Summer Fishing Vacations in Southern Illinois
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by Don Gasaway
For uncomplicated fishing action in Illinois, the lakes, rivers and ponds of southern Illinois are the choice. Williamson County provides fishing action as well as other amenities for the entire family. It also is the gateway to some 40 great fishing locations within an hour drive.
In addition to numerous ponds and small lakes, Williamson County is home to four major lakes. Each of them contains excellent fishing for bass as well as other species.
Lake of Egypt is located about three miles east of Interstate 57 and 4 miles south of Marion, Illinois. Owned by the Southern Illinois Power Cooperative, it is 2,300 acres in surface. SIPC, U.S. Forest Service and private landowners own the 93-miles of shoreline surrounding the lake. The southern end of the lake is nestled in some 1600 acres of the Shawnee National Forest.
The lake has an average depth of 18.5 feet. The maximum depth is 52 feet. The average size of largemouth taken from the lake is between 3 and 4 pounds. Bass love the milfoil and other weeds along the shore line depths of 8 to 12 feet. Other fish available for the angler include bluegill, crappie and catfish.
Although a private lake, Lake of Egypt is accessible to the public for a boat fee. Permits and site specific regulations are available at any of the three marinas on east shore of the lake.
By far the largest lake in Williamson County is Crab Orchard Lake. It is also the most popular. It is in the middle of the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. The lake is 8.5 miles in length with 6,965 acres of surface water. It is a shallow lake with an average depth of six feet. The lake straddles Illinois Route 13 which extends from Marion to Carbondale.
Anglers catch a number of 5- and 6-pound largemouth bass each year, as well as some seven pound fish. The growth rate for bass is good and attributed to stocking of gizzard shad. There are populations of striped bass in the lake. Both boat and bank anglers catch bluegill, crappie, redear sunfish, carp, bullhead, and catfish.
Permits and site specific regulations are available at the marinas and the Visitors Center on Illinois Route 148, 2 miles south of the Williamson County Regional Airport. A marina with bait and convenience store facilities is just south of Route 13 at the Crab Orchard Lake Campground (618-985-4983). Information about the lake is available from the USF&WS, Crab orchard National Wildlife Refuge, 8588 Route 148, Marion, IL 62959 or by calling 618-997-3344.
Within the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge are two other Williamson County lakes that are popular with anglers. These "sister lakes" are Devils Kitchen Lake and Little Grassy Lake. Both contain trophy size bass.
Devils Kitchen Lake, the deeper of the two, also contains Rainbow Trout. The shallower Little Grassy Lake is larger in surface water and also produces excellent catfish. Both lakes feature undeveloped and beautiful shorelines.
Devils Kitchen Lake looks much like a Canadian Shield lake. Because of its depth, the lake provides both a cold water and warm water fishery. The lake averages 36 feet in depth with a maximum of 90 feet. The cool deep waters provide a habitat for the trout to survive during summer. In the warm water areas largemouth bass, bluegill and crappie abound.
Boat and motor rentals are not available. There is bait available at Cooksey’s Bait Shop on the corner of Old Route 13 and Illinois Route 148, just north of the Crab Orchard Fish & Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. Fuel, food and motel accommodations are available in Marion, Illinois. There is no development on the lake. Site specific regulations are posted at all boat ramps.
Little Grassy Lake is 2 miles south west of Devil's Kitchen near Makanda, Illinois. It has 1200 acres of water with 36 miles of shoreline. The average depth is 27 feet with a 90 foot depth in the channel at the spillway on the north end of the lake.
The name of this lake comes from the creek that forms it. The largemouth bass in this lake average about 2 pounds and it is not uncommon to find one that will hit double that weight. Anglers report a number of fish up to 7-pounds in weight. In the spring, crappie and bluegill are a favorite with anglers as they move into the shallows to spawn.
There are three boat ramps and one marina on the lake. The Little Grassy Boat Dock is on the north end of the lake and provides camping, live bait, tackle, and boat rentals. Site specific information is posted at the boat ramps and is available at the boat dock store.
There are also fishing locations in the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers as well as numerous other lakes and ponds throughout southern Illinois. By making Williamson County, and in particular Marion, Illinois, your base of operations, it is possible to enjoy fishing for such species as Largemouth Bass, Trout, Hybrid and Striped Bass, White Bass, Bluegill, Sunfish, Crappie, Redear Sunfish, Channel Catfish, Flathead Catfish, Blue Catfish, Bullhead, Carp, Buffalo, and Sucker.