Ice, ice baby: Anglers finally hitting hard times

Crystal Lake, Ill. — There was Harold Linden, squatted on the  small private lake with a big grin, looking like the world had provided him with the keys to the shiniest Cadillac.

“Finally,” is all he could say.

By early morning on Jan. 15, the day Linden was spotted pulling up a hand-sized crappie, the wait for ice appeared over for many northern Illinois anglers

An early morning call to Dave’s Bait and Tackle confirmed it.

“Yeah, we’ve had a lot of guys come in and say Bangs Lake is good, Crystal Lake, Island Lake … they are saying 4 to 6 inches thick, so it looks like things are getting solid,” said owner and guru Dave Kranz. Kranz, who will present a seminar on local lake fishing Jan. 30 during the Chicagoland Fishing Show in Schaumburg, confirmed that things are picking up. “We had 100 guys come through and go out on the ice yesterday, so things look good. Some guys found ice the first week of January on some back channels, but now we are seeing better conditions on lakes.”

Another call confirmed that locations in the Lake County Forest Preserves that are open for ice fishing were Banana Lake in Wauconda, the south bay of Independence Grove in Libertyville and Sterling Lake at Van Patten Woods. 

Unlike those in neighboring Wisconsin and Michigan, Illinois anglers do not take hard water for granted.

“You get out here as much as you can while you can,” explained Linden.

Ice fishing derbies relieved

The handful of ice fishing derbies and events planned for this winter had fears that ice would never come. But, assuming ice conditions allow, anglers will be able to test their skills at the following events:

 • The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s Hard Water Classic ice fishing tournament is scheduled for Feb. 13.

The contest runs noon to 3:30 p.m. on the 62-acre Silver Lake at Blackwell Forest Preserve near Warrenville.

The top three catches of largemouth bass, bluegills, northern pike and crappies will receive prizes, as will the angler with the largest fish overall .

Called “Chicagoland’s largest ice-fishing tournament,” the event is check-in is from 11 to 11:45 a.m. Participants must bring their own gear and bait and comply with all applicable fishing regulations and tournament rules.

The main entrance to Blackwell Forest Preserve is located on Butterfield Road a quarter-mile west of Winfield Road.

“The Hard Water Classic is wonderful event for the whole family and a great way to experience the beauty of the forest preserves in the winter,” said Joe Cantore, president of the district. “We’re just hoping for good ice by then, and, of course, good fishing.”

• An ice fishing event set for Jan. 30 is also hoping for a continued cold snap. The Lake View Villa Association will be hosting its seventh annual Ice Fishing Derby on Bangs Lake in Wauconda. 

A “poor ice condition” date has been set for 7 a.m. to noon  on Feb. 20.

The LVVA Ice Fishing Derby supports wounded veterans and also makes a claim to be “one the largest and most successful ice fishing events in northern Illinois.” 

“This is a family-oriented event and we encourage you to bring the kids,” organizers noted. “We have a great time in support of a great cause, our veterans. Thanks to our generous sponsors there are plenty of door prizes and raffles, kids category prizes, and big fish contests. 

• The 12th annual Walk on Water Tournament is set for 7 a.m. to noon on Feb. 13, also on Bangs Lake.

The ice angling event will begin at Lindy’s Landing. Parking is available at Lindy’s, Homer T. Cook Park, and Slice. There is no trailer parking at Lindy’s, organizers clarified.

Homer Cook is the primary launch location for participants with trailers and machines. The park is located north of Lindy’s off of Main Street. The trail to access the lake is well marked. 

Best spots for ice anglers

Outside of tournaments and contests, ice anglers in northern counties have a number of places to try their luck – assuming ice remains solid.

Once Lake Michigan’s harbors are safe, fishing holes in Montrose, Belmont and Burnham harbors for both salmon and yellow perch are excellent.

Ice can come and go literally overnight in those harbors, so anglers are advised to be cautious.

If the baitfish are in the harbors, brown trout, rainbow trout and the occasional coho salmon will be biting int he cold water. 

Spawn sacs or an alewife fished just off the bottom under a tip-up or tip-down is a good bet. 

Outside of Chicago, the Fox Chain and Shabbona Lake are good spots for panfish – both waters have always been known for good bluegill populations and its good ice fishing.

Shabbona also has a healthy crappie population, and plenty of bass – both largemouths and smallmouths.

The Fox Chain also has a good reputation, as do backwaters of the Mississippi River in the northwestern part of the state.

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