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Illinois hunting and fishing

Lake Jacksonville a keeper

July 05, 2009 at 08:11 AM

Lake Jax facts

Anglers who fish Lake Jacksonville must pay a launch fee based on residency and horsepower of their motor.

For instance, the daily fee for a 25 hp motor is $10 and an annual pass costs $30. For a 150 hp motor the costs are $11 or $135 for the season.

The Morgan County lake is open from mid-March through mid-October when it closes for waterfowl season.

There is a 15-inch minimum length limit on bass, though surveys show out of 56 pounds of bass caught per acre, 54 pounds are released.

In addition to lunker largemouths, Lake Jacksonville has a population of hybrid striped bass. Channel catfishing can be very good as the whiskered bottom-dwellers are stocked every year. The lake also has a 25-fish per day creel limit on crappie, which must be 9 inches or longer.

For lake information call (217) 479-4646. For travel and lodging information call (217) 245-2174.


Ten minutes into our visit to Lake Jacksonville, I was ready to believe the hype.

Moments into the first weedy, tree-lined cove we fished at Lake Jacksonville, Tony McCoy of Elmwood landed a lunker.

Casting a black-and-blue Senko along a weed edge, he tied into a 21¼-inch largemouth bass that ran him all around the front of the boat before Gordon Inskeep netted the brute.

That’s a big bass anywhere and that’s why we spent 12 hours of fishing last weekend at Lake Jacksonville, which in 2007 was touted by Field & Stream magazine as “the best public bass fishing lake in Illinois.”

Fishing buddy Inskeep of Elmwood has chirped about the lake ever since he wet a line at the 476-acre reservoir last summer.

“There is just structure everywhere,” Inskeep said. “When trees fall down they just leave them in the water. You are really going to like this lake.”

All that structure plus the promise of big bass was enough to entice McCoy and me into making a 90-mile drive south.

Many other bass anglers have been making the same decision since Lake Jacksonville was drained, rehabilitated and restocked in 1986. Officials limit the lake to 32 tournaments per year and slots usually fill on the first day calls are accepted in January.

We arrived late Sunday afternoon and learned there had been two tournaments last weekend. One 14-boat event held by Lunkers Unlimited of Marseilles produced 96 bass over two days that averaged 2.75 pounds. Big fish weighed 5 pounds, 4.7 ounces.

That’s an impressive total for a June tourney during a weekend when the lake saw heavy pleasure boat traffic. Even more impressive is a one-day event from 2001 that saw 200 pounds brought to the scale and a winning sack of six bass weighing 30 pounds.

Electrofishing surveys back up tournament weigh-ins. Last fall nearly two-thirds of the bass collected were 12 inches or longer: 45 percent measured 12-16 inches and 26 percent topped 16 inches. Of the latter, nearly half were 18 inches or longer.

McCoy’s fish was right in that class and had us giddy for what lay ahead. We figured if a girls cross country coach like McCoy (pictured below) can catch a 5-pounder, anybody can.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Unfortunately, we didn’t see a steady stream of wall-hangers despite fishing hard until after 9 p.m. on Sunday and returning to the water Monday morning by 4:30 a.m.

Most surprising to me was that the low-light bite was not very good. That seemed odd, since abundant weeds in most coves and lily pads near the dam look tailor-made for scum frog or buzzbait fishing. Locals we talked to said they typically do well early and late on top-water baits.

My bet is fishing was off some due to the arrival of a cold front and due to weekend pleasure boaters. That said, officials at Lake Jacksonville try hard to help anglers. Waterskiing and tubing is not allowed until after 11 a.m. and a good portion of the lake is marked as no-wake.

Whatever the case, we still wound up with 20-25 bass before heading home at lunch time last Monday. Most came on Senkos, with black-and-blue or natural colors best. We also caught fish on salt craws, tube jigs, top-water frogs and buzzbaits. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits and chatterbaits were not productive.

One of our last bass was a 20-incher that engulfed a salt craw I pitched to wood along a weed edge. That fat rascal was a perfect bookend to McCoy’s chunk and provided ample incentive for a return visit.

True to form, before we left the Lake Jacksonville’s spacious parking lot, Inskeep was making plans for a return visit. He’ll get no argument from McCoy or me.

Illinois hunting and fishing

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