Illinois Bass Fishing Outlook 2018

Anglers at Sangchris Lake near Bulpitt find bass on points, deadfalls and stickups the entire year around. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)

Perhaps a key to successful Illinois bass fishing is to go where the bass go. Location, location, location.

Although all bass are point-oriented, the successful angler should remain flexible in his approach. Bass tend to concentrate in areas with some structure, regardless of depth. The depth at which they stage is determined by water temperatures.

River bass anglers in Illinois faces additional challenges from changing river conditions this time of the year. High water is perplexing. Often they follow the rule of thumb, "Water high: go shallow,; water falling: go deep."

Generally, bass winter in deep water and move in to the shallows this time of year in search of bottom structure upon which to spawn. Under flood conditions they move back in flooded vegetation. The vegetation and mud bottom tends to warm the water earlier than deep water. In both rivers and lakes they are seeking water temperatures in the 60-plus degree range.

Because the fish in April are in shallow crankbaits are not particularly effective. The preferred lure in stained water is a 1/4-ounce jig in chartreuse or black. In clear water try a black/blue or pumpkinseed/orange combination. 

On a larger scale it is important to seek out lakes, reservoirs and rivers that have a reputation of producing bass fishing action. Here are some in the Land of Lincoln for your consideration.

BRAIDWOOD LAKE

This lake is popular with shore fishermen. Its close proximity to Chicago also attracts anglers from the metropolitan area. The 2,640-acre impoundment is a partially perched cooling lake. Windy conditions can produce dangerous wave action that can result in the closing off the lake at the discretion of the site superintendent.

Look for largemouth bass on the secondary drop-offs with a large lure such as a jig-and-pig. In the shallow areas, anglers prefer bouncing a crankbait or spoon of the rocks and the bottom. 

The majority of the lake shoreline is open to shore anglers unless marked otherwise. Although boats may be used there are some areas off limits to them as well. Due to the nature of this lake due caution in operation of boats and a good topo map is a good idea. The habitat consists of steep drop-offs, rock a pile, man-made habitat, current and thermal breaks as well as woody cover.

Over 20 tournaments held on the lake each summer result in a catch of about 1,000 largemouth bass up to 10 pounds.There are annual stockings of largemouth bass, and IDNR surveys do not find a lot of larger fish, but some up to 20-inches are present. Anglers can keep up to three fish over 15 inches in length per day.

bass fishing

CHAIN O' LAKES

Perhaps more properly known as the Fox Chain of Lakes, these nine lakes join each other by a series of interconnected navigational channels. They are located about 50 miles northwest of the Chicago metropolitan area near the cities of Antioch, Fox Lake and McHenry.

These waters old the colder than most due their location and depth. Bass tend to hold deeper this month than is the case in most of the rest of the state. They may be 18- to 20-feet down because the surface temperature is cooler.

IDNR surveys show fish from two inches to 19 inches in length and weighing up to 3.3 pounds. Fifty-one percent of the fish collected were over 12-inches long.

The state stocks about 34,000 4- to six-inch largemouth bass fingerlings every other year.

There are no boating restrictions except for the purchase of an annual user fee sticker. Marina services are available at a number of locations as well as launching facilities for a fee. Public launch ramps are available for free at Chain O' Lakes State Park.

LAKE SHELBYVILLE

Lake Shelbyville is an 11,100-acre flood control reservoir owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and located in Shelby and Moultrie counties. This east-central Illinois Lake and dam are on the Kaskaskia River east of the City of Shelbyville, Ill. There are numerous launch ramps and boat rentals are available at marinas.

Fishing for largemouth bass picks up this month on this reservoir during more stable weather. Crankbaits and other lures fished fast are good for locating fish. A good way to catch bass with crankbaits is to tune the lure so it swims crooked. That way the lure will bump each piling, triggering strikes as it comes off.

The alternative is to work soft plastics more slowly and in close to cover. The best lure colors seem to be orange, black of chartreuse.

This time of year, bass are seeking warmth and the heavy trunks of downed trees are better than brush or water willow. The later might only house small fish. In the past year supplemental addition to the annual placement of Christmas tree fish attractors was the addition of "Shelbyville cubes." These artificial structures provide a permanent fish attractor constructed of PVC and plastic tubing. Anglers may have difficulty locating them with sonar at first but once some algae grow on them they will become visible.

According to Mike Mounce, IDNR fisheries biologist, surveys conducted by him produce fish up to 21 inches in length or 5.2 pounds. With a 14-inch limit for keeper bass, the average legal size bass is about 15.5 inches in length and weighs 2 pounds. The body condition of all the bass in the survey is good.

Over 80 tournaments take place each summer on the lake with over 3,400-fish caught. The largest fish weighed in during 2016 was 9.71 pounds.

SANGCHRIS LAKE

The damming of Clear Creek in 1964 made this cooling lake for Dominion Power's coal fired generators. It contains some 100 miles of shoreline. It is located on Illinois State Road 107, seven miles north of Bulpitt, Ill. There is a west and middle arm and an ambient east arm. The east arm receives much of the runoff that creates a siltation problem. There is a lack of vegetation along the shoreline and in coves.

The maximum depth of the lake is 38 feet with an approximate average depth of 13 feet.The total acreage is 2,325 acres. There is one boat launch ramp in each of the arms. 

Bass fishing should be excellent on spinnerbaits, jigs, plastic worms, spinners, minnows, crayfish, worms and Chatterbaits. Anglers find bass on points, deadfalls and stickup the entire year around. The lake has a reputation for a high-density population of largemouth bass.

The forage base of this lake is both threadfin shad and gizzard shad. The gizzard shad sometimes experience a die off requiring the addition of the threadfin. In summer, bass tend to burn more energy than they can consume. This results in less than desirable body condition.

CLINTON LAKE

Bass fishing here is good on spinners, plastics and crankbaits in coves and on shallow water points.

The largest bass collected in surveys was 5.4 pounds, but there are larger fish present. Fifty-seven percent of the fish are over 12 inches in length, and 12 percent are over 15 inches.

The lake is a cooling pool for discharges from Clinton Nuclear Power Station in Clinton, about 10 miles to the west. Fishing from boats is popular with anglers. Rentals and launch ramps are available. Special boat regulations apply to specific areas of the lake due to safety and security concerns.

The acreage of the lake is 4,895-acres, with an average depth of 15 feet and a shoreline of 130 miles.

NEWTON LAKE

This cooling lake is producing some of the finest bass fishing action in the country. Big fish come regularly from this lake. They may be finishing up the spawn and headed for deeper water. The warm water produced by power plant action tends to cause largemouth to spawn a little earlier than would otherwise by the case.

The lake is famous for its largemouth population, even though other species are present. 

"The amount of hot water discharged into the lake has significantly affected the growing season" reported Mike Hooe, DNR fisheries biologist. "In short, it is changing from a cooling lake to an ambient lake."

Recruitment is good, and the body condition of the fish is good. Growth rates are above average. Anglers can expect to catch fish ranging from 15 to 20 inches in length. They will average from 2 to 6 pounds. 

Newton Lake is located in Jasper County, southwest of Newton, Ill. It is a cooling lake with a surface of 1,750 acres. The average depth is 16 feet, and the maximum depth is 40 feet. There are 52 miles of shoreline.

Approximately 65 tournaments each year record a total catch of 1,100 bass. The largest so far is 7.38 pounds. The bass are responsive to plastics. 

CRAB ORCHARD LAKE

Nestled in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge west of Marion, Ill., this 7,000-acre reservoir is one of the area's oldest manmade lakes. The fixed spillway controls the water level to the extent that it seldom varies more than a foot or two. The average depth is 7 feet, with a maximum depth of 35 feet. There are approximately 125 miles of shoreline.

Heavily silted in on the east, the primary bass fishing locations are on the west and northwest. The installation of Christmas tree fish locators alleviates the lack of bottom structure. 

New submerged weed is always a good location to find fish. The emitting oxygen causes fish to hold on it. But do not overlook dead vegetation. It generates heat and attracts fish when the water is still cold and the oxygen level is lower.

The coves north of Illinois Highway 13 tend to provide some of the best natural structure. There were 26 tournaments held that produced 78 largemouth bass caught. The largest weighed about 7.5 pounds. 

LAKE OF EGYPT

This 2,400-acre cooling lake in Johnson County is a privately owned for the most part. There is a section that is surrounded by Shawnee National Forest. A local power company and private landowners own most of the lake.

During the over 50 tournaments held anglers brought in 3,662 bass. The largest of the fish caught is 7.75 pounds. Anglers routinely catch 4-pound fish. Because the lake is private property, no survey information is available.

Favorite lures are spinnerbaits and crankbaits. Water temperatures remain steady all through the lake and all year. Fishing is generally good everywhere.

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