The Prairie State's Hottest Crappie Waters

There are many places to catch papermouths in Illinois, but did you know there are honeyholes not far from where you live? (February 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Crappie anglers have a wealth of locations to choose from to find excellent papermouth action in Illinois, and you typically don't have to travel far to get in on the fun.

Our state is divided into five different fisheries districts. Here's a look at a couple of lakes in each region offering great crappie angling. One is probably near your home!

REGION I

Department of Natural Resources biologist Ken Russell said one of the best crappie lakes in his area is 95-acre Argyle Lake in McDonough County. Spring sampling showed it to have the best population structure and number of quality-sized fish.

Russell said the lake is home to both black and white crappies, as well as some hybrids. With crappies breeding in confined areas, there is some crossover during fertilization resulting in a hybrid offspring.

Anglers can expect some fair-sized crappies here even though the lake isn't excessively large. Sampling showed white crappies reaching the 10 1/2- to 12-inch range, with a top weight of around 1 1/3 pounds. Black crappies measured similarly at 9 1/2 to 12 inches, but were chunkier and reached weights near 1 3/4 pounds.

Anglers often have good luck here with 1-inch chartreuse tube jigs on 1/32-ounce jigheads. Of course, minnows are the old reliable.

More information on Argyle Lake is available from the site office at (309) 776-5267 or the site interpreter's office at (309) 776-3422. For area info, the chamber of commerce can be reached at (309) 837-4855.

Another good choice in this region is Spring Lake in Tazewell County. Actually, Spring Lake is two separate lakes -- a north lake and a south lake. Both lakes have good crappie fishing, according to biologist Wayne Herndon.

Each lake is very shallow, with an average depth of just under 3 feet. Spring Lake North is 578 acres, while Spring Lake South is 610 acres. Both have good aquatic vegetation.

Most people have the best success at the north lake from February through April. There has been good reproduction there for about the past four to five years, and anglers are starting to see some really nice slabs. Most fish will average around 9 1/2 to 10 inches, but some real dandies up to 14 inches can be caught.

There are white water lilies at this lake, so early-season anglers can often locate crappies by fishing around the old lily stems from previous years. Most anglers have the best success with jigs, minnows or a combination of jigs tipped with minnows.

The south lake is fed by a spring, so it will often warm up earlier in the year than some other area lakes. Still, the best crappie fishing there happens in March and into early April. Fish will usually be in the brush by March and found in water 2 to 4 feet deep. Fish are a little smaller on average in the south lake. Most will be around 9 inches. Crappies typically top out at around 12 to 12 1/2 inches.

More information is available at (309) 346-2106 from the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce.

REGION II

This area of Illinois is a little tougher for crappie anglers. There isn't an abundance of good crappie destinations, and some of the ones that do exist have limited access. Many of the lakes in this region are cooling lakes and do not support crappie populations very well.

However, one that is good and accessible is the Fox Chain-O-Lakes. There are over 7,100 acres of water above the McHenry dam offering some excellent angling opportunities. (Continued) Reproduction has been fairly steady there, according to DNR biologist Frank Jakubicek. He said panfish have really taken off there since around 1999. Most of the crappies are black, and will average between 9 and 11 inches. There are some white crappies as well as a few hybrids.

Most of the shoreline is developed, so there's practically no woody structure. Anglers should look for crappies near shore by the first of April. Most of the backwater lakes or creeks will hold crappies. Some of the best areas are along deeper channels with cattails and out of the main boating channels. There are some old timber docks on the northern end of the lake that can be great at certain times of the year.

Interested anglers should contact the Fox Waterway Agency at (847) 587-8540 to learn more about the lake and associated user fees. The agency can also be accessed on the Internet at www.foxwaterway.state.il.us.

Jakubicek said another location for anglers to try is 74-acre Sterling Lake in Lake County. This lake is an old gravel pit and now provides some excellent fishing.

One thing the lake is known for is good winter ice-fishing. Spring can be good, too, and anglers can expect most crappies to be around 9 inches on average. A few will be larger on occasion, but no length limit at the lake results in a lot of harvest.

The lake is steep-sided and has generally clear water. There is good vegetation throughout the lake due to it being an older lake. Shoreline fishing access is abundant, and anglers can also bring in non-motorized boats.

Most of the best crappie fishing is around the vegetation and weeded dropoffs. But not all of the lake is steep-sided, so there are a couple of shallow-water areas.

The Lake County Chamber of Commerce can be reached at (847) 249-3800, or www.lakecounty-il.org.

REGION III

For the past two years, Evergreen Lake has been "the" place to go for crappies in central Illinois, according to DNR biologist Mike Garthaus. Back in 2000, Garthaus said the catch rate "went through the roof." Ever since then, the crappie fishing has been terrific. Anglers had a particularly good year in 2006.

This 886-acre lake in McLean County is home to both black and white crappies. The fish density is really thick and the DNR typically catches over 50 white crappies per hour while sampling. Around 36 percent of these fish were over 10 inches in length during the last survey. Black crappies average over 45 fish per hour but grow slower and generally average below 10 inches.

Catching crappies here early in the year can be slow at times, but anglers can be successful by fis

hing slowly and paying close attention to subtle or delicate bites. Some of the local anglers recommend the south end of the lake when fish go shallow.

A thriving population of crappies in this 2,165-acre lake can yield some really nice fish to lucky anglers. The papermouth density is not great, but there are some tremendously big crappies present. Plenty of 15-inch slabs inhabit the lake, and at least one was caught last year that measured a whopping 19 inches!

Boat anglers are required to have a launch sticker that can be purchased at the boat ramps or at the Comlara Park Visitors Center. Obtain more area information by calling the McLean County Parks & Recreation Office at (309) 726-2022, or the McLean County Chamber of Commerce at (309) 829-6344.

Clinton Lake in De Witt County offers some 5,000 acres for crappie angling. Garthaus said the fishery there has declined some, but it has been improving over about the past five years. He rates it as an average crappie fishery now, and anglers are still seeing some good fishing at various times of the year.

Historically, Clinton Lake was primarily a white crappie fishery. Garthaus said that composition started to change about 10 to 15 years ago and is more of a black crappie fishery now. The black crappie population has been pretty stable over the past five or six years. Consequently, the DNR has been trying to stock white crappies each year in an attempt to supplement natural reproduction.

The black crappies don't grow as fast in length, but generally are bulkier and weigh more than the white crappies. Electro-fishing has revealed a lot of legal-sized fish in the lake. The longest fish sampled were around 12 inches long.

There are some areas of the lake that are closed to the public and others that are closed on a seasonal basis. These areas are well marked.

Early in the year, some of the best crappie fishing occurs around some of the bridge structures near the closed area. The water tends to be warmer here, which will attract early-season fish. There are also other areas with good structure. Flooded timber and submerged fencerows are excellent attractors for papermouths. Jigs, minnows and twistertails can all be effective at times in these areas.

Call the Clinton State Recreation Area office at (217) 935-8722 before fishing to learn more about the lake, regulations and closed areas. The Clinton Lake Access Areas & Fishing Guide is also a great help, and is online at www.ifishillinois.org/profiles/lakes/linton%20Lake/clinton.html. The number for the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce is (217) 935-3364.

REGION IV

One of the best choices in this region is Sangchris Lake in Christian County.

A thriving population of crappies in this 2,165-acre lake can yield some really nice fish to lucky anglers. The papermouth density is not great, but there are some tremendously big crappies present. Plenty of 15-inch slabs inhabit the lake, and at least one was caught last year that measured a whopping 19 inches!

February is a good time to start crappie fishing on this lake. With it being a power-plant lake, it tends to have some of the warmest water available at this time of year. The warmer water also contributes to fast growth. The growth is further supplemented with a great forage base of both gizzard and threadfin shad.

Biologists used to have trouble keeping a good population of crappies in this lake. Supplemental stocking started paying off about six or seven years ago, and now the fishery is doing much better. White crappies are the most plentiful, but black crappies are also present. The DNR started stocking black-nosed crappies beginning in 1985.

DNR biologist Dan Stephenson said anglers have great success with both artificial lures and minnows. For the most consistent bite, most anglers opt for the minnows. There are a lot of brushpiles scattered throughout the lake and these are the most likely spots to tie into some of these bruiser slabs.

More area information is available from the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau at (217) 789-2360, or from the Sangchris Lake site office at (217) 498-9208.

DNR fisheries biologist Jeffrey Pontnack said the crappie population at Coffeen Lake has been real good for about the last three years. While there is a population of black crappies and white crappies, the latter definitely seems to be doing better in this impoundment. The DNR has not collected a black crappie in either of the last two samples taken at the lake.

Pontnack calls the lake a "local hotspot" and said it is a good lake for crappie fishing. The population density is not as high as some lakes, but anglers can catch some decent-sized fish there. There are many papermouths in 9- to 13-inch range.

During the latest sampling effort, biologists collected 28 crappies per hour, with a total of 197 fish. The largest was just over 14 1/2 inches in length and weighed 1 3/4 pounds. The average collected was 10 3/4 inches long and weighing nearly 3/4-pound.

Coffeen is a thermal lake and can have some fairly warm water in February and early March. This makes it an excellent early-season choice. At 1,100 acres, there is plenty of room for anglers to spread out in this Montgomery County impoundment.

Most of the crappies are found in the far north end of the lake. There is much more vegetation in this end, and crappies will often suspend in deeper water near woody or vegetative structure. Most anglers find the best success with jigs or jigs tipped with minnows. Chartreuse or yellow are the primary colors used by locals.

The site office at the Coffeen Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area can be reached at (217) 537-3351. For area info, contact the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce at (217) 532-3711.

REGION V

Although the crappie population at Crab Orchard Lake can be cyclical, it is in excellent shape right now, according to DNR biologist Chris Bickers. The population and average size can change from year to year depending upon spawning success. It has been a little on the low side but is presently on an upswing.

Regulations were changed on Rend in 2004 to limit the creel on crappies to 25 per day, with no more than 10 being greater than 10 inches. Last fall, sampling showed some 28 percent of the fish collected were greater than 10 inches. The harvest of fish over 10 inches has increased some 80 percent since before the regulation was put in place.

Black crappies outnumber white crappies here by nearly a 2-to-1 ratio. During the most recent sampling, white crappies were averaging a very respectable size. Some 85 percent were over 8 inches long, with 50 percent being over 10 inches. There should be a higher percentage of black crappies reaching 10 inches this year. Sampling from the fall of 2005 showed most blacks averaging just over 8 inches.

A

great shad population is the key to this successful crappie fishery. The DNR stocks threadfin shad each spring. Cooling water in late fall causes many of these shad to die, and they become easy prey for the crappies as the shad become weak. This late-year feeding opportunity allows the papermouths to enter wintertime in excellent condition.

Anglers have good success in late winter by the riprap around bridge pilings. Crappies can often be found in water from 6 to 10 feet deep from February through early March. From late March and into April, they will move into the shoreline and be found around brush and willow stems. The onset of warming summer water will push the crappies back out toward deeper haunts. Small jigs and minnows are favored baits for most local anglers at Crab Orchard.

This 6,965-acre lake is located in Williamson County just three miles east of Carbondale. Anglers are required to have a user permit before fishing the lake.

To obtain information on this permit as well as lake information and other fishing regulations, contact the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge at (618) 997-3344. Another source of information on the Crab Orchard area is the Carbondale Convention & Tourism Bureau at 1-800-526-1500.

Anglers also have good success on crappies at Rend Lake in Franklin and Jefferson counties. DNR biologist Mike Hooe said the fishery has done exceptionally well recently.

Regulations were changed on Rend in 2004 to limit the creel on crappies to 25 per day, with no more than 10 being greater than 10 inches. Last fall, sampling showed some 28 percent of the fish collected were greater than 10 inches. The harvest of fish over 10 inches has increased some 80 percent since before the regulation was put in place. Hooe said the regulation has helped increase the numbers of crappies, as well as improve the size structure.

REGION V

Although the crappie population at Crab Orchard Lake can be cyclical, it is in excellent shape right now, according to DNR biologist Chris Bickers. The population and average size can change from year to year depending upon spawning success. It has been a little on the low side but is presently on an upswing.

Regulations were changed on Rend in 2004 to limit the creel on crappies to 25 per day, with no more than 10 being greater than 10 inches. Last fall, sampling showed some 28 percent of the fish collected were greater than 10 inches. The harvest of fish over 10 inches has increased some 80 percent since before the regulation was put in place.

Black crappies outnumber white crappies here by nearly a 2-to-1 ratio. During the most recent sampling, white crappies were averaging a very respectable size. Some 85 percent were over 8 inches long, with 50 percent being over 10 inches. There should be a higher percentage of black crappies reaching 10 inches this year. Sampling from the fall of 2005 showed most blacks averaging just over 8 inches.

A great shad population is the key to this successful crappie fishery. The DNR stocks threadfin shad each spring. Cooling water in late fall causes many of these shad to die, and they become easy prey for the crappies as the shad become weak. This late-year feeding opportunity allows the papermouths to enter wintertime in excellent condition.

Anglers have good success in late winter by the riprap around bridge pilings. Crappies can often be found in water from 6 to 10 feet deep from February through early March. From late March and into April, they will move into the shoreline and be found around brush and willow stems. The onset of warming summer water will push the crappies back out toward deeper haunts. Small jigs and minnows are favored baits for most local anglers at Crab Orchard.

This 6,965-acre lake is located in Williamson County just three miles east of Carbondale. Anglers are required to have a user permit before fishing the lake.

To obtain information on this permit as well as lake information and other fishing regulations, contact the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge at (618) 997-3344. Another source of information on the Crab Orchard area is the Carbondale Convention & Tourism Bureau at 1-800-526-1500.

Anglers also have good success on crappies at Rend Lake in Franklin and Jefferson counties. DNR biologist Mike Hooe said the fishery has done exceptionally well recently.

Regulations were changed on Rend in 2004 to limit the creel on crappies to 25 per day, with no more than 10 being greater than 10 inches. Last fall, sampling showed some 28 percent of the fish collected were greater than 10 inches. The harvest of fish over 10 inches has increased some 80 percent since before the regulation was put in place. Hooe said the regulation has helped increase the numbers of crappies, as well as improve the size structure.

Anglers do well here with both spring and fall crappie fishing. Hooe said the fall fishing is spectacular. Minnows on jigs and other artificials work well. Look for crappies in natural brush and submerged timber, as well as around artificially placed fish attractors.

For lake information, contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at (618) 724-2493, or Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park at (618) 629-2320. For fishing tips, give Todd Gessner Guide Service a call at (618) 513-0520.

* * *

Those are only a handful of Illinois' crappie honeyholes. Just gas up your vehicle and you can probably find your own papermouth hotspot within an hour of your home. Just remember to buy the tartar sauce when you buy your minnows!

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.