Surveys of a number of southern Illinois lakes promise a summer of excellent fishing in the area. The surveys conducted regularly by the assigned District Fisheries Managers assigned to the area deliver an insight into the health of the fish populations.
Three of the larger bodies of water are in Williamson County are in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge about four miles west of Marion. Owned by the US Fish & Wildlife Service the fishery is managed by D-22 Fisheries Manager Chris Bickers of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Chris finds the bass fishery doing well in 6,965-acre Crab Orchard Lake. The lake is the largest of the three lakes in the refuge area. His surveys find that 21% of the fish are longer than the 16-inch minimum for keeper bass. There is a 3 fish creel limit on bass.
The improvements in the bass fishery of this lake can be at least partially attributed to a combination of more stringent harvest regulations, increased bass fingerling and threadfin shad stocking, habitat enhancement and the establishment of a spawning refuge with artificial spawning substrates.
The bluegills in the lake are doing well too. Sixty-four percent are over 6-inches in length and 21% are over 7 inches.
Over all the white and black crappies are approximately evenly divided. About 26% of the white crappies are over 10” and about 4% of the black crappies are in that class. Both subspecies have very good body condition.
The white bass caught in the survey were not in great numbers. Although their body condition is less than desired, the white bass surveyed were 10 to 14 inches in length.
Then there are the catfish. Both flathead and channel catfish thrive in this lake. The channel catfish are in excellent body condition. Thirty-five percent of the fish surveyed were longer than 22-inches in length.
Over in 1,000-acre Little Grassy Lake the numbers and sizes of largemouth bass is well balanced with fish ranging from fingerlings to trophy sizes. The abundance of bass is higher than in any of the prior 17 years in which fish were surveyed. Forty-nine percent were longer than 12-inches. Twenty-four percent of the largemouth bass are over the 15-inch minimum size limit.
Little Grassy has a slot limit regulation in effect. Fish 12 to 15-inches in length must be released. Six bass of other lengths can be kept.
The stocking of threadfin shad are part of the management of this lake and they have been stocked annually since 2000. Last year due to sufficient numbers not being available they were not stocked. Plans continue to place this forage in the lake in 2012.
Bluegills showed an improvement with 35% over the 6-inch mark and 13% over 7-inches. Body condition was slightly less than hoped.
The other panfish in this lake is the redear sunfish, often called shellcrackers. Although a smaller population than the bluegills, the redear numbers are higher than in the past 17 years. Their body condition and length is excellent. Forty-one percent of them were over 7-inches and 24% are over 8-inches in length.
Between these two lakes is 810-acre Devil’s Kitchen Lake. Chris finds the largemouth bass are predominately 8 to 12 inches in length. A few trophy size bass (6 to 10.5 pounds) are taken each year but there do not seem to be any fish in any other size.
There is no minimum length limit for bass and a creel limit of 6 per day is in effect.
The stocking of threadfin shad are a continuing part of the plan for this bass fishery since 2000. However last year they were not available at the time needed. Plans continue to add them this year. In an effort to reduce competition for forage and improve bass growth, Chris asks angler to take small bass home for eating.
Seventy percent of the bluegill population is over 6-inches. Thirty-nine percent were over seven inches in length but their body condition was slightly less than desired by biologists.
The abundance of redear sunfish has increased over the past two years to the point that they exceed the bluegills. Seventy-five percent of the fish are over 7-inches and 44% are over 8-inches. The body condition is slightly less than desired just like the bluegills.
A bonus in the lake is the seven to twelve thousand rainbow trout that are stocked each October. During the winter they scatter and then congregate during the summer near the dam in the cool deep water.
Also found on the refuge are a number of ponds. Of particular interest this year are Pond 841 and the newly re-opened Visitors Pond. For those seeking the solitude of small lake fishing, Pond 841 is a secluded pond that is a short stroll down a path from the parking lot. It contains bass, bluegill and crappie. No wading or boat traffic is permitted.
The re-opening of the Visitors Pond just off the parking lot at the Visitors Center promises to be exciting. The pond was drained a few years ago and a new dam constructed. Following the construction of the dam, Chris re-stocked the pond and established some structure in the lake. Now, a few years later it is being opened to fishing with a keeper limit on bass of one 18-plus inch fish per day. Some of the fish they put back into the pond are big ones and some exciting fishing action should occur.
Free information regarding motel accommodations and points of interest as well as a free color fishing guide brochure is available from Williamson County Tourism Bureau, 1602 Sioux Drive, Marion, Illinois 62959 or by calling 1-800-GEESE-99. Information is also available online at: www.visitsi.com, the Williamson County Tourism Bureau website. Their e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.