One problem bass anglers face is that there could be too many good bucketmouth lakes in Illinois to fish before fall arrives. Just make sure you don't overlook these waters. (August 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
The words "good problem" can best describe the situation that largemouth bass anglers are faced with in Illinois.
Realistically, you can't have a good problem, but just think about the huge task our state's largemouth anglers face each year. There is simply just too much good bass fishing in Illinois to sample it all in one summer. It's tough enough just to decide what lake to tackle first, let alone what order to fish them. But that's a good thing, right?
To help you with the daunting task of selecting a few more places to try this summer, here are a dozen more excellent waters in addition to the hotspots featured earlier this year in several issues of Illinois Game & Fish. These honeyholes are also loaded with largemouths, and some of them hold true trophy fish.
PEABODY RIVER FWA
If you are looking for remote bass fishing, the Peabody River Fish & Wildlife Area near Red Bud in southwestern Illinois could be right up your alley.
Lakes were created out of numerous reclaimed strip mines on this site, and they can provide you with a chance at catching largemouths that other anglers don't even bother with. But if you want to get into the big bass, the process is no picnic.
"The lakes in Peabody River FWA have excellent numbers of largemouths," said Department of Natural Resources biologist Fred Cronin. "In our last survey, we found some really decent numbers of 4- to 6-pound fish throughout the facility."
For best action, Cronin said you should target weedy and stumpy cove ends. Clear water necessitates a modified approach with light line, spinning tackle, small lures, 4-inch worms and jigs.
Boat ramps are on the largest lakes in Peabody. The other strip-pit lakes require that you endure some hardships by hiking to access sites. Small cartopper boats and canoes are popular. These underfished lakes not only provide wilderness-type fishing, but also give up some real monster largemouths as well.
For more fishing information, call (618) 785-2555. For lodging or area information, call the Red Bud Chamber of Commerce at (618) 282-3505.
MASCOUTAH CITY LAKE
Biologist Cronin also mentioned this small gem of a bass fishery in the city of Mascoutah in St. Clair County. The catch is you will have to fish from the bank of this municipal pond, which could have the densest population of largemouths in Illinois.
"Mascoutah has been a consistent producer of fish for a long time," Cronin said. "In our last survey, we had a catch rate of 214 bass per hour. What's amazing is these are quality fish. Over 33 percent of the population is 15 inches or larger, and we always find a number of fish in the 5- to 6- pound class."
At 17 acres, Mascoutah is pretty simple to figure out. Most anglers walk the bank and report good success by tossing spinnerbaits, small crankbaits and 7-inch plastic worms.
For more information, call Mascoutah City Hall at (618) 566-2978.
SPRING LAKE NORTH & SOUTH
An anomaly of sorts for anglers who enjoy fishing cabbage weeds for largemouths, Spring Lake North and Spring Lake South in southwestern Tazewell County aren't typical. But for anglers who know how to put together a slop pattern, these shallow lakes harbor some big bucketmouths.
"The bass are always improving on both lakes," said DNR biologist Wayne Herndon. "In our 2006 fall survey, we were able to catch about 60 fish per hour, and there were a lot of 2- to 4-pound fish. Right now, South Lake is probably a better bass lake, with fish averaging around 2 1/2 pounds."
Spring Lake North is 446 acres and Spring Lake South is 667. Herndon said the key to finding fish here is the weed cover and the differential in temperatures as influenced by cold spring water.
"There are a number of seepage points throughout both lakes," Herndon said. "The water temperature can vary from 54 degrees at the bottom to 100 degrees at the surface. Dense weed cover acts like an insulator, and bass tend to hug the threshold between warm and cool water."
Herndon said most anglers have their best luck on Scum Frog-type baits, surface spoons or plastics pitched to pockets in the cabbage.
Both lakes have a 25-horsepower restriction on motors, and you will want to bring your push pole to navigate the fields of green.
For more information, call (309) 968-7135.
Lake Jacksonville has ruled the roost for years in DNR biologist Mike Jones' district west of Springfield, but there is a challenger on the horizon. Over in eastern Pike County is a small 240-acre municipal reservoir named after the city of Pittsfield, and according to Jones, this gem surpasses Jacksonville in numbers of largemouths, with some big fish, too.
"In our fall 2006 survey, we had a catch-per-unit effort of 178 fish per hour," Jones said. "Each year we see excellent numbers of 4- to 5-pound fish, and we always seem to find one over 8 pounds."
Jones said you can't beat a spinnerbait or weedless frog in the shoreline vegetation here. Plastic worms and shallow-running crankbaits also catch largemouth bass on Pittsfield.
For more information on the 25-horsepower limit on motors and a fishing report, call Neff's Bait & Tackle at (217) 833-2178. For travel and lodging information, call the Pike County Chamber of Commerce at (217) 285-2971.
Travel to far western Hancock County along the Mississippi River and you will find Nauvoo State Park. This site of the second Mormon settlement in American history is now home to a small lake called Horton. According to Jones, few anglers bother with this small 12-acre pond, but if you happen to be in the neighborhood, bass are packed in thick here. And the size isn't too bad either.
"Our fall survey revealed 94 fish per hour on this small lake," Jones said. "Of those, 58 percent of the population is between 9 and 20 inches. There's a great population of 16- and 17-inch fish, with a few trophies present, too."
Most anglers ha
ve good luck dragging plastic worms parallel to shoreline vegetation, or fishing with small spinnerbaits and crankbaits. If you want to bring a cartopper, electric motors are allowed. Camping, concession and good facilities are on site.
For more information, call (217) 453-2512.
Snakeden Hollow Fish & Wildlife Area in northeastern Knox County is on an old coal-mining site littered with a bunch of foot-access lakes. And while McMaster Lake on site gets the most attention from anglers, the smaller lakes see few casters, which translates into awesome opportunities for adventurous anglers.
"There are hundreds of smallish ponds, from half an acre up to about five acres, located on site," said DNR Region 1 fisheries biologist Ken Russell. "All of these have a population of bass. Some pits are better than others. We don't survey them, but anglers who find the ponds with the numbers of fish often get into some wilderness-type fishing."
Russell noted that although many of the bass are in the 10- to 16-inch range, lunkers up to 8 pounds are caught each year.
The clear water here can pose a challenge regarding presentation. Light line and 4-inch worms or tubes are often necessary to fool bass here.
Anglers interested in the location of the back ponds of the site can obtain a map from the park's headquarters upon arrival. For more fishing information, call (309) 879-2607. For lodging info, call the Kewanee Chamber of Commerce at (309) 852-2175.
While there are several waters in Illinois named "Spring Lake," this one north of Macomb in McDonough County is, "a nice place to go to tie into a few bass in an afternoon," according to biologist Russell.
"There's a decent population of largemouths in Spring Lake," he said. "Our last survey turned up about 60 fish per hour, and there's a decent population of lunkers between 5 and 7 pounds. Overall, one-third of the bass are 15 inches or longer."
At 277 acres, there is enough water to spend a day casting here. For the most part, the water is clear, but it tends to muddy up after a good rain, so anglers need to be ready to change gears. When clarity is good, 7-inch plastic worms bumped in deep water near the levee account for some of the lake's biggest bass. Pitching tubes or jerk worms around docks, deadfalls and weeds can produce, as do topwaters early and late in the day. When clarity is poor, bass move shallow where they can be taken with crankbaits or big-bladed spinnerbaits in chartreuse or orange patterns.
Camping and good accommodations are on site. There is a 10-horsepower limit on motors.
For more fishing knowledge, call Spring Hill Bait & Tackle at (309) 836-8205. For travel information, call the Macomb Chamber of Commerce at (309) 837-4855.
If you happen to be in the neighborhood of Spring Lake, Russell also suggested Argyle Lake just 10 miles down the road. Data reveals a dense population of largemouths and some lunker fish in this 78-acre reservoir.
"Argyle has a good base of shad, and the bass are in good shape," Russell said. "This fall, we had a catch rate of 125 per hour. There's a high population in the 13- to 15-inch class, a fair number from 15 to 18 inches, and the largest we found was a 5 1/2-pounder."
Argyle is a series of fingered coves with points, fallen trees, stumps and brush. Weeds in the backs of coves provide good action for casters using bright spinnerbaits, while points and deep water by the dam get the attention during midday from anglers using jigs and plastic worms, or deep-diving shad-patterned crankbaits.
There is a 10-horse limit here. Camping, concession, boat rental and good facilities are on site. For more information, call (309) 776-3422. For lodging info, call the Macomb Chamber of Commerce at (309) 837-4855.
Deep in the heart of the Shawnee National Forest is a clear but weedy 118-acre retention lake called Dutchman. In Dutchman is a dense bass population, but not many folks fish for them.
"Dutchman largemouth abundance in the spring of 2006 was excellent," said DNR biologist Chris Bickers. "Our catch rate was 134 fish per hour, 47 percent were over 12 inches, with numerous fish larger than 15 inches. Each year we survey a few over 8 pounds, too."
Being clear, shallow and weedy, anglers must make some modifications before hitting Dutchman. Light line with plastic worms, tube jigs or surface lures produce well.
Dutchman Lake has a 10-horsepower limit on motors. Other than a decent concrete ramp on the south end, all other access is limited. For more information, call the Shawnee National Forest at (618) 253-7114. For more info on Johnson County, call (618) 658-2063.
WEST FRANKFORT NEW CITY LAKE
In the southeastern corner of Franklin County, tiny West Frankfort New City Lake is producing big numbers of quality largemouths.
"We caught 78 bass per hour, and 50 percent of those were over 12 inches long," DNR biologist Bickers said. "There's a good population of 3-pounders, and lots of 7-pound-plus fish are caught each year."
At 214 acres, this lake is just small enough to fish in a day. The areas by the bridge and dam tend to be hot in late summer. Most anglers report good luck by running small to medium shad-colored crankbaits next to deadfalls and shoreline brush. Tubes and plastic worms worked through weedbeds can be productive, and for the largest bass in the lake, try dragging a 10-inch black curlytail worm over some of the brushpiles or sunken trees.
For more information, call (618) 937-3291. For lodging info, call (618) 932-2121.
Just north of Danville is a beautiful 647-acre lake that appears to have been built with all bass anglers in mind. With a complement of weeds, wood, docks and rocks, Lake Vermilion can cater to the way you like to fish. And according to DNR biologist Mike Garthaus, the bass aren't too bad either.
Garthaus said recent surveys on Vermilion have turned up a good population of largemouths, with catch-per-effort rates hovering around 60 or 70 fish per hour. There are good numbers of 2- and 3-pound fish, and many in the 5- to 7-pound class.
Fishing is good this time of year around the bridge and island area in the lower third of the lake. Spinnerbaits, plastic worms and jigs pitched around cover do well. Early and late in the day, try running buzzbaits and other topwaters near docks and shoreline brush.
Vermilion Lake is managed by the city of Danville. The launch is on the west side off Denmark Road.
For more information, call
Vermilion County Conservation at (217) 442-1691.
UPPER MISSISSIPPI RIVER & HANOVER LAKE
Amazingly, the Mississippi River accounts for only 8 percent of all the fishing trips taken in Illinois. That is baffling when you consider the superb population of largemouths, the thousands of acres of water and the excellent access. The walleyes, saugers and catfish are also overlooked here, but why?
Perhaps it is the imposing nature of Old Man River. However, you need to know that DNR chief stream biologist Jim Mick said the upper stretches of the Miss have shown excellent numbers of bass, and angler reports confirm that. Most bass caught are between 13 and 16 inches, but 5-pounders are possible.
Pool 12 and Pool 13 are two areas to focus on. Both have myriad backwater sloughs, weed patches, lotus fields, stumps and channels. Bassers report good success when burning bright spinnerbaits, flipping jigs into heavy brush or running buzzbaits through standing weeds.
Public launches are located in Savanna, Fulton and Blanding west of Hanover. For more information on the Miss, call Savanna Harbor Marina at (815) 273-2955.
Speaking of Hanover, DNR biologist Dan Salee said there is a newly acquired lake just south of that village. Hanover Lake is still being developed, and is somewhat of a walk. But bass for bass, it can provide anglers with a load of fun, especially if the largemouths are uncooperative on the big river. Hanover is 20 acres and only bank-fishing is allowed. Few people fish it, but largemouths up to about 5 pounds are swimming there. If you happen to be in the area of Pool 12, stop and give Hanover Lake a try. For more information, call Region 1 Fisheries at (815) 625-2968.
It's no secret we have some great largemouth bass fishing waters in Illinois, even too many to fish in one season. But do yourself a favor and be sure not to overlook these waters before the leaves turn colors.
Find more about Illinois fishing and hunting at: IllinoisGameandFish.com.