Illinois' Hotspots for Stripers

Striped bass can offer a lot of great days in the boat, especially on these waters.

by Daniel D. Lamoreux


Although anglers found reduced numbers and limited access on a few of their favorite striped bass waters last year, things look pretty good for this season.

The shining light in the Department of Natural Resources' approach to the striper program has been consistent management for better fisheries and the availability of numerous options. We've outlined nine of those alternatives in this article.


The bottom line is that if it isn't working at one location, move to the next. These bulldogs can offer a lot of great days in the boat, especially on these waters.

SANGCHRIS LAKE
Sangchris Lake has historically been one of the best striper lakes in our state; creel census data indicates that average catches have regularly included fish weighing from 5 to 11 pounds. Fish in the 20-pound range are not uncommon, and the current state record of 31 pounds, 7 ounces was boated here in 1994.

This last year, however, has seen a downturn in the population, according to DNR fisheries biologist Dan Stephenson. He said there have been no changes in the stocking program, and in fact, 21,000 fish were released into the lake last July.

Stephenson also said there has been no change in regulations since 1993. Nonetheless, striper numbers appear to be on the decline. While Stephenson theorized that the dropping numbers may be due to excessive heat in the summer, there have been no dead fish noted in the lake. At this point in time the DNR doesn't have any solid answers, but they will be studying the issue. Despite this puzzling situation, Sangchris may still offer some of the best striper opportunities in the state.

Sangchris Corner offers bait, etc., and is located at the northeast corner of the park. Call for fishing updates and hours of operation at (217) 623-5252. Guide services are also available locally from Strictly Stripers Guide Service at (217) 824-7273. The Sangchris Lake State Park office can provide information about the lake and area services at (217) 498-9208, and additional data is available by viewing their Web site at http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/sangch.htm. The Central Illinois Tourism Council can assist travelers at (217) 525-7980.

Photo by Marc N. McGlade

HEIDECKE LAKE
"We have real good recruitment each year," enthused Rob Miller, DNR fisheries biologist. "Our stocked fish are making 17 inches in their second or third year of growth."

Miller added that the gizzard shad run last fall was a good one, with a lot of shad in the 3-inch size range. "That's perfect," he said. "That's ample forage and will really help the younger stripers.

"We don't seem to get the huge fish that we used to," Miller continued. He explained that the bigger stripers fight so hard that stress, coupled with higher water temperatures, takes its toll even when fish are released. "Our post-hooking mortality is probably higher than we think."

Despite those dynamics, fish in the 7- to 10-pound range are not uncommon. "It's still one of the best places in the state to fish for both numbers and size," Miller said.

The lake is in Grundy County, just southeast of Morris, and has boat launch facilities and concessions. Bank-fishing access is available.

Normally, Heidecke Lake opens for public access from April 1 through the opening of waterfowl season. However, because this is a power-plant cooling lake, access may be restricted or curtailed entirely due to the level of site security that may be imposed at any given time. Contact the office number listed below to confirm access availability.

Travel information can be found by contacting Grundy County Tourism at (815) 942-6172. For updated conditions and more information about the lake, contact the Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area at (815) 942-2899.

LAKE PITTSFIELD
While not a huge lake, Pittsfield's 200 acres offer surprising opportunity for boating stripers. The lake was originally stocked in 1989, and has been stocked successively on an annual basis.

Fish in the 5- to 10-pound range are relatively common, but a few in the 15- to 18-pound range also find their way to the net.

Lake Pittsfield is restricted to boats with motors of 10 horsepower or less. Additional information can be obtained by calling the Pittsfield City Clerk's Office at (217) 285-4484.

LA SALLE LAKE
Two years ago, La Salle Lake experienced a fish kill in the striper population due to high water temperatures. Prior to that time, stripers represented the third-strongest species harvested from these waters. While fishing is still reasonable, it should get better.

Ken Clodfelter, DNR fisheries biologist, indicated that two major year-classes currently exist in the lake. The first major class is represented by fish in the 3- to 4-pound range; the second consists of fish in the 7- to 9-pound range. Clodfelter reported that sampling has shown a good number of hybrids in the 7-pound size.

The best time to boat stripers on La Salle is generally the last two weeks of March and the month of April, and then again in September and October.

The entire La Salle Lake area was locked down after the terrorist attacks last September, which curtailed all recreational access. The availability for anglers to access the lake this year will depend upon the security status of the power plant. Call ahead before making any plans to travel to this location.

More information can be obtained from the concessions provider La Salle Lake Oasis at (815) 357-1116, and guide services can be obtained through the River Rat Guide Service at (815) 579-9014. Additional information about the lake and area traveler's services can be received by contacting either the Illinois State Park Office at (815) 357-1608 or by calling the Illinois Valley Area Chamber of Commerce at (815) 223-0227.

CLINTON LAKE
As a power-plant cooling lake, Clinton was closed to boating traffic last fall due to heightened national security. While bank-fishing was still allowed, the status of boating access to the lake was unknown at press time. Contact the Clinton Lake Recreation Area office prior to scheduling a trip.

The striper fishery re

mains strong, however. Mike Garthouse, DNR fisheries biologist, noted that there were no fish kills last year and no significant problems with heavy overflow taking fish over the dam. Therefore, this season is expected to remain comparable to last year's.

Popular access areas for those restricted to bank-fishing include the DeWitt bridge and the Highway 48 bridge. These two locations are both in proximity to the hotwater discharge, and fish generally concentrate in this region.

Garthouse said bank-anglers will tend to catch more white bass, as there is a "tremendous" population in Clinton Lake. Pure striped bass are present in sizes over 20 pounds but may be hard to find, and hybrid stripers in the 8- to 18-pound range are not uncommon.

Early morning and late evening are the prime times to get into the striper action, particularly if you can locate areas where the fish are busting shad on the surface. Crankbaits are very effective when tossed into the feeding frenzy. Another productive technique, specifically for bank-anglers, is fishing the hotwater areas using cut bait under a bobber.

Information about the area can be obtained by contacting the Clinton Lake State Recreation Area office at (217) 935-8722 or by visiting their Web site at http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/clinton.htm. A map of the lake, links to a variety of information pages and travel directions can all be found at this site.

Fishing guide services are available through the Clinton/Shelbyville Guide Service; they can be contacted by calling (217) 762-7252. Additional information regarding travel services such as lodging and restaurants can be obtained from the Clinton Chamber of Commerce at (217) 935-3364.

SHABBONA LAKE
Located just east of the junction of Highway 51 and Route 30, Shabbona Lake offers great fishing opportunities that are only a little over an hour from the Chicago Loop.

Facilities include campgrounds, concessions and a restaurant. Boat launching areas are available, and watercraft can also be rented on site. But don't overlook shore-fishing opportunities if that is your preference.

The striper population in Shabbona is stable, and the previous stocking program has provided fish of respectable size. Denny Sands, owner of Lakeside Bait, Tackle & Boat Rental, indicated that fish from the 1998 stocking are turning up in the 18-inch size range.

The biggest striper landed last year was a 27-inch 9.4-pound fish that was caught on a night crawler. While that bait is often used on this water, Sands indicated that Rapalas or Shad Raps work extremely well when the stripers are busting shad on the surface. The edges of weedbeds are a good place to target as evening approaches.

Another interesting technique that seems to be catching hold is the use of chicken livers fished on the bottom. While this practice is far from being a mainstay for any anglers other than catfishermen, those who use it insist on the effectiveness of the approach.

Shabbona Lake State Park can be reached at (815) 824-2106. Lakeside Bait, Tackle & Boat Rental also has an excellent Web site with a great deal of area information that can be viewed at www.shabbonalake.com. The shop can be reached at (815) 824-2581.

LAKE GEORGE
Lake George is located in the Loud Thunder Forest Preserve just west of Andalusia off Illinois Route 92. A newcomer to the striper scene, this lake is starting to show some real potential.

Originally stocked with hybrids in 1998, the lake has received additional annual stockings of approximately 3,000 fish. It was also stocked with gizzard shad in 1990. Biologist Clodfelter said that this forage base has been good for the hybrid populations, and while the last stocking was quite some time ago, the stripers are showing good numbers in two basic size classes.

In one major class are the 2- to 3-pound fish; fish in the second class range in size from roughly 5 to 6 pounds. Angler success with these fish started to increase last year.

Clodfelter also indicated that this lake has some fairly deep, cooler pockets of water that make July and August striper fishing slow, but both spring and fall are good.

Area information can be received by contacting the Loud Thunder Forest Preserve at (309) 795-1040.

BALDWIN LAKE
"We had a bit of a fish kill last year," explained Barry Newman, DNR fisheries biologist. "We lost a few hundred fairly large fish. But we've had similar kills in the past. We put in about 20,000 (stocked fish) a year, and they grow so fast. While we might have some impact, I don't think it will really be noticeable."

Newman went on to say that this striper fishery seems to have a pretty stable population. Fish in the range of 3 1/2 to 6 pounds are fairly representative of most boated fish.

As a whole, Newman claimed stripers can be caught "just about all over" Baldwin Lake. However, in the spring of the year, the northern half of the lake experiences more productivity due to warmer water temperatures. Newman also pointed to the crossdike as a location that receives a fair amount of attention from anglers.

Regarding technique, Newman said, "It seems like they'll take just about anything. Cut shad, a variety of lures - it's not hard to catch them."

Nor is it hard to access good fishing locations. Boat launching and parking facilities are located at the northwest corner of the lake, with separate parking at the west end of the north levee for those who prefer to fish from terra firma. A handicapped fishing pier is also located on the same levee.

Watercraft are restricted to 50 horsepower motors or less, and the operation of boats is restricted in certain areas of the lake for management and safety purposes. It would be wise to call the park office for updates on lake conditions and restrictions prior to launching.

The Kaskaskia River State Fish and Wildlife Area office can be contacted for information by calling (618) 785-2555, and a Web site provides additional data, including a map, which can be viewed at http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/baldwin.htm.

Fishing tackle and bait are available locally, as are updated fishing reports, by contacting A-1 Bait & Tackle at (618) 539-5432 or by stopping by the store on Route 13 north of the lake.

REND LAKE
Todd Gessner is a guide on Rend Lake, and he knows his stripers.

"The key is to find structure," Gessner explained. "Find the humps and points in the lake, and those areas that have stumps. The best times are right at daylight and again at dark. I fish for about two to three hours at each of those times."

While trolling is often considered a good tactic for boating stripers, Gessner takes a more direct approach. "I like to cast, using a 3 1/2- or 4-inch Sassy Shad on a 1/4-ounce jig," he said. Using a slow retrieve, he works through the structure, bouncing the jig along the bottom.

The biggest mistake made by those unfamiliar with Rend Lake stripers is trying to set the hook as soon as they feel the weight of the fish on their line. "Don't try to set the hook right away," Gessner advised. "The fish will let you know when it's time. When they have the lure, they'll turn and run. They'll literally try to take your stuff away from you!"

With a lot of fish in the 10-pound range, and 18- to 19-pounders not uncommon, the striper's aggressive attitude will definitely let you know when it's time to play.

The peak time for productive fishing will be during the heat of summer, starting near the end of July and extending through early September. But summer storms can create hazards.

"There's some wonderful fishing, and this is a beautiful place," Gessner said. "But this is not a place for a little bitty boat. It's a great big body of water, and it can get rougher than heck."

The lake is also relatively shallow, averaging less then 10 feet in depth, with many submerged and exposed stumps. Alert navigational practices are highly recommended.

Access can be had at boat launches located at many spots throughout the Rend Lake area, and a map showing those locations is available at the Web site listed below. This Web site also includes links to information on area services, lodging and marinas. It can be found at http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/rendlake/rend.htm. The Rend Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area can also be contacted at (618) 2790-3110.

Guide services are available from Southern Outdoor Recreation Services by calling (618) 629-2507 or by contacting Todd Gessner via e-mail at SORS@midwest.net. Gessner noted that he can also be contacted electronically for updated fishing reports.



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