that winter bass fishing success is dependant upon knowing the depth at which fish are suspending.  It is more important than ph, structure and other factors.

 

Other anglers on the same lake may not have much success.  Yet you can take good numbers and sizes of fish.  With the aid of electronics, you might discover that the big fish are down nearly 40 feet.  It might be that no one else is fishing even close to that depth.  This gives you the upper hand when it comes to catching fish.

 

For those without the electronics, a local bait shop operator is the next best source of information.  He can usually tell you how deep other anglers are fishing and their relative success or failure at those depths.  He usually will recommend particular lures or baits that are producing at this time.

 

Another question is where successful anglers are finding fish.  You can divide most lakes into three areas.  They are shallow areas with stained water and abundant cover, an area of moderate depth with less cover and semi-clear water or a deep area with little cover and clear water.

 

If you know the depth at which fish are most active then you can probably eliminate two of the three areas and focus on the remaining water.

 

YELLOW BASS ANOTHER GAME FISH   Leave a comment

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Cruising on Rend Lake last weekend we got into a school of Yellow Bass. Since we were running spider rigs as well as one guy single pole jigging, it was really exciting for a few minutes.  There were fish on as many as three lines at a time.  As quickly as it began the action was over.

This small member of the bass family is a pan fisherman’s dream. It grows to a good size for a pan fish.  It is large enough to fillet, is good eating and a hard fighter.  The yellow bass reproduces readily and you can catch them by the dozens with no danger to the species.

Yellow bass are members of the Percichthyidae family that includes white perch, white bass and striped bass. Other names for yellow bass are barfish, stripe, streak, streaker and brassy bass.  It resembles the white bass with a forked tail and compressed body.

The longitudinal stripes (6) of which there are three above the lateral line and three below it. The lower three are not solid as with white bass.  Other differences from white bass are the lack of teeth on the tongue and the lower jaw does not protrude beyond the upper jaw.  Yellow bass have an olive green back, white belly and sides that are brassy to gold or silver.  When sides are silver they are often mistaken for white bass.

Generally 8 to 11-inches in length, yellow bass are not big in the weight classes. The world record is probably just over 2-pounds.  Anything in the 2-pound class is a giant.  Most weigh less than 12-ounces.  All of ours were less than a pound.

The life span of this fish is 3 to 5-years. Those that are 2.5 to 5 inches in length are yearlings.  By the third year of their life they have reached a length of 9-inches and change their feeding habits.

Prior to this point they feed on insects and small crustaceans. Later they change to feeding on small fish.  This accounts for their delight in taking our jig and minnow combinations.  Slip bobbers, jigs, twister tails and small spinners are effective in catching yellow bass.  The best live bait seems to be 2-inch minnows.  Other live baits include such things as wigglers, waxworms, spikes and pieces of nightcrawlers.  The jig/minnow combo is the most popular rig.  Small jigs are best.  The most popular are 1/32nd to 1/16th ounce jigs.

Ultralight tackle or long poles seem to be the ticket for getting in tight places popular with yellow bass. Two to 4-pound test line is best.

Yellow bass are usually rather dormant during winter months. In early spring they become more active on through until fall.  As the water temperature reaches 60-degrees the bass begin to spawn and are in the shallows over gravel beds, stony structures or other structure.

They are always hungry and put up a great fight. The best time to fish for yellow bass is early morning and late afternoon.  Adult fish cruise deep during the day and then head for the shallows to feed.  Yellow bass are a meaty fish even if they do not have length.

Do not hesitate to keep and eat these fish. They are prolific and are better eating than white bass.  In fact they taste something like a bluegill.

 

REND LAKE CRAPPIE FISHING   Leave a comment

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This southern Illinois impoundment has produced excellent crappie fishing for the past dozen years. Prior to that, the size and numbers of fish declined since the original damming of Big Muddy River.

In the early days of the lake the Illinois state record black crappie was caught, a record that has stood since 1976. Although fishing has steadily improved in recent years, the record still stands.

The length and creel limits enacted in 2002 and continuing to today have had a significant impact on the size structure and the population according to D-19 Fisheries Biologist, 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.”

Hooe’s most recent surveys found that the number of crappie has increased for the second consecutive year. This is due primarily to the increase in the population of 2-year old fish in the 6 to 8-inch length.  The number of fish in the 8 to 10 inch class declined in 2013 by 19% over 2012.  They are still about 35% of the total population.  The number of crappie over 12 inches remains abundant enough to provide quality angling.

Mike’s surveys found that the crappie in the 10 to 14 inch group weigh ½ to 1 plus pounds and remain abundant throughout the lake.

The body condition of the fish is at the second highest level in 9 years.

Wet springs mean good reproduction when it comes to crappie in this lake. The high water levels during the spawn the past two years have produced excellent crappie recruitment according to Mike.

CATFISH ARE THUMPING   Leave a comment

Catfish are Thumping

Catfish thump tasty morsels that anglers present to them.  Summer must be upon us.  It is the prime time for fishing for this muscle with fins.

A staple of southern cooking, catfish are also available in restaurants as well as local lakes.  But, it is more fun to catch your own.  Here are some tips for catching your own in Southern Illinois.

One top catfish producing lake is Crab Orchard Lake in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge near Marion.  According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the catfish population of this 7,000-acre lake is self-sustaining and has not required supplemental stocking to maintain the fishery.

The Crab Orchard Lake contains both channel and flathead catfish.  It also contains a good population of bullheads, a member of the catfish family that does not gain the large size of the others.

Fishing for catfish is a laid back type of angling.  The rigs are simple and the baits, although often smelly, are simple as well.

It is a good idea to remember that catfish like cover.  They are bottom feeders that hold around rocks and stumps.  Once one sets the hook, the fish will do its best to break off the line.  Veteran catfish anglers prefer a line that is of at least 12-pound test.

The tough line helps prevent the sandpaper-like teeth of the fish from wearing or weakening the line causing a break.  With high quality tough line, anglers can fish around rocky, stump infested, underwater terrain.

Most often the rig for catfishing is simply a baited hook suspended beneath a float, cork, bobber or whatever you call it.  Cast to a probable location and allowed the rig to sink to the level where you believe the fish are located.

Bait can be live or dead.  Popular baits include minnows, leeches, crayfish, catalpa worms, leaf worms, red worms, nightcrawlers, frogs, and cut bait.  Cheese baits, popular in the spring, are less successful in the summer heat.

During periods of overcast or drizzle, catfish cruise the flats in search of food the same as they do at night.  Under such conditions, a three-way rig works well.  Attach one swivel to the line that goes to the reel, the second to a drop line of about eight inches with a heavy sinker on the end.  Attach the third swivel to a line of about 30-inches with a hook and bait at the end.  The rig allows the bait to float just off the bottom a location popular with catfish.

There are catfish in most of the other southern Illinois lakes including Rend Lake where the above photo was taken.  Another popular place to fish for them is Little Grassy Lake a1200-acres body of water to the south of Crab Orchard Lake but still in the refuge area.  It produces many channel catfish on a regular basis throughout the summer.

Whether fishing from shore or boat, in the evening or morning, night or day, catfish are a marvelous fish for action.  They can be as finicky as any game fish, and yet do not require a lot of expensive tackle to pursue.

WEATHER AND LAKE LEVEL KEYS TO REND LAKE   Leave a comment

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Weather conditions, water level and clarity affect the spring fishing conditions on this southern Illinois lake.

A fixed level spillway was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers across Big Muddy River makes this lake different from most Army Corps of Engineers Lakes. The spillway does not regulate the water level.

A small gate at the west end of the spillway allows water through but is not large enough to significantly regulate the lake level.  If the water is flowing through the gate the lake level is 405 feet.  If it is flowing over the dam the level is 410 feet.

In March the water is usually high and floods the bushes and brush.  Water temperatures will tend to be in the mid 40’s to low 50’s with the warmer water in the north end of the lake.

Because of the murky water, the sunlight cannot penetrate and there is little weed growth.  Most of the structure fished by anglers is wood in the north end.  Approximately 30 percent of the north end of the lake has wood.  It comes in the form of stumps, logs and some standing trees.

Most fish suspend awaiting the beginning of the April spawn.  The forage base is gizzard and threadfin shad.  The gizzard shad are native and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources stocks the threadfin.

Siltation is a problem.  Sub impoundments at the northern portion are silted in and very shallow.  They tend to warm sooner than other areas of the lake.  Anglers do find fish in the very shallow water.  Some say that if you are not turning up mud with the trolling motor, you are fishing too deep.

For those fishing the deeper water, there are several holes where once were ponds.  A good map, such as the Fishing Hot Spots maps will help to locate them.  In addition on the west side of the lake there are areas of subsidence.

Coal mining goes on under the lake.  Once a shaft is closed, the supports are withdrawn and the land falls into the shaft.  This drops rocks and brush into the water creating more structure to which the bass can relate.

Good electronics and knowing how to use it are keys to finding the structure.  There are big fish out there and they get bigger each year.  Most fish are in the 2 to 3 pound range but larger fish are caught each year.

Some anglers prefer a slow crankbait in a crayfish pattern.  Those bass are feeding on the crawdads in March as they suspend off main lake points.  Try casting crankbaits to crappie sets in 6 to 8 feet of water.

Flipping a jig and pig into the brush can yield a couple of bites.  Another lure that will produce is a spinnerbait.  Slow roll a chartreuse or white spinnerbait across main lake points.

Gun Creek can pay dividends in early season bass.  The water warms more quickly in Gun Creek than the rest of the lake.  Passing weather fronts and the accompanying winds can make the rest of the lake rough.

In spring, it is hard to get under the Interstate 57 and Route 37 bridges.  The mouth of the creek silts in and becomes muddy after rains. The muddy water tends to ruin the bass fishing.  But, one can follow the mud line back up the creek to clean water for bass.

Exercise caution and stay in deeper water of the channel to avoid hanging up.  White or chartreuse spinnerbaits are good for the channel and stumps.

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