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Illinois' Best Bets for Bluegills

Illinois' Best Bets for Bluegills

Do you like catching really big bluegills? The experts say these public waterways are the hottest in the Prairie State.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By P.J. Perea

Bullgills? Yes, bullgills. Those are the bluegills that put a serious arc in your rod and make you think, even for a few seconds, that you are hooked into a bass or much larger fish. The hard-fighting hand-sized bluegill that is much sought after by panfish anglers are tough to find and are as rare as a 7-pound bass in Illinois. People always talk about them, but you can never get access to the private ponds where monsters like these are caught.

But don't fret because big bluegills can be found in public lakes. Anglers who are willing to do a little legwork and find some of the more obscure spots can find these heavy-bodied panfish that are only known by tight-lipped locals. Our fertile soils not only raise a lot of corn and soybeans, but also fuel productive lakes that hold healthy populations of panfish. As long as the predator-prey balance is well managed, catching bluegills up to 10 inches fish is possible.

Here are a few waters recommended by the Department of Natural Resources based on annual sampling reports.

Located in Macoupin County and six miles southwest of Carlinville, 59-acre Beaver Dam Lake has a maximum depth of 10 feet and 1.7 miles of shoreline. Over the years the lake has been stocked with largemouth bass, bluegills, sunfish and channel catfish. A free boat launch and docks are available for public use. No gasoline engines are allowed, only electric trolling motors.

"Beaver Dam Lake has always been a good place to catch quality bluegills," said Jeff Pontnack, district fishery biologist. "This lake is full of intermediate-sized largemouth bass, which in turn does a fine job of controlling bluegill reproduction/recruitment. The results of this scenario allow good numbers of 6- to 9-inch individuals. Angler harvest aids in this process. Largemouth bass predation and strong angler interest limits bluegill densities, hence, good condition/growth for this species.

"Lastly, Beaver Dam Lake is a small, shallow and fertile impoundment. Curlyleaf pondweed inhabits this waterbody five months of the year, which provides a solid forage base for the bluegills. This situation bodes well for this fish group."


The trailer camping area has electricity at each pad and a sanitary dump station. A shower building with flush toilets is located in the center of the trailer camping area. Water is available in the area, but there are no water hookups at each site. Tent camping is in a separate area, with nearby restrooms and water. All camping is situated in wooded areas with large oak and hickory trees, which provide shade throughout most of the day. Located next to the shower house is a new Rent-A-Cabin available for reservation by calling the park office at (217) 854-8020.

Dawson Lake, at 158 acres, is in McLean County and four miles north of LeRoy in Moraine View State Recreation Area.

The lake has a strong largemouth bass predator base that keeps the panfish population in check. Whether from the five miles of shoreline or off the handicapped-accessible fishing pier, the angling is always good. There is an idle-speed/no-wake speed limit existing for boat motors over 10-horsepower. There is a two-lane launching ramp and docking facility, and boat rentals are available at the concession stand.

Bluegills range from 1/4- to 1/3-pound and are found along weedbeds and backs of coves. As a bonus, the lake also has a strong redear sunfish population, with fish up to 1-pound caught along with the nice bluegills.

There are 137 Class A trailer campsites with water, electricity and a sanitary station. Sixty-one sites can now be reserved in Gander Bay campground. A boat launch and dock is also situated in this area. Catfish Bay camp area and Tall Timber backpack trail provide 32 primitive Class D sites. Ol' Orchard group camp has two sites able to accommodate 125 people. Timber Ridge group camp has three sites. Timberline Ridge horse camp has 30 Class A campsites complete with water, electricity and hitching racks.

The site phone number is (309) 724-8032.

Located about 45 miles east of St. Louis on Interstate 70 is the town of Greenville. One mile northeast of town is 775-acre Greenville New City Lake. Like many municipal waters, the lake is overlooked by most for the more popular public lakes in the area. In this case, Governor Bond Lake, Carlyle Lake and Coffeen Lake draw the crowds and anglers. Low angling pressure and obscure location equal big panfish.

Fish average about 7 to 9 inches and can be caught from virtually anywhere along the shoreline where there is some cover.

Find out more about visiting this area by browsing the Web at

Spend the day fishing, remember to bring a lunch and some good walking shoes or a bike. There are plenty of places to fish and enjoy a sandwich along the 104.5-mile linear park that spans five counties - Rock Island, Bureau, Henry, Lee and Whiteside.

It's a well-kept secret, but fishing along the Hennepin Canal is well worth the trip. Whether you're angling for bluegills, crappies, walleyes or bass, the 70 bridge or lock locations are available and the pools are stocked regularly.

Bluegills average 1/3-pound and are found in weedy areas, downed trees, brush and rockpiles lining the miles of shoreline.

Class C and Youth Group camping are allowed along the Hennepin Canal Parkway at the following locations: Lock 11, west of the Canal Prism; Lock 17, northwest of the lock; Lock 21, North Day Use Area (drinking water available); Bridge 14, north bank; Lock 22, southwest of the lift bridge (drinking water available); Bridge 23, south bank; Lock 23, just west of the parking lot; Lock 26. Southbank Equestrian camping is restricted to the south side of the Lock 21 area. More information can be found by calling the site office at (815) 454-2328.

Perhaps one of the coolest places to fish for bluegills in Illinois is 1,890-acre Horseshoe Lake in Alexander County. Fishing amongst of bald cypress, tupelo gum and swamp cottonwood trees and wild lotus makes one think of the swamps of the deep South, minus the alligators, stifling 100-plus degree heat and nutria.


ted in just east of Illinois Route 3 seven miles north of Cairo, the 10,200 acre Horseshoe Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area is a massive park with nearly unlimited recreational opportunities. There are 38 Class A camping sites with electricity and showers, 40 Class B/E campsites with electricity only and 10 Class C sites available for overnight guests.

Fish the spawning beds from May to June, and dip live bait around the cypress trees and hang on, because the big stumps hold big bluegills, crappies, bass and catfish.

Call the site office for more information at (618) 776-5689 or (618) 776-5281.

The area is named after the trail Abraham Lincoln's family followed en route from Indiana to Illinois in 1831. The focal point of the park is Lincoln Trail Lake, which covers 146 acres in the southwest corner of the park. With its numerous fingers and more than seven miles of thickly wooded shoreline, it offers one beautiful vista after another. The lake's maximum depth is 41 feet.

"Lincoln Trail Lake has excellent bluegill fishing," said Mike Mounce, local district fishery biologist. "This is basically a result of a high-density largemouth bass population, periods of excessive vegetation control eliminating escape cover and low fishing pressure. Fish in excess of 9 inches are a good possibility. The redear sunfish population is excellent as well."

The docking facility includes a launching ramp and parking for boat trailers. Boat and seasonal dock rentals are available at the concession stand. Outboard motors are limited to 10-horsepower.

Two Class A campgrounds, Plainview and Lakeside, offer something for every type of camper. For those who like the beautiful sights and sounds of the great outdoors but prefer the amenities of home, both areas offer electricity, showers, tables, fireblocks, playground equipment, water, toilet facilities and a sanitary dumping station. For those who wish to be attuned to nature without the distractions of modern conveniences, Lakeside Campground also includes a Class C camping area for tents. All campers must obtain camping permits before entering the campground. Site office number is (217) 826-2222.

The land making up the 576-acre Mazonia Fish and Wildlife Area 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 will be available via boat launches - electric trolling motor only - while some of the smaller lakes will be walk-in only.

This fishing gem just south of Chicago requires fit anglers because many good spots are found deep in rugged, hilly terrain. If you are part billy goat and adventurous, bluegills up to 9 inches are waiting for you. The DNR recommends visiting lakes No. 3, No. 10 and Ponderosa.

Call the site office for more information on fishing this unique site at (815) 237-0063.

Located just north of Illinois Route 120 in the town of McHenry, this 245-acre McHenry County Park District lake was recently renovated, restocked and re-opened to angling just a few years ago. The shallow, clear lake with heavy vegetation has strong bass and pike populations. The bluegills are tough to find, but average 6 to 9 inches. Access to the lake is limited by the many private properties lining the lake, but there are a few public areas - beaches and parks - that can be found via driving around with a detailed map. A special boating permit is needed to access the lake's one public boat launch hidden in a subdivision. There is a 7.5-horsepower limit on motors. Many anglers wade the shallow portions of the lake, and flyfishers are very fond of the area.

This beautiful site in Adams County has a unique designation as a fish preserve by the DNR, only sportfishing tackle is allowed, and anglers may not use more than two poles and four hooks. There are six fishing piers around the lake as well as bank-fishing.

Rowboats, canoes and paddleboats can be rented, and there is a launching ramp for private craft. Only electric motors are allowed, no outboards.

"If I was to mention a lake in District 12 that maintains reasonably good bluegill populations, I would have to say Siloam Springs," said Mike Jones of the spring-fed fishery. "I would like to say good management has provided this fishery, but I believe it's the character of the lake. The deep (38 feet), clear water with nice cuts and coves that provide food, some vegetative cover and protection from predators provide excellent conditions for the fishery. Adults as large as 8 inches are common pre- and post-spawn."

If you want to spend a night or two under the stars, there are 98 Class A campsites featuring restrooms, showers and electricity, 84 Class B campsites featuring showers and restrooms and four backpack campsites, in addition to a special group campground. There is a centrally located shower facility available to all campers. Call (217) 894-6205 for more information on camping reservations.

Walnut Point State Park is a 630-acre area in eastern Illinois in Douglas County 20 miles northeast of Charleston between Route 36 and Route 133. In the late 1960s the lake was stocked with largemouth bass, black crappies, channel catfish, redear, sunfish and bluegills. In order to assure desirable fishing populations, fish management practices such as the control of submerged vegetation, water drawdowns and special regulations are used to reduce the number of small panfish. The lake has a maximum depth of 31 feet, an average depth of 11.5 feet and a shoreline of 6.3 miles.

"Walnut Point Lake has had a good bluegill fishery," said biologist Mounce. "An 8-inch minimum length limit and 10-fish creel limit allowed protection for a significant number of fish to grow to sizes above the size limit. A high-density largemouth bass population and low-density vegetation eliminates escape cover. Also, high levels of water fertility and low fishing pressure have helped this fishery. A redear sunfish fishery is developing nicely in this lake after a recent reintroduction."

The many-fingered lake is stream-fed and formed by an earthen dam located on the south side of the area. The dam was built in 1967 and water filled the basin to spillway level by the fall of 1968.

There are two Class A camping areas with tables, stoves, electricity and a sanitary dump station. Class C - walk-in tent camping - and Group Camping - youth or adult - are also available. A shower building with flush toilets is open on a seasonal basis. Campers are required to have their camping unit and equipment with them when they register. Normally, only one camping unit is allowed per site. Site office number is (217) 346-3336.

Lying just southeast of Clinton in De Witt County, Weldon Springs State Recreat

ion Area is a 550-acre park. Weldon Springs Lake is a spring-fed lake with two miles of shoreline dotted with bank-fishing platforms, and a boat ramp provides anglers with easy access to fishing spots.

Bluegills range up to 9 inches and can be found along weedbeds, downed trees and amongst Christmas tree brushpiles. The lake also has sizable redear sunfish.

Named by Family Circle magazine as one of the Top Twenty Campgrounds in America, Weldon Springs' campground offers a quiet and friendly atmosphere for a relaxing camping experience.

The traditional Class A campground has 77 campsites with electricity, water service, vehicular access, sanitary dumping station, shower building, cooking grills, picnic tables, pit toilets and playground equipment. Weldon Springs' campground is open year-round, but the shower building closes Nov. 1 and reopens in the spring. Reservations are accepted for dates between May 1 and Sept. 30 for 10 Class A sites, one Class C and the Rent-A-Tent. Five of the reservable Class A sites are pull-through. Areas for tent, backpack, large group and youth camping are also available. Primitive backpack campsites are located along Salt Creek. Please call ahead for conditions, because these sites could be flooded in spring.

Black Locust Group Camp can accommodate up to 300 campers at one time. Long Point is for youth groups only and can accommodate up to 90 campers. This group tent camping area is lakeside and located near the main campground. Amenities at Long Point include a shelter with electricity, water, fire rings and picnic tables.

Disabled campers are also served. Three campsites designed for special needs offer a large hard-surfaced pad. Privies and water are easily accessible.

The site office number is (217) 935-2644.

* * *
One thing that anglers will note about these lakes with excellent bluegill populations is limited access, remote locations and low angling pressure.

The limited access prevents many bass and bluegills from leaving the lake, keeping populations in balance. The low fishing pressure also allows bluegills to grow to exceptional sizes. Older bluegills in the population means there is a lot of social pressure on younger bluegills to grow large and defend nesting territories. Stunted populations are composed of many fish that mature at a young age. Anglers should show some moderation and exercise some restraint, especially on smaller lakes where a few anglers can significantly impact a population. To that point, it is a good idea to release larger bluegills and keep the smaller ones. This will help maintain the social balance and keep larger fish in the population.

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