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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

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.

Story and comments

Catch a cold to catch crappie

March 16, 2009 at 07:10 PM

I’m not one to advocate calling in sick when you really feel well. But if you have any vacation days to burn and you like catching crappie, Tuesday looks like a good one to avoid work in any fashion possible.

It will be warm. And if today is any indication, crappie will be biting.

Reports from Spring Lake this evening are that anglers are hauling in plenty of crappie. And the anglers don’t need boats. Fish are coming all along the road on the south lake. Fish 20 feet out from shore with a jig and bobber set 2 feet deep. Tip it with a waxworm or, better yet, a minnow. Reel in a few inches and twitch. Reel in a bit and twitch. Then be ready to land a fish.

At least that’s the way it went today at Spring Lake in Tazewell County. Spring is a shallow backwater that warms quickly. If you know similar water, I’d head there first.

But crappie were also biting fairly well in strip mines on Monday. Some sort of live bait seemed to be the key, as fish were not taking jigs alone all that well. Chef Todd reported 13 nice crappie, four or five bluegill and three bass in a few hours today. He was fishing a Fulton County strip pit and said he saw schools of fish. But he had few waxies and no minnows. “Dude, if I had minnows I’d have cleaned up,” he said. How he knows that, since he didn’t have any, I’m not sure. But I tend to agree.

Anyway, you can bet I’m finding a way to go crappie fishing Tuesday after having to work all day today.

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Crappie moving shallower, biting

September 16, 2008 at 10:43 PM

The final stop provided the news for this morning. After fishing three strip-mine lakes this morning, Chef Todd and I made a stop at a fourth lake. Which is why I am writing this blog. Because in six casts I caught six crappie. All of them were at the end of the dock, just waiting for the jig and waxworm to fall when they inhaled the lure and bait. All were 10-12 inches. All would have been keepers had I been keeping fish. As it was, we were in a hurry to leave and I had no intentions of keeping fish.

But the week is not over. The crappie can only get more cooperative. Fall patterns are still coming. That means for those who have not yet hung up the rods and reels, now is a good time to get back out.

And don’t be slowed by the recent rains. The strip mines we fished today were in excellent condition. Sure the water was higher, but it was not dirty. We did see some high-banked mine lakes that looked dirty. But the smaller, older, more protected lakes should offer good water and good fishing. Between the Chef and I we caught several bass, with the largest going 3 pounds (on a shaky head worm). Chatterbaits, crankbaits, top-waters and shaky-head worms all yielded fish.

Even so, the news of the day for me was the crappie.

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Crappie still biting

May 31, 2008 at 07:12 PM

While I was in the midst of working hard today, my wife made the mistake of passing on a phone message.

“Gordon says the crappie are biting at The Roadhouse,” she said. After 14 years of marriage you think she’d know better. Within 20 minutes the eldest boy and I were off. And shortly after arriving we had a few keepers.

Crappie were indeed shallow at the Peoria County strip-mine lake we fished this afternoon. Very shallow. And in good numbers. Not many really big fish, but plenty of 9-, 10- and 11-inchers were available in the lake we fished. The only problem was bright sun. If we’d had clouds, I think we could have stacked up some fish. As it was, we caught enough before dinner to supplement our Sunday fish fry.

And I’m guessing those crappie will still be shallow Sunday, if you are looking to get out of yard work.

Also shallow today were bass, though they were not very cooperative. But the crappie were. So who cares if the deck got stained or not?

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Crappie spawn is still on

May 21, 2008 at 08:49 AM

The crappie spawn is still on in Peoria County. In this weird, extended spring here in central Illinois (and elsewhere for that matter) crappie are still full of eggs and moving shallow in places.

I fished with middle son Victor Tuesday afternoon and we had some success catching crappie, bluegill and bass. We fished three different bodies of water in a few hours to get ready for another trip today. The first small lake is relatively shallow and weedy. I’ve had some luck catching good numbers of 8- to 10-inch Illinois Outdoorscrappie out of this pothole. But on Tuesday, the only fish we could find were still in the middle of the small lake. And still full of eggs. Hmmm.

After that we moved on to a large, deep, very clear strip lake. In this lake I’ve generally only had much luck with crappie on cloudy days. But despite Tuesday’s son, we caught a small mess of fish that included three 12-inchers (one a male that was coal black, shown at right). But none of those crappie were full of eggs. They were shallow around woody cover, but none had eggs. Hmmm.

So then we moved to a third lake: another deep Peoria County strip-mine lake that was fairly stained. Well here we came up with several smaller crappie (8 inches or less) that we tossed back. These fish were also fairly shallow around brush. And all appeared to be full of eggs, like the fish below. Hmmm.

Illinois Outdoors

What does all this mean? Seems to me we’ve got to be nearing the tail-end of the spawn. But there are still fish waiting to spawn or in the process, as evidenced by that coal-black male. So I’d say this should be another good weekend for crappie fishing.

The other good news is that bluegill are just getting into the prime bite. So we should have some more excellent panfishing for the next week to 10 days as the gills move onto their beds. It’s time to buy some crickets and waxies and stock up fish for a fish fry.

NOTEWORTHY: No, Victor did not cast with the spinning reel shown in the picture above. He’s deadly with his Spider Man spin-cast combo, but he can’t handle a spinning reel just yet. He wants to, he just hasn’t quite got the hang of it. He does do a good job of reeling in the fish I hook, though.

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