BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — From tasty panfish to powerful muskies, Central Illinois has fishing that's hard to beat.
To kick off the 2012 fishing season, The Pantagraph asked some of the area's best anglers to share their favorite lakes. Evergreen Lake in northern McLean County won the prize for being mentioned most often as a favorite destination for a variety of fish.
Here's what everyone had to say:
Geena Norris, president of the Bloomington Normal Bass Club, loves to catch largemouth bass, of course. But her favorite trip is for saugeye, the walleye/sauger hybrid, at Evergreen Lake. The 900-acre reservoir holds the state record saugeye at 9 pounds, 10.5 ounces. Norris likes to use a jig and nightcrawler in June and a crankbait in October to catch the tasty fish.
Jerry Martoglio of Dreamcatcher Guide Service also likes to chase saugeye at Evergreen from May through June on humps. Check out a lake map to find them.
"We had a lot of success last year. All of my trips ended up with limits for my clients," Martoglio said. "The big fish was 6½ pounds."
Illinois Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Mike Garthaus mentioned a sleeper saugeye/walleye lake to try: Dawson Lake at Moraine View State Park near LeRoy.
"We are getting nice quality 15-, 16- and 17-inch saugeye," he said.
Evergreen received most votes for crappie, too. When water temperature reaches 50 degrees in spring, look for the fish shallow, Martoglio said. But don't stop then. One December day, he caught his 15-fish limit of crappies on 18 casts. The smallest was 10½ inches. Garthaus said his fish surveys at Evergreen have revealed a strong crappie population with fish averaging 10 to 11 inches.
"Our last survey at Evergreen, our catch rate was 300 per hour. That is off the charts in terms of numbers," he said.
Paul Center of Angling Adventures and Custom Rods enjoys guiding clients for walleye on Lake Bloomington and saugeye at Evergreen.
"I usually say the middle of April to middle of May is the best time to catch a variety of fish," he said. "I like to jig and cast and swim-jig such as hair jig and tubes. I also like to vertical jig with or without a worm or a leech and fish it beneath the boat and cover structure like ledges near deep water or weed lines depending on the time of the year."
He likes the crappie at both lakes.
And again, Garthaus mentioned Dawson, where he rates crappie "good" and improving. He also said anglers should try Clinton Lake near Clinton, which was stocked with black-nosed crappie, which may do better in the hot water of a cooling plant lake than other crappie do.
Terry Brown of Wired2fish.com loves bass.
"My favorite area lake by far is Evergreen. Bloomington is a close second. They offer everything from shallow water cover to docks to grass fishing. I love to fish deep water and Evergreen has creek channels, points and rocks that make it fun too," he said. "My favorite time to fish is hot summer months, when I like to look for deep-water fish. I'll fish big worms, jigs, deep-diver crankbaits and I am always using my electronics to learn more."
Martoglio, long known as one of Illinois' best bass fisherman, likes Lake Bloomington for that species, with the exception of early in the year.
"If I want a lot of bass, I'll go to Spring Lake in Manito from mid-March to the middle of May. And the bonus is I usually catch three or four muskies while I'm bass fishing. That's a great deal," he said.
Jim Crowley, of hookandhunttv.com, suggests Lake Bloomington for hybrid stripers.
"Summer and fall can both be awesome. I try not to fish too much in the heat of summer for hybrids because their mortality rate is very high once caught in the heat of the summer no matter how gentle you are with the fish. So usually I keep some to eat and quit for the day. Late summer and fall cool-down can be incredible. Anything from small crank baits, to swim baits and top waters can all work. The fishery has gotten incredible with stripers, but the fishery is also small. It will not take long to damage it, if people are not accountable," Crowley said.
Hybrid stripers are making a comeback at Clinton Lake, with fish well over 17 inches, according to Garthaus. The lake also harbors a good white bass population.
As for the ever-popular catfish, Garthaus recommends Clinton Lake, which has nice-sized channel catfish and huge flatheads. If you want smaller eating-sized catfish that weigh 2 to 3 pounds, Dawson would be the place to go, he said.
Garthaus and guide Thad Hinshaw agree Evergreen Lake is the best place in the area and perhaps the state for muskies. Evergreen has the potential to produce a new state record on the next cast, they said. Garthaus has netted or shocked fish there larger than the current record of 38½ pounds. Hinshaw said the best time of year for both action and size of fish is fall, September through November. His favorite tactics are blade baits in early fall, then natural-colored minnow-style baits and gliders for late until ice out.
Steve Welch guides on his favorite lake.
"Shelbyville is full of all kinds of fish," said Welch.
Crappie are catchable nearly any time of year there. Fish are drawn out of the rivers when the water is low, and move into the river when the water rises later in spring. Using a Lowrance sonar with side-imaging and down-imaging, he travels along the shoreline with his boat to eliminate any tree without fish visible. Then he gets over a tree, sees how deep they are and tosses a buoy right on their heads. He uses a quarter-ounce Deep Ledge Jig in chartreuse in stained water, white in clear water.
For walleyes, fish the shallow flats when water is in the 70s from about May 20 to July 10. Most of the time fish are in six feet of water or less. He uses a tail spinner Candy Stripper lure, which he manufacturers, or a blade bait or a spinner harness with a night crawler.
Shelbyville is the best white bass lake in the Midwest, according to Welch. Their numbers are incredible. A good day for three people is to catch 600 fish. He starts after Memorial Day in the rivers. By early June, they will form huge schools and surface to eat newly hatched shad. In July, they move to deep ledges where they take his Candy Stripper Jig.
Information from: The Pantagraph, http://www.pantagraph.com