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Emiquon access difficult, rewarding

April 15, 2010 at 09:09 PM

The boat ramp is a stretch of mud.

The parking lot is a field of rutted grass.

No question, access to the Emiquon Preserve requires creativity. High water and pumping problems have conspired to create headaches for The Nature Conservancy and for anglers who visit the site this spring.

That’s because the site’s parking lot and ramp remain under water, though that will change for the better once infrastructure improvements are completed.

Until then, anglers will have to risk getting stuck in order to wet a line at the area’s best public bass fishery. The risk is probably worthwhile.

Emiquon is a place where a clicker counter is a must-have to keep track of your catch. It’s a place where you can believe a stranger who talks about catching 1,600 bass in 24 trips.

And it’s the only place I get nervous when no fish materializes after 10 minutes of casting. That was the unsettling start to my first Emiquon outing last Tuesday.

Fortunately things changed for the better. By day’s end Gordon Inskeep and I had caught and released about 80 bass, including one football of a fish that measured 21.5 inches long and 16.75 inches around.

So there’s no need to fret about bass.

But there are mysteries to be solved in Emiquon’s 4,400 acres. First and foremost is finding more than bass. What’s maddening about Emiquon’s panfish is that they’re in there.

Biologists regularly see impressive numbers of crappie, bluegill and pumpkinseeds. Trap nets on Wednesday held, “the nicest crappies you have ever seen ... 500-plus over 10 inches” Rob Hilsabeck said.

Really? Where? In a dozen visits I’ve found crappie once and caught maybe five bluegill. Many others lament a similar lack of filet-worthy fish.

The few I know who have caught more than bass aren’t talking. That includes Chillicothe lure maker Paul Clay, who will only say he tosses out a marker buoy whenever he finds a crappie. If there is one, there are many more, Clay said.

On Tuesday, the same was true for bass. Every stick held a few fish that hit on crankbaits, Rat-L-Traps, chatterbaits, beaver baits, spinnerbaits and plastic worms.

The biggest, an estimated 6.5-pounder, grabbed a white Rat-L-Trap fished dangerously close to a flooded tree. After briefly hanging up on a branch, the fat female had her picture taken before swimming off.

There was no thought of keeping her. She’s got spawning working to do and soon, judging by the 67-degree water temperatures and the male bass cruising rocky bedding areas.

As for infrastructure work, plans call for four parking areas, a boat ramp, a canoe launch and boardwalks. All will be built above current high-water levels in hopes of preventing future flooding problems.

“We’ve started pumping the site down and we hope to have work start again in 25-30 days,” Jason Beverlin of The Nature Conservancy said. “We were shooting to be done this fall, but now I’m guessing it’s going to be done by next spring.”

Maybe by then I’ll have some clue where to find the panfish.

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