Archive for the ‘southern Illinois’ Tag

EAGLES SOARING   Leave a comment


Being cooped up for a couple of days due to weather is rather depressing. Today is clear but very cold.  Coming home from the Post office I stopped about a half block away to view two adult bald eagles soaring over the house.

This is one of the nice things about January in southern Illinois. The waterfowl winter here on the refuge and the eagles have followed them on their migration as the clean-up crew.  The eagles prey upon the sick and wounded birds as well as eating the dead ones.  On sunny days the surface water of the lakes and ponds warm slightly attracting the carp.  Eagles can spot the fish from far and swoop down upon them.

All along the Mississippi River Flyway various local groups have “Eagle Days” in which they promote the local economy by offering tours to view the birds.

Eagles are not strangers to this neighborhood. They sometimes sit on the ground in the back yard as they munch on some hapless small game animal.  Today is a pleasure in that they are soaring around in a clear blue sky.  They have moved off for now but they surely will come again another day.

In any event watching eagles go about their daily chores is a great way to push away the winter blues.


Posted 01/07/2017 by Donald Gasaway in Conservation

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Pyramid 0004

Pyramid State Park is the state’s largest state park and contains numerous small lakes with an abundant variety of fish species.  It is less than an hour drive from most any community in southern Illinois.

First up upon entry to the park from the south entrance is Crystal Lake to the left.  This long narrow expanse of water glistens emerald green as it reflects the numerous trees along its bank in the setting sunset.  The waters contain such species of common southern Illinois fish as largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish and channel catfish.

Using a Mepps spinner or small white Roadrunner lure, one can cast to the shallow areas along the shore near the fishing pier.  Later, you can move on to the boat ramp and fished from the floating dock.

Just past the dock is the site superintendent’s office.  There are maps of the area and if the office is open, one can inquire as to where the fish are biting best.

Moving further west, Heron Lake on the right side of the road is another long thin lake with the same species available.  There is also a picnic area available and a boat ramp.

Although you might not get to spend a lot of time fishing, it will be a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend time in the park.  Warm spring week days it is possible to virtually have the place to yourself.

Located in Perry County between Pinkneyville and Pyatts, Illinois and west of DuQuoin, the park now encompasses some 19,000 acres.  Originally a local college used the area as a research facility used a strip mine, the first 924-acres.  It later passed to the state in 1968 for a state park.  More land additions occurred until by 2001 it reached 19,000 acres.

The park consists of five units, Original Pyramid, East Conant, Galum, Captain, and Denmark.  The 0riginal area contains some 30 lakes of various sizes.  Captain contains 11 lakes and Denmark has 7.

There are lakes in Galum and East Conant which are in need of my exploration.  State stocking reports show the addition of about 100 ten inch muskie Goldeneye Lake in Galum.  The stocking began in 2002 and continues to this time.

In addition, to the fish mentioned earlier, Green Wing Lake, Canvasback Lake, Mallard Lake and Bluewing Lake all contain crappie with both black and white subspecies present.  They range is size up to 10 inches. Canvasback Lake in the Denmark Area has received some stocking of muskies since 2002 at a rate of about 100 ten inch fish each year.  Mallard and Green Wing Lakes also have walleye from yearly stockings done by the IDNR since 2002.  Both Mallard and Bluewing Lakes have received stockings of Northern Pike and will get more this summer.  These lakes are located in the Denmark Area.

A special attraction in the Captain Area is Super Lake and some striped bass hybrids.  IDNR added the hybrids in June 2003.  In August of 2008, some 460 muskie joined them.  On the even number years, they add some 100 more each year.  The Redear sunfish are up to 9 inches in length.

Muskie anglers will find some in Goldeneye Lake in the Galum Area along with some 9 inch redear sunfish.

This property is basically a hunting and fishing facility.  However, there are camping and hiking trails available.  The roads are good and the picnic areas are clean.

All of the lakes have 10 horsepower limits on boat motors and most have boat launches.  Boat launch areas are often on steep inclines so 4-wheel drive vehicles are a good idea.  Some of the lakes do not have launch areas and some are accessible only on foot.  Canoes and kayaks make perfect sense in most of the lakes.

This facility provides excellent surroundings for the angler in search of a quiet, gentle day on the water.  The heavy brush deadens any sound that might otherwise disrupt ones concentration of the task at hand, fishing.



Cold Rend 0002

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.





The ghostly plumes of mist rising from the lake created by cold air above the warmer pond water give birth to an eerie scene.  Boats glide slowly across the lake only to disappear into the fog.  It is winter fishing in southern Illinois.  Ice fishing without ice if you will.

Following the holidays, angler’s thoughts return to things that are really important, fishing.  Contrary their brothers and sisters in the northern part of the Land of Lincoln, southern Illinois anglers can find open water with hungry fish, a few miles from home.  Anytime the weather is bearable, they will be on the water.

Baldwin Lake and Lake of Egypt are two popular power plant lakes in southern Illinois remain almost totally ice free throughout the winter.  After the first of the year, the fishing action really begins to heat up.

Baldwin is a 2,000-acre lake north of the town of Baldwin, IL in Randolph County.  It is about 45-miles southeast of St. Louis.  The lake offers angling for largemouth and smallmouth bass, striped, white and hybrid striped bass, white, black or hybrid crappie, flathead, blue and channel catfish.

Water travels via pumps into the lake from the Kaskaskia River.  From there it goes into the three huge coal-fired plants before returning to the lake.  Because the water is warm, as it comes out of the plant the lake never freezes over.  In winter those mists rise on the lake giving it an eerie look.

The lake offers more than two miles of bank fishing within walking distance of the parking lot.  The catfish of the lake include some monsters.

Lake of Egypt is a large body of water about 7 miles southeast of Marion, IL in Williamson County.  It is just a few miles east of Interstate 57.  With some 2,400-acres it is one of the largest lakes in this area of the state.

This cooling lake has a hot water area in the northern end.  It can be rather wind-blown at times.  The lake for the most part remains ice free during winter.  But, some of the coves can freeze or have some skim ice in extreme weather.

Good numbers of bass and crappie come from this lake each year.  Cover is not abundant but the areas of weed growth can provide fishing action.  Anglin pressure is heavy on the lake during warmer days.  But in winter you can have much of the lake to yourself.

Winter fishing for southern Illinois anglers does not usually involve walking out on the ice and drilling holes.  Many of the other techniques, such as slow retrieval of lures, still apply.  It is just ice fishing without the ice.


Early Whitetail

Early season bowhunting requires tactics needed are different from those in the late fall and early winter. Daytime temperatures are much higher and the deer move less.

Warmer daytime temperatures lead to more sluggish deer activity. They might even become fully nocturnal to escape the heat. This makes for a challenge.

In Illinois, the archery season opens the first of October and hunters often migrate to southern Illinois taking advantage of the vast areas of public hunting. Many state public hunting areas, the Shawnee National Forest, and Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge provide Bowhunters with less crowded hunting opportunities.

Bowhunters key their hunting to water sources. The theory is that the amount of water consumed by a deer is inversely proportional to the amount of water in their food. If the deer can not get enough moisture from vegetation and surface water it will go looking another source.

Early in the season deer do not change their patterns of activity for weeks if left undisturbed. During this period they are less nervous and easier to get close to than later.

The deer’s primary concern in the early season is building up reserves of fat for the winter. Bucks eat heavily building up for the rut period during which they eat virtually nothing at all. Early in the fall they visit good feeding areas each morning and evening unless disturbed. Later they will consume berries, flowers and leaves. They prefer hickory nuts and early acorns, and the so called soft mast. Where available they feed on browse and agricultural crops. They travel long distances to find them. Later they seek crops, such as soybeans, corn and alfalfa.

Although understanding the relationship of food to water for the deer is vital, it is also important to understand scent. The heavy doe-in-heat and rut scents should be avoided. They are unnatural this time of the year and tend to spook deer. The key for hunters is being absent any scent at all. Hunters should wash clothing in unscented soaps, bathe before dressing and use scent retarding products if possible.

On the subject of clothing, camouflage clothing used in the early season tends to be light weight. As the sun begins to head for the horizon it can get chilly on a deer stand. Take a lightweight jacket along in your day pack for use when the temperatures drop. Also take along some good insect repellant as the mosquitoes come out as the day begins to end.

Finally, if you are fortunate enough to harvest a deer, recover it as quickly as possible. Get it out of the woods and into some refrigeration. If that is not possible, skin the deer and cut the carcass into quarters. A quartered deer and an ample amount of ice will fit in a 48-quart cooler until you can get to a meat processor.

Early season deer hunting in hot weather is different but can be just as productive as those rut hunts later in the fall.

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.



Biologists tell us that bluegills prefer water that is deep and clean with a pH of 7.2. Most of the lakes, ponds and unused strip pits of southern Illinois fit that description.

The need for such an environment has resulted in bluegills becoming to the war on terrorism what the canary was to early coal miners.

The miners would take the birds down in the ground. If there were a gas leak, the birds would be the first to succumb and their death would alert the miners to the danger.

When it comes to eating habits, bluegills are about as selective as a junkyard dog in what they will or will not bite. They eat: worms, crickets, aquatic nymphs, larvae, shrimp, crayfish tails and small fish. Their eating habits make them such a sucker for artificial baits like spinners and plastic grubs. But, when it comes to their environment there is another story.

Bluegills are known for thriving in clean water as well as a fighter on the end of a fishing line. Now they have a new job in the front lines of the war on terrorism.

Several major cities across the country have employed this member of the sunfish family in protecting water reservoirs. The fish are kept in tanks with constantly replenished water from the city supplies. Their sensors register change in their breathing, heartbeat and swimming patterns. These changes are known to take effect when the fish is exposed to such pollutants as: cyanide, diesel fuel, mercury and pesticides.

As long as the fish are stress free the water supply is OK. When minute toxins enter the water the fish become stressed and alert humans monitoring the water supply.

A member of the sunfish family, bluegills are sometimes referred to in southern Illinois as bream or brim. They are a flat, muscular fish with a dark olive green back and dark-blue vertical stripes on the sides. The breast of a male fish is bright red-orange while the females display a dull yellow color. The chin and lower portion of the gill cover is blue, giving rise to the name bluegill.

The long growing season and abundance of desirable clear water in southern Illinois has produced the healthy populations of these fish. Their aggressive feeding behavior is an indication that the bluegill does not flourish due to it intellect. They will attack an artificial lure twice their size and are often caught by bass anglers using spinner baits.

Bluegills are often seen as forage fish for larger predators such as catfish, bass and Muskie. It is only their ability to reproduce faster than other fish can eat them that maintains this fishery. Bluegills will begin reproducing at age l and a female lays about 18,000 eggs per year. The spawn begins about the time of the first full moon in May and can continue through the summer with the eggs being hatched in four to seven days after they are laid. The most active spawning takes place during the period of three to four days either side of the full moon.

During the period after the spawn, bluegills seek comfort in the shallow water early in the morning and late in the evening. During the day they will seek deeper water structure or suspend in open water. Usually, they will be schooled up. If an angler catches one he will catch many in the same spot or very close to it.

Bluegills do best in lakes with simple populations of fish without common carp or gizzard shad. For this reason they tend to be stocked into lakes with only bass. Biologists find that they can better control the populations of both species with just the two with which to work.

Ultra light tackle is best for bluegill fishing. The light rod and reel spooled with two to 4 pound line will produce a challenging fishing experience for beginner and expert alike. Fine wire hooks in number six or eight sizes are ample to catch these scrappy characters. The wire hooks can be pulled free when snagged in some underwater vegetation. They straighten out and can be just bent back into shape with the fingers.

Bluegill fishing is popular with children because they are so easily hooked and tug aggressively on the line. They are popular with adults because they provide an excellent meal at the end of a day’s outing.


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