February 21, 2012
When great bass fishing destinations are discussed, the Prairie State is almost never mentioned. Texas and Florida get the bulk of the press, with California and Georgia following. That fact is just fine with me because Illinois has some amazing bass fishing, and lunker-size largemouth and smallmouth. We can keep this secret to ourselves.
From north to south, Illinois offers bass anglers outstanding bass fishing in more locations than you can imagine. I could spend the rest of this article just listing quality bass fishing spots in the state. I can make this a bit easier by telling you right now that Illinois State Parks and Fish and Wildlife Areas have a plethora of amazing bass fisheries.
From Apple River Canyon State Park and Shabbona Lake State Park in the north to Sanganois SWA and Newton Lake SWA in the central part of the state, to Rend Lake SWA and Pyramid State Park to the south, Illinois provides bass anglers with plenty of opportunities from which to choose. I will say that every Illinois fisherman lives within a 90-minute drive of excellent bass fishing.
Let's take a closer look at some of the real hotspots in our 2012 Illinois bass forecast.
The massive rains of last spring followed by the drought conditions of last summer could have a dramatic effect on this years fishing. Many of the state's southern lakes and reservoirs fell to their lowest water levels in history in 2011. There are both good and bad aspects of that drought when it comes to bass fishing. The bad news is that we will not see the full effect until we see how the winter precipitation and the subsequent spring thaw adds to the water levels.
If the melting snow does not fill the impoundments before the spring rains begin, then newly laid bass eggs may be under too much water to hatch. If we get a good melt and the impoundments fill back up before the spawn, we should be good.
One of the good things the drought and record-low water levels brought was the chance for anglers to actually see some of the structure that has been submerged for decades. I can personally attest to this as I spent most of the fall mapping places I have fished for years but have only seen on my electronics. Many bass fishermen will be much more effective in 2012.
Beginning in the north, let's see what some professional bass fishing guides have to say about the 2012 season. Jimmy Templin, of Jimmy T's Guide Service, says the extreme conditions of 2011 will have little if any effect on the Fox Chain of Lakes. "The water in the Chain is a river system, which means it flushes out and stabilizes much quicker than impoundments. Fluctuating water issues are short-lived," Templin told me.
Templin also said that even with the ever-changing conditions of 2011, the bass fishing in northern Illinois was good. "The varying water levels caused the bass to move a bit and you just had to move with them to be successful."
Templin thinks 2012 will be an even better season than last year. "If we can get good spring weather, northern Illinois' Fox Chain should be much better than last year. The main food for both smallmouth and largemouth here is bluegill. However, there was an excellent amount of shad in 2011 and, if that trend continues, 2012 should be even better for big bass," Templin said.
Templin is seeing many more smallmouth bass in the 4-pound range and the same with largemouth. According to Templin, smallmouth bass make up about 20 percent of the catch on the Fox Chain with largemouth accounting for the 80 percent balance. In the pre-spawn spring, Templin likes crankbaits and jerkbaits along weed edges. He says the southern lakes in the Chain are a bit muddy, therefore they warm somewhat earlier. He likes the southern lakes in the spring.
The summer pattern has bass spread out around the weeds. Senkos and topwater baits are best in warm weather. Because of the habitat created by this unique water system, frogs are very prevalent. "I like casting weedless frog-type baits in the summer," Templin says. "I love the mid-summer topwater bite," he added
In the fall both the bass and Templin are focused on submerged structure. "I can usually always find good bass in the fall in the Chain by running spinnerbaits in and around the laydowns. Bass are tucked into ambush points in the brush, feeding up for winter."
The #1 tip Templin gave me for the Fox Chain of Lakes is that bass follow the best water. If the water level rises, the bass will go shallow looking for new places to feed. If the water goes way down, the bass will go deep to find their food. He also recommended both Loon Lake and Bangs Lake for great northern Illinois bass fishing. Both of these impoundments are located in Lake County. To contact Jimmy Templin, go to his Web site, www.jimmytsguideservice.com or call him at (847) 331-7537.
2012 Illinois Bass Forecast: Central region on page two...
Now let's move down to central Illinois and to Lake Shelbyville where one of the top fishing guides is Mary Satterfield. Satterfield has been guiding at Shelbyville since 1989 and is also a well-known outdoor writer. She thinks the bass will be plentiful at Shelbyville this year.
"We have lots of quality bass here mainly due to the abundance of shad. We catch nice bass even when we are not trying to. Crappie and walleye anglers catch great bass right along with the guys trying catch them," she told me. "I think our structure helps that a lot," Satterfield added.
Lake Shelbyville is a flood control reservoir, so conditions can change with lots of or a lack of rain. Under normal pool conditions, fish hang very close to the enormous amount of submerged structure. There is a tremendous number of lay-downs here and underwater ledges are a favorite location for bass and the anglers chasing them.
Satterfield said the bass fishing begins to get good in mid-March as the water first starts to warm up. She recommends working the cover very slowly and very deliberately. "It may take eight or ten casts into the same cover to provoke a strike. Until the water temps go up, fish as slowly as you can and stay on the structure."
For late spring and early summer, Satterfield likes to fish both crankbaits and spinnerbaits to cover lots of water. She likes the Sand Creek area and also fishes near both Wolf Creek and Eagle Creek state parks. "The bass are pretty evenly distributed here, so finding a hotspot on a certain day might take some time. I like to use baits that give me lots of distance with each cast in the summer to find the bass," she said.
Satterfield also told me that in the fall the bass are relating totally to the shad schools that are usually holding close to shore. "I love to fish topwater baits, so in the fall I find the shad and then cast buzzbaits right into them. Big hungry bass are usually close to the bait balls and a buzzbait forces them to strike," she explained. "I also throw down-sized crankbaits around the shad in 4 to 5 feet of water," she added.
With the 2012 bass outlook for Shelbyville being very good, I asked Satterfield to give her best tip for someone coming here for the first time. "You need to take a look at the map and decide where you are going to put in. Then you make your plan based around that immediate area. Make a big lake into small lake and concentrate your efforts there. There is really no need to run all over the lake, hitting and running. We have great bass all around the lake and working an area thoroughly is your best bet."
2012 Illinois Bass Forecast: South region on page two...
Southern Illinois is my personal favorite for finding and catching big bass. Pyramid State Park offers bass anglers dozens of strip lakes from which to choose and all can produce the largemouth bass of a lifetime. Each year a good number of 5- to 8-pound largemouth are taken at this park.
According to southern Illinois' top fishing guide, Pyramid is good but Lake Kinkaid is much better. Colby Simms, of Simms Outdoors, is a nationally-known angler and outdoor writer. His home water is Kinkaid and he knows every stump and rock in it. Primarily known for producing some of the finest spinnerbaits on the market, Simms is also a top guide and consummate professional angler.
I have spent many, many hours on Kinkaid with Simms, so my report on him is first-hand. This guy can find fish. He told me that 2011 started off a bit slow for bass. Simms says the bass distribution at Kinkaid is about 95 percent largemouth and 5 percent smallmouth, but more and more 18-inch bronzebacks are showing up each year. And because of the large number of shad, the 2012 bass fishing at Kinkaid could be excellent.
The adverse weather the Prairie State experienced in 2011 should have no effect on the 2012 season, according to Simms. "If we get a good winter, the spring bass fishing should be awesome," Simms told me. "I fish all winter if the lake does not freeze. I know right where the bass are as the spawn approaches," he added.
In the winter Simms likes dragging heavy jigs on the bottom or slow-rolling spinnerbaits in the deep cover. "I can usually find bass in the winter at 15 to 20 feet. I also have good luck in the winter jigging spoons," he explained.
Spring and summer are predominately spinnerbait and topwater bites at Kinkaid. I like to throw Simms Outdoors Hatchet-Spin spinnerbaits. Simms designed the spinners on these baits and they put out a very different vibration that drives bass nuts. Simms uses this bait on the shallow flats in creeks around spawning areas.
In the fall, Simms goes way back up in the creeks looking for concentrated shad. Spinnerbaits and buzzbaits work best in the fall and you should always be on the alert in the fall at Kinkaid as your bait may attract a muskie, as well. To contact Colby Simms and to find some excellent spinnerbaits, go to www.simmsoutdoor.com.
2012 Illinois Bass Forecast: Mississippi information on page two...
Among Illinois bass fisheries, the "Mighty Mississippi" is mostly overlooked and definitely underrated. Only recently has the bass fishing potential been realized on this water. But even though anglers are now starting to take advantage of this resource, fishing the big river can be very tricky and often difficult.
Do not let the nickname, "The Big Muddy," influence your perception of this river. Just north of St. Louis, Mo., is the confluence of both the Missouri and Illinois rivers. The Missouri resembles chocolate milk. The Illinois is always dingy, but not usually that bad. At any rate, it is from this point south that bass fishing can be difficult.
However, going north from the Alton, Illinois Lock & Dam, the water conditions improve dramatically. Now a whole new vocabulary comes into play. Words like wing dam, oxbow, channel marker, feeder creek, eddy, slough and sandbar suddenly have meaning. The biggest single factor in fishing a river this big is navigation. There are rules for movement on this water that must be obeyed. A tugboat pushing 300 feet of barges is very unforgiving to an 18-foot bass boat.
Once you are aware of the safety rules and know how to navigate the big river, finding bass should not be hard. Both largemouth and smallmouth bass flourish in the mid to upper Mississippi along Illinois' west border. Five- and 6-pound largemouth can be found as far north as Moline. Lunker smallmouths live from there north. The Mississippi is widely known as a walleye fishery because of the clear water of the streams and creeks that feed this river. However, some of these tributaries hold some great bass fishing as well.
There are also some areas of the main channel that hold bass. The wing dams, sometimes referred to as navigational dams, are located all along the expanse of the river. Most of these are obvious, holding surface debris or causing a ripple. Others are deeper and can be found with your electronics. Smallmouth bass love to feed in the current around the ends of these structures.
When water levels permit, retrieving small, shad-colored crankbaits in the swift water around wing dams can pay off big. Bronzebacks can also be taken on small spoons and spinner rigs in fast water. If you leave the main channel looking for smallmouth, try a crawfish-colored jig at the mouth of feeder creeks where cooler, clearer water comes into the river.
Fishing structure in the river is both fun and rewarding. The interesting part is that the structure constantly changes. High water can remove or create a sandbar in a matter of days. Brushpiles and logjams can appear virtually overnight. Unlike the stationary structure of impoundments, the river's characteristics are in a state of continuous flux. Hotspots will come and go. Finding new areas that hold bass is an ongoing process.
So, as you can see from the expert's testimony, 2012 should be a great year for Illinois' bass anglers. There are no limits to the bass fishing opportunities in the state; get on the water and try out a few of them.