April brings showers, but before then, the crappie move into the staging areas in preparation for the annual spring spawns.  Knowledgeable anglers know that Williamson County contains some of the premiere crappie lakes in Illinois.  For some helpful information about the lakes and fish, read on.

 The largest single recreational area in Williamson County is the 43,500-acre Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge located near Marion, Illinois.  More than a million people visit it each year.  Many of the visitors partake of the fishing available on the refuge’s three lakes:  Crab Orchard, Little Grassy and Devil’s Kitchen. 

The sprawling 7,000-acre Crab Orchard Lake is a popular one.  The lake’s 125 miles of shoreline contain weed beds which are home to the white and black crappie.  The adult fish stage just off shore and move in to the spawning beds as the water warms.  Additional action is found along the rip rap and causeways.  Small jigs and jig/minnow combinations are the baits of choice.  These small leadhead jigs are floated below a bobber or just jigged up and down.  The jig tipped with a small minnow is used to entice the reluctant bite. 

By the end of the spawn the fish scatter but remain catchable.  Many fish can be found relating to brush piles and beaver dams. 

To the south of Crab Orchard Lake, but still within the refuge property, Devils Kitchen Lake can be found just off Spillway Road.  Here too the crappie will be staging and soon move into the spawning beds.  This 850-acre lake contains a good population of crappie.  Action in the pre-spawn can be uneven but the areas near the beaver lodges in the southern reaches of the lake are usually a good bet. 

Later during the spawn the shallows are the best bet as fish move in to the lay their eggs and later to defend the nests.  As the fry hatch the adult fish tend to scatter to other parts of the lake.  Again jig and jig/minnow combos are the ticket to success. 

Two miles further south on Spillway Road one finds the third and final lake on the refuge.  Little Grassy Lake is a 1,000-acre lake waterway with wooded shoreline.  Crappies stage in about 8 to 12 feet of water before moving in to the brushy areas for the spawn.  Following the spawn, they move back out to the 8 foot level.  After a brief respite they continue into deeper water of six to 20 feet for the rest of the year.

 The fourth major lake in Williamson County is Lake of Egypt,  a 2,300-acre power plant cooling lake.  Located about seven miles south of Marion and three miles east, this lake is famous for its bass and crappie fishing.  Due to the warm water discharge from the cooling of electrical turbines this lake tends to be slightly warmer than surrounding bodies of water.  As a result crappies tend to stage and spawn a couple of weeks earlier. 

Most of the larger crappie (up to two pounds) are found in the brush just off the points.  Smaller fish will be hanging around the banks in the southern parts of the lake where water is shallower.  Following the spawn crappie move out into the main creek channel and are usually found relating to wood structure and drop-off in up to 20 feet of water. 

Wherever one decides to fish for crappie this year chances are they will be there.  Locate a school of fish and have a ball. 

Local bait shops and sporting goods stores are an excellent source of information.  The people are happy to steer you toward where they are biting.


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