Nestled in 300,000 acres of the Shawnee Hills, these southern Illinois fishing opportunities are often overlooked. With a lawn chair, cooler and some sandwiches, one can enjoy a quiet afternoon and catch some fish in the many lakes and ponds.

The waters range from 100-acre lakes to single acre ponds. Estimates are that there are at least 200 such waters containing crappie, largemouth bass, bluegill and catfish.

Site specific regulations are in force in most of the nine major lakes. They are posted at the access points and generally pertain to the size and number of fish that can be kept. Boating on some of the lakes is limited to 10-horsepower or electric trolling motors.

Tackle is very simple. Most commonly a pole (or rod and reel) with light line and small bait hooks covered with a piece of nightcrawler. For the artificial lure angler, small spinner baits in the 1/8th to 1/4 ounce size produce blue gill, bass and crappie. The catfish are most likely to take a nightcrawler or cheese bait known locally as “stink bait.”

Many of the smaller bodies of water have self-sustaining populations of bluegill, redear and crappie. Others have been “stocked” by well meaning anglers with fish from other locations as they try to create their own little honey hole. The ponds range from being flood water retention ponds with no fish to old established self perpetuating ponds built by the owners of formerly privately owned farms.

That brings another point. There are private lands scattered within the forest and one needs to respect the rights of owners to bar access if they desire. It is good to know exactly where you are and who owns the land before trespassing. Most of the public access ponds are marked by the Forest Service. Until you become entirely familiar with the area it is best to fish the marked locations.

Some of the ponds have had the shoreline brush cleared to allow for access. Others have parking facilities and walking paths to the shoreline paths from which one can fish. Many of the areas are maintained by the Forest Service but others show signs of neglect due to limited federal budgets.

To name specific small ponds could put undue pressure on the fishery. However, one can obtain information about fishing locations from the US Forest Service Offices (618-253-7114) located in the area. Other fishing information is available in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources 2011 Illinois Fishing Information booklet available from IDNR offices and where most licenses are sold.

The larger bodies of water range from Tecumseh (13-acres) in Hardin County to Johnson County’s Dutchman Lake. Other waters include Little Cache Lake No. 1, Bay Creek No. 8, Whoopie Cat Lake, Lake Glendale, Little Cedar, Turkey Bayou, Bay Creek No. 5, One Horse Gap and Pounds Hollow Lake.

Shoreline trash pick up is not done on most of these waters. That makes it all the more important that anglers pick up any trash they or the person before them may drop. Leave the area better than you found it so that others may also enjoy the experience of wilderness fishing.

In case you have not noticed, the lakes in southern Illinois have some interesting names. Many of the ponds do too. They are often taken for granted by locals and it is possible to have a pond all to yourself or with little competition.



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