By Kevin Wright
I had taken an easy hike to get to this out-of-the-way pond. It was still early in the morning. Behind me the sun had yet to break the horizon but the sky was the most beautiful tangerine color I had ever seen.
With fly rods in tow I was prepared to target a few species in this spot that I like to think of as my own. Is it a secret spot? In the whole scheme of things the answer would be no, as I am fishing public ground. But in my eyes it was a secret spot, known only to me. I catch fish here, some small, some of bragging size. I have never seen anyone on this particular water and that is why I call it mine.
Sneaking along the shoreline looking for panfish I feel stealthy, as if I were fishing for brook trout on a western spring creek. I keep a low profile and try not to cast a shadow upon the water’s surface. There are bluegill and hybrid sunfish here and along the fallen trees are crappie. Further down the pond are some heavy surface weeds and that is where the bass will be. I will go after the bass later.
I am fishing the Banner Marsh State Fish and Wildlife Area which lies about 25 miles southwest of Peoria. Access to the marsh is easy, just follow Route 24 and you will find one of the several entry points.
A large levee protects the marsh from the Illinois River. This was once strip mine country leaving all these lovely strip pit waters for the adventurous fishermen.
The marsh consists of about 4,363 acres with about 200 plus bodies of water. Johnson Lake, Wheel Lake and Shovel Lake are the biggest bodies of water and thus receive the heaviest pressure due to their own boat ramps. There is a 25 horse limit on these waters. But around these lakes are a plethora of different size bodies of water, many of which are only accessible by foot or a mountain bike.
Numerous fish species abound in these lakes. Some offer all species while others are home to only a few. Large and smallmouth bass, musky, pike, walleye, crappie, channel cat, bullheads and several panfish species can be found.
While the bigger lakes might offer the most species, it is the smaller lakes and ponds that can produce some better than average fish. But it will take some work. There is a lot of country to be explored here and it just might take you a whole summer of fishing to find your own secret spot.
I see dimples on the smooth glassy surface of the water. The bluegills are feeding and sipping tiny bugs, leaving tiny rings after each feeding. I have on a tiny popper. It resembles nothing in the terrestrial world, but the bluegills love them. I stay low and decide to cast from my knees. Maybe I am being overly cautious with my cat-like mannerisms, but I am after bigger fish and the bigger ones are more skittish.
I false cast only a few times before I drop the tiny popper and the fish takes it. It is a beauty, a hybrid sunfish of some kind I am assuming. I bring it to the shore and release it. I catch a handful more, but none like the first.
The sun is shining brightly now so I switch to bass and the weedy growth. The largemouth will be hiding in those weeds to ambush unsuspecting prey. I tie on a weedless deer hair frog. I work the frog right on top of the weeds and it doesn’t take long for a bass to take it. I hold the rod high to keep the bass near the top. It’s not a big one by any means, but a bass indeed.
With a state that is over 95 percent privately owned, it is state ground like this that can offer a nice getaway. There is plenty of water here to fish and you should never feel crowded in. Now go find your own secret spot.
Kevin Wright is a freelance nature writer and wildlife photographer working out of Canton, Ill. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.