Because of their statewide distribution and aggressive nature, bass are a popular quarry for Prairie State fishermen. Both the largemouth and smallmouth species are found throughout Illinois. Anglers pursue them for both competitive and fun reasons.
One sunny, hot day in late August, Mary Satterfield of Finley was fishing with a friend on Lake Shelbyville. A long-time guide on the lake and tournament competitor, she has caught some nice fish over the years.
While slowly retrieving a white Bandit crankbait at a depth of about 10 feet, Satterfield had a strike. Not a particularly violent hit, she expected a large drum like the ones she had caught there earlier in the week. The surprise came when she got it to the boat. It was a 6-pound largemouth bass.
Many weekends throughout the year hundreds of bass tournaments are held across Illinois. Many anglers attempt to entice bass by using a mind-boggling variety of baits and lures. And hard-fighting bass provide a thrilling challenge for hundreds of Illinois anglers all year long.
Bass are found in most rivers, creeks, ponds, lakes and reservoirs. There can be a difference in site-specific regulations from one area to another. But those regulations can be found in the 2010 Illinois Fishing Information booklet, which is published by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Regulations are also posted at most boat ramps.
The basic regulations require the use of only two rods and lines. Other site-specific regulations relate to the number of fish that can be taken and their size on a particular body of water or at a certain time of year.
Rend Lake is an elongated V-shaped water stretching through both Franklin and Jefferson counties near Benton. With a total water surface of 18,800 acres, Rend is the second largest inland impoundment in the Prairie State.
About eight years ago, this fishery suffered from poor production of new bass. It was at that point that DNR biologist Mike Hooe began to introduce a steady flow of smaller fish into the population through supplemental stocking. Over 350,000 fingerlings have been stocked during this program.
As a result, bass numbers continue to be strong. They are also experiencing good growth rates throughout the entire bass population. Population surveys continue to show an increase in number of fish found with each year being better than the previous one.
Some of the preferable locations to seek bass on Rend Lake include its bays, wooded shorelines and along the riprap areas.
Ralph Hamilton, local angler and site superintendent at Wayne Fitzgerald State Park, recommends anglers move up in the creeks during periods of muddy water in the lake. He prefers to go as far up the creeks as it takes to find clear water. It is there he finds bass.
Larger bass, those over the 14-inch minimum length limit comprise about 32 percent of the lake’s population. The number of bass over 20 inches in length is stable, which leads to good fishing opportunities.
The damming of the Kaskaskia River formed Lake Shelbyville. The 11,000-acre central Illinois lake is located in Shelby and Moultrie counties near Shelbyville.
With nearly 200 miles of shoreline, Lake Shelbyville contains a lot of structure. Guide Mary Satterfield recommends that fishermen pay close attention to that structure to find bass. She describes the structure as anything from a stump in a foot of water to a downed tree extending down to 20 feet of water or a dropoff from 25 to 30 feet of water.
Whether one is fishing shallow or deep, there is plenty of structure in this lake, according to Satterfield. Bass are often found in the bays, flooded timber, stickups, as well as the primary and secondary points.
Recent high-water years have been good for the recruitment of bass in this lake. A conclusion that can be drawn from DNR surveys completed during the year and reported tournament figures, is that this lake is experiencing good bass fishing and it will continue to do so for at least several more years.
Mary Satterfield reports that because of the high water, she has been catching numerous bass in the 3- to 6-pound range. She found most of the fish would hit spinnerbaits and buzzbaits. Satterfield admits to losing one fish in the 9- or 10-pound class on a spinnerbait right at the boat.
Satterfield maintains that the high water and stocking programs are really working to replenish a diminished fish population of prior years.
The high water has hurt the total number of bass caught, but the quality of the fish taken has been good to excellent. The largest bass reported from tournament figures tends to be 6-plus pounds. Survey fish caught by the DNR range up to 4-plus pounds. The later found more fish in the middle to lower lake areas.
In 2008, some 1,435 smallmouth bass were stocked into the Kaskaskia River just above Lake Shelbyville. These fish averaged 4.4 inches in length. It is probably a matter of time until they find their way downstream into the lake and hopefully establish a smallmouth fishery.
CRAB ORCHARD LAKE
Located about five miles southwest of Marion, this 6,900-acre lake is owned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Crab Orchard Lake and two other waters fall within the boundary of the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. The fishery is managed by the Illinois Department of Conservation through a mutual agency program of understanding.
Once referred to as the bass factory of southern Illinois, the lake’s bass population declined in the late 1990s due in part to heavy fishing pressure.
In response to studies of the lake by biologist Chris Bickers in 2001, more strict harvest regulations were instituted on Crab Orchard in the spring of 2002. Additionally, a program of shad stocking, habitat enhancement and designation of a spawning refuge have influenced the quality of the fishery. At least one local bass club has imposed a tax on its entrance fee for the purpose of giving financial support to the shad stocking.
The abundance of gizzard and threadfin shad contributes strongly to the health of largemouth bass. Additionally, advanced bass fingerlings and fry are stocked annually into the lake. Advanced fingerlings are those raised in rearing ponds for a year or so before being released into the lake. Their larger size allows them t
o better survive their first year in the lake.
Most popular areas for anglers in search of bass include the brush- piles, points and riprap. There are many submerged brushpiles on submerged islands, as well as those established by the DNR and local anglers.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service strictly enforces site-specific regulations on this lake, which owns not only the body of water but also the shoreline property surrounding it. That portion of the lake east of Wolf Creek Road is closed to all boat traffic from Oct. 1 though March 15 of each year. The purpose is to reduce disturbance of resting waterfowl, a main purpose of the refuge. Also from April though June of each year, the extreme south end of Grassy Bay is closed for the above-mentioned spawning sanctuary.
There is no boat motor restriction, but a user fee is required. Information on the fee and stickers are available at the refuge Visitors Center located on state Route 148, two miles south of the Williamson County Airport.
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