By Jim Hagerty
It’s true, to some extent: northern Illinois anglers are sometimes slighted when it comes to certain species of fish. While it’s often no secret, with its rivers, muddy lakes and ponds, Illinois is catfish and carp land.
Some, especially those north of Green Bay, Wis., can’t understand our fascination with these bottom-feeding sludge-dwellers. Folks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are familiar with bullheads, sturgeon fishing and the occasional sucker and channel cat. When it comes to the elusive and monstrous flathead and carp, most “Yoopers” have no time for discussion. They’d rather grab a dozen worms, a few sinkers and pass the time hooking crappie and bluegill. Even rock bass can provide hours of fun in the north woods.
Shocking to some, big bluegills make their homes right here in the Rock River Valley’s lakes, ponds and rivers. There’s no need to invade Yooperland or the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota in search of fat pan fish.
Not to confuse the bluegill with the tiny hybrid suns seen lumbering along shorelines and streams, bluegill are distinctive sunfish with particular feeding and migratory habits, most notably in waters where depths vary and vegetation is ripe. In Illinois, bluegills grow just as big as their northern counterparts. Coaxing the big ones out of their holes here isn’t as easy, but it can be done.
As fall feeding and spawning habits approach, more big bluegills will head for the shallows. Before these journeys, they hang in the deeps, gradually moving out. This often confuses some anglers who spend hours pulling fingerling hybrids in and out of the water and give up wondering if bluegills ever grow larger than the average human big toe.
Big bluegills tend to behave like bass. Both species are part of the sunfish family, so this should be no surprise. When the feisty suns are in deep water, like bass, they are far from being in attack mode. Even their favorite fares will be ignored, especially when presented quickly and jerky.
Some fish are spawning again, while others are just enjoying the cooler surface depths. Fishing such holes may mirror a summer northern outing, where thinking past simple hook-and-bobber rigs isn’t necessary. Lately, that has proven only latent success. The real fishing continues to be in 10- to 12-foot pools near weed lines, using baited jigs and slow-moving sinker/hook combos rigged with red worms or night crawlers. Small spinners, worked at moderate speeds, have also produced some big fish.
River smallies on the prowl
Moving through August, smallmouth bass are suddenly active. Few are passing up live jigs, soft plastic tube worms and spinner harnesses. Pound-for-pound, smallies are one of the most exciting fish to tangle with. Even a 10- to 12-incher can put up a fight, while the lunkers will do anything to throw a hook, acrobatically jumping over logs and running against the flow of the stream, simply out of spite. Good luck.
Send us your fishing photos
The Rock River Times is interested in seeing pictures of local fish caught in area waters. Send digital photos to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Fish Beat Photos” in the subject line. Glossies can be sent to The Rock River Times, 128 N. Church St., Rockford, IL 61101.
from the Aug. 26-Sept. 1, 2009 issue