By: Kirk Cahill – Date Posted: January 20, 2011
For many fishermen in the Midwest, the cold temperatures of early winter mean the end of the fishing season. With the first snows of December the boats are winterized and stored in the garage. Tackle bags and boxes are organized, rods and reels hung in their racks, and the landing nets are put away until the first signs of spring. For the rest of us, it is just the beginning of what will be an exciting hard water fishing season.
Ice fishing can provide not only a break from cabin fever, but a chance at some of the best pan fishing of the year. With a little bit of knowledge and a lot of persistence one can find large schools of crappie, bluegill or perch that will be ready to take your presentation. The key is to do your homework before you leave the comforts of your home, allowing for more time on the water, fishing in the right locations
Over the past few winters I have spent a great deal of time on the ice fishing. Much of that time has been spent fishing the local forest preserves in DuPage County, IL. Quality fishing can be found if you put in your time and research before heading out on the ice. DuPage County offers and manages 27 lakes and ponds that are available for ice fishing with over 500 acres of water for your winter enjoyment. There is also plenty of access to the east and west branches of the DuPage River but much of that water remains open throughout the winter. Take a look at their website at http://www.dupageforest.com. There you will find fishing regulations, maps, preserve hours, stocking information, as well as the latest DuPage County fishing report.
Many species of fish are now available in the DuPage County forest preserves. Stocking programs in the past few years have included muskie, northern pike, walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass. Pan fish are abundant throughout the county with crappie, bluegill and perch available for your angling excitement. Catfish, carp and bullhead can also be found within these waters. Rainbow trout are stocked each spring and fall at a number of the deeper lakes. Don’t forget to obtain an Illinois inland trout stamp when fishing for rainbow trout.
Where does one begin? The first step is to find the body of water that best fits your target species. DuPage County lake maps can be downloaded and printed, allowing for you to mark your best locations before heading out to the preserve. A good quality flashing unit can make it easy to pinpoint depths, drop-offs, humps, weed lines, and other important structure. Not only that, it will allow you to find and target schools of suspended fish, that are a common place among winter angling. If you are unable to bring along or borrow a flasher, the key is to keep moving and constantly change depths until you locate active fish.
Tackle can be as simple or as complex as you would like it to be, but a light action ice fishing spinning combo is all you will need to catch most species. A few small ice fishing jigs and some wax worms, crappie minnows, spikes or wigglers is a great place to start for most pan fish. A basic tip-up rigged with braided or dacron line, a fluorocarbon leader and a small treble hook is an ideal way to catch larger fish. Try a golden roach or larger minnow suspended a foot or so off the bottom for northern pike, walleye, and bass.
Equipment can be quite basic, with a hand held auger, a five gallon bucket, and some warm clothes. It can also be quite elaborate to include sleds, portable ice shanties, flashers, propane heaters, gas or drill powered augers, and hand held GPS units. Bring what you need to keep yourself comfortable, but remember the key to success is following the fish. If you aren’t mobile enough to keep moving, sometimes just 10 feet away, you will encounter hours with limited action. You must keep moving if you’re not catching fish, just as you would in a boat. It is not uncommon for a good angler to drill 20 different holes or more in an outing.
The larger lakes within the county will offer plenty of room and a wider variety of fish species, but will also tend to have more fishermen on weekends or nice days. Target these bodies of water during the week for better success. Overcast or mostly cloudy days usually provide better angling over sunny days and tend to keep some fishermen home due to the colder temperatures. When all else fails, use the crowds to your advantage. Many times most of the homework will be done for you. Fish location, presentation and species, can be defined before you even start fishing. Most anglers will be glad to share their knowledge, and if not a good pair of binoculars will sometimes tell the whole story. If you want to avoid the crowds look for the same type of structure and depth in another area of the lake. Most often fish will be holding in these locations too!
Smaller DuPage lakes will provide limited species but many days it will be easier to locate fish, and once you do, you might have the lake and the fish to yourself. I have found some of the best pan fish action on a number of the smaller lakes. Don’t overlook them because of their size. It is especially important however, on these smaller bodies of water, to practice selective harvest and leave some of the bigger pan fish, to help maintain a quality fishery.
Always remember to check ice conditions ahead of time at http://www.dupageforest.com, or check at one of the local tackle shops within DuPage County. It is always a good idea to fish with a buddy and make sure you familiarize yourself with some of the signs of unsafe ice.
Time spent on the ice, is the best way to learn where and how, to some great fishing action in the DuPage County forest preserves. If at first you don’t succeed do not be discouraged. One of the best benefits of fishing a local lake is you can probably get back there a few more times throughout the year due to its close proximity. That in itself is a great advantage and a key to angling success! Good luck fishing this winter and we hope to see you out enjoying the fine fishing in DuPage County.