Illinois' Channel Catfish Hotspots

Sure, it's easy to mosey on down to the pond to catch some fiddlers. But this year, why don't you do yourself a favor by trying the best channel catfishing our state has to offer on these waters? (June 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

Hey, it's catfishing time again! Nothing says summer better than a twisting, hard-pulling channel cat on the end of your line.

Fortunately, Illinois has many great waters to tangle with Mr. Whiskers. Sure, it's easier for you to just mosey on down to the pond to catch a few fiddlers, but this year, why not sample the best channel catfishing our state has to offer?

We used the Department of Natural Resources fisheries regions to break down our review of the top waters to target channel cats this summer. Here's a look at a couple of hotspots in each of the five regions of our state for great channel catfishing.

REGION I

Powerton Lake

One of the traditionally better channel catfish waters in Region I is Powerton Lake just south of Peoria.

This 1,426-acre lake was impounded about 40 years ago and filled with water from the Illinois River. As a result, it was populated with a great catfish fishery from the start. Channel catfish have remained strong throughout the years, although they did see a dip in numbers recently. The amount of good spawning habitat and the addition of threadfin shad have coupled to really boost the catfish fishery. Channel cats are reported to be chunky and healthy.

Anglers have the best success at Powerton in spring prior to early June and then again in August and September. A variety of baits are successful here, including chicken livers, cut shad, cheese bait and shrimp. Look for channel cats near the water intake in summer and near the discharge during the cold months.

There are nearly 11 miles of shoreline here, but the best access is by boat. Powerton Lake is located about one mile southwest of Pekin in Tazewell County. Anglers may also want to check out options at the Powerton Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area, (309) 968-7135. Traveling anglers needing overnight accommodations can call the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce at (309) 346-2106, or go online to Pekin.

La Salle Lake

La Salle Lake in eastern La Salle County by Seneca is another great channel cat destination in Region I. It is a "perched" cooling lake and covers 2,058 acres. With the warm water available in this cooling lake, the channel catfishery is tremendous. It is often referred to as a "channel catfish factory."

La Salle was initially stocked with about 10,000 channel cats when the lake opened to the public in 1987, and the catfish have been self-sustaining ever since then. Ample spawning areas and great growth rates have been a real boost to the fishery. Channel catfish size is fairly well distributed, and big cats up to 15 pounds are frequently caught. (Continued)

La Salle has ample boat access and there are no motor restrictions. Anglers are restricted to using only two poles and lines. Bank-fishing is possible, and the best shoreline access is available at the La Salle Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area. There is also a handicap-accessible fishing pier at Ivy Point.

To get to La Salle Lake, take your best route to Seneca south of I-80, and then travel through Seneca on Route 170 and across the Illinois River bridge to the flashing caution light. Turn right at the light and continue about 1 1/2 miles until reaching the FWA entrance on your right.

For more fishing information, call the La Salle Lake State FWA at (815) 357-1608. For lodging info, call the Illinois Valley Chamber of Commerce at (815) 223-0227, or go online to Ivaced.org.

REGION II

Fox Chain-O-Lakes

DNR fisheries biologist Frank Jakubicek said catfish need a large system to achieve the best results when it comes to reproduction. Well, the Fox Chain-O-Lakes in northeastern Illinois is definitely a big system, and the channel catfishery is booming.

The Fox Chain is a series of lakes formed by the McHenry Dam on the Fox River. There are nine major lakes in the system ranging in size from 86 acres to 1,700 acres. Coupled with some smaller waters, the chain amounts to about 7,000 acres and 488 miles of shoreline.

One of the best channel catfishing waters in Illinois is Clinton Lake in De Witt County. This 5,000-acre lake offers tremendous catfishing with very good size distribution. Large channel cats up to 16 pounds are caught with regularity.

Even though the Fox Chain has a tremendous channel catfishery, it is underutilized by anglers. Most people come to this chain for northern pike, muskies, bass, crappies and walleyes. This leaves a virtually untapped catfishery. The anglers who do target whiskerfish regularly catch channel cats in the 5-pound range.

The best lakes on the chain for channel cats are Grass at 1,360 acres, Fox at 1,700 acres and Pistakee at 1,700 acres. All three lakes have numerous boat ramps and bank access. Chain-O-Lakes State Park borders all three lakes, and has 2,450 acres for recreational use.

For more information, call Chain-O-Lakes State Park at (847) 587-5512, or go to dnr.state.il.us/Lands/Landmgt/parks/r2/chino. Anglers should also contact the Fox Waterway Agency at (847) 587-8540 to learn more about the lake and user fees. The Web site for the agency is FoxyWaterway.state.il.us. The Lake County Chamber of Commerce can be reached at (847) 249-3800, or LakeCounty-IL.org.

Heidecke Lake

Heidecke Lake in Grundy County is a 1,955-acre cooling lake, and like La Salle Lake, it is a tremendous place to catch channel catfish. However, unlike many of the cooling lakes, it doesn't just produce huge numbers of good catfish -- it produces good numbers of huge catfish.

Most all channel cats caught at Heidecke will average at least 1 pound. Data compiled of channel catfish caught during sampling surveys resulted in an average length of nearly 20 inches. Channel cats can reach decent size at Heidecke, and fish weighing over 10 pounds aren't uncommon.

Heidecke Lake has a two-pole restriction, and anglers can only keep six catfish per day. Bank-fishing is allowed from 6:30 a.m. to sunset, and fishing from boats is permitted from 6 p.m. to sunset. All boats must have gasoline motors fo

r safety reasons.

Heidecke Lake is just east of La Salle Lake. To reach Heidecke from the other direction, take exit 240 off I-55 and travel west approximately 7.5 miles to Jugtown Road. Turn north onto Jugtown Road and go one mile to the stop sign. Go straight and enter the Heidecke Lake State FWA.

For area lodging information, call the Grundy County Chamber of Commerce at (815) 942-0113. The FWA can be reached at (815) 942-6352, or go to dnr.state.il.us/Lands/ Landmgt/parks/r2/heidecke .

REGION III

Clinton Lake

One of the best channel catfishing waters in Illinois is Clinton Lake in De Witt County. This 5,000-acre lake offers tremendous catfishing with very good size distribution. Large channel cats up to 16 pounds are caught with regularity.

Channel cats are a big draw here, and they get a good bit of pressure from local anglers. The cat population is in good shape nonetheless and is self-sustaining, thus no supplemental stocking is necessary.

Even though the Fox Chain has a tremendous channel catfishery, it is underutilized by anglers. Most people come to this chain for northern pike, muskies, bass, crappies and walleyes. This leaves a virtually untapped catfishery. The anglers who do target whiskerfish regularly catch channel cats in the 5-pound range.

Many Clinton Lake channel cats are caught from shore or from one of the numerous fishing piers. Two of the best areas for catfish are in front of the discharge canal and the North Fork arm channel. Areas of flooded timber and openings beneath the bridges across the lake are also good choices.

The drawback to fishing at Clinton Lake is the numerous restrictions and closed areas. Some areas are closed for only a portion of the year. The best bet is for you to call the Clinton Lake State Recreation Area before heading out.

The Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau can be called at (217) 935-3364. Call the Clinton State Recreation Area office at (217) 935-8722. The Clinton Lake Access Areas & Fishing Guide is available online at ifishillinois.org/profiles/lakes/Clinton.

Lake Bloomington

Lake Bloomington in McLean County is another Region III water with a great channel catfishery, and it has been well regarded for its catfishing throughout the years.

Lake Bloomington has a self-sustaining catfish population and receives no stocking. Spawning is very successful most years, and the fishery has good size distribution. Lunkers are caught with regularity, and it's not uncommon for anglers to hook channel cats up to around 16 pounds. The average channel cat caught here is an impressive 4 pounds.

Some of the best catfishing on this 635-acre lake is in the upper end. There are two arms, and the upper ends of these arms are great for channel catfishing. The area around the dam is also a good choice.

Lake Bloomington is located about 10 miles north of Bloomington. The lake has only one boat ramp and a small fee is charged for its use. Boaters are restricted to a maximum of 40-horsepower motors, and anglers can only use two poles and lines. For more information on the lake, associated fees and driving directions, call (309) 747-2615. The McLean County Chamber of Commerce can be found online at McLeancoChamber, or give them a call at (309) 829-6344.

REGION IV

Lake Jacksonville

Channel catfish enthusiasts in this region should target Lake Jacksonville in Morgan County. Since the lake's rehabilitation in 1986, the channel catfishery has rebounded exceptionally well. The lake now boasts excellent whiskerfishing.

Lake Jacksonville has been stocked with non-vulnerable channel cats each year since 1991 by the DNR. The stocked fish are in the 8- to 10-inch range to ensure better survival rates. Good lake conditions have resulted in the average fish caught weighing between 1 and 3 pounds.

There are many great areas to catch catfish on this 476-acre lake. Good shoreline habitat exists in the form of submerged stumps and fallen timber. There are also several flats that attract many catfish.

Lake Jacksonville is about three miles south of Jacksonville east of Route 67 on New Lake Road. Information on Lake Jacksonville can be obtained by calling (217) 479-4646. Contact the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce at (217) 245-2174, or at JacksonvilleAreaChamber.

Siloam Springs Lake

The smallest lake in our channel catfish overview is the 58-acre Siloam Springs Lake in Adams County.

Although small, stockings from the DNR fish hatchery system keep the channel catfishery in great shape here. Angler pressure is strong, but the fishery continues to provide great catfishing.

There is ample access at this lake and several amenities are available at the Siloam Springs State Park. Bank-fishing is abundant, and there are six fishing piers as well. Boaters are limited to electric motors only, but you can find great catfishing by targeting the shallow flats near Cattail Cove.

There is a six-catfish-per-day creel limit here. Anglers can only use two poles and lines, with a maximum of four hooks. A concession with bait and boat rentals is on site.

Siloam Springs Lake is located about three miles from Kellerville off County Road 2873. More information is available at (217) 894-6205. The Quincy Area Chamber of Commerce is online at QuincyChamber.org, and its phone number is (217) 222-7980.

REGION V

Newton Lake

Newton Lake is a 1,750-acre reservoir with a tremendously dense channel catfish population located eight miles southwest of Newton in Jasper County.

The smaller catfish in Crab Orchard are not as abundant as Newton Lake, and this leads to an average catch between 2 to 4 pounds. Larger fish are also caught.

This is a cooling lake, so the warm water leads to year-round fishing opportunities. However, a portion of the lake is closed during winter for waterfowl season.

But the channel catfish don't take any time off. They are thriving here, and the lake is actually overpopulated with smaller-sized cats. Reproduction is always high in Newton Lake, and the catfish do not grow particularly fast until after they attain a weight of around 1 1/2 pounds, and then they take off. This has produced a bunch of cats less than 1 pound, but once the fish get "over the hump," so to speak, they grow much better and there are plenty of fish in the 2- to 4-pound range. Bigger fish are present as well.

You have great chances from shore and boat here. Bank-anglers now have expanded opportunity to fish due to additional shoreline being opened to fishing. There is one boat launch located at the south access area, but motors are restricted to 25 horsepower. There is a two-pole and two-line regulation, but there aren't any size or creel limits on catfish.

To reach Newton Lake from I-57 and I-70, take exit 160 at Effingham. Take Route 33 east to Dieterich and turn right at the stoplight. Travel south approximately 12 miles and turn left at the Newton Lake Entrance sign. For more info, call the Newton Lake State FWA at (618) 783-3478, or go online to www.dnr.state.il.us/ lands/Landmgt/parks/r5/newton. The Jasper County Chamber of Commerce Web site address is www. newtonillinois.com/chamber, or call them at (618) 783-3399.

Crab Orchard Lake

Crab Orchard Lake is last in our catfish roundup. This Williamson County lake encompasses nearly 7,000 surface acres and is home to a good channel catfishery.

The smaller catfish in Crab Orchard are not as abundant as Newton Lake, and this leads to an average catch between 2 to 4 pounds. Larger fish are also caught.

The channel catfish at Crab Orchard do well with yearly spawning and receive no supplemental stocking. Creel and sampling surveys suggest that most of the fish caught are at least "eating size" and most anglers typically do well here.

There are a variety of good spots and habitats to fish on Crab. There are ample places for bank-fishing, but fishing from a boat is a better option. Some of the better areas for channel cats are Wolfe Creek, Grassy Bay and Cambria.

There are special regulations and fees involved with fishing on Crab. Call the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge at (618) 997-3344, or go online to www.fws.gov/midwest/CrabOrchard for more information. The Carbondale Convention & Tourism Bureau can be reached at 1-800-526-1500.

MORE KNOWLEDGE

Remember that these aren't the only channel catfish waters in Illinois, but a few of our best. You can research more waters at www.dnr.state.il.us.

We have tried to provide as much current information as possible on regulations, but they are subject to change -- especially those regarding Homeland Security around dams, and on lakes with nuclear power plants on them. Always check for specific site regulations before fishing these or any other locations in Illinois.

Find more about Illinois fishing and hunting at: IllinoisGameandFish.com

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