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Discovering Downstate Bass Honeyholes

Discovering Downstate Bass Honeyholes
Most folks in southern Illinois take their largemouth fishing seriously. But chances are good not many of them have ever tried these overlooked bucketmouth hotspots! (May 2007)

Photo by Michael Skinner

Every bass angler has dreamed of finding his own honeyhole. In fantasy fishing, there's no waiting at the boat launch, no race to the best spots, and the largemouths are plentiful.

If this sounds like what transverses through your mind, you can make your dream come true by going bass fishing on these overlooked southern Illinois waters. While the southern half of our state is home to some of the best largemouth water in the Midwest, few folks know about these hotspots that are full of bass.


"Twin Lakes is a real sleeper," said Department of Natural Resources biologist Mike Mounce about this lake on the outskirts of Paris in Edgar County. "In recent surveys, both lakes had a significant catch rate. In the east lake, catch rates for mature fish were 50 per hour, and 53 per hour in the west lake. We found good numbers up to 20 inches, with the largest weighing just over 5 pounds."

An angler confirmed big bass in this lake eight miles west of Indiana.

"During tournaments, we catch a lot of nice bass at Paris," said Kyle Johnson of the Lincoln Land Bassmasters. "Crankbaits, tubes and jigs tend to be the best. Most anglers fish around the laydowns or they flip docks."

Both lakes have a combined surface area of 220 acres. For more information on the access fee, call Paris City Hall at (217) 465-7601. For travel and lodging information, contact the Paris Chamber of Commerce at (217) 465-4179.


One of Illinois' oldest impoundments, Lincoln Trail Lake in Clark County doesn't draw the number of anglers that nearby Mill Creek does, but this 146-acre gem is one for you to seriously consider.

"Lincoln Trail is very clear," said biologist Mounce. "A lot of guys shy away from fishing here, but there are some big largemouths available. The size and structure of the population is very good."

Lincoln Land Bassmasters fish here frequently, and Kyle Johnson said they catch high numbers of 16- to 17-inch largemouths.


"On this lake, we're usually guaranteed to catch fish," Johnson said. "Most guys fish crankbaits or plastic worms around laydowns or brushpiles."

In early summer, largemouths can be found relating to woody debris and emergent weeds in the upper third of the lake. As the water warms, bass move to deeper main-lake points, docks and fish attractors.

Lincoln Trail State Park is located two miles south of Marshall. Boat propulsion is limited to 10 horsepower. For more information, call (217) 826-2222. For travel and lodging info, call the Marshall Chamber of Commerce at (217) 826-2034.


At over 400 acres, Lake Centralia in Marion County has what it takes to put up not only numbers of bass, but some big fish, too.

"Densities are excellent," said DNR biologist Steve Jenkins. "Over the last two years, a typical catch rate is over 80 fish per hour, there's a lot of 2- to 4-pound fish, and every year we see largemouths up to 8 pounds caught."

In early summer, target brush in the numerous coves. Bright spinnerbaits and jigs tend to be productive. In mid- to late summer, bass relate well to the hundreds of main-lake points where they can be caught on deep-diving shad-pattern crankbaits and Texas- or Carolina-rigged plastics.

Excellent facilities are on site. A city boat license is required and can be obtained through the city clerk's office, (618) 532-2123. For travel and lodging info, call (618) 532-6789.


Greene County doesn't have many lakes, so one small reservoir has to pick up the slack, and that's White Hall City Lake.

"White Hall is a good sleeper," said DNR biologist Jeffery Pontnack. "The last survey turned up 55 bass per hour, and about 26 percent topped out at 2 pounds or more."

Other than a few locals, not many people venture to White Hall Reservoir to go fishing. However, largemouths up to 8 pounds have been caught here, and it isn't unusual to find fish in excess of 5 pounds.

You should target weedy banks and woody cover with spinnerbaits and jigs for the best results. Crankbaits fished along the riprap associated with the area around the dam can also be productive.

For more info, call (217) 374-2345.


Many Illinois bassers can identify with East Fork Lake by Olney, but north of this famous bucketmouth factory is lesser-fished Borah Lake.

"Largemouths are plentiful, and fish over 6 pounds are present," said biologist Mike Hooe. "The average size is smaller than East Fork, but 39 percent are greater than 12 inches, and 18 percent are over 14 inches."

Bob Long of the East Fork Bassmasters Club said it's getting better.

"Fishing is really good," Long said. "We've been seeing lots of bigger bass lately. It's not unusual to see a 6- or 7-pounder, and we catch lots of 4- and 5-pound fish."

Long alluded that there are no true hotspots on Borah. "We'll fish the banks and coves," he said. "We target brush and weeds with plastic worms, Rat-L-Traps and jigs."

A city permit is required for all boats. For more information, call (618) 395-7302. For travel and lodging information, call the "Home of the White Squirrels" Chamber of Commerce at (618) 392-2241.


If you're looking to escape the fanfare associated with the well-known bass factories in southern Illinois, DNR biologist Kurt Daine said it would be wise for you to check out 200-acre Harrisburg Reservoir in Saline County, one mile east of Galatia.

"Harrisburg has good cover and a very strong population of 2- to 3-pound largemouths," Daine said. "But trophies are available. We took fish up to 6.75 pounds in our fall survey."

Early in the summer, bright spinnerbaits and crankbaits catch the most bass. Flipping and pitching laydowns and stumps can likewise be effective. Later, bass move onto main-lake points and into weedbeds. Texas- and Carolina-r

igged worms, tube jigs and shallow-diving crankbaits fished quickly over the top of the weeds produce well.

For more info, contact DNR Region 5 Fisheries at (618) 435-8138. For travel and lodging information, call the Saline County Chamber of Commerce at (618) 252-4192.


Anglers interested in catching a bunch of largemouths should check out 105-acre Glen Jones Lake in the Saline County Conservation Area because this little impoundment has a high density of bass.

"Jones Lake has a strong bass population, but a majority of fish are 14 inches and under," biologist Daine said. "I imposed a 14- to 18-inch slot limit with a creel limit of one fish over 18 inches and five fish under 14 inches to encourage anglers to harvest some of the stockpiled bass."

Early in the summer, concentrate your efforts to the stumpy coves of the upper third of the lake where small spinnerbaits and crankbaits take aggressive fish. Later when temperatures rise, the deep southern shoreline by the dam concentrates fish. Plastic worms, jigs and tubes will find enough largemouths to put a smile on anyone's face.

For more information, call the Saline County Conservation Area at (618) 276-4405. For travel and lodging information, contact the Saline County Chamber of Commerce at (618) 252-4192.


Just off Route 51 in Union County lies 58-acre Dongola City Reservoir. This lake is so incidental that most folks don't bother fishing here. However, according to DNR biologist Shawn Hirst, Dongola is loaded with quality bass.

"Dongola has an excellent largemouth population," Hirst said. "Surveys during the last three years have produced over 100 bass per hour. The largest bass collected in the 2006 survey was over 20 inches and just shy of 6 pounds."

After being drawn down a few years ago for some repair work, Dongola is poised for a bright future.

"The lake is so small, most guys just fish the edges," revealed local angler George Hunter of Dongola. "The biggest bass I ever caught was an 8-pounder, but we've seen lots of 5- and 6-pound fish, too."

Hunter said most of his fish are caught on twistertails. Spinnerbaits, jigs and crankbaits will work at times for this tightly packed population of largemouths.

There is a city-owned boat launch available and some shoreline access. For more information, call (618) 827-4343. For travel and lodging information, call the Union County Chamber of Commerce at (618) 833-6311.

* * *

If you have been looking for a less-crowded largemouth honeyhole, give a few of these overlooked hotspots a try this year. One of them could become what your dreams are made of.

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