Spring is for Panfish, Catfish and Bank Fishing

Spring is the one time of year when bank fishing can be the most productive, and lots of fun for all ages. Panfish are most active before they spawn in late spring or very early summer. And if you look around your area you’ll find a number of very good fishing holes that are “walk-ins” and all you need is a rod and reel, a small tackle box and your bait of choice. While panfish are the easiest to find and catch, catfish, carp, stripies, walleyes, trout and bass are all available to bank fishermen here in the Quad Cities area. The trick is to know where to go and to capitalize on the season and time of day a particular species will be feeding.

The first rule of bank fishing is to know the feeding habits of your fish and feeding them what they want. While presentation is important, the right bait is essential. Local bait shops can tell you what baits they’re selling and where their repeat customers are fishing. If a spot is hot, the whole fishing community will know about it in a day or two. We are lucky with two rivers flowing through our metropolitan area, a number of man-made lakes, lots of natural backwaters, a canal, a number of smaller rivers within 30 minutes of the QC and the Illinois, Iowa and Cedar rivers two hours away. All present a lot of opportunities for the bank fishermen.

If you’re looking for a good panfish experience, consider the Hennepin Canal. The better spots will be where it flows through Milan and the first stretch on Big Island, in and through Colona/Green Rock and in Geneseo. Panfish in April are particularly aggressive in smaller lakes like Lake Storey in Galesburg with the crappies especially good this year, West Lake in Davenport, Iowa and Sunset Park in Rock Island. These are all really good for families since they have playgrounds, picnic shelters, toilets, running water and large grassy expanses with parking nearby. Crappie fishing is supposed to be over the top at the new Lost Grove Lake near Le Claire, Iowa. It’s still a work in progress, and is said to be a user-friendly location. The trout planted by the DNR at West Lake make this very good fishing most of spring and summer. They will bite on the same baits as panfish.

Catfish can be taken from May throughout the summer off the riprap along Ben Butterworth Parkway in Moline. This lateral riverfront park runs from about 22nd Street to the East Moline border at 55th Street. While it has all amenities, there’s less action for catfish than panfish and generally it’s considered a regular “adult” fishing hole. A three-way rig baited with nightcrawlers, shrimp, chicken liver, stink bait on a plastic or shad gut have all been good there. Early morning and evenings are the best.

There is very good catfishing on Rock River, but the problem is that so much of the accessible bank is private property. Early in the year there is always a great catfish bite in the Rock at the Canal in Colona. From late April until mid-June, there will be a good catfish bite off and on under and from the bridge that crosses the Rock River at the old power plant (Route 67). At the foot of the high dam, the cats move in for about 6 weeks, and when they feed they’re aggressive. The preferred baits are large gobs of nightcrawlers or stink baits. The cats will run from fiddlers to over 20 pounds. Except off the campground near Erie, this is probably the best catfish hole in the Quad Cities.

We’ve fished on the south bank of the Rock under the exit bridges, but haven’t found this to be good. There is a very primitive boat launch in the Green Valley Complex in Moline off John Deere Expressway at the marked exit, and we have fished on either side, but not too successfully. The riprap under the I-74 Bridge just downstream from the Bettendorf Casino Boat does hold catfish when the river is at normal flows. The bank drops off to about 6-8 feet and the cats hold along the riprap just off the bottom. This becomes moss covered at and below the waterline very early in the year and holds a lot of water bugs so when boats or tows pass the bite picks up. The area between the shore and the bridge structure will hold catfish as the water goes down during the summer heat.

Behind Credit Island when the river is at normal stage, this backwater is full with catfish hanging among the downed wood and tree roots all summer. This hole depends entirely on the river’s water level, but as long as there is moving water through the channel, the cats will be there and biting. Again, you’ll use a three-way with the usual catfish baits although worms and stink baits seem to work really well here. At Rock Island’s Sunset Marina and Park, the riverfront, from the lookout tower to the slip entrance into Sunset at its west end, can be excellent for catfish. This is a “bring-your-lawn-chair-and-a-lunch” kind of bottom fishing spot suited for using a rod prop and your favorite bottom rig and bait. It can be slow, but it is good enough that there are always a number of fishermen along the bank.

Sylvan Slough used to have very good fishing for a number of species on Sylvan Island, but the access bridge to the island is closed. On the Moline bank there are only a couple of spots where you can walk in and fish. This is fast water and you can expect to catch stripers and freshwater drum on worms along the hard packed shoreline or where there’s a steep drop-off. An occasional walleye is caught here, but these are rare along the bank. Stripers will also hit minnows under a bobber or small Mepps with a flasher or spoon on cast and retrieve. This is good water, but getting down the bank to it is a problem.

Fish from shore in colder waters near the steel dam in Milan. And depending on the bait, almost anything from gamefish to carp will be caught. Walleyes, white bass, or stripers are regularly taken from ice-out to mid-June. This has a rough rocky bottom, and you will lose lots of terminal tackle. When the water is warmer you can wade here below the dam. It ranges from mid-calf to hip-deep, and on weekends there can be a couple dozen or more wading the width of the river. The best holes seem to be on the far side of the dam off the island. A lot of really nice catfish have been pulled out of this water in May and June. You will use three-way rigs with your choice of baits, minnows rigged to work just off the bottom or a small spoon, a Mepps or other casting lure for casting and retrieving. There are no real facilities at the steel dam, but the parking lot is large and only 100 feet or so from the water. The Hennepin runs through this area, but I have never seen anything caught in it here.

There are a lot of places to fish the banks in the Quad Cities with many species of fish, primitive and family spots and just regular hardcore fishing locations too so you don’t have to own a boat to have fun fishing here.