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Illinois fishing offers mixed bag of ice, cold

February 19, 2009 at 11:55 PM

This is a very slow time for anglers in many parts of Illinois.

Ice is gone or unsafe outside far northern Illinois and some spots on the Mississippi River.

But conditions are so cold and wind is so biting that few anglers are brave enough to fish open water. Besides, skim ice has become a factor in some places.

That said, there was some decent fishing to be had in parts of Illinois this past week. Here’s a look.

Northern Illinois

The Fox Chain of Lakes hosts an NAIFC ice fishing tournament this weekend that promises to attract anglers from Wisconsin, Minnesota and many other northern states. That includes ice-fishing legend Dave Genz. Triangle Sports and Marine in Antioch (847-395-0813) says there are 8-9 inches of ice most places but advises caution around current. Bluegill are best in 3-6 feet of water. Northern pike are also good. Crappie and walleye are rated as fair. Bowman has a report of a 9.5-pound walleye taken from Marie by Ryan Johnson.

Big news in the Chicago area is that Lake Michigan’s tasty perch are biting along Navy Pier according to Dale Bowman of the Chicago Sun-Times and others. Writes Bowman: “This isn’t rocket science. Feel the bottom, the slowly jig it back or leave it sit. Minnows on crappie rigs seem best, but maggots on Mini-Mites seems to catch more fish.”

Ice fishing slowed mightily around Freeport according to Tom Calam of Tom’s Bait & Tackle in Freeport (815-232-3337). “That rain that came through demolished 85 percent of the fishing and raised the ice up,” Calam said. Anglers have been able to get back onto many Mississippi River backwaters in recent days by using planks to get past the open shorelines. Once on the ice they are finding 10-11 inches and some decent catches of 6- to 7-inch bluegill and 8- or 9-inch perch. Mickleson’s Landing has been a good bet. But Spring Lake has slowed down.

Calam said ice fishing has been generally average to slow in the lakes near him, most of which have 12-18 inches of ice. Anglers who are doing best are fishing 6-10 a.m. and then again from 4-7 p.m. Lakes in question include Apple Canyon, Lake Carroll and Lake Summerset. Fishing has been very, very slow at Lena Lake. One piece of good news is that the bluegill being caught are larger fish, most at least 7 inches long and several up to 8.25 inches. Also, many fish are holding eggs, leading Calam to believe water is warming and crappie should start going soon.

Central Illinois

Any thought that open-water fishing season was here in force for central Illinois ended with this week’s cold and wind.

Even so, diehards are wetting lines. Best bass reported so far is a 6.2-pounder caught last week by Rob Bigliazzi of Farmington in a Fulton County strip-mine lake. Speaking of strip mines, on Tuesday the obviously warm-blooded Bill Ringenberg of East Peoria went belly boating (in 38-degree water) and landed a 15-inch bass on a jig. “Cold hands and a steady wind made light bites hard to detect,” he said.

A more popular option is Powerton Lake. And by and large, this is a good time of year to fish cooling lakes when the wind isn’t whistling. Merle Keefer said channel catfish and blue catfish are biting well on baby shad or bluegills. Reports are mixed on hybrid striped bass, though everyone agrees minnows work best. “All that action has been in the hot-water discharge,” Keefer said. Boaters were allowed back onto the lake Sunday and report numerous largemouth bass up to 2 pounds and fair action for smallmouth bass. Crankbaits aren’t producing yet, said Adam Jaegle of Presley’s Outdoors, who advised a slower presentation.

Muskie remain active at north Spring Lake where Thad Hinshaw caught a 44-incher last Friday. Keefer said crappie also have been biting in the Pike Hole. “Lots of small fish, but guys are taking home limits of 9- and 10-inchers,” he said.

Catfish anglers have also been headed out to some rivers, using red worms according to Al Hayden of Al’s Sporting Goods in Galesburg. He lists the Spoon River as one typical winter destination.

Southern Illinois

Anglers are fishing for crappie at Crab Orchard, but they aren’t catching much says Ron Reed of Cooksey’s Bait in Marion (618-993-3366). Crab Orchard has been fairly muddy after the rains and recent thawing.

Reed says crappie are a safer bet at Lake of Egypt when the sun is shining.

At Newton Lake the water is 77 degrees at the buoy line and fishing has been fair to good for smaller largemouth bass says Rauch’s Bait & Tackle in Newton (618-752-2151). Jigs are the top bet now. White bass are also biting, particularly where the water runs out of the ash pond. There are reports of fish up to 17 inches. Crappie are slow. Catfish are biting well all over the lake on nightcrawlers.

At Rend Lake the water is open and fish are biting a little says guide Todd Gessner (618-513-0520). “There’s not much size to them yet, though,” he said. Best bet for crappie is fishing sets in 7-10 feet of water, though crappie are also biting in 8-9 feet of water near the docks and around the bridges. Water came up a few feet with recent rains and is “a little murky.” A bigger problem of late, though, has been the bitter cold.


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