Williamson County is the premier outdoor destination for fishermen in Southern Illinois. It attracts professional and amateur fishermen alike with the popular lakes, annual fishing tournaments, and year-round fishing opportunities. From the well-known 7,000-acre Crab Orchard Lake and 2,300-acre Lake of Egypt to the 30-acre Arrowhead Lake and everything in between, fishermen relish in the abundance of largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, channel catfish and other popular species being caught in southern Illinois.
Williamson County has some of the finest outdoor beauty in the region. Game birds, waterfowl, deer, turkey, and small game hunting in the Midwest, thanks to our mix of popular flyways, lakes, hardwood forests, cropland, wetlands, river bottom topography, and nearby Shawnee National Forest and Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. Ducks and geese have long been the most popular species to hunt here, and public hunting grounds abound. There are also at least 5 private hunt clubs operating in Williamson County that provides a wide range of services for the optimum waterfowl hunting experience.
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FEATURED OUTDOOR ARTICLE
FISHING AROUND THE GILLS
By Don Gasaway
The Bluegill is easily recognizable by the blue or yellow-green coloration, six to eight dark vertical bands down the sides and dark opercula flap behind the eyes. During the spawning season, a male may also have a bright yellow or orange on his throat or body. Fish in darker water tend to lack the bright coloration.
Scrappy fighters, the aggressive behavior of the bluegill is an indication that they do not remain in a body of water by intelligence. They attack baits two times larger than is capable of fitting in their mouth.
The best populations of this feisty fish live in clear, well-vegetative lakes. They are adaptable and also are be found in murky swamps and turbid streams. However, they do not reach their greatest numbers and size under such conditions. They do best in water in the 50- to 80-degree range where they feed on aquatic insects and larvae as well as arthropods and crustaceans. The best area for good growth contains only about 20- to 40-percent vegetation.
Big bull gills are often line shy as well as bait wary especially in clear water. In Illinois, quality size fish are 7 to 8 inches in length. Eight-inch fish usually are about 3/4 of a pound and 9-inch fish will run up to 1 1/2 pounds. Eleven-inch bluegills probably are about two pounds.
Four stages of growth determine the ultimate size of a fish. One is the growth rate as a juvenile. The second is the age of maturation. Their growth rate as adults and age at death are the final two. A change in any one or more of these factors alter the eventual size of the fish. Gills in Illinois live about 5 or 6 years on average. The average fish caught is about 1/4 pound.
May is a great month for bluegill fishing due to the first spawn of the year taking place around the time of the full moon. Bluegills are colonial spawners in which males build nests in colonies. They compete for the best nest sites in the center of the “beds”. The female then chooses the males closest to the center of the colony because it’s protection from outside egg predators such as largemouth bass.
Shoreline with little wind action is a favorite location for bedding bluegills. They build nests in one to eight feet of water. The depth is dependent on water clarity.
Water temperatures vary from year to year and thus affect the time for the first spawning activity. The best water temperatures are in the mid-’70s.
Bluegills begin reproducing after one year and the female lays about 18,000 eggs which hatch in four to seven days. The spawn continues until September. The fish move onto the spawning beds for three days prior to the full moon phase and remain for three days after it.
Lakes with strong largemouth bass populations produce great bluegill populations. The bass keep the bluegills thinned out so the right percentage grows into the big fish anglers seek.
Anglers employ a stealth approach fishing the outside nests first and then work your way into the colony. If you cast into the middle first it is possible to catch fish but the action most likely will be short-lived. The fish become leery of any unusual activity surrounding their nests.
Minnows are the most productive bait for bluegills. Other baits include pieces of nightcrawler, red worms, mealworms, leeches and crickets. Tackle such as small jigs, spinners, and mini-crankbaits are popular with fans of artificial lures. Small number 10 or 12 wire hooks and split shot come in handy when the action is heavy. Very small bobbers are best, as is the light monofilament line.
Twelve to 15-foot poles make good weapons for the panfish warrior in the bluegill wars. They allow you to place a bobber and bait directly over active beds. If the bobber moves, raise the pole directly up and swing the fish toward you.