Walleyes, stripers ‘under-fished’ in Pittsfield Lake
By Ralph Loos
A surprise to many, even those who frequent Pittsfield Lake, is the continued development of its walleye fishery.
“This is probably the most under-fished species in the lake,” DNR noted in its most recent report on the west-central Illinois lake.
Walleyes have been stocked in Pittsfield annually since 1987. According to DNR, 10-pounders have been caught, but a recent population survey found walleyes in a more modest state, ranging between 18.5 and 22 inches and weighing 1.9 to 3.7 pounds.
Two major factors have kept walleye anglers away in droves: the isolated location and a 10-horsepower limit on the lake that is strictly enforced.
DNR surveys rate angling pressure as “light,” with multiple year-classes of fish present and a dominant year-class.
Local walleye anglers suggest targeting the north point of the bay on the lake’s west side, the north end out from the campground and south end along the dam with crankbaits, continuing along the lake’s southwest corner up from the dam.
Walleyes are in excellent condition in Pittsfield and are also often caught trolling over the deep water off slopes. Crappie anglers at the lake have been known to catch a surprise walleye while jigging deep water.
Pittsfield Lake is located about three miles northeast of Pittsfield. The quickest access from elsewhere in the state is probably via Interstate 72, turning south on the Highway 54 exit about 35 minutes west of Jacksonville.
Pittsfield tends to be the center of the state’s outdoors universe in fall, when deer hunters from all over the country flock to the Pike County area.
The lake’s namesake city happens to be the seat of Pike County, arguably the most popular deer hunting counties in the U.S. Pike annually leads the state in deer harvest and is a destination for deer hunters from coast to coast.
Yet local anglers find plenty of reason to laud Pittsfield Lake, only 240 acres in size but with a fishery that has earned respect. It is surrounded by a 480-acre park, and activities include camping, boating and picnic areas.
The lake is managed by the City of Pittsfield.
Along with walleyes, anglers can expect to catch a variety of fish: crappies, bluegills, carp, channel catfish, flathead catfish, hybrid striped bass, largemouth bass, sauger and bullheads.
According to DNR’s most recent survey of the lake, the channel catfish have a fair population with little reproduction. Individuals between 16.7 and 27.6 inches, weighing between 1.5 to 10.4 pounds, were collected.
Though the flathead catfish population is not as strong, DNR has had reports of a couple of 50- to 60-pound fish caught on occasion by anglers.
Hybrid striped bass have been stocked regularly since 1982 and are another under-fished species in Pittsfield. When successful shad spawns occur, hybrids can be seen breaking the surface while chasing shad schools. The average weight is between 5 to 10 pounds. The most recent population survey collected individuals between 11.9 and 28.9 inches long and weighing between 0.7 and 11.9 pounds.
Largemouth bass are popular in the lake, and the DNR survey indicated an average size of just over 4 pounds. Excellent submerged habitat coupled with dense beds of coontail provide refuge areas for young-of-year and also provide ambush points for feeding adults, DNR reported.
As for its history, Pittsfield Lake is an artificial impoundment completed in 1960 as part of a flood control project. The lake is currently the water supply for the city. The lake has a maximum depth of 34 feet and an average depth of 12.3 feet. Shoreline length is 5.2 miles.
The western shoreline of the lake is predominately steep-sided and does not provide much bank angling access. The eastern shoreline is comprised of shallow flats, rip-rap shoreline and excellent aquatic vegetation beds. Underwater, fallen trees and submerged stumps are found throughout the lake.
For anglers, the lake requires a boat permit. There is also a boat launch fee. There are two boat launches, one on the north end of the lake and the other on the east side. There is a “no wake” regulation.
As for other pursuits, Pittsfield provides areas to observe and enjoy nature. The camping area is equipped with treated drinking water, electrical hookups, public telephone, lighted areas, and a trailer dumping station.
Water skiing and swimming are prohibited.
Pittsfield is located in the land between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers as they move toward convergence in St. Louis. The land is full of streams and bottom lands mostly draining through the McGee Creek drainage basin into the Illinois River.
Because of this landscape, the land around Pittsfield and Pike County is much more hilly and forested than the rest of the plains of central Illinois. This geography, combined with a relative lack of heavy development, make the areas around Pittsfield particularly suited to wildlife.
As a side note, Pittsfield is the self-proclaimed “Pork Capital” of the Midwest, owing to the long history of pork production in the region, which fed into the large meat-packing industry of Chicago. Though agriculture in the region is no longer so dependent on pork, the town still hosts a yearly “Pig Days” festival.
Nearest town Pittsfield
Surface area 240 acres
Shoreline 5.2 miles
Average depth 12.3 feet
Bluegills, largemouth bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish, carp, walleyes, crappies, hybrid striped bass