This may just be the most fickle year I have seen in fishing.
Conditions have been excellent, with full lakes, grass populations off the chart, more shad than you can shake a stick at and water clarity that for the most part has been excellent. The catching has not followed suit, though.
Never before in recent memory has there been more fishing events, particularly in our area, where one or two fish are enough to win. It hasn’t just been in the dog days — for the entire year, fish catches across the board have been down.
Some blame heavy rains and changing temperatures; others blame fish populations; and others believe that the abundance of grass and cover has made finding fish more difficult. Something can also be said about the number of anglers who found fishing when COVID kept folks from doing much else — it's meant a lot more poles in the water. I call this year the perfect storm and believe maybe we as anglers have just not adapted well, yet.
Much of the funk we are seeing can be based on cover — in particular grass and other vegetation that has incrementally increased on lakes across the country. For one, I have never seen a better grass growth of both coontail and water willow at our lakes in my 40-plus years of fishing.
Most would feel that would be a boon to fishing, but because we haven’t had it in years past or ever for that matter, anglers have not figured out the puzzle of how to get to the fish. Because of the abundance of grass, I believe most fish are not going to their offshore haunts because temperatures under the grass and the amount of food in it makes it so they have no real reason to move offshore.
There is definitely a defined thermocline — the area where colder, less oxygenated water mixes with warmer, more oxygen-rich water. But even with today’s sophisticated electronics, the fish just are not there. Typically, this time of year fish will establish off shore in the 12- to 18-foot range and feed throughout the day.
This year, it seems most fish have remained shallow. High water around grassy areas has made for way more cover than ever before, and seeing baitfish in that grass in large amounts tells me the fish have to be there.
Being able to get a bait to those fish is the conundrum, and even though picking the grass apart can be done, it takes time and it's much more difficult to establish a pattern that can be duplicated. It is more of a one-fish-here, one-fish-there proposition, and it takes time to figure out the puzzle.
Our area has a lot of really exceptional flippers and pitchers, and even those sticks are finding it hard to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. For example, Evergreen Lake has more expanses of grass from deep to shallow than ever before, and the beauty of that is its all over the lake. I remember when that lake was barren of any vegetation. A project several years ago with the IDNR, Muskie Alliance and other donated monies got it started, and even with a few downturns along the way, it has reached a crescendo this year.
Bank protection projects have added to the equation, too. All good things mind you, but simply put, it's just different this year. The bank beaters are the ones that are dialing it in, and even their numbers are low.
Rest assured this increase in vegetation is a good thing. No doubt we had a great spawn of all species. Given time, with the bank protection and vegetation increase, we should be very excited for upcoming fishing in our area. It should be fantastic.
We are all chasing the same animal. Being able to figure out the puzzle, whether fishing for crappie, bluegill or bass, has been more difficult this year, but numbers are still there. Some of the best crappie fishing ever has been the rule this year, and I expect this fall our lakes will again show their true colors. Anglers have to be versatile and have to see these changes to be successful.
The best fishing across the state will dynamically improve moving forward. Thanks to Mike Garthaus and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, our area lake managers and the anglers for putting the fish first. Even though we might complain about how tough it is to catch a limit, our best days are coming. Shad and crawfish populations are booming, cover has never been better and we had a spawn that was off the charts. It looks good for the future, for sure.
BNBC Tuesday Nighter
Larry Russell and Andy Veselak won the latest Tuesday Nighter on Evergreen Lake with four fish weighing 10.24 pounds. Jack Menssen and Jason Estes were second with three fish weighing 8.34 pounds. Big fish of 5.59 pounds was caught by Jeff Morrison and Ken Johnson.
Terry Brown is President of Wired2Fish.com, an industry leading, daily website and social media fishing centered community that provides information on products, industry newsmakers and fishing techniques. You can read more by going to www.Wired2Fish.com.