Winter fishing means a light bite

Winter fishing means a light bite

Photo DzILStriper – While fishing sauger on the Illinois River by Starved Rock, stripers can take your bait too.



This weather has been a chiller for me.  We went from nice warm weather to cold nights and cool days.  On top of that when I look out the window all I see is snow, snow, snow.

At this time of year it is so difficult for me to crawl out of bed because it’s so nice and warm and cozy.  When I look at the outside thermometer, I get the shivers seeing that the temperatures have dropped into the thirties.  So I wonder; why did I get out of bed anyway?

Reluctantly, I do though.  When the snowfinally melts, there will be  fishing to do.  Just because it’s cold outside I don’t hang up the fishing poles nor do I winterize my boat.  Maybe, just maybe, we’ll have one day where it’s warm enough to change the pace of the hunting season and go and wet a line before ice settles in on our lakes.

I’m an outdoor writer.  I have a TV show.  And every week I do a live radio show.  I can’t just think about the outdoors or depend on others to tell me what’s going on out there.  I have to do it.  I have to go fishing, hunting and all that neat stuff that outdoor media people do.   I may complain about getting up early, but I do love the outdoors.  I won’t lie about this though;  one thing that I hate about waterfowling is getting up so dog-gone early.

The winter chill is here to stay.  The thought of having a day or two in the 60’s is slim, but that does not shut down the desire to go fishing.  One of my favorite places to go in the early winter is the Illinois River and more specifically, by Starved Rock.

Now for those who read this article, keep in mind that all that I’m writing about here fits in for any part of the Illinois River.  It’s also good on other rivers as well like the Fox, Rock or Calumet and any lake or pond that’s open.  These will be some tips that will bring success and that means bringing fish in the boat.

Since I like to sleep in, I really love the fact that the winter months allow anglers to get a late start.  Most often fish will be more active during the day under full sun conditions.  It’s almost a complete opposite of what we see in the summertime.  I’d say that the crappie, however, seem to bite a little better sometimes near sundown.

During the summer, we outdoor writers preach fishing cover, shadows, darker water and getting out of the sun.  But in the winter, it seems that the gamefish will often be found in the shallower, clearer waters.  The little bit of warmth that the sun will offer is quite pleasant for the fish.  Bait fish will get into the brighter waters too, so needless to say, the gamefish follow.

Another reason for us to search for warmth is because the water is cold and fish being cold blooded will be less aggressive in colder water.  Their movement will be minimal. Although the fish will want to be in warmer shallower water, they’ll still stay close to some deeper water.  Call it the deep water sanctuary or fish’s home.  Fish like the quick access to the shallow water that can get warmed up with the sun and deeper water for safety.  Usually this is on the north side of lakes and northern shores of rivers where there are eddies and still water. That side is exposed to the sun longer.

With the cold water and cold fish, their bite will be light and hard to detect.  To catch fish like sauger or stripers from the river, light jigs and line with live bait (minnows) will be the way to go.  On trips to the Starved Rock area friends and I have had days were we just nailed them by fishing this way.

I just got a new Shakespeare Micro Series spinning rod and reel combo.  It’s very reasonably priced and quite a value for any angler.  The rod is 7 feet long, has ultra light action and is a two piece rod.  The reel is a Shakespeare’s Micro Series 2 ball bearing ultra light spinning real.  I knew it would be good for the tight lipped Illinois River sauger.  The sensitivity of the rod is good and the reel has plenty of muscle to bring in a nice sized fish.

The reel came pre-spooled with 4 pound Stren mono line.  It works great, is tough enough to take on the abrasion from the river bottom rocks, and in cold weather, doesn’t have a lot of memory so coiling is not an issue.

On one trip I launched my boat at the Starved Rock state park launch and started fishing a relatively shallow area near the I-39 bridge.  My fishing partner on that day, Roger Wright, pro-staffer with the Fishing and Outdoor Radio Show and I weren’t far off the main channel.  I could feel with the rod that we had sand and some rock on the bottom.   I had a 1/8ounce jig tied on the line.  I had a minnow on the jig and this all seemed to add up to a perfect combination.  A sensitive rod, light line, the smallest jig I could get away with for fishing the water we were in, and live bait; it all added up to a winter catch of sauger. Keeping the boat pointed up stream helped fish as vertical as possible.

We caught quite a few real nice fish.  Sure, there were some smaller sauger in the group but the thing is that right now, we’re fishing in December.

The water is cold.  It won’t be long before we see some ice forming on the edges of some of our favorite ponds.  But here on the Illinois River on the lower Peoria pool, there’s plenty of good fishing to be had as long as you lighten up your presentation and go with sensitive gear.

The convenience of fishing out of StarvedRockState Park is that if you want to fish for a couple days, lodging at the park at the Starved Rock Lodge is very reasonable and convenient.  The state park boat ramp is only a minute or two away from the lodge.  Since they’re open year round, you can spend a night or two, have breakfast and dinner there and never have to leave the park.  There’s plenty of well lit parking by the lodge for the boat and trailer so that’s not a problem at all.

For more information about the StarvedRockState Park, you can visit  For the Starved Rock Lodge, see

Just because it’s cold out, don’t give up on fishing open water and remember that I say that great fishing is not that far away. Give the Illinois River a try this winter.

From everyone here at Illinois Outdoors, Inc., to all of you who enjoy MidWest Outdoors Magazine and TV, have a safe and

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