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Illinois' Best Bets For Bluegills

Illinois' Best Bets For Bluegills

Our state's anglers catch more bluegills than any other fish, according to the experts. But here are some waters that may be overlooked when it comes to quality panfishing.

The experts agree that bluegills are No. 1 in Illinois. The humble bluegill has passed the largemouth bass in the number of fish being caught here in the Land of Lincoln.

Jeffrey Stein, statewide creel program research director at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), should know. The INHS has conducted creel surveys since 1989. They have interviewed tens of thousands of anglers across our state. The information they've collected has been used by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to help manage the state's fisheries.

Researchers at the INHS are specifically focusing on this fish in The Bluegill Research Project. Their goal is to determine the factors influencing or driving bluegill size structure in impoundments. The project studies 60 lakes with quality (most adult bluegills greater than 7 inches), stunted (most adults less than 6 inches) and intermediate (a mixture of adult sizes) populations. Research is currently under way and the project is scheduled to be completed in 2007.

Joe Ferencak, impoundment program manager of the Division of Fisheries, oversees the management of all Illinois lakes. His biologists use the information from the creel surveys and The Bluegill Project to help improve the fish population for anglers. Here are some of the waters Ferencak recommends for bluegill fishing in 2005.


The historic Hennepin Canal encompasses 926 acres in Bureau, Henry and Whiteside counties.

"It provides exceptional shoreline access via the trail that parallels most of the canal," said Ferencak. "Target brush and weeds. Bluegills should average about 1/3-pound. Much of the isolated stretches of the canal are not fished very often. It receives regular stocking."


There are no horsepower limits for boats between Bridge 37 and Lock 24, but elsewhere it's 10 horsepower. There are boat ramps at the Visitor Center complex, Locks 21, 22 and 24, Route 82 north of Geneseo, Route 92, Route 78 north of Annawan, Bridge 39, Bridge 28 and Bridge 45.

For more information, call (815) 454-2328. Trail and access maps are available online at or


The La Salle Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area is located south of Interstate 80 and west of Illinois Route 170 near Seneca. La Salle, at 2,305 acres, is a perched lake that is used for cooling the La Salle Nuclear Power Plant. It is set in such a way to maximize wind in the Illinois River Valley, which makes it unsafe for non-powered boats.

"This cooling lake offers good shoreline access for fishing the riprap," said Ferencak. "Fish should average about 1/3-pound."

With its riprapped shoreline, La Salle has no natural shoreline for beaching boats. Boaters must allow ample time to boat from the lake's northern shores to the boat ramp area on the southwestern corner.

Alcoholic beverages are not allowed at La Salle Lake. From April 1 through Sept. 30, La Salle Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area is open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to dusk. For more information, contact the park at (815) 357-1608. Online fishing maps are available at Call the Tackle Shack and Bait Shop in Marseilles at (815) 795-6200 for the latest fishing conditions.


Ferencak recommends the Upper Mississippi River for big-river bluegills.

"It should also provide some good bluegill fishing opportunities in the backwater lakes and side channels," he said. "There are some shoreline access sites available, but fishing is best by boat. Fish should average 1/4- to 1/3-pound."

With the Mississippi River and its backwaters being the perfect habitat for so many kinds of fish, anglers are using Mississippi Palisades State Park as their fishing base camp. There are 241 Class A and Class B campsites in both shaded and open areas. Reservations are recommended because this site is popular with tourists. Electrical hookups are available at 110 sites. Showers and flush toilets are situated in three buildings and are in operation from May 1 until Oct 31. The campground also features water and two sanitary dump stations. Only campers with permits are allowed in the campground, with admittance prohibited from 10 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. There are no motor size limits on boats, and launch ramps at the river access areas are free. Call the site for reservations at (815) 273-2731. Visit about area amenities. Local bait and tackle shops are Garvin Standard Service of Savanna, (815) 273-3000; Rick's Bait and Tackle, (815) 273-3624; and Tri-Lakes Sporting Goods, (815) 369-5520.


Known as an angler's delight, this 95-acre lake is found at Argyle Lake State Park in McDonough County. Located just seven miles from Macomb, Argyle Lake also offers a number of activities such as picnicking, camping, hiking and boating facilities. There is a 10-horsepower motor limit, and a public boat launch and docks are available for boats and pontoons. Canoe and boat rentals also are available. Bluegills average 1/4- to 1/3-pound.

Call the site office at (309) 776-3422 for more information. Fishing information is available at Spring Hill Bait & Tackle at Macomb, (309) 836-8205.


Sprawled across 576 acres in Grundy and Kankakee counties, the Mazonia Lakes are managed primarily for sportfish and waterfowl.

Its purpose is to provide a quality sportfishery within the surface-mined lakes through habitat enhancement and supplemental stockings, which in turn will provide the public quality sportfishing opportunities. The land making up the south unit was formerly surface-mined, resulting in rugged terrain, four large lakes and 10 smaller water impoundments that contain excellent fish populations. Access to most of the water is available via boat launches, while some of the smaller lakes are walk-in only.

"Best lakes are No. 3, No. 10 and Ponderosa," said Ferencak, "Access is challenging because the lakes are scattered throughout this reclaimed strip-mine area, but it can be well worth it. Fish should average about 1/3-pound or more."

District fisheries biologist Rob Miller said both lakes No. 3 and No. 10 provide quite a bit of structure and have irregularities on the bottom such as subm

erged reefs and humps.

"Lake 10 does not have a concrete boat ramp, so we are seeing a lot of belly boats," Miller noted. "The majority might be bass anglers, but the guys fishing for bluegills use them, too."

Miller said Ponderosa has exceptional bluegill fishing.

"The central area is up to 60 feet deep, with many offshoots," Miller said. "It's gin-clear, with good oxygen."

The lakes also benefit from being by the wetlands, resulting in more vegetation and higher productivity.

For more information, call the site office at (815) 237-0063.


The 158-acre Dawson Lake in McLean County is located in the popular Moraine View State Park and is considered a good family fishing spot by Ferencak.

"It has ample shoreline access, boat rental and camping available," he said. "Fishing is typically best from May to September around the weedbeds and backs of coves. Fish should average 1/4- to 1/3-pound. There is a 10-horsepower limit on outboards."

The lake is regularly stocked with game fish, and there are the five miles of shoreline and a handicapped-accessible fishing pier. Volunteers and the DNR have planted many Christmas tree brushpiles that hold many panfish.

There is a two-lane launch ramp, docking facility, boat rentals, bait and supplies at the concession stand. A restaurant seating 60 serves breakfast and lunch daily. For information, call (309) 724-8032.


This 2,018-acre cooling lake in Randolph County grows everything from trophy catfish to voracious stripers. Bluegills need to grow large in this lake as a mater of survival because there are many hungry mouths eager to gulp a smaller bluegill as a snack.

"Baldwin has some shoreline access, but fishing is best from boat around the north bank," said Ferencak. "Fish should average 1/4-pound or more."

Baldwin Lake, located within the Kaskaskia River State Fish and Wildlife Area, is owned by the Illinois Power Company and is leased to the DNR. Fish in Baldwin Lake experience a longer growing season than do those in surrounding lakes, therefore growth rates are accelerated for certain species. Local anglers keep watch of the smokestacks because the fishing tends to be better when they are generating power and the stacks are smoking.

A two-lane launching ramp, boat docks and parking lot are available. There is a 50-horsepower motor limit. The site office phone number is (618) 785-2555. A-1 Bait and Tackle at (618) 539-5432 has the latest fishing conditions.


This 6,965-acre lake is located in a National Wildlife Refuge in Williamson County. Anglers are required to obtain a refuge user pass to fish Crab Orchard Lake.

"An all-around good southern Illinois destination," said Ferencak. "It provides diverse habitat. Fishing best in May and June for fish averaging 1/4-pound or more."

The user pass for Crab Orchard Lake costs $15 annually for cars or boats. An annual car and boat pass will cost $25. Non-motorized boat permits will cost $15 per year. A family sticker providing access for all the vehicles within one family will cost $30. Visitors can also buy five-day stickers for $5 per vehicle. For more information, contact refuge manager Dan Frisk at (618) 997-3344 between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Fishing reports are available from March through October at 1-800-GEESE-99.


The 1,890-acre Horseshoe Lake in Alexander County is a unique shallow lake populated with bald cypress, tupelo gum and swamp cottonwood trees, and wild lotus. With so much habitat, there are good opportunities for panfish anglers amongst the cypress and gum stumps.

"Fishing is best in April and May during the spawn around cypress trees for fish averaging 1/4- to 1/2-pound," said Ferencak.

The lake has a 10-horsepower limit. The site office phone is (618) 776-5689.


According to district fisheries biologist Mike Hooe, this small 36-acre lake is a top producer. This city-owned lake's shoreline has housing developments.

"The bluegills are pretty good-sized," Hooe said. "They're about 8 inches long and more than 1/3-pound."

The City of Olney requires boating permits for all watercraft put into the water at Vernor Lake. The permits can be obtained at Olney City Hall at 300 S. Whittle Ave. Information needed to receive a permit includes a certificate of insurance proving the watercraft has $100,000 of liability insurance, the state registration number of the boat, the horsepower of the boat, make of the boat and the name and the address of the owner. There are numerous classes of watercraft and permits. Local information can be found a or call (618) 395-7302.


By far, the best bluegill fishing seems to be in Region 5, according to Jeff Stein with the INHS. "They grow bigger down there," Stein said. Region 5 in southern Illinois enjoys a longer growing season than upstate waters. There are more remote locations and fewer people living in the area compared to more heavily populated regions.

Based on the number of bluegills caught per hour and average weight of fish caught, here are some other lakes Stein recommends.

Cedar Lake

The crystal-clear water of Cedar Lake in the Shawnee National Forest is located four miles southwest of Carbondale. The 1,750-acre lake is known for bass, and the panfish are often overlooked.

There are two good ramps that provide boat access to the lake. Motors are limited to maximum of 10 horsepower. For detailed directions on how to reach this lake, call the Murphysboro Ranger District at (618) 687-1731. Bluegills are averaging 1/4- to 1/3-pound.

Ramsey Lake

Located in Ramsey Lake State Park, fishing is a favorite pastime for Ramsey Lake visitors. To maintain a desirable fish population, the lake is managed by drawdowns and stocking. Bluegills average 1/3 to 1/2 pound.

Fishing supplies are available at the concession stand. A launch ramp and boat dock are available. Boats are also available for rental. Gas motors are not allowed, but electric trolling motors are permitted. Fishing is also allowed on several ponds located at the site. The site office number is (618) 423-2215.

East Fork Lake

East Fork Lake is located one mile east of Olney in Richland County. The 935-acre lake is owned by the City of Olney, which requires boating permits for the lake. The permits can be obtained in Olney at City Hall.

At East Fork Lake, there are 35 miles of mostly wooded shoreline. There is a bait shop at the campgro

und but no boat rentals. There is no horsepower limit for motors. Bluegills average 1/4- to 1/3-pound. Local information can be found at or by calling (618) 395-7302.

Devils Kitchen Lake

Devils Kitchen Lake is 810 acres and is located eight miles southeast of Carbondale in Williamson County.

The lake offers boat rentals, concessions and supplies on site. Bluegills average 1/3- to 1/2-pound. Devils Kitchen Lake is part of the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, and the site office is located near Marion, (618) 997-3344. Fishing reports available March through October at 1-800-GEESE-99.

Anglers can also turn to the Internet to find out more details about fishing sites in Illinois. Fishing maps and up-to-date reports on lakes and streams statewide are at The main DNR Web site a provides contact information for state parks. Bait shop information and current fishing conditions can be found at

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