Lock Maintenance and Clear Water


The Army Corps of Engineers has scheduled shutdown of the locks throughout the Illinois River, which includes Starved Rock and Marseilles. Much needed repair work is the goal. The gates of entry and departure for barges and other, smaller boats will not be swinging with the frequency or duration as during normal traffic conditions. Turbidity, which is actually silt particles suspended in the water caused by the props of tow boats, should be almost nonexistent. Low turbidity means more oxygen in the water as well as clearer water.

Fishing is affected by the distance into the water column a jig or similar offering can be seen with the naked eye. Such clarity and oxygen may be a “new” happening in the river as barges have run up and down the River at least since the 1950s, if not prior.

Fishing may become more adventuresome from the standpoint of exploring more areas of the water due to increased visibility of both fisherman and the wildlife therein—namely, the fish, shad, minnows and all creatures of the deep. Fishermen will check out previous successful locations. Perhaps longer casts may be needed as getting too close may spook the sought-after species. It will be an interesting time. Crankbaits may also be more easily seen in deeper water. Time will tell.

The dams will continue to operate according to rainfall, the depth of the river as well as all other parameters that may affect the raising and lowering of the gates. Just how clear the river becomes is yet to be seen. The river may be held back by the dams in order to draw the water level down in support of the maintenance efforts at the locks. Ordinarily, cofferdams may be constructed in areas where water projects take place.

Small Rooster Tail spinners may be productive along the north shore above Veterans Bridge in Ottawa. The same is true for blade baits. Smallies, white bass and largemouths should be able to see more readily from their normal haunts along the area. The riffles along the wing dam east of Veterans Bridge may be another good location in the early and late hours of the day.

Fishing around wing dams requires careful eyes on the locator in order to stay in deep enough water to avoid the boat or prop hitting bottom on the very shallow rocks. This particular wing dam is as shallow as one foot deep, seemingly in the middle of the river. Maps of this section of the River sold at B & B Bait Shop label this area as “The Prop Cemetery.” This extreme rise in the bottom creates a riffle that can be seen 300 yards upstream from the east sidewalk while strolling across Veterans Bridge. In clear water, it can be seen from 10 yards away.

This is an area that Jerry Wheeler, long-time bait shop owner who has since moved to the Bull Shoals area, would recommend as a fish-holding magnet. The downstream edge is about a foot deep. For about 60 yards, upstream from the riffle is shallow gravel. Normally, 4 feet of water surrounds the gravel area and allows a boat to maneuver along the shoreline side of the huge expanse, or along the deeper side closer to the channel. The top, upstream point of this gravel often holds fish. Float baits there under a bobber. Anchoring upstream allows for various bottom offerings being cast and allowed to be stationery to attract cats or whatever may be in the area.

Each side has current riffles as water goes around the one-foot depth at the downstream edge of the structure. It is an interesting structure to explore if you trim your motor up above the bottom of the boat, travel very slow and keep constant eyes on the locator. At about the 4-foot level, a quick raise of the bottom indicates the area is quickly getting much shallower. The idea is to steer back toward the 4-foot or deeper level, all the while going around the gravel accumulated behind the 1-foot dam. A strong trolling motor set on shallow depth can also maneuver around and explore this interesting structure on the water. Historically it is thought that a road crossed the river here prior to dams and locks being built. Now it is referred to as a wing dam.

A green channel marker is not far from the wing dam, aka “The Prop Cemetery.” When traveling upstream towards a dam in rivers, move between the green and red markers. In general, red-right-return helps indicate safe travel depths going upstream. g/oing downstream, keep green buoys on your right. Whenever leaving the main channel, slow travel and eyes on the depth finder are essential.

You can be among the first to get the latest info on where to go, what to use and how to use it!

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

The wing dam can be fished from downstream, simply by casting upstream and bringing your offerings downcurrent. Hold the rod high to keep your baits just off the bottom to avoid snags and appear to be swimming. Speed of presentation is at the mercy of current speed. It is also possible to cast across current from downstream of the structure. Here again, hold the rod angle held high and adjust the speed of retrieve so your bait appears to be food swimming by.


Tip of the day—Let there be light

Use the backup camera on vehicles during backup to hook up boat trailers to your trailer ball. Often, a dark shadow makes the ball difficult to see. The plug-in for the boat trailer is already a source of power. If you have an extra harness, buy a 12-volt light and wire the brown wire to brown on the harness and white to the light as a ground. Plug it in with your headlights turned on, and the light makes the trailer ball clearly visible in dark or shadow conditions. If a magnetic light is hooked to the nose the trailer, backing becomes as simple as backing “light to light.”

Once you’re hooked up, remember to turn the light switch in the vehicle back to “auto.” As an alternate, attach the yellow or green wire of the harness to your small light. Turning on the blinker then activates the small light on the receiver. It is easier to remember to turn off a blinker than remembering to put the headlights back in “auto.” All this being said, a chrome ball, as long as it stays chrome, may be visible by itself in the backup camera.

It’s always an adventurous summer on the river beginning in June. Hopefully, our country is on solid ground in terms of health and freedom of movement for all to enjoy the outdoors.



Become a MidWest Outdoors Insider here!