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Shabbona Lake Crappies

Shabbona Lake Crappies

If you are looking for a good place to go crappie fishing, look no farther than Shabbona Lake in De Kalb County.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Jay Angel

If you like fishing for crappies in Illinois, we have a dandy lake for you to try. Shabbona Lake is a 319-acre reservoir located only 60 miles away from Chicago in De Kalb County's Shabbona Lake State Park.

Shabbona Lake is a great place for catching crappies. It has abundant weedbeds, a creek channel that runs down the middle of it and dozens of fish cribs. But best of all, it has standing timber in both shallow water and deep water. This gives crappies a place to hide during both the coldwater and warmwater months. The combination of these factors plus good spawning habitat makes crappies abundant.

Typically the best crappie fishing of the year happens in May when they move into the shallows. Sometimes you will find them during the month of April if it has been an exceptionally warm spring.

Once the water temperature approaches 55 degrees the crappies will begin to move to the timber, including the fish cribs. You need to look toward the bottom of the water column to find crappies when the water is this cold. One of the key places in which to look for them is the submerged trees located just off the handicapped-accessible fishing pier. These trees are situated in 30 feet of water. Begin your search for crappies by setting your slip-bobbers about three feet from the bottom. If that doesn't work, try lowering the bait closer to the bottom.

During this coldwater portion of April, it is best to use a crappie minnow on a small Aberdeen-style hook. If you like using tube jigs to catch crappies, you might be disappointed. Use the simplest technique possible until the fish become more active. You have to be patient when you are fishing the cold water. Crappies will bite very lightly and they might sit there and eye your minnow for several minutes before deciding to take it. Watch your bobber closely. If you observe it moving slightly left, right, up or down, make sure you set the hook. That is usually the only indication of a strike that you will receive from a cold crappie.

When the water temperature rises above 55 degrees and maintains that level for a time, the crappies will begin moving up in the water column. Now you can start looking for them in the top three feet of the water column. Once again, you need to target them around the submerged wood. Key areas to target now would be the fish cribs that are located off of the campground shoreline or the fish cribs located off of the two northernmost land piers. Another hotspot is the standing timber at the entrance of the no-motor zone.


"This is the time of transition," says crappie guide Jim Kopjo. "Crappies are becoming more active and they are beginning to think about spawning. With their increase in activity, it is easier to catch them."

This is the time to begin using tube jigs. Use a combination of tube jigs tipped with minnows and just minnows on an Aberdeen hook over the fish cribs to determine what is working best. Even though you are using tube jigs you still have to remain mindful that the crappies are not at their peak activity-wise. You want to work your tube jigs slowly. A good way to work tubes this time of the year is to tip a tube with a minnow and work it slowly under a bobber over structure.

Once the water temperature reaches the mid-60s, the crappies will move into the shallows. Once this happens, hang on! This is the time when you hear stories about 100 crappies being caught in a morning. This is the time to target the no-motor zone located at the northwest portion of the lake.

This is the time of the year when catching large crappies is as easy as it is going to get. Crappies move up into the shallows by the thousands. The best method I have found for catching them is using a 1/16-ounce jighead tipped with a 1-inch silver glitter tube. Place the jig 18 inches under the smallest bobber that you can cast with. Crappies are very picky. If they feel the resistance of a large bobber they will spit the hook out. Notice that I didn't make any mention of using a minnow. Once the water temperature reaches the mid-60s you don't need to use minnows anymore unless the crappies aren't biting very well. Putting a minnow on the hook will just slow you down.

You will want to set your bobbers shallow because that's where the crappies are. Most of the time I will set my jig only 12 to 18 inches under the bobber. It is very exciting to observe the silhouette of a crappie floating up to bite the jig. Crappies are always looking up for their food.

The best place to do your shallow presentation is on the south side of the no-motor zone near its entrance. Fish the standing timber near the shoreline. Keep moving down the shoreline, targeting each tree and branch you come to until you find active fish. Once you find fish, stay on that spot until they stop biting. Throw your bobber as close to the branches as you can. Crappies will not move very far to grab your bait. They tend to stay close to the branches. If you don't get a bite within a minute, move your bobber to another spot. Don't waste your time during this great bite time. There are active fish in the area, but sometimes you have to search them out.

If you don't own a boat, now is the time you can come to Shabbona and catch just as many crappies as the boaters. You can access the no-motor zone by parking in the Somonauk Point parking lot and walking in to the trees. You want to fish the timber just like the boaters. You don't need to make an Olympic-style cast in order to catch fish. The crappies will be close to the shore. Remember, the farther you cast, the more likely you are to lose your bobber and jig. You can truly lose many jigs fishing back here, but you can also catch a lot of fish. There is almost one-half mile of shoreline along which to search for crappies. Most of the shoreline is wooded. I have seen shore-anglers catch hundreds of crappies from the shore here during the season.

"In the last year the average size of crappie caught here has increased an inch from 9 1/2 inches to 10 1/2 inches," says Denny Sands, an expert Shabbona crappie angler. "And there is an extremely high number of crappies present in this lake."

A few years ago it was difficult to catch anything here but 8 1/2-inch crappies. You had to sort through a hundred of these cookie-cutters just to find one 10-incher. Nowadays, it is not unusual to catch 11-inchers or even an occasional 12-incher. As far as sheer numbers of fish, this lake is nothing short of incredible. In the midspring, it is not unusual for an experienced crappie angler to catch and release upwards of 100 fish in an afternoon. Just remember that you can only keep 10 crappies per day. There is no size limit. There is also no closed season on crappies.

Shabbona Lake has both white crappies and black crappies. Both whites and blacks were stocked when the lake was created. The black crappies are the dominant species. But because of a recent stocking of both white and black crappies, white crappies are showing up more and more. Crappies have only been stocked into Shabbona a couple of times. The new bloodline introduced has improved the average size of the fish. We'll have to see how the average size improves over the next several years.

Shabbona Lake is a unique fishing lake. This small lake has a regulation that must be adhered to - the 10-horsepower-motor restriction. The 10-horsepower restriction means that you cannot run any outboard motor greater than 10 horsepower. If you have an electric trolling motor on your boat, you can run that. Larger outboards can be used for power loading and unloading of boats.

Boat rental, a campground, a restaurant and a bait shop are all available right on the shores of this lake. For more information about Shabbona Lake, contact Shabbona's Lakeside Bait and Tackle at (815) 824-2581.

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