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36 Prairie State Hotspots

36 Prairie State Hotspots

Wherever you live in Illinois, there's a great fishing hole nearby. Here's a full year of fishing trips sure to satisfy even the most avid angler.(February 2008).

Tim Lesmeister.

Illinois is blessed with year-round fishing opportunities for everything from small-water bluegills to Great Lakes salmon. Wherever you live there's a great fishing hole nearby and if you're willing to travel, you can take your pick of hotspots and get in on the state's best angling. However, not all fishing holes are created equal. Many lakes and rivers are better than others and knowing where to go is the first step to a great time on the water. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources maintains an aggressive stocking program in many waters and the fishing is excellent.

Here's a look at where to go to get in on the best fishing action this year.


Rend Lake Bluegills

Winter angling produces numerous big bluegills on Rend Lake. This is the state's second-largest inland lake and offers outstanding bluegill fishing.

Bluegills will be in deeper water during the winter months. Anglers will find the smaller fish shallower than the bigger ones, so if you're catching the little guys, start fishing deeper to connect with the hefty-sized fish.

Larval baits on light line are the key to success. Drop a line in the shallower areas near deep water and work various depths until you find the fish. The flooded timber in the upper arms of Big Muddy and Casey Fork and the trees at Nason Point can all be productive. Weed edges, fallen trees and dropoffs can all hold cold-water 'gills.


Rend Lake is also an excellent crappie lake. Papermouths can be taken through the ice on a minnow under a float near standing timber or other submerged woody cover.

Though uncommon, largemouth bass can sometimes be caught in January as well.

The lake is located off Interstate 57 in Franklin and Jefferson counties.

For additional information, contact the U.S. Corps of Engineers at (618) 242-3151.


Wolf Lake

Northern Pike

Wolf Lake is an excellent northern pike lake but difficult to fish in the winter. There isn't much safe ice in this urban lake, so it'll be cold fingers and hot coffee along the bank or in a small boat.

Northerns are stocked into the lake by the DNR and the pike fishery has taken off. Every year pike in the 30-inch range are caught with possibilities of fish up to 35 inches. Most of these scrappy predators will weigh in at about 3 pounds.

The lake lies within the confines of Chicago and receives high fishing pressure. Pike are overlooked in the cold weather simply because of the lack of ice, but they're still catchable.

A big chub or sucker under a float can be the ticket to one of the big pike in the lake. Northerns are considered by biologists to border on being a cold-water fish. While many species slow down considerably when the mercury nose-dives, pike keep right on eating. They show a distinct preference for an easy-to-catch meal when the water's cold, but they won't pass up a slowly offered bait.

Wolf Lake covers 391 acres.

For more information, contact the Region 2 office at (847) 608-3100.


Busse Lak

Largemouth Bass

Busse Lake is one of Cook County's finest spring fishing holes for largemouth bass. These fish can run up to 5 pounds.

Good early-spring spots to try are the old creek channels in the Main Pool and near any of the fishing walls. Shoreline habitat and riprap warm up first and can be hotspots.

There is plenty of good shoreline access and trails to follow that reach most of the areas around the lake, depending on how far you want to walk. There is also a handicapped accessible pier.

Many of the bluegills are just under the 8-inch mark and make for a great bite if the bass aren't hitting. The South Pool also has a nice population of walleyes.

The fishing walls are developed areas where anglers can fish from the shoreline on some of the best areas of the lake.

Busse Lake is accessible from Higgins Road between Interstate 290 and Arlington Heights Road.

A map showing submerged fish attractors and fishing walls is available from the DNR Web site at

The lake has a good bit of fishing pressure but continues to be good. Gas motors are prohibited. Call the boat concession at (847) 640-1987 for information on boat rentals on the Main Pool.

Tim Lesmeister.


Rainbow Trout

Siloam Springs State Park

Rainbow trout are now stocked in catchable sizes in several lakes across Illinois, one of them being the lake at Siloam Springs State Park in Adams County.

Trout are released into the lake between March 15 and April 7 with the season opening up right afterward. The best bets to take these hatchery-raised fish are small earthworms or red worms, tiny spinners or the old standby of a kernel of canned sweet corn on a tiny hook.

Busse Lake is one of

Cook County's finest

spring fishing holes for

largemouth bass. These fish

can run up to 5 pounds.

The rainbows will roam throughout the lake and at times are quite easy to catch. They're generally not spooked at the sight of anglers along the bank and can be willing biters. Fly-fishing is an adventure when the trout are surface feeding. Hook one of these fish and you'll have your hands full.

Anglers must purchase an inland trout stamp.

The Siloam Springs State Park lake covers 58 acres. It's located three miles southwest of Kellerville.

For more information, contact the Region 4 office at (618) 462-1181.


Decatur Lake Crappies

Crappies will be in the spawning mode early in the spring, but the dates can change from y

ear to year depending on the weather. Generally speaking, the best way to target them is to look for shallow, vertical cover that includes fallen trees, manmade structures, emergent weeds and submerged edges like dropoffs and steeply declining shorelines.

After spawning, crappies will move out to deeper structure and can be found with your electronics. At times, they'll suspend over deep water and will easily show up on fish finders.

Most of the crappie population is under a pound, but when you find fish, you can catch plenty of them.

Largemouth bass are good-sized because of the 14-inch minimum length restriction. There are numerous bass just over the protected length limit.

The 3,093-acre lake is surprisingly shallow and averages only about 6 feet deep. It's located on the east side of Decatur in Macon County.

For more information, call the DNR's Region 3 office at (217) 345-2420.


Carlyle Lake

Largemouth Bass

Bass anglers should check Carlyle Lake this year for good numbers of scrappy largemouth bass. The bass average between 2 and 3 pounds, but there are bigger ones available.

The lake covers 24,580 acres of water and is somewhat intimidating to fish. The best way to approach it is to target good bass habitat, which isn't hard to find. Standing timber and fallen trees along the shoreline are great in the early summer months, especially if they're near deep water. Shallow coves in the early morning and late evening hours can be dynamite. If the water is cool, riprap shorelines warm up and attract prey fish after dark. The minnows as well as crayfish bring in the bass.

Carlyle Lake is home to just about everything that swims in Illinois. If one species isn't biting, just start fishing for panfish.

Carlyle Lake is located northeast of the town of Carlyle in Bond, Clinton and Fayette counties.

The DNR's Region 4 office at (618) 462-1181 can provide more information.

Tim Lesmeister.


Fox Chain O'Lakes

Channel Catfish

Northern pike and panfish are the main draw for anglers on the Fox Chain, while the channel cats go overlooked and underfished. That's good news for catfishermen who want some hot summer action.

Sizes don't run huge, but the numbers are high. Channels in the 5-pound range are taken, but most are smaller than that.

Daytime anglers can sometimes connect with fish by tossing stink baits into depressions on the lake bottom. A controlled dragging of the bait for about 20 yards or so every 15 minutes creates a scent trail for the fish to home in on. Cats moving in your direction can be intercepted and those coming in from other directions will still be able to catch up with you.

Northern pike, crappies and bluegills are all fairly abundant throughout the chain. Fish for pike and panfish during the day, and then switch to catfish during the evening.

The Fox Chain O'Lakes covers a total of 7,110 acres in Lake and McHenry counties.

Additional information is available by calling Region 2 at (847) 608-3100.


Banner Marsh Crappies

Crappies are abundant and grow to some nice sizes. Bragging-sized fish are taken every year, and though the larger lakes on the property are the most dependable from year to year, smaller ponds produce some mammoth-sized papermouths on occasion. The spawn is long over, but fish in these smaller waters are still easy to find.

By August, the fish will be holding in deeper water off shoreline structure and near the weedbeds.

Banner Marsh is a seven-mile-long area of old strip mines and small lakes that have been flooded. The three largest lakes are Johnson, Shovel and East Access, with Johnson being the largest at about 100 acres. Add them all up and you'll find about 600 acres of fish-producing waters.

Largemouth bass in the 8-pound range have been taken with plenty pushing toward that mark available.

No more than 25 crappies with a minimum length of 9 inches can be taken daily.

Banner Marsh is four miles northeast of Banner and 12 miles west of Peoria on Route 24 in Peoria County. A 25-horsepower limit is in place.

For more information, contact the Riverside Hunting, Bait & Tackle at (309) 347-3793.


Cedar Lake Stripers

Stripers are doing well in Cedar Lake and provide fast action if you can find them. These fish are open-water dwellers. They'll sometimes relate to bottom contour changes but are more likely to roam in a tight school.

Bass anglers should check

Carlyle Lake this year for good numbers of scrappy largemouth bass. The bass average between

2 and 3 pounds, but there are

bigger ones available.

If you locate skipping prey fish mid-lake during the daylight hours, it's a safe bet to believe the stripers are near by. Stripers herd smaller fish to the surface where they're trapped. As the prey fish panic and skip across the surface, they become disoriented and easier for the stripers to catch.

Casting into fleeing prey fish virtually guarantees a hookup if your bait looks anything like a minnow. A feeding frenzy will last for several minutes, enough time for you to quietly move within casting range. Toss your bait into the fray and hold on.

Largemouth bass are under a 14- to 18-inch protected slot limit and there are good numbers of fish up to and over the 18-inch mark.

Cedar Lake covers 1,750 acres in Jackson County and has a 10-horsepower motor restriction. The lake is located four miles southwest of Carbondale off Route 51 South.

For additional information, contact the DNR at (618) 687-4546.

Tim Lesmeister.


Lake Shelbyville Walleyes

Lake Shelbyville walleyes are running in good sizes. Taking fish as long as 24 or 25 inches is possible, but most will be less than 20 inches.

Trolling deeper water is the way to find these wandering fish once the water starts to cool down from t

he summer temperatures. Their eyes provide exceptional low-light vision and they take advantage of being able to see better than prey fish during nighttime hours and stormy, overcast weather.

Tossing beefed-up crankbaits and soft plastics is more productive in the fall than using the tiny lures associated with warm-weather 'eyes.

Daytime fishing centers around the deeper bottom pockets and the outside edges of weedbeds.

Crappies, bluegills and white bass are also available in good numbers.

Lake Shelbyville covers over 1,100 acres of water east of Shelbyville in Shelby and Moultrie counties.

Contact the DNR at (217) 345-2420 for additional information.


Shabbona Lake Muskies

Once the water cools, muskies begin stocking up for the lean winter months ahead in Illinois' premier muskie lake. A last-minute bite can sometimes be the best of the year, as muskies slash at anything that moves. On other autumn days, they're typically tight-lipped and downright picky.

Muskies are looking for big meals without having to expend energy to catch them. Try the bigger crankbaits with wide, rolling action that can be trolled or cast slowly.

Fall muskies will be structure-oriented around the submerged manmade fish attractors, stumps, rockpiles, standing timber and weed edges.

Two state records have been taken from Shabbona Lake. One monster muskie weighed in at 34 pounds and the next was a whopp

er-sized fish weighing 37 pounds.

A 48-inch minimum length restriction is in place. A steel leader and heavy tackle are definitely called for.

Muskies are looking for big meals without having to expend energy to catch them. Try the bigger crankbaits with wide, rolling action that can be

trolled or cast slowly.

Shabbona Lake covers 318 acres in DeKalb County two miles south of the town of Shabbona.

Call the Region 1 office at (815) 625-2968 for more information.


Lake Le-Aqua-Na

Northern Pike

Lake Le-Aqua-Na is a relatively small destination, but there aren't many pike anglers fishing it. Ice-fishing for northerns can provide plenty of fun with numerous smaller pike available and an occasional lunker-class fish. Some of these northerns have reached into the 35-inch-plus range.

Pike remain aggressive throughout the hard-water season and can readily be taken from under the ice. Pike roam freely under the ice and can be taken in just inches of water throughout the daytime hours.

Tip-ups and spinning rods work well. Use a steel leader to prevent bite-offs.

When you pull a northern up through the ice, be sure to avoid its teeth. A pair of pliers is still risky business if the hook is imbedded in the pike's throat. The teeth are razor sharp and can easily slice a finger or tow. The nickname "water wolf" is well deserved.

Lake Le-Aqua-Na covers 43 acres three miles north of Lena in Stephenson County.

For additional information, contact Region 1 at (815) 625-2968.

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