JANUARY - Bluegills: Fox Chain O' Lakes
This is one of the best spots in the state for pulling a few tasty bluegills through an ice hole. There is a very good population of 'gills at the "Chain" and a nice distribution of sizes. Plenty of fish above 6 inches are available.
Bluegills are an excellent option for ice anglers as they bite well through the ice and provide a lot of action. Look for weeds along the bottom, especially along the edges of channels. Knowing the lake and starting near areas where bluegills were active before the ice formed is certainly helpful and cuts down on drilling, hunting and pecking. Lake maps are also helpful and there are very affordable electronics available now specifically designed for ice fishing.
Most people fish live bait such as a mousie, meal worm, wax worm or bee moth. These may be fished alone or tipped on a small ice fly or jig.
Other Options: Mississippi River Catfish: Search for trophy catfish in holes or depressions on the bottom in the tail waters. Kaskaskia River Saugers: The sauger population is excellent in the Carlyle Lake tail waters with good numbers and size.
FEBRUARY - Lake Michigan: Perch
Yellow perch fishing is often a hit or miss proposition. And even though there are good numbers of large yellow perch in the big pond, the odds are the same as fishing a smaller impoundment. However, at this time of year there are often good numbers of perch nearshore and they provide good open water and ice fishing. Look for open water areas and use a small spinning setup with light line. Most anglers use live baits like minnows, wax worms or red worms. If the ice is safe in the harbors, drill a few holes and use the same baits.
Other Options: Powerton Lake Smallmouths: There has been a little dip in population numbers, but smallmouth fishing remains very good. Lake of Egypt Largemouths: Female bass are approaching their heaviest weights of the year at Egypt.
MARCH - Clinton Lake: Crappies
The crappie fishery at Clinton Lake is excellent, thanks in part to an aggressive stocking program by the Illinois DNR. Blacknosed crappies reared at on-site ponds are greatly supplementing the fishery. There are also black crappies and white crappies in good numbers. Look for crappies along transition areas and possibly spread through a wide depth range. Black crappies move shallow earlier than white crappies, so fishing different cover may produce catches of one species more than another.
Other Options: Heidecke Lake Walleyes: There are plenty of walleyes above the 16-inch legal length limit. Spring Lake South Northern Pike: Fishing near the spring seeps along the bluff on the east side of the lake produces catches of 10- to 12-pound pike.
APRIL - Newton Lake: Largemouths
This cooling lake has long been a great location for largemouths because the population is good and the fish grow rapidly. A decrease in the amount of warm water discharge is affecting the fishery, but there are still large numbers of bass above 15 inches in the lake. Catching bass in the range of 2 to 4 pounds is very common and fish up to about 6 to 7 pounds are caught frequently.
Depending upon where one fishes on the lake and the water temperature, a variety of tactics work well. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jigs and plastic baits should all be in the tackle box when hitting Newton Lake. For a nice change-up, throw a Big Hammer swim bait.
Other Options: Statewide Crappies: It is papermouth time all over the state, ranging from pre-spawn fishing to post. Cedar Lake Redears: There is an excellent population of shellcrackers at Cedar Lake, with almost half the population 8 inches or larger.
MAY - Devils Kitchen Lake: Panfish
This month is a perfect time for panfish, and Devils Kitchen Lake in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is a perfect place to find them. Bluegills outnumber redears in the lake, but both species are very well represented. There are plenty of hand-size 'gills present, and remarkably, data show that some 62 percent of the shellcrackers are larger than 7 inches and almost half are over 8 inches. There are some exceeding 10 inches.
Bluegills and redears are holding near cover, but the preferred depth varies according to water temperature and sunlight penetration. Tempt these fish with live baits such as red worms, crickets, pieces of night crawlers, meal worms or wax worms. Keep baits on or near the bottom for shellcrackers.
Other Options: Lake Springfield Largemouths: A variety of baits and tactics are in play for largemouths this month. Rend Lake White Bass: Use crankbaits, inline spinners or curly-tails to take numbers of white bass in the 12- to 16-inch range.
JUNE - Rock River: Walleyes
Annual stocking by the Illinois DNR helps keep the walleye population in the Rock River in very good shape, and there are plenty of fish available throughout a wide size range. In fact, DNR biologists have reported catching walleyes larger than the state record while doing routine sampling on the river. The best fishing is generally in the upper Rock River, and anglers have reported catching better quality walleyes in the stretch of river between Rockford and Sterling. Anglers also have good success near Dixon. Good walleye fishing is also available in the Pecatonica River, which is a tributary of the Rock River near Rockford.
Other Options: Hennepin Canal Bluegills: Great bank-fishing for bluegills exists at the Hennepin Canal. Carlyle Lake Crappies: There is an excellent crappie fishery, comprised of black and white crappies, at Carlyle Lake.
JULY - Braidwood Lake: Hybrid Striped Bass
The hybrid striped bass at Braidwood Lake are an excellent choice for this month. The fishery is in great shape due to annual stockings, and there are fish available through a wide size distribution. Recent sampling indicated fish from fingerling size up to 34 inches and weighing up to 7 1/2 pounds.
Troll live or artificial baits for schooled hybrids. Methods used for stripers work well on hybrids as well. This time of year is also great for chasing fish in the jumps. Watch for surface action, then motor to within casting distance and throw any subsurface bait that resembles a shad or minnow.
Other Options: Stream Mixed Creel: This is an optimal time for wading or floating a stream for smallmouths, rock bass and other species. Wabash River Catfish: The Wabash River is home to one of the best catfish fisheries in the state.
AUGUST - Canton Lake: Catfish
This 220-acre lake is home to a tremendous catfish population. All three main species of catfish are well represented. Channel catfish are the most numerous and there are lots of them present. Sampling has shown the channel cats to be in very good body quality with some 61 percent of the fish 18 inches or larger. Blue and flathead catfish are also doing well at the lake, and biologists have recently sampled both species up to 37 inches in length.
Channel cats are easily caught on nightcrawlers, chicken livers and stinkbaits. Target blue catfish with cut bait and flatheads with live minnows. Baits may be fished below a float, on bottom with a tight line or on down rods. To cover water, try using a drifting method and keep baits near the bottom.
Other Options: Lake Sangchris Striped Bass: Head to "Striper Point" in the northern end of the lake for a chance at some hefty striped bass. Night Bite Bass: Day fishing may be tough, but nighttime fishing for black bass is red hot all over the state.
SEPTEMBER - Lake Shelbyville: White & Yellow Bass
Yellow bass do not get very big, but there is a huge population of them in Lake Shelbyville. Finding schools of them often results is some very fast-paced and sometimes frenetic action. Catching them on light tackle is loads of fun, plus catch enough of them and they make a superb fish fry.
White bass are also very abundant and add to the fun factor this month. Most of the white bass caught are at least 10 to 12 inches long, and there are some fish up to and over 15 inches.
Other Options: Lake Springfield Largemouths: Largemouth bass are abundant and beginning to transition from deeper water to shallower. Lake Michigan Salmon and Trout: Hit the big pond for lake trout, steelhead trout and chinook salmon.
OCTOBER - Cedar Lake: Largemouth Bass
Largemouth bass are definitely a top choice this month, and the action gets even better over the coming weeks. Cedar Lake has plenty of largemouths, and the fishery has been rated excellent by the DNR.
Bass are feeding heavily on shad and other forage fish, so baits resembling what they are feeding on usually produce best. Crankbaits in shad colors are great options, as are stick baits and other minnow-imitating baits. Top-water fishing is also in play.
Other Options: Fox Chain O' Lakes Walleyes: The Chain is a brood source for the DNR's hatcheries, so there are plenty of marble-eyes waiting to stretch a line. Fall Trout: Fall trout season opens this month at numerous stocked ponds, lakes and streams.
NOVEMBER - Kankakee River: Smallmouth Bass
The Illinois DNR rates the smallmouth fishery at the Kankakee River as very good and refers to it as one of the premier smallmouth bass streams in the state. Very good numbers of smallmouths are found throughout the stream although they are most abundant downstream from the Kankakee Dam. The DNR says the locations with highest catch rates are Momence, Kankakee, Davis Creek, Langham Island and Warner Bridge.
Other Options: Kinkaid Lake Muskies: Fall is a great time for hooking into a jumbo muskie at one of the best fisheries in the state. Evergreen Lake Saugeyes: State records have come from Evergreen Lake, and the fishery is rated excellent.
DECEMBER - Ohio River: Saugers
The Ohio River has a fabulous population of saugers. And right now is a perfect time to load the boat with these fish. Saugers are typically scattered throughout, making it difficult to consistently locate and catch them in large numbers. However, the winter months are when anglers have the advantage.
Saugers follow the urge to spawn and move upriver during late fall only to be halted by the dams along the river. As the weeks pass, more and more saugers stack up in the tail waters.
Other Options: Lake Of Egypt Crappies: Drop lines with live minnows over brush and other cover to entice bites from tightly schooled crappies Kankakee River Walleyes: Anglers looking for the river experience are turning to the Kankakee River for catches of walleyes.