Snakeden at 30 – Sneak Peek

“The Big State Lake” (now Lake McMaster) looking southwest from parking lot

Well, one could start at the beginning with this series of Snakeden posts by going back to the July 1, 1990 “Grand Opening” of the site to public access. However, I was fortunate to get a sneak peek at the waters prior to that date. In fact, my first look at what is now named Lake McMaster was nearly three years prior.

You see, back in the summer of 1987 I was working for the Galesburg Park Department as a summer job. My boss at the Park was a guy named Bob who had also hired a guy named Larry who had known my Dad and my uncle for quite a few years. Larry also knew a guy named Ken who had access to the property. Larry also knew that I knew a guy named Brent who was just as into fishing as I was. This Brent guy also happens to be my younger brother, so Larry invited us as a package deal to fish what was simply known then as “The Big State Lake.”

Page one of the original July 1, 1987 log entry

Of course, “Big” is a relative term but for two teenagers used to fishing ponds or small strip mines out of an eight foot johnboat, the lake was plenty big and full of fishy looking structure. Not only that, but it was absolutely crystal clear, almost in an eerie way. I had never seen anything like it before and never have since.

But those details are for another post.

On July 1, 1987 around 5:00pm, Larry launched his johnboat from the crude ramp for what would be a real eye-opener for the two teenagers in tow. From the log entry it looks like the initial bite was slow for me and I am pretty certain it was due to a lack of knowledge on how to fish such incredibly clear water. My standard loud and gaudy presentations that were successful on farm ponds and stained water likely only served to scare the heck out of those Big State Lake bass.

33 years later, this fishing lure hoarder still has the lures that worked on this outing

Once I got with the program in following Larry’s lead and toning down my presentation to a 3” Squirmin’ Grub, the bass tally began to rack up in a hurry. From about 7:00pm until our 8:30pm quitting time, those bass were coming aboard with regularity, including nearly every cast after about 8:00pm. When it was all said and done, our three man crew caught and released close to 150 bass in roughly three and a half hours (with Larry leading the way and likely Brent outfishing me as normal).

When it takes a second page to log your catch you know it was a good day

No photos exist from our “undercover” fishing mission and we landed no trophies as you can see from the log entry. And sure, that logging habit might be seen as a waste of time by some and certainly cost me more fish in the boat. But it did preserve some specific details from that old fishing trip which I find rewarding. Larry and I still correspond with fish stories old and new via email on a regular basis but this one remains one of my favorites.

More Snakeden stuff to come as three years after this fishing trip I actually had a job at what had come to be known as Snakeden Hollow. Talk to you later. Troy

Friday Flashback – July 1985

July 5, 1985 – Sperry’s Pay Ponds catfish in Mom’s kitchen with my old buddy, Arnie Gonzalez

The back of the above photo

Today’s entry pertains to a group of fishing holes just north of Galesburg known as “Sperry’s Pay Ponds”. Somehow or another, during the summer of 1985, somebody in our fishing crew got wind of this batch of pay fishing holes that held a solid catfish population. I believe it was a $2 entry fee and then some dollar amount per pound of catfish you wished to haul home.

The bite was usually pretty good for small fish early in the evening but when Mr. Sperry showed up to feed the fish, things got real interesting in a hurry. Mr. Sperry would arrive with a five gallon bucket and proceed to beat on the bottom. These vibrations would get the bigger fish riled up and they would begin boiling the surface like piranhas in some old horror movie. He would then chuck a few batches of catfish food pellets into the lake and it was on. A tiny piece of chicken liver on a single hook tossed into the frenzy was immediately met with a strike from what was generally a higher quality fish. The craziness only lasted for a few minutes before the bigger fish had their fill and we were back to catching “fiddlers” (nickname for smallish catfish that often just “fiddle” with your bait and prove difficult to hook).

Original log entries from July 1985 

 

It still brings a smile all of these years later imagining the boiling surface on one of those lakes lined with a batch of entertained anglers. And to this day, I still kick myself for not bringing along my own bucket to fool those fish into thinking that dinner time came a little early. Duh!

July 2, 1985 – Sperry’s Ponds

In November of 2017, I saw that Mr. George Sperry has passed away at the age of 87. While I don’t recall having many words with Mr. Sperry as we enjoyed the bounty of his fishing holes, I sure hope that our enthusiasm spoke for itself. Talk to you later. Troy

Snakeden Report – July 4

On the heels of an interesting July 1 adventure to celebrate Snakeden’s 30th birthday, I was back for more with a day off on The Fourth. This time around I also had my bicycle and my brother in tow.

Winning Lures

Stats

Date: July 4, 2020
Location: Snakeden Hollow (6 lakes)
Time: 5:10am-10:00am (3.50 hours fishing)
Weather: Sunny/calm
Air Temp: 70-84F
Water Temp: no reading
Totals: Troy – 12 bass, Brent – roughly 10 bass
Lures (Troy): Senko wacky rig (smoke) – 8 bass, Zara Spook (natural frog) – 2 bass, Booyah Buzzbait (snow white shad) – 1 bass, Strike King Red Eye Shad (sexy shad) – 1 bass
Lures (Brent); Senko wacky rig – about 8 bass, Emiquon Special spinnerbait – 2 bass
Top Bass: 1-6 Zara Spook (Troy)
Top 5 Weight (only 2 at 12” or better): 2-11 (1-6,1-5)

5:22am – first bass 11″ on a buzzbait

Trip Lyric
“I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike” – Bicycle Race, Queen (1976)
Well, actually, I kind of had to go back to the old bike and hike route after my boat transport setup gave out on the previous trip. And with the old Trek in tow, well it was, you know, just like riding a bike.

5:56am – Top Bass Runner-up 14.5″ and 1-5 on a Zara Spook

Notes and Nonsense

66 Years and Counting – It’s hard to believe that my brother, Brent, and I go back a combined 66 years in terms of fishing the waters of Snakeden Hollow. Our first shot was back on July 1, 1987, three years before the site opened for public access but that’s another story for later in the ongoing Snakeden celebration. Tough to process but I did the math a few times to verify 66 years of combined experience. Since we were teenagers in 1987 and now in our fifties, I guess it all adds up.

Buzzbait trails on the water (center) show the limitations of bank fishing, lots of untouched surface

Buzzkill – I’ve got a thing about buzzbaits and admittedly throw them more than I should on some mornings. Visions of explosions and the potential for that one big bite still dance in my head and cloud my decision making some 35 years after fooling some bass on the old Bass Pro Shops inline bait, the Uncle Buck’s Buzzer. This particular morning was not the best for such a presentation and getting my first bass on a buzzbait at 5:22am didn’t help matters much. I stubbornly kept tossing the lure hoping for more but no such luck.

6:23am – Top Bass 15″ and 1-6 on a Zara Spook

One That Got Away – I had a three-pounder hooked at a spot where I had about a shoulder width access to the lake amidst the ten foot reeds that ringed the fishing hole. Part operator error with my drag too tight and part restricted mobility cost me in breaking off on my standard 10-pound mono. However, it was an interesting reveal as I have never seen a bass even close to that size swimming in this lake. I’ll be back…with a machete and properly adjusted drag.

There’s a lesson (or maybe two) in this exchange

Don’t Text & Fish? – The one that got away represents a valuable lesson that I have long had trouble learning. A friend and I were exchanging texts with me detailing my results while he was giving me the scoop on the current Lake Storey crowd. So, I fired out my Senko and decided to tap out a text as I let it drop through the water column. After a sentence or two I picked up the slack only to find a pull on the other end which resulted in the eventual breakoff after a brief battle. Unfortunate result but once again reiterating that I need to slow down and let the Senko sink rather than getting antsy to reel and twitch.

This trip took some work to find our fish and we admittedly struggled. But such is fishing and while rather hot and occasionally frustrating, you can’t beat time on the water no matter how “experienced” you are. In fact, even after 33 years of Snakeden casting, I learned something new. And that’s a big part of what keeps me coming back. Talk to you later. Troy

Top 5 Update

Quite a collection of fish this week with an unexpected catch joining our list of “bonus” species. (Note: I also forgot several of my brother’s bass last month so playing catch up on those)

Weight: 2-3
Angler: Brent Jackson
Date: June 14
Location: Snakeden Hollow
Lure: Buzzbait

Weight: 2-13
Angler: Brent Jackson
Date: June 14
Location: Snakeden Hollow
Lure: Senko

Weight: 1-14
Angler: Brent Jackson
Date: June 14
Location: Snakeden Hollow
Lure: Senko
Top 5 Weight: 13-3 (3-2,2-13,2-12,2-5,2-3) culls 1-14 and 1-10

Weight: 1-13
Angler: John Kirkemo
Date: June 29
Weather: Partly cloudy skies
Water Temp: 81-82F
Location: Lake Storey
Lure: Wacky Worm

Weight: 1-2
Angler: John Kirkemo
Date: June 30
Weather: Light rain with gentle breeze from east
Water Temp: 82-83F
Location: Lake Storey
Lure: Wacky Worm

Weight: 1-2
Angler: John Kirkemo
Date: June 30
Weather: Light rain with gentle breeze from east
Water Temp: 82-83F
Location: Lake Storey
Lure: Wacky Worm
Top 5 Weight: 7-10 (1-15,1-13,1-6,1-6,1-2) culls 1-0

Weight: 4-0
Angler: Troy Jackson
Date: July 1
Weather: Partly cloudy/breezy
Location: Snakeden Hollow
Lure: Buzzbait
Structure: Flat/weed edge
Angler Comments: Pretty cool start to the morning when you’ve got three bass in the first twelve minutes topped by this one which is my personal best on this particular interior lake.

Weight: 3-11
Angler: Troy Jackson
Date: July 1
Weather: Partly cloudy/windy
Location: Snakeden Hollow
Lure: Senko wacky rig
Structure: Sticks
Angler Comments: Actually saw this bass swimming near some stickups, plunked a Senko within range and got it to commit. On the upside, it was larger than I’d visually estimated. On the downside, it was rather gaunt and would have been my second four-pounder of the morning if in normal shape. No complaint, though.
Top 5 Weight: 17-6 (4-12,4-0,3-11,2-8,2-7) culls 2-6 and 2-4

Weight: 4-12
Angler: Jim Junk
Date: July 5
Location: Banner Marsh
Lure: Senko wacky rig
Top 5 Weight: 24-3 (5-15,4-14,4-12,4-6,4-4) culls 4-1

Other Species – Common Carp

Weight: 10-5
Angler: Jim Junk
Date: July 2
Location: Banner Marsh
Lure: Texas rigged Senko
Angler Comments: He hit close to the bank and started stripping line. Really thought I had a monster bass. Took quite a while to get close enough to see the yellow belly.
Top 5 Weight: 10-5

Well done by our crew. Looks like the dog days have arrived which can be a challenge. Early or late in the day can often tilt the odds a bit more in your favor but those fish don’t go anywhere, typically just a bit harder to find and fool. Talk to you later. Troy

Snakeden Birthday Report – July 1

Earlier this week I paid a visit to an old friend for a birthday celebration. It was the first time we’d seen each other since last October but like all old friends, we picked up right where we left off. In fact, it only took four casts before I was greeted with a bass. A great start and the hits kept on coming before things got a bit ugly on the exit.

 

Stats

Date: July 1, 2020
Location: Snakeden Hollow (4 lakes)
Time: 5:20am-11:35am (4.00 hours fishing)
Weather: Partly cloudy or overcast/breezy to windy
Air Temp: 70-79F
Water Temp: no reading
Totals: 34 bass
Lures: Booyah Buzzbait (snow white shad) – 17 bass, Strike King Red Eye Shad (sexy shad) – 15 bass, Chatterbait (bluegill) – 1 bass, Senko wacky rig () – 1 bass
Top Bass: 4-0 Buzzbait
Top 5 Weight: 12-14 (4-0,3-11,1-15,1-14,1-6)

 

Trip Lyric
“Can’t afford a blowout ‘cause we haven’t got a spare.”
Sausalito Summernight, Diesel (1981)
A wonderful one hit wonder sums it up quite nicely as my boat transport setup gave out on me big time. As a result, I wondered if I would get my boat back to the truck and along the way began to wonder if I was going to make it as well. Further details below.

Notes and Nonsense

Personal Lake Record One (video below) – Twelve minutes into casting I had my third bass in the boat, a four-pounder which represented my Top Bass from this particular lake. And while not an overall lake record, such a catch will sure make your day. Our lake record is a 4-12 caught by my brother, Brent, last October and I was fortunate to have had a front row seat for that one. As far as a potential true lake record, I am aware of a seven-pounder from the spot in 2015. All of the above were released, by the way.

 

Personal Lake Record Two (video below) – On my final stop of the day, I was able to establish a lake record of 3-11 besting the previous mark of 2-15 that I landed in July 2012. This one was also rewarding as I had spotted the fish cruising among some shoreline sticks and was able to tempt it with a Senko wacky rig tossed out in front of its path. Always cool when something like that works out and makes you feel like you know what you are doing.

 

Fun Fact – As I have been fishing Snakeden Hollow for its entire public access, it is interesting when I consider how much the site has changed. For instance, on this outing, 20 of the 34 bass that were landed came from a pair of lakes that did not even exist 30 years ago. One was a rather lifeless depression in the terrain while the other was an expansive, nasty, shallow, slurry wetland. Kudos to those onsite personnel and fisheries staff that have transformed the once decimated landscape into a couple quality fishing holes.

Well, Goodbye, Dolly – I’ve seen various contraptions used to transport small watercraft into the remote waters of Snakeden and some are rather impressive. Mine, not so much, although the two wheel dolly has performed quite well during a batch of trips over the last three plus years. On this day, however, both tires blew and made for a real drag of a drag as I was a long way from my truck when disaster struck. I am not sure what lies in store as a remedy but I was back on my bike and beating the bank just like old times on my next visit.

But that’s another story. Talk to you later. Troy

Snakeden at 30

Happy birthday to a fishing area that turned 30 years old earlier this week. Well, at least in terms of public access as Snakeden Hollow State Fish & Wildlife Area opened up for all to enjoy back on July 1, 1990. To mark the anniversary, I’ve decided to put together a batch of posts about that old collection of strip mines and spoilbanks.

It is fun for me to look back on that July 1, 1990 “Grand Opening” as I was actually a small part of that event. From May 1 to November 1, 1990 I worked a six month temporary job with the old Illinois Department of Conservation, several months of which were spent at Snakeden. Believe me, the site has come a long way in the interim and that is part of what I intend to explore as 2020 rolls along. I kind of have plan for this series but not really a set schedule, so I guess just expect some “Snakeden at 30” posts to pop up from time to time.

We’ll start with a brief primer here consisting of some general information on the history and features of the property.

Snakeden Hollow is located south and east of Victoria, Illinois (a satellite property, The Victoria Pheasant Habitat Area, lies to the northwest of town). The Snakeden Hollow parcel of land consists of roughly 2,500 acres and was obtained by the State of Illinois from the Midland Coal Company in 1987. According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website, Snakeden contains “125 water impoundments totaling 400 acres” adding that “more than three dozen of the lakes and ponds are actively managed for their fishery.”

Lake McMaster is by far the largest of these bodies of water at roughly 160 acres and is the only lake with a boat ramp. All other lakes are accessible from peripheral parking areas but only on foot or perhaps bicycle (no motorized vehicles).

A wide variety of species inhabit these lakes including largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill, redear, muskie, walleye, crappie, green sunfish, channel catfish and bullhead (trout have also been stocked in Lake McMaster at times). In regards to who swims where, it is all rather confusing and I would suggest consulting site personnel, fisheries staff or wandering the internet to get the lowdown.

It is definitely an interesting place and it can sure give you quite a workout if you so desire. Hunting is also offered and much to my chagrin, the site shuts down to anglers during goose season. A lot has changed at the site since I had the privilege of seeing it in its infancy as we’ll see over the course of the coming posts. While some days on the water are better than others, that’s fishing for you and the place has kept me coming back for thirty years.

In fact, I’ve been back twice this week. Stay tuned…Talk to you later. Troy

Friday Flashback – July 1, 1985

35 Years Ago This Week – new pond, slim teenager, plug of chew, Streaks cap, dog day bass…those were the days, huh?

Is there anything better in fishing than getting to fish a new and unseen pond?

There’s just something about new waters that really gets me fired up. Of course, most of the time they come with tantalizing tales from folks who have already taken their shot on the fishing hole. In addition, there is often a physical description of what the pond has to offer. Maybe it’s “a batch of lilypads in one corner” or “several trees in a cove” or perhaps “a ditch that is littered with stumps.”

Whatever the case, I find that I already have a picture of the place in my mind before I ever see the water. Sometimes my vision is close, other times it’s not, but never does it disappoint as the fishing hole comes into view.

My brother, Brent, with an old school trophy from “Olson’s Pond”

Thirty-five years ago this week I was in just that sort of scenario and actually in this case it involved a pair of ponds. Dad worked at Dick Blick Art Materials in Galesburg where a young guy was working during a college summer. Blaine Atwater was a fellow Galesburg High School grad several years older than me and it turned out that Blaine’s grandparents had some McDonough County, IL fishing holes near Colchester.

Brent on a carefree July 1985 evening at Olson’s Pond, fifteen is now fifty, time flies. 

Well, Dad and Brent got an invite and brought back fish stories of some nice bluegill and several solid bass. I had just begun to think that I was some kind of bass fisherman so naturally I was quite enthused when I was invited to tag along for their return trip on July 1, 1985. Per the original log entry below, here’s how it all went down.

Asked my boy, Jayce, who this was. “That’s you, Dad.” Nope, actually his Papa in 1985. I took it as a compliment.

While the results of this outing were a bit of a summer dog day beat down, the pics from those days always bring a smile all of these years later. I still think about those fishing holes every time I pass through Macomb and McDonough County on the way to visit family in Quincy. As the years have passed, I’ve come to realize that the best fishing memories don’t necessarily include the best catches. Talk to you later. Troy

Happy Birthday, Snakeden Hollow

Happy birthday to Knox County’s Snakeden Hollow which reached 30 years of public access on July 1, 2020. The site and it’s collection of fishing holes have meant a great deal to me and a batch of fishing partners over the years.  Actually, my history with the site dates back even further than the July 1, 1990 Grand Opening.

As such, I am inspired to blog about it.

Check out the slideshow below consisting of 30 pictures to celebrate 30 years. These photos only scratch the surface of the photo collection documenting all those years of outdoor adventures. Stay tuned for further Snakeden posts as I have plenty to share on a place that holds many memories.

 

And the memories keep on rolling in 2020 as one of the photos in the slideshow was actually taken yesterday while I celebrated onsite. My old friend, Snakeden Hollow, was quite generous. Kind of cool how the fishing worked out. Look for the full report as well as a YouTube post this coming weekend (if all goes as planned). Talk to you later. Troy

Top 5 Update

West Central Illinois public waters keep the Top 5 Updates rolling along as we near the midpoint of the calendar year. Got some good ones this time around so read on as we have a new leader and another angler one step closer to filling his limit.

Weight: 4-14
Angler: Jim Junk
Date: June 22
Location: Banner Marsh
Lure: Chatterbait

Weight: 5-15
Angler: Jim Junk
Date: June 22
Location: Banner Marsh
Lure: Chatterbait

Weight: 4-6
Angler: Jim Junk
Date: June 24
Location: Banner Marsh
Lure: Chatterbait
Angler Comments:
Top 5 Weight: 23-8 (5-15,4-14,4-6,4-4,4-1) culls 4-1,3-9 and 3-8

Weight: 1-6 (13”)
Angler: John Kirkemo
Date: June 25
Weather: Bright sun
Water Temp: 77F
Location: McMaster Lake
Lure: Wacky worm
Top 5 Weight: 5-11 (1-15,1-6,1-6,1-0)

Thanks for the submissions guys as it doesn’t get much better than seeing a fish story show up in the Inbox. Good luck and stay cool out there as some dog day fishing looms on the horizon. Talk to you later. Troy

Friday Flashback – June 26 & 28, 1995

Although I’ve neglected these types of waters for nearly a decade, there’s something special about spillways and streams. Many good memories and many good fish courtesy of a simple dew worm, a “secret” doughball or a can of corn. It really doesn’t get much more basic than tossing in one of those baits, waiting for a tug and pondering what is on the end of the line as you set the hook.

Twenty five years ago this week I was able to cover both spillway and stream fishing over the course of just a few days. A handful of fellow fishermen (Dad, Brent and Mark “Geek” Junk) joined up to take a shot at a couple legendary fishing holes known as “Pat’s Creek” (Henderson County, IL) and “The Spillway” (Lake Bracken). Below is a slideshow of the photos that served to document those enjoyable adventures.

 

The crazy thing is that all of these years later I have plenty of moving water up here in the Quad Cities worth visiting. If I could just put down those bass rods…

Talk to you later. Troy