Saturday, July 19, 2014

Emiquon Preserve Kayak Fishing: Froggin' Heaven

For me to drive any more than an hour to drop the kayak in somewhere is rare, so for the three hours it took me to get to the Emiquon Preserve near Lewistown, IL, well.....I better catch some bass.  I wanted to at least get a day and a half of fishing in so I left in the early afternoon on Friday.  After setting up camp at the nearby Fulton County Camping & Recreation Area and getting my lake access permit at the Dickson Mounds Museum, I was ready to finally start fishing Emiquon.

I had planned to fish some of my favorite soft plastic baits to start out in the late afternoon but those plans were pretty quickly shelved after I noticed the water clarity(not much more than a foot) and not getting a bite for the first half hour on a magnum lizard.   Even though it was still only about 6pm and the sun was still shining bright, I decided to try the frog.  I made my first cast with a poppin' booyah padcrasher frog along the edge of a drainage ditch where the depth went from about 10 feet to 5 feet and almost immediately had a big blowup that I missed. I let the east wind(not forecasted) blow me along the ditch until I reached a point where the weeds began again near shore at the end of the ditch.  There were lots of bluegill feeding on the surface at this choke point, it looked like a perfect place for a bass hangout.  On my first cast to this area a nice 17" bass came completely out of the water to smash my frog.
First Emiquon bass
I caught a few more bass in this area on the frog, including an 18" fish that was the only skinny bass I would catch the whole trip.
Like an anorexic in the buffet line, something is not right
I marked a lot of suspended fish in the middle of the ditch on my Lowrance but I couldn't get bit on the spinnerbait or chatterbait so I decided to go back to fishing the frog along the weed edges.  The last hour of sunlight was awesome fishing and I landed around ten bass on the frog with six over 16", including this nice fat 18.5" bass.
Great first day
Emiquon closes at sunset so I drove back to camp.  The campsite manager was nice enough to recommend a great spot on a point of one of the nine lakes at the camping area.  It was a nice night to be outdoors and I even caught a few small bass on a black frog fishing at night right off the point.
Next time I'll have to bring some catfish rods

The second day I arrived at Emiquon shortly after sunrise, it looked like it would be a good morning to continue frog fishing.
Hard to decide where to fish
Unfortunately, the bass did not seem to agree.  After 30 minutes and only a few missed bites on the frog I finally had a violent strike.  I thought I had a huge bass but as I pulled away the weeds to lip the fish I was surprised to see teeth.  I had caught my first bowfin!  I got the fish in the kayak and reached for my camera. Before I could get a picture though, the bowfin went berserk, became unhooked, and flopped his way to freedom. I didn't even know that bowfin were in the lake, I wish I would of had my fish grips with me.  As the morning progressed I managed to catch a few bass on the frog but the bite was nothing like the evening before so I decided to switch to fishing a Crabby Bass swim jig with a Big Hammer trailer.  It was a good decision. I quickly started catching more fish once I made the change and landed six bass, all over 16", in the next hour and a half.
This 18" bass came off of a flooded tree
With nowhere on the lake to find shelter from the sun, I was ready for a break by mid morning.  I headed up to the Dickson Mounds Museum and checked out all the exhibits.  I definitely recommend it if you are in the area, they do a good job of relating the surrounding geography with the history of the American Indians that lived in the area.
View from the top of  the museum, Emiquon on the horizon
I returned to the lake late afternoon for my final outing for this trip.  Things did not start out well as I probably missed my first ten hits on the frog.  I was getting frustrated by fishing poorly and making too long of casts over thick weeds so that even when I hooked a fish they managed to get off when they got into the slop.  I moved to more open water on the outside of the weeds and started getting better hookups.  I shot some video while fishing the frog with my hatcam both evenings and got some good blowups on video.  The cool thing about the Emiquon bass were the violent strikes, in more heavily fished local ponds a lot of times bass will just suck the frog under, not here. 

The late evening bite was good again with another dozen bass or so landed and seven fish over 16".  In all I would guess I caught somewhere around 35 bass in 11 hours of time on the water over one and a half days. 21 of those bass were over 16" and logged for the team on the Kayak Wars website. 

A couple things I noticed were that the bass seemed to relate to patches of American pondweed more than the clumps of floating moss.
Finding the weeds with leaves was key
Also, both evenings winds were out of the east and a few of my most productive spots were where there were irregularities or "cuts" in the weeds that allowed the wind to blow a little further back towards shore.  Bait was usually more concentrated in these areas, and so were the bass.  As for lures, I found the poppin' frog to be most productive when fishing in the wind as I could create more of a disturbance for the fish to locate.  When fishing calmer areas, the regular hollow body frog seemed to draw more strikes.

Emiquon is a cool place, it is amazing how what was mostly farmland only 10 years ago transformed into a phenomenal fishery so quickly. The Experience Emiquon website has a lot of great information on this preserve if you are wanting to learn more.  Keep in mind there are some unique rules to the lake if you plan on fishing it.  These include restricted access to only the west half of the lake, no gas motors(not even on your boat), no shore fishing, and no live bait other than worms.  Also, you must pickup a free lake access permit at the museum before you can fish the lake.

One final thing I should mention is there has been some controversy surrounding the preserve in recent years after The Nature Conservancy revealed their plans for a "water management" structure to be constructed to allow Emiquon to become part of the natural floodplain of the Illinois River.  While I understand the desire to give more floodplains back to the river by modifying levees, I fear what this may mean for the bass and other fish species that currently live in Emiquon.  The Illinois River is very different from what it was 100 years ago, most notably with the presence of Asian carp, which now account for an estimated two-thirds of the biomass in the river.  By connecting Emiquon to the Illinois River, Asian carp will have the opportunity to enter Emiquon, which they surely will do. Experience has shown us that once Asian carp become established in a new area, they can quickly overwhelm that waterway, endangering native fish and plant species.

An online petition has been started to try and prevent this project, it can be found here.

Fish caught: Largemouth Bass - ~35
                     Bowfin - 1
Successful Baits: Booyah Poppin' Pad Crasher(shad frog, swamp frog), Booyah Pad Crasher(bullfrog), 5/16 oz Crabby Bass Swim Jig(white/blue) with Big Hammer trailer.
Weather:  Mostly Sunny, calm winds in the morning shifting to ESE 10mph, upper 70's.
Water Temps:  unknown

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