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Illinois hunting and fishing

Prime time for stream smallmouths

August 01, 2010 at 04:14 AM

Illinois hunting and fishing

Tips from the guru

While pondering how to catch smallmouth bass in dirty water, an obvious thought occurred to me: “Read what Tim Holschlag has to say.”

So I picked up “River Smallmouth Fishing” and started reading. This book is the latest by Holschlag, a Minneapolis bronzeback guru who also published “Stream
Smallmouth Fishing” and “Smallmouth Fly Fishing.”

In my estimation the latest book is his best. The 358-page tome is packed with how-to tips and tactics from a guy who has spent 45 years in basically a single-minded pursuit of one species of fish. There’s also a section on top river smally destinations, including the Apple, Fox and Kankakee rivers as Illinois hotspots.

The book sells for $27.90 (including shipping) at Or call (612) 781-3912.

So what does Holschlag advise in dirty water? “One way to get noticed by dirty water fish is with slow and steady retrieves, using baits that produce lots of flash and noise.”  Other tips:

• Use large-bladed spinnerbaits.
• Turn to bright colors or black when using soft plastics.
• Drag a worm or jig slowly along the bottom.
• Target bank and boulder eddies near the head of pools.
• Make multiple casts to the same spot to trigger a strike.
• Keep casting if you feel a tap. Smallies often miss lures when visibility is low.


Prime time for Illinois smallmouth bass fishing is here. Sort of.

While the dog days of summer typically mark a great time to catch smallies, persistent rains this year have proven maddening for stream anglers like Tim Sefried of Elmwood.

“Normally I go to work and pass over all these different creeks that look good and I say, ‘Oh boy, when I get back I’m going to fish them,’” said Sefried, a railroad engineer. “But then when I come back from work, they’ve had a storm.”

And heavy rains in summer are the bane of smallmouth anglers. One reason July and August offer such good fishing is that water clarity is very good (at least by Illinois standards) and helps sight-feeding smallies hone in on lures.

When water turns muddy, catch rates drop.

Wading can also be more treacherous when water levels are up.

And extreme high water — such as that experienced by many Illinois streams in the past two years — can change the very structure of the river and move fish out.

That seems to be the case on the Mackinaw River according to fisheries biologist Wayne Herndon, who sampled that scenic river in late July. While Herndon saw big numbers of silver carp well past Congerville, more desirable fish were less obvious.

“We didn’t see a whole lot of smallmouth bass,” Herndon said. “I think that’s typical of streams that have been high for a long time. Maybe they came down to the Illinois River.”

Or maybe those bronzebacks moved into smaller tributaries. During stream sampling last week in the Spoon River basin, many of the best bronzebacks were in tributaries.

“Some of the small streams had super smallmouth bass in the upper reaches,” Herndon said, “In some areas the stream was wider than you could step across but not wider than you could jump across.”

Overall, when compared to the Mackinaw, Spoon River smallies were “longer, fatter and healthier” according to biologist Rob Hilsabeck. “It also seemed that in the main stems (of the rivers) there were not as many minnows or crawdads” as there were in the smaller tributaries, Hilsabeck said.

Maybe this is the summer to target smaller streams. One benefit of a wet summer is that flows in those creeks remain higher than usual for this time of year.

Whatever you do, don’t delay. High water or not, there are still fish to be caught. And as I’ve written before, there’s no better place to fish on a hot summer day than in a shady stream that winds through otherwise boring corn and bean country.

Local guide Jonn “Stream Stalker” Graham enjoyed a sizzling outing recently with client Dan Starmach, who caught 57 smallies during a five-mile canoe-and-fish trip.
Nearly all Starmach’s fish came on minnow-imitating baits: the Lucky Craft Pointer 65 or the Megabass Prop Darter.

“It seemed the fish could not feed fast enough,” said Graham, who can be reached for guide trips at (309) 399-7055.

Last Wednesday Sefried and a friend hooked into 14 smallies during stops on the Spoon River and an Illinois River tributary. Best actions was on soft plastic worms and crayfish-imitating crankbaits.

True to this year’s form, though, Sefried’s outing ended prematurely due to a downpour.

Illinois hunting and fishing

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


As always, great article.  I appreciate it when you write about my beloved smallie.

Thanks to Wayne, Robb, and the crew for taking the time and effort to shock and evaluate our local streams.

Now, the problem with the Mack.  First off, I have been telling anyone who would listen that the smallmouth fish has just gotten worse the past three years.  Almost every other Mackinaw smallie chaser has told me the same thing.  When I first started fishing the Mack around 10-12 years ago, the fishing was fabulous.  Nowadays, if I or clients catch a half dozen fish in multiple hours of fishing, that is the norm.  I have had many days where I do not even touch a bass.  Also, the bass I do catch are on the small side.  Back in the old days, if you fished for eight hours or so, you would almost always see a couple of big bass over 15 inches.  Now, keep in mind folks, this is just not some old “fart” (yes, I am referring to myself as an old fart) making false recollections of years past.  I have written fishing log data that shows how the fishing has gone down the tubes on the Mack the past three seasons.

It was great to hear that they did find some smallies up the tribs of the Mack.  Those fish “should” find their way back to the river when the tribs become to low and shallow to sustain their life or their wintering needs.  It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few summers.  I would hope if the river does not rebound at least a little, that the state would do some supplemental stocking of larger, spawn ready, smallies to possibly give the waterway a boost.

I do know one thing, we are in the need of a year with normal or below normal rainfall.  I am fairly sure that the smallies have not had a good spawn in the Mack for a few years now.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the tide will turn.

AS ALWAYS…....................HAIL TO THE SMALLIE

Posted by stream stalker on 08/01 at 07:04 AM

I agree with Jonn. I too would like to see some spawn ready Smallmouth Bass stocked in our local waterways. Great time to experiment with Shoal Bass Jonn? Great article Jeff.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/01 at 02:40 PM

Just waded a central Illinois river last Saturday with a buddy.  We got in the river at 8AM and out at 6PM.  We ended the day with 44 Smallies (several big fish), 5 Gills, 2 Walleye, 1 Catfish, 1 Drum, and 1 Big Head Carp.
Most of our smallies came out of just 2 holes and we walked a LONG stretch or river.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/02 at 06:42 AM

Caught the biggest smallie of my life yesterday in a creek averaging three foot deep.(RELEASED!)  She measured twenty in. I had no scale but but it was easily 3.5# pushin 4.  Caught it on a 3in. green iridescent jerk bait from Rapala. We ended up with a dozen smallies after an hour of fishing.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/03 at 11:56 AM

How do I submit a pic of the fish??...I am not very good with computers lol.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/03 at 11:58 AM

I would love to see the picture.  20 inches is the magical mark for stream bronzebacks….....a true trophy.  Congrats and thanks for the release.

Posted by stream stalker on 08/04 at 06:34 AM

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