Monday, June 29, 2015

Shelbyville Dam buffalo

Yesterday I was on a mission.  Step #1 was to drive to Shelbyville.  Step #2 was to fill a cooler with buffalo.  Step #3 was to drive back home.  I arrived at the spillway around 10am, and the first thing I noticed was a school of quillback feeding on a submerged concrete ledge.  This looked like an opportunity!

The only baits I brought were alfalfa pellets and canned corn.  Quillback typically don't go for larger baits, so I used a scrap of corn skin on a #10 Gamakatsu Octopus hook.  I had brought a 12 foot crappie rod in case there were shad I could target, and it turned out to be the perfect length for dropping a small bait in front of the feeding school of quillback.  On the first pass one of the fish inhaled the scrap of corn skin and I set the hook.  After reeling in I held the rod behind my back with my left hand and netted the fish using my dip net in my right hand.

Quillback (Carpiodes cyprinus)

Once the school formed back up, I noticed a darker fish hanging out with the quillback.  I assumed it was a buffalo, so I put a whole piece of corn on the same #10 hook and dropped it about a foot in front of the fish.  It went straight for the corn and pretty soon was in the net as well.

Smallmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus bubalus)

Illinois allows two rods per person, so I set up my other rod with a baitfeeder reel and a fish finder rig with a #4 Gamakatsu Octopus circle hook.  Throughout the course of the day, I only caught common carp with this rig.  They were a lot better looking than the ones at Carlyle, a lot less beat up.

Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)

It seems that a fish finder rig with a circle hook is not the best way to catch buffalo.  When a carp feels the hook, it bolts and sets the hook on its own.  They're almost too easy (see my post from Carlyle a month or two ago).  Buffalo, on the other hand, don't bolt when they feel the hook, and I suspect that they often succeed at spitting out the bait before you realize a fish is on.

I baited the concrete ledge with alfalfa pellets and more canned corn.  Pretty soon I could see a sizable school of quillback, buffalo, and common carp show up to feed.  It was a sight to see!  I used the crappie rod, dropping one or two piece of corn down to where I could see a cluster of buffalo.  It worked like a charm!

It was a lot of fun catching big fish on light tackle.  I usually think it's silly when people brag about catching big fish on light tackle, but in this case it turned out to be a very effective method.  There weren't any snags to worry about, so I was able to play the fish out until I could reach them with the net.  The guy next to me took a photo of my biggest fish.

Smallmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus bubalus)

It turns out that buffalo come in all shapes and sizes.  The next one I caught was rather ugly.  I don't mean to be disrespectful, but it really was ugly.

Some of the other buffalo were much better looking.  The smaller ones had blue and brown iridescence on their sides and were quite aesthetically pleasing.

With my cooler full of buffalo, I put away the corn and tied a #2 Mepps spinner on one of my other rods.  I got a few nips from small yellow or white bass, but for the most part not much was biting.  Finally I got a solid hit and caught this shortnose gar.  I've never eaten a gar, and I had a cooler full of fish and ice, so I tossed him in as well.  The fillets are in the fridge for tomorrow night!

Shortnose Gar (Lepisosteus platostomus)

Well hello there handsome fellow.


  1. Those are some nice fish Ben!!!!

    I'm absolutely in love with suckers... Those are some nice ones!!! You guys in the midwest are so lucky to have a big variety of catchable huge suckers. That gar is rad too.

    But that buff sure ain't ugly... a bit disproportioned and scuffed up, I'd say. :)

    About light tackle for big fish... it sure is fun! How'd the big buff fight on a crappie rod?

  2. I just noticed all the buffs' tails were split... from spawning activity? That might be the reason for the scuffiness of the "ugly buff"...

  3. Thanks Paul and Brandon!

    I still say that one guy is ugly. Check out this photo, lol.

    Pound for pound the buffalo fight about a third as hard as common carp, so it really wasn't very bad bringing in the big ones. My drag was singing pretty much the whole time, but that's just because I set it super light. If there are no snags to worry about, that's the way to go.

    Good point about the buff's tails. Looks like 3 different ones all had the splits. I bet you're right that spawning caused it. Overall the fish weren't too beat up, so I can't think of anything else that would only damage the tail.

  4. Do quillback eat alfalfa pellets as well?


  5. FWP, I'm not sure whether or not they eat the alfalfa pellets, but they certainly did seem to be attracted to the area where I baited. When I arrived they were feeding quite intently on the algae covered concrete. I don't know whether they actually eat the algae, or if they just eat microscopic invertebrates that live in the algae. I also don't know if the quillback I caught actually meant to eat the scrap of corn skin, or if it was indiscriminately sucking up whatever was in its path, and I happened to set the hook when the bit of corn was in it's mouth. Carpsuckers are difficult to figure out!

  6. I agree that they are difficult to figure out. How heavy was your leader?


  7. I didn't have a leader, just 4 lb fluorocarbon main line with a split shot a few inches above the #10 octopus hook.