By Darl Black

Winter has arrived in the northern states. The only way to catch crappie during January and February in my neck-of-the-woods is to go ice fishing. But if you dislike sitting around a hole in the ice as much as I do, you might want to consider a crappie fishing trip to a somewhat more southern location for a mid-winter break.

You may not have to travel as far as you think. Check out Rend Lake in southern Illinois.

I recently spent a couple days with several other outdoor writers at Rend Lake. This was my first visit to the 18,900-acre crappie lake near Mt. Vernon, Illinois. Completed in 1973, this US Army Corps of Engineers reservoir impounded Big Muddy Run creating a lake with a maximum depth of 35 feet and an average depth of about 10 feet. In many areas, stumps and logs remained during the flooding of bottom land creating a perfect habitat for crappies.

Our host for the media event was professional guide Kyle Schoenherr of All Seasons Crappie Fishing Guide Service (www.AllSeasonsCrappieFishing.com). When I think of Illinois, I immediately visualize the Chicago area with its brutal winter storms. However, the southern-most section of the state is far removed from that blustery, snowy city. I was surprised to learn that Rend Lake does not freeze over solid during the winter. Sure, some bays may get a coating of ice and occasionally the main lake will skim over for a day or two during a cold snap, but for the most part Kyle keeps on fishing. Remember, his business is called All Seasons Guide Service!

Kyle employs a variety of crappie-catching techniques throughout the year, but with water temperature in the upper 30s during January and February he has his clients jig vertically with rod in hand in 8' to 14' of water.

"This structure is not visible to the naked eye," explains Kyle. "You've got to find it with sonar and then hold the boat over top the individual stump or brushpile. In the cold water situation, holding the rod in the hand is more effective than rods in holders and pushing into cover.

"It is vital to keep the bait as motionless as possible. Balancing a rod in each hand is more relaxing and keeps guests from moving or shaking the jig too much. With only one rod, it seems to be human nature to shake, quiver or bounce the rod tip. However, having a rod in each hand keeps them from overworking the baits."

Kyle brings out B'n'M 12' Buck's Best Ultra-Lite Jig pole with Bottom Seat and Touch System for his winter presentation. "The bottom reel seat provides excellent balance and the Touch System allows you to put fingers directly in touch with the 100% graphite blank," explains Kyle.

He spools his reel with 15/4 braid. This season he is experimenting with Gamma's Torque braid.

A Runner Pro 2.0 Series Road Runner Head is tricked out with a soft plastic body from Muddy Waters Baits.

"Muddy Waters Baits offer a solid soft plastic body that is shaped like a 2.5-inch carrot with a tapered tail. It can be fished with or without a minnow. In the cold water, I prefer tipping with minnow. I'm convinced that 'glow colors' produce more crappies in dingy water than regular colors, and Muddy Waters offers the bait in several glow colors."

Should you decide to arrange a trip with Kyle, I would recommend staying at Rend Lake Resort, the only full-service resort on Rend Lake. The resort caters to anglers and is open year round, offing a variety of lodging options including condos, cabins and a hotel. Check it out at www.RendLakeResort.com. Kyle will pick you up right at the Resort.

Go Fish!