Should you happen to spot a group of ice fishermen huddling this winter, know that warmth may not be the only motive directing the act.
“It’s a good sport for camaraderie,” Cary-based fishing guide Chris Taurisano of T-Bone Guide Service says. “A lot of guys go out there, and it’s a good time because guys are out there and everyone is kind of working together. It’s one of those sports that people kind of come together with, so that’s the neat part about it.”
Although Mother Nature ultimately holds final say, ice fishing season in northern Illinois typically spans from late December to mid-March.
“Once ice starts forming, even though it might get to 40degrees during the daytime, maybe for that hour between 3 and 4 p.m., every night that it’s below freezing, we’re making ice,” says Dave Kranz of Dave’s Bait, Tackle and Taxidermy in Crystal Lake.
Ice fishing attracts seasoned and novice anglers alike to any body of water that can feasibly sustain the practice.
Kranz estimates that at least one third of his regular customers fish year-round, while another segment golfs throughout the summer before cramming as much ice fishing as possible into the winter.
“It’s fun. It’s a fun thing to do, and it’s great to get kids into,” Kranz says. “You just can’t go on the day where the wind is 50 mph and the wind chill is negative-5, you know. There’s some beautiful winter days that we get – just like for whether they’re skating or cross-country skiing or whatever else – that you can have some beautiful days where it’s in the 30s and you’re not going to freeze. And you don’t have to go for eight or 10 hours, either. Especially if you’re taking kids. Take them for two or three hours. They can run around and also get warm that way by being active.”
Kranz and Taurisano stress safety above all, urging ice fishermen to always have a partner and never venture onto any icy area alone.
“There’s no such thing as safe ice, ever,” Taurisano says. “You can’t just assume that wherever you walk is going to be safe. You just have to be careful. Have flotation devices wherever you go. Have all the safety stuff there just in case something happens, an ice pick [and other supplies].”
Once you’ve drilled your hole and securely set up an area, it’s time to enjoy some ice fishing. Here, Neighborhood Tourist offers a guide to prospective spots in northern Illinois:
FOX CHAIN O'LAKES
Chain O'Lakes State Park
8916 Wilmot Road, Spring Grove
A go-to destination no matter the season, the Chain traditionally draws crowds regardless of condition. The upper region of the Chain includes Catherine, Channel and Marie lakes, where walleye can be popular. Pistakee Lake is a prominent spot at the other end. As the weather turned, Taurisano says minnows proved productive bait in both shallow and deep areas of the lake.
Main Street at N. Garland Road, Wauconda
The lake spans over 300 acres. An ice fishing derby benefiting U.S. military veterans is set for Jan. 27.
SHABBONA LAKE STATE PARK
100 Preserve Road, Shabbona
The DeKalb County destination, which annually plays host to an IHSA Bass Fishing Sectional each spring, also is a good spot during the winter. Bluegill, crappie, walleye and bass, among others, swim in the lake.
LAKE ATWOOD AT THE HOLLOWS
3804 U.S. Highway 14, Cary
The largest of the lakes on the property contains bluegill, largemouth bass and channel catfish but does not allow minnows.
FOREST PRESERVE DISTRICT OF DUPAGE COUNTY
• Poss Lake at Big Woods Forest Preserve, Aurora
• Blackwell Forest Preserve, Butterfield Road at Main Road, Warrenville
• Churchill Woods Forest Preserve (east branch of DuPage River), St. Charles Road at Swift Road, Lombard
• Cricket Creek Forest Preserve, Villa Avenue at Fullerton Avenue, Addison
• Rice Lake at Danada Forest Preserve, Naperville Road at Butterfield Road, Wheaton
• East Branch Forest Preserve, Swift Road, north of Burdett Avenue, Lombard
• Salt Creek at Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve, 3609 Spring Road, Oak Brook
• Greene Valley Forest Preserve (east branch of DuPage River), Greene Road, south of 79th Street, Naperville
• Muskrat Pond at Hawk Hollow Forest Preserve, Bartlett Road at Schick Road, Bartlett
• Herrick Lake Forest Preserve, Butterfield Road west of Naperville Road, Naperville
• Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Illinois Route 53 south of Butterfield Road, Downers Grove
• Mallard Lake Forest Preserve, Schick Road west of Gary Avenue, Hanover Park
• Mayslake Forest Preserve, 31st Street, west of Illinois Route 83 and east of Midwest Road/CassAvenue
• McDowell Grove Forest Preserve, Raymond Drive at McDowell Road, Naperville
• Meacham Grove Forest Preserve, Circle Avenue at Spring Valley Drive, Bloomingdale
• Pratt’s Wayne Woods Forest Preserve, Powis Road north of Army Trail Road, Bartlett
• Songbird Lake at Songbird Slough Forest Preserve, Mill Road at Potter Street, Itasca
• Spring Creek Reservoir, Medinah Road, north of Lake Street, Bloomingdale
• Timber Lake at Timber Ridge Forest Preserve, North Avenue at Fair Oaks Road, West Chicago
• Warrenville Grove Forest Preserve (west branch of DuPageRiver), Butterfield Road at Main Street, Warrenville
• West Branch Forest Preserve, Klein Road, north of North Avenue, West Chicago
• West DuPage Woods Forest Preserve (west branch of DuPageRiver), 245 Garys Mill Road, Winfield
• Grove Lake at Wood Dale Grove Forest Preserve, Wood Dale Road at Oak Meadows Drive, Wood Dale
Ice fishing is permissible on a majority of forest preserve waters. However, rangers do not monitor ice levels or conditions. The district reminds ice fishermen that they practice the sport at their own risk, and recommends a minimum of four inches of ice for activity. The district requires any fishermen age 16 and older and without a legal disability to carry a valid Illinois fishing license, available at various retailers or the visitors services center at 3S580 Naperville Road in Wheaton. Be advised that some forest preserves offer limited or no parking.
FOREST PRESERVE DISTRICT OF KANE COUNTY
• Hampshire South Forest Preserve, Lenschow Road, Hampshire
• Lake Patterson at Oakhurst Forest Preserve, 1680 5th Ave., Aurora
• Two ponds at Paul Wolff Campground, 28W385 Big Timber Road, Elgin
The forest preserve district permits ice fishing only at these locations. Officials stress that fishing is at your own risk.
FOREST PRESERVES OF COOK COUNTY
• Arrowhead Lake,7016-7080 W. 135th St., Orland Park
• Axehead Lake, Touhy Avenue, west of Talcott Road and east of Interstate 294
• E.J. Beck Lake, Central Road and East River Road,, Des Plaines
• Belleau Lake, Northwest Highway west of Interstate 294, Des Plaines
• Big Bend Lake, East River Road, south of Golf Road, Des Plaines
• Bode Lake – South, Bode Road east of Bartlett Road, Streamwood
• Bullfrog Lake, 9600 Wolf Road, Willow Springs
• Busse Lake – Main and South pools, Higgins Road, south of Arlington Heights Road, Elk Grove Village
• Flatfoot Lake, W. Dote Avenue S., west of Interstate 94, Dolton
• Green Lake, River Oaks Drive, east of Illinois Route 83, Calumet City
• Horsetail Lake, 104th Avenue, north of McCarthy Road, Palos Township
• Ida Lake, East Avenue at 67th Street, Countryside
• Maple Lake, Wolf Road and 95th Street, Countryside
• Papoose Lake, McCarthy Road, west of South La Grange Road, Palos Township
• Powderhorn Lake, Brainard Aenue at Burnham Avenue, Burnham
• Saganashkee Slough, 107th Street, east of Archer Avenue, Willow Springs
• Sag Quarry – east and west, 12545 West 111th St., Lemont
• Tampier Lake, 131st Street and Wolf Road, Orland Park
• Turtlehead Lake, 13701 Harlem Ave., Orland Park
• Wampum Lake, 598 Thornton Lansing Road, Thornton
The Forest Preserve District recommends ice fishing on a minimum of four inches of ice.
Des Plaines Conservation Area,
24621 N. River Road, Wilmington
More shallow than some of its counterparts, Lake Milliken offers bass, bluegilland crappie in its waters. Its proximity to Interstate 55 is inviting toanglers from points south of the northern Illinois region, as well, especiallywhen downstate weather may not accommodate as much ice.
N. Gary Avenue, south of park district offices, Wheaton
Catch and release protocol may be in effect, but this spot long has been apopular spot for youth and ice fishing beginners. A good place for panfish.
LAKE MICHIGAN HARBORS
3600 Recreation Drive, Chicago
1559 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
601 W. Montrose Drive, Chicago
To be sure, wind conditions can play a major role in ice levels and depth, but when the fishing is good, many seasoned sportsmen rank harbor fishing among the best in the state. Safety and partner fishing is especially at a premium, though, considering the potential pratfalls of Lake Michigan.
MAZONIA FISH AND WILDLIFE AREA
Illinois Route 53 and E. Huston Road, Braceville
A complex comprising 1,017 acres, it stretches into Will and Grundy counties. Numerous bodies of water – featuring bass, bluegill, green sunfish, crappie, channel catfish and bullhead – beckon. Larger lakes in the area include Eagle, Monster and Ponderosa.
LAKE LE-AQUA-NA STATE PARK
8542 N. Lake Road, Lena
Known for its pike, the lake is among the most popular winter attractions at the park each year. Anglers are advised to remain clear of the destratifier unit on the lake, however, as the immediate area contains especially thin ice.
ROCK CUT STATE PARK
7318 Harlem Road, Loves Park
Many ice fishermen try their luck at Pierce Lake at this location north of Rockford, fishing for walleye, muskie and bass