Illinois Muskie Madness

Illinois Muskie Madness

If you think you're up to tangling with the biggest, meanest predator in the state, here are the waters you'll want to check out this year. (July 2008)

This Lake Michigan angler tangled with a muskie and won.
Photo by Pete Maina.

Muskie hunting is coming of age in Illinois and there is no shortage of waters where you have a great chance of tangling with one of these toothy predators.

If you want to catch muskies, the best way is to keep an open mind and watch someone who knows how to do it. The "fish of 10,000 casts" didn't get its nickname for being a pushover. The second thing to keep in mind is that you have to fish waters where there are plenty of muskies. Good numbers with a few lunker-class fish thrown in may be the ticket to success.

Here's a look at waters where you'll be able to watch the experts at work and enjoy some of the state's finest muskie hunting at the same time.

SPRING LAKE NORTH
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources began stocking muskies in the 1970s beginning with Spring Lake North. Though the program has expanded to include more than 30 lakes that are open to public angling, Spring Lake North is still near the top of the list when it comes to muskie destinations.

"Spring Lake is a numbers lake and 10-fish days aren't uncommon when the conditions are right," said Duane Serck, a guide on Spring North, Evergreen and McMaster lakes. "This is the first lake we fish every spring and I've caught muskies on Spring Lake every month of the year. The fish generally range from 28 to 46 inches."

The lake is loaded with submerged weedbeds, has a good forage base and enjoys a rather unique habitat.

Incredibly, depths average barely 3 feet on the lake's 578 acres. By May, three-quarters of the lake is covered with vegetation. The springs that feed the lake sustain coldwater temperatures under the insulating layer of surface vegetation and allow muskies to hunt in very shallow water.

"During July and August, think more like a bass fisherman," Serck said. "Toss small plastics and jigs into weed pockets near the spring holes to locate these fish."

The easiest boat ramp to navigate is near the causeway dividing Spring Lake North and Spring Lake South. A 25-horsepower limit is in place.

Numbers are so good that the IDNR broodstock produces most of the muskies stocked throughout the state. According to fisheries biologist Dan Sallee, more than 300 fish were collected during a survey conducted on the lake last year.

The lake is accessible by the Manito Blacktop 12 miles south of Pekin in Tazewell County.

For more information, contact the IDNR's Region I office at (815) 625-2968, the Spring Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area at (309) 968-7135 or Duane Serck at (309) 267-1601 or online at www.illinoismuskies.com.

A 42-inch minimum length limit is in effect with a one-fish daily bag.

For some reason, Lake McMaster produces muskies with big heads and smaller bodies. Even so, McMaster has already produced 50-inch fish and there are more in the works.

The lake lies two miles east of Victoria in Knox County. The ramp can be reached from County Road 28.

For more information, contact the Region I office at (815) 625-2968 or guide Duane Serck at (309) 267-1601 or www.illinoismuskies.com.

EVERGREEN LAKE
"Of the three muskie lakes in my district, Evergreen is the best," fisheries biologist Michael Garthaus said.

Evergreen has a well-deserved reputation as a big-fish lake. Based on studies conducted by the IDNR on Evergreen, Garthaus believes the lake is on track for becoming a true trophy fishery.

"This should be the start of Evergreen's chances to break the current state record," Garthaus said. "During last year's survey, we found a fish that weighed over 43 pounds and measured over 51 inches."

It'll take a 17-year-old muskie to top the state's current 38-pound record.

A 2007 survey found that about 90 percent of the sampled muskies were at least 30 inches, and 29 percent of them were at least 38 inches. Surprisingly, 13 percent topped 42 inches. Over the past two spring surveys, biologists have found two fish that if caught on hook and line would beat the current record.

Evergreen Lake covers 925 acres and averages less than 20 feet deep.

Special regulations are in effect on Evergreen. Muskies must be 48 inches long to be harvested and all fish under that length must be released.

Watercraft are required to have an Evergreen Lake Watercraft Registration, which can be picked up at the Comlara Park Visitor's Center or the self-registration boxes at the two launches. A 10-horsepower limit is in effect.

The lake is 10 miles north of Bloomington on Lake Road in McLean County.

For more information, contact Region III at (217) 935-6860, the McLean County Parks and Recreation Department at (309) 726-2022 or Duane Serck at (309) 267-1601 or online at www.illinoismuskies.com.

SHABBONA LAKE
Shabbona Lake is one of the few lakes in the state that was designed for fishing. It's another big-fish lake where setting a state record is a possibility. As a matter of fact, two old state records have already come from the lake. Tiger muskies were first stocked here, and in 1982 and 1986, the lake produced trophies.

Pure muskies entered the fray in 1983. More state-record fish were produced, one being a 34-pounder in 1994 and a second at over 37 pounds in 1997.

Even larger fish have been caught in IDNR's trapnets, both over 40 pounds. Sizes run large every time the lake is sampled with consistent numbers of fish over 30 inches.

As in many good muskie lakes, shad fuel the fishery and the habitat is ideal. Target the muskies on the manmade structures in the form of fish cribs, sunken trees, rockpiles and a cement block fish attractor. Standing timber is nature's contribution.

"This is a lake that I only fish during the summer months when the water temperatures are low," said muskie guide Duane Landmeier.

"If the water temperatures are over 80 degrees, muskies can become easily stressed and I won't do any guiding then. But otherwise, the no-motor area is a muskie producer any time of the year."

According to Landmeier, the Indian Creek area is a good one if there's been a rain and the creek is higher than normal. Fish the creek channel and weedbed edges with topwater baits in the early morning and late evening.

The lake covers 319 acres in the Shabbona State Park in Dekalb County. There is a 10-horsepower limit in place.

For additional information, contact Region I at (815) 625-2968, Duane Landmeier at (815) 286-7170 or the Shabbona Bait, Tackle and Boat Rental at (815) 824-2581.

KINKAID LAKE
"I'd say our three top lakes in this area are Shelbyville, Kinkaid and the Fox Chain lakes," fisheries biologist Steve Pallo said.

These three lakes receive the lion's share of the area stockings and have become some of the state's top muskie waters. Last year, another 2,000 young muskies were released into Kinkaid.

The lake was built in the early 1970s and received its first stocking in 1985. Weedbeds along sections of the shoreline, good water quality and plenty of bays and points have made Kinkaid what it is. Muskies grow fast and furious here. Biologists found one female during a survey that topped 50 inches and weighed 34 pounds. Both good numbers and sizes are the rule here.

"Any time the surface temperature exceeds 80 degrees, many muskie anglers avoid Kinkaid in order to preserve the fishery," muskie guide Al Nutty said. "That's why many of us avoid Kinkaid during the heat of summer or travel north to get our muskie fix. I've seen summers when the surface temperatures were 88 degrees in the main basin and 90 degrees in the coves. There are also summers where it doesn't get that hot."

SHABBONA LAKE
Shabbona Lake is one of the few lakes in the state that was designed for fishing. It's another big-fish lake where setting a state record is a possibility. As a matter of fact, two old state records have already come from the lake. Tiger muskies were first stocked here, and in 1982 and 1986, the lake produced trophies.

Pure muskies entered the fray in 1983. More state-record fish were produced, one being a 34-pounder in 1994 and a second at over 37 pounds in 1997.

Even larger fish have been caught in IDNR's trapnets, both over 40 pounds. Sizes run large every time the lake is sampled with consistent numbers of fish over 30 inches.

As in many good muskie lakes, shad fuel the fishery and the habitat is ideal. Target the muskies on the manmade structures in the form of fish cribs, sunken trees, rockpiles and a cement block fish attractor. Standing timber is nature's contribution.

"This is a lake that I only fish during the summer months when the water temperatures are low," said muskie guide Duane Landmeier.

"If the water temperatures are over 80 degrees, muskies can become easily stressed and I won't do any guiding then. But otherwise, the no-motor area is a muskie producer any time of the year."

According to Landmeier, the Indian Creek area is a good one if there's been a rain and the creek is higher than normal. Fish the creek channel and weedbed edges with topwater baits in the early morning and late evening.

The lake covers 319 acres in the Shabbona State Park in Dekalb County. There is a 10-horsepower limit in place.

For additional information, contact Region I at (815) 625-2968, Duane Landmeier at (815) 286-7170 or the Shabbona Bait, Tackle and Boat Rental at (815) 824-2581.

KINKAID LAKE
"I'd say our three top lakes in this area are Shelbyville, Kinkaid and the Fox Chain lakes," fisheries biologist Steve Pallo said.

These three lakes receive the lion's share of the area stockings and have become some of the state's top muskie waters. Last year, another 2,000 young muskies were released into Kinkaid.

The lake was built in the early 1970s and received its first stocking in 1985. Weedbeds along sections of the shoreline, good water quality and plenty of bays and points have made Kinkaid what it is. Muskies grow fast and furious here. Biologists found one female during a survey that topped 50 inches and weighed 34 pounds. Both good numbers and sizes are the rule here.

"Any time the surface temperature exceeds 80 degrees, many muskie anglers avoid Kinkaid in order to preserve the fishery," muskie guide Al Nutty said. "That's why many of us avoid Kinkaid during the heat of summer or travel north to get our muskie fix. I've seen summers when the surface temperatures were 88 degrees in the main basin and 90 degrees in the coves. There are also summers where it doesn't get that hot."

Heat stress has killed more muskies than we know, Nutty said. They may swim away from the boat but not last long.

Nutty recommends casting to the main lake weedbeds with bucktails, topwaters and crankbaits. Troll the deeper flats with Jakes and Believers and the SS Shad along the shallow weed edges.

Kinkaid Lake covers 2,750 acres in the Kinkaid Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area in Jackson County and lies three miles northwest of Murphysboro. Four ramps provide access to the lake.

For more information, contact Region II at (847) 608-3100, Al Nutty at (618) 694-4897, the wildlife area at (618) 684-2867 or the Top of the Hill Bait Shop in Murphysboro at (618) 684-2923.

LAKE SHELBYVILLE
According to Serck, this lake and its tailwaters are probably the best-known muskie waters in Illinois. There are 11,000 acres of productive water and trophy-class fish are taken every year.

The tailwaters below the dam have as good or better fishing than in the lake, according to Serck. Though this is usually the case, fishing below the spillway was poor last summer. Biologists believe the stress of an extended spawn hurt angling in both the lake and river with an extensive fish kill below the spillway.

However, the story isn't over. Big muskies were caught last fall and the lake's potential is bringing the fishery back. In the fall of last year, several fish more than 40 inches were taken in tournaments. Every year, fish longer than 50 inches are taken.

Landmeier recommends trolling your way to success on Shelbyville. When the water is warm, try locating suspended fish in open water.

The next approach should be a topwater one on the points. Try coves and areas where the creeks and springs are located to find muskies taking advantage of cooler water temperatures. Shade is an important factor that's usually overlooked. Cast a bait so that it lands on the other side of th

e shaded area to avoid spooking the fish.

Lake Shelbyville lies in Moultrie and Shelby counties. There are more than 170 miles of shoreline and more than a dozen ramps on the lake.

A one-fish, 48-inch minimum length limit is in effect from the headwaters up to the U.S. Corps of Engineers project boundary and extends below the dam downstream to the State Route 128 bridge near Cowden.

Call Region II at (847) 608-3100, Duane Landmeier at (815) 286-7170, the Sullivan Marina at (888) 728-7338 or the Shelbyville Hotline at (217) 774-2020 for additional information.

Heat stress has killed more muskies than we know, Nutty said. They may swim away from the boat but not last long.

Nutty recommends casting to the main lake weedbeds with bucktails, topwaters and crankbaits. Troll the deeper flats with Jakes and Believers and the SS Shad along the shallow weed edges.

Kinkaid Lake covers 2,750 acres in the Kinkaid Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area in Jackson County and lies three miles northwest of Murphysboro. Four ramps provide access to the lake.

For more information, contact Region II at (847) 608-3100, Al Nutty at (618) 694-4897, the wildlife area at (618) 684-2867 or the Top of the Hill Bait Shop in Murphysboro at (618) 684-2923.

LAKE SHELBYVILLE
According to Serck, this lake and its tailwaters are probably the best-known muskie waters in Illinois. There are 11,000 acres of productive water and trophy-class fish are taken every year.

The tailwaters below the dam have as good or better fishing than in the lake, according to Serck. Though this is usually the case, fishing below the spillway was poor last summer. Biologists believe the stress of an extended spawn hurt angling in both the lake and river with an extensive fish kill below the spillway.

However, the story isn't over. Big muskies were caught last fall and the lake's potential is bringing the fishery back. In the fall of last year, several fish more than 40 inches were taken in tournaments. Every year, fish longer than 50 inches are taken.

Landmeier recommends trolling your way to success on Shelbyville. When the water is warm, try locating suspended fish in open water.

The next approach should be a topwater one on the points. Try coves and areas where the creeks and springs are located to find muskies taking advantage of cooler water temperatures. Shade is an important factor that's usually overlooked. Cast a bait so that it lands on the other side of the shaded area to avoid spooking the fish.

Lake Shelbyville lies in Moultrie and Shelby counties. There are more than 170 miles of shoreline and more than a dozen ramps on the lake.

A one-fish, 48-inch minimum length limit is in effect from the headwaters up to the U.S. Corps of Engineers project boundary and extends below the dam downstream to the State Route 128 bridge near Cowden.

Call Region II at (847) 608-3100, Duane Landmeier at (815) 286-7170, the Sullivan Marina at (888) 728-7338 or the Shelbyville Hotline at (217) 774-2020 for additional information.

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