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Illinois hunting and fishing

Ice fishing like the good old days

January 25, 2009 at 03:46 AM

Ice tourney

Barring a major heat wave, there should be plenty of ice for Saturday’s 29th annual Lake Camelot ice fishing derby.

“There’s a good eight inches of ice down there,” said Jim Modglin, one of the event organizers. “There’s more than enough ice.”

Fishing hours are 7 a.m. to noon at the subdivision southwest of Peoria off West Lancaster Road. There are cash prizes for big fish, raffles, food and plenty of beverages after fishing. Anglers must have a fishing license to participate.

The cost is $7 for adults and $4 for children 12 and under. Anglers can register Friday from 6-9 p.m. at the clubhouse or Saturday starting at 6 a.m.

Should the ice thin dramatically this week, the alternate date is Feb. 7.


This is no winter for dull auger blades.

Or for a waxworm shortage.

But this is a winter that brings back memories of the good old days of ice fishing in central Illinois. Those were the days when you could count on safe ice in late December that lingered through the end of February.

At least so say old-timers like The Head Worm.

“Back then Anderson Lake was the place to fish around here,” he said. We were sitting on buckets above a frozen Knox County strip-mine lake as The Head Worm started his history lesson Thursday evening between sips and fish.

“You’d go down to Anderson Lake on a weekend and see 500 people. It was like a duck blind drawing. You’d have to park up on the highway and walk down to fish. And most people would be catching fish.”

No longer. Anderson Lake’s panfish population is not what it once was. Better bets for public hard-water spots nowadays are Lake Storey (particularly evenings), the Fulton County Camping and Recreation Area near St. David, Spring Lake and even Banner Marsh, if you can find crappie or bass.

But even in spots that have plenty of fish, there’s not the same guarantee of plentiful ice that anglers enjoyed a few decades ago.

“We used to always count on six to eight weeks of ice fishing. Illinois hunting and fishingBut the last 18 to 20 years or so, there have been years where we’re lucky to get one week in,” lamented The Head Worm, pictured at right pulling in a bluegill. “And I’d rather ice fish than duck hunt.”

That’s why this winter has been so enjoyable for hard-water diehards. Ice came on in December and — with the exception of a few shaky days after that — anglers have been drilling holes ever since.

Adding to the enjoyment for me is that there’s so much ice on most lakes. Sure, you still have to exercise caution out there. Yes, drilling through 10 inches of ice does get old fast, particularly with an auger as dull as mine.

But with 8-12 inches of ice on most area lakes, even fat guys can feel reasonably safe. On Thursday afternoon, that was just what I needed. Though the panfish were surprisingly uncooperative, it was good merely to be outside, soaking in the relative warmth away from computers and work.

Sitting, waiting for a bite is one way to briefly forget the layoffs that creep closer to home every day, the economic woes we all face and the embarrassing state of Illinois politics.

Besides, I’ve always felt ice fishing was fairly amazing. That a person can drill one hole in a 40-acre lake and expect to catch a fish seems almost ludicrous — particularly when you consider how much moving around we anglers do when the water is open.

Even so, the fish usually bite.

In just over two hours on the ice, our group — which included Mike LaHood of East Peoria — pulled 20 fish through the hard stuff. The Head Worm caught most of them. Nearly all were fat bluegill measuring 8 inches or better.

That was slower than normal for the lake we were fishing and slower than many anglers have been reporting. Merle Keefer at Pekin Bass & Bow has heard stories about very good fishing from anglers venturing out to Spring Lake or to area farm ponds. Al Hayden reports similar rosy reports last week from Lake Storey and from ponds around Galesburg.

The latter is no surprise. Farm ponds and strip-mine lakes with decent panfish populations are our best bets for ice fishing. Some can be spectacular, as Roger Roy proved this week when he caught a 2-pound, 10-ounce crappie near Galesburg that measured 17.25 inches long.

Best of all, the Head Worm said fishing should only get better in the next month.

“The first ice is good and the last ice is good. In the middle there’s always a little bit of a lull,” he said. “For all the years I’ve fished, from Feb. 1 on it seems it really picks up until the ice comes off. There’s a lot of good fishing to come.”

So here’s to better days ahead, on the ice and off.

Illinois hunting and fishing

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

Back in the early 60’s when I lived in Pekin I always looked forward to January first when Chautauqua opened to ice fishing.  The crappie fishing in those days was fantastic there.  My best day ever was hauling in 42 crappie in less than an hour of fishing.  I have never experienced another day like that, even when fishing open water.  Does that lake still produce good crappie fishing?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/25 at 10:36 AM

You are correct.  Chautauqua was a great crappie lake.  My opinion is that the lake in question is now a prodominent catfish lake.  The asian carp are thick in that lake now.  Don’t get me wrong there are still great crappie in Chautauqua but not like it used to be.  Happy Fishing

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/26 at 08:56 AM

crappieken,I haven’t ice fished it in several years.Heard the floods weren’t to kind to the crappie fishin.But,there used to be some good crappie action by the water structure near Goofy ridge.I remember it being alittle spooky with the variable ice thickness and with the water bubbling up through the holes,but it was good fishin.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/26 at 07:17 PM

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