36 Fantastic Illinois Fishing Trips
October 04, 2010
You need to be on high alert when it comes to fishing in our state because there could be a hot bite going on just about anywhere. This calendar can serve as your reminder for the next 12 months. (February 2007)
About mid-March last spring, my nephew Darrin Marcure called my cell phone from a sporting goods store in northern Illinois with questions about buying a new ice-fishing rod. When Darrin called, I was getting a fishing lesson on Little Grassy Lake in southern Illinois from bassin' legend Fred Washburn. The only consolation for being so disgustingly outfished by the Fredinator was that I was wearing a T-shirt downstate, while Darrin was watching it snow in the north.
During seasonal change in spring and fall, there is about a week's difference in weather and fish activity for every 100 miles traveled north or south. In Illinois, this translates to fully eight weeks each year when it is possible to be on the cusp of a hot bite. For example, it may be winter right now in the Chicago suburbs, but crappies are already moving into shallow water down on Horseshoe Lake near Cairo.
The following is our annual look at 36 hotspots to get your string stretched in the 12 months ahead.
Pool 12 Crappies
The first hint of a January thaw will raise the water level on the Mississippi River, which pushes crappies close to the railroad tracks at Kehough Slough north of Galena. When the water clears up enough to see your ice jig 6 inches below the hole, the slab crappies go on a real rip.
The folks at Tri-Lakes Sporting Goods can tell you when to go fishing in far northwestern Illinois. Call them at (815) 369-5520.
Smithland Pool Striped Bass
Huge striped bass and hybrid striped bass are active all winter long on Illinois' elbow of the Ohio River. Blade baits and Lindy-rigged live baits are top weapons. Keep a rod rigged with a topwater bait, too, and watch for dive-bombing gulls indicating striper location. Contact: Golconda Marina, (618) 683-5875.
Fox Chain Panfish
Green weeds hide crappies, bluegills and perch all winter long on this northeast Illinois chain of lakes. The two top baits here are a blue/glow Genz Fat Boy with a plastic red Lindy Teeny Tail, and a green/black Marmooksa. Contact: Triangle Bait Shop, (847) 395-0813.
Sangchris Lake Striped Bass
Water temperature drives striped bass location in this cooling lake near Springfield.
Troll crankbaits, jig blade baits and fish fresh-cut shad on heavy gear spooled with plenty of line, because these fish are screamers!
Contact: Sangchris Corner Bait Shop, (217) 623-5252; or e-mail email@example.com
Shabbona Lake Channel Catfish
Two red worms impaled on a small hook with a split shot will catch hefty channel cats from under the ice on this De Kalb County lake. Fish around the old building foundations. These cats tend to suspend halfway down rather than hugging the bottom. Ice-fishing for catfish! Who woulda thunk it? Contact: Shabbona Lakeside Bait, (815) 824-2581.
Farm Pond Bluegills
Contact the county SCS office for a list of property owners with farm ponds. A county plat book will tell you who owns the land. Once permission is obtained, it doesn't take long to ascertain fish activity level and location on a 1/2-acre sheet of ice.
Illinois River Saugers
Our namesake river has a national reputation as a sauger fishery.
Right now, saugers are moving shallower and pushing upstream in preparation for spawning, which occurs about mid-month. Vertical jigging and "pulling" three-way rigs with a heavy jig and soft floating jig tipped with a minnow are productive.
Contact: Cajun Sports, (815) 667-4222.
Kinkaid Lake Muskies
Target shallower, more stained water with twitchbaits like the Jake. Muskies here like to relate to downed trees and other wood. Any place where you find water entering the lake is also good. Contact: Kinkaid Lake Guide Service, (618) 985-4105.
Otter Lake Muskies
This 723-acre Macoupin County lake has a truly diverse fishery. Our next state-record muskie is cruising within 100 yards of Highway 12 right now -- if she isn't hanging around a northside main-lake point. Been there, saw her!
Illinois River White Bass
When the Illinois River sauger run slows down, feisty white bass come on like gangbusters.
The Vermilion River entry point, the sandbar under the Abe Lincoln Bridge and waters around Starved Rock State Park offer action beyond incredible when these fish are on the move.
To solve a taste problem, throw the fish on ice and filet out the red "mud vein." Tastes like crappies!
Contact: Starved Rock Bait & Tackle, (815) 667-4222.
Powerton Lake Smallmouth Bass
This cooling lake near Pekin is our best -- and only -- public smallmouth bass lake. Twenty-inchers are a real possibility. These fish relate to water temperature, so find 70-degree water and the smallies won't be far away. Just bounce crankbaits and plastics off the shoreline rocks.
State Park Rainbow Trout
Catchable rainbow trout are stocked in a number of state park lakes in early April. Youngsters can have a ball with a can of corn, worms and dear old Dad. Check the Illinois Department of Natural Resources' Web site at www.dnr.state.il.us for more information, and take a kid or two fishing!
Fox Chain Walleyes
Walleyes in this northeastern Illinois chain of lakes are post-spawn and actively feeding by May.
Target necked-down areas between the lakes -- especially Channel and Catherine -- by casting crankbaits or jig-and-twistertail combos in water less than 10 feet deep. But a fire-tiger Rat-L-Trap could be the best-kept secret weapon on the chain.
Nobody has a better handle on walleye action on the Fox Chain than Greg Dickson. You can reach him at Triangle Bait Shop, (847) 395-0813.
Apple River Smallmouth Bass
This pristine, rocky stream in Jo Daviess County is our state's best riverine smallmouth bass fishery. The best fishin
g is on private lands where you must have permission. After that, a couple of in-line spinners, small Rapalas, a X-5 yellow Flatfish -- and old tennis shoes -- and the stage is set for a memorable day on the water.
Lake Michigan Coho Salmon
These tasty salmon follow the shoreline north chasing baitfish during May. Troll small crankbaits and Little Cleos behind planer boards in less than 20 feet of water at dawn and dusk or on overcast days.
Shabbona Lake Muskies
De Kalb County anglers are anxious to reclaim the Illinois muskie state record on this 318-acre lake. DNR surveys indicate multiple fish swimming here capable of achieving this mark.
These fish see plenty of muskie lures. Bass anglers and even panfishers hook up with these "toothers" every year. Put your Esox hat on and throw No. 5 Mepps Black Fury spinners "pretending" to fish for bass, especially around structure.
Contact: Shabbona Lakeside Bait, (815) 824-2581.
Rock River Flathead Catfish
Huge flathead catfish cruise deeper holes and feeding flats, looking for bluegills or frogs in this north-central Illinois river. Guide Denny Halgren offers a unique catch-and-release safari for these predators. Last year, his clients boated 40 fish over 40 pounds. Halgren's phone number is (815) 288-6855. Don't bother fishing the hole by the Highway 2 bridge at Grand Detour.
Lake Michigan Smallmouth Bass
Warming water brings smallmouth bass into Lake Michigan's harbors and flats just offshore. You can access these fish from a small boat if you treat the big lake with respect. Clear hologram tubes and K-Grubs are very effective.
Mississippi River Largemouth Bass
Zebra mussels may be bad for the overall ecosystem on the Mississippi River, but they have helped create one of Illinois' best bass fisheries on pools 13 and 14.
The best action is away from the main channel where there are plenty of hazards to navigation. Common sense and a Corps of Engineers chart are both valuable assets.
By July, many bucketmouths are relating primarily to weeds -- especially weeds next to at least 4 feet of water. Find a stump in the middle of a long run of weeds with adequate depth, and there will be fish nearby.
Contact: R & R Sports, (563) 243-4696.
Kankakee River Smallmouth Bass
This swift northeastern Illinois river holds plenty of smallmouth bass and a rebounding walleye population. In-line spinners and twistertails rigged weedless on a jighead work quite well when cast toward wood or bigger rocks. And the X-5 Flatfish is a secret weapon on this water. Contact: Lanny's Bait, (815) 935-1661.
Otter Lake Channel Catfish
Target points and windswept coves south of the Highway 12 bridge at night. Aged clams, shrimp, cut bait and dip bait all work well. A six-fish daily limit is in place. Fish range from 2 to 18 pounds here.
Rend Lake Flathead Catfish
Nighttime jug-fishing is a great way to tangle with Rend Lake catfish.
Up to 50 hooks are allowed on an Illinois sportfishing license. Jugs must be tagged with the angler's name and address. Cut bait, fresh chicken liver and big minnows are good baits. Throw a few jugs back in a windswept cove -- especially with woody cover -- and come back in a couple of hours.
Contact: guide Todd Gessner, (618) 629-2507.
Lake Michigan Chinook Salmon
You can catch king salmon from shore in late August and September by throwing chrome/blue crankbaits at 4-year-old fish that are moving into tributaries to spawn and die. Catch the chinooks before they get too colorful and start tasting funny.
Mississippi River Smallmouth Bass
By August, Old Man River is typically low. This causes smallies to congregate near current and rocks of wing dams, closing dams and riprapped shoreline adjacent to the channel. Spinnerbaits, crankbaits that dive to about 8 feet, and plastics like the Chomper Skirted Hula Grub, Senko or tube jigs all work great.
Lake Shelbyville Muskies
Big sisters to our current state-record muskie are swimming in the Kaskaskia River below the Shelbyville dam right now. They are also hanging around the riprap above the dam and other riprapped areas like the Lithia Springs Marina.
The fishing doesn't get good until passage of autumn's second serious cold front, then hang on to your rod!
Contact: Lithia Springs Marina, (217) 774-4121.
Evergreen Lake Muskies
This 1,000-acre lake in Comlara County Park just north of Bloomington is probably our state's best water for a multiple-muskie day. These toothers tend to dog Evergreen's crappie population. Find the crappies, and chances are that a muskie won't be far away. Fire-tiger and silver/black are hot colors. A 10-horsepower limit is enforced here.
Little Grassy Lake Largemouths
A 10-horsepower limit keeps serious fishing pressure fairly light on this southern Illinois lake near Carbondale. Fish a Devil's Horse topwater lure along the dam and other steep breaklines at night using a steady retrieve.
Pool 14 Walleyes
Intensive stocking and a slot limit protecting prime breeders combine to make the Mississippi River within a mile of the Clinton, Iowa, dam one of the best walleye fisheries around during late fall.
DNR surveys indicate that walleyes in excess of Illinois' long-standing 14-pound state record live here. And walleyes are at their heaviest as they put on weight for winter. That would be in October.
Contact: R & R Sports, (563) 243-4696; biologist Larry La Jeone, (309) 227-2000.
Gillespie New City Reservoir
The Illinois DNR rates this Macoupin County lake No. 1 for largemouth bass, with surveys cranking up in excess of 250 bass per hour. About 30 percent of these bucketmouths weigh over 3 pounds. By October, the considerable forage base here is pretty much knocked back, and the bass are on a feeding rip.
Lake Carlton Saugeyes
This 77-acre state lake in Morrison-Rockwood State Park holds saugeyes -- a sauger/walleye hybrid -- in excess of our state record. Work a jig and minnow or slip-bobber and minnow within a long cast of the dam
, and you'll be fishing in the zone.
Pecatonica River Walleyes
This northern Illinois river isn't worth a hoot for walleyes until its waters cool to about 44 degrees and it takes on an emerald green hue.
The best areas are near Winslow in Stephenson County, below the dam at Pecatonica and near Shirland in northern Winnebago County.
A cartopper will work from Pecatonica upstream to the Wisconsin border. There is enough water to get a bigger boat in at the marginal boat launch off Highway 75 between Shirland and Harrison. Just remember that green water is the place to fish!
Contact: Curve Bait Shop, (815) 877-0637.
Rend Lake Crappies
Come November, Rend is hands down the best crappie water in the Land of Lincoln. On a good day, you can catch a 25-fish limit in an hour just a stone's throw from Rend Lake Resort by using a little ice jig suspended 3 feet under a small float in open water. Fan-casting a 1/16-ounce white RoadRunner with a pink head is a great way to locate schools of suspended fish.
Contact: Rend Lake Resort, (618) 629-2507.
Newton Lake Largemouth Bass
This Jasper County cooling lake is managed as a trophy bass fishery. Try slow-rolling a spinnerbait or twitching a suspending stick bait around wood or riprap. Temperature is a major key in fish location, so work the warmest water you can find.
Crab Orchard Lake Crappies
How many crappies do you want to clean?
Cottonmouth Lures makes a bait called the Fuzzy Tail. When you hang one of these plastics just above crappies, they don't bite -- they surrender. Maybe it's to escape their kin, which are having a family reunion this month on main-lake points and riprap along the dam. Chartreuse, yellow, pink and white are all good colors. But on any given day, one color has an edge over the others.
A 10-foot Crappie Commander pole allows a vertical presentation and provides leverage for hoisting these slabs into a waiting bucket.
Contact: Fred Washburn, (618) 985-3310.
Devils Kitchen Lake Rainbows
This old southern Illinois lake has a solid population of now-native rainbow trout that hang out in deep water near the dam. Anchor up on the dam and fish salmon eggs or Berkley Power Bait on a small hook about 10 feet under a small slip-bobber. The bobber will tip sideways as fish eat the bait, and then clear the water with a mighty leap.
Potter's Marsh Crappies
Only a couple of deeper channels remain because of heavy siltation in this Mississippi River backwater of Pool 13 near Thomson. If you can find at least 4 feet of water under the ice, crappies will attack black or purple Li'l Cecils or No. 2 Rembrandts fished just under the ice.
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