Here's our annual year-round look at Illinois' best fishing for each month of the year. There's likely to be a great pick or two near you!
Illinois is nearly 400 miles long from the Wisconsin border to Kentucky. As a result, fishing conditions vary accordingly with the weather. Bass in one area may be just starting the spawn, while they have completed spawning in another. There can be ice on the northern lakes in the winter, while the southern third of the state rarely freezes over. Fishing is available all year if one just looks for it.
Most fuel conscious anglers can find great fishing within a short distance from home. Illinois' history of quality water resources and a battery of topnotch state fishery biologists have produced first-class fishing locations for everyone.
We surveyed anglers, biologists, outdoor writers and guides to bring you a list of some of the best locations for each month of 2010.
Here is our annual year-round look at Illinois' best fishing. Chances are one is near you.
Fox Chain Of Lakes: Bluegills
Located about an hour's drive northwest of metropolitan Chicago, the Fox Chain of Lakes is a popular location for ice-fishing. The six lakes and connecting Fox River provide bluegills with great forage and protection from predators. With 7,100 acres of lakes and 15 miles of river, there is no shortage of places to fish.
Winter anglers need only look for other fishermen in the coves and near bridges to find fish. Submerged weed growth attracts fish to those locations and fishermen quickly learn where the bluegills are to be found. Many fishermen will drill multiple holes and use electronic fish locators to find the good spots. Usually the bluegills are found in the same or similar locations, as is the case in summer.
Patience is important. If you fish the regular spots, the fish will be on a feeding schedule. Use that schedule to increase your chances of catching fish. Although bluegills, and other tasty panfish, can be found throughout the lake system, January bluegills are most common in the south end of Channel Lake. Your second choice is the north end of the same lake.
Powerton Lake: Hybrid Stripers
A power plant lake, this 1,426-acre water has hybrid stripers that begin biting during the latter half of this month and will continue to do so into March. Powerton Lake is located just south of Pekin off state Route 29 and Manito Road.
The elevated temperatures of the water from the power plant create an extended active feeding period. The result is a healthy supply of hybrid stripers.
There is an abundant green sunfish and gizzard shad population in the lake upon which the hybrids feed. The shad like to roam the open-water areas in search of zooplankton. That in turn makes them a prey of opportunity for the hybrids. A jig with a big fathead minnow is a good starting point.
The lake is limited to day fishing only. There is a concrete ramp to launch boats. Gates are open only from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. A parking lot will hold 40-plus vehicles with trailers and another 50 to 60 vehicles for shore-bound anglers.
Lake of Egypt: Largemouths
Bass action heats up early as water warms from the power plant at the north end of lake. The lake is about 7 miles southeast of Marion in Williamson County. You will find three full-service marinas on the east side of the lake. There are other boat launches available, which are both public and private. A good lake map will show you their locations.
Early in the month, the bass will hold to weedbeds and will take noisy crankbaits, spinnerbaits and jigs in water up to 8 feet deep. Fish the inside of the weedbeds, as the outside area will be in 20 feet of water.
As the water warms, try spinnerbaits, crankbaits and plastics. Most of the bigger bass are found in far reaches of lake. Try slow-rolling lures along brushpiles that are adjacent to weedbeds.
Be aware of weather conditions, as this part of the state is susceptible to passing fronts, and water conditions can vary quickly. No fishing is permitted within 100 yards of any shoreline with a residence present. Fines are imposed by the lake patrol.
Crab Orchard Lake: Largemouths
Crab Orchard, a 7,000-acre lake in Williamson County, is well known as being a bass factory. Now the lake contains an unusual amount of wood, thanks to a 106-mph storm that blew through last spring. A normally shallow, featureless bottom now has many new fish attractors in the form of sunken trees and a shoreline of brush.
Largemouths are the key predator in the lake. Supplemental stocking of threadfin shad has increased the forage base. Growth rates are good and are attributed to lake productivity and the abundant forage base. Advance bass fingerlings are stocked into the lake each year.
During electroshocking efforts by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, 22 percent of the bass measured were over the 16-inch minimum size limit. Ten percent were over 18 inches in length.
The lake has a number of bank- fishing areas with the best-known being along the Wolf Creek Causeway, a road that divides the lake with a long dike and steep riprap banks. Fishing there is good all year. Another good area is along state Route 13 between Marion and Carbondale. There are a number of fish cribs to attract game fish. They attract the forage fish, which then attract the bass.
There is an access fee that can be paid at the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge on state Route 148 about two miles south of Williamson County Airport.
Rend Lake: Channel Catfish
With 2,300 acres and an undeveloped shoreline, Rend Lake is loaded with channel catfish. There are some flatheads, too, but they are not usually taken by rod-and-reel anglers. During this month, the fish move into the rocks to spawn. Natural reproduction and recruitment is very strong. Catch rates remain well above the 10-year average.
Eating size fish of 1 to 2 pounds are numerous, with fish up to 7 pounds common as well. But there are even larger fish taken every day.
Although channel catfish can be found throughout the lake, the area to the north is usually most productive. This area contains a lot of buckbrush and the sub-impoundment part of the lake. If the lake is choppy, anglers move to the Gun Creek area, which is more sheltered from the wind. Other refuges from the wind are the lake's creeks and coves.
The ample access for shore-anglers along the lake and the creek is a plus for finding spawning cats. This month, the water is usually high and particularly productive because of the flooded shoreline brush.
Heidecke Lake: Walleyes
Heidecke Lake is in Grundy County near Morris. It offers a unique fishery that is sustained by massive stockings. The lake is a "closed" water circulation system in that water is pumped from the lake to cool the generators of the power plant and then pumped back into the lake. The warm water keeps the fish feeding all year round.
At first glance, Heidecke Lake seems to lack any features of interest to anglers. But if you remember to follow the current flow, fish can be found. Walleyes will relate to a rather narrow band of depth and temperature that can shift when the power is generated.
The lake does have submerged structure in the form of points, troughs, holes and ridges. The only way to find them is usually with electronics. Fish tend to suspend in the open water over deep-water structure or hold along the riprap.
Fishing is allowed from 6 a.m. to sunset each day. The standard jig/minnow combination produces the most fish.
Evergreen Lake: Crappies
This Bloomington lake was once famous for its overpopulation of carp. In the 1970s, the carp were removed and game fish were stocked. Today, Evergreen Lake contains good populations of game fish.
The lake has a 10-horsepower limit, and a sticker must be purchased. For more information, contact the visitor's center at (309) 726-2022.
The hot summer days cause crappie anglers to move to night-fishing on this lake. Fishermen will set up on brush near deeper water using a slip-float and a fathead minnow. The minnow is held in place by using enough split shot to hold the float upright.
If you don't receive a bite in about 20 minutes, it is time to move to another location. Once one location begins to produce crappie of the size desired, stay with it until the bite ends or when you start catching small fish.
Lake Michigan: King Salmon
Salmon fishing along the Illinois lakefront is better the farther north one travels. Anglers will be catching fish from shore up near Waukegan in the beginning of the month. Later in the month, Chicago ground-pounders will find fish in the harbors and along the shoreline.
As the waters begin to cool near- shore, king and coho salmon will begin to show up. Water temperatures are of vital consideration. Anglers should watch the temperatures for water in the 60s. This usually happens when the prevailing winds are from the west for a few days. Fishing deteriorates in warm water and improves in cooler water temperatures. Shore-anglers begin to pick up these members of the salmon family using bright-colored spoons and Kastmasters. Work your lure near the bottom.
Shore-fishermen catch cohos more often, as the kings tend to prefer the colder and deeper water. The fish move around a lot during this time, and boaters have to search for their quarry. Most fish will suspend near structure, and good electronics are a necessity. Boating fishermen will troll glow spoons and glow flasher/dodger and fly combinations. Bright colors are a key element in tackle selection. Big is better when considering the size of the lures. Most of the trolling is done in 50 to 100 feet of water. Boat speed, a key element, should be kept between 2 and 3 miles per hour.
Lake Michigan: Lake Trout
Located at the marina about half- way between Chicago and Milwaukee, the North Point pier becomes a hotspot for salmon anglers who don't have a boat. Boaters will usually troll the waters just offshore, too.
The pier will produce excellent fishing action this month as the chinook (or king) salmon, steelhead trout and lake trout begin to move shallow. They are usually found close to shore in about 100 feet of water. They can be found as shallow as 35 feet of water.
About 8 a.m., they move to the bottom of the water column, in 45- to 55-degree water, where temperatures are more to their liking. Anglers can shift to bottom rigs and continue to take fish but will get fewer strikes. At night, they begin to move back up in the column. Their peak feeding temperature is at about 54 degrees.
Chicagoans gain easy access to the area by using the train that stops at the marina. There is also ample parking and boat ramps for those who wish to fish from boats.
Kankakee River: Smallmouths
The entire length of the Kankakee River in Illinois contains good smallmouth populations. The abundance of shoreline structure, above and below the surface, is home to the big brown bass. As long as the water remains relatively warm, they will bite. November often means ice and the action slows at that point.
The river extends from the Indiana state line to the Des Plaines River. Fishing for smallmouths is best in the center section of that length. Places like Kankakee River State Park and Des Plaines Conservation Area provide easy boat access, as well as miles of shoreline with good fishing.
The entire length of the river in Illinois (about 58 miles) contains considerable access for shoreline anglers.
Fox Chain of Lakes: Muskies
The once mysterious fish of 10,000 casts, muskies are well established in all of the lakes in the Fox Chain of Lakes. The colder water temperatures seem to bring out the best in this battler. Anglers with big baits and the stamina to endure the battle will find excellent muskellunge action this month on The Chain.
Muskies are widely distributed in the Chain of Lakes. The ample forage makes for a happy home to muskies virtually anywhere there is current.
Catch-and-release seems to be the rule rather than exception on this water. This rule is undoubtedly one of the main reasons muskie fishing continues to improve each year.
Although anglers can cast or troll for muskies, casting appears to be the favorite by 3 to 1 with Illinois anglers.
Large jerkbaits and large suckers are the primary weapons of muskie hunters in the lakes of the chain. Although keeper fish are caught, it is recommended that fish be returned to the water unharmed.
Lake of Egypt: Largemouths
Lake of Egypt, a power plant water in Williamson County, south of Marion is some 2,300 acres of bass habitat. The lake is open all year, as it does not freeze over. In winter there are even bass tournaments held out of some of the marinas. Tournament anglers report finding bass from the warmwater discharge out into the main-lake channel and down about a third of the length of the lake. Others find bass in the backs of the coves at the north end of the lake.
Be aware that it is illegal
to fish within 100 yards of any residence on the shore.
Cold month fishermen tend to find bass on the points, dropoffs and creek channels. The favorite lures are jig-and-pigs, jigging spoons, Little Georges, spinnerbaits and deep-running crankbaits. This pattern continues right up to spawning time.
This time of the year, many of the boat launch areas are closed. However, the three marinas on the northeast side of the lake remain open. You may have to pay a slight launch fee, but it is worth the money in case of a problem with ice on the ramp.