Illinois hunting and fishing

Researchers Mike McClelland (left) and Nerissa Michaels hoist a few fat bass sampled at the Emiquon Preserve last fall.

Emiquon promises good bass

April 05, 2009 at 03:30 AM

Emiquon rules

Anglers who fish the Emiquon Preserve will face a unique set of rules. Here are some.

• Before fishing anglers must obtain a free permit by visiting Dickson Mounds Museum between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
• Fishing hours are sunrise to sunset.
• Anglers are limited to electric motors on their boats. Gas motors must be removed.
• Anyone 18 or younger must be accompanied by an adult.
• Fishing is allowed only on the west half of the lake, as marked by orange buoys.
• The following is not allowed: live bait (except worms), bank fishing, bow fishing, belly boating, fish cleaning and tournaments.
• Fish limits are as follows: largemouth bass — 18-inch minimum, 1 per day; crappie — 9-inch minimum 25 per day; channel catfish — 6 per day; bluegill — 25 per day; walleye/sauger — 14-inch minimum, 6 per day.
• For more information call The Nature Conservancy at (309) 547-2730.

Here is the complete list of rules:


Bass fishing is about to get better in central Illinois.

Starting April 20 — yes, that’s a Monday — The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve will open to anglers.

That’s news I’ve been eager to announce for two years. Seriously. I’ve been planning for this opener ever since fish were released in the massive wetland restoration located between Havana and Dickson Mounds Museum on the west side of the Illinois River.

Why the excitement? Some of the finest fishing I’ve enjoyed in Illinois came when the restored Hennepin-Hopper wetlands first opened to anglers. 

Emiquon has the potential to be even better. Better because it will be open to the public seven days a week. Better because the 3,500-acre Emiquon Preserve is bigger. And better because
the bass action will be fantastic for anyone who enjoys catch and release fishing.

In bodies of public water, biologists are pleased to sample one bass per minute while electrofishing. Emiquon yielded three bass per minute last fall.

“The bass are probably going to be the highlight. There’s a tremendous number of bass in there between 8 and 15 inches,” fisheries biologist Rob Hilsabeck said. “So you’re going to be able to catch bass. And dumb bass. But as far as catching many over 18 inches, not yet.”

That 18-inch mark is significant since it marks the legal minimum for bass at Emiquon, where there is also a one-fish per day limit.

But there will be some wall-hangers caught this year. To get the population started, nearly 700 brood bass were stocked in 2007. Some of those big hawgs will be pushing 9 pounds by now.
Maybe larger.

Illinois hunting and fishing

That’s because growth rates at Emiquon are accelerated by the site’s extreme fertility (note the vole in the mouth of the Emiquon bass pictured above that was sampled in the fall of 2007). Remember, for years this was a well-fertilized crop field that produced bumper crops of corn and beans. Now the flooded acres will do the same for fish and aquatic vegetation.

And bass aren’t the only species benefiting from Emiquon’s black dirt. Biologists stocked 30 species in the past two years. That includes gamefish like bass, crappie, bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, sauger, walleye, bullheads and channel catfish along with non-game species like spotted gar, orange-spotted sunfish and starhead top minnows.

“It’s a representation of the native fish species that previously occurred in some of our backwater lakes along the Illinois River when the water was clear and the rooted aquatic vegetation was doing well,” Hilsabeck said.

The days of clear water and thriving aquatic plants are long gone in waters connected to the Illinois River. But not at Emiquon, where a levee thankfully protects the lake from the river.
Drive past Emiquon and you’ll see vegetation everywhere. The same is true if you look into the clear water, as Nerissa Michaels did last summer for the Illinois Natural History Survey.

“I was seeing fish pretty much everywhere,” said Michaels, who snorkeled around Emiquon to do her surveys.

Crappie should be another highlight for anglers. Surveys last fall showed a sizable population of fish from 7 to 11.5 inches. While some were on the slim side, there should be a decent number of papermouths above the 9-inch minimum.

There’s also the potential for slabs pushing the 4-pound mark. “There were a couple fish that went in at that 2½- to 3-pound range as brood fish,” Hilsabeck said. “Who knows how good they could be now?”

Beyond that, anglers will need to be patient. Bluegill had a tremendous spawn last year, but most are small. Catfish are present in limited numbers. And my beloved northern pike are yet to be stocked.

Beyond that, there are sure to be rough spots in the first few weeks after the lake opens. Parking could be an issue. Remember the 400 anglers who showed up for Wildlife Prairie State Park’s fishing opener a few years back? A similar crowd is unlikely at Emiquon, since bankfishing is not allowed. But who knows?

So be patient. And be thankful that The Nature Conservancy has been so cooperative. In a year when experts predict the depressed economy will limit travel, the Emiquon Preserve offers one more compelling reason to stay close to home.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Illinois hunting and fishing