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Central Illinois lake status reports

February 01, 2010 at 09:53 PM

Here are fisheries biologist Dan Stephenson’s status reports for the lakes in his district, which is in central Illinois around Springfield. He also included reports for some lakes that he observed while helping other biologists.

Lake Sangchris, Christian County (2,321 acres)

The Lake Sangchris bass population remains stable but not quite where I would like it to be.  There are excellent numbers but their body conditions are still a concern.  Those fish in mid-range sizes, 10”-15”, are not as heavy as they should be.  For one thing the gizzard and threadfin shad that provide forage for all predatory species in the lake do not spawn as well as I would like to see, so the food base is not there.  And secondly, the bass spawn is typically very high so there are lots of bass to feed.  For that reason, beginning in the Spring of 2008 I implemented a special regulation that allows that angler to take one bass over 15” and two bass under 15” home per day.  This limit does two things.  It reduces the numbers under 15” so those bass that are left will have more food and addresses another problem I see on the lake; by limiting the harvest of bass over 15” to one per day, there should be an increase the numbers of larger fish.  Lake Sangchris used to produce more 4+ pound fish than it does now.  I will leave that regulation on for as long as necessary to change the bass population structure and improve their body conditions. 

On a very positive note, I picked up more crappie in the Fall 2009 fish population survey than I have in 20+ years.  I have stocked from the on-site nursery pond nearly 150,000 fingerling crappie since the Fall of 2004 and I believe they are finally having an impact, not so much by providing fish to the angler but by maintaining their numbers at a high enough level to get off a natural in-lake spawn.  The white crappie numbers were better than the black, with fish ranging from 6”-13”, while most of the blacks were sublegal, ranging from 6”-9”.  Most of the black crappie were the “famous” blacknosed crappie.  Those are the crappie that originally came from Arkansas in a trade in 1985.  Those fish have taken on quite a reputation for being hard fighters and very heavy-bodied.  Anglers lover them, so much so that I have also stocked them in Lake Springfield (I will discuss them later).  They have also been stocked in Clinton Lake and Kinkaid Lake in southern Illinois.  Since I am talking about the blacknosed crappie I should point out that I drained the crappie rearing pond in November and stocked from it 18,000 blacknosed crappie.  While not as many as I usually get from the pond, they averaged 7.2” so most will survive in the lake.  So the crappie are doing very well and should continue for years to come.

The striped bass still are not doing as well, at least in size, as I would like.  We began the striped bass program in 1983 stocking 10 fingerlings per acre of water every other year.  By 1988 there were 18 pound fish in the lake.  By 1994 the state record 31+ pounder was caught and many over 20 pounds were taken.  The numbers of large fish of that size has declined this past decade but overall their numbers are up.  In fact, the 2009 survey was the third best I’ve had for numbers of fish collected per net,  However the largest I weighed was only 11 pounds.  There is a very strong year class ranging from 5-8 pounds.  Those fish were collected last Spring, so they have had another growing season and should average about three pounds above that now.  A very nice sized fish but not what the devoted striper anglers would like to catch.

The lake produces excellent numbers of channel and flathead catfish.  The largest flathead catfish I ever seen in a survey was weighed a few years ago.  It was over 65 pounds and good numbers over 20 are taken every year.  The channel cats are doing much better now than in the early years of the lake when they were overpopulated and “stunted”.  Stunting is a condition where there are too many and not enough food to go around so their growth rates, for all practical purposes, stop.  Today 3-5 pound channel cats are quite common.  So the lake looks very good for both species.

Finally, I hear reports of good white bass from time to time but I seldom see any in the surveys so there is little I can say about them.  The lake was very good for white bass in its early years but has dropped off due to poor spawns.  I expect that population to remain sporadic with an occasional good year or two with several years of poor fishing in between.

Lake Springfield, Sangamon County (4,234 acres)

The largemouth bass population continues to be one of the better populations in the state.  Excellent numbers and body conditions are found in the bass in the lake.  For example, in the past 15 annual surveys we have collected over 100 bass per hour of electrofishing which is very high for a lake of this size, maybe the best in the state.  Also as an example, the statewide average weight for a 15” bass is 1.75 pounds.  In Lake Springfield a 15” bass average 2.25 pounds, nearly 30% above the average.  This holds true for all sizes of bass.  All of this due to excellent spawns and an excellent forage base, primarily in the form of gizzard and threadfin shad.  The only downside to the bass population is the apparent lack of large, 4+ pound fish.  I say apparent because I seldom get any fish over 18” in length but the bass fishermen have begun taking very large fish.  I received pictures of an 8.5 and 7.3 pound bass taken in an early Spring tournament.  In addition, within the past two weeks I saw pictures of two more bass over 7 pounds caught in November.  So anglers are beginning to catch larger fish early and later in the year.

The crappie population continues its rebound.  The lake had an excellent white crappie population throughout the 80’s but nearly disappeared in the 90’s.  In an attempt to recover the crappie I began using a six acre nursery pond just south of town to raise crappie in.  Several adult male and female crappies are stocked in the Spring.  They spawn and the young grow, predator free for two years at which time I drain the pond and remove the young crappie to the lake.  I’ve done that three times now for Lake Springfield.  In the Fall of 2004 we stocked 42,000, 5.2” white crappie from the pond into the lake.  In the Fall of 2006 we drained the pond and took nearly 77,000, 4.2” black crappie with the distinctive black stripe running from just under their chin, across the mouth, between the eyes and up the spine, from the pond and stocked them in to the lake.  We picked up an incredible 271 of those special “blacknosed” crappie in the Fall 2007 survey.  The blacknosed are now reproducing naturally in the lake with many in the 5”-6” range collected in our surveys.  The 2008 nursery pond produced only 14,000 white crappie for stocking.  As you can see, those numbers were not as good as previous years but the fish averaged 5.6” so they were not as vulnerable to bass predation as a smaller fish would be.  The crappie appear to be coming back nicely not to the levels I would like yet but we hope to keep this up.  The nursery pond will be drained in November of 2010 and the blacknosed crappie now in it will be stocked into the lake to keep that population going. 
Walleye were initially stocked in 1988 and did very well in their early years.  By 1994 there was an excellent population.  That population began dropping off in the late 90’s and into the early past decade even though the stocking program remained exactly the same.  I decided to try stocking their cousin, the native sauger, in 2003.  They are more acclimated to our climate and waters in central Illinois.  There hasn’t been much success with them.  Their population would, to date, would be rated only fair.  I hear of some being caught, especially this time of the year.  They concentrate to feed on the shad in the hot-water area of the lake.  However, I haven’t collected even one in the past three years, so they can’t be doing very well.  The program may be discontinued.  I hate to burden our, already over-taxed, hatcheries for no apparent reason.
The channel catfish and flathead catfish populations remain near the top in the state and have so for decades.  Numerous channel catfish are caught annually ranging from 1-10 pounds.  Flatheads range from 1 pound to 50 pounds.  For the state fair display this year I managed to get a fish that weighed nearly 60 pounds, so big fish are quite common in the lake.  And there is excellent spawning and recruitment.  We see numerous small flatheads in our surveys, which bodes well for the future. 
In the late Winter of 2005-06, with the help of the Lake Springfield Catfish Club, we began a blue catfish stocking program.  Blue cats are a species of large catfish that are found in the Mississippi, Ohio and Illinois Rivers.  The Springfield Club held tournaments near Alton on the Mississippi and brought back in their livewells blue cats for stocking into the lake.  From January 2005- April 2005 they stocked 137 blue cats ranging in size from 3-57 pounds.  They appear to be doing well in the lake, with a 70+ pounder caught this past Fall.  To date there are no signs of reproduction and that’s what interests me.  I don’t know if they will spawn.  If so, great, if not, those already stocked will do very well and provide a fishery for a very large catfish.  The current world record for blue cats is 124 pounds, so they do get big.  It was caught in the Mississippi River near Alton, IL.  In early 2010 the Catfish Club, with the help of CWLP and the IDNR, will stock several thousand dollars worth of blue cats from hatcheries to maintain the fishery that’s been created.
The white bass remain very good.  The numbers may be down a little but high quality fish (>14”) are present.
The bluegill population is still very good with large numbers of very fat fish found in the rip-rap along the highway and railroad bridges.

Lake Taylorville, Christian County (1,286 acres)

The Lake Taylorville largemouth bass population remains quite strong although the Fall 2009 survey was not as good as the previous three years.  This was probably due to the late survey in the last week of October when the water temperatures had dropped and the weather conditions were poor.  Good numbers, of 88 bass per hour, were collected but only 5% were over 15” and 1% over 18”.  The numbers of larger fish were down but again, the weather probably moved the larger fish off shore making electrofishing difficult.  As with Lake Springfield, the bass are in excellent body condition due to the strong gizzard shad forage base. 

The crappies continue to be the big draw to this lake.  For years now the crappies have been excellent.  The population has both excellent total numbers and is especially good numbers of fish over 10”.  The crappie population would have to be rated the best in central Illinois but this is not a large lake so it cannot take a great deal of fishing pressure. 

The channel catfish are excellent too, both in numbers and size structure.

Beginning in the Winter of 2005-06 commercial fishermen began a bigmouth buffalo harvest program.  These buffalo are captured live and shipped live to the markets in New York.  The first year harvest yield was 60,000 pounds of live buffalo.  That number dropped significantly in 2007 but as long as the fish are free from contamination and the commercial fishermen want them, the program will continue.

Jim Edgar/Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area

Prairie Lake, Cass County (210 acres)

Prairie Lake, one of the new lakes built on the old Commonwealth Edison ground known as Site M, remains a very good largemouth bass lake.  It was excellent a few years after the initial stocking but it is hard to maintain that very high level.  The initial bass year class moved through the fishery providing excellent fishing in 2003-2006 but those old fish are gone now.  The Spring 2009 survey revealed a very good bass population.  Eighty-eight bass were collected per hour with 82% over 15” and 12% over 18”, so large bass are still prevalent in the lake.  I’m a little concerned about the apparent lack of small fish but we have seen population structure indices that look like this for years so the smaller fish must be there just not susceptible to our electrofishing.  In the Fall of 2009 the on-site nursery pond was drained and 720 smallmouth bass were stocked into the lake from it.  Those numbers are not what I had hoped for but the fish averaged 9.2” so their survival should be excellent.  In 2010 I will continued to raise the “smallies” in the nursery pond and will also supplement their numbers by stocking fingerlings from our hatchery.  I hope to build up their numbers within three years to provide and additional species for the bass anglers.  They probably won’t reproduce naturally so they will always need to be stocked.

The muskies are doing well.  The 2009 survey was the best to date so far as number of fish collected per hour of electrofishing.  The largest was only 41.5” long however.  I have reports of fish over 50” being caught but I haven’t seen anything approaching that yet.  We will continue the current stocking regime of 200- 10” fingerlings every other year to maintain that fishery.

The channel catfish are excellent, in numbers, population size structure and body conditions.  The bluegill and redear sunfish are not good at all and probably never will be for reasons to long to go into in this forum.  For large bluegill and redear sunfish go to Drake and Gridley lakes. 

The lake is open to boats with motors over 10hp but there is a lake-wide no wake zone. For those boats with 10hp motors or less, they can operate full throttle if desired.  There is a concrete ramp, parking lot, restroom, handicapped fishing pier, playground, pavilion, camping area including rental cabins, docks near the campgrounds and a 17 mile hiking trail around its perimeter.

Gridley Lake, JEPCSFWA, Cass County (25 acres)

I’m not very happy with this lake.  It started out pretty much textbook in 1997 when it was first stocked.  After a couple of years the bluegill and redear sunfish were very good-to-excellent.  The bass and channel catfish were very good as well.  Over the past several years however things have been falling off.  The largemouth bass are stunted (stopped growing due to high density), which is not good for the bass angler who wants large fish, but having such high densities creates heavy predation on the sunfish(bluegill and redear) keeping them thinned out.  By thinning out the sunfish population those not eaten by the bass have more food and space so their growth rates improve.  In a nutshell, lots of skinny little bass mean big bluegill and redear sunfish which is the management goal of this lake.  The bass are stunted as desired but we are not seeing the large bluegill and redear we should.  In the Spring 2009 survey we collected some redear up to 9.5” and a handful of bluegill 7” long.  So things aren’t as good as we would like. 

The channel catfish population is very good. 

Gridley Lake has a handicapped fishing pier, concrete ramp, rest rooms and parking lot and a walking path around the entire lake for bank access.  No gas motors, only electric trolling motors are allowed

Drake Lake, JEPCSFWA, Cass County (35 acres)

Drake Lake, the last lake built on the site, is progressing as expected.  It, like Gridley Lake, is being managed for large sunfish (redear and bluegill).  The largest redear collected in the Spring 2009 survey were nearly 10” and the largest bluegill were about 9”, so they look good.  The bass started out great but growth rates are starting to slow indicating an overpopulation.  As mentioned in the Gridley Lake narrative, stunted bass lead to high quality pan fish so with a little luck we should get there.  Drake Lake is, in my mind, the prettiest of the lakes on the site.  It is completely surrounded by mature hardwoods.  It has developed a severe underwater vegetation infestation.  I will treat that with herbicide but it will still be hard to control.  Fish this lake in the Spring for the big panfish.  There is a 10 fish per day limit on bluegill and redear.  It too has a concrete ramp, rest rooms and parking lot.  No gas motors, only electric trolling motors are allowed.

Gurney Road Pond, JEPCSFWA, Cass County (1.5 acres)

The Gurney Road Pond has a catchable trout program in the Spring at this site.  The first Saturday of April at 5:00 am the pond will be open to trout fishing.  An Inland Trout Stamp is required of all licensed anglers.  There are also some bluegill, largemouth bass and channel catfish in the pond and can be caught anytime.
The IDNR Heavy Equipment Crew renovated several of the ponds on the site during the Winters of 1999-2001.  Because the fish populations in most of those were out-of-balance or had undesirable fish species, i.e. carp bullheads they were eradicated and restocked.  Those ponds completed and fishable are: Geiss Road Pond, Gridley Road Pond, North Bike Trail Pond, Philadelphia Road Pond, Otter Pond, Bullfrog Pond, South Highway 11 Pond, Edward Lane Pond, Painter Pond and Herrmann Road Pond.  For more information on pond location contact the site office.

Chautauqua U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Mason County (1,200 acres)

Management of this site has taken a new direction.  If you have any questions about Lake Chautauqua contact me for up-to-date information.

Lake Jacksonville, Morgan county (475 acres)

I had always included Lake Jacksonville in my report since I had the lake for 20+ years but seven years ago the Division of Fisheries realigned the districts and I no longer have Morgan county.  The biologist that now manages Lakes Jacksonville, Waverly and Mauvaise Terre is Mike Jones in our Pittsfield office.  For more information on the lakes in Morgan county, please contact him at 217.285.2221.  I will say, in a nutshell, Lake Jacksonville has a excellent bass population.  It remains one of the best in the state, although changes in the amount of underwater vegetation from the preferred coontail to the invasive species, Eurasian milfoil, appear to be impacting the bass.  The city of Jacksonville has hired an aquatic applicator to treat the milfoil and they are making every effort to fight it.  Excellent total numbers and excellent numbers of bass over 4 pounds remain.  The white crappie population is coming on nicely as well.  And as with nearly all the lakes in the state, the channel catfish are excellent.

Gillespie New City Reservoir, Macoupin county (~200 acres)

This lake is not in my district but I worked with Jeff Pontnack.  It may well be THE best largemouth bass lake in the state and has been that way for years.

Coffeen Lake, Montgomery county (1,100 acres)

This is one of the best largemouth bass lakes in the state.  Excellent crappie and striped bass too.

Other smaller lakes

The following lakes are minor public lakes in my district that might be of local interest.

Virginia City Reservoir, Cass County(18 acres)

This small lake in Cass County was drained, killed out and then re-stocked with bluegill, redear sunfish and channel catfish fingerlings in the Fall of 2007.  The largemouth bass will be released into the lake in late June of 2008.  Based on the 2009 survey, the lake is progressing very well. Fishing should be good-excellent in a year or two.  Fish grow quickly in new lake situations. 

Ashland New and Old City Reservoirs, Cass County (10 and 5 acres respectively)

Largemouth bass- High density, no size

Bluegill- Good-to-excellent.  New reservoir- The largest and most I’ve seen on the lake in 22 years since the complete rehabilitation.  Up to 8.5”

Redear sunfish- Very good-to-excellent.  New reservoir-Same as the bluegill.  Up to 11”

Channel catfish- Very Good

A new sunfish regulation allowing for only 10 per day went into effect April 1, 2008 on the New Reservoir only.

IDOT Lake, Sangamon County (17 acres)

Largemouth bass-Excellent.  Surprisingly, one of the best you’ll find anywhere.

Channel catfish- Good

Bluegill- Above average

Rainbow trout- Begins the first Saturday in April and the third Saturday in October at 5:00 am. 

Washington Park Pond, Sangamon County (1 acre)

Rainbow trout- Begins the first Saturday in April and the third Saturday in October at 5:00 am.

Hybrid sunfish, channel catfish and bullheads- In association with the Springfield Park District the IDNR has been conducting an Urban Fishing Program for kids at this small pond since 1996.  From mid-June through mid-August the pond will be stocked weekly with bullheads, hybrid sunfish and channel cats.  The Kid’s Fishing Clinics are held in the morning but the general public is allowed to catch these fish at any time.  For more information contact my office or the Springfield Park District 217/ 544-1751.

Loami City Reservoir, Sangamon County (10 acres)

Largemouth bass- Average

Channel catfish- Average

Bluegill- Average

Mt. Pulaski Township Park District Lake, Logan County (21 acres)

The fish population (bass, bluegill and redear sunfish) would be considered below average. The bass are not great but they are the best I’ve seen since the IDNR took over management of the lake but the sunfish species are not very good.  We did see a few 8” redear in the Spring 2009 survey however.  The maximum depth of the lake is only 6 feet and there have been a couple of Summer kills on it, so there is really very little we can do.  We will continue to treat the nuisance aquatic vegetation and stock it with non-vulnerable size channel catfish to provide angling opportunities.  It makes a nice little fishery for the locals and kids.

Kincaid City Reservoir, Christian County (31 acres)

There is a slightly above average bluegill population and a below average bass fishery.  The IDNR stocks non-vulnerable (8”-10”) channel catfish to create a fishery for that species.  A (very) few nice crappie are caught each year too. A significant fish kill took place in May of 2009 that took its toll too so the lake is not where it should be but does provide a fishery for the local population. Overall a below average fishing lake.

Lake Williamsville, Sangamon County (17 acres)

Largemouth bass- High density, no size

Bluegill- Good- very good

Channel catfish- very good  

Taylorville Park District pond, Manner’s Park, Christian County (2 acres)

This pond provides a little fishing for the local area, especially for kids.  There are bass, bluegill and channel catfish.  In addition there are Spring and Fall rainbow trout seasons.  Trout fishing begins at 5a on the first Saturday in April and the third Saturday of October. Harvesting trout two weeks prior to those dates is illegal.  Licensed anglers must have an Inland Trout Fishing Stamp.  There is a five trout per day limit.


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As an ice fishing fanatic, I started going to Gridley quite regularly this winter. I was disapointed to catch so many little sunfish. The numbers were great, but the size were barely keepable. Several people ice fish it and all say the same thing. There are way to many bluegill and redears in it. I never caught a bass, but did somehow catch a nice 2.5 lb catfish. I stopped and talked to the Superintendent, and he said the same thing. It is overstocked with panfish.

Now Drake is a good sized lake, however finding the fish without electronics and drilling several hole is impossible. The fish seem to be a good size, but are sparce. It has alot of people ice fishing it, but numbers are really low.

Thanks for am interesting article about public fishing lakes.

Posted by archernut_ibs on 02/02 at 09:16 AM


Appreciate the reports and analysis of the lakes in this area.  Also, I appreciate you allowing me to tag along with you for the survey’s in 2009.  It was a great learning experience, and I hope to do it all again in 2010.

Anglers, truth be told about the crappie population on Lake Taylorville.  Very good numbers, very good size, and I have a feeling this year will be even better.

Posted by LunkerRadio on 02/03 at 10:21 AM

SHHHHHHHHH… quit telling everyone about Taylorville!!!!!  I agree with the good numbers, but you don’t see many huge slabs.

I’ve caught a couple of those black-nosed crappie at Sangchris.  Very cool looking.  My son had to tell me what they were.

Posted by KC-IBS on 02/03 at 07:32 PM

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