Lake Shelbyville is a literal smorgasbord for fishermen. It offers a variety of species for fishermen to target not matched by many gamefish buffets. The 11,000 acre lake in Shelby and Moultrie counties in Illinois isn’t a monster in size, but the lake offers a multitude of opportunities for anglers. There are largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, black and white crappie, walleye, sauger, muskie, white and yellow bass, bluegill and catfish. The lake is very fertile and cooperative programs between the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to maximize the reservoir, formed by flooding the Kaskaskia River at Shelbyville, makes it a fisherman’s choice lake.
In addition to natural spawning and fish breeding, the lake managers use 16 farm ponds to ensure a steady supply of fish to stock in the lake. Anglers trying to decide where to start might be wise to choose largemouth bass. This lake was recognized as one of the best bass lakes in the state and the country by the popular BASSMaster Magazine. That is because the lake’s quality fish have never been better. Recently, a grassroots project by biologists and fishermen has helped put a total of 50 habitat cubes into the lake and there are plans for 150 more. There have also been hundreds of Christmas trees sunk in the lake to add even more bass habitat. Of course, other species will benefit as well.
Largemouth fishing is usually best in the spring into mid summer, then again in the fall when water temperatures are between 50-75 degrees. The miles of shoreline stumps, laydowns and stickups are prime areas, as are the rocky areas of the bank. Spinnerbaits, crank baits and jigs all work well for lures. In the hotter months, the bass move into the deeper water and can be found in schools there. The easiest way to catch them may be to go early in the morning or wait until late in the evening when many fish move back to shallow waters to feed. Most of the best spots away from spawning grounds are near structures that are close to deep water. That way the fish don’t have to travel far to find something to eat and can get back to their cover quickly. The lake doesn’t have a large population of lunker, or trophy bass, but lots of bass in the one to three pound category are caught. The lake record is less than 10 pounds.
Walleye is also a great bet for angling action. Some say that Shelbyville is the top Walleye fishery in Illinois. The lake was first stocked with Walleye in the early 1970’s with fish from Canada. Those fish spawned and thrived and traveled to the Kaskaskia River, where conditions were just right to grow and reproduce. Over the years, continuous stockings have kept populations high.
White bass thrive here as well. Ounce for ounce, they are one of the hardest fighting gamefish and are caught on jigs, spoons and shad imitation lures. Even the cat fishermen here have it good. They catch fish on everything from stink baits to liver to worms and shrimp. You can add popular panfish like crappie and bluegills to your target list here as well.
Crappie spawn in the shallower areas of the lake, usually not too far from shore in the spring. They can be caught on minnows or small spinners. The fish move away from this easier-to-catch spot in the summer, but you can still find them out in deeper water areas near creek channels and bridge pilings. They don’t grow huge here, but offer good fishing for fun and some good eating as well.
Bream also like the shallows and are abundant. Bream fishing seems to get better when the water gets warmer in the summer and offer a great option for family fishing. Best baits are worms and small hair jigs.
The deeper drop-offs and ledges can also offer fishermen a pleasant and hard-fighting surprise when a big muskie grabs their lure. The fish were released here in the 1970’s and 80’s and have continued to survive with some in the trophy class landed each year.
There are plenty of things to do in the Shelbyville area, including a visit to the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area or the Lincoln Presidential Library, just a short drive away. There are even wineries to tour and a riding stable for horse riding enthusiasts. There are no cottages or overnight accommodations on the lake, but there are several nearby. There are multiple boat launches on the lake. Two state parks — Wolf Creek State Park and Eagle Creek State Park — and five federal campgrounds at Coon Creek, Opossum Creek, Lithia Springs, Lone Point, and Forest (Bo) Woods — offer great facilities. There are also recreational areas at Wilburn Creek and Whitley Creek.