Illinois hunting and fishing

Crowd, catfish at Prairie Park tourney

February 08, 2010 at 03:32 PM

Prairie Park placers

Largest fish: 4.27-pound catfish — Roy Bradford, Bushnell; 3.44-pound catfish — Nate Eckhold, Peoria

Catfish: 4.27 — Bradford; 3.44 — Eckhold; 3.03 — Jenna Wieda, Goodfield

Bass: 2.91 —Richard Archdale, East Peoria; 2.85 — Josh King, Pekin; 0.94 — Chad Supranowski;

Bluegill: 0.46 — Darron Birkel, Peoria; .46 — Justin Graham, Peoria; .45 — Chuck Blumenshine, Peoria; .44 — Archdale

Crappie: 1.99 — David Berry, Brimfield; 1.01 — John Jones, Pekin; .85 — Noah Durham, Bartonville


Nate Eckhold doesn’t look much like Secretariat. And he for darn sure can’t run 1.5 miles in 2:24.

But with one event remaining, Peoria angler Eckhold has a chance at winning the Triple Crown — albeit just the Triple Crown of central Illinois ice fishing.

After hooking second-place bluegill and crappie at Lake Camelot’s party two weekends ago, Eckhold landed a 3.44-pound catfish Saturday that was the second largest fish at Wildlife Prairie Park’s inaugural ice tourney.

Now Eckhold heads into this Saturday’s showdown at the Big 25 Club in Victoria looking to continue his streak.

“I’m not looking to lose, that’s for sure. But we got lucky at Lake Camelot and we got lucky here,” said Eckhold, 28, the only angler to place at both events. “Basically we walked as far away from the crowd as we could, drilled a hole and landed on top of a brushpile.”

Getting away from the crowd was no easy task, since 447 anglers turned out — lured by sunny skies and the chance to wet lines in a seldom-fished strip-mine lake.

Those who showed were not disappointed, as there were plenty of hungry fish under the ice. Eckhold and partner Ryan Bill wound up with 200 bluegill, 10 crappie, 4 bass and 4 catfish. Action was similarly good across the hard water, with many hauling out buckets half full of bluegill and crappie, plus an occasional catfish.

“They were biting as soon as we started fishing,” noted Chef Todd, who like most of the competitors fished the lake west of Taylor Road. Chef fished with Shane Stoddard of Brimfield, who was on the ice for the first time. Stoddard managed a nice 1.59-pound catfish, some bluegill and a few decent crappie (below).

Illinois hunting and fishing

The catfish were a surprise to some, though not to those familiar with the lake’s stocking history. The Department of Natural Resources has dumped channel cats in the lake for years to provide a good population for the youngsters who get to fish that lake.

No doubt there were numerous break-offs attributed to those fish. One that didn’t get away went to Roy Bradford of Bushnell. His 4.29-pounder was worth $750 as biggest fish of the tourney and biggest catfish.

Bradford caught his channel cat about 6 inches off the bottom while jigging a Swedish pimple rig tipped with a waxworm. “My ice-fishing buddy Mark loaned me this one,” Bradford said. “I guess I’ll owe him some money now.”

Illinois hunting and fishing

Illinois hunting and fishing

Here’s the rest of the top catfish finishers: 1. Bradford 4.27; 2. Nate Eckhold, Peoria 3.44; 3. Jenna Wieda, Goodfield 3.03; 4. Joe Grzanich 3.02; 5. Jeff Mullins 3.

There were also plenty of fish of more than 2.5 pounds, including the 2.69-pounder modeled by Kristin Shepherd of East Peoria (below) and caught by Chris Woolley.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Beyond that were several other impressive fish, including a pair of largemouth bass that topped the 18-inch minimum. Best was Richard Archdale’s 2.91-pounder, followed by Josh King’s 2.85-pounder (pictured below), which hit on a bright pink two-spot jig and a waxworm. “I had a few different people measure it to make sure it was long enough,” King said.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Because of the large crowd, event organizer Scott Carlson expanded the cash payout to the top three finishers for each species and the two largest fish.

Crappie and bluegill were also plentiful but smaller beyond the 1.99-pound slab crappie caught by David Berry of Brimfield. The best bluegill were a pair of
.46-pounders caught by Darron Birkel of Peoria and 14-year-old Justin Graham of Peoria.

Graham was ice fishing for the first time thanks to neighbor Orville Maxwell, who said he is the boy’s “adopted grandpa.”

“It was pretty fun,” said Graham, pictured below with Maxwell.

Illinois hunting and fishing

The fun continues Saturday at the private Big 25 Club, located 4 miles south of Victoria in strip-mine country. Organizer Tom Reynolds said he is preparing for a crowd of about 200 anglers.

Entry fee is $20 per two-man team, gates open at 7 a.m. and fishing is 8 a.m. to noon. Cash prizes will be paid to the top five finishers based on total weight of all bluegill and crappie. Minnows are not allowed.

“Our goal is not to sell memberships or to impress the public. We want to harvest fish,” Reynolds said. “If someone gets into them, we want them to keep going.

“We’ve got a nice population of 9- to 12-inch crappie in one lake and bluegill up to a pound.”

Given the hilly roads leading to the club and expectations of snow, Reynolds advises participants to arrive in four-wheel drive vehicles.

Snow or no snow, Eckhold and partner Bill will be there.

“We’ve got a special bait we call the Camy special,” Eckhold said. “It works on everything.”