Top Places for Bass Fishing in Illinois

Top Places for Bass Fishing in Illinois
Photo By Ron Sinfelt

Every year about this time, bass anglers really start getting antsy. The looming spawn creates a buzz of adrenalin in every bass angler just thinking about all those tight lines and screaming drags. It is almost here. There's a lot of excitement around bass fishing in Illinois.


There is a lot to buzz about here in the Prairie State. With the bevy of great fishing opportunities ranging from small ponds to big reservoirs, streams and rivers, there is a bass fishing opportunity waiting to whet the appetite of most any angler, casual or pro.



Fortunately, here in Illinois, anglers don't have to get too concerned about wild swings in fish populations and subsequent fishing success. Things remain fairly consistent from one year to the next. Dan Stephenson, a fisheries biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR), says the fisheries have not changed a lot since last year, but the fisheries division has and for the better. Several open spots have been filled and the DNR website as well as the ifishillinois site are undergoing numerous changes. Anglers now have much better functioning online resources, as well as improvements in DNR fishery personnel.

Talking with biologists, anglers, and tackle shop owners as well as crunching the numbers from recent sampling efforts, all things point toward an exciting and fruitful fishing season starting right now. Bass fisheries are in great shape across the state and anglers have great diversity of opportunity as previously mentioned. With that in mind, here is a look at several of our top bass destinations for 2014.


SHABBONA LAKE


Bass fishing has been on the upswing at this DeKalb County lake and 2014 looks to be promising as well. Shabbona Lake totals approximately 319 acres and gets a good bit of fishing pressure from bass anglers, but still provides opportunity for good numbers and the occasional larger fish.

Electrofishing has yielded very encouraging results with biologists sampling some eight to nine different year-classes each fall during surveys. Largemouths are available in all size ranges and have been recorded up to 20 inches during the samples. There is also a fairly strong population of smallmouth bass and the electrofishing surveys indicate good numbers in the fishery.

There are also two fish-rearing ponds at Shabbona Lake and they annually produce good numbers of fingerling fish for stocking. Most recently, in 2012, one pond produced some 751 largemouth bass that averaged 6.9 inches long. The other pond produced 1,625 smallmouths averaging 6.4 inches in length.

HEIDECKE LAKE

Regulations and restricted areas make this location a little more difficult to fish, but the bass fishery is definitely worth a little extra aggravation. Located southwest of Chicago in Grundy County, Heidecke Lake totals almost 2,000 surface-acres. It was once a cooling lake, but is now an ambient lake.

Both largemouth and smallmouth bass are present in the lake. More than three decades ago, largemouth bass dominated the fishery, but over time, smallies became more numerous in the fishery and the largemouth population declined. Biologists began stocking largemouths to bolster the population and in recent years, there has been another shift in the makeup of the fishery.

In 2012, largemouth bass outnumbered smallmouths during fall sampling for the first time in many years. There are good numbers of largemouths in the fishery in all size ranges, and body condition is excellent. Smallmouth numbers have fallen, but average size has increased. Anglers should expect good catches this year at Heidecke.

As mentioned, this lake has some site-specific regulations, so learn the rules before making a trip there to fish. Additionally, the lake is partially perched and can become quite dangerous during windy conditions. The site superintendent has the authority to close the lake if hazardous conditions warrant.

CLINTON LAKE

Recent sampling has shown the bass fishery to be pretty encouraging at Clinton Lake in DeWitt County. In fact, biologists collected an average of 81.75 largemouth bass per hour during the 2012 survey, the most recent available results. That was nearly double the 19-year average of 41.4 bass per hour. Furthermore, the numbers of bass greater than 15 inches has been above the 19-year average in recent surveys as well.

The fishery also contains smallmouth bass and recent sampling has shown a few years of back-to-back good spawns. Both 2009 and 2010 sampling had excellent numbers, and 2011 numbers were also above long-term averages. Anglers can expect those fish to add nicely to the creels this year.

Clinton Lake has several site-specific regulations that vary from statewide regulations. Additionally there are portions of the lake that are off-limits and other areas that are closed at certain times of the year. Please check all current regulations before fishing.

LAKE TAYLORVILLE

The bass population at this Christian County lake is very robust and it is considered one of the better bass fisheries in the state. DNR ratings list the fishery as very good to excellent. The latest sampling survey from the fall of 2012 indicated an average catch rate of 99 bass per hour. Routinely, biologists sample more than 100 bass per hour from Taylorville.

Even better, the bass are very healthy and chunky. There is an abundant population of shad in the lake and the largemouths grow big and fat on the ample forage. In fact, a largemouth bass from Taylorville will typically weigh 15 to 20 percent heavier than a bass of the same length from many other Illinois waters.

There is very good representation through numerous year-classes resulting in great size distribution. The 2012 fall survey recorded 26 percent of the catch to be over 15 inches. Furthermore, eight percent was over 18 inches and two percent was over 20 inches. That is not shabby at all considering the hefty weights accompanying these quality-sized fish.

LAKE SPRINGFIELD

This Sangamon County lake is close to 4,000 acres and also has a very high-density bass population with some similarities to Taylorville. It, too, has a very good shad population and the bass typically weigh much heavier than similar length bass elsewhere, often up to 25 to 30 percent more. As an example, the biologist explained that 15-inch bass generally average about 1.75 pounds statewide. That same length bass at Springfield would weigh 2.25 pounds.

As mentioned, there are a lot of bass in the lake. During electrofishing surveys, biologists usually collect an average of 120 bass per hour. Unfortunately, sampling shows that not many of these fish are quality sized. In fact, numbers of fish over 3.5 pounds is not encouraging. Only three percent of the fish collected were over 18 inches. However, on the bright side, the number of fish three pounds and under is extremely good, and there are plenty of fish 15 inches and above. So this is definitely a lake to target if a lot of action and a high catch rate is the goal.

NEWTON LAKE

This cooling lake in Jasper County totals 1,750 acres and has a bass fishery with very good numbers and is rated as such by the DNR. This year looks to be very good with plenty of fish above 15 inches and high catch rates for anglers.

Sampling efforts showed a bit of a dip in length in the last available survey report, but that was a couple years back and fish have had that time to grow larger. During the same survey, fish between the range of 14 and 17 inches had increased significantly, so those fish have now moved into a higher quality size range. There should be plenty to be excited about this year on Newton Lake.

Anglers should remember that the lake is closed during firearm deer season and the coldwater arm of the lake is closed to fishing during waterfowl season. Other site-specific regulations apply and vary from statewide regulations.

REND LAKE

At some 18,900 acres, Rend Lake in Franklin County provides a huge amount of space and a lot of great fishing opportunity for bass anglers. The bass fishery has been improving, thanks in part to an aggressive supplemental stocking program, and the size distribution and year-class structure of the fishery is vastly better than in the past.

From 2002 to 2012, some 613,000 fingerling bass have been stocked into Rend Lake. This has helped offset weak year-classes and bass mortality at the lake. The latest sampling showed good numbers of fish with a catch rate of 81 bass per hour and a 27 percent increase in the number of bass above the 14-inch minimum size limit.

Anglers should expect lots of action and good catch rates of legal-sized bass this year. Most of the legal fish fall between 14 and 18 inches, but there are decent numbers of fish above 18 inches also. Fish 20 inches and greater are present in lower numbers, but some real dandies turn up on occasion.

CEDAR LAKE

Just southwest of Carbondale in Jackson County is Cedar Lake. It totals 1,750 and has one of the best bass fisheries in the state as far as numbers. The latest available sampling numbers from 2012 showed an electrofishing catch rate of an astounding 189 bass per hour. That translates to a lot of fish in the lake and plenty of opportunity for anglers.

The lake has a 14- to 18-inch protective slot limit in place to help balance the size distribution and improve the overall quality of the fishery. No fish that measures within the slot limit may be harvested. A regulation change back in 2002 increased the daily harvest to five fish under 14 inches and limited the harvest above 18 inches to only one bass per day.

Biologists have continued to encourage anglers to harvest their five fish under 14 inches, but the catch and release mindset of most bass anglers limits the success of the slot limit. If more fish under the slot are taken out, the remaining fish have less competition for food and will grow bigger and faster.

In the 2012 sample, fish collected within the 14- to 18-inch slot limit was the fourth-highest number on record. Biologists also reported the number of bass over 15 inches, 16 inches, and 18 inches respectively were also the highest on record. This should mean great things for Cedar Lake bass anglers this season and beyond.

KINKAID LAKE

Also in Jackson County is nearby Kinkaid Lake. It is more than half again larger than Cedar Lake and totals approximately 2,750 acres. It has a very good bass population and fishing there this year should be excellent, but the numbers and size distribution is much different than our previous Jackson County lake.

In the spring of 2012, biologists collected some 500 bass at a rate of 125 per hour. That number represents the third highest catch rate on record. Of the total number of bass collected, 18 percent were over 15 inches and 13 percent were over 16 inches. It is interesting to note that bass under 12 inches tend to be skinny and exhibit slow growth. However, once the bass hit 13 inches and larger, growth rates and body condition improve dramatically.

An ongoing stocking program is gradually improving the smallmouth fishery at Kinkaid. Nearly 43,000 smallmouth fingerlings had been stocked up to the time of the last status report. Catches of legal-size fish have been reported by anglers.

Kinkaid Lake and the aforementioned Cedar Lake each have over 600 Porcupine fish attractors strategically placed to attract and hold fish. Maps of these locations are available at the Lake Murphysboro State Park Office and most bait shops in the area. Maps can also be sent via email if a request is sent to Shawn.Hirst@illinois.gov.

PARTING THOUGHTS

Illinois has numerous good bass-fishing opportunities within its borders and space doesn't permit covering them all here. For instance, Lake George is a 167-acre lake in Rock Island County that has been on the upswing lately. Other top spots this year include Lake Sangchris, Prairie Lake and Lake Jacksonville. Many others have top-notch bass fisheries as well.

Don't forget to share your best bass photos with us on Camera Corner for your chance to win free gear!

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