Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Mautino’s Lakes, Bureau County

Catfish, smallmouth stockings continue at Mautino

By Ralph Loos

Stockings of channel catfish, redear sunfish and smallmouth bass were conducted by DNR in each of the past two years in the collection of lakes that make up the Mautino State Fish and Wildlife Area.

The number of fish stocked in 2020 and 2021 were similar – about 700 smallmouth bass, about 2,000 channel cats and about 23,000 sunfish.

All were fingerlings, proof that DNR sees a bright future for the lakes.

Road closings hampered the site the past two years. But anglers who didn’t mind the hike took the fishing trip as if they were strolling through their 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, which opened to fishing 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 15½ acres, Boss Lake is the biggest of the bunch. Anglers on Boss 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.

DNR’s most recent sampling of Boss resulted in an overall catch rate of 132 bluegills per hour, which is very similar to historical records. 

“Overall Boss Lake supports and excellent bluegill fishery that has great trophy fish opportunities,” DNR noted in its report. “Bluegills up to 9 inches can be found in Boss Lake, with good numbers of fish from
6 to 9 inches available.”

The same survey reported a total of 119 largemouth bass sampled in Boss Lake. The catch rate of 158 fish per hour was very similar to previous years. 

“The population is dominated by fish in the 12- to 15-inch range, with a few fish over 15 inches available,” DNR noted.

 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.

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

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

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, 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. 

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. 

Mautino’s Lakes

Nearest town: Wyanet

Surface area: one-half acre to 15½ acres (Boss Lake is the largest)

Species present: Bluegills, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, sunfish.

Regulations: There is a one-fish daily creel limit on largemouth and smallmouth bass.

Site information: 815-454-2328

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