I’ve often said that southern Illinois is my home away from home. Although I am not considering moving from the Chicago south suburban area, I’m not in the market to purchase a summer home either. But, if I ever did decide to make a move, I feel that southern Illinois would be the place to go.
I’ve thought about that quite a bit. From my home located in a south suburb of Chicago, southern Illinois and the Williamson County area is an easy drive heading down I-57. Being just a tad over four hours away, it always makes for an easy getaway even if it’s for a day or two over a weekend.
Traffic jams are rare. Actually, in all the times I’ve driven down south, I can’t remember ever experiencing one. It’s the drive in bumper to bumper traffic that’s often seen on I-355 in the Schaumburg area or I-294 by the airport that really makes for a bad start for what’s supposed to be a fun weekend.
Over the years I’ve learned that the Williamson County tourism people can help with ideas on lodging, dining and even fishing guides if I needed one. The Williamson County Tourism Bureau (www.WCTB.org, 1-800- GEESE-99) has an office in Marion Illinois off of Rt. 13. The folks there are kind and friendly and very helpful with any question you have about visiting the area.
In southern Illinois there are plenty of lakes to fish and I’ve wet a line in most of them at least once. One of my favorites though is Cedar Lake.
As many of you know, there is no need to hit the water at daybreak at this time of year. I’m not a morning person so getting on the water at 7 but more likely 8 o’clock is not a bad thing. Cedar Lake which is located just outside of Carbondale offers some great bass, crappie, and bluegill fishing. Cedar is not a big lake being about 1750 acres in size. It’s a flooded reservoir off the Big Muddy River. It has an average depth of about 15 feet with a max of about 40.
Cedar Lake has a 10 HP outboard limit. However since I don’t have a kicker motor, I’ve just traveled the lake using my electric trolling motor.
Cedar Lake is one of those that you really don’t have to drive across the lake to get where the good fishing is found. Not being able to use my big motor, I always start casting as soon as I leave the boat ramp. And the good news for those who have never fished Cedar before is that you can catch fish nearby, so don’t feel left out because you don’t have a 10 horse motor.
Flipping jigs early in the season is a good way to catch bass. That’s what I go for most often at Cedar. Dark color jigs tipped with plastic craws is all it takes to get the fish in the boat. I’ve found that by getting the jigs up on the banks and bouncing them off wood works most of the times. Sometimes you have to swim the jigs some while at others short dragging movements creates a good strike.
Spinnerbaits, white spinnerbaits in particular, are also very good. I like a double willow leaf bladed spinnerbait and sometimes will put a twister tail grub on the hook for some added attractant and vibration. At times I’ll use white while others, a red grub is great.
Rarely is it very long before the first bass is posing for a Kodak moment. On one trip the first largemouth bass was a chunky 7 pound 5 ounce beauty. Typically, you can plan on getting 3 and 4 pounders and plenty of bass a little smaller.
That big bass was caught by a friend of mine. My personal best largemouth at Cedar weighed 4 pounds 14 ounces. Cedar Lake is one of my favorites and I think you’d enjoy it too.
Lake of Egypt offers good fishing Bass, crappies and catfish are all very abundant. Little Grassy, Devil’s Kitchen, Rend, and a host of other lakes in southern Illinois offer you so much variety that you can always find a lake where the fish are biting. On those lakes you can get bass, gills, crappie and cats.
Once you’re down there, check with the local tackle shops. They’ll have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening on their lakes. Check the fishing forums online too. If you need some help, hire a guide. They’ll not only show you areas to fish but also baits to use and how to make the best presentation. If it’s a summer vacation to southern Illinois, hire a guide on the first or second day. This allows you to take all the searching and questions out of the equation right away. Then you’ll be on fish for your balance of your trip.
The Marion area of southern Illinois is a great destination because so many lakes are nearby. You can just point your finger in any direction and you’ll find a place to fish only minutes down the road. And you know what that means don’t you? It means that great fishing not that far away.