Papermouth Perspective

Papermouth Perspective

For good family fun, you'll find it hard to beat these Illinois crappie waters. (April 2008)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

My buddy, Jim, bursts with pride over 4-year-old Jacob's casting ability with a "Snoopy" pole. But he bristled when I chided that the time would soon arrive for his boy to pitch that Snoopy toy in the trash so ol' Uncle Ted could give him a cane pole and teach him how to catch fish.

Fishing 101 has absolutely nothing to do with winging a practice plug across a pond or back yard on a rod suitable only for ice-fishing. Young anglers must experience success within 20 minutes, and every five minutes thereafter or they lose interest -- perhaps forever.

A 15-foot cane pole with 13 feet of line, a pencil float, split shot and a hook is without a doubt the best tool for teaching the basics.

Observe the bite.

Take slack out of the line.

Swing the fish up, out of the water and back to the boat or shoreline.

Hey, kid! You caught a crappie!

Although combat with bluegills initiates legions of anglers into the legal addiction of fishing, crappies are better learning tools because you can usually fish above them, out of the brush, and papermouths of slab dimensions provide a quick visual lesson in the need to finesse rather than horse the quarry back to the angler.

Both panfish tend to run in schools, so the next bite will likely be well within that five-minute window required to hold interest. If it doesn't, move on to similar cover nearby. You can always come back.

With this basic and effective gear, it is possible to maintain control over three or even four young anglers ensuring solid, quality training to everyone. Keep the experience positive and tell them it's time to go home when the kids want to keep fishing.

A 15-foot cane pole with 13 feet of line, a pencil float, split shot and a hook is without a doubt the best tool for teaching a kid the basics. Observe the bite. Take slack out of the line. Swing the fish up and out of the water. Hey, kid! You caught a crappie!

Negative experiences can scar a young angler for life. I'm still in recovery from a fishing-related incident more than 50 years ago. A big bass inhaled the crappie minnow on the end of my cane pole. I was screaming for Dad and trying to hang on for dear life. Dad ran over, grabbed the pole, and threw it in the slough! I instantly began crying.

Dad led me and my sister, Bean, to a leaky old rowboat just down the shoreline. He rowed over to where the pole was pulsing against some weeds and had me pick it up. The 3-pound bass was still attached!

The pole effectively allowed the bass to play itself out. It was the kind of lesson a kid never forgets. Later that summer, Dad was tending to a tackle snafu when Bean saw the bobber of Dad's prized baitcaster skittering across the surface. She picked up the rod and threw it in the slough!

The fishing trip ended shortly thereafter, forever leaving me wanting more. Herein is a lesson for you erstwhile fishing mentors out there: When you take the kids fishing, leave your stuff at home. Teaching fishin' is the mission. Here's a look at some of our state's best locales for creating forever memories.

REND LAKE
This 18,900-acre reservoir near Mt. Vernon is less than five hours' drive from any point in the state, with virtually every component of a family fishing adventure found at Rend Lake State Park -- lodging, dining, boat rental and plenty of big crappies.

The best time to go crappie fishing here is now through the middle of April. Action is so predictable that anyone armed with a cane pole and some 1/16-ounce Hoop-I head jigs with chartreuse Fuzzy Tails is going "catching" instead of fishing.

This time of year, Rend's slabs typically locate 1 to 3 feet off the bottom over brush in water 3 to 10 feet deep. Look for fish to be most active in the warmest available water typically found in shallow coves at the north end of the lake where they have migrated in from offshore cover.

You may catch a quick limit right off the dock next to the resort. Virtually any deadfall or beaver hut has fish potential. For more information, call the park office at (618) 724-2493.

Although combat with bluegills initiates legions of anglers into the legal addiction of fishing, crappies are better learning tools because you can usually fish above them, out of the brush, and papermouths of slab dimensions provide a quick visual lesson in the need to finesse rather than horse the quarry to the angler.

KINKAID LAKE
Probably our state's No. 1 crappie water, this sprawling 2,750-acre Jackson County lake has both numbers of fish and the potential for producing a wallhanger. Biologist Shawn Hirst said Kinkaid is home to "six solid year-classes" of crappies ensuring this water is a premier destination for years to come.

Like most Illinois crappie waters, action heats up on the north end first, with the old iron bridge at the mouth of Raymond Neck the epicenter of papermouth activity.

Kinkaid is a matrix of sheltered coves and bays, with water clarity changing considerably from the north end down to the dam where fish tend to hold deeper in the much clearer water, moving shallow to spawn perhaps 10 days later than they do at the north end.

You should have seen the slabs we used to catch back when I was growing up. Three feet long at least with mouths big enough to garwoofle an entire squirrel. At least that's the way Bean and I remember those times fishing with Dad.

Kinkaid has considerable offshore structure. A good sonar is a real boon in finding this fish habitat, with the best spots in the middle of the mouths of coves until crappies relocate to more visible cover closer to shore.

If crappie angling is only part of a family weekend outing, nearby Lake Murphysboro State Park may be a better option. You don't need a boat to catch crappies on this 145-acre lake, which has motor restrictions in place. Try the area around the concession stand or fish from the two disabled access piers.

The park also features Little Lake, a seven-acre pond where motors are restricted even further, with electric motor-only rules in place. Probe the flooded timber on the pond's northwest side.

For more information, call the Murphysboro Chamber of Commerce at (618) 684-6421, Kinkaid State FWA at (618) 684-6421, or Lake Murphysboro State Park at (618) 684-2867.

EVERGREEN & DAWSON
Comlara County Park just north of Bloomington surrounds 1,000-acre Evergreen Lake, an outstanding family fishing destination. A 10-horsepower motor restriction is in effect, but crappies are still just a five-minute boat ride from access points.

The draw here is numbers of fish, rather than size and quality family camping on the water. Evergreen is also full of muskies that dog the crappie population. There is a very high potential for one of these toothers to put the pin in your papermouth party hog. Throwing a cane pole in the lake in this instance has the potential for scarring yet another generation of anglers.

Dawson Lake, in Moraine View State Park, is another worthwhile McLean County crappie destination with much less potential for "toother trauma." Boat launching and camping facilities are good at this state property, located about 10 miles southeast of Bloomington.

For more information, call the McLean County Chamber of Commerce at (309) 829-6344, Comlara County Park at (309) 726-2022, or Moraine View State Park at (309) 724-8295.

I&M CANAL
This shallow fishery in the state park of the same name near Channahon is a great day trip for northeastern Illinois families.

Many anglers walk or ride bicycles to fish the shoreline brush or fallen trees that abound using a cane pole with a minnow suspended a foot beneath the bobber. The best fishing is found between Channahon and Morris. Throw a trash bag in your backpack to carry out the fish.

For more information, call (815) 467-4271 or (815) 942-0113.

CRAB ORCHARD LAKE
If you live north of Peoria, you gain a week on spring for every 100 miles traveled south this time of year.

Herein is a lesson for you erstwhile fishing mentors out there: When you take the kids fishing, leave your stuff at home. Teaching fishin'is the mission.

Crappies have already spawned on Horseshoe Lake in far southern Illinois and are moving shallow at countless lakes from Vandalia south, including dozens of smaller waters near Crab Orchard Lake, a 6,900-acre crappie factory that has been producing grins for as long as anyone still capable of holding a cane pole can remember.

Practically every main-lake point within a mile of the dam has at least a brushpile, a tangle of stumps or a beaver hut that is holding crappies right now. There is also plenty of structure along the dam just off the riprap that is holding fish. There are ample shore-fishing opportunities on either side of Highway 13 between Carterville and Carbondale and plenty of shore-fishing opportunities on similar cover along Hwy. 148 south of Carterville to the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.

Kinkaid Lake is a matrix of sheltered coves and bays,with water clarity changing considerably from the north end down to the dam where fish tend to hold deeper in the much clearer water, moving shallow to spawn perhaps 10 days later than they do at the north end.

Take your cane poles on the blacktop path to Visitor Pond directly behind the building, just one more option out of dozens capable of creating a lifetime of crappie catching memories amid a backdrop that feels more like summer than spring by the end of the month.

A free map available at the Visitor Center shows access points to Crab Orchard, Devils Kitchen and Little Grassy lakes. All of these fisheries are about 1,000 acres and full of fish.

Tucked between the three waters is a large pond simply designated "A-41." Getting there requires a brisk 20- minute walk from the parking access.

Are there crappies on A-41?

Ask the kids four or five years from now when they learned to cast accurately and have graduated far beyond Fishing 101. They will tell you crappies are much smaller now than back when they were "kids."

You should have seen the slabs we used to catch back when I was growing up. Three feet long at least with mouths big enough to garwoofle an entire squirrel. At least that's the way Bean and I remember those times fishing with Dad.

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