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Illinois lake smallies well-stocked year-round

Story by Kevin Wright

Powerton Lake was built in 1971. The Commonwealth Edison Plant built the lake as a cooling reservoir for their fossil fuel plant. Built on the floodplain of the Illinois River, the lake lies just southwest of Pekin, Ill. The entire lake is encased in a sea of rock rubble, therefore the entire shoreline is nothing but rock. There is also an area that is the intake and discharge section, which regulates water temperatures.

Late in the 1980's the lake was stocked with smallmouth bass. Not really knowing how they would fare in this engineered lake, researchers were skeptical about the outcome. However, to everyone's surprise the smallies took to the lake. With an ample supply of bait fish in the water the smallies grew -- and grew fast. In just a few short years fish were in the 2-pound range. Today the fish are averaging in the 3-pound range, with 4-pounders common and fish up to 5 pounds being caught. The Illinois record now sits at just over 6 1/2 pounds and many will tell you that the next state smallmouth record will come from this lake.

There are a host of baits and lures that will catch these feisty fish. Anything that resembles a bait fish -- crawdad, leech or other swimming critter -- will boat you a few fish. Anywhere on the 1400-acre lake is open for smallies, and with the rocky shoreline, bank anglers also do well. The best months for smallies are March, April and early June.

Plant discharge area inviting to winter fish
Winter fishing is also popular with anglers. The intake and discharge area is a hotspot for white bass in the cold winter months. The intake area is some distance from the parking lot of the lake, so many anglers take along a bike and wagon-like contraption for hauling equipment. January and February are favorite times for these fish, so keep in mind the need for warm clothes. Jigs and small spinners are favorite baits during the winter.

Check out the plant smokestack when arriving at the lake. If smoke is coming from the stack the plant is running, which signals a few things for anglers: Generally early in the year it gives the water some movement and stirs around the food, which is good for the smallies. In the winter it adds warmth to the water, keeping the fish more active. Conversely, however, during hot weather conditions the running plant can cause water temperatures to soar, dramatically slowing the fishing.

Powerton is also noted for good catfishing, which can occur through the entire year. Channel cats and flatheads lurk throughout the lake. Dip baits and cut baits are popular. The big lake is ripe for cats in warm weather, while the intake area is good during the winter months.

While many anglers use the standard baits for cats -- worms, chicken liver, dough baits – you can add something else to your arsenal. Grasshoppers are common throughout the grassy areas that line the banks. Many of these little creatures fall into the lake and are wonderful catfish bait. In fact, you might just catch a smallmouth or two, as well!

While smallies and catfish are the most sought after, there is also good fishing for many other species. Bluegill, crappie, carp, bullheads, largemouth bass and hybrid sunfish are all available to the angler. Walleye, too.

Powerton is a wide-open lake, so when the wind blows, you’ll know it. A wind warning light sits on the lake to notify anglers to get off the lake. Even on those not-so-windy days the water can become rough. Use extreme caution when the wind blows.

Follow the gulls in your search for fish. Ring-billed gulls search the lake for schools of baitfish. If you see gulls hitting the water, chances are they have found a school. With luck, the smallies have found the bait fish, too.

Powerton is always popular with anglers, and available most of the year. The lake is closed to fishing during the duck season, while open for hunting. It re-opens to bank anglers in late-December and then to boat anglers sometime in mid-February. There are set hours for fishing, depending on the time of year. Hours generally run from about 6 a.m. to sunset in the summer and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the winter months.

If you’re interested in catching a record Illinois smallmouth, then Powerton Lake is the place for you. The fishing just keeps getting better and better, so plan a trip for this summer -- you just might become a record holder. Great adventures to you! - Story by Kevin Wright

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