May 18, 2013

Illinois Exploration 2013 (Day 2)

We woke up at 5:30am to be on the road early. Our goal was to reach Carlyle Dam by 8am. We actually didn't reach Carlyle until 8:30am where we found Miciah and Bryce already fishing. After a quick hello and handshake, Miciah hurried us to get fishing. There were much to be caught.

Ben and I started fishing at the base of the dam where Silver Carp were jumping in the current. The strong current and the commotion cause the fish to jump. It was amazing watching these fish jump several feet into the air, even though they were only a few pounds in weight.

Ben and I started fishing a high/low rig tied with two twisted tails. Ben used a 3oz pyramid sinker to slowly slip the rig back in the current, while I used a 3/4oz bell sinker to bounce more briskly in the current. Although there were many Silver Carp in the area, they were not very willing to bite in the heavy and high water. The murkiness may also prevent the carp from seeing our lures. Ben caught a White Bass fairly quickly. A while later, I hooked onto a strong fish that came unbuttoned when it took me into the main current. However persistence soon paid off when my rig swung across the current. As the rig came into the slower water, I felt a solid "thud" and set the hook. I was immediately into a strong fish that gave two serious run. After a few minutes, the fish finally relinquished and I caught my first Silver Carp.

To anyone who suspect foul play, it is actually possible to induce these fish to bite under certain conditions. The theory is that these carp mistake the green twister tail for clumps of algae or weeds that washed over the dam. With murkier water, the fish is more likely to mistake the twister tail for edible vegetation.

Silver Carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) - Species #314

There were thousands of Gizzard Shad swirling very close to shore. You could see Shortnose Gar swimming in and out of the shad. Our casts often snag these shads. We tried fishing for the gar with cut shad or whole shad, but the gar were not interested. And unfortunately, we didn't catch any additional Silver Carp. The Bighead Carp also appeared missing.

So we headed a little downstream where Miciah and Bryce were fishing. They were focused on Common Carp and Smallmouth Buffalo, but neither of those two wanted to play.

Miciah has a lot of experience fishing in this area. He said there were Yellow Bass close to shore and White Bass further out. I fished with the high/low rig along the rock jetty, but the snag-infested water quickly ate up my tackle. After retying three times, Miciah fished the area with a simple float and small hook on a weightless line using nightcrawler as bait. He quickly caught and teased me with a Yellow Bass, then a White Bass, and finally a White Crappie. I decided that "monkey see, monkey do" and switched to a rig similar to his. After a few casts, I caught a White Bass! This was a species I've caught before but did not have any photographic evidence. Now I have a great picture for the lifelist!

White Bass (Morone chrysops)

A few more cast later, I caught a White Crappie! This is a species that I had tried for a few years to capture. There is one reservoir in Ontario that has both Black Crappie and White Crappie. I've only caught hybrids of these two species and it was very frustrating that the parental White Crappie may have been completely bred out. This catch was very satisfying!

White Crappie (Pomoxis annularis) - Species #315

I caught a juvenile Freshwater Drum, a Green Sunfish and another White Crappie, but I couldn't find any Yellow Bass close to shore. So I went to poach Miciah's spot. Perhaps the school showed preference for his area. Indeed, the school was localized heavily in a small area. This was another great catch since Yellow Bass is not very common in many place and certainly not available in Ontario. I was not expecting to catch one since they tend to be rather migratory and schools of them are often difficult to locate.

Yellow Bass (Morone mississippiensis) - Species #316

Between Miciah, Bryce, Ben and myself, we caught many more Yellow Bass, White Bass, White Crappie, Black Crappie, Freshwater Drum, Bluegill and Green Sunfish. However, the Shortnose Gar, Smallmouth Buffalo and Bighead Carp remained elusive. We decided to take lunch and move to another location.

Our second location was the dam at Rend Lake. Upon arrival, I was in disbelief! There were over a hundred gar at the base of the dam! There was a large number of Shortnose Gar with a few Spotted Gar mixed in. There was a few gar that easily reached 3 feet or bigger!

As a challenge, I took out the 8-wt fly rod to try for a gar on the fly. Ben started casting a spinner and he was soon into a Shortnose Gar. Miciah was fishing bait on bottom and fought a big Bowfin until the fish unbuttoned at hand.

I was initially fishing a fly with dumbell eyes. The fly was too heavy and sank too quickly. The gar would lose interest if the fly sank too deep. So I switched to a lightly weighted fly and soon got a lot more hits. It was difficult hooking these gar though. The fish had to strike it at just the right angle for the hook to find sometime to stick into. It took a lot of this...

...but finally connected with this when the treble hook pinned the jaw shut and the barbs barely held in place.

Shortnose Gar (Lepisosteus platostomus) - Species #317

From the base of the dam, I cast and cast hoping to connect with a Spotted Gar, but only hooked and landed a few more Shortnose Gar. Ben was fishing from high up the side of the dam and landed a small Spotted Gar. He caught a few more gar than I did using his spinner, and then hooked into this monster Shortnose Gar!

Just before we left, I tried fishing from the side of the dam using a spinner as well but it was difficult getting a hookset on those gar from that high vantage point.

Miciah and Ben promised me that there will be another chance at the Spotted Gar the next day, so we motored toward Anna for dinner where Miciah and Bryce treated us to Chinese buffet. After dinner and a lot of fish talk, we headed over to Shawnee National Forest to look for Spring Cavefish.

Ben had found an area holding a few Spring Cavefish. Before we started looking, we spent a bit of time fishing swampy areas for Flier Sunfish and Banded Pygmy Sunfish. Neither Ben nor I were able to attain our targets. We had to move on since we were losing light...not to mention the hundreds of mosquitoes and biting gnats that were quickly draining our blood. We also had to avoid Poison Ivy that were EVERYWHERE! I've never seen that much Poison Ivy in one place!

We moved a short distance to Ben's spot and quickly found a good number of Spring Cavefish. However, our activity made the water murky, not to mention that these fish were hiding under a large rock. It made targeting these small and almost blind fish a huge task. We searched another spot where there was a larger open pool. At first, we saw many small salamanders and we debated whether there were any cavefish at all. When Ben and Miciah started looking more closely, they did find a few Spring Cavefish. Wading in the spot made the water very muddy and impossible to target the little fish. It was more of an exploration instead of an attempt to catch them. At least now we have a good location to fish in the future.

Ben and I left for our campsite in the dark while Miciah and Bryce returned to Anna to their motel. Ben and I were puzzled when our campsite was complete empty. We soon realize that the area was completely ruled by biting insects. Instead of setting up camp and dying of blood loss, we decide to sleep in the car that night.

1 comment:

  1. Between Carlyle and Rend Lake I've never seen so many gar in my life! Carlyle was tough with the high water, but I'm glad we moved down the shore a ways and caught all the sunfish, bass and crappies. Hopefully next time the smallmouth buffs will cooperate and we'll be able to see a few bigheads. Congrats on catching gar on the fly!