Big Cats at Heidecke Lake

Big Cats at Heidecke Lake
Don's got a cat.

The heat of the summer is upon us and with that lakes like Braidwood and LaSalle are really hot.  Now when I say hot, I’m talking about water temperature hot.  Now Heidecke Lake on the other hand is warm, but probably about 30 degrees cooler that its sister lakes.

Last month I got to fish Heidecke Lake.  On the day that I fished Heidecke for bass and stripers  but they were not cooperating.  Earlier in the morning I tried just about everything and nothing worked.  That was the signal to close up the bass box and dig out the cat fishing gear.

I’ve fished Heidecke Lake many times for cats.  They are there in great abundance and there are some real whoppers.  It’s been years since I’ve been able to fish the north side of the lake due to the bridge and high water levels.  My boat just wouldn’t go under it.  On this day the levels seemed lower and the water as calm.  I was able to get to the north side of the lake with no problem.

I’m never discouraged about being stuck on the south side of the lake though.  Actually most of my catfishing days at Heidecke Lake were on the south side and they were good days at that.

Catfishing on Heidecke Lake is simple.  If you have a day like I did with very little wind coming out of the west you’ll be just fine.  It makes for a slow drift that allows your baits to stay on the bottom.   I’d want to tell you about the rig to use but first let’s talk about baits.

There are all kinds to consider.  Starting in the live bait department there is shad.  If you can get your hands on some whole shad that would be the number one bait of choice because shad is the main forage fish at Heidecke.  If you can’t get shad, go to big minnows.  Big golden roaches are good.

When fishing for catfish, this is probably the only time that it won’t matter if the minnows are dead or alive.  To hook up a shad or minnow, run a big hook through the mouth, then out the side of the fish’s head.  Then bury the hook point into the back of the body.  No need to be neat here.  A little blood and guts will make this bait just a little more attractive.


Prepared chunk baits will work as will other chunk-like baits.  Here I’m talking about shrimp or chicken livers.  Cooked shrimp is okay, raw is better.  Actually, raw anything is better.

Night crawlers will work, but you will get bit by a lot of smaller fish.  I prefer to take a pass on them or any other kind of worms.

Dip baits work well.  Some people can’t tolerate the stink baits or the mess.  Stink baits will catch fish there is no doubt about it.  But you have to agree with me, stink baits stink.  To avoid the nose curler offerings, cheese base baits are good for cats but not good on a cracker.

Just about any of these baits should be rigged on a Carolina rig.  Start with a good sized sliding weight, then tie on a swivel.  To the other end, tie on a three foot leader and then a good sized circle hook.  The odd shaped baits will twist and turn in the water.  You need the swivels.

Many avid catfish anglers believe in the circle hooks.  They work, but a big bass hook will work too.  In either case, when a fish takes the bait, give it a chance to get it in its mouth before leaning back and setting the hook.  A medium to heavy rod with strong line like 20 lb test will work just fine for you.

Now, lets get back on the water. Having a mild wind makes it easy to drift slowly.  Getting the bait on the bottom was the key and moving along so very slowly presents your bait in a lot of area.

Throwing an anchor out isn’t a bad idea.  Being in one place lets the dip baits dissolve and spread their scent in the area.  Like I’ve seen so many times, the catfish eventually zero in on your presentation and then everyone in the boat starts catching fish one right after another.

It’s fun to fish the center of the south pool.  There are a lot fish around the small humps.  Depths fluctuated from about nine to twelve feet.  Real deep holes don’t have the oxygen so its best to stay out of them.  The upper levels, about fifteen feel or less seem to be good for all of the fish at Heidecke.

So a not so good bass day can turn into a good catfish day on the water.  This whole month of August will be good for cats.  So with the warm weather, give the bass fishing a pass and try to catch a few cats.  They’ll be biting all day long and you may be surprised on how many you can catch in just one afternoon.  And with Heidecke Lake being just west of Chicago near I-55 and Lorenzo Road, that makes great fishing not that far away.

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