Washington County Lake getting its due bass attention
By Ralph Loos
A decade of recovery has put Washington County Lake in a “good place.” The southern Illinois spot has a solid bass population and an improving channel cat reputation.
Some notable findings from DNR’s most recent survey of the lake:
• During the electrofishing sample, of the 98 largemouth bass collected, 60 percent were over 15 inches, 45 percent were over 16 inches, and 20 percent were over 18 inches.
A new bass regulation went into effect five years ago. The goal of the new bass regulation was to increase the overall number of bass in the lake, as well as the number of bass greater than 14 inches in the lake.
Site regulations allow for two fish under 14 inches and one fish over 18 inches daily . There is a 14- to 18-inch protected slot.
• The channel catfish population is excellent. DNR stocks this lake annually with channel catfish. Sixteen channel catfish (14 to 25 inches) were collected in the most recent survey. Site regulations allow for six fish daily.
• The bluegill sunfish population is poor. Bluegills are stunted and overabundant. No bluegills over 7 inches were collected in the most recent survey.
• No white crappies were collected in the most recent survey. Ten black crappies (5 to 15 inches) were collected. DNR reported that 30 percent of the black crappies were over 10 inches.
This 250-acre state-owned lake seven miles south of Nashville, one hour east of St. Louis and four hours south of Chicago has near-perfect habitat and a solid forage base. It has a reputation for producing trophy bass, and continues to produce younger fish at an impressive rate.
DNR biologists suggest there are much larger bass lingering. Three-, 4-, and 5-pound fish are common, with 6-pound fish present. Less common, 7- and 8-pound bass occur in the lake as well.
“Fish around the woody debris like stumps, laydowns and brush, plus rocky areas,” DNR suggests.
Because of its location in the southern half of the state, Washington County has open water much of the year. It may ice over during a harsh winter, and ice fishing for bluegills can be rewarding.
Looking at results of the most recent DNR survey, it is important to note that during the previous survey in 2015, white crappies were collected for the first time in five years. Crappies ranging in size from 9-15 inches were collected in that sampling three years ago, and black crappies ranging from 3-11 inches were also collected.
Washington County Lake seems to have recovered from a carp problem it suffered from a decade ago. Because of the carp, water clarity in the lake had declined, resulting in less healthy game fish populations. The decline in water clarity was blamed on common carp and their tendency to disturb the lake bottom sediments while feeding.
In an effort to improve habitat in the lake for sport fishes, DNR contracted with a commercial fish removal crew in 2007-08 to harvest common carp from the lake. The project had a goal of removing approximately 60,000 pounds of carp, which indicates how pervasive the carp had become.
As for the lake’s setting, it is part of the Washington County State Recreation Area. Visitors will marvel at the sight of rabbits, quail, squirrel, dove, deer and woodcock among the stands of pines, brushy draws and fallow fields. Hiking the lake’s 13-mile shoreline is common.
Camping is available with tent and trailer spaces readily accessible. Electricity and disposal are available for trailers. A shower building is also located in the camping area.
Two campground cabins are available in the campground. The cabins have heat and air-conditioning available.
Historically speaking, in 1959 the state purchased 160 acres of natural area near Nashville which provided excellent cover and food for upland game. Additional acreage has been added in succeeding years, currently totaling 1,440 acres. In 1960, the Department of Conservation (now DNR) constructed the lake in the areas between two small creeks. This long, thin lake is surrounded by fields and woods.
Getting to the lake is fairly simple. Interstate 64 runs east and west across the state and passes seven miles north of Washington County State Recreation Area.
Get off of the interstate at exit 50 and this puts you on Illinois Route 127.
Washington County Lake
Nearest town ……Nashville
Surface area ………250 acres
Average depth ………18 feet
Largemouth bass, bluegills, crappies, channel catfish,