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Outdoors: Fishing early in season? It’s bass to basics

Bob Maciulis

Bob Maciulis

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Updated: April 13, 2014 6:11AM



John Kennedy held up a two-fingered “V” sign, letting me know “the boys are on Braidwood and they’re catching bass. It’s now officially spring!”

He laughed, but wasn’t quite ready to join some of the other members of the Unique BassMasters club that tore its way to first place among Illinois’ Federation clubs in just their second year.

“These guys know their fishing,” Kennedy said.

He is among Tinley Park’s most avid bass fishermen, and his enthusiasm for the end of winter was obvious when he said, “and they said it should be an awesome year.”

The early season on the cooling lakes can produce some of the best fishing you’ll ever experience, or it can be a miserable, frustrating adventure that takes a toll on you and your equipment.

We filmed the opener at Braidwood for our TV show early in the season when it had been so cold that outboard starter motors were freezing and the fog and steam were so thick the water looked like a smoldering battlefield.

On the other hand, one of the first years after it opened, we fished in shirtsleeves.

It was a bluebird day, air temps were in the 70s, the lake was like glass and the bass still were on the shorelines. It simply was a matter of getting in line, tying on a white spinner bait or a small rust-colored crankbait and throwing into the rocks. Every 20 or 30 yards, a bass would boil from the bank. That day, everyone was Rick Clunn.

Braidwood, and its sister cooling lakes, LaSalle and Heidecke (formerly the cooling lake for the Collins Station, which has been torn down), seem very different from any other place you’d fished the first time you see them.

They seem so different because they are different. At 2,640 acres, Braidwood may not compare with Carlyle, or Shelbyville in sheer size. Yet, its maze of channels and islands accelerate current and make it seem like it is much larger than it is.

Because each of the cooling was designed to catch the wind to cool its waters after they have cooled the generators, the cooling lakes generally are more active than nearby natural lakes. A 5- to 10-mph wind barely will get a good chop on the Fox Chain O’Lakes but it will churn the cooling lakes into a good froth.

That wave action creates additional current, which is the key to finding fish on these waters, especially on Braidwood, the island-studded cooling lake.

One weed flat may look like the next but its relationship to the strong currents will determine if the bass are there or if it’s barren.

During the early season, the wonderful thing about fishing cooling lakes is that you will encounter midseason/summer conditions, because the water is warmed. Heidecke no longer is a cooling lake so, while it still harnesses the winds as it was designed to do, it should be fished like any other inland reservoir.

In fact, learning how the fish react to weather is more critical on these vast, open cooling lakes than on the small, sheltered lakes most anglers vacation on.

Since most anglers determine their tactics based on their own comfort, a wind-blown bank usually will be deserted after the initial flurry of opening hour activity, but that’s where the fish are feeding.



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