Illinois Outdoors at
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Jeff Lampe

Jeff Lampe has been outdoor writer at the Journal Star in Peoria for 12 duck seasons. He lives in Elmwood with his wife Monica, sons Henry, Victor and Walter, and Llewellin setter Hawkeye. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he is an avid fan of the Bills and still has mental scars from four consecutive Super Bowl losses. Outside of hunting and fishing, Lampe's main passion in Illinois was Class A boys basketball (which sadly no longer exists). Former publisher of the Class A Weekly newsletter, Lampe is a co-author of "100 Years of Madness" and "Classical Madness," both books focusing on prep basketball in Illinois.

Illinois Outdoors


A Web log by Jeff Lampe of the Journal Star

Illinois hunting and fishing

Best-looking IHSA bass boats

May 07, 2010 at 11:49 AM

One of the sidelines of any big-time bass fishing tournament is checking out the boats.

Well, in my estimation the best-looking boat out of the 57-team field here at Carlyle Lake belongs to St. Charles, pictured above. Boat captain Dave Fuerst (shown in his boat) paid to have the special decals made after St. Charles placed third last year.

The only other real contender for best looking is last year’s winner, Pinckneyville (pictured below). Only this year instead of a big panther, they’ve got Knight Hawk Coal emblazoned on the side of the boat. I preferred the panther but understand the need to get sponsor dollars given the state of education in Illinois.

Illinois hunting and fishing

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Illinois hunting and fishing

Fishing with Fergie

April 27, 2010 at 02:21 PM

One of the joys of fishing for me is the chance to blab while on the water. Particularly with Chef Todd. He can fill up the time between fish no like human being I’ve ever met.

But in all my years of on-the-water fish talk, Saturday was a first. Never before have I wet a line with a baseball Hall of Famer while listening to stories of spitballs, pine-tar balls, stickum-balls and all the other various ways pitchers have made thrown balls dance.Illinois hunting and fishing

The Hall of Famer was ex-Cubs great Fergie Jenkins, who is practically a Peoria resident anymore as often as he visits the area.

We hooked up at Hidden Lakes Farms in Knox County during a third annual fishing tournament held in honor of the late Maury Cicciarrelli. The event is expected to raise nearly $30,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association. That’s an impressive chunk of change for a one-day event.

Near as I can tell, Fergie was there to yuck it up with folks and have fun. He turkey hunted, fished and had a good time. For part of that good time the two of us bass fished for a few hours. In between fish—and there were plenty of bass, most Emiquon-sized 14-inchers—Fergie spinned a few yarns about pitching.

The most interesting ones for me were about the various ways pitchers make the ball dance. Fergie said the best substance he’d seen used was clear pine tar. Having pitched with Gaylord Perry, he apparently had some decent background on the subject.

Jenkins also mentioned that he had considered throwing a knuckleball at the end of his career to be able to pitch a few more seasons. “But the Cubs said they had some young guys coming up and I figured that was OK,” said the ever-amenable Jenkins.

Spitballs and bass. What a combination.



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Illinois hunting and fishing

An Emiquon lunker bass

April 13, 2010 at 09:16 PM

For a little while this morning, I was almost ready to term my outing to the Emiquon Preserve as a disappointment.

Gordon Inskeep and I caught fish, but not like we usually do. We actually had to work to hook our 80 bass today. And I never saw a crappie. Never got a bluegill to hit, either (though we did see big schools of them shallow).

With water at 66-67 degrees, I figured we’d slay the bass. And anywhere else, our day would have been termed a wild success. But Emiquon spoils you. You come to expect 100 bass for two guys in a boat, if not for one.

So 80 is sort of, OK. Even when two come on one crankbait, a feat Inskeep pulled off once and nearly replicated later with three bass. We actually switched baits plenty today in an effort to fine-tune what was working. Crankbaits. Beaver baits. Worms. Tubes. Chatterbaits. Carolina rigs. Everything got a change. Everything caught fish, too, just not as many as we expected.

But any thought of the day being disappointing went out the window for me on one cast. I tossed a white Rat-L-Trap past a tree in 12 feet of water along one of the old transmission ditches. Then wham. A fish was there. And it felt big. Problem was, the fish immediately got into a tree. That’s bad news for me, since I fish 10-pound test line and have a knack for losing big fish. Not to mention the fact the fish was on a little treble hook.

Somehow, she came through the trees. Somehow, Inskeep netted her after she tried to pull me under the boat. And that one fish made my day.

The fish was 21.5 inches long and had a fat belly that was 16.75 inches around, I think. Measuring girth is tough in a small boat. Suffice to say she was very fat, far fatter than any bass I’ve caught before.

Seeing her made me ponder what Emiquon will be like two years from now when all the 15-16 inchers are bigger. Think what it will be like there when 19 inchers are everywhere. I can’t wait. For now, though, I’m happy with this fish and happy I let her go.

Illinois hunting and fishing

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Illinois hunting and fishing

Fishing is on fire

April 07, 2010 at 07:37 AM

You just never know. For days people had been telling me, “Fishing is on fire.”

With my normal luck, by the time I got out Monday afternoon, the fire would have burned out.

Not this time. Instead the warm, windy afternoon produced a red-hot outing. And all the best fishing came in this bay, which is actually a finger that runs north-south off a large, deep Peoria County strip-mine lake.

Illinois hunting and fishing

At first I tried for bass, as did fishing partner Gordon Inskeep. I was throwing a white Paul Clay chatterbait and Gordon was throwing a chatterbait (until he lost it) and then a tube. He outfished me big time on bass. But I did manage to catch a 19-incher off the west bank, with the wind sweeping past me.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Then Gordon had to leave and I kept fishing, trying a shallow flat with little luck (one bass, one big redear). Finally I walked back into the bay pictured above and tried for bass. Something kept hitting my chatterbait. But when I went to set the hook, there was nothing there. I figured I was in a school of big redear or bluegill, since the hits were hard.

So I started throwing a white-and-tinsel tube jig. Bam. Crappie. Bam. Crappie. Hmmm.

For the next 45 minutes I caught a crappie on nearly every cast. Fish were about 8-10 feet off shore. All I had to do was let the jig drop and they would nail it. The only other time I remember crappie hitting that hard was a few years back at Hennepin-Hopper when Chef Todd, Mark Coons and I sacked up a bunch on anything we had that was pink (even big pink flukes).

I didn’t need pink on Monday (thought I had plenty with me). Most of the time I was tipping my jig with a small Berkley Gulp Alive minnow. Most of the fish were 9.5-11 inches long and most were fat (and full of eggs, as I found later in the fish-cleaning shed at home). The best of all was the 14.9-incher pictured below (which I am calling a 15-incher and which weighed 1.75 pounds).

Illinois hunting and fishing

That big crappie made my day. When it hit I thought it was actually a bass since it was head-shaking on its way to the bank. What amazed me was just how much bigger that one fish was than the other crappie. I took this picture of the big guy with an 11.5 and an 11-incher just for reference.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Anyway, I called family members of the lake owner and they went out and filled three-quarters of a five-gallon bucket with crappie and bluegill (which evidently moved into the bay after I left, since I did not catch any while I was fishing).

Next up is a fish fry this weekend. That and a return visit to the same bay sometime soon. Will fishing still be on fire after last night’s rain, lightning and thunder? There’s only one way to find out.

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A great day, week for bass

April 06, 2010 at 09:22 AM

It stands to reason that since I have not fished in nearly a week, almost everyone I’ve talked to since Saturday has a great bass fishing outing to report.

Big ones are falling left and right. The hot bite started late last week, continued through the weekend’s storms and has kept right on this week, with big fish reported Monday, as well.

As a result, I’m headed out later this afternoon to see for myself.

Among several anglers who reported an excellent outing last Saturday was Rick Morgan of East Peoria, who was the subject of a column on bass fishing in March.

Fishing with a storm front rolling in and in the midst of plenty of wind, Morgan caught 13 bass on a jig and pig (incidentally, he is using Paul Clay’s jigs) including five that went 24 pounds, 15 ounces (a 21 ¼-incher that went 6-4,  a 20 at 5-2 and 3 more 20 inchers that went 4-9, 4-9, 4-7). Morgan said water in the strip mine he was fishing had warmed to 51 degrees and he was also starting to catch smaller fish. He fished 11 hours to catch his 13 fish. Here are his pictures (I hope to have my own later today, actually I have to since this is just Day 2 of my ridiculous Picture A Day project).

Here are highlights from Morgan’s day.

8:03 a.m., storm front coming in quickly with lots of wind

Illinois hunting and fishing

8:09 a.m., staring at downpour of rain through my truck window. I waited it out for one-half hour then headed out.

Illinois hunting and fishing

2:23 p.m., 5-2

Illinois hunting and fishing

2:40 p.m., 6-4

Illinois hunting and fishing

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