Free Fishing Weekend almost upon us

Beth Welbers
Two unnamed fishermen trying their luck in the lower locks

Every year, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources sponsors a Free Fishing Weekend in the State of Illinois. This means that the need for a fishing license is not necessary, although all other rules about sizes and quotas do apply.

In the State of Illinois, anyone over the age of 16 needs a license to fish any Illinois body of water. Any child under that age does not. During the weekend of June 19-22, that requirement is suspended in the effort to give casual fishermen and their families an opportunity to experience this sport.

One of Western Illinois’ greatest undisclosed resources is the Hennepin Canal State Park. Beginning up at the Rock River in Sterling, the Canal stretches almost 30 miles to the intersection between Sheffield and Mineral with the Main Canal. This stretch is referred to as the Feeder Canal. Among it’s unique features, an aqueduct that crosses over the Green River on it’s way to supply water to the Canal east of Mineral. The Canal itself stretches nearly 62 miles from the Rock River at Colona, at Lock #29, to Lock #2 at Bureau Junction before it empties out into the Illinois River. It features 72 miles of equestrian and biking trails, and over 100 miles of hiking, fishing, kayaking and canoeing. The banks of the canal feature areas of prairie restoration, wetlands and home to a myriad of species of birds.

A Visitor Center is located just of I-80 on US Rt. 40.

Just outside of Geneseo along Rt. 82 is the Geneseo Campground, a family friendly location to start one’s Free Fishing weekend. Access to the canal is easy, as well as a place to rent boats, some bait and tackle is also available for purchase.

Local campground owner, Bob Thompson of Geneseo Campground, stated that the weekend is an excellent opportunity for anglers to try fishing from boats or kayaks, since more than 30 miles of canal is available between the locks. Celebrating Free Fishing weekend, they will have some goodie bags and other freebies to give away to the youngest anglers.

Across the canal from the Geneseo Campground, on Rt. 82, is property owned by the Izaak Walton League, which offers a bay with canal access.

Local outdoor enthusiast, Andy Sigwalt, encourages first time and casual fisherman and families to take this opportunity to experience the Hennepin. The canal is full of crappie, bass, catfish and bluegill. The canal has a controlled flow, so it is not as prone to flooding like less regulated bodies of water.

Sigwalt is also an avid fly fisherman, tying his own flies in the off season. “Nothing beats the thrill you get catching a big bass off a fly you have tied yourself.”

Ed Herrmann, of Spring Valley, often fishes the lower canal. A member of the Friends of the Hennepin, he has extensive knowledge of the Canal, it’s history and has tips for would-be anglers.

“i have been having great luck for blue gills, but you have to hunt for them, one day they are here and not the next. I told someone to try lock 8 as it was good for me, but yesterday not a one. I walked to lock 9 and using the blue and white tube jig and had great luck. Note... crappie fishing has slowed down, and also you have to hunt them out also. We had great luck for them at lock 6 above the lock but lately, another buddy, landed a large bass this past week at lock 8 while trying for crappie. He said it was the largest he ever caught and he also is a long time angler. The fish are there but you have to hunt them down. ”

Fishing can be an economical family activity, with licenses varying in price from $1.50 for a Super Senior to $15 for an adult license, good for a year. Veterans pricing, as well as Senior is also available. Specialty stamps will need to be purchased for anyone angling for trout.

Fish don’t price the tackle used before deciding to bite on a line. A $15 pole is often as effective as a more expensive rod. Small children often handle a cane pole as the first step in learning the process of becoming an angler. Learning to cast and reel in the catch can come with some adult supervision.

For pricing on licenses, please go to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources page, . Licenses can be purchased online, and printed out, as well as licenses can also be purchased at local bait and outdoor stores, who can assist you with the kind of license you may need.

Easton Sigwalt shows off the catch of the day