Jeff Lampe: Cooling lake a real hot spot

Jeff Lampe

Time after time, Pete Riedesel shook his head after glancing at the fish finder in his boat.

No matter where we motored on Powerton Lake, the screen came alive with electronic images depicting schools of baitfish.

“There’s fish everywhere in here,” Riedesel said, mixing admiration with remorse.

While all that bait makes for big predator fish, the abundance of food can also make tricking predators difficult. So it was last Monday as we wet a line within sight of smallmouth bass gorging on small baitfish along Powerton’s rocky shores.

Time after time we watched smallies explode at the surface as they gobbled down another shad or shiner. Yet with cast after cast we failed to trick those same smallies into attacking our artificial lures.

Fortunately, enough fish bit to make the morning a success. The bite also underlined why so many anglers were sad to miss a chance to fish Powerton from a boat this spring. Due to ongoing levee repairs, boats were not allowed to launch until June 28.

The 1,426-acre lake southwest of Pekin is open to boat and bank anglers daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Boaters should be warned there are still no docks at the boat ramp while they are being repaired.

The June boat opener is a far cry from normal years, when Powerton opens to boats in mid-February and offers anglers a chance to jump start their open-water fishing season. Riedesel of Ottawa is among a sizable group of anglers — some from as far as Chicago — who make regular winter treks to Powerton.

Since the ugly, rock-lined lake was designed as a cooling lake for the adjacent power plant, Powerton warms faster than any other area lake. In the winter and spring, that’s a big advantage.

By summer, bath-water temperatures are not so advantageous. On Monday, the coolest water was 85 degrees at the entrance to the intake canal.

Despite that heat and abundant baitfish, a few smallies cooperated. Riedesel hooked several bronzebacks on Big Dude blade baits or white twister tails. I lost a long smally (Riedesel estimated the dark-barred beauty at 3 pounds) at the side of the boat on a crayfish-imitating chatterbait made by Paul Clay of Chillicothe.

A better bet probably would have been live minnows. Riedesel twice hooked small baitfish by accident. Both times he left those wiggling fish on his artificial lure. And both times he quickly hooked up with a smallmouth.

For sheer numbers, though, channel catfish were the ticket. Just about anywhere we fished crankbaits, we caught cats. I can’t imagine the catfish feeding frenzy that would have been triggered by dipbait, cut shad or shrimp.

That’s fairly typical for summer fishing in Illinois cooling lakes, said Riedesel. A physical education teacher at Serena High School, Riedesel, 49, is also a regular at the man-made LaSalle and Heidecke lakes in northern Illinois.

He’s got an iPod filled with pictures of big blue catfish, hybrid striped bass and smallies and largemouths from LaSalle and Heidecke. Now he can add some 2008 Powerton smallies.

“I know the other lakes better, but I think the bass fishing is better here,” Riedesel said. “It definitely has enough fish to make the drive worth it for me.”

As he said that, Riedesel hooked his second small channel catfish in 40 seconds.

“Even at this time of year there’s fish,” he said. “They’re biting the crankbait. There’s worse things.”

Jeff Lampe can be reached at or (309) 686-3212.