Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Illinois Woods & Waters – East Fork Lake, Richland County

Bass fishing to remain steady on East Fork Lake

East Fork Lake is one of the top 10 – if not one of the top 5 – bass fishing spots in all of Illinois. To be sure, the 900-acre lake doesn’t get the same kind of attention from bass anglers as Newton Lake, which is a short drive to the north.


Those in the know like to keep it that way.


Annual DNR samplings have revealed more than 40 percent of bass in East Fork are over 15 inches. Each summer, anglers seen to pull in fish as large as 7 pounds.


An excellent stocking program in the recent past has assured that good numbers of fish remain available. Meanwhile, other fish in the lake seem to be doing well, too. White and black crappies, bluegills, channel catfish, sunfish, walleyes and yellow bullhead are all relatively healthy and regularly landed by both shore and boat anglers.


Tree-lined coves and bays provide excellent fish habitat and boaters and non-boaters alike will find several spots, though much of the shoreline is undeveloped.


Largemouth bass fishing is best done deep during early spring. Jig fishing and plastic baits may be your best bet this time of year for bass. Sinking jerk baits is also an advised approach.


Crappie fishing is sometimes at its best in the cool waters of early spring. Crappies tend to be in large schools and follow the large shad schools around in  deep water. Find the deepest parts of your lake – about 31 feet in old river channels – and scan your electronics for schooling shad. When you find the school, drop your plastics or live bait down to the bottom of the shad.


Quality-wise, East Fork is described as a clear water, grass-filled lake. It’s protected and has quite a few cuts and coves. Water clarity and quality is best in spring and early summer.


For boating anglers, the city of Olney requires permits for all watercraft put into the water at East Fork, along with two other city-owned lakes that sit nearby: Borah and Vernor.


The permits can be obtained at City Hall at 300 S. Whittle Ave. in downtown Olney.


Information needed to receive a daily permit includes the name, address and phone number of the owner. The make of the boat, horsepower and state registration number is also needed.


To complete the daily permit form, the name and address of your insurance provider is required, along with your signature and payment for the number of days requested.


Information needed to receive an annual permit includes the name and address of the insurance company and agent’s name which provides the watercraft with no less than $100,000 of liability insurance, the state registration number of the boat, the horsepower of the boat, make of the boat and the name and the address of the owner.


Historically, East Fork Lake was built in 1970 for the purpose of recreation and a primary water source for Olney.


Its history flows with the rest of the region. The southern third of Illinois has been known as Little Egypt since the early 1800s. Exactly when it gained the nickname and the true reasons are lost to history, but historians suspect it had to do with the area being the confluence of some of the country’s largest rivers: the Mississippi, Ohio, Wabash, Big and Little Muddy, Little Wabash, Saline and Cache.


Vernor Lake, at 45 acres in size, was built in the early 1900s, only to be replaced by 136-acre Borah Lake in 1956. By 1970, East Fork Lake had taken over as main water source. The city provided parks and pubic areas on each of the lakes for the enjoyment of residents and visitors alike.


Public access docks are available on the north shore of the lake near the campground area. Water skiing, tubing, sailing and powerboating are enjoyed along with canoeing and kayaking. There is no swim area designated on East Fork Lake, but swimming is allowed from boats only in one area along the south shore. Nearby Borah Lake does have a swimming area.


For those wishing to make a weekend, a few miles north of Olney, the Newton Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area supports several flocks of now-rare prairie chickens, as well as walking trails and fishing.


Sam Parr State Fish and Wildlife Area, also near Newton, offers camping, fishing, hiking trails and hunting in season. Twelve miles east of Olney, Red Hills State Park is the highest point of land between St. Louis and Cincinnati.


The adjacent 627-acre Chauncey Marsh Nature Preserve contains the best remaining example of what is called a Wabash Border Marsh Ecosystem. In late July and early August, beautiful pink and white hibiscus and hairy rose mallow are in bloom.

— Ralph Loos

East Fork Lake

Nearest town Olney


Surface area 900 acres


Shoreline 25 miles


Avg. depth 15 feet


Max. depth 40 feet


Primary species present:

Bluegills, largemouth bass, channel catfish, crappies, walleyes, sunfish, common carp, yellow bullheads.


Fish regulations

Largemouth bass – 15-inch minimum length limit and a six-fish daily creel limit; channel catfish – six-fish daily creel limit; crappies  – 25-fish daily limit


Lake information: 


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