Thin ice always a concern for winter anglers

Last Saturday I watched somebody drive a four-wheeler across Lake Lancelot's snow-covered surface, waving and smiling without a worry.


By Monday morning Chef Todd and I were sloshing across the melting surface of a strip-mine lake fearing the worst.


Such is the unpredictable nature of weather in central Illinois, where ice can be here today, gone tomorrow. Or, worse yet, here in the morning and gone by afternoon.


At present, fishing looks promising with anglers still brave enough to drill through at least 4 inches at most area lakes.


But that can change quickly.


'We were fishing Reed City Lake near Mapleton and had a good 5 inches when we set up in the morning,' said Ron Draper of Bartonville, recalling a trip last December when lakes froze the first time. 'When we left we had maybe a couple of inches. And we were nervous.'


Fortunately no such fears arose Saturday, when 316 anglers swarmed the frozen waters of Lake Camelot and Lake Lancelot. Visit prairiestateoutdoors.com for a video of the 28th annual tournament, where the big news was not fall-throughs but pull-throughs.


As in, how did Gary Stevenson of Peoria yank that 11.26-pound channel catfish through an 8-inch ice hole?


'Skill,' crowed Stevenson, who also caught a 6.49-pound catfish.


Stevenson settled down for a moment when talked turned to the tournament in which Stevenson fell through a spring hole in Lake Lancelot. Before long, though, he was crowing again.


'The fish was stuck on both sides and when I pulled him out by the lip it was like ... whoosh,' Stevenson said. 'We wouldn't have got it through if it had been a 6-inch hole.'


No other anglers faced such a problem Saturday, when fishing started strong early but slowed dramatically as the day wore on. Even so, there were happy anglers, most on the lower lake (Lancelot).


About 50 yards away from Stevenson, Rick Gama of Peoria caught a 7.7-pound catfish. And another 200 yards to the west, the Cooling family from East Peoria had a heyday catching bass. Rob Cooling won with a 2.47-pound bass, while brother Ron had a 2.03-pounder and father Ron finished fourth at 1.72 pounds.


The lower lake also produced a few slab crappie, including the winning 1.63-pounder caught by Kevin Reed of Canton a mere 10 minutes into the tournament.


Less impressive was the bluegill yield from the normally fertile waters of this subdivision southwest of Peoria. Matt Matzke of Mapleton won with three bluegill weighing 1.79 pounds.


Matzke fished the upper lake and caught his two bluegill early but did not hook the largest until moments before the noon weigh-in. He was fishing 10-15 feet deep with waxworms and a chartreuse-colored jig.


That might be a good pattern to consider while the ice lasts. Another tip is to consider a trip to Snakeden Hollow State Fish and Wildlife Area, which opens to fishing today thanks to the conclusion of goose season.


See accompanying chart for complete results from last weekend.


Goose chase:


After five frigid hours in a hole in the ground Thursday morning, I was ready to head home.


Then, as if in a testament to this Canada goose season, the birds started flying. And they did not stop for more than an hour, streaming out to the east in wave after wave.


The Farmer and I were lucky enough to scratch down one of those birds, which helped warm a cold day and closed out a season goose chasers will be honking about for years.


For some, there's still goose hunting ahead. With Canada goose season closed, hunters in the Central and South zone can take part in the conservation order snow goose season through March 31.


There is no bag limit during the season and hunters may use unplugged shotguns and electronic calls. Legal hours also are extended to one-half hour after sunset.


Illinois hunters shot an estimated 55,000 snows last year during the conservation season and bagged 74,268 in 2006.


BIRDER DIES:


The Peoria area lost one of its most ardent and accomplished birders Monday when Louise Augustine of Chillicothe died.


Augustine had a life list of more than 5,000 birds and had previously survived being held hostage by revolutionaries during a birding trip to Colombia in March of 1998.


A mass and memorial service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Feb. 9 at St. Edwards in Chillicothe.


Et cetera: Vehicles will not be allowed on levees at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge this Saturday as previously scheduled. Flooding left stumps, trees and debris on the levees that in some cases make travel impossible. .?.?. Dave Ludington of Bloomington said he will no longer book trips as a muskie fishing guide at Evergreen Lake. .?.?. After 97 days, this year's class of 17 whooping cranes finally completed their 1,250-mile ultralight-led migration from Wisconsin to Florida earlier this week.


JEFF LAMPE is Journal Star outdoors columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3212 or e-mail jlampe@pjstar.com