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Illinois Outdoors

Brad Plemmons of East Peoria holds the 10-pound, 13.75-ounce largemouth bass he nabbed in April 1998 on a subdivision lake near Germantown Hills.

Spring is trophy time for bass

March 30, 2008 at 04:50 AM

Top 10 spots for bass

1. Gillespie New City Lake

Numbers good and 23 percent top 3 pounds in this 207-acre Macoupin County lake.

2. Coffeen Lake

Numbers excellent at this 1,100-acre Montgomery County cooling lake.

3. Mississippi River

Pools 13, 18 and 19 rated best despite heavy pressure.

4. Lake Jacksonville

Big fish in these 476 acres: 48 percent top 15 inches and 18 percent top 18.

5. Washington County Lake

Fish 3 pounds to 5 pounds common in these 248 acres; 39 percent top 15 inches.

6. Spring Lake

Early best at Tazewell County lake that had a 10- pounder in 2007.

7. Lake Shelbyville

Catch rates much better the last two years at this 11,100-acre reservoir.

8. Pinckneyville City Lake

Numbers good in these 165 acres where 1 in 10 bass top 18 inches.

9. Shabbona Lake

Numbers good and more smallies at this 319-acre DeKalb County lake.

10. Lake Springfield

Great numbers of fat fish but few top 18 inches in these 4,234 acres.

The best time to catch big largemouth bass in Illinois already has passed. But the next few weeks still are a prime time to hook into a wall-hanger.

Survey any list of trophy bass caught in Illinois, and you’ll see plenty of entries from March, April and early May. Chilly though they may be, those are the best months to locate lunker largemouth in the Prairie State.
Illinois Outdoors

In fact, all three Illinois record bass were caught in the cold. The biggest was a 13-pound, 1-ounce largemouth that Ed Walbel (pictured above in the lone picture of the state record bass) said he landed Feb. 15, 1976, in an ice-covered Lake County quarry. In 1992, Rick Leonard caught a record 7-pound, 3.12-ounce spotted bass on March 15. And Mark Samp’s 6-7 record smallmouth left its lake March 26, 1985.

“I’m generally a fair-weather fisherman, not an early ice-out kind of guy,” Samp said. “But I had one of my friends tell me that if I was going to go after trophies, I had to get out there as soon as the ice came off.”

You won’t find much argument from others lucky enough to have hooked largemouth of epic proportions. At the Peoria Journal Star, we keep records of any 10-pound bass caught by area anglers.

The three largest were landed March 27, 1988 (Clark Wilkins, 11 pounds, 5.5 ounces whose fish is pictured below), April 19, 1998 (Brad Plemmons, 10-13.75) and April 17, 1999 (Tim Stevens, 10-13). The trend continued last year when Larry Lehman of Pekin caught a 10.03-pound bass in the south end of Spring Lake in Tazewell County on April 18.

All those fish were pre-spawn bass still packed with eggs and just starting to feed after a long winter. So it pays to get out before the spawn, which varies depending on the waters you fish. In southern Illinois, bass typically spawn in mid-May, and a rule of thumb is that bass spawn when water is between 55 degrees and 65 degrees.

Illinois Outdoors

Why then, do most anglers wait until after that to start chasing bass? It’s probably because early-season fishing is not easy. Bass are slower to react and are typically in deeper water. That requires an angler to fish slower. Favored baits in the early season are jigs rigged with pork or plastic trailers, suspending
jerkbaits, tube jigs, slow-rolled spinnerbaits or wide-bodied crankbaits that run shallow and can be retrieved slowly.

In addition to fishing slowly, anglers should be choosy about when they wet a line. This is a good time to have a few extra sick days in waiting for a sunny day during a period of fairly stable weather when the wind is not whipping.

Fortunately you don’t have to rise early. Spring afternoons are usually more productive since the sun can warm the shallows. Both Samp and Walbel caught their records after noon.

But you do have to get out — or risk the consequences. Consider Kevin Jaggard, who lives in Minnesota but fished the strip mines of west-central Illinois religiously in the 1970s. One fine June day (June 8, 1977, to be exact), Jaggard was fishing a Big O crankbait in a strip mine when he hooked into a huge bass.

The 27-inch, big-mouthed fish weighed 9 pounds, 12 ounces despite having already dropped its eggs. Had Jaggard caught that fish a month earlier, it easily could have topped 10 pounds.

Ponder that as you make plans for the next few weeks.

Most Illinois bass not stocked

While bass remain the single most popular species for Illinois anglers, largemouth bass make up a relatively small percentage of the nearly 50 million fish raised in state hatcheries. Last year Illinois stocked about 300,000 bass according to fisheries division chief Steve Pallo.

Of those, 70,000 went to the Fox Chain-OLakes, 46,000 to Braidwood Lake, 41,000 to LaSalle Lake, 30,000 to Carlyle Lake, 25,000 to Rend Lake, 15,000 to Crab Orchard Lake and various allotments of 5,000 to 10,000 fish to other larger lakes.

In other words, most bass caught in Illinois are produced naturally with no help from the fishery system

EDITOR'S NOTE: Prairie State Outdoors.com wants information about any Illinois bass you’ve caught that topped 10 pounds. Send pictures and other details via e-mail to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or call (309) 686-3212.

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Been out three times now….still nothing.

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