Thursday, January 26th, 2023
Thursday, January 26th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Illinois Woods & Waters – Mautino’s Lakes, Bureau County

Fish don’t mind road closures hampering Mautino


By Ralph Loos


Much of Mautino State Fish and Wildlife Area was closed in recent years due to road deterioration, limiting access to the park’s 900 acres and its collection of ponds and small lakes.


Anglers who want to fish those waters have had to park and hike.


Supporters of the park urged the state to allocate $500,000 to make needed repairs, but efforts hit a snag in 2019. It now looks like 2020 is going to be the year the state park fully opens.


This spring, contractors plan to return to repair the road past Boss Lake, the site’s largest lake. 


In the meantime, for those who don’t mind the hike, a typical approach to fishing the collection of waters at Mautino State Fish and Wildlife Area is to treat the experience as if you were strolling through your favorite buffet restaurant.


Try a little of this, try a little of that – and wait until it’s over to decide what you liked best.


Mautino is comprised of a restored strip mine which has attracted a vibrant community of plants and animals to its forests, lakes, and grasslands. Over a dozen lakes ranging in size from half an acre to 15 acres dot the landscape. Each body of water holds fish and each body of water has its own unique quality.


The area, opened to fishing only in 2003, was once a coal mining land, and the pits left behind are what holds the water. Mautino’s overall expanse is located in Bureau County on the Buda blacktop, about three miles west of Buda.


Because they are old strip pits, the lakes are deep, with steep inclines as shorelines – especially the two bigger lakes.


At 15.5 acres, Boss Lake is the biggest of the bunch, with both smallmouths and largemouths.  Just to the north of Boss is 14-acre Osprey Lake, which holds its own on the largemouth front.


Both Boss and Osprey have boat ramps, though only electric trolling motors are allowed.


Mirror Lake is another popular body among the other lakes that range in size from about half-acre to a 14 acres.


Anglers on Boss Lake can expect to catch a variety of fish, including bluegills, channel catfish, largemouth bass, rainbow trout (in spring and fall), redear sunfish and smallmouth bass.


Osprey Lake holds the same species as Boss – with one exception. Osprey has been stocked with muskies.


As for angling, the ponds and lakes are typical of strip pit lakes across Illinois –  the waters have amazing clarity. Visibility can be over 15 feet in the spring, a little less in summer and fall.


Local bass anglers suggest using finesse presentation with small diameter line and downsized baits is the best way to find success, with drop-shotting a particularly effective method of fooling the sometimes-timid largemouth bass.


“Boss is hard to fish because of extremely clear water,” Kewanee angler Bill Henry said. “I have only caught bass out of it. I have talked with people and they said there are some crappies in there. I have seen bluegills coming out of the waters, too.”


Osprey is the best bet for good bluegills, Henry added. 


“I have seen decent-sized bluegills out of there, 9 inches or so,” he said. 


“Wax worms and crawlers worked for them, grasshoppers or crickets later in the summer.”


Mirror Lake has been known to hold crappies. That lake is clearer than Boss and the others, so hooking crappies can take a stealthy approach.


As for catfish, each of the lakes holds good numbers, though most channel cats are in the 2- to 4-pound range. In other words, a good eating size. 


As for the entire site, it is part of the Hennepin Canal Parkway complex. 


Mautino State Fish and Wildlife Area is south of I-80 about 6 miles. From I-80, take Exit 45, which brings you to Route 40. Go south on Route 40 for 4 miles (crossing the junction of Routes 34 and 6) to the town of Buda. In Buda, turn west on Main Street/County Road 1200N. The site is two miles. 


Those coming from the west will be on Route 34 and on the big curve between Neponset and Sheffield (three miles southwest of Sheffield), visitors should follow the site directional signs and go east for 2 miles on County Road 1200N to the site entrance.


Aside from fish, the area hosts dove, deer, turkey and coyote hunting. 


Nature lovers, bird watchers and hikers are also drawn to the site. Hill prairie grasses and wildflowers along the old mining slag heaps furnish habitat for an assortment of birds such as eastern meadowlark and several sparrow species. 


The roadways in Mautino double as hiking trails for touring the mix of bottomland forest (cottonwood, silver maple, hack-berry, black cherry) combined with hilly prairies.


Historically, the area, as mentioned, was once a coal mining site. It later became Coal Creek State Fish and Wildlife, but was named in honor of former Rep. Richard “Dick” Mautino, of Spring Valley. 


According to DNR, Mautino was a long-time friend to conservation and the Illinois park district system. 


He represented the area encompassing the site in the Legislature from 1975 until his death in 1991. 

Mautino’s Lakes

Nearest town – Wyanet

Surface area – one-half acre to 15.5 acres (Boss Lake is largest)

Note: The roads inside the parks have been closed for repairs. Visitors with questions should call the site.


Species present

Bluegills, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, sunfish.


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