A week doesn’t go by without someone messaging, calling or talking to me about the confusion over all the different horsepower requirements on the lakes in Illinois and it is not just here locally. It is the same across the state.
Those who have lived here for a while have been able to navigate the labyrinth of confusion by buying a boat for their preferred lake or getting two boats or a kicker engine. Others just scratch their heads.
When I lived in Florida, there were no restrictions on public waters. The benefit is more people utilizing all of the resources and more license sales. The downside is indeed more traffic and congestion. There is not a simple solution.
State managed lakes such as Spring Lake, Sangchris, Banner Marsh and Newton, plus many others, have a 25 horsepower limit. Most are not owned by the state, just managed by it. That includes stocking and Illinois conservation laws, but ordinances mandated by the municipalities have to be policed by those with jurisdiction over them.
For instance, Evergreen Lake has a 10 horsepower limit and is policed by McLean County police. Unspoiled Shabbona Lake in northeastern Illinois is 318 acres and has a 10 hp limit as well. It is an IDNR managed state park. Each lake is a little different.
Lake Bloomington, a city owned reservoir, has a somewhat capricious 40 horsepower limit and was raised from 25 horsepower a few decades ago as it allows skiing. At that time, the 40 hp engine was the next suitable step up in size and made sense.
The City of Bloomington manages and maintains ramps, parks and policing, although policing is currently done by volunteers or parks staff. Rules that govern this lake combine city ordinances and Illinois law. For instance, there is no swimming at the lake. Homeowners are exempt from that law for waters adjacent to their leased property.
We do have a few lakes with unlimited ratings such as Clinton and Shelbyville, while Dawson has unlimited idle-only restrictions. To say it is confusing would be an understatement. Most anglers have to have two boats just to fish our local lakes effectively.
For years I have hesitated tilting this windmill due to all kinds of variables at each location, but felt timing may just be right to get the discussion going again.
With the limited amount of lakes available, changing these restrictions could be detrimental to the fisheries with added pressure, not enough parking for larger boats and more enforcement needed. When a lake gets better from a fishing perspective this topic gets more cycles and discussion.
Illinois is among the few states with this many different horsepower restrictions and strictly from a monetary standpoint, being flexible could be a revenue boon if managed appropriately. Bigger boats pay more. Other states charge for launching and that helps pay for ramps and upkeep.
Many believe the only way this can work equitably is if all engines are idle only on state lakes with restricted horsepower ratings today. No matter if it’s a 10 hp or a 250 hp, idle only could be enforced and managed better with an idle-only speed format.
Some would like to see all lakes with a 25 horsepower limit at a minimum. Discussions for running versus idle speeds would have to be addressed, too. Size of the lake can be an issue on smaller bodies of water, but to date I have not heard of any anxiety or concerns at Dawson Lake, 148 acres, with its rules allowing idle. That said, there is no simple solution that can be used carte blanche for every lake. That makes changing any regulation occur on a case-by-case basis.
Concerns from increasing horsepower on any lake, although it may seem easy, include safety, enforcement, parking and the overall health of that body of water from a fishing perspective. More pressure as a result of more boats may not be a good thing when everything is considered.
The conundrum of horsepower is only good if rules are followed and safety is not adversely impacted by the change. Our area lakes can get overcrowded very quickly, especially with parking. The only way to not impact the fisheries adversely is to have all lakes changed to an idle format over a certain horsepower rating and having adequate enforcement from a boating and fishing perspective to make sure rules are followed.
The selfish part of me says to keep things exactly the way they are, but I do understand concerns from those who want them changed. Maybe a lake is chosen for a trial for a one-year period to see if it could work, with the caveat it could be reversed if problems arise. It is at a minimum worth talking about again.