Archive for the ‘Rend Lake’ Tag



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.




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.




SD Channel 0006

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.


Women Bass 0005

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.


DSCN3718 (2)

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.


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.

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