There’s excitement in the air and it’s giving goose bumps to Prairie State bass anglers. All those big bass are out there just waiting for the signal to start transitioning toward shallow water. Yep, spring bassin’ is headed our way and the coming weeks will provide some of the best fishing of the year. How exciting is that?
Bass anglers in Illinois are fortunate to have countless places to chase their passion. We’ve got farm ponds, strip pits, various size lakes and huge reservoirs, as well as streams and rivers. No matter the type of bass fishing one likes to pursue, there’re loads of opportunities to do it.
Our bass populations are thriving here in the state and black bass are the number-one most sought-after sport fish in Illinois. Over the past decade, there has been increased interest from both recreational anglers and tournament organizers.
Joe Ferencak is the Impoundment Program manager and acting Region 2 administrator for the Division of Fisheries of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR). He said, “In general, the increase in tournament activity points out that we have some very good, sustainable, quality bass fishing in Illinois. It should be noted that in 2009, Illinois became the first state to recognize bass tournament fishing as an official high school sport. The IHSA finals are held at Carlyle Lake.”
The DNR closely monitors the bass populations throughout the state and uses a variety of methods to manage and maintain the quality fisheries we enjoy and sometimes take for granted. Some of the methods used to enhance the fisheries and fishing opportunities include stocking, placing fish structure, planting aquatic vegetation, special regulations and more. Ferencak said, “The key to sustaining quality bass fishing opportunities essentially revolves around maintaining adequate recruitment levels for desirable adult densities and vice versa. Supplemental stocking where necessary, and constantly monitoring and tweaking regulations from minimum size limits to protective slot limits are all effective management tools used to sustain quality bass fisheries. We are also looking at what impacts the roles of vegetation manipulation and woody structure has on the fishery.”
Every year about this time brings anticipation and excitement for anglers looking toward the upcoming fishing season. This year, like most in the past decade, holds great promise. Ferencak said, “The 2011 outlook for bass fishing is bright.” With so many great places to go and so many bass, here’s a look at few spots to try this year.
The Illinois River begins at a junction of the Des Plaines and Kankakee rivers and travels some 273 miles through Illinois until reaching the Mississippi River about 14 miles upstream from Alton. The river provides numerous fishing opportunities along its course and the habitat is quite varied. There are sections of shallow backwater, deeper areas, and five dams providing tailwater fishing.
An excellent population of largemouth bass swims the Illinois. Fishery Biologist Wayne Herndon said there were abundant numbers of yearling and 2-year-old largemouths in the fishery last year. Bass grow rather quickly in the river, so these fish should start providing some extra opportunities this year. Anglers will find a good range of sizes of largemouth bass and occasionally a real whopper is caught. There are also some smallmouth bass available and they are found in most abundance localized in areas above Peoria.
The river has a lot of shallow, silted water conditions. Because of this, most of the largemouth bass can be found in good woody or rocky habitat. Find these areas in harbors and off the channel areas from the LaGrange Pool, Peoria Pool, Starved Rock Pool and Marseilles Pool. Also look for largemouths to relate to any other structure, such as weedbeds, downed trees, stumps or other woody structure.
Boaters and bank anglers can both find good spots along the river. Numerous ramps are located all along the stretch of the river and bank anglers will find fishing opportunity at most of these ramps. Numerous parks and campsites are also located on the river and bank fishing is available at most of these as well. One of the most popular spots along the river is the Starved Rock State Park located about one mile south of Utica. There is a campground at the park as well as a stone and log lodge. More information on the state park is available by calling (815) 667-4726.
Fishing information may be obtained by calling (309) 968-7563.
GILLESPIE NEW CITY LAKE
It may only be 207 acres, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a fine bass fishery at Gillespie New City Lake. “There is a very healthy population of largemouth bass from 1 pound up to 8 pounds with a high percentage of bass over 3 pounds in this lake,” said Jeff Pontnack, who is the fishery biologist for DNR districts 14 and 15.
Pontnack said, “I can’t take much credit for this fishery. It has been solid for many years, and seems to have a tremendous forage base, which these bass thrive on.”
Gillespie New City Lake is located in Macoupin County about two miles west of Gillespie, on Route 16. The lake has one ramp, which is located on the east end of the impoundment.
Anglers should note there is a 12- to 15-inch protective slot limit on bass at Gillespie New City Lake. All bass measuring within the slot limit must be released.
The habitat is very good and varies from shallow, weedy areas to deeper drop-offs. Vegetation and wood is scattered throughout the impoundment and there is some good rock riprap along the dam. Several fingers that jut off the main body of the lake provide contour and habitat variation. To find out which baits and tactics are hot, contact the bait shop at (618) 362-6363.
According to Biologist Dan Stephenson, the largemouth bass population at Lake Springfield continues to be one of the better populations in the state. Stephenson said, “Excellent numbers and body conditions are found in the bass in the lake. For example, in the past 15 annual surveys, we have collected over 100 bass per hour of electrofishing, which is very high for a lake of this size, maybe the best in the state. Also as an example, the statewide average weight for a 15-inch bass is 1.75 pounds. In Lake Springfield, a 15-inch bass averages 2.25 pounds, nearly 30 percent above the average. This holds true for all sizes of bass.”
All of this, according to Stephenson, is due to an excellent forage base. Good numbers of gizzard and threadfin shad are present in the lake.
Stephenson said he rarely colle
cts any really large fish while electrofishing. Fish over 18 inches seldom show up in the DNR sampling. However, bass anglers are proving big fish do exist in the population. There was a bass over 8 pounds and another over 7 pounds caught during a spring tournament last year. The previous November, two other bass over 7 pounds were caught and verified.
Lake Springfield totals 4,234 acres and is located southwest of Springfield in Sangamon County. There are several boat ramps on the lake.
Call Stephenson’s office at (217) 632-3841 for more information on Lake Springfield.
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