Sound fishery management by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has resulted in great largemouth bass fishing opportunities in the Prairie State, regardless of where one lives. Surveys by dedicated fisheries biologists lead to stocking goals, habitat enhancement and control of the harvest that provides a fishery enjoyed by thousands of anglers each year.
The fishing for largemouth bass is good all year, but April is an especially prime time.
Attitude and preparation are important to April bass fishing. We can help you with where to go, but what you do when you get there is another matter.
Preparation includes such things as confidence in your ability as an angler, ability to scout water and know where fish are going to be, confidence in your tackle choice, and the reliability of your boat and electronics. Tournament anglers also have to be sure of their physical ability to withstand hours of fishing and travel.
Much of bass fishing is all about bite. One bite can tell you a lot. If you are not in tune with what is going on you can miss some of the obvious signs. You can miss what the fish are telling you that would point in the right direction.
You need a clear mind and focus on that one bite. A lot of the time that is all that is available. It is just all about that one bite.
When the bite happens, analyze it. Did it happen when you are on a certain piece of cover, where did it happen, or what is your presentation? Immediately tell yourself you know what the fish are doing, understand what they are on and establish a successful pattern. Once you establish a pattern, read the fish as they begin to change. Change with the fish and get on to the next pattern.
Sometimes it seems like you are just fighting the weather and your fish are not biting and the wind might be blowing or it might be raining or cold or hot. Some other situations might mean that you lose fish or another fisherman gets on your best spot or your motor or trolling motor breaks. There are a jillion things that can go wrong. Not many times do you go out there and catch fish all day long.
What follows are by no means the only hotspots in Illinois. They are a mix of some of the better known ones and some “sleepers” for your consideration.
The Fox Chain, northwest of Chicago in McHenry County, is probably a top selection in April. The fishing for largemouth bass this month is somewhat weather dependent. It is a good idea to check with the nearest bait shop to where you’re planning to fish for local and up to date conditions.
The fish migrate into the shallows as the water warms. They seek out the weedbeds holding the early run of forage fish. They are heavy feeders in anticipation of the spawn. The more shallow bays and coves of the north end of the chain are usually the first to see the migration. They warm faster than the more deep water further south.
Spinnerbaits, crankbaits and jerkbaits are the preferred lure selections of local anglers.
CHICAGO FOREST PRESERVES
The forest preserves in and around Chicago metropolitan area provide some excellent bass fishing opportunities. For specific lake information anglers can access the websites for each of the collar counties.
Probably the best known of the districts is the Cook County Forest Preserve District. Both Busse Lake and Skokie Lagoons have decent populations of largemouth bass.
Busse Lake is a little less than 600 acres and is divided into three pools. It is located on the edge of Elk Grove Village, Ill. Bass anglers should focus on the Main Pool and the South Pool. They are deeper and have a better bass population.
The bass in the South Pool tend to be slightly larger, with some fish over 18-inches in length. About one third of the population of both lakes is over the 15-inch keeper length limit. About 10 percent are at least 18 inches long.
Up near Glencoe and Winnetka, Ill., are the interconnected waters of Skokie Lagoons. There are seven pools covering around 200 acres with a maximum depth of 14 feet and an average depth of 5 feet.
The largemouth bass run between 2.5 inches and 19.3 inches in length and weigh up to around 4 pounds. Half of the bass are over 14 inches. Occasional stocking of 2-inch fingerlings helps to supplement the natural recruitment of the pools.
This is a small body of water within the Illinois Beach State Park in Lake County just north of the Chicago metro area. It harbors a nice bass population and is another of those “sleeper lakes” found throughout Illinois.
Anglers report regularly catching bass in the 2- to 4-pound class.
This is another one of the state lakes stocked each spring and fall with trout. The small trout are a favorite forage fish for largemouth bass and probably contribute to the size of the largemouth bass found here.
In April most anglers fish topwater lures. The best times to fish are on those overcast days or other low light situations. On sunny days they focus on the thick weeds with their topwater lures.
Dynegy owns this 1,750-acre cooling lake, but the IDNR manages the fishery. The average depth of the lake is 16 feet with a maximum depth of 40 feet. The 52 miles of shoreline receive water from a 30,720-acre watershed.
Cooling lakes such as Newton Lake provide bass with a longer growing season, and the fish tend to spawn a few weeks earlier than natural lakes and other impoundments.
Newton Lake is located southwest of the Jasper County community of Newton, Ill.
A well-known trophy bass fishery, Newton Lake enjoys a stable population of largemouths, with 18 percent of the fish over the 18-inch length limit for anglers. According to Mike Hooe, district 19 fisheries manager, “Over the past few years this lake has improved from a very good bass fishery to one of the premier bass lakes in the Midwest.”
With high growth rates, good reproduction and fish with excellent body condition the future of fishing in this lake is excellent.
Dynegy has cut back on production at the local power station during most of the year. Maximum production seems to come in warmer and colder months during peak energy demand. Hot lakes provide size, structure and cover for bass not found in other lakes. With the cutback in generating operations these fish are not getting the 10-month growing season as in the past. That effects reproduction.
The warmer water produced a trophy bass fishery. How the cut back in heated water discharge will effect that is unknown at this time. For now bass fishing is great.
Formed by the damming of Lick and Sugar creeks just southeast of Springfield, Ill., Lake Springfield is a popular bass fishery for capital city anglers. It has a maximum depth of 30 feet with an average depth of 13 feet.
The lake also has a small power plant on the southern end. The warm water discharge only affects about a quarter of the lake but concentrates the bass in the warm water arm near the plant. Beginning in April the bass begin to fan out as the threadfin and gizzard forage begins to move up into the warm water areas in search of plankton.
Bass in the lake are up to 19.5 inches in length and weigh as much as 5 pounds. Bass at the upper end of these figures are more difficult to find. Still, this is one good fishery.
The bass hit well on plastics such as lizards, worms, etc.
CRAB ORCHARD LAKE
The confluence of the Crab Orchard Creek, Wolf Creek, Sugar creek, Pigeon Creek and Grassy Creek for an impoundment known as Crab Orchard Lake. It lies within the boundary of Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. It is west of Marion, Ill., in Williamson County just off interstate 57.
Although owned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the IDNR manages the fishery through a cooperative agreement.
A combination of stringent harvest regulation increased bass fingerling and threadfin shad stocking and habitat enhancement results in an excellent bass population. The IDNR has enhanced the habitat through fish attractor installation and the planting of lotus vegetation in recent years. A spawning refuge area with artificial spawning substrates also contributes.
Fishing for largemouth bass is usually good on plastic worms and spinnerbaits that you drop deep and fished slowly. The bass will feed heavily now and will be relating to weeds and wood structure.
DEVILS KITCHEN LAKE
A sleeper bass location, this lake is also within the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge just south of Crab Orchard Lake.
This 810-acre impoundment contains abundant standing timber in the southern half.
Local anglers know this lake for having a population out of balance. There were abundant small fish and lunkers with nothing in between. Most bass are between 9 and 13 inches in length. However many bass in the 5- to 10-pound classes are caught regularly by anglers.
Chris Bickers, IDNR district biologist asks that anglers keep their limit of small bass in an effort to increase the average size of fish in the population. The IDNR is also stocking threadfin shad as an ongoing effort to improve the bass growth rates.
When asked why the larger fish growth so quickly in the lake, Bickers pointed to the annual fall stocking of rainbow trout by the department in cooperation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
“Bass love to eat trout and they grow quickly as a result,” explained Bickers.
Sitting astride Interstate 57 in Franklin and Jefferson counties south of Mt. Vernon, Ill., is this 18,900-acre Corps of Engineers reservoir. It has a long record of producing healthy largemouth bass, with 28 percent the present population exceeding the 14-inch minimum length limits. As a result of the good shad population the bass enjoy excellent body condition.
The maximum depth of the lake is 35 feet, and the average depth is 10 feet. The majority of the fish above the minimum weigh between 1 and 4 pounds. Spinnerbaits, crankbaits and soft plastic lures are best when fished in weedbeds or along the ample riprap.
We’ve covered some of the top prospects for Illinois anglers to explore in the coming weeks, but there are many other great choices waiting to be discovered. With productive angling options statewide, there are plenty of great locations to suit the taste of any angler. Now it’s time to grab the fishing gear and hit a spring bass fishing hotspot near you.