Top 5 Update

A couple more bass join the collection. One represents a location previously unseen on the Top 5 while the other is from a consistent collection of waters that just keeps rolling with some quality bass.

Weight: 1-3 (13”)
Angler: John Kirkemo
Date: August 6
Weather: Mostly sunny with intermittent clouds
Water Temp: 77-80F
Location: Dawson Lake (Moraine View State Recreation Area)
Lure: Wacky worm
Top 5 Weight: 7-11 (1-15,1-13,1-6,1-6,1-3)

Weight: 5-5
Angler: Jim Junk
Date: August 7
Location: Banner Marsh
Lure: Texas rigged Senko
Angler Comments: Had a couple hours this morning so hit Banner. One bite and one bass.
Top 5 Weight: 25-4 (5-15,5-5,4-14,4-12,4-6) culls a 4-4

Way to go guys, getting it done during the dog days of summer. Keep up the casting and keep the catches coming our way. Talk to you later. Troy

Snakeden at 30 – Lake McMaster

August 8, 2020 look across Lake McMaster 

On the heels of last week’s look at “The Big Lake”, it’s time to take a closer look at the fishing hole that has since been dedicated as Lake McMaster (click here for that story).

Data (per IDNR website)
Location: Knox County, IL
Directions: South off of Route 167 just east of Victoria, IL (marked with sign)
Size: roughly 165 acres
Maximum Depth: 65 feet
Boat Ramp: Yes
Recreational Use Restrictions: – Waterfowl Refuge or Hunting Area (all use other than waterfowl hunting prohibited from 14 days prior to duck season through the end of the central zone Canada goose season).

August 8, 2020 look down the parking lot to the ramp

In addition, here’s a cool link to some IDNR fishing info specific to Lake McMaster.

And, for fun, how about some additional Lake McMaster muskie info.

The muskie has long been known as “the fish of 10,000 casts”. However, the Illinois DNR stocking program has done much to increase the odds of hooking a muskie before an angler reaches that old mark. Lake McMaster is among the Illinois fishing holes that have resided on the muskie stocking list dating back to an initial IDNR stocking in 1991.

At one point, a 54” muskie from Lake McMaster in 2006 stood as the longest muskie officially recorded in Illinois. My recent search around the internet did not find any catches in the interim that have dethroned that verified catch although I did find another 54” fish reported from Lake County in 2016.

That 54” fish is among at least five 50” muskies to come from Lake McMaster. Per one report, this placed Lake McMaster as third on the list of lakes producing the most muskies reaching the coveted 50” mark.

I’ll wrap up our look at Lake McMaster with some recent pics and a little family history.


Certainly an interesting lake and no doubt that there are plenty of anglers out there more knowledgeable than myself who have gleaned more of its secrets. In fact, I have not been on Lake McMaster since 2013 instead choosing to do my Snakeden fishing on the collection of less crowded interior walk-in fishing holes. Perhaps one of these days I will take the plunge to put it back in the rotation.

Plenty more Snakeden stuff to come in future weeks. Talk to you later. Troy

Friday Flashback – August 1995

For anyone reading this who was around 25 years ago, think about the degree to which your life has changed since 1995.

In my case, there were a lot less responsibilities on my plate. Life, at that point, basically consisted of going to work and goofing off. The work schedule consisted of four twelve hour days followed by four days off. So, while the work days left limited free time if one chose to sleep (which I did most of the time), the off days were like a mini vacation every week.

Some of that “vacation” time was spent fishing with some other fellas who also had limited responsibilities. Creeks, ponds, lakes and a spillway were our destinations and as evidenced by the slideshow below, a good time was had by all during August of 1995.

Talk to you later. Troy

Top 5 Update

Been a steamy couple weeks until the area heat wave recently broke. And this week we have another dog day Top 5 entry as we near the middle of summer.

Weight: 1-3 (13”)
Angler: John Kirkemo
Date: July 30
Weather: Cloudy with intermittent rain showers
Water Temp: 84-85F
Location: Lake Storey
Lure: Wacky worm
Top 5 Weight: 7-11 (1-15,1-13,1-6,1-6,1-3)

Thanks, John, for the submission as it is good to see someone out there giving it a go in some challenging summer conditions on a challenging body of water. Here’s to a solid August which has always been the slimmest warm weather Top 5 month (only January and December have fewer entries since the inception of the project back in 2014).

Good luck to those who get out and send ‘em my way when you catch ‘em. Talk to you later. Troy

Snakeden at 30 – “The Big Lake”

Arguably the primary attraction at Snakeden Hollow is what has variously been called “The Big State Lake”, “The Big Lake” or “Snakeden Hollow Lake” over the years. And for about the first ten years of public access, it didn’t really have an official name. More on that after a look at some details about this interesting body of water.

A little internet research turned up the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Status Summary for the lake. That document indicated that the lake “was built in 1978 by Midland Coal Company as their water supply reservoir.” Interestingly, per the IDNR website it is cited as the only lake on the original Snakeden site that was not “formed as the result of surface mining operations.”

Entrance to the boat ramp on “The Big Lake”

At roughly 165 acres, it also happens to be the only lake on the site that features a boat ramp. The remainder of the lakes are walk-in/drag-in access only but those spots will have to wait until another week to get their due. Maximum depth is listed at 65 feet per the IDNR and the water clarity is downright amazing. In fact, it is rather eerie to sit amidst a patch of standing timber or look down into the water to view sprawling treetops as you sit in 50 or more feet of water. Back in 1990 I got to participate in a bit of fisheries data collection on the lake that included Secchi depth readings. Readings on the big lake at that time exceeded the 20 foot range in some locations, truly remarkable (see Secchi disk info below). Over the years, the turbidity of the lake has increased to some degree. However, it still sports the clearest water clarity that I have ever observed on any fishing hole.

A Secchi disk is lowered into the water and a depth reading recorded when it is no longer visible from the surface.

After more than a decade without a formal name, the lake was dedicated as Lake McMaster in late 1999. It bears the name of the late, longtime Illinois State Representative, A.T. “Tom” McMaster (1918-2002) who was instrumental in the state acquiring the Snakeden Hollow property from the Midland Coal Company in 1987. The naming of the lake was noted in the 2002 Illinois State Senate Resolution referenced below marking his passing.

92_SR051 LRB9217893KFkf


WHEREAS, Representative McMaster was active in State and
 local politics for 33 years, starting in 1952 as township
 assessor, and served on the Knox County Board of Supervisors
 for 10 years, serving as chairman for four years; in 1971, he
 began the first of eight terms as State representative of the
 73rd District of the Illinois House of Representatives and
 was known for his work with land reclamation and strip mines;
 he retired in 1987; and

 WHEREAS, In November 1999, State Representative Don
 Moffitt and State Senator Carl Hawkinson worked with the
Illinois Department of Natural Resources to rename Snakeden
Hollow Lake after Representative McMaster;

A look to the southwest across Lake McMaster from the parking lot

Of course, there’s a lot more to the “The Big Lake” than just history, dimensions and water quality. You know, things like rules, species, structure and yes, some fish stories. And there’s also more to Snakeden Hollow than just “The Big Lake” so stay tuned to the blog for more Snakeden lore. Talk to you later. Troy

Ferne Clyffe Lake Report – July 24

With a work trip to Georgia that required driving, I figured that I would pack along some fishing gear just in case. My plan was at least one brief stop during the substantial portion that covered Illinois and I was able to get it done. But, did I catch anything during my “lunch hour” on the way home?

Figured that I’d earned a fishing “lunch break” after a couple 12-hour days of this. 


Date: July 24, 2020
Location: Ferne Clyffe Lake – Johnson County, IL
Time: 1:20pm-2:05pm
Weather: Sunny/calm
Air Temp: 92F
Water Temp: warm bath like
Totals: 2 bass, 1 sunfish (unsure on species), 1 channel catfish
Lures: KVD Rattling Squarebill crankbait (sexy shad) – 2 bass, 1 sunfish, Senko wacky rig (white) – 1 channel catfish

Trip Lyric

“I could feel the tension, I was longing for home.” – Long, Long Way From Home, Foreigner (1977)

Did see some wildlife on my work detail installing IT equipment.

Notes and Nonsense

Birthday Trip – Once upon a time, I tried to make it a point to get on the water on my birthday. Well, things are a little more complicated these days between work and family so it just doesn’t always pan out. In fact, this year I celebrated my birthday in Georgia on a work assignment. However, I did have some poles in tow for the lengthy stretch of the drive through Illinois (didn’t make financial sense to buy any sort of out of state permit) and briefly hit the water on my return home the day after my birthday.

On the board at 1:42pm and 92 degrees 

Belated Birthday Bank – I had a couple spots in mind to possibly try my luck from the bank that weren’t too far of a detour from my route. One was Rend Lake as I have never wet a line in the second largest man-made lake in Illinois. However, upon spotting a sign for Ferne Clyffe State Park on the way down it brought back memories of a southern Illinois trip with my wife back in the early 2000s. I recalled that the small lake on the site offered some solid bank access, a bit of riprap and relatively deep water along the dam. It turned out that my memory served me well as it was just as I had pictured.

1:46pm and icing on the cake

Belated Birthday Bass – Roughly 15 minutes of burning a Red Eye Shad over the riprap breakline along the dam failed to produce any bites in the blistering midday heat. Plan B consisted of going a little deeper and a little slower with a KVD 2.5 Squarebill crankbait and after only a handful of casts I had a bass. Another joined the log a few minutes later along with some sort of unidentified panfish (thought maybe a warmouth). But I wasn’t done quite yet.

Still not sure what I’ve got here, any suggestions?

Belated Birthday Bonus – Only a few yards down the bank from where I started, I spotted a catfish rooting amongst the riprap in about three feet of water. I pitched a Havoc Pit Boss in front of the fish and got it to pick up the bait twice. The second time it seemed that I had the fish hooked but it came loose and then disappeared into the depths. I gave the spot a rest and returned about twenty minutes later to find that the catfish had also returned (I am guessing guarding fry). This time I switched to a wacky rigged white Senko as I could not only see the lure better but also increase my odds of hooking up with an entirely exposed hook. Sure enough, I pitched out the worm and shortly saw the white lure completely disappear so time to set the hook. A brief battle ensued before I had a nearly three and a half pound channel cat in hand, the first catfish I have caught in a long time. And sight fishing of all things.

2:03pm An entertaining and unexpected catch

All in all, a fun “lunch hour” to break up the nine and a half hour drive I had from the previous night’s stop in Kimball, TN. No trophies, but hey, mission accomplished with a short fishing outing a long way from home. Talk to you later. Troy

Friday Flashback – August 8, 2015


Perhaps a bit lengthy for today’s flashback but too tough to trim down this pair of original posts from August 2015.

Originally posted August 26, 2015

Well, me and the bass have not crossed paths for 66 days during a busy summer. However, I did get an opportunity to play fishing guide recently as a couple of my kids wanted to go for a boat ride and chase some bluegills on a recent camping trip.

Actually, I had planned to go on a solo bass trip that particular morning while the rest of the crew slept off a late night of tacos in a bag and s’mores around the campfire. But at 5:30am, as I rolled around out of the tent, I was met by Julie and our youngest daughter, Carly, who was interested in accompanying Dad on the water.

What do you say to that?

I was admittedly a little shocked to see a youngster up that early to fish but she had been a pretty dedicated bluegill chaser the previous evening so I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised. And I will also admit a tinge of selfish disappointment at rearranging my bass pursuit in favor of panfish but I quickly and properly got over it. In fact, Carly’s enthusiasm left no doubt concerning what I already knew was the right thing to do.

Carly is a talker and she lived up to that billing as we drove through Little John Conservation Club from campsite to fishing hole peppering me with a barrage of questions and observations. While a nine year old girl and her forty eight year old dad’s interests are sometimes separated by the traditional generation gap, during those few hours in the wild we were right in tune. An “experienced” outdoorsman, an eager pupil and the natural backdrop were a perfect combination.

A few minutes after launching the little johnboat Carly hooked into her first fish off a point that is a consistent winner and apparently more than just a bass haunt all of these years. Later in the trip she posted her first (and second) redear on her way to a decent bunch of fish in maybe an hour and a half of casting before we decided to head back to see what the rest of the crew was doing.

I was quite impressed with Carly’s casting precision from boat to bank as she was right on target and demonstrated a touch that usually isn’t necessary when prowling the bank. The bite was fair and many were missed as some of our quarry may not have been large enough to adequately take even a 1/16 ounce jighead hung from a slip bobber. Carly’s success solidified her opinion that waxworms rule as her Gulp minnows just didn’t do the trick. It was also cool to hear the pride as she discussed her catch, even when she pointed out the fact that I had not caught a single fish. I did pitch a Senko around briefly and tried to talk a bass into taking a buzzbait to show Carly the exciting and explosive strike but neither presentation produced. I also tossed a Gulp minnow to no avail but was quite content with my tasks of rowing, baiting up waxworms, releasing the occasional catch, snapping pics and shooting the breeze.

An enjoyable morning spent with our family’s most dedicated fisherkid who’d also posted a handful of bluegill the previous evening. Those fish came with a healthy dose of fishing advice from her Papa, the same guy who taught this blogger a thing or two about fishing back when I was a nine year old kid.

Originally posted August 28, 2015 

A few hours later I was back on the water with a boy of my own as our six year old, Jayce, was itching to try his luck from the boat as well. While Jayce has been out on boat rides in his Papa’s Bass Tracker, this marked his first time in what we’ve long called “the little boat.” Me and Jayce’s Papa and Uncle Brent have covered many miles over the 30 plus years we’ve rowed that thing around West Central Illinois. Dozens of other anglers have also tagged along over the years, making me think it would’ve been fun to have had each of them add some graffiti on their trip (likely would’ve weathered away anyhow).

Anyway, Jayce was fired up from the moment we left the bank. It started with standing up as his initial stab at pushing the limits. And, “No, buddy, you’ve gotta sit down” was my response (all half dozen times or more).

Next was “Can I put my hand in the water?” No problem as I wrapped a couple fingers in a strap on his life jacket.

“How about my feet?” Nope, sorry buddy, too tough in an eight foot johnboat with six year old legs.

“Can I row the boat?” That was gonna be a winner and a valuable skill to be put to use in future years as his dad keeps getting a little older. However, he shortly added, “with my flip flop?” Cool, whatever floats your boat little man.

And yes, we fished, although the roles were somewhat reversed from my trip earlier in the morning with Carly. In this instance, I cast and caught the fish while Jayce was in charge of tending to the bluegill once they reached the boat. I asked him several times if he wanted to cast, hook and reel them in but he was more interested in surveying and organizing our catch in the bottom of the boat. That was probably for the best anyway as our catches were so small that it was a very limited hooking percentage on the bites, potentially frustrating for a young angler.

We had a good time fishing our way around a smallish body of water over the course of maybe an hour before heading across the road to our campsite. It was our first camping trip of the year to Little John and I’d kind of lost touch with the adventure of a family outing in the wild. In terms of the fishing portion I also found it fun that camping afforded the cool aspect of my boy crawling out of bed and then climbing into a boat without even bothering to change out of his pajamas. Gotta love the outdoors.

Talk to you later. Troy

Top 5 Update

The fish keep on coming as this week’s Top 5 Update features a new angler, a new leader and a new species for 2020.

Weight: 1-0
Angler: Nicolas Ojeda
Date: June 8
Location: Knox County private strip mine
Lure: Senko wacky rig

Weight: 0-15
Angler: Nicolas Ojeda
Date: June 8
Location: Knox County private strip mine
Lure: Senko wacky rig
Top 5 Weight: 1-15 (1-0,0-15)

Weight: 4-6
Angler: Chris Schwarz
Date: July 22
Location: Warren County private pond
Lure: Chatterbait with swimbait trailer
Angler Comments: This bass took a swipe at my frog, then bit off my chatterbait trailer. After I rigged a new one, she came back a 3rd time!
Top 5 Weight: 26-11 (6-14,5-7,5-4,4-12,4-6)

Weight: 3-7
Angler: Troy Jackson
Date: July 24
Weather: Sunny/calm
Location: Ferne Clyffe Lake – Johnson County, IL
Lure: Senko wacky rig (white)
Structure: Riprap
Angler Comments: Spotted this fish rooting in the riprap and had it pick up a Havoc Pit Boss twice without getting hooked. Gave it a rest, came back with a Senko and wound up with an unusual catch while bass fishing.
Top 5 Weight: 3-7

Welcome aboard, Nicolas, and way to go, Chris.

It looks like the heatwave that hit our region last week is going to break a bit this week. At the very least it may give anglers some more comfortable conditions to get in some casting. If you are among those who do some catching with your casting, send those fish my way at Make sure to include a photo and a weight/length and whatever other details you are willing to provide. The more info the better but entirely up to you. Talk to you later. Troy

Snakeden at 30 – Three Bs

The latest look back at Snakeden Hollow explores several aspects of the customary workload at the site back in 1990. I break it down into something I call the “Three Bs.”

Boulders – The original landscape of the site was a batch of unkempt grasses and weeds that hid a rather remarkable collection of large rocks. Such large rocks were a danger to the blades beneath the mowing deck as our crew took the initial steps towards maintaining the terrain. As low man on the totem pole I got to spend a few hours scouting in front of the tractor in search of boulders to avoid. Currently, there are a few boulder piles onsite that I suspect we first found just over 30 years ago.

Beavers – The weirs, overflows and tubes on the numerous water holes onsite were constantly being plugged by these busy rodents. As a result, there was a constant battle to dismantle the elaborate constructions of the industrious inhabitants. It took some work to undo the intertwined collections of logs and sticks that were sealed up with a clever coating of mud and muck. I have to admit that it was kind of fun to tear up the blockages and found it quite rewarding to see the water begin to flow as we achieved our goal. And I suppose that it was a good thing that I didn’t mind the task as a couple days later, the beavers, and the crew, were at odds once again.

Boundaries – I also found the task of identifying the specific site boundaries to be rather enjoyable. It was kind of like a treasure hunt as we were armed with some sort of plat map that guided us to the survey pins, most of which were quite remote. Several survey pins were marked with a plastic tag while others were simply a thin metal pin pounded into the ground “forty feet due east” of whatever landmark was noted on the plat. There was a sense of satisfaction when you were the guy with the “Eureka moment” as a result of stumbling upon the survey pin. Once the boundary point was established it was not quite as entertaining to manually pound a fencepost and affix the old Department of Conservation sign. I wonder if the remote ones have been replaced with Illinois Department of Natural Resources upgrades. If not, I suspect that there are many places at Snakeden where no one else has set foot for over 30 years.

Perhaps rather mundane tasks but ones that were necessary in the formative months of Snakeden. No matter how many more years I may continue to hike through the site I will always have an appreciation for its boulders, beavers and boundaries. Talk to you later. Troy

Thoughts at 53

Starting back in 2011 at age 44 while blogging for a now defunct outdoor website, I started doing a “Thoughts” thing on my birthday. Well, with a weeklong work trip to Georgia, I did not have an opportunity to post this year’s edition on my birthday. However, the lengthy drive did provide ample time to ponder and surf the radio dial so belated is perhaps better than nothing?

The voice of Pat Hughes was music to my ears as Cubs baseball graced the airwaves on my ride home. I listened to the broadcast from start to finish. From “And away we go…” through “Time to fasten those seat belts…” to a “Cubs win!” finale.

I mentally collect unique song lyrics and words. Among those on my trip were “All day long wearing a mask of false bravado” and “It’s spurs and latigo.” Name those tunes?

Boy, have I been missing my MLB boxscores and the stories that they tell. How about Kyle Hendricks on Opening Day?

There’s more than one way to rig a Senko and I need to step beyond wacky.

The Cubs are sending foul balls to the season ticket holder whose seat is nearest where the ball lands. Do you think it would be a magnanimous gesture or an insult to hire Steve Bartman to collect the fouls? Poor guy, wasn’t his fault that Cubs came up short all those years ago.

Saw my first Illinois armadillo this week in Southern Illinois.

Being a radio broadcast baseball fan, there really isn’t much difference. The Cubs are pumping in a little crowd noise and the rest, as always, transpires in my age old baseball imagination.

For summer fishing, a dam is a darn good place to start.

37 years ago yesterday was the George Brett “Pine Tar Incident.” Still one of my favorite baseball highlight clips. Brett played the game with a passion that is on full display and no better instigator than a character by the name of Billy Martin. Great stuff and worth a look at the clip and entire story.

There is no such thing as a bad Steely Dan song.

Radio is a wonderful way to take in a ballgame. I have no idea what most of the players even look like and it doesn’t matter.

Dorothy Gale vs. Motley Crue – As I pulled into the driveway after four long days on the road I wavered between “There’s no place like home” vs. “Home Sweet Home.”

Tough call. Talk to you later. Troy