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Jeff Lampe
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

The best bass are private

July 13, 2009 at 04:08 PM

While spending last week pondering the best bass fishing in Illinois, I came to an obvious conclusion.

You can argue all you want about whether Lake Jacksonville, Spring Lake, Lake of Egypt or Newton Lake is the best public largemouth fishery in this state.

No matter how good those lakes may be, the best bass fishing of all will always be on private ground.

That point was hammered home again this morning as Pete Riedesel joined me for a fishing trip on a fertile, bass-filled 15-acre Peoria County lake near Elmwood. The lake is privately owned and sees some fishing pressure. But nothing like what you could expect at any of the above-mentioned lakes, which are hammered from spring to fall by tournaments and by weekend anglers.

So the fishing should be good. And it was. We managed to catch 40-50 bass between us that ranged up to about 2.5 pounds at the high end. Not huge fish. But we caught plenty, almost all on Senkos or plastic worms (a few came on crankbaits, top-water frogs and a Pop-R). My thumb was raw by day’s end.

We also hooked into six huge panfish—five redear and one jumbo bluegill. All of them went at least 10 inches and a few topped that. Plus they were thick and fought like heck. Riedesel was beside himself with excitement for the trophy gills and redears. Since I had seen them before in this lake, I was a bit less shocked, but just as happy.

And you know what, we put all those fish back in. Oh, I have nothing against keeping them. But it was hot this morning and we were bass fishing. So they went back. I can’t say that would happen on a public lake. Sometimes, at least for me, I have a feeling when it comes to panfish that if I put them back I’ll never have another shot at them.

More to the point, where there is fertility and less fishing pressure, there are plenty of fish.

Contrast that with Friday morning, when Eric Doubet and I fished for three hours on north Spring Lake. We never caught a fish. While that was hard to believe, it’s a simple fact of life. Fishing pressure changes everything.

Anyway, there’s a message in here somewhere. Something like, if a friend has a fertile lake and will let you fish there, count your lucky stars.

So why write an article about the top 10 public bass lakes? Because at those destinations, fishing can approximate some of the top private fishing. And anyone can fish those lakes, as compared to private waters. And they really are good lakes. Two of the biggest bass I’ve seen boated this summer came at Lake Jacksonville, even though I’ve spent plenty of time on private strip mines.



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