Illinois 2011 Bass Forecast

Prairie State anglers have a lot to look forward to. Here is an informed prediction on this year's bass fishing.

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.

ILLINOIS RIVER

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.

LAKE SPRINGFIELD

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.

CEDAR LAKE

Currently, one of the best largemouth bass populations in all of Illinois exists at Cedar Lake according to Fishery Biologist Shawn Hirst. He said there are lots of fish within the protected slot range of 14 to 18 inches and lots of fish over 18 inches. Those are some topnotch numbers to entice most any bass angler.

Some of the best fishing action comes by targeting submerged trees and other woody structure. There are plenty of trees and weed beds available in the spring, plus local anglers sink a lot of brush and trees to attract and hold fish. Of course, finding these locations can be tough without good electronics. The other option is to target fish attractors put out by the DNR.

There are 30 locations in the lake at which the DNR has placed fish attractors. At each of these locations, anglers will find approximately 10 to 11 Porcupine Fish Attractors located in about 12 to 18 feet of water. There are maps available with GPS coordinates and they may be obtained at area bait shops and at the Lake Murphysboro State Park.

A 14- to 18-inch slot limit was put in place on the lake in 2002, so all fish caught within that range must be immediately released. Anglers are encouraged to harvest some of the fish they catch below 14 inches in an effort to thin some of the smaller fish and improve the overall quality of the bass fishery. Since the slot limit was imposed, the bass population has steadily improved, resulting in the fantastic fishery we now enjoy.

Cedar Lake is located in Jackson County, four miles southwest of Carbondale. It is partially owned by the city of Carbondale and partially by the U.S. Forest Service. It totals 1,750 acres and is surrounded by forest. There are two main boat ramps on the lake and they may be accessed off State Route 51, south of Carbondale and State Route 127, south of Murphysboro, respectively.

For the most up-to-date fishing information, call Top of the Hill Bait in Murphysboro at (618) 684-2923.

HEIDECKE LAKE

There are both largemouth and smallmouth bass at Heidecke Lake in Grundy County. This 1,955-acre former cooling lake is located close to Chicago and gets a good amount of fishing pressure, but still provides lots of opportunity.

Largemouth bass used to dominate the fishery and the DNR even tried bolstering the population with supplemental stocking. The stocking didn't seem to take, and was subsequently terminated. Good numbers of naturally reproducing largemouths are still present, but smallies are estimated to outnumber bigmouths by two to one.

Lots of good rock and riprap areas are present and make excellent locations to target the smallmouths as well as the largemouths. Vegetation used to be virtually non-existent and is still limited, but is hoped to increase in time, which should help replenish the largemouth fishery.

Heidecke Lake has plenty of shoreline access for bank fishing and there are no motor restrictions for boaters. However, boaters must have a working gas motor because of the dangers of high winds.

More information is available by calling the Heidecke Lake State Fish and Wildlife area at (815) 942-6352.

MILL CREEK LAKE

Anglers living in or close to Clark County have a nice little gem at Mill Creek Lake. Totaling about 709 acres, Mill Creek looks great for bass fishing this year. Bass fishing prospects are rated as very good to excellent for catch rates and very good to excellent for size.

Biologist Mike Mounce said the lake has experienced outstanding recruitment and has a good density of bass. The lake has the potential to produce some really large bass up to 8 pounds or more, but yet there are still a lot of fish in the 12- to 15-inch range to catch. Mounce said, "Mill Creek Lake has high densities of aquatic vegetation which allow for very consistent natural bass recruitment and has always been a top bass producer." The average bass caught at Mill Creek will be 1 to 2 pounds.

Not only are there lots of bass in the lake, but there is also a wide diversity of structure and locations to target. The backs of the coves are prime spots early, but there are also points, weed beds, and woody structure such as fallen trees and timber. Additionally, anglers have sunken Christmas trees and fish cribs in numerous locations. All the usual bass tactics and baits will work, but a favorite among the locals is throwing a red worm or other red plastic bait.

A 12- to 15-inch protective slot limit is in place for largemouth bass.

There are bank fishing opportunities and boaters may launch at the public ramp at the Mill Creek Park, which is located seven miles northwest of Marshall, on the Lincoln Heritage Trail Road. At the park, there is also camping and other facilities. The Clark County Park District collects a boating access fee.

For more information, call (217) 889-3901.

LAKE MICHIGAN

Anglers will enjoy another great year of smallmouth fishing on Lake Michigan. Good numbers and size distribution means plenty of fishing excitement ahead. Strong catch and release practices keep the fishery in good shape and fish up to 6 pounds are possible. Excellent numbers of legal-size smallmouths are present.

Illinois has approximately 63 miles of shoreline bordering Lake Michigan, but has 65 percent of the population of the four states bordering the big pond. Fishing pressure can be high at times, but there's plenty of opportunity for both boaters and bank anglers.

Best bets for targeting smallies are around riprap, chunk rock, rock walls and other structure. Boaters can also get out and target breakwater areas and structure not accessible from shore. However, shore anglers have lots of opportunity at the many harbors, marinas and other locations. Popular bank fishing locations include Waukegan Harbor, Burnham Harbor, Calumet Park and others.

More information on smallmouth fishing on Lake Michigan is available online at www.dnr.illinois.gov or by calling (847) 294-4134.

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