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Illinois hunting and fishing

Illinois River bass rebounding

August 09, 2009 at 04:38 AM

In the middle of a conversation, Ron Boyer suddenly lowered his voice.

“Hey, I’ll tell you some place where the bass are really biting, but you can’t tell anybody,” he said.

I smiled.

So the veteran bass angler from Trivoli continued.

“The Illinois River. Right near Peoria.”

As you can tell from this story, you should never trust a reporter.

Not that Boyer’s secret is actually a secret. The same words he whispered are being spoken from Hennepin to Bath as bass anglers rediscover the Illinois River.

The river’s once-strong largemouth population — a fishery that almost attracted the Bassmasters Classic in the early 1990s — is on the rebound. Three straight years of extended high water have provided excellent conditions for bass to spawn and grow.

“This is looking similar to what we saw after the flood of 1993 in terms of numbers of bass,” said fisheries biologist Wayne Herndon. “Last year these fish were all 5-9 inches. Now a lot of them are 12 inches or longer.”

The 12-inch mark is significant since that’s the minimum size for most Illinois River bass to become keepers. The exception is above the Starved Rock dam in Grundy and LaSalle counties where the minimum is 18 inches. Anglers are allowed six bass per day below Starved Rock, one fish above the dam.

Seeing all these bass topping 12 inches also illustrates how well they are faring despite the onslaught of Asian carp and a lack of gizzard shad.

To see the bass comeback firsthand I joined fisheries biologists earlier this month for population surveys out of Henry and Lacon. While we saw tons of silver carp, both spots also produced good numbers of largemouth bass, some up to 17 inches long.

We even ran into a pair of bass anglers at Lacon, Steve Ondek of Streator and Shawn Schwartz of Princeton (pictured below). “Down here the catch-rate for bass is a lot better than it has been,” Ondek said.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Anglers report the same thing in most Illinois River harbors, marinas and backwaters.

“It seems like the largemouth are really coming on better,” said Ed Oest, who manages Anderson Lake. “Last fall we were catching a lot of them under 12 inches, but this year we caught some 15- and 16-inch bass in real good shape.”

The same is true at Clear Lake according to Tom Grider of Riverside Bait in Pekin. Just last week he talked to several anglers who caught 2-pounders on shallow-running crankbaits.

The comeback is not going unnoticed. Tournament groups that have for years avoided the river are returning. They’re catching fish, too. Ray Jones of Mackinaw won Illinois Central’s July 18 river tourney with five bass weighing 10.98 pounds, including a 3.28-pounder.

And I’ve heard reports of several fish above that weight — most caught when high water allowed access to backwaters that at normal pool are inaccessible.

Even when you can’t fish those hard-to-reach backwaters, there are bass to be caught. Boyer was one of several anglers who caught big numbers last fall in Peoria Lakes while fishing rocks, wood, marinas and backwaters.

All this is reminiscent of the early 1990s, when it seemed there was a tournament on the river every weekend. Those were days when the Illinois River bass fishery was so good that BASS created a SuperStars event from 1993-95 that lured a Who’s Who of bass fishing legends to Peoria.

But since the late 1990s, river bass fishing had been on a decline. Tournaments had gone elsewhere.

Thankfully, that appears to be changing. Just ask Ron Boyer.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Does anyone know if these bass are also in the Starved Rock area? I am really excited about this!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/09 at 11:45 AM

The liverpool area has been seeing good numbers of bass most are 1 to 3 pound range.Its been good ever since the river started droping just caught a good mess friday nite!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/09 at 12:04 PM

I’d like to place some emphasis on this line from the article;

“The exception is above the Starved Rock dam in Grundy and LaSalle counties where the minimum is 18 inches.”

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/09 at 12:38 PM

Last year I talked to an older gentleman who has fished the river for years. A few years back he had told me that he had managed to catch some walleye. This was before the asian carp explosion. I asked how the walleye tasted. He said they were terrible. (Another friend had told me that they tasted like diesel fuel). Then he stated that the white bass that he was currently catching were the best he had ever eaten from the river. It is his theory that maybe the white bass are now eating small asian carp instead of the oily shad thus making them taste better! This makes me wonder if all the predator fish are turning to these carp for food and making them healthy like the bass. I also wonder if the walleye and sauger are tasting any better.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/09 at 07:27 PM

That damn Ron Boyer lol

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/10 at 11:22 AM

I am on the river a lot and I’m sick of slimey carp jumping in my boat. Bass, sauger , white bass and pelicans are doing their best to control them . I think your suggestion that ” the limit is six and they must 12 inches ” is totaly uncalled for. If you are fish hungry, try carp and let the bass and other gamefish alone!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/10 at 05:55 PM

hatecarp,
dont be gay. carp taste like crap. bass taste good. the only reason you put bass in a pedestal is u think they are harder to catch or soemthing. there are plenty of bass in the river if people are catching baskets full. relax dude.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/10 at 09:27 PM

The river is in great shape primarily because no one knew about the game fish recovery. Hopefully fisherman will use their heads and realize that taking limits of bass to the table at this point will only hurt the population. If you like to eat bass then go to some over populated farm pond and actually help solve the problem. Catch those fish and eat them, leave the river bass alone. The game fish cant eat the carp if we eat the game fish… DuuuHHH!!!!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/11 at 09:19 PM

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