An unseasonably warm winter has led to excitement and optimism for fishing fans of southern Illinois.
All signs point toward an abundance of fish in the area. The mild temperatures have warmed lakes and ponds, so fish are biting earlier than usual, said Shannon Johnson, executive director of the Williamson County Tourism Bureau.
Dominick DiNovo, a junior from Oak Lawn studying marketing and president of the Saluki Bassers, a Registered Student Organization at SIUC, said the warm weather has caused fish to spawn in late May, which doesn’t usually occur until later in the spring.
“Things are setting up to be a great year for fishing. We are going to be fishing patterns in May that we should be fishing in mid-June,” DiNovo said.
Chris Bickers, District 22 Fisheries Manager of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, recently surveyed several lakes in the area and said he found great results.
Bickers said Crab Orchard Lake, the largest in the area at nearly 7,000 acres, is expected to be a great site for fishermen interested in bass or catfish. Twenty-one percent of the bass surveyed were longer than the 16-inch minimum for keepers, while 35 percent of catfish surveyed were more than 22 inches in length.
Bickers said another great lake for bass fishing is Devil’s Kitchen Lake, which is located just south of Crab Orchard Lake.
“The largemouth bass are predominantly eight to 12 inches in length,” Bickers said. “A few trophy bass are taken each year, but there do not seem to be any fish in any other size.”
Trophy bass weigh between six and 10.5 pounds, he said.
Johnson said fishing fans are drawn to southern Illinois because of its climate and the variety of opportunities it offers.
“Just a hop, skip and a jump from here, you’ve got Lake of Egypt that has phenomenal fishing,” Johnson said. “We are within very close driving distance of many outdoor recreational opportunities.”
DiNovo said Crab Orchard and Lake of Egypt are his two favorite fishing holes in the area.
“Crab Orchard has some giant bass in it,” he said. “Lake of Egypt is a fun place to fish because it fits my style and I always catch a lot of fish when I go there.”
DiNovo, who has been fishing since he was 3 years old, said he’s had the most luck this spring at Lake of Egypt, having caught five fish that totaled more than 17 pounds during one particular outing.
Johnson said anyone can fish at the lakes in the area, as long as he or she has a fishing license. Fishing licenses in Illinois cost $15 for a year, and anyone under the age of 16 does not need one. Twenty-four-hour passes cost $5.50. Most of the lakes offer guided tours, which provide fish-cleaning services for a minimal fee.
Although he enjoys fishing all throughout the southern Illinois region, DiNovo said it’s hard to beat the fishing at SIUC’s own Campus Lake.
“Campus Lake is the best,” he said. “There have been days where I can catch 50 to 60 fish in a day. There are also a ton of big ones in there. Besides the terrible smell of Campus Lake, it is always a fun place to go.”