After a week of rain and cold temperatures, Spring has sprung in southern Illinois. That means: warm temperatures, the Dogwoods blooming and the crappie beginning to prepare for the annual spawning rituals. It also means that I needed to get out on the shore for some crappie fishing action at Crab Orchard Lake near Marion, IL.
A lack of underwater structure, scattered wood, and low vegetation, makes fishing the shoreline shallows a must for this southern Illinois reservoir. Crappie relate significantly to structure. Large crappie are a given in Crab Orchard Lake, but those who catch them fish the shallow structure.
According to a survey conducted last fall by the local fisheries biologist, the number of black crappie and white crappie were almost equal. The percentage of crappie over eight inches has exceeded the management goals set by the state. The body condition of both types of crappie was very good. In addition, 10% of the black crappie and 37% of the white crappie were larger than ten inches in length.
Crab Orchard Lake is the largest of three lakes within the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. It contains roughly 7,000 acres of water. Located near Marion, Illinois it is about a six hour drive south of Chicago on Interstate 57. Created in the 1940’s, the lake is shallow and does not have a lot of timber. The standing timber was cleared prior to the original flooding. There are some trees that have fallen into the lake due to bank erosion.
There is some structure to be found within the lake in the form of rocks, stumps, floating logs, brush and changing bottom structure. Most crappie anglers rely on a combination of weed edges, fish attractors and wood when fishing the shoreline. During hot weather, anglers fish in depths of four to 12 feet. But, at this time of year, the fish attractors along Route 13 and in the bay of the old Images Marine are popular.
Crappie have a tendency to hold very closely to structure making them difficult to find on electronic screens.
The water is fertile and green to brown in color. This is due to 60 percent of the bottom being clay.
Opportunistic crappie and are known to not like traveling any further than necessary when feeding. Fishing the shallows can be very rewarding, especially if it is near deeper water.
Crab Orchard has a number of bank fishing areas. One of the better known is Wolf Creek Causeway. The causeway divides the lake with a long dike composed of steep rip rap banks. Fishing is good there all year around. Fish relate to a number of brush piles and man made structure in this area.
Crab Orchard is a user fee area. A permit is required and it can be obtained at the Visitors Center on Highway 148 just south of Old Route 13. Fees collected are used to repair and improve roads, buildings, campgrounds and trails. It also permits signs, exhibits, educational programs, guided walks and hikes, as well as other visitor activity. Monies are used for the stabilization and restoration of historic structures, visitor safety and protection as well as for the natural habitat protection.
for information about the refuge and fees, one can call the refuge office at 618 997 3344.
Crab Orchard Lake is a fishing Mecca for shallow water crappie anglers. Boaters, bank anglers, fly fishermen, etc. all can find fishing action to suit their desires.