The 155 miles of Rock River that flows through Illinois from the Wisconsin state line to near Rock Island on the Mississippi River divides into three basic habitats for fish. They are tailwaters below dams, lake or sloughs above dams, and the main channel or side channels.
A very comprehensive booklet on “Fishing the Rock” is available from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources offices in the area or on line at http://www.dnr.illinois.gov.
Below each of the seven dams, the tailwaters are accessible for fishing. The various parks, both state and local, also have boat launches and bank fishing with most having handicap piers. The water is usually rough and turbulent due to the flow over the dam. Fish congregate in the oxygen rich water.
In the channels is the deep, swift water that lacks structure other than large rocks and deep holes. Between the main channel and the side channel is that part of the river containing debris and stumps.
Above the dams are the lakes and sloughs with their slow running water. The oxygen level is lower and the fishing usually not as good.
The best fishing locations seem to begin at Oregon Dam. A bait shop in Oregon, Illinois at the dam is a good source of tackle, bait and information about the river.
There are several boat launch areas on the western side of the river in Castle Rock State Park and on the eastern side at Lowden State Park. The river yields such diverse species of fish as northern pike, walleye, bluegill, white bass, smallmouth and largemouth bass. It is renowned for the ample population of channel and flathead catfish.
Camping and picnic areas are available in the state parks. The various towns and cities along the rivers course also have motels and cabins available.
As you travel further south the river widens and as a result it is often rather shallow. The shallows still have deep holes where fish seek refuge from the summer heat. They are often the home of some big catfish.
“Fishing the Rock” is a great idea from mid-May to the snowfall in the beginning of winter.
Living in Chicago area for some 30 years still provides surprises in terms of family fishing locations. The best fishing seems to come in the forest preserves and along the lakefront. There are several rivers but they tend to be better probed by experienced anglers. The competition with other recreational users along the lake front in summer makes family fishing less popular than the forest preserves.
Each of the forest preserve districts of Cook County, Lake County, DuPage County, Will County and the Chicago Park District have websites containing locations, maps, and facilities available.
Up to date fishing information is available at http://www.windycityfishing.com.
A prime example, but by no means the only good family location is the Busse Woods Lake in northwest suburban Elk Grove Village. It offers excellent facilities and a variety of game fishing prospects. An aggressive program of stocking has established a fishery containing populations of largemouth bass, northern pike, walleye, crappie, channel catfish, musky, bluegill, warmouth, sunfish, yellow bass, pumpkinseed, bullhead and carp. The lake is one of the best lakes in the region for finding a variety of game species in good size.
The park borders Illinois Route 53 on the west, Arlington Heights Road on the east, Higgins Road on the north and is included in the Ned Brown Forest Preserve. There is a bait and tackle shop in the shopping center at the corner of Higgins Road and Arlington Heights Road.
The lake divides into three sections. All stocking takes place in the main lake (419-acres) and the south pool (156-acres). As a result most anglers focus there. The 25-acre north pool produces some excellent largemouth bass exceeding the 18-inch keeper minimum. Fishing in that area is exclusively shore fishing.
The lake contains some 20 miles of workable shoreline for the shore angler. This includes some half dozen fishing walls. The areas nearest the parking lots receive the most fishing pressure. It is advisable to walk a short distance along one of the paths to find more promising water. For the boat angler, either in his own or locally rented boats, there are sections of submerged timber, rocks and vegetation to explore. There are fishing piers and handicap access areas.
You can use of canoes, rowboats, and sailboats on the south and main lake. There are launching ramps and watercraft rental available. You can use your trolling motor but not a gasoline engine.
There are lots of restroom facilities ranging from porta-potties to stone structures with running water. Numerous paved parking lots make for easy action to the lake. Although there are numerous picnic pavilions there is no camping in the park. The closer surrounding area has numerous hotel/motel, restaurant and shopping accommodations
Carlyle Lake offers some of the best white bass fishing in terms of quantity and quality. The fish average about one half pound. The total population runs 10 to 15-inches in length with 62 percent over 12-inches. Fish over 13-inches will run over one pound. The fish are in excellent condition and scattered throughout the lake.
The lake is located on the Kaskaskia River near Carlyle, Illinois. It is 50 miles due east of metropolitan St. Louis. The lake stretches through parts of Fayette, Bond and Clinton counties. Owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contains some 26,000-acres of water.
White bass are cousins to the saltwater striped bass and as such have much of the savage instinct of their brethren. They will hit light tackle ad give an angler more then he can handle.
Following the warm rains of April, these water tigers go on a feeding frenzy that lasts into June. White bass become more active as water temperatures rise above 50-degrees. Once at that level the fish move out of staging areas and into spawning areas.
Catching white bass is one thing, finding them is the tough part. In spring the pre-spawn fish position themselves on sand bars and gravel banks in fast water. During the spawn they make runs into the major feeder streams looking for suitable gravel beds. After the spawn they head down stream into creek channels or roam out into the main body of the lake.
If fish are not in the spawning stages a good pattern is to troll over sunken islands and humps with small crankbaits. Look for sign of shad clouds on the fish locator. The schools of white bass are usually nearby. Often they are on deeper sides of the islands or flats. They wait to ambush some hapless shad as he swims past.
The active white bass is a constant feeder. They prefer to spend their time in water deeper than 10-feet but will often move into the shallows to feed. Their favorite meal is shad. A sure sign of white bass presence is water that appears to be boiling. Shad breaking through the surface gives the appearance of boiling water as they try evading the bass.
When feeding on the surface concentrations of seagulls pinpoint the location for anglers. At close range they find the shad boils by spotting splashing water caused by the feeding white bass as they chase the shad. At times the fish will stay up for ten to 15 minutes. More often they feed for only a minute ort tow and then dive back to the safety of deeper water. Usually they surface again a hundred yards or so away.
Early morning and late evening hours are best to find white bass. When they are actively feeding they are catchable in the heat of the day as well.
Anglers should position their boat in the general area of the feeding and wait for white bass to come to them. You can anchor under bridges to avoid the direct sunlight and to await the action.
Light tackle is ideal. Small crankbaits, spinners and jigs are good with line in the 4- to 8-pound monofilament line. Small tube jigs tipped with a minnow or plastics with contrasting dark and light color work well. Match the size of your bait to the size of the shad in the lake.
Angling success is dependent upon year hatches. A year with incredible numbers can help carry the population over more lean years. The best fishing is likely to be about 2 years after a large hatch year.
Speculation is the origins of the fishing vest lie in New England in the 1930’s. Anglers wore hunting coats while fishing because the large pockets could hold fishing tackle needed while wading streams.
The long sleeves and the weight of the jacket restricted movement while casting and anglers sought a more suitable alternative. A sleeveless garment with pockets sewed on became the answer. From those garments continued refinements developed.
Over the years anglers tried dozens of fabrics, zippers and designs. The focus of each part of the vest was a design for the fisherman. Closing pockets with the addition of zippers and snaps to holed tackle secure were the first steps. Certain pockets were for certain tasks. The idea was for the vest to allow the angler to stay organized and still have the freedom of movement required to cast. Some vests have as many as thirty pockets. They became mobile tackle boxes.
For the angler wishing to explore rivers and backwater streams in search of freshwater fishing, a fishing vest lets us carry all the gear needed without lugging along an entire tackle box.
The vest is not for warmth it is a traveling tackle box and day pack. It should be large enough to go on over a sweater or jacket if needed. A vest made of waterproof material is advisable.
The best vests have a couple of large pockets on the front to carry fly wallets and plastic boxes. A large pocket on the back can hold rain gear, sandwiches or first aid kits. Smaller pockets are handy to hold boxes of flys and spools of leader. A zippered pocket is a good idea for that cell phone that might be handy in case of an emergency.
Some other things an angler, trout fisherman or not, include such “essentials” as insect repellent, hook hone, flashlight, pen knife, pliers, clippers, polarized sunglasses, water or soft drink and a sandwich or energy bar.
Fly fishing anglers need to study the fish, their eating habits and the habitat where they find the trout. Doing so will lead to enjoyable and successful fishing pursuits.
Thanks to the aggressive stocking program of the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, cool clean water of the rivers of the Ozarks numerous rainbow and brown trout are lying in wait to yank on an angler’s line.
Trout in the wild prefer water around 50-degrees with a rocky bottom. The springs emanating in the limestone of the mountains provide a very suitable habitat for trout. On rivers with changing water levels the fish survive through adaptation. As the water level lowers and the current decreases, they move toward the middle or anywhere with deeper, cooler water. When the current is fast, they will move to the edge of the river. They need to move to structure to conserve energy and preserve calories.
Trout have tiny scales aiding them in living in moving water. This coupled with their slime coat allows them to go nose into the current expending less energy than other fish.
The major other factor that affects trout fishing is food. The trout’s eyes are located mid-range on their heads allowing them to feed either up or down from their position. Ninety percent of their food, immature insects and aquatic creatures, crawls on the bottom of the river. As the food supply grows and matures it moves up in the water column eventually reaching the surface.
Fly fishing anglers need to adjust they type of presentation they throw to the water level in which the trout are feeding at the moment.
If on the bottom, the best fly is one that is darker in color such as black or brown. They should be small in size and weighted to keep it off the bottom a few inches. In the mid-range he can turn to Wooly bugger in a size 10 that is black, tan, and olive or even occasionally white. This is probably the easiest level to master trout fishing with flys. On the surface, the trout will take dry flys sizes 10 to 20, but are difficult to catch. Trout eating on this level slurp down the fly gently as they approach without notification of their presence.
Take to the rivers this summer and enjoy with me the bounty of trout found in the Ozarks.
The 273 miles of the Illinois River divides into 5 pools as it meanders across the state. The final one is the Alton Pool, just up river from St. Louis.
The Alton Pool extends from the tailwaters below La Grange Lock & Dam downstream some 82 miles to Grafton.
The bottom contains mud and sand with side channels forming islands. Swift current below the La Grange dam holds concentrations of sauger and provides the best sauger fishing in the river. The river is popular with recreational boaters and is a commercial barge waterway. Probably the best time for anglers is during the week. There are also public areas open to bank fishing.
Fishing from a boat is the best choice. Not all fish habitat is open to fishing. Illinois law declares public only backwaters that have natural connections to the river and where the water rises and falls along with the river. Dug out areas such as marinas and entrances to duck clubs are not natural connections.
The lower Illinois is historically one of the most productive Illinois waters. However the aquatic habitat degradation caused by sediment in the backwater, erosion around islands, and the invasion of Asian Carp has hurt the native fishery. Still there is excellent sport fishing in this pool.
Saugers stage in deeper water during the day. They move to the shallows of the main channel border at night in search of forage.
Built to handle current, the body style of the sauger is lean and mean. They range from fast current up near the dam downstream a mile or two.
Due to the nature of the river, anglers prefer heavier jigs and jigging spoons tipped with minnows. Blade baits are preferred in vertical jigging the heavy current. Baits with a lot of noise and color are best for sauger. Baits with crazy colors, polka dots and pink as well as other bright colors are good. Saugers appear to prefer bright colors.
Vertical jigging is a key choice for anglers. Big one ounce baits and hair jigs work well. In a heavy current a boat drifts fast. Heavy baits aid in keeping the bait vertical while jigging. It is important to fish vertically as the fish move up out of holes in the bottom to grab the bait and return to the bottom.
Hair jigs like those normally used for lake trout work well. Large jig heads with long hair behind it and bright colors are good. The Sauger is a visual feeding fish. They really thump bait. Occasionally sauger move onto flats where trolling crankbaits can work. However generally trolling is not a productive technique for these fish.
Due to the fact that you are fishing fast moving water, safety is important. Be sure you have all the safety equipment. Do not skimp on it. You never know when you are going to need it.
Pyramid State Park is the state’s largest state park and contains numerous small lakes with an abundant variety of fish species. It is less than an hour drive from most any community in southern Illinois.
First up upon entry to the park from the south entrance is Crystal Lake to the left. This long narrow expanse of water glistens emerald green as it reflects the numerous trees along its bank in the setting sunset. The waters contain such species of common southern Illinois fish as largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish and channel catfish.
Using a Mepps spinner or small white Roadrunner lure, one can cast to the shallow areas along the shore near the fishing pier. Later, you can move on to the boat ramp and fished from the floating dock.
Just past the dock is the site superintendent’s office. There are maps of the area and if the office is open, one can inquire as to where the fish are biting best.
Moving further west, Heron Lake on the right side of the road is another long thin lake with the same species available. There is also a picnic area available and a boat ramp.
Although you might not get to spend a lot of time fishing, it will be a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend time in the park. Warm spring week days it is possible to virtually have the place to yourself.
Located in Perry County between Pinkneyville and Pyatts, Illinois and west of DuQuoin, the park now encompasses some 19,000 acres. Originally a local college used the area as a research facility used a strip mine, the first 924-acres. It later passed to the state in 1968 for a state park. More land additions occurred until by 2001 it reached 19,000 acres.
The park consists of five units, Original Pyramid, East Conant, Galum, Captain, and Denmark. The 0riginal area contains some 30 lakes of various sizes. Captain contains 11 lakes and Denmark has 7.
There are lakes in Galum and East Conant which are in need of my exploration. State stocking reports show the addition of about 100 ten inch muskie Goldeneye Lake in Galum. The stocking began in 2002 and continues to this time.
In addition, to the fish mentioned earlier, Green Wing Lake, Canvasback Lake, Mallard Lake and Bluewing Lake all contain crappie with both black and white subspecies present. They range is size up to 10 inches. Canvasback Lake in the Denmark Area has received some stocking of muskies since 2002 at a rate of about 100 ten inch fish each year. Mallard and Green Wing Lakes also have walleye from yearly stockings done by the IDNR since 2002. Both Mallard and Bluewing Lakes have received stockings of Northern Pike and will get more this summer. These lakes are located in the Denmark Area.
A special attraction in the Captain Area is Super Lake and some striped bass hybrids. IDNR added the hybrids in June 2003. In August of 2008, some 460 muskie joined them. On the even number years, they add some 100 more each year. The Redear sunfish are up to 9 inches in length.
Muskie anglers will find some in Goldeneye Lake in the Galum Area along with some 9 inch redear sunfish.
This property is basically a hunting and fishing facility. However, there are camping and hiking trails available. The roads are good and the picnic areas are clean.
All of the lakes have 10 horsepower limits on boat motors and most have boat launches. Boat launch areas are often on steep inclines so 4-wheel drive vehicles are a good idea. Some of the lakes do not have launch areas and some are accessible only on foot. Canoes and kayaks make perfect sense in most of the lakes.
This facility provides excellent surroundings for the angler in search of a quiet, gentle day on the water. The heavy brush deadens any sound that might otherwise disrupt ones concentration of the task at hand, fishing.