July 31, 2008

Smelly Bait, Buck Brush Bring Out Catfish

By Scott Richardson

Catfish are drawn to an odor that sends most living creatures the other way - with the exception of catfishermen, that is.

Ron Hamilton and Cory Wills proved that on a recent trip to Rend Lake, a reservoir in southern Illinois. The pair from Bloomington caught a total of 108 catfish ranging from 2 to 5 pounds over a three-day period.

The fish came on B's Catfish Bait, a powerful-smelling concoction cooked up by the Wills family and marketed throughout the region.

Hamilton owned a tackle shop and hunting supply store in Bloomington before he sold it to Wills, who closed it a few years ago when he became a McLean County sheriff's deputy.

The pair first visited Rend Lake three years ago at the invitation of Rend Lake angler John Wathen of Carrier Mills, a B's Bait devotee. Hamilton and Wills caught more than a hundred catfish on that trip, too. The fishing was so good there, in fact, Hamilton sold a vacation place in Wisconsin to move near Rend Lake.

The latest trip involved targeting buck brush in the shallows using a slip bobber rig, an unusual tactic for bottom-feeding catfish.

"John supplied us with all the equipment, but we brought our own bait," said Wills, chuckling.

The trio used identical 9-foot rods and baitcaster reels spooled with braided line. The rig was a slip float, Styrofoam bobber and 1/ 8 ounce-egg sinker to a swivel. A rubber band served as the bobber stop. Another 8- to 10-inch piece of braided line served as a leader to a No. 8 or 10 treble hook and bait. Catfish prefer cut shad, shrimp and liver early in the year. As summer progresses, they choose processed baits like B's Bait, which is made from cheese scraps.

The group started targeting structures with lilly pads, but the fish weren't there. They found them when they moved to shallow water in bays with buck brush.

"The buck brush looked like willow trees to me," Wills said.

The boat was positioned in water 4 feet deep. The anglers cast no more than 20 feet away so that the bait was positioned inside the weed patch.

At times, the anglers would catch just one fish from a spot and move 50 feet along the weed line and catch five or six in a hurry. Setting the hook as soon as the bobber went under the surface was mandatory.

"I know bobber fishing for catfish sounds weird, but it works," Wills said.

No fuelin'

Gasoline prices might be having an impact on where and how we fish.

Mike Steffa, acting director of the McLean County Parks & Recreation Department, says boat stickers at Evergreen Lake are down about 25 percent in 2008. He blames soaring fuel costs and a wet spring.

Surveys indicate American anglers are responding to higher gasoline costs by staying closer to home and traveling less between fishing spots once on the water.

Boat sales fell 5 percent last year even before $4 a gallon fuel reached the pumps, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Tournament notes- Chatsworth native Ted Takasaki, who is president of Minnesota-based Lindy Legendary Fishing Tackle, placed second in the race for the prestigious angler of the year title in the Wal-Mart FLW Walleye Tour. Winner of the competition based on tournament finishes throughout the season was Pete Harsh of Sauk Centre, Minn. - Mike Blake and Terry Brown won the Strike King Ever- Bloom Tournament at Lake Bloomington on Saturday with a five-bass limit of 13.66 pounds. Fred Myers and Ken Petersen were second with four bass weighing 10.27 pounds. A.J. Bailey and Scott Bree were third. - Jeff Henson of Bloomington was sixth with a five-fish limit of 12 pounds during a Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League event at Lake Shelbyville on July 19.

Scott Richardson is Pantagraph outdoor editor. Contact him at (309) 820-3227 or e-mail [email protected] Share stories and read past outdoor and fishing columns at www.pantagraph.com/ blogs

. Share stories and read past outdoor and fishing columns at www.pantagraph.com/blogs

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