Illinois' Supercharged Stripers

If you think a largemouth bass or a catfish can fight hard, you should try doing battle with a striped bass on these waters. You'll be hooked for life! (April 2006)

Electrifying is the only way to describe the hard-fighting striped bass. Similar to bolts of lightning, they strike hard, often without warning. And with merciless drag-screaming runs, they wreak havoc on tackle and angler alike. Many people have been converted to hard-core striper anglers from their first experience with the powerful silverside.

If you've never done battle with a big striped bass or hybrid striper -- or are looking for the best areas in the Prairie State to catch a few in a day -- pay close attention to the following waters. Each one is set for an incredible year of supercharged striper action.

CEDAR LAKE

Jackson County's Cedar Lake is right up your alley if you're looking to tangle with a big purebred striper. Biologist Shawn Hirst said this small 1,750-acre impoundment sees a number of lunkers each year.

"Most of the info I receive about the striper population in Cedar is from bait shops or anglers," said Hirst. "I've seen or been called about numerous stripers from the high teens to low-20-pound range."

Beginning in April, look for Cedar Lake stripers to be relating to points in the upper to midreaches of the lake. Blade baits, jigging spoons and bucktail jigs are effective for targeting these structures. In the summer, stripers head for the depths of the lower lake where they collect over submerged humps and bars. In this instance, the same blade baits and spoons can be effective for targeting suspended fish, but anglers may also want to try trolling flashy crankbaits, Roadrunners or hair jigs with a strip or two of silver Mylar tape. Live shad drifted or slowly trolled can likewise be effective.

Cedar Lake is located four miles southwest of Carbondale. Two boat launches are available. There is a 10-horsepower restriction on motors. All striped bass must be at least 17 inches to keep, and there is a daily limit of three fish. For more information, contact the Shawnee National Forest Murphysboro District office at (618) 687-1731. For travel and lodging information, phone the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce at (618) 549-2146.

LAKE CHARLESTON

According to the 2005 Status of Striped Bass/Hybrid Striped Bass Fishery in Illinois, numerous angler reports of hybrids up to 12 pounds have been tabulated in Coles County's Lake Charleston. A productive fishery has developed in this small 346-acre supply reservoir, and the upcoming year should be good because strong year-classes of fish over 20 inches are present. In 2004, two big-fish nominations for hybrid striped bass were submitted from Charleston.

"Charleston gets some angling attention for its hybrid population," said biologist Mike Mounce. "There are a number of fish in the 17- to 20-inch class in the lake."

According to Mounce, most locals fish chicken livers on slip-sinker rigs or bobbers for Charleston catfish and stripers. "Flash" lures such as chrome crankbaits, blade baits and live shiners or roach minnows will likewise produce. In the spring, fish tend to congregate around the southeast corner pump station. As the year progresses, hybrids are attracted to areas of riprap and open water.

Lake Charleston is managed by the City of Charleston. Boat ramps are available, as are picnic and park facilities. The lake enforces a no-wake restriction. There is a 17-inch minimum on all hybrids, with three fish per day. For more information, contact Region 3 fisheries at (217) 935-6860. For travel and lodging information, call the Charleston Chamber of Commerce at (217) 345-7041.

COFFEEN LAKE

Coffeen Lake is one of the Prairie State's best largemouth bass fisheries, but many anglers have overlooked its outstanding striped bass potential, now shrouded in a cloud of ambiguity. It won't be long before word is out on this downstate striper factory.

"Anglers have been catching more harvestable-sized fish the last few years, and the word is spreading," said DNR biologist Jeffery Pontnack. "I would expect this species to do quite well if the stocking regime stays in place."

Scott Withers, owner of Indian Grove Fish Camp on Coffeen's western shore, said this is the best-kept striper secret in our entire state.

"When the run is on, fishing is excellent," said Withers. "There is a large population of stripers, and it's not hard for anyone to catch a bunch. Eight- to 10-pound fish are very common."

According to Withers, the peak of the run is during the heat of the summer in July and August.

"Most guys troll crankbaits in 12 to 15 feet of water up and down the channels and fingers outside the cooling loop," he said, "while some anglers tandem-rig a Roostertail behind their crankbait for an added attractor."

Coffeen can be productive year 'round as well. "During the fall, winter and spring, emphasis shifts to the warm water of the cooling loop," said Withers.

Coffeen Lake is 1,100 acres. Boat launching and various park amenities are on site. For more information, contact site superintendent Brad Tedrick at (217) 537-3351. For travel and lodging information, call the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce at (217) 532-3711.

HEIDECKE LAKE

Years back, there was a running battle between Heidecke Lake and Sangchris Lake for the state's blue-ribbon striper. The record stopped at Sangchris in 1994, but Heidecke still remains among the top fisheries in Illinois for big hybrids.

According to the 2005 Status of Striped Bass/Hybrid Striped Bass in Illinois, numerous hybrids from 20 to 30 inches were sampled. A few pure stripers in the 30- to 40-pound-class were also collected.

Greg Heath, owner of Fishfinder Guide Service at (815) 258-9136, said that in early April the hybrids tend to stack up on windswept shorelines.

"We target stripers early in the year with chrome crankbaits," said Heath. "When water temperatures are in the 40- to 50-degree range, we destroy the stripers. Last year my first clients went on April 5 and April 6, and in two days of fishing we boated over 120 fish."

As the spring progresses, humps and inundated ditches along the lake bottom become prime targets for anglers who like to slow-troll live roach minnows on an unweighted hook. The rocky islands that support the power lines on the north pool of the lake can be productive at this time, as can the bridge area.

During the heat of summer, man

y anglers resort to trolling crankbaits while looking for scattered fish, and at times the hybrids can be found boiling the surface. That's when blade baits, spoons and chrome Zara Spooks are effective.

Heidecke Lake SFWA opens April 1. There is a 10-fish limit on all stripers, and only three can exceed 17 inches. Boat launching, concession and bank-fishing are available. For more information, call (815) 942-6352. For travel and lodging information, call (815) 942-0113.

LAKE MATTOON

Although the 2005 Status of Striped Bass/Hybrid Striped Bass in Illinois would rate overall fishing prospects in this 1,050-acre reservoir eight miles south west of Mattoon as just fair, some large hybrids call this reservoir home. And with a little searching, Mattoon can provide anglers with the possibility of running into a dandy hybrid.

"Hybrids up to about 20 inches have been collected from Mattoon. However, few anglers specifically target fish here," said biologist Mike Mounce.

A recent fish kill, however, revealed good numbers of fish greater than 20 inches, and anglers have reported fish as large as 15 pounds. Mattoon will produce some big fish in the upcoming year, and will be a lake to watch in the near future.

During the spring, concentrate on transitional areas such as bridges where migration is constricted. Points, humps and saddles can also concentrate fish. In summer, hybrids move into the depths around the spillway and levee. Fall sees hybrids corralling baitfish off points, over humps and bars, and in the backs of coves. Spoons, jigs, live shad, chrome Rat-L-Traps and crankbaits catch the most fish.

Lake Mattoon is managed by the city of Mattoon, and there is an access fee to launch a boat. There is no limit for hybrids under 17 inches, but only three fish greater than 17 inches can be kept. For more information, call (217) 234-3611. For information regarding travel and lodging, contact the Mattoon Area Chamber of Commerce at (217) 235-5661.

OHIO RIVER

Head to Metropolis on the banks of the Ohio River and you'll find a statue of Superman, the hero who lived in a comic-book town of the same name. With no disrespect to the Man of Steel, a more fitting tribute would be a big cement striper wearing a red cape with a capital "S."

During peak periods when fish concentrate around the lock-and-dam systems, the Ohio River can be our state's most prolific fishery for both hybrids and striped bass. Catches of 50 stripers a day -- with hybrids pushing 10 pounds and striped bass about 20 pounds -- are not unheard of. But to get in on this fishery, timing is everything.

"We always pick up a whole bunch out here when we do our surveys," said DNR biologist Les Frankland. "Lately we've been seeing more hybrids than anything else. Not too much over 10 pounds, but a lot of fish, though."

In April and May, anglers can expect to find healthy numbers stacked in the tailwaters of Lock and Dam No. 50-53 and the famous Smithland Lock and Dam. Silver and white blade baits, hair jigs and spoons are effective for ripping perpendicular to fast water, targeting stripers corralling shad in the turbulent water. Live shad fished on a float or on a slip-sinker rig are also effective.

In summer, stripers often recess downstream where they can be found on edges of wing dams, behind mooring cells and anchored barges, or anywhere current redirects. Although fish can be caught year-round, the Ohio is best in the spring and fall when stripers concentrate in tailwater areas.

Numerous launches are located on the river in Cairo, Mound City, Metropolis, Golconda, Rosiclare and Cave-In-Rock. For additional information, call (618) 824-2179. For river conditions and up-to-date fishing information, contact Fort Massac Fish Market at (618) 524-3152.

OTTER LAKE

Macoupin County's Otter Lake is a definite "must see" for anglers seeking numbers of hybrids and a few pure stripers. According to biologist Jeffery Pontnack, populations here are in good shape.

"During our spring 2005 gill-netting sample, 29 hybrids from 20 inches to 28 1/2 inches and weighing up to 15 1/2 pounds were collected," said Pontnack. "One pure striped bass weighing 18 pounds was also sampled. The impoundment has been stocked with both species since 1982."

Peggy Roberts of Otter Lake Park said the lake is full of nice stripers.

"During certain times we see anglers bringing in a lot of fish," said Roberts. "We see a lot of 10- to 12-pounders caught, and fish up to 15 pounds are not unusual."

Roberts said the most effective bait to use is live shad. Some anglers opt for the artificial approach with blade baits, hair jigs and crankbaits. Points throughout the lake can be productive areas to target. One area in particular -- known locally as "Striper Point" -- faces the dam and is what Roberts refers to as the "boiling point."

"Early and late in the day, guys watch for stripers to chase shad on the surface," Roberts said, "and when that happens, fishing can be incredible."

April and May herald the early window for productive striper fishing. The summer sees the fish deep and suspending off main-lake points. The late-summer period of August and September and into the fall finds stripers returning to Striper Point and the vicinity of the dam.

Otter Lake is 765 acres and is managed by numerous cities. There is a 10-fish limit on striped bass, and only three can exceed 17 inches. There is a daily access fee, and yearly rates are available. Excellent facilities are on site. For more information, contact Otter Lake Park at (217) 627-2416. Travel and lodging information can be had at (217) 854-2141.

SANGCHRIS LAKE

Biologist Dan Stephenson said that although you probably won't find numbers of stripers over 20 pounds, Sangchris Lake in Sangamon and Christian counties southwest of Springfield is still the state's premier striper lake.

"We have stocked stripers every other year since 1983," said Stephenson. "Currently, there's one strong year-class that runs from 14 to 17 pounds, and another that runs in the 9- to 11-pound range. Not monsters, but still nice fish."

"A lot of guys will catch small bluegills or warmouths off the dam and slowly troll them down close to the bottom in 20 to 30 feet of water," said Jan Hill form Sangchris Corner in Edinburg. "The area around the dam is a hotspot, and a lot of guys will fish off of Striper Point."

Striper Point is the point directly south of the spillway and is located in the deepest area of the lake. Stripers are attracted to the current of the cooling loop that sweeps past en route back to the power plant.

Many anglers fish live bait in the cooler months, because Sangchris is a well-known winter fishery. But in the spring and summer, Hill said, deep-diving crankbaits fished in the cool east

ern arm can be productive. Chartreuse, pearl and chrome are effective patterns. Slow-trolling live shad can likewise catch fish, as can jigging spoons and red-and-white hair jigs.

Sanchris Lake covers 3,022 acres. A number of launches are located throughout, and Sangchris Lake State Park has excellent facilities. For more information, call (217) 498-9208. Traveling anglers should contact the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce at (217) 525-1173.

OTHER HOTSPOTS

As The Flatland continues to increase in striper opportunities, it's difficult to name all the potential waters. But here are a few more you may want to check out.

Anglers in Chicagoland should give the lower Kankakee River a try. Big hybrids migrate out of the Illinois River and stack up in the tailwaters of the Wilmington dam. Ten-pounders are common. April and May are the top months. Call Angelo's Outdoor Sport Center for river conditions at (815) 476-7524.

La Salle Lake in La Salle County is an early-spring magnet for hybrids. Most are between 2 and 4 pounds, and catches of 30 or more fish are common. For more information, call (815) 357-1608.

Clinton Lake hybrids have gone down in recent years, but below the spillway in Salt Creek, good numbers of escapees have gathered, and they provide anglers with an opportunity to take advantage of numbers packed into a small area. Fish up to 12 pounds are possible. April and May are best months. For more information, call (217) 935-8722.

Lake Jacksonville in Morgan County is a trophy hybrid lake. Most of the fish in surveys are between 24 and 30 inches, and some pushing 20 pounds have been reported. For more information, call (217) 285-2221.

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