Sunday, April 3, 2016

Big Illinois fish

It was windy.  Seriously, I'm not joking.  If you don't believe me, go to and look at the history tab for Pekin, IL with the date set to April 2nd, 2016.  The max wind speed was 36 mph, and the max gust speed was 53 mph.

I arrived at Powerton two hours before it closed at 4pm.  It wasn't much time, but I wanted to practice using my new travel surf rod in windy conditions.  I also wanted to get a photo of a hybrid striped bass, so perhaps I could kill two birds with one stone.

There were only half a dozen people fishing by the discharge, but most of them had hybrid stripers on their stringers, so I felt confident I could get one too.  The discharge was flowing, but it wasn't hot, because the power plant was offline for maintenance.  I tied on a small Little Cleo spoon with a 1 oz egg sinker above a 2 ft leader.  The egg sinker combined with the 10 ft rod allowed me to throw the spoon reeeally far.  The downside was that I had to reel in fairly quickly to keep the spoon from scraping bottom and getting caught on the rocks.

I had a few strong hits and even had a big fish on at one point, but it came off before I could see what it was.  Finally, 10 minutes before 4pm I got a solid hit and had a fish on.  I kept the drag loose and took my time fighting it.  I didn't have a landing net, so I wanted the fish worn out when I brought it in.  After a few minutes, I saw that it was a huge buffalo!  I brought it up to a shallow spot, stepped in the water, and hoisted it up to the grass above the rip-rap.  It was the largest buffalo and probably the heaviest freshwater fish I have ever caught!  It measured 35 inches.

Hybrid Buffalo (Ictiobus bubalus X Ictiobus niger)

I've received different opinions about the ID of this fish.  Two angler friends who are familiar with buffalo told me black buffalo because of the big fleshy lips and head shape.  Two Illinois DNR biologists told me smallmouth buffalo because of the high back.  Biologists from two other states told me hybrid, which is what I'm going to call it.  A smallmouth buffalo can't have lips that big, and a black buffalo can't have a back that high.  Hybrid it is.

The next day I drove down to Shelbyville to fish for carp and buffalo.  The spring crappie bite was doing pretty well, and there were a fair number of people fishing for them.

One of the crappie fishermen accidentally snagged an enormous walleye in the tail.  It was a big female.  He took its weight before releasing it.  It was nearly 11.5 lbs!

Walleye (Sander vitreus)

The carp took their time showing up, but eventually they wandered over to the corn and alfalfa pellet chum pile.  Once they showed up the bite was pretty steady.  Unfortunately the buffalo did not show up.

Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)

A few of the smaller carp were really dark in color.  I wonder if they have different genetics, or if the color is caused by the environment.

After seeing everyone else catch crappie after crappie, finally I pulled in one of my lines and tied on a small chartreuse jig.  On my very first cast, I hooked up with something bigger than a crappie.  It was another carp!

Once the carp left me alone I caught a few crappie.  About two thirds of them were black, one third were white.  None of them were big, but the steady bite was fun.

Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)

White Crappie (Pomoxis annularis)

I tried throwing nightcrawler halves out on the bottom.  They got picked up by either bluegill or yellow bass.  None of them were very impressive looking, but it's always fun to see how many species I can get in a day.

Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

Yellow Bass (Morone mississippiensis)

Muskie were surfacing throughout the day, and the number of them was staggering.  In the afternoon I decided the buffalo weren't going to show up, so I pulled in my lines and put a big swimbait on one of my medium setups.  First cast, nothing.  Second cast, fish!  I set the hook and reeled in my second ever muskie.

Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy)

I always try to end my fishing trips on a high note.  I wasn't going to top the muskie, so I packed up my gear and drove home.  What a weekend!


  1. Damn! So jealous of everything.

    I would argue that that buffalo is a pure black.
    Here's why:

    The length of your fish was approximately 6.375 inches on my screen(add to compensate for curve), and the depth was approximately 2.0625 inches(to be accurate, subtract some to compensate for clearly enlarged gut). So the depth of the buffalo would fit into the length of it about 3.09090909 times. Whereas a more realistic number for your buffalo would be around 3.2.

    According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the smallmouth buffalo have a body depth that fits into their length 2.7 times or less. A black buffalo would be more than 2.7 times. Other sources state something similar, 2.9, 2.8. etc. Your fish has well exceeded that limit with its gut, and without it, even more. Add the large, conical head and the massive lips and I'm ready to bet that's a pure black.

    That's my opinion, I just honestly believe that's a pure and that you deserve the recognition.

    Also, nice muskie!

  2. Hey Brandon, thanks for digging into this. When you measure standard length, you only go to the last vertebrae, which is a couple scales back from the last lateral line scale, not all the way to the end of the tail. When I checked the height vs. length I got a ratio that was near the cutoff between the two species.

  3. Oh. I didn't know that, so thanks! Still though... I think black. ;)

  4. And you're not the only one! It's been fun hearing experts in the field give completely different answers about this one.

  5. Ben - I love the comment at the end about ending the trip on a high note. I do the same thing! I'll walk away from a spot after catching a really good fish, even if I know there's other willing biters. Really enjoying these reads. Bookmarked your blog for sure.

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