I wondered if we’d ever get any ice but it did come. Ice here in Illinois has been s a bit slim as far north as the Fox Chain of Lakes as of mid January. We should now know by now how all that has changed. Sure was odd to see temps in the high 40’s last month.
The good thing though is that the holidays are finally behind us and the outdoor shows are here. There are a couple more yet to come this month. But with them all comes some added fuel to the fire that we need to go fishing. Ice fishing or open water becomes the decision to make.
If you wondering if I winterize my boat, the answer is no. I keep it loaded with StaBil 360 Marine so I know the gas is good and the fuel lines and gas take are protected. I keep my gas tank full over the winter. And keeping in a garage helps too. It’s good to be able to have your boat ready for you if you take care of it with stabilized gas and charged batteries.
I remember a couple years ago at this time I was able to take my boat out on the Des Plaines River. I fished the Three Rivers area. This is where the Kankakee, DesPlaines and Illinois River all meet. My boat was launched out of Big Basin by I-55 on the north side of the river.
The air temperatures finally broke for a few days made this trip to the river was very doable. Recent rains seemed to wash out some ice in the harbor and the ground was not covered with snow.
Now here’s one thing that you must keep in mind. Sometimes the air will be a bit warmer and make fishing from a boat very possible. However, you need to remember that the rivers may have some floating ice or iced in harbors where you will launch. Check it all out before you leave home with a phone call or two. Bait shops and marinas are often helpful. Last year I did just that and found the water was open and it has been like that for several days. For getting on the water, it’s a go..
This trip lasted about four hours and most of my time was spent on a big flat where the water was only a few feet deep. The mild wind blew onto this flat and the largemouth bass were just stacked up on it.
From about ten in the morning to two o’clock in the afternoon, at least two dozen largemouth bass were brought to the boat. Their size ranged from twelve inches long up to sixteen. What a trip!
At the end of the day and after the boat was put away, I went to the computer to do a little bragging. Although I didn’t see that many boats on the water, it was found that several other anglers were on the water fishing different parts of the Three Rivers area. I guess you can say that the die hard anglers who got the itch to get out were the ones on the water.
There are a select few anglers who will fish these rivers during December, January and even February as long as the air temps are up above freezing and the ramps are clear of ice. Could this be Northern Illinois’ winter wonderland? You might think that if we have Mother Nature on our side.
The reality is that at this time of year very few anglers think of fishing open water out of their boats. Most have put their rigs away for a few months. After all, now is really the time for hard water fishing isn’t it? But when the opportunity knocks, why not try it? Waterfowling is done, deer hunting is over, and all we can really do is wait for Braidwood to open next month then LaSalle. When we have some good weather, take the boat out and give the rivers a try.
Keep this in mind too. It’s not just the Three Rivers Area that can offer some good winter open water fishing. One time Bob Kidd of the Illinois Walleye Trail told me that he’s caught as many as forty saugers on the Illinois River in February just down river from Starved Rock. The Illinois may offer you a better chance of getting out because of the barge traffic keeping this stretch of the river open.
The area where the Fox River spills into the Illinois in Ottawa is a good spot to check if you want to wet a line and catch saugers or stripers. I’ve fished the Calumet over the winter but had to seek warm water discharges and caught bass.
On occasion when we have a real mild day the perchers will hit Lake Michigan. I was out in December, a week before Christmas and caught quite a few keeper perch.
So let’s say that you would consider some boat fishing during these cold months. What would be your approach? The Des Plaines River is really intriguing and worth a try if you’ve never been there before.
One thing for sure is that you have to watch the weather. The ramps may be clear of snow where ever you launch but water on them can freeze and that would make things a bit difficult for getting back out of the water. Make sure that the air temperature will be well above freezing throughout the day.
How about baits? Well, that could be a variety of things but remember one thing. Fish are cold blooded and the water will be much colder than it was back in November and December. Your selection should be something that will work slowly. I say a floating jig on a three way rig will work best. Put on a lively minnow and work the bait slowly.
You must agree that live bait cannot be beat. Minnows can be put on a lead jig and either straight lining them or placed below a bobber is good presentation too.
Look for areas with still water or work your baits around current breaks. Again, the cold blooded fish will not move far or fast, at least not until they feel the sting of the hook. Work your baits somewhere where fish will not have to struggle to be on that spot. Fish cover.
It was not that long ago we were all talking about the holidays coming. Now they’re all behind us and we’re in the midst of the outdoor show season. If you find a day where you can get out and go fishing, I say go for it. If you want to try something different, give that Des Plaines River or any of the other rivers a try. Do that and you’ll find that great fishing is not that far away.