Success is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity. Here’s our annual look at some of Illinois’ best fishin’ holes with optimum times and some special techniques for angling success in the Land of Lincoln.
Smithland Pool Stripers
When anglers are hunkered down in the Windy City, stripers and hybrid striped bass are just getting warmed up on the Ohio River, seven climatic zones and 400 miles to the south.
These extremely powerful fish are nomads with no concept of crossing borders of the three states that meet here. Buying a non-resident license multiplies potential for success. Folks at Golconda Marina can help you plan a memorable trip to kick off the new year. They can be reached at (618) 683-5875.
Rend Lake Bluegills
Our second-largest inland lake boasts some whopping big ‘gills. Larger specimens suspend in flooded timber up in the Casey Fork and Big Muddy arms of the lake. Don’t overlook the wood around Nason Point. Ice-fishing techniques work well in the open water here.
Pool 13 Panfish
Profound siltation is minimizing the number of places wintering fish in the Upper Mississippi River backwaters can hide. Miller’s Lake, Potter’s Marsh and the opening in Spring Lake dike remain ice-fishing hotspots.
Illinois River Saugers
Our namesake river is one of the first places you can launch a boat in northern Illinois in 2009. Deep holes near Spring Valley, Peru and just downstream from Starved Rock State Park under the Abraham Lincoln Bridge hold the potential for both fish dinners and a new state record in this walleye cousin with the desert camo color scheme.
Some of the best fishing occurs in cold water before spring runoff becomes a factor. When thoughts turn to open-water fishing, the Illinois is probably on the rise. Conditions can change overnight. Buster Culjan has this water dialed in. Call him at Cajun Sports, (815) 667-4222, before you hook up the trailer and head out.
Wolf Lake Pike
You’ll have plenty of company when fishing from shore on this metro Chicago lake. But soaking two big chubs — one under a float the other “dead-sticked” on the bottom — can result in combat with a scrappy northern pike and offer reassurance that winter can’t last forever.
Lake Michigan Brown Trout
Lake Michigan’s harbors hold brown trout all winter long. Weather conditions dictate whether open-water tactics or ice-fishing with “tip-downs” will be more productive. Pay close attention to weather forecasts, especially regarding changes in wind direction.
Mississippi River Tailwater
Fishing below dams at Bellevue and Dubuque is permitted beginning March 15. You’ll need an Iowa or Wisconsin license to fish directly below the Dubuque dam.
Tailwaters below dams downstream are open year ’round. Action below the dam at Fulton is marginal. Tailwaters farther south around the Quad Cities are open year ’round, with the pool No. 16 dam producing sauger action that may soon rival the Illinois River. Contact R&R Sports for a fishing report at (563) 243-4696.
Crab Orchard Largemouths
This sprawling, shallow southern Illinois lake is one of the first to warm up in the spring. Target woody cover, especially at the back of coves and around points on the north side of the lake.
Busse Lake Largemouths
The riprap and fishing walls of this urban Cook County lake have bucketmouths up to 5 pounds cruising close to shore this month. Plenty of shoreline access and walking trails provide the opportunity to stretch both your legs and the string on the new baitcast outfit you got for Christmas.
Apple River Smallmouths
This clear Jo Daviess County stream remains the premier smallmouth stream in the entire state. Some of the best action is found on private land, and getting permission is easy if you are respectful.
State park and private campgrounds nearby and warming temperatures make northwest Illinois a terrific destination for the year’s first fishing trip. For more information, contact Tri-Lakes Sporting Goods, (815) 369-5520.
The IDNR stocks rainbow trout at a number of sites around the state in early April offering a profound opportunity to take a kid fishing. Visit the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.il.us for stocking sites and regulations.
Powerton Smallmouth Bass
Smart money says this northern Illinois cooling lake near Pekin will produce the next state-record bronzeback. Three-pounders are almost a sure thing. A surface temperature gauge to find the warmest water is almost as valuable as sharp hooks on a Bomber A crawdad pattern crankbait.
Fox Chain Walleyes
The intimidating surface acreage of this natural chain of lakes in northeast Illinois is minimized for those seeking walleyes from mid-April through mid-May. Almost all of the chain’s walleyes are holding in water less than 10 feet deep.
Necked-down areas in lakes, like the confluence of Channel and Catherine, are springtime walleye magnets. Petite, Pistakee and Marie lakes also hold good populations of fish.
Greg Dickson understands the movement and habits of these fish more than most anglers who fish there. Dickson can be reached at Triangle Bait Shop, (847) 395-0813.
Rock River Channel Catfish
IDNR spring fisheries surveys indicate many catfish in this north-central Illinois River prefer to hold above snags and deadfalls, in moderate current, above a rocky-rubble bottom. Whiskerfish are waiting within a long cast from more than a dozen boat ramps in Winnebago and Ogle counties.
Decatur Lake Crappies
This 3,093-acre Macon County lake may be the best place in the state to catch a stringer of crappies in early May as fish move toward shore and woody cover to spawn.
This 1,100-acre central Illinois lake has a problem — muskies keep bothering crappies and crappie anglers. If you’ve never caught a muskie, odds for success may be shorter here than on any other Illinois fishery.
A county park surrounding this lake north of Bloomington is a super place for a camping/fishing mini-vacation. A 10-horsepower limit is in effect on this water. For more information, contact the site office at (815) 667-4862.
The New City Reservoir near this Macoupin County village has one of the greatest and most diverse largemouth bass populations in the state, according to
IDNR fisheries surveys. Almost one-third of the bass swimming here are in excess of 3 pounds.
Panther Creek Bluegills
The Jim Edgar complex outside Springfield provides plenty of opportunity to tangle with our state fish, the bluegill. Some specimens may rate a trip to the taxidermist rather than the frying pan.
Mississippi River Largemouths
Old Man River can be a dangerous place, but those probing backwater areas on both sides of the Mississippi that employ navigational diligence can experience bucketmouth action bordering on the unbelievable.
Be sure a map, cell phone, extra fuel, spare prop, tool kit, first aid kit, food and water are in the boat before you load the fishing gear. After a couple of days on the water here, you’ll discover why Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were such fun-loving kids.
For more information, contact the Savanna Area Chamber of Commerce at (815) 273-2722.
Lake Michigan Perch
Harbors of our Great Lake hold jumbo yellow perch during summer months that are catchable both from shore and small boats. Basic live bait presentations, ultralight tackle and basic angling skills add up to a delicious fish dinner.
Illinois River Channel Catfish
The key to frequent hookups with forktails during summer months on this glorified canal is presenting cut shad between the main channel and first breakline toward shore, fishing directly downstream from the boat to minimize line drag. You may need to move several times before finding the fish-producing seam, but when fish are located, action can be fantastic.
Illinois River White Bass
Tributaries and water within a mile downstream of dams like the one at Starved Rock State Park draw aggressive white bass by the thousands from mid-August until late September with fish-on-every-cast action when this annual run is at its peak.
The IDNR’s catchable trout program in April and the August white bass run on the Illinois represent the very best opportunities in our state for getting a novice angler hooked on fishing. If white bass are iced down immediately, they offer eating on a par with walleyes or crappies. This is a terrific venue for the last fishing trip of summer. For more information, call (815) 667-4222.
Lake Michigan Chinooks
Casting crankbaits or spoons holds the potential for tangling with powerful king salmon that move into tributaries to attempt spawning as August morphs into September. Chrome/blue hues seem to work the best.
Rend Lake Flathead Catfish
Jug-fishing is a nearly forgotten art among Illini anglers. The basic sportfishing license qualifies you to fish up to 50 jug lines. Each jug must be tagged with the angler’s name and address. Setting a few jugs adrift with cut bait dangling on a good snap-swivel and stout hook a foot or so under the surface in a windswept cove could net the biggest catfish of your life.
This 318-acre DeKalb County lake has produced state-record muskies several times over the past 20 years, with fish still swimming here capable of taking top honors again.
Timing is the key for fooling these alpha predators. The second major cold front of fall will occur sometime this month. When it passes, Shabbona’s Esox throw caution to the winds and are very aggressive for seven to 10 days. Contact Shabbona Lakeside Bait at (815) 824-2581.
Kankakee River Walleyes
Aggressive stocking since 2000 has returned this swift river as a walleye-producing destination. Tossing 3- to 5-inch chartreuse or purple fliptails from shore over riffles at a number of public access points can be very productive once fall is in the air.
Crowds diminish and weeds start to die off after Labor Day on this popular lake in the Fox Chain. Weeds are still a key to fish location. Try “burning” an in-line spinner over submergent vegetation — especially on the lake’s north side.
Rock River Walleyes
Water temperature is a major key in regard to autumn walleye activity on this north-central Illinois River. Fish strap on the feedbag when temperatures drop below 48 degrees. Fish remain active until waters cool to about 40 degrees.
Cooling water also triggers upstream migration. Target the interface between slack water and fast water over a rocky bottom within a mile of dams at Rockton, Rockford, Oregon, Dixon and Sterling/Rock Falls. Fish tend to congregate in relatively small areas. Precision casts from several different angles may be required. Contact TJ’s Bait & Tackle at (815) 732-4516.
Tailwaters of the Shelbyville dam and the bays around Lithia Spring Marina hold perhaps the greatest concentration of muskies per surface acre in October than any other place or any other time in the state of Illinois. You are a weapon as long as that orange/black bucktail is in the water.
Grassy Lake Largemouths
This 1,000-acre southern Illinois lake experiences fall turnover toward month’s end. When waters clear after turnover, both size and numbers of largemouths aggressively pursue Nashiki-pattern Lucky Craft suspending stick baits. A 10-horsepower limit is in effect on this water and neighboring Devil’s Kitchen Lake — another autumn bassing hotspot.
Pecatonica River Walleyes
Water color and temperature are major keys to success on approximately 12 miles of this small north-central Illinois river extending upstream from confluence with Rock River at Rockton. When the water turns emerald green and water temperatures drop below 48 degrees, it’s time to go fishin’.
The best access point is a single concrete ramp between the hamlets of Shirland and Harrison. Afternoon is generally the best time to fish once water temperatures drop below 44 degrees.
This southern Illinois lake near Murphysboro is the first place to target in the spring and the last in the fall if you’re after quality Esox masquinongy. The autumn bite is much less labor intensive — just speed troll shallow-running Shad Raps in a carp pattern in the boat’s wake. Keep that Boca Grip handy!
Whopping big striped bass congregate near the warmwater discharge of this central Illinois cooling lake around Thanksgiving. Casting or trolling large stick baits or 5-inch white grubs can be very effective.
Devil’s Kitchen Rainbow Trout
When most of Illinois is bracing for winter, fishing across much of southern Illinois is just reaching late-autumn peak. Aerobatic rainbow trout that cruise close to the dam at Devil’s Kitchen Lake offer a unique opportunity at least 250 miles from any other native trout fishery in Illinois.
These fish, and our other two December selections, represent an outstanding opportunity for a “cast an
d blast” outing in which quail and waterfowl offer hunting options. For more information, contact Williamson County Convention & Visitor’s Bureau at (800) GEESE99 or e-mail wctb@ midamer.net.
<b.Lake of Egypt Crappies
A steady retrieve with a white fliptail on a 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jighead close to shore in shallow bays near this lake’s cooling arm can result in continuous action once fish are located. Minnows under a float are more effective once the pattern is “dialed in.”
Cedar Lake Stripers
Speed trolling large stick baits while watching for baitfish busting the surface is a great way to tangle with these powerful nomads on this 1,750-acre lake south of Carbondale. Largemouth bass — some of trophy proportion — are another option. A 10-horsepower motor restriction is in place.