Over the holiday weekend I had plans to meet up with Garren and Gabriele, a recent fishing acquaintance, to visit southern Illinois for gar, bowfin, shovelnose sturgeon, and of course a few micros. However, Gabrielle had some health issues come up (he'll be fine), so he had to cancel. Garren and I decided to continue with the trip after making a few modifications to our plan. We started Saturday morning at the Kaskaskia River Lock & Dam located just before the Kaskaskia River joins the Mississippi River.
I was hoping for buffalo (a black to be precise), but mostly I was curious to see what this spot was like. Water was low, and we didn't get many bites. Garren caught a blue catfish and the big drum below. I skunked out.
Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)
We drover further south to the Shawnee Forrest. This part of Illinois looks nothing like the rest of the state. A few hundred yards of floodplain end abruptly with a line of steep, shear bluffs.
We fished a creek that connects a swamp to the Mississippi River. Garren caught a huge tadpole madtom, and both of us caught a number of bantam sunfish, which are a threatened species in Illinois. We released them unharmed after taking a few photos. There were also a few bluegill and warmouth mixed in, but bantams seemed to be the most abundant sunfish in this creek.
Bantam Sunfish (Lepomis symmetricus)
Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus)
For our last stop of the day, we visited a favorite creek that I've been visiting for a number of years. We caught quite a few species here, including the three below. This is the only spot in Illinois where you can find bleeding shiners.
Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)
Bleeding Shiner (Luxilus zonatus)
Slender Madtom (Noturus exilis)
While we were fishing, I heard a car slow down and come to a stop on the bridge behind us. This isn't an unusual occurrence when you're microfishing in a creek, so I thought nothing of it. But when I heard, "OHHH BENNNNNNY", I turned around! There on the bridge was my friend Martini and his friend Steve, who have caught over 500 and 1400 species respectively. By pure coincidence, they were coming to fish this spot on their road trip from Florida to Washington. Months ago I had given Martini a handful of my best fishing spots in case he had time to stop and check them out during his road trip. What are the odds that we all showed up at the same spot at the same time?
Martini and Steve rigged up and got to work catching new species. It took a bit of effort for them to get their first madtoms and darters, but they both left victorious.
Sunday morning we got on the road early and fished a field drainage ditch nearby. The water was surprisingly clear, and we saw schools of shiners in the water.
The schools consisted of mostly weed shiners, which was my first new lifer of the trip. We may have caught a few other species mixed in.
Weed Shiner (Notropis texanus) - new hook & line species #304
We continued west to Poplar Bluff and stopped to fish the Black River. There is a long list of species there that would be new for me, but the only one I caught was blacktail shiner. I was pretty happy to catch a good example of one!
Blacktail Shiner (Cyprinella venusta) - new hook & line species #305
We saw a number of darters that we were unable to catch. The other two species we caught were mimic shiners and carmine shiners.
Mimic Shiner (Notropis volucellus)
Carmine Shiner (Notropis percobromus)
Around noon we headed north of town to the Wappapello Dam on the St. Francis River. Here we met up with our good friend Tyler. Tyler knows this area like the back of his hand. We fished in the heat for a long while, bottom fishing with redworms and nightcrawlers in the fast current. Garren caught a nice redhorse, we both caught catfish and drum, and I caught this nicely patterned spotted bass. Did I mention it was hot?
Spotted Bass (Micropterus punctulatus)
We fished one last spot in the upper St. Francis River in the afternoon, but I didn't catch anything worth photographing. Garren caught a few lifers though, and he even jumped in for a swim at one point. I was overheating, so I took a break to sit on a rock and drink several bottles of water. We continued north and stayed at a motel south of St. Louis.
Monday morning we fished the Chain of Rocks on the Mississippi River. I had been looking forward to trying this spot for quite a while. The water was low enough to see the chain, and we had great conditions for shore fishing.
Here I caught my first wild blue catfish. The only ones I caught in the past were stocked fish at the Powerton cooling lake. It was nice to catch one from the mighty Mississippi!
Blue Catfish (Ictalurus furcatus)
After a while the bite switched from catfish to shovelnose sturgeon. Garren and I caught five of them in the roughly four hours we were there, and I lost another right by shore.
Shovelnose Sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus platorynchus)
Every time we caught a sturgeon, we checked it over carefully to make sure it wasn't the much rarer pallid sturgeon. If the base of the four barbels forms a straight line, then it's a shovelnose sturgeon. A curved line means it's a pallid.
One of the shovelnose sturgeon had a tag attached below its dorsal fin. I still need to call the DNR to report it. I'm hoping they can tell me some of the fish's history.
In the early afternoon we stopped at the Alton Lock & Dam to fish for a bit. Garren caught a few micros, and I fished with my standard two jig setup for bigger fish. Twice I had a big fish on, but somehow they both got off. I'm not sure if they were foul hooked silver carp or something big that was fair hooked. Whatever they were, they pulled hard and steadily and didn't shake their heads much.
Feeling tired but successful, we headed back to Garren's in the late afternoon, and I continued on back to Peoria after that. It was a good trip!