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Shawnee National Forest in February


mannym
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I am starting to get stir crazy and need to go on a little trip. Can anyone share any experiences with fly fishing streams in the Shawnee? I started looking around and thought Bell Smith Springs looked good. The springs must keep the water levels consistent enough to support a decent fish population.

I am planning on going mid to late Feb or possibly early March. '

Thanks folks

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This trip is will be a solo primitive camping excursion. Stream fishing or lake fishing with my Penobscot, photography and just relaxing are the main goals. I normally go north with my canoe to escape the rat race. This year, the desire to hide in the woods came sooner than most years. Finding temps in February over 25 degrees at night ( my limit for hammock camping) had me looking south. Just not so much that I leave the state. I am open to bringing the canoe with me and would actually prefer it. But I also want to get at least 3-4 miles away from roads. It might be tough finding such a place down there with only one vehicle. 

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If I remember correctly, only Big Creek contains any smallmouth down there.  The other streams have both the LG mouth and Spotted bass.  We almost got a study commissioned on that several years ago by the Biology department at SIU as to why that was the case when those streams are so close in proximity and have similar habitat.

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12 hours ago, Rob G said:

If I remember correctly, only Big Creek contains any smallmouth down there.  The other streams have both the LG mouth and Spotted bass.  We almost got a study commissioned on that several years ago by the Biology department at SIU as to why that was the case when those streams are so close in proximity and have similar habitat.

That would have been a very interesting read. 

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I spent 9 years working for the fisheries department at SIUC after I finished my master's degree in aquaculture there (as well as my undergraduate degree in zoology), so I have fished nearly all of the streams down there and have spent a lot of time on the shawnee streams so I can elaborate.

Personally, I would not say that the habitat is similar in all of the Shawnee streams. 

The first thing you should know about these streams is the geological region they lie in has very little limestone, it is mostly sandstone and clay.  Sandstone does not hold ground water well, so the base flows of the streams can vary widely over the course of a year.  I regularly saw the flow rate on lusk creek and other streams fall below 0.5 CFS throughout the summer.  This leads to high water temperatures from the headwaters to the mouth at the Ohio.  Many of these streams are characterized by short steep riffles or ledges and long deep pools.  Nearly all streams in the area are like this, and although there are some very small springs in some areas, the volume from them is not sufficient to keep water temperatures down from June-September.  Smallmouth do not compete well with spotted bass and largemouth in streams with high water temperatures, especially in areas with habitat that is less than ideal for smallmouth.  Some great LMB and spotted bass fishing if you can find the right areas.  I have caught LMB over 22" in Lusk and other area streams, and spotted bass to 17".

 

Big creek is the exception because it has several springs that keep base water flows throughout the year, and the geologic region that it drain's (Hick's Dome and Karber's ridge) has lots of limestone under the ground.  Limestone dissolves, forming karst areas and this forms springs due to hydraulic pressure.  Water temperatures in the creek stay below 85 degrees due to spring inflow and abundant shade and the fact the overall water volume is low and the majority comes from springs. The stream itself does not form long pools, rather short pool areas with good riffles and runs which keep the water shaded.  Smallmouth, spotted bass, and largemouth are found there, but the lower water temperatures and favor the smallmouth.

The limestone also dissolves calcium in to the water which is something that smallmouth bass love.  If you look at the latin name of smallmouth bass, it describes this very well.  Micropterous Dolomieu (think dolomite, which is a calcium magnesium carbonate).  Smallmouth bass and limestone go hand in hand.  In the southern midwest, without limestone in the watershed there may not be any smallmouth.  

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49 minutes ago, siusaluki said:

I spent 9 years working for the fisheries department at SIUC after I finished my master's degree in aquaculture there (as well as my undergraduate degree in zoology), so I have fished nearly all of the streams down there and have spent a lot of time on the shawnee streams so I can elaborate.

Personally, I would not say that the habitat is similar in all of the Shawnee streams. 

The first thing you should know about these streams is the geological region they lie in has very little limestone, it is mostly sandstone and clay.  Sandstone does not hold ground water well, so the base flows of the streams can vary widely over the course of a year.  I regularly saw the flow rate on lusk creek and other streams fall below 0.5 CFS throughout the summer.  This leads to high water temperatures from the headwaters to the mouth at the Ohio.  Many of these streams are characterized by short steep riffles or ledges and long deep pools.  Nearly all streams in the area are like this, and although there are some very small springs in some areas, the volume from them is not sufficient to keep water temperatures down from June-September.  Smallmouth do not compete well with spotted bass and largemouth in streams with high water temperatures, especially in areas with habitat that is less than ideal for smallmouth.  Some great LMB and spotted bass fishing if you can find the right areas.  I have caught LMB over 22" in Lusk and other area streams, and spotted bass to 17".

 

Big creek is the exception because it has several springs that keep base water flows throughout the year, and the geologic region that it drain's (Hick's Dome and Karber's ridge) has lots of limestone under the ground.  Limestone dissolves, forming karst areas and this forms springs due to hydraulic pressure.  Water temperatures in the creek stay below 85 degrees due to spring inflow and abundant shade and the fact the overall water volume is low and the majority comes from springs. The stream itself does not form long pools, rather short pool areas with good riffles and runs which keep the water shaded.  Smallmouth, spotted bass, and largemouth are found there, but the lower water temperatures and favor the smallmouth.

The limestone also dissolves calcium in to the water which is something that smallmouth bass love.  If you look at the latin name of smallmouth bass, it describes this very well.  Micropterous Dolomieu (think dolomite, which is a calcium magnesium carbonate).  Smallmouth bass and limestone go hand in hand.  In the southern midwest, without limestone in the watershed there may not be any smallmouth.  

That right there is worth 100x the yearly ISA membership. 

Thanks for the contributions guys! 

 

 

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Ill post some pictures of the creeks as I find some free time over the next couple of days.  I have floated and waded nearly all of the shawnee creeks from whitewater to dead low summer conditions where the water disappears into the water willow jungles.

 

LUSK CREEK below Rockhouse

image.thumb.png.987111dfe7b53afdb88cb8f00feb19e9.png

 

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Big creek.

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The gravel bars on this creek also have obsidian rock scattered among the chert gravel! Hick's dome is an ancient dormant volcano and the obsidian is evidence of the volcanic history of the area.  Certainly unique when compared to all other creeks I have ever fished!

 

 

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2 hours ago, siusaluki said:

 

The limestone also dissolves calcium in to the water which is something that smallmouth bass love.  If you look at the latin name of smallmouth bass, it describes this very well.  Micropterous Dolomieu (think dolomite, which is a calcium magnesium carbonate).  Smallmouth bass and limestone go hand in hand.  In the southern midwest, without limestone in the watershed there may not be any smallmouth.  

Well, that makes sense.

why is the LM called salmoids?

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I was looking on google earth and saw that Bay Creeks turns into a small lake. It looks man made.  Expect the same there in terms of species? LB, SpotB, crappie? I also saw that many many people swim there in the summer. I assume it has deep holes. 

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thanks siusaluki for sharing those photos.  I haven't fished Lusk and Big Creek for so many years and those photos just have me yearning to haul my 4 wt. down there when I go cycling in that area come spring.  One thing I remember is not a lot of access points and long walks in between where I could get out because of the terrain, and never mind the banjo playing in the background, Ha 

Did you spend much time down around the mouths where they enter the Ohio?  I remember the water getting pretty stained by that point and getting more difficult to wade

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35 minutes ago, mannym said:

I was looking on google earth and saw that Bay Creeks turns into a small lake. It looks man made.  Expect the same there in terms of species? LB, SpotB, crappie? I also saw that many many people swim there in the summer. I assume it has deep holes. 

Bay creek is small and has only LMB and sunfish above Millstone lake. Some beautiful areas in bell smith springs with deep clear pools. Long stretches will have water flow only under the gravel.  The lower reach below the lake has some spotted bass, but quickly turns into tupelo and cypress swamp as it nears the ohio. Not worth the effort IMO.

 

Let me know your plans before you head down there and I will point you in the right direction. 

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16 minutes ago, Rob G said:

thanks siusaluki for sharing those photos.  I haven't fished Lusk and Big Creek for so many years and those photos just have me yearning to haul my 4 wt. down there when I go cycling in that area come spring.  One thing I remember is not a lot of access points and long walks in between where I could get out because of the terrain, and never mind the banjo playing in the background, Ha 

Did you spend much time down around the mouths where they enter the Ohio?  I remember the water getting pretty stained by that point and getting more difficult to wade

 

 

 I have.  The lower end of the streams are affected by the pool level of the smithland pool of the Ohio river.  The lower end of the streams become embayments with frequent oxbows and sluggish flow.  Some great crappie fishing in those oxbows and flooded trees and a great run of temperate bass in the spring.  Big grand pierre was always a fun trip.  Put in at HWY 146 and paddle down towards the Ohio for oxbow crappie and bass.

 

 

There are some smallmouth starting to take hold in the Ohio proper in the smithland pool and upstream, but few and far between.  Some big stripers and great sauger fishing though!

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1 hour ago, Mark K said:

Always wanted to visit snake road during the migration.

Do it, its a beautiful area and awesome for herps. Your camera(s) will get a good workout.

Just watch closely for venomous snakes as there are plenty. Use caution, even around the smallest ones. It's tempting to flip a rock or log but you have to be really careful as those baby snakes blend right in, even on the trails.

Pretty cool to find green treefrogs there; you feel like you're somewhere other than IL.

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1 hour ago, Steve S. said:

Just watch closely for venomous snakes as there are plenty. 

 

 You mean like these two?  I love bicycle touring in that area and stumbled upon these bad boys a few years ago.   As for the trifecta,  I did see a Moccasin but he was too quick for me to get a shot. 

 

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