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Illinois hunting and fishing

Illinois River bassing is back

August 08, 2010 at 03:18 AM

Illinois hunting and fishing

Fragile fishery?

Good bass fishing is nothing new on the Illinois River. In the early 1990s, tournament anglers from all over the state — and country — flocked to the river for events.

But from the late 1990s until two years ago, river fishing was a shadow of itself.

Some say all the tournaments hurt the fishery. Others blame the invasion of non-native carp. Still others say hungry anglers sacking up filets were the problem.

Whatever the case, the recent comeback by largemouth bass has tournament anglers feeling protective.

“This is a fragile fishery that needs catch-and-release,” Washington angler Dave Thompson said. “If you want to keep fish, you can always go someplace and catch bluegill or crappie.”

For those who must keep bass, the daily limit is six fish of 12 inches or longer.

PEORIA — Moments after he started casting, Bob Thompson set the hook and cracked a smile when a bass went airborne.

Over the next 20 minutes he and his son Dave combined for eight largemouths — all caught within sight of downtown Peoria and all caught despite a rising river and strong current.

The fast action was proof yet again that Illinois River bass fishing is back. For veteran river anglers like the Thompsons, the bass comeback is welcome
news. Best of all, the turnaround is not just a Peoria phenomena.

“There’s really no one place that’s best right now,” Bob Thompson said. “Beardstown. Havana. Chillicothe. Henry. They’ve all got fish. And there’s still fish around Pekin.”

Still fish around Peoria too. Or at least on the East Peoria side of the river. That’s where the Thompsons caught their bass while fishing a rocky ditch out of the current.

Just don’t ask which ditch. And don’t make the mistake of thinking you can cast anywhere to catch bass. “It’s a big river, but it fishes small,” Bob Thompson said. What he means is there are vast stretches of water where you’ll be hard-pressed to find bass.

But when you locate a prime spot, you might catch 20 or 30 keepers in short order. That’s exactly what the Thompsons did last weekend to win the Illinois
River Team Trail tournament with five bass weighing 12.35 pounds.

Cory Hasler and Sean Sonderleiter took second (five bass, 11.78 pounds) and had big bass of 3.44 pounds. Doug Gudat and Ben Roberts placed third (five, 11.56).

This year the Thompsons have won all four river tournaments they’ve entered. The key, Bob Thompson said, is reading river levels and current. And that can change almost daily.

For much of the spring and summer, high water allowed anglers to fish backwaters that have become unreachable. But even as the river dropped steadily toward normal pool, heavy rains in Chicago sent a surge of water that had the current zipping through Peoria on Friday.

“Everything changes out here depending on the water levels,” Bob Thompson said. “Right now you don’t want to be on the main river with this current. At normal pool you do want to be on the main river.

“You just want it to stabilize. And once it drops a little, they will bite like crazy.”

Reading the river is also important from a safety standpoint.

“The way siltation is around Peoria, you get off the channel by a foot or two and you better know where you are going,” Dave Thompson said.

Even regulars face risks. Washington angler Randy Marchard has been a fixture of river tournaments since the 1980s. Yet last weekend he totaled his Ranger bass boat after colliding with a large chunk of concrete in the Woodford County ditch.

More prevalent than rocks are Asian carp. “We went into one little ditch the other day and had four of them in the boat all at once, jumping and snorting and sliming everything,” Bob Thompson said.

That said, bass anglers also credit the invasive carp.

“They say the carp spawn twice a year and that’s putting lots of food in there for the bass,” said Brent Werries, coordinator of the Illinois River Team Trail. “A lot of these bass the guys are bringing in, their bellies are about to explode with little carp.”

No doubt a carp-imitating bait is in the works somewhere. Not that lure selection for river bass fishing is all that complicated.

Bob Thompson has one plastic container for all his river baits. Dave Thompson jokes you could fit his “in a Folger’s can.”

Small spinnerbaits. Square-billed crankbaits. Ringworms. Plastic baits that imitate crayfish. Those are the staples of most Illinois River bass chasers.

Using those familiar lures again on a regular basis makes Bob Thompson smile.

“For awhile there bass were no good on the river and we hardly even came out,” he said. “Now they’re back and so are we.”

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

But the carp will destroy the fishery! :rolleyes: /sarcasm

Posted by illin on 08/08 at 07:03 AM

looks like ill have to get back on the river again ,i used to fish it 15 yrs ago and it was kinda like a secret , you didnt see very many bass fishermen , but could catch quite a few bass , including a 5.5 lb smallmouth i caught n of henry .

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

After spending my life on the river, one thing I realize is no matter how much people screw it up the river always seems to fix itself with time. I have never seen such healthy catfish as I have in the past couple years, and the same story, they are bursting with asian carp.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/09 at 11:16 AM

This was a very nice article on the IL River’s amazing fishery. But I have to disagree with the comment that bass harvest is the culprit for the decline in the bass population.  The Peoria section of the river from the Peoria lock and dam to Chillicothe is 22 miles long and approximately 0.5 miles wide for a total of 7,040 acres.  Let’s assume that each acre contains one reproducing bass.  Each bass will generate 2,000 to 10,000 fry annually with 5 to 10 fry expected to survive to adulthood.  Therefore, 7.5 of those bass must be harvested annually for each acre to maintain a static population of bass in the river.  That gives 52,800 bass every year (10,560 - 5 bass limits per year) in this section of the river must be harvested.  Let’s assume that the river can be fished 180 days out of the year (~1/2 of a year).  That means that 58.7 limits every day for 1/2 of the year must be taken to maintain a static population.  I have not taken a formal survey of the river but from my casual observance I have not spotted more than 50 boats every single day on the river for 1/2 of each year fishing, limiting out on bass, none the less.  Thus, let’s find the real reason for the bass population fluctuations and quite blaming the occasional harvest of large mouth bass.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/09 at 06:20 PM

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