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The date was Jan. 1, 1978. Denny Sands was among a crowd of anglers who took to the ice at Lake Shabbona the first day it opened. 

Celebrating the milestone of 12 million visitors, Shabbona remains the only lake in Illinois specifically designed for fishing.

“There were lots of people, it was a fairly nice day and everyone was catching big redear sunfish and lots of largemouth bass,” said Sands, who will help celebrate the lake’s 12 million visitors at a ceremony at Indian Creek High School auditorium in Shabbona at 10:50 a.m. Dec. 12.

So many muskie survived from the original stocking of tiger muskie from Pennsylvania in 1975 that muskie would smack at depth-finder sensors as they was lowered into the water, he said.

“Several were lost. I guess that is when we first knew there was going to be something special about Shabbona Lake,” Sands said.

Sands will join the celebration with State Sen. Christine Johnson, State Rep. Robert Pritchard and special guest Marc Miller, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. 

Over the years, Shabbona has held four state records for muskie and two for crappie.  

Sands said rated the 2011 open-water season as very good. 

“The big story this year was lots of big stripers. Lots of muskie were caught, with the biggest we know at 47 inches. … Tons of catfish,” he said.

Boding well for ice-fishing season was the fact lots of crappie were also caught during the open-water season. 

“The average size was up again this year,” he said.

Lakeside will be open for ice fishing this season for the first time ever.

This year, a $15,000 barrier fence was erected 200 yards downstream from the spillway to stop the muskie and walleye from leaving the lake.

Crappie fishing hot

Shelbyville guide Steve Welch and others are reporting crappie fishing as great right now. Limits are being caught in record time.

“The crappie fishing is as good as it gets all year long. Better than the spring,” Welch said.  “Just about any brush pile you can find will have crappie on it.”

Depth is ranging from 4 feet to 18 feet.

He’s using big jigs and tubes.

Contact him at 217-762-7257 or stevewelch@mchsi.com.

Evergreen Lake is closed to boats during firearm deer season next weekend.

Club notes

PrairieLand Anglers fishing club meeting hosts its Christmas dinner Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. in Cub’s Food Cafe area off Veterans Parkway in Bloomington. Bring a dessert or other dish, table service and drink. Chicken will be provided. RSVP to Jim Zoerb at 309-473-2287. 

Scott Richardson is Pantagraph outdoor editor.  Contact him at (309) 820-3227 or email srichardson@pantagraph.com.  Share stories and read past outdoor and fishing columns at www.pantagraph.com/blogs

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