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Illinois hunting and fishing

Peoria public fishing prospects: East

March 07, 2010 at 05:47 AM
Coming next week... Next Sunday we will offer a look at fishing prospects in nearby public lakes located on the west side of the Illinois River.

The Spring Lake bass mystery is no mystery after all.

Starting early last summer, anglers reported difficulty catching bass on the 610-acre south end of the popular Tazewell County public lake. Concern about a bass dieoff spread quickly.

Not to worry says fisheries biologist Wayne Herndon, whose encouraging report on Spring Lake headlines our annual review of nearby public lakes east of the Illinois River.

“When we went out last fall to sample the lake we found a lot of 15-inch-plus fish and quite a few that were over the 5-pound size range,” Herndon said. “What I think happened last year is that we had a shift in aquatic vegetation and the water was quite a bit cloudier in mid-summer because of the lack of vegetation.

“I think (bass) changed their habits and moved back under the lotus beds and lillies and people were not used to fishing there for them.”

Actually, Herndon said bass are doing so well on the south end that he rates the population ahead of the 578-acre north end. The same is true for crappie, which have made good size-gains on the south end and are already offering anglers in the Pike Hole — which had open water last week — plenty of fish 9 inches and longer.

Bluegill and redear are plentiful but fairly small and both ends have good populations of channel catfish and brown bullheads. Northern pike and muskie are comparable to last year and muskie should be biting this week if the ice goes out on the north end as many expect.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Just north of Spring Lake, Powerton Lake bass anglers face a less rosy future. Smallmouth are struggling, with some trophy fish present but numbers well down from years past.

“We have to find an answer to that because the same thing has happened to largemouth bass and to white bass there,” Herndon said.

Good news is an abundance of forage fish, meaning bass, hybrid stripers and catfish in the 1,420-acre Powerton will have plenty to eat.

Herndon is expecting to see blue cats up to 45 pounds and there’s always a chance for a 60-pound flathead out of The Rock. Worth noting is that more anglers are using cut Asian carp as bait with good results.

Powerton is also a good place to catch a mess of fat bluegill and redear, which are typically feeding along the rocky shoreline as water warms.

Bluegill are not that strong at Eureka Lake, but the 36-acre lake does boast a fantastic population of fat bass and a sizable year-class of white crappie ranging between 9.5 and 10 inches all the way up to 2.5 pounds. Beyond that is an “amazing” population of fat bass that gorge on gizzard shad.

“Eureka has probably the finest bass population around,” Herndon said.

Eureka is also one of the best public lakes around to catch a pike. Unfortunately, the area’s former pike mecca is undergoing a rehabilitation any day now. That’s Hennepin-Hopper, which will be stripped of fish this month.

There’s also not much good to report in terms of fish at Chautauqua Lake, which is again being managed first and foremost for waterfowl. That means the lake will offer what the Illinois River brings, which likely means white bass, catfish and far too many Asian carp.

At Evergreen Lake, crappie size regulations will be lifted starting April 1, allowing anglers to keep 15 crappie of any size. That’s in recognition of a big population of black crappie, most of which range from 8.5 to 9.5 inches.

Bass fishing at Evergreen should be decent and much better in a few years according to fisheries biologist Mike Garthaus, who sees limited numbers of big fish and two very strong year classes of bass under 12 inches. Saugeye are strong, though fewer lunkers have been seen in the past two years.

Garthaus’ favorite water, though, is 158-acre Dawson Lake in Moraine View State Park. He calls Dawson a “jewel” and “the perfect place to take a family fishing.”

All species are doing well here, with plenty of eater-sized saugeye, good numbers of black crappie (15 fish per day limit, no minimum size), plenty of bass from 2-3 pounds, a great catfish population and a much-improved bluegill fishery that features a fair number over 8 inches.

Crappie should also be good to very good at 635-acre Bloomington Lake, where the limit of 25 fish per day allows anglers to catch the larger white crappie and abundant black crappie. This is also a good spot for walleye 15-20 inches long and is a decent bass lake, with smallmouths being added to the mix as of last year.

Farther afield, the 5,000-acre Clinton Lake crappie are on the upswing again with good fishing around the West Side and Parnell accesses.

Another good bet at Clinton will be walleye, which have responded well to a stocking change that releases fingerlings. “I’ve heard reports from anglers saying 2009 was their best walleye fishing in a long time,” Garthaus said.

Hybrid stripers are bumping the 15-inch mark now and should be really strong next year, if not by this summer. Bass are decent and this is one of the better flathead lakes around, as well as being a good destination for big channel catfish.

Last but not least is 29-acre Weldon Springs, which offers a fine bass population, good crappie and high numbers of bluegill and redear.

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