Somewhere along the 402-mile length of Illinois there is some outstanding fishing in progress. It may be happening close to your home, or it may require a “road trip,” but year-round there are fishing opportunities in the Land of Lincoln. The following “Fishing Calendar” details some — but surely not all — of the optimal times and places to pursue the various piscatorial species.
If you plan to fish now be prepared to deal with ice — from Lake Catherine, on the Wisconsin state line, all the way down to sprawling Rend Lake, in Franklin County. Despite climate change, the possibility of a freeze-up is a very real one. While the metabolism of all fish is slowed by cold water, the humble bluegill is probably the most dependable target in winter. Tackle is basic, consisting of a short rod, 2-pound test line on an ultralight spinning reel, a metal ice fly, and a container of wax worms. You will also need an auger or chisel to punch a hole in the ice, and at least 4 inches of ice for safety’s sake. You will find the ’gills in 4 to 10 feet of water over old weedbeds.
This is another frigid month, but there are rewards for those hardy souls who brave the wintry gusts. After Chicago’s many Lake Michigan harbors freeze solidly, schools of yellow perch move in and out on a regular basis. Patience is the key to success, and when the perch come in, 15-fish limits can be reached quickly. Roaming rainbow and brown trout are frequently bonus fish for perch anglers. Shiner minnows or wax worms fished a foot off the bottom on an ice jig are the best baits for perch or trout. Any lake containing walleyes is worth a try using live minnows on a tip-up, or vertically fished jig/minnow combination. Low and slow near a drop-off area is the secret to success.
This is probably the most difficult month to forecast, since the weather can be balmy or sub-arctic on a day-to-day basis. Spring coho arrive all along the Lake Michigan shore, giving shore fishermen the opportunity to enjoy this world-class fishery. Beginning in the southern counties, and working north as spring arrives, crappies will begin moving into shallow bays along the northern shores of lakes. It won’t take much of a cold front to send them back into the depths again, but they will return as soon as moderate weather returns and water clears. Bass will still be in their cold-water retreats, but a few can be caught on slowly worked plastic lures. Walleyes are becoming more active, especially in rivers and around lake current areas.
Illinois DNR’s “Catchable Trout Program” kicks off on the first Saturday of the month, two weeks after 60,000 rainbow trout have been released in 43 locations statewide. A special Inland Waters Trout Stamp is required along with a valid 2012 fishing license. Persons under the age of 16, the disabled and Illinois residents currently serving in the military are exempt from licensing. Salmon and trout will still be within range of shore fishermen through most of April. Crappie will become very active throughout the state. Look for good bluegill action late in the month.
For the top Illinois fishing spots for May, June, July and August, please visit page two