Jacob Slonski started out fishing when he was four years old with his dad and a Spider-Man fishing pole.
It’s been about 15 years since then, and today, Slonski called it an “addiction,” as he goes out several times a week to fish.
“I find peace, love and joy in it,” the Elk Grove Village resident said as he fished Thursday at Three Oaks Recreation Area in Crystal Lake.
Slonski said he’s been fishing this year since January, but with spring here and summer approaching, lakes are being stocked and derbies are teeing off.
For McHenry County, and more broadly northern Illinois, the area holds a distinct reputation for having some of the strongest fishing spots in the state, said Andy Plauck, fisheries biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Some of those spots include the Chain O’ Lakes and Fox River, which has a “very good” smallmouth bass stream, Plauck said. Others include The Hollows in Cary and the Three Oaks Recreation Area in Crystal Lake.
“There are so many fishing spots [in McHenry County] people don’t even know.”— McHenry County Conservation District Marketing Manager Caitlynn Martinez-McWhorter
At Three Oaks, they are getting closer to being able to operate every day, Assistant City Manager Nick Hammonds said. They are waiting on more staff, which is usually filled out by high school and college kids, as well as for the water to get warmer.
Three Oaks is an old quarry, making it deep, Hammonds said. As a result, it takes a while for the water to warm up.
Still, even with conditions still acclimating, it doesn’t stop some, such as Tyler Waryck, who was fishing with Slonski, from coming out and shore-fishing early in the morning.
“I fish more in the summer months,” Waryck said. “I love the enjoyment. You never know what you’re going to catch.”
While Illinois doesn’t have any closed season on fishing, April and May are seen as the start of the season, Plauck said.
“In general, this is when people start,” he said.
April 1 also marks a key date on the calendar as it’s when the year begins for new fishing licenses, Plauck said. Licensing across the state in recent years has “looked good” and even gone up since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Any person over the age of 16 needs a fishing license, Plauck said. The application can now be completed on cellphones or through local bait and tackle stores. The cost is $15, with a $4 charge if completed online.
The McHenry County Conservation District is also heavily involved in fishing, Marketing Manager Caitlynn Martinez-McWhorter said. The Hollows in Cary is the most popular fishing spot maintained by the agency, but there are plenty of others in the area as well.
“There are so many fishing spots people don’t even know,” Martinez-McWhorter said. “You don’t have to drive far to find a fishing spot.”
Many of those spots are buoyed by stocks of fish placed every year, Plauck and Martinez-McWhorter said.
The conservation district stocked some of its lakes and ponds, including Lake Atwood, at the beginning of April, Martinez-McWhorter said. Meanwhile, the Department of Natural Resources stocks its fish typically in June, but it also depends on the season, Plauck said.
Bass, for example, are stocked at 2 to 3 inches, so next year they’ll be about 5 or 6 inches. It takes them about four years to reach full size.
With many lakes and fishing spots in the area either encouraging or requiring catch and release while fishing, the goal is to have the stocked fish help create natural reproduction in the local waters, Plauck said.
As part of the fishing season, derbies are kicking off too. Some have already begun, and several more are expected through May and June.
The conservation district, for example, is hosting its Hooked on Fishing events on Saturday and Sunday, June 17 and 18, Martinez-McWhorter said.
Last Saturday, the Huntley Park District held its annual fishing derby, according to its website.
A few tournaments are also being held at the Chain O’ Lakes throughout the season, according to the Department of Natural Resources website.