Des Plaines Lake adds the river to a ‘farm pond’ vibe
By Ralph Loos
Suburban anglers look at it as an opportunity to do a little “farm pond fishing.”
At 19 acres, Des Plaines Lake is a bit too big for that comparison, but the fish species swimming inside it help mask that fact.
It sort of is farm pond-ish.
Once a quarry, Des Plaines Lake has since been connected to the Des Plaines River and it is not located in the city of Des Plaines. It’s actually located in Gurness in northeastern Lake County.
But it does have fish, some of them from the Des Plaines River.
About the only thing anglers complain about is that the lake is a hike from the nearest parking area. The closest kayak/canoe launch is upstream near Wadsworth Road. The lake is accessible by foot or bike along a limestone path.
Originally a sand and gravel pit, researchers from the Wetlands Research Project diverted the Des Plaines River through the lake in 1987, thus it is home to fish common in the Des Plaines River.
According to local anglers, the lake looks to hold some good potential. The dropoffs and lake points look as if they could be very productive and the lake would also provide great refuge from northern pike traversing the river.
According to DNR’s report on the lake, Des Plaines “has a nice largemouth bass population because it’s a backwater of the Des Plaines River. Backwaters are magnets for many fish species that benefit from slower river flows; bass, bluegill, black crappie, northern pike and bowfin.”
DNR’s most recent survey of the lake revealed the following about its most popular inhabitants:
Largemouth bass – A total of 59 bass were collected in 30 minutes of electrofishing. Fish measured up to 16.2 inches and weighed up to 2.5 pounds. In all, 20 percent were bigger than 12 inches, 12 percent were bigger than 14 inches, another 12 percent were longer than 15 inches and 2 percent were over 16 inches.
“This size structure provides quality bass fishing in a relatively small area, but because it is connected to the Des Plaines River fish may not remain as resident’s long enough to grow really big,” DNR noted in its report. “Fish in rivers tend to disperse up and down the system.”
Bluegills – A total of 101 bluegills were collected. They ranged up to 7.4 inches long and weighed up to 0.32 pounds. In all, 18 percent were loner than 6 inches and 3 percent were larger than 7 inches.
Black crappies – A total of 10 black crappies were collected during the survey. Fish measured up to 11 inches and weighed up to 0.8 pounds. In all, 80 percent topped 9 inches, 40 percent exceeded 10 inches and 10 percent were larger than 11 inches.
Channel catfish – No channel catfish were collected during DNR’s most recent survey, but are expected to exist in the system, especially since downstream dams have been removed which allows migrating fish, like channel catfish to move more freely.
Because it’s a backwater of the Des Plaines River, many other fish species that benefit from slower river flows make their way into Des Plaines Lake, including northern pike and bowfin. Additional species include pumpkinseed sunfish, common carp, warmouth, green sunfish, and various sucker species.
Des Plaines Lake features several steep drop offs from 8 feet to around 28 feet. The deepest portions are listed at 36 feet.
The shoreline features a few areas of bull rushes and timber which can be fished both from shore and by boat. The drop-offs and lake points seem to provide the most intriguing areas to catch fish.
Accessing Des Plaines Lake via canoe/kayak down the Des Plaines River is quite a treat. The Wadsworth Canoe Launch provides entry, and the 2-mile journey through the restored wetlands is extraordinary.
The river flow from north to south so the return trip is against the current and should be taken into consideration.
Des Plaines Lake
Nearest town: Gurnee
Surface area: 19 acres
Avg. depth: 4 feet
Primary species present: bluegills, largemouth bass, channel catfish, crappies.
Lake information: 847-367-6640