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Maciulis: There’s something magical about ice fishing

Ice fishing is like jogging, bicycling or cross country skiing. Not everyone who tries it likes it.

However, if the magic clicks, it often becomes an obsession, and there is nobody as passionate about fishing as an ice angler.

Some of the best and most easily accessible ice venues are in and around the Southland:

The Mazonia Lakes are located three miles southwest of Braidwood along Route 53. With 1,100-plus acres encompassing 200 pits of all sizes, where there is enough water to learn that you could spend at least a few lifetimes and still not know it all.

Bass, bluegill, crappie, catfish, northern pike and even perch are caught through the ice. Best of all, you will find both “numbers” and size and that is every ice anglers dream!

Jon’s Bait Shop in South Wilmington is a clearinghouse for the private clubs as well as the Mazonia Lakes. Call (815) 933-1186.

There are backwaters along the Des Plaines River, from Lyons down through the Des Plaines Conservation Area that are worth a try.

Despite the poor reputation that’s plagued the Des Plaines River over the years — and not without good reason — it has been undergoing a remarkable rebirth.

The backwater sloughs are breeding grounds for bluegill, sunfish, crappie and bass, as well as northern pike and walleye that have migrated down river from where the DNR stocked them along I-55 at Hodgkins and below the Hofmann Dam that was removed at Ogden Avenue in Lyons.

Over the years, Milliken Lake has earned an unfortunate reputation as being a “numbers” fishery producing piles of small panfish. In fact, some huge crappie and bluegill are taken from it through the ice.

Located between River Road and the Kankakee River at Prairie Creek, east of the River Road exit off I-55, Milliken is close and a bona fide “sleeper.”

The East Channel of the Fox River at Montgomery draws every species found in the river once it freezes. It’s an exceptional crappie and white and yellow bass location and is among the first in the area to sport safe ice.

Next to the dam and parking area, it is a popular and easily accessible place, yet never crowded.

Shabbona Lake is the only lake in Illinois designed and built specifically for fishing.

The 320-acre reservoir sits in a valley surrounded by hills draped in wildflowers and prairie grasses, with large stands of pine and hardwoods and is the heart of the Shabbona State Park. Some 30 miles west of Aurora along Route 30, the park is open from 8 a.m. until sunset.

Best known for its bass fishery — and that it has produced four of Illinois state record muskie — Shabbona is the “proverbial fish factory” ice anglers dream about.

It seems impossible to drive through outlying areas without finding a retention pond that backs up to a new subdivision. If you’re new to ice fishing, never venture out alone, especially on local retention ponds that have strong current seeping in through the culverts.

Some of the finest crappie and bluegill fishing within a day’s drive is often minutes from home, at the end of a subdivision.

The number of anglers who enjoy ice fishing continues to grow. It’s a unique sport, with its own challenges, yet it’s rare to find an angler who’s had a good first day on the ice who doesn’t look forward to it with he same anticipation as a deer hunter waits for the season opener.



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