In observance of the Memorial Day holiday, the Northwest Herald newspaper will not be published May 28. Breaking news and information will be updated on
Outdoors - Steve Sarley

Sarley: It's small water fishing time

With ample open water springing up all over Northern Illinois, it’s time for shore fishermen to start. There are plenty of bodies of water that contain plenty of frisky panfish, which seem to turn on first.

This isn’t the time for big lakes. This is the time to be hitting ponds, channels, backwaters, retention ponds, housing development ponds and industrial park ponds. Don’t forget to look for posted “no fishing” signs or ask for permission before treading on private property.

Why small water, you ask? What are fish looking for as they shake off their winter doldrums? They are on the prowl for warmer water. The north side of any body of water warms up faster than any other shoreline each and every day because of the way the sun rises.

There are other factors that can make certain areas on the north side better than others. Dark bottoms warm faster than sand bottoms. Objects in the water draw the sun’s rays and warm the surrounding water. Piers and docks warm the surrounding water quickly. Even objects like shopping carts and old tires draw the sun and warm the surrounding water, making these objects good targets for your casts.

My favorite area to test this warming water phenomenon is the areas where rainwater trickles into a lake, pond or stream. That warm rainwater pulls fish to the area like a proverbial magnet. Scout your fishing hole and look for these runoff areas. They are the best, especially if you can see some fresh weed growth covering the bottom of the area.

I know you are dying for open water fishing, because so am I. It will be hard to resist the urge, but it isn’t necessary to hit the water as the sun begins to break overhead.

Unlike other times of the year, you don’t need to set an early alarm because the fish tend not to bite until the sun gets higher overhead and it begins to warm the water a few degrees. Stay in bed for a few extra winks or have a big breakfast and an extra cup of coffee. 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. is prime fishing time these days.

Gear needs to be light. Four-pound test line is enough to land fish. Floats should be as small as you can slip onto your line. The tiniest of split shot sinkers is plenty. Tiny #8 or #10 hooks are enough to hook any panfish.

Small is the key word for baits right now. Don’t put that ice fishing gear away just yet. Those micro jigs that worked so well through your drilled openings are just as deadly on open water right now. Spikes and waxies are great choices and only the smallest minnows are productive this early.

If “small” is the key word for spring fishing, “slow” is the other most important word. Fish are lethargic in early spring and don’t chase their food. Whether slip bobber fishing or even using artificials, your targeted fish want it to move slowly.

The old adage at this time is, “If you think you are reeling slowly, well, slow down by half the speed you are retrieving.” Now that really takes patience when you are all amped up to fish.


Northern Illinois – Dave Kranz from Dave’s Bait, Tackle and Taxidermy in Crystal Lake reports: “Crappies are showing up in the channels off of the Fox River and Chain. Use a Cubby Mini-mite with a wax worm or minnow for great results! Walleye continue to be caught at the McHenry Dam, Algonquin Dam and the Carpentersville Dam. A jig and a minnow worked slowly will trigger bites. Trout fishing at the Hollows (Lake Atwood) was good with some anglers catching some up to 20 inches! This is a good time to start to use cut-bait for catfish they are feeding on the winter-killed fish that have thawed out as the ice leaves.” Call 815-455-2040 for updated reports.

Boat electronics guru Mark O’Neill will be presenting some excellent seminars in the upcoming weeks at Cabela’s in Hoffman Estates. “Understanding Your Lowrance HDS” will cover the basic setting up and operation of Lowrance HDS units. Topics will include: understanding of the basics of sonar and GPS; installation; functions; sonar and GPS settings; waypoints and new features of the latest software updates.

The class takes place April 12 from 9 a.m. – noon and costs $30 per person. To reserve a spot in a class please call Cabela’s at 847-645-0400, or email Diane Schneider at or visit

An advanced class covering advanced set-up and operation of Lowrance HDS units takes place at Cabela’s on April 26 from 9 a.m. – noon for $30 per person.

Use the same information to register for the advanced class as you did for the basic session.

Loading more

Digital Access

Digital Access
Access from all your digital devices and receive breaking news and updates from around the area.

Home Delivery

Home Delivery
Local news, prep sports, Chicago sports, local and regional entertainment, business, home and lifestyle, food, classified and more! News you use every day! Daily, weekend and Sunday packages.

Text Alerts

Text Alerts
Stay connected to us wherever you are! Get breaking news updates along with other area information sent to you as a text message to your wireless device.

Email Newsletters

Email Newsletters
We'll deliver news & updates to your inbox. Plan your weekend and catch up on the news with our newsletters.