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Hooked on hunting in the fall

September 10, 2004

Jeff Lampe

September can be a strange month. Most transition months are. But to me the switch from summer to fall is particularly noteworthy.

Hot days followed by cold nights and green grass growing alongside brown corn means the best time of year is almost here.

Reminders of autumn's approach have cropped up frequently of late. The most emphatic came while wade-fishing an Illinois River tributary.

In summers past the same creek had yielded bounties of smallmouth bass. On one visit I caught a smallie with nearly every other cast.

Hopes for something similar never materialized this week - the latest I had fished the creek. In places where water would typically be halfway to the knee, there was barely a trickle. Dams held water in a few places, but those stagnant swimming holes were choked with fallen leaves.

Conditions were not ideal and fishing was worse. In 2 1/2 hours I caught one small smallmouth.

The irony is fishing has improved most other places. Crappie action is picking up and should only get better in the weeks to come. Catfish will keep biting. Muskie will materialize. Big bass will again journey from strip mine to living room wall.

Despite all that, I'm not much of an autumn angler. So to me the slow day of wade fishing was a sign - symbolic in the same way an opening-day goose hunt had been.

That morning spent hunting in the Liverpool bottoms with club owner Kevin Grigsby reminded me why it's so hard to find time for fishing come fall.

At one point a flock of four geese approached our blind. The anticipation set my heart to pounding. By the time the big birds were finally in range and guns were firing, I had experienced more of a thrill than hooking any fish can provide.

The thought that similar spectacles will unfold in the months to come - the flush of a pheasant, the leaf-crunching approach of a deer or the sound of wingbeats - made a dry creek almost easy to accept.

Teal opener: One brief joy of September is teal season, which opens Saturday, runs through Sept. 19 and annually attracts 17,000 to 20,000 waterfowlers into the marsh.

Among the beauties of teal hunting is the absence of daily drawings and regulations - restrictions that make an Illinois duck season too darn regimented. Teal hunting is all about wading through mud, swatting mosquitoes, crouching behind any available cover and waiting for the sudden appearance of blue- or green-winged flocks.

If that doesn't sound enjoyable, good. Most teal hunting spots are already crowded, particularly the popular Rice Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area.

Even for a sub-par opener like last year, 95 hunters still showed up at Rice Lake. The site can accommodate 200 hunters, who are asked to sign in at the check station.

Teal numbers also were down last year at Rice Lake, but looked a bit more promising Thursday.

"I'd say we've probably got about 1,500 teal," site manager Bill Douglass said. "We don't have much mud, though. When the river came up (last week) it covered quite a bit of mud and we trapped the water. With tough budget times I felt like I almost had to hold it in."

Best bet might be walk-in areas north of Rice Lake. That area also is holding a few flocks of Canada geese, which are fair game through Wednesday. Goose hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.

Be careful, though. Teal hunting hours are sunrise to sunset. The daily bag limit is four teal.

Other sites offering teal hunting are Woodford, Marshall, Snakeden Hollow and Anderson Lake - though the latter was holding "no teal" as of Thursday according to site assistant Ed Oest.

Outdoor show: Thoughts will certainly turn to hunting this weekend in Lewistown.

While fall festivals dominate the scene in most other central Illinois towns, hunting is the focus Saturday and Sunday at the Fulton Country Fairgrounds. That's the scene of the first West Central Illinois Deer and Outdoor Expo, where close to 30 vendors will showcase outdoors-related products.

"We're expecting a big turnout," show organizer Karl Williams said. "If we can make it through this first year we can expand from there."

Duck- and goose-calling contests start Saturday at 2 p.m. and turkey calling will begin Sunday at 1 p.m. Top prize in each contest is $1,000.

Six representatives from Buckmasters will be on hand to score deer antlers. There also will be a 3D archery shoot, trick-shooting by archer Randy Oitker and numerous door prizes.

Show hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Conservation day: Youngsters are invited to a youth conservation day Sunday at the Illinois State Fairgrounds from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Park at Gate 8.

Activities include fishing, dog-training, birds of prey, duck calling and shooting. Food will be served. Cost is $5 per person, $10 per family.

Call (309) 546-2534 or (217) 483-1194.

Et cetera: Through Tuesday, hunters had shot 3,300 doves at the Double T Goose Management Area. . . . A new moon will fill the sky starting Tuesday. . . . Fall bird migrations are picking up steam, with numerous reports of warblers in the last week. . . . Former Illinois Catfish Association honcho Paul Wolf is holding a catfish tournament on the Lake of the Ozarks on Oct. 16. Call (573) 365-0320. . . . Fishing hours at Wildlife Prairie State Park are 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. through Sept. 30.

- Jeff Lampe is Journal Star outdoors columnist. Write him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3212 or e-mail

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