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FISHING & OUTDOOR GUIDE: (Swim) jig is up on Crab Orchard Lake

Guide Matt Strobel holds biggest bass caught an October morning Crab Orchard Lake southern Illinois. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

Guide Matt Strobel holds the biggest bass caught on an October morning on Crab Orchard Lake in southern Illinois. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 1, 2012 4:42PM

CARTERVILLE, Ill. — Matt Strobel handed me a
baitcaster with braided line and a scum frog as we set up this month in a cove on Crab Orchard Lake.

That made my morning. Few things top a largemouth bass blowing up on a scum frog, buzzbait or topwater.

‘‘The thing about Crab Orchard is, sometimes they are so shallow, their backs are out of the water,’’ said Strobel, an ‘‘S’’ in SnS Guide Service.

Sometimes, he said, they run so shallow that he has to put a life jacket under the trolling motor to keep it off the bottom.

It was picture-perfect in southern Illinois. The softwoods had turned color, and the hardwoods were starting to peak. For fishing, though, the high-sky, post-frontal conditions weren’t ideal. We couldn’t budge a fish on frogs. Strobel experimented with a buzzbait, then a swim bait.

Bingo. He popped one off the deep edge of wood with a Swimmin Viper with a Sexy Shad trailer from Big Bite Baits. Then another and another. That’s a pattern. He texted a couple of other guides.

It’s not a bait I’ve used often. The retrieve was slow and steady by logs or stumps. Strobel said the key is to let them take the bait before setting the hook. The pattern held, especially where wind was on shoreline wood. We pulled out a handful more, though we didn’t boat any of the monsters (5 to 8 pounds) that make Crab Orchard a destination for bass fishermen. Strobel boated a couple of 3-pounders, though.

I am not a handy guy, so people who make lures intrigue me. Strobel is proud of the swim jig he helped to develop for LTB Warehouse.

‘‘We know what works,’’ he said, rattling off southern Illinois guides who use them. ‘‘We took our ideas and applied them.’’

On the swim jig, they replaced the weed guard with a spring. The grub or swim bait is screwed into the spring, then the hook is protected in the body of the bait, making it weedless to work through heavy cover, such as we did.

And we discussed guiding. Strobel said his clients were about 60 percent for bass and 40 percent for crappie. Early spring is the prime time.

Fall is a bit different. Asked about advice for those coming south in the fall, he cracked, ‘‘Hire a guide.’’

There’s truth in that quip.

Then he said presentations should be shad imitators — shad are the primary forage in fall — or a reaction-type bait.

‘‘Keep an eye on shad,’’ he said. ‘‘That won’t guarantee fish, but it will up your chances.’’

I lost one good fish. Otherwise, we made the most of our chances.

It was time.

For SnS, go to or call (618) 922-0354. For doings in Williamson County, which actively promotes its piece of southern Illinois heaven, go to


Saturday will be one of the most open openers for upland game (pheasant, rabbit, quail and partridge) in recent years because virtually all the corn in the prime area of central Illinois is harvested.

† Three days of north winds should make waterfowling interesting. Saturday was the best weekend day at local sites. Staff at Heidecke Lake said 29 hunters reported 11 mallards, three scaup, five ringnecks, two buffleheads, one black duck, one wood duck, two mergansers, one Canada goose and one shoveler. Meanwhile, 23 hunters at William Powers State Recreation Area reported three mallards and eight other ducks on Wolf Lake.

Stray cast

A.J. Pierzynski is like a 7-year-old buck.

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