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Illinois hunting and fishing

Rick Kimbrell of Farmington holds up a crappie caught last Wednesday in a Fulton County strip-mine lake. While the peak of the crappie spawn is over in much of Illinois, the tasty panfish are still rated as fair to good in many lakes and ponds.

Memorial Day fishing outlook good

May 27, 2010 at 05:33 PM

As we putted away from shore in an aged pontoon boat, Roger Woodcock uttered words that almost made me grimace.

“As good as the bluegill have been out here, I don’t think any storms could back them off right now,” Woodcock said.

Following two days of lightning, thunder and heavy rain, I wasn’t so certain. And after 30 fishless minutes, Woodcock looked increasingly worried that perhaps he was wrong.

Fortunately, the slowdown was shortlived. By lunch bluegill were hitting ferociously and when we left the Fulton County strip-mine lake, it was all I could due to hoist the basket full of chunky gills and long crappie.

Full baskets have not been limited to private ponds, either. You can hear stories of very good action from all over the area, as the accompanying fishing report bears out.

That should remain true through Memorial Day weekend — one of the most promising fishing holidays we’ve seen in awhile. Last year it seemed every long weekend brought rain. But if weather forecasts hold out, anglers should fill buckets in the next few days.

This is that special time of spring when an angler can cast toward shore and have a reasonable chance of catching spawning bluegill, crappie or channel catfish.

For the latter, a leech or nightcrawler under a bobber is particularly deadly when fished near rocks or wood. Dipbait is also a good catfish option what with all this warm weather.

Myself, I’d rather target panfish. That’s why last Wednesday’s outing with Woodcock and his running mate Rick Kimbrell of Farmington was so enjoyable.

Both are strip-mine regulars who have wet a line in many of the area’s coal pits. The lake we fished is one of their favorites.

“It used to be that bluegill and redear were the king here,” said Woodcock, who is pictured below with a nice chunky bluegill. “Now it has kind of evolved into a crappie lake. We get lots of crappie between 12 and 14 inches.”

Illinois hunting and fishing

In other words, it’s a little slice of fishing heaven — one I appreciated even more after hearing the retirees share memories of times on the water with friends and family.

While I’ve learned to enjoy hunting for bass, there’s something much more relaxing about casting for bluegill and crappie. Panfishing is about catching and catching up, not racing around a lake and worrying if your lure is right or your boat is fast enough.

Hey, if the boat we fished from this week was on land, it would be condemned. Even in Fulton County.

So what. Woodcock brought a few extra boards to keep us from falling through the rotten floor. “When is this getting fixed?” Kimbrell asked in what was obviously a rhetorical question.

Now is not the time to fix, but rather to fish.

That makes me wonder why Illinois doesn’t move its Free Fishing Days to this weekend, instead of June 11-14. If the idea is to get people outside so they can experience the fun of catching fish, Memorial Day generally offers the best chance at good weather and a good bite.

But that’s a crusade for another day.

It’s time to fish.

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