Catching Crappies in the Prairie State

Catching Crappies in the Prairie State

Springtime means it's crappie time! You can catch your share of slabs on these lakes.

By Daniel D. Lamoreux

Finding crappies in the Prairie State is not much of a problem. Finding "hotspots," on the other hand, can be a bit more difficult. Crappie populations are simply too cyclic to make too many long-term projections. Boom and bust is the standard routine with Ol' Slab Sides.

The good news is that we have located a number of lakes that appear to be at or near the peak in their cycles. Check out these waters and you should find some mighty fine angling opportunities for crappies.

TAMPIER LAKE
Anglers from The Windy City don't necessarily have to travel far to enjoy good crappie action. Tampier Lake is located at the junction of 131st Street and Wolf Road in Palos Park.

Jim Phillips, fisheries biologist with the Cook County Forest Preserve District, indicated that Tampier has both black crappies and white crappies, though the majority is of the black variety.

"I think this is our best lake on the south side of Cook County," Phillips said. "The crappie can be difficult to find in the summer, but during early spring, from ice-out until about the beginning of May, fishermen do real well." The bite picks up again in fall.

"Almost all of the shoreline is accessible (to bank-anglers)," he explained, "with the exception of the south shore. They do really well along the rocks, along 131st Street and near Wolf Road. Average size can run from 10 to 12 inches."

While anglers are permitted to access Tampier Lake with their own boats, all gas motors must be removed prior to launching. As an alternative, boat rentals are available from the onsite concessionaire, T&M Lakes.

In addition to boat rentals, T&M offers bait, tackle and fishing licenses. Anglers can also contact them by phone, or stop in onsite, for the latest fishing reports and recommendations. Call them at (708) 448-9809.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

LAKE DAWSON
Crappies can be an extremely prolific fish and at times this can be detrimental to the health of a fishery. In the case of Lake Dawson, in McLean County, the crappie numbers are too high. According to Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Mike Garthouse, the DNR is addressing this concern by changing regulations.

"The lake has become overpopulated with 8- to 10-inch crappie," Garthouse explained. "The problem is that the population has now stunted out and the growth rate has slowed. The lake has had a 9-inch limit on fish, but in our last samplings we had 90 percent of the crappie collected fall under that limit and our catch rate is double our management objective."

In order to address this problem, the length limit on Lake Dawson will be removed starting this spring. While anglers will not find many large fish in these waters, those who simply want to catch fish for the frying pan can hit the mother lode.

Garthouse also said that the previous 10-horespower limit for boaters has been lifted on an experimental basis, and thus far the experiment has had positive results.

There are onsite concessions that offer bait, tackle and basic supplies, as well as a dock and boat rentals. A small restaurant is also located onsite. For more information, contact the concessionaire at (309) 724-8295 or call Moraine View State Recreation Area at (309) 724-8032. Additional information can be viewed online at www.dnr.state.il.us/lands/Landmgt/ PARKS/R3/MORAINE.HTM.

SILOAM SPRINGS LAKE
"Siloam Springs and Beaver Dam Lake are two of the better crappie lakes in my area," explained Jeff Pontnack, DNR fisheries biologist. "Siloam has excellent panfish populations in general.

"Crappie don't normally do very well in smaller impoundments, but the bass are so strong here that they keep the panfish in check," he said. "If bass don't stay strong, that's when you end up with 7-inch paper-thin crappie. As it is, the crappie do exceptionally well. Our anglers are pretty darn happy."

Pontnack went on to explain that Siloam Springs Lake has both white and black crappies, but that the population is predominantly composed of black crappies. "They do better in cleaner water and smaller impoundments, which are the conditions we have here. We have pretty good numbers of fish in the 10- to 13-inch range."

Tips for finding the fish are similar here to most other Illinois locations. Look shallow during spring and work deeper as it warms. "Concentrate on structure," Pontnack advised. "Weedlines are good, and any time you can find a fallen, submerged tree, you'll find crappies."

He also recommended watching the weather. "Incoming weather fronts really seem to make a difference. We always get a better catch in our fish traps when there's a dropping barometer."

Further information about this Adams County lake can be had by contacting the office at Siloam Springs State Park at (217) 894-6205. You can also view their Web site at www.dnr.state.il.us/lands/Landmgt/ PARKS/R4/SILOAMSP.HTM.

BEAVER DAM LAKE
"We've had real good reproduction and recruitment, and our anglers are pretty happy," said Pontnack. "We're getting good, thick fish out of Beaver Dam, and it's been good for three to four years."

Beaver Dam Lake is located in Macoupin County, about seven miles southwest of Carlinville.

"The majority of the fish I see (during surveys) are in the 6- to 10-inch class," Pontnack explained. "But everyone I talk to in spring and fall, when the fishing is best, are telling me they're catching fish in the 10- to 14-inch range."

This disparity between sampling results and creel surveys is not all that uncommon when it comes to crappies. "They are difficult to collect via electrofishing," Pontnack said. "If you don't catch them on their beds, you don't see them. When they move into deeper water, it's too easy for them to avoid capture. That's why creel surveys are so important."

Fishing Beaver Dam Lake is slightly different than Siloam insofar as its topography is different. "Beaver Dam is more of a bowl shape," Pontnack said. "Here you really need to concentrate on vegetation, fish cribs and downed trees." A minnow and bobber is the classic presentation.

More information about the lake and surrounding area

can be received by contacting Beaver Dam State Park at (217) 854-8020 or by going online to www.dnr.state.il.us/lands/ Landmgt/ PARKS/R4/beaver.htm.

KINKAID LAKE
"This is an excellent fishery; it's been real, real productive," said Shawn Hirst, DNR fisheries biologist. "We've got a lot of 7- to 8-inch fish here, but we established a 9-inch limit in order to increase the average size and stabilize the boom-and-bust tendencies of the crappie population."

According to Janet, co-owner of the Top Of The Hill Bait Shop, this management philosophy has apparently paid off. "In spite of the very hot summer (last year), they were catching crappie all summer long. Guys were consistently catching 10- to 15-inch crappies that would weigh a pound to a pound and a half."

In addition to the size and creel limits imposed, Hirst explained that threadfin shad were also stocked in Kinkaid Lake. "If we can get them to overwinter, that should add a tremendous forage base that will certainly help the crappie."

Fishing conditions on this Jackson County lake can be rather unusual. "The north end of the lake can get real muddy after a rainstorm," said Hirst. "But the lower end is usually crystal clear with a lot of weed growth. It's like having two different lakes in one."

He further explained that the upper northwest end of the lake is shallow with a lot of structure, something that can assist in locating crappies in the spring.

One particular benefit of this location is the fact that you don't have to wait if you're anxious to get on the water. "We almost never have ice," Janet said. "And winter fishing has generally been excellent."

She recommended working shallow water in early spring using minnows and jigs. As the water warms with the progression toward summer, she advised that anglers concentrate on submerged cover and dropoffs. During the hottest months, fish traditionally can be found in 12- to 18-foot depths, and minnows are the predominant offering.

"Take a ride around the lake before you start fishing; give yourself time to evaluate the options," Janet explained. "This was a farming area before it was dammed and flooded, and the result is a large lake with a wide variety of submerged cover that is not visible above water, and water depth can vary greatly."

Fishing maps can be quite useful at this location and they are available for purchase at the bait shop. Updated fishing reports and local information can be received by calling the Top Of The Hill Bait Shop at (618) 684-2923. Additional information can also be received by calling the Kinkaid Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area office at (618) 684-2867 or by visiting their Web site, located at www.dnr.state.il.us/lands/Landmgt/ PARKS/R5/Kinkaid.htm.

CEDAR LAKE
"It's really a gorgeous lake," Hirst said. "It's forested all around and it's bordered by state, local and federal land, so there's little development."

His sentiments were echoed by Ron Bryant, owner of The Bobber Shop. "This is a beautiful lake, one of the prettiest in this part of the state."

But beauty is hardly it's only attribute.

"Cedar Lake has an excellent population of crappie," explained Hirst. "While you won't find the numbers of crappie that are available at Kinkaid, this lake doesn't get the pressure they do over there. And there's no creel limit."

Bryant indicated that crappies in the 9- to 14-inch range are common, with the average at about 11 inches. His evaluation of the crappie population is based upon his personal experience as well as that of his clients.

"I was out recently and caught 30 fish, all in the 9- to 11-inch class," he said. "But two years ago I caught a 16-incher, and the year before that I caught my biggest at 17 1/2 inches!"

Finding crappie here, like most everywhere else, is best accomplished by finding structure. "There's lot of beaver huts, brushpiles and rockpiles," Bryant said. "The fish hold to this cover."

Finding that structure can be more difficult with the seasons.

"During summer, the water level is down so you can see the tops of brushpiles," Bryant explained. "But the water level is usually above pool in February and it's harder to find. There is a lot of structure in the north end, but there's also stumps, and they are hard on boat motors."

To assist in solving that dilemma, Bryant recommended picking up a lake map. He also has offered to show visiting anglers some good locations on this lake just southwest of Carbondale.

Peak season starts in mid to late February and runs through the first of April, but Bryant said that crappies can be caught all year. "It may slow down in the summer," he said, "but it's still not bad!"

Two boat ramps are available: one on the north end, which is concrete with an asphalt parking lot, the other on the south end, which is gravel. Boat motors are restricted to 10 horsepower.

Further information can be received by calling The Bobber Shop at (618) 351-7035, or you can stop by to get your maps and bait. The shop is located approximately 1 1/2 miles north of the north boat ramp.

Bryant offered this final incentive. "If fishermen mention this article," he said, "I might do something for them."

EAST FORK LAKE
East Fork Lake, by Olney, went through a period when the crappie population was stunted, but management efforts were taken to change that situation.

"A lot of the older fish died," explained Mike Hooe, DNR fisheries biologist. "But those left behind had a growth spurt. Fishing is certainly better than average for a state lake.

"The crappie population is dominated mostly by 9- to 10-inch fish, but there are plenty of 12-inch fish out there," he continued. "They are predominantly white crappie, but there are black crappie here as well."

The peak season for productive fishing starts in late March, continues throughout April and, weather permitting, lasts well into May. Early-season anglers can expect good results using small jigs fished along the edges of weedbeds.

Most of the property adjacent to the lake is privately owned, but some shore access is available. Hooe advised that most bank-bound anglers use that area on the causeway at the east end of the lake.

Private boats can be launched onsite and there are no motor restrictions, but the City of Olney does require a boat sticker be purchased. These are available at the bait shop, located at the dam, as well as through City Hall. The cost is prorated based upon horsepower, and both annual and daily stickers are available.

Additional information about the lake and the surrounding area can be received by contacting Olney City Hall at (618) 395-7302.

MERMET LAKE
"Mermet Lake is always a good crappie bet," said Chris Bickers, DNR fisheries biologist. "The crappie population has been good for a lot of years and seems to be maintaining itself. And we always have reports of big fish. Two-pound fish are reported commonly."

Bickers said the northwest end of this Massac County lake, near the site office, warms up sooner in the spring than the rest of the lake and this is the first place action picks up. Bank-anglers have found this area to be very productive.

Bickers recommended fishing along riprapped levies in general, as well as around brushpiles to find crappies as the season progresses. He also advised that he has produced maps for this lake that can help anglers pinpoint structure and has graciously offered to provide them to anglers upon request. Feel free to call Chris Bickers at (618) 993-7094 if you would like to receive one of these maps.

"This is a relatively easy lake to fish. There's a lot of shallow water," Bickers said. "But there are stumps and water hazards you need to be aware of. I wouldn't travel at high rates of speed unless you know where you're going."

Speaking of speed, Mermet Lake is another lake upon which the DNR is experimenting with changes in regulations. There previously was a 10-horsepower limit on boat motors, but that restriction has been temporarily lifted to allow larger boats on the water to travel at "no wake" speed. If anglers want to prevent the return of motor-size restrictions, it is imperative that they operate their watercraft responsibly.

Bickers explained that the DNR is currently trying to address a recent problem in Mermet Lake created by an invasive species of aquatic plant. He said that the weed problems are at their peak from about early May through the end of July. While this may inhibit fishing activities in some areas of the lake, Bickers said that, due to the life cycle of this particular species, the weed problems generally subside by August. He also explained that the DNR is attempting to control this vegetation through both chemical and biological means.

Additional information about the area can be received by contacting the Mermet Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area office by telephone at (618) 524-5577 or by visiting their Web site, which is located at www.dnr.state.il.us/lands/Landmgt/PARKS/R5/MERMET.HTM.

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Good fishing, and don't forget the tartar sauce!



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