Warming temperatures stir the desire of Prairie State anglers. When it comes to fishing in the Land of Lincoln, May is a prime month. Beginning in the south and continuing north across the landscape, a whole variety of species become available to anglers.
Illinois length of 400 miles from north to south provides a variety of fishing conditions. Weather also plays a role as numerous fronts with associated storm activity affects fish activity. Lakes in the south are ice-free all year and the growing period is longer. That gives the fish a headstart on activity. In the north the ice has recently melted and the fish are lagging behind their southern brethren.
LAKE OF EGYPT
This 2,300-acre reservoir in Williamson County, about 10 miles southwest of Marion, is a warm-water discharge lake. Water used to cool power generators is discharged back into the lake making it a fishery that is ahead of the rest of the state when it comes to fish activity.
A private/public partnership owns and manages the lake with law enforcement in the form of a Lake Patrol. Boat ramps at marinas require a daily launch fee. No fishing is allowed within 100 yards of any shoreline man-made structures. Very little shore fishing is available except in the southern reaches of the lake owned by the U.S. Forest Service as part of the Shawnee National Forest.
Spawning activity in this lake varies with weather conditions. Generally speaking, the crappie spawn takes place in late April and continues for the first two week of May. Last year it did not take place until the middle of May due to cold and high water.
This is one of the few lakes in the state that is not managed by an IDNR biologist. A privately owned lake, there is little information regarding the fishery other than word of mouth from local anglers.
According to Matt Strobel, SnS Guide Service, the crappies in this lake make up for their length with thickness. “Our crappies have shoulders,” says Matt. He maintains that in the past five years the populations of both bass and crappies have remained stable. The crappies run about 10 to 15 inches in length and up to 2 pounds in weight. According to Matt, the past two years have each seen 27,000 crappie fingerlings stocked.
When crappies complete spawning they move off the shallow water areas into brush and grass that is 8 to 15 feet in depth. If there is a dropoff with deep water nearby, so much the better.
Crappie will take jigs tipped with plastic grubs or minnows. Strobel prefers jigs with a slider grub or a twister-tail in bright colors. Matt does not recommend vertical jigging. Instead, he casts jigs to brushpiles or other structure. Immediately, as the jig hits the water, he starts his retrieve instead of waiting for it to sink. Stroble finds this helps avoid problems with jigs getting snagged. Milfoil and other weeds can be found growing in areas up to 20 feet deep along the shore.
The unpredictable and frequent weather fronts of southern Illinois during spring have a considerable effect on the crappie and bass fishing. By the early part of the month about half the bass have completed their spawning activity and suspend near deep water. They take such lures as jigs, spinnerbaits, crankbaits and soft plastics.
IDNR Fisheries Manager Mike Hooe describes Rend Lake as a “catfish factory” providing fantastic action for channel catfish along the rocky shoreline. Flatheads are huge but not often caught by hook and line anglers. Most of the flathead action is on trotlines or jugs after dark.
Natural reproduction and recruitment is strong and responsible for the large population found in the lake. Growth rates of the fish from year to year are good. Channel catfish in the 1- to 2-pound class are abundant. It is common to catch fish up to 6 pounds.
There is no daily creel limit for catfish. The daily creel limit of 25 crappies can have only 10 fish over 10-inches in length.
Rend Lake is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment found in Franklin and Jefferson counties, about 6 hours south of Chicago via Interstate 57. The Whittington exit (Illinois Route 154) provides quick access to the lake, which is 4 miles west of the Interstate. Parking and camping information is available at the Visitor Center located at the east end of the dam. The phone number is (618) 439-7430.
As the fish begin their spawn, channel catfish move up on the shoreline and can be caught almost anywhere around the lake north of Route 154. Shore fishermen find the areas near or in the sub-impoundments at the north end of the lake good locations. Any of the riprap areas are usually good on warm days. Boaters drift over the flats trolling leeches and nightcrawlers.
The flooded buckbrush and water willow hold excellent crappies in both numbers and size. Fish are found in depths of 3 to 14 feet. Additional areas holding crappies include riprap along Illinois State Route 154, stumps, stake beds and the mouths of feeder creeks.
Additional species available include white bass on jigs and curly tails along the bridge areas and near main lake humps, largemouth bass near riprap, weeds and wood with soft plastics and rattling crankbaits; bluegills take crickets, worms, wax worms and meal worms near riprap.
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