Report from the Dock
As we head into winter fishing, biologists point out that adapting to the changes severe winters impose on their habitat comes naturally to fish. Yes, they are cold-blooded, and yes, their physiology allows them to survive in hostile environments, but that makes it no less interesting to see where they are and what they are doing under the surface during winter.
“The first thing you would notice is that the world of fish in winter is a world that swirls in slow motion,” DNR’s Division of Fisheries notes in a report on winter fishing. “In many cases, fish literally slow down almost to the point of hibernation. They become very lethargic and sedentary. They don’t have any other way of warming themselves, no thermal system like mammals have.” For most fish, including largemouth and smallmouth bass, their winter digs are near the bottom of rivers and lakes where the water is warmest – not warm by any human standard but warm enough to make their winter existence at least a measure more tolerable. In bodies of fresh water without current, like lakes and ponds, an inversion takes place in the water temperature as late autumn drifts into winter. What happens is the cold water moves to the top nearest the ice and the warmer water gradually slips to the bottom, the opposite of the summer pattern, where the coldest water is deepest down.
Bottom line: When fishing in winter, keep in mind that many fish will be slower to bite and slower to react to your baits and lures.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to hit.
Chain: The channels have been producing good catches of panfish on small tungsten jigs. There are few reports on walleyes and bass at the launches.
Pistakee Bay has been producing good catches of white bass in the 15-foot depths. The crappie bite also has been good, but finding them is the hard part. They have been suspending on the breaklines near deeper water. The north end of Channel Lake has been producing good catches of panfish. The weeds are still holding good quality fish.
Lake Michigan: Reports of perch from Navy Pier are good. Smaller fish are around with some big ones mixed in. Double rigs with minnows or shrimp are being effective. Some larger fish are being caught on small flukes and other plastics.
There are reports of perch being caught around 95th Street. Standard fare of double rigs with shrimp or minnows is working.
Downtown harbors are producing some decent catches of perch. The fish are running small so a lot of sorting is required, but crappie rigs with shrimp or fathead minnows seem to be producing the best. Artificial plastics such as small minnow-style plastics rigged on double rigs and pulled along the weedbeds can produce some of the larger fish. Fishing bottom rigs with minnows and feather-tied hooks has also been good producer.
Crab Orchard Lake: Anglers are reporting that crappies are being found at depths ranging from about six to 10 feet. Most are in heavy cover near points. The best baits have been minnows and jigs. Bright colors seem to be the best bet. Bluegills are being caught near riprap and around weedbeds on the typical bluegill baits. Bass fishing has been slow.
Baldwin Lake: Largemouth bass fishing has slowed. Bluegills are biting on worms in six to eight feet of water. Crappie and catfish fishing has been fair.
Carlyle Lake: White bass are hitting jigs, but the effort has been slowing. Channel cats being caught on liver and cut bait along shoreline. Bluegill fishing is good but slowing, with worms taking most. Sauger fishing has been fair. Crappie fishing is good near structure.
Kinkaid Lake: Bluegills had been biting on worms, but the bite has tapered off. Crappies are slow, but some are being taken on minnows in 12 to 15 feet of water. Muskies are being caught, though action is slow.
Horseshoe Lake: Crappies have started biting better. Brush piles in deep water have provided the best action. Minnows and jigs are equally effective. Bass have been slow, as have bluegills.
Lake of Egypt: Crappie action is slow but getting better. Fishing for bluegills has been slow.
Little Grassy: Crappies have been biting on minnows, mostly in cover in about 15 to 20 feet of water. Bass action has improved, but remains slow. Plastic worms have worked best. Bluegills are running small and biting on worms.
Rend Lake: Crappies are biting fair on jigs fished along the Route 154 riprap and over crappie sets in Gun Creek and near bridge pillars. Bass fishing has been slow.
Powerton Lake: Smallmouths are being caught on crankbaits and small jigs. Good currents are reported in the discharge area. Bandits and inline spinners also are working. Catfish good on a variety of baits but shrimp reportedly doing best.
Lake Bloomington: Bluegills are biting on worms, but are slow and small. Crappies are being caught on minnows in 12 to 14 feet.
Lake Decatur: Crappies are being caught on minnows. Bluegill fishing has been slow, with a few being caught on worms. Catfish have been very slow on worms and stinkbaits.
Lake Shelbyville: Crappies have been biting in shallows or around brush on jigs and tubes of chartreuse with yellow, red or white and chartreuse tubes. Muskies are biting below the spillway.
Clinton Lake: Crappie fishing has been fair near brush with minnows. Bluegills are being caught on worms near shore.
Coffeen Lake: Bass fishing has been good for anglers using crankbaits and plastic worms. Crappies have been slow to bite. Catfish have been caught on nightcrawlers and stinkbaits. Striped bass have been hitting top-water lures in the evening.
Lake Springfield: Bluegills are biting on worms along shorelines. Crappie fishing has been slow. Catfish have been biting on shad. White bass have been hitting spinnerbaits near the bridges.
Sangchris Lake: Crappie fishing has been good on minnows. Bass picking up on plastics and spinners near shore.
Illinois River: The walleye and sauger bite has dropped off. The bite shut down and fish are harder to find. Anglers who are catching fish are finding them here and there. Use stickbaits or three-way rigs with the bottom weight being a jig and minnow and an F-9 Rapala on the long line.
Fox River: The walleye bite is starting to pick up with some fish being reported in the Elgin area. The fish are being caught on Gulp-style jigs as well as jerkbaits. There have been some good schools of white bass showing up as well.
Kankakee River: Smallmouth bass have been biting near Momence on minnows and spinners.
Des Plaines: The walleyes have been found using jerkbaits and jointed minnowbaits. They are being taken in the evening hours working the deeper holes adjacent to shallow water.