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By Gary Engberg Outdoors
10106 Hwy. Y Mazomanie, WI. 53560
Phone & Fax 608 795-4208
Web site: http://www.garyengbergoutdoors.com
The first time I saw the Illinois River, I
couldn’t believe that this was the river I had heard so many stories about.
The stories I had heard told of great sauger and walleye fishing. This
muddy, barge-filled river didn’t look like a fish factory to me. Instead,
it looked like somewhere where the fishing would be done from the bank
and the main quarry would be carp. But, I later found out that the Illinois
River, which starts 100 miles south of Chicago and travels a meandering
273 miles to the Mississippi River, is truly a sauger and walleye factory
well worth fishing from February thru May.
The techniques used are those typical of any medium to large Midwestern River. Some anglers still anchor near the tailrace area and use large jigs (1/2 ounce and more) dressed with plastic tails and minnows. You can catch fish this way, but the more productive way to fish the Illinois River is to slip the current (point your bow upstream and use your trolling motor (hopefully a Minn Kota) and electronics (Lowrance and MK) to stay on current breaks and slowly drift downstream). You want to keep your line as vertical as possible and actually be chasing your jig downriver. When slipping, you may use a lighter jig depending on the river’s current that day. Jigs (the Slo-Poke by Bait Rigs), plastic twister tails (Kalins), and minnows are all one need to catch the rivers saugers and walleyes. The only other thing that you may need is a stinger hook (#10 or 12) on about three inches of mono for the short biting fish.
Other methods for taking saugers and walleyes are; live bait rigging with a plain hook (VMC) and a Lindy type rig (either a single split shot or a slip sinker), three-way rigs with floating jigs and heavy jigs as the dropper, and trolling small crankbaits (Mann’s Stretch 5’s, Shad Raps, and Reef Runners) slowly upstream of bottom bouncers or three-ways. Experiment with your jig colors till you find the combination that the fish want that day. I’d start with hi-vis colors like orange, chartreuse, blue, and white. These colors show up well in the dingy waters of the Illinois River. Style of jigs vary on the anglers preference with flat style jigs and horizontal types leading the way. Round head jigs fall too fast and get caught easier.
I use the following equipment when river fishing; a medium action rod with a fast tip like a G. Loomis SJR 721(this is a 6 foot rod some people like shorter rods for a better hook set), a quality open face spinning reel like a Daiwa SS 700, and Stren Hi Vis monofilament in 6 or 8 pound test (you can see the line better in cloudy water). If trolling I would use a baitcasting reel.
As the year progresses, don’t forget about the Illinois River because it has a big white bass run from April thru May. There also is good fishing for large and smallmouth bass, catfish, drum, and panfish.
From Madison, tale the Interstate 90 (and 39) south to Rockford and then Interstate 39 to Spring Valley, Illinois. There are landings from Spring Valley to the dam at Starved Rock and plenty of bait shops.
If you’ve got cabin fever and want a day or two of good fishing sooner than you can typically fish in Wisconsin waters, check out this early season sauger haven. Watch out for barges because the Illinois is a commercial river and has plenty of traffic. But, it also is pretty and gives one the solitude and peacefulness of a river. There also is a growing population of eagles to watch.
Info and contacts;
· Guides Dominic Culjan (815) 667-4074 and Darrell Culjan (815) 667-4222. These two guides also own bait shops in Utica, Illinois.
· Spring Valley Business Owners Association, Bill Guerrini, (815) 664-4221
· The Illinois Department of Conservation has a free pamphlet called “Fishing the Illinois River”. Call them at (217) 782-7454.
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