by John Neporadny Jr.
Kyle Schoenherr says bushes like these are prime springtime targets.
Gusty spring winds blowing across the Illinois flatlands surrounding Rend Lake can wreak havoc on crappie anglers.
Rend Lake Guide Kyle Schoenherr warns anglers to pay attention to the weather forecast for the wind speed and direction before venturing out on the water. “The lake can get dangerous especially if you are in a small boat,” Schoenherr says. He suggests if the wind is blowing hard out of the north, you should launch your boat and fish on the northern side of the lake, and vice versa.
Playing the wind game becomes a necessity at Rend if crappie are in the prespawn stage and holding in the open areas at the mouths of bays. Schoenherr slow trolls spider rigs with minnows into the face of the wind to catch the bigger female crappie staging 4 to 5 feet deep along stump flats. He also catches prespawn crappie vertical jigging with 1/16-ounce tube jigs in brush piles and stake beds along points, ledges and creek channels at depths of 5 to 10 feet.
“April is a real tricky month, especially in Southern Illinois with the weather patterns, so sometimes we are fishing for prespawn fish but most of the time we are catching fish up in the buck brush. If the fish are committed up in the bushes then the wind is not too big of a factor because there are so many little nooks that you can go in to get out of the wind.” The bushes are usually located in small bays and cuts that are protected from the wind. Schoenherr notes the biggest challenge he encounters while fishing bushes on a windy day is keeping his line from blowing around when he lowers his jigs through the maze of limbs.
Rend Lake offers plenty of opportunities to bushwhack for crappie. “In the back of every bay there are bushes all around the lake,” says Schoenherr. The local guide notes the southern end of the lake is dotted with more campgrounds and rock riprap banks, so the best banks loaded with bushes are north of State Highway 154.
When he’s probing the bushes, Schoenherr either dips jigs or a bobber-and-minnow rig into the shallow cover. He favors a 1/8-ounce 2.0 Roadrunner Head for bushwhacking because it has a small blade and a big barb for holding tube baits. The 1/8-ounce jighead also gives Schoenherr better control of his line since he needs to drop his jig straight down through the openings in the limbs. Schoenherr combines the Roadrunner Head with a smoke glow 3-inch Midsouth Super Jigs tube or a 1.75-inch Midsouth Super Jig tube tipped with a medium-size minnow.
The guide presents his flip cork setup into the middle of the bushes if crappie ignore his jigs. His setup begins with a 2 1/2-inch cigar-shaped float, followed by a string bobber stop–he prefers the string stop instead of rubber stops that tend to hang up too much in the limbs. Below the stop, Schoenherr slides two bullet-shaped 1/8-ounce worm weights on his line with one weight pointed upwards and the other pointed downwards so the combined weight has a more streamlined shape for moving into and out of the limbs easier. Schoenherr adds two Blakemore Medium Target Beads below the weights and completes his rig with a Number 2 Tru-Turn Blood Red Hook.
The weights and beads are allowed to slide down next to the hook to prevent the minnow from having too much room to swim around and hang up in the tangles of limbs. “If I get hung I can shake that and then the weights will kind of bounce off that hook to loosen it up,” Schoenherr says.
The Crappie Masters pro presents his jigs and flip cork on braided line (15-pound test/4-pound diameter). A 12-foot B’n’M Original Buck’s Graphite Jig Pole is Schoenherr’s choice for jigging in the bushes. He relies on a 12-foot B’n’M Brush Cutter pole for flipping his bobber setup. Since he has his arms extended out most of the time when bushwhacking, Schoenherr prefers a lightweight reel such as the B’n’M Buck’s UltraLight Crappie Reel, for his bush tactics to prevent arm fatigue. “Even the lightest spinning reel kind of wears on you,” says Schoenherr.
A homemade lure retriever is another essential item Schoenherr stores in his boat whenever he’s bushwhacking. Schoenherr can usually shake his lures and hooks loose, but when his clients get hung up he gets their rigs loose with a contraption of a catfish hook screwed onto the end of a 14-foot frog gigging pole. If he can see the snagged jig or hook, Schoenherr can free it by hooking and twisting the limb until the limb breaks off.
The lure retriever also comes in handy when clients hook a big fish and it gets hung in the bushes near the surface. “I can use that like a gaff to hook that fish in the mouth and pull it back out because I can’t get a net back to any of those fish,” says Schoenherr.
Rend’s abundance of flooded bushes in the springtime makes it a challenge to find the most productive cover. “People get so overwhelmed with the bushes that they forget to just take the same basic patterns they would always target and look for some bushes in those areas,” says Schoenherr who targets bushes along specific contours. “I am mainly looking for wherever rivers and creeks come into the lake and focus within an 1/8 of a mile around those entrances. Points are definitely something we target and isolated bushes are the main thing. A bush off by itself is definitely a target.” The guide also favors areas such as channel banks where there isn’t much water behind the bushes.
The bushes are usually in 2 to 3 feet of water in the spring, so Schoenherr catches most of his fish 10 to 18 inches deep. If the lake is high, a majority of the bushes could be 4 to 5 feet deep and Schoenherr has to determine how far back in the bushes and how deep the fish are holding through a trial-and-error process. “It seems like even in high water though some bushes seem to hold fish every year,” he says.
When the bite is on in the bushes, Schoenherr and his clients can easily catch limits of 3/4- to 1 1/4-pound crappie. “Usually throughout the day we will have a couple of 1 1/2-pound fish,” Schoenherr says. “It used to be that you never heard of a 2-pound fish on Rend but we have been seeing more 1 3/4- to 2-pound fish the last couple of years than we ever have.”