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I had my friend Bob Thompson of East Peoria winterize the outboards and detail my boat last week.

Despite the frigid weather, maybe I should have waited.

Fishing guide Steve Welch, another buddy, tells me he's catching lots of big crappies at Lake Shelbyville. Never mind the cold - fishing is hot.

How many crappies?

"Boat loads," said Welch, perhaps the most-consistent crappie fishermen in Central Illinois.

Welch told how he and his brother-in-law recently limited out almost in less time than it took to drive to the lake. They caught and released more than 100 fish. More than 30 of those were over 10 inches, the legal length for them to go in the livewell.

In past years, he and I have gone crappie fishing over the Christmas holidays and been rewarded with many speckled presents.

Welch will chase them even in bitter cold. The reservoir usually freezes from north to south. So, Welch will merely move his launch sites farther toward the dam at the south end ahead of the sheet of ice moving over the remainder of the lake.

Here's the key - stay in 10 feet of water, find brush at that depth and get set for action.

Cold water, finicky fish, small baits? Not Welch. He's using what some would consider to be big baits for big crappies. He ties on a one-eighth ounce of three-thirty-second ounce jig with a No. 1 or No. 2 hook. Then he adds a 4-inch Berkley Power Minnow, more of a walleye bait than for crappie. He also uses 2 1/2 -inch tubes.

Color is a factor so long as it's chartreuse. His favorites are chartreuse glow and chartreuse and white. A friend has had luck on chartreuse and blue.

He uses a 10-foot rod and no slip bobber. He merely lets out enough line for the jig to reach the rod handle, tight-lines the jig below the boat and uses the electric trolling motor to stay in water shallow enough for the jig to touch bottom. Then he uses the sonar unit on the front of the boat to locate brush piles.

Best action for big fish has been within an hour of sunrise.

Fish are tightly schooled this time of year. As evidence, Welch described how one brush pile has produced limits of crappies for seven straight weeks - every day. Keep moving until you find fish.

The best brush has been at the mouths of creeks where they empty into the main lake. When action quits, move to brush piles on the main lake at the same depth. If action stays slow, then switch to smaller baits.

Crappie not to your taste? How about big fish then. Welch says several anglers are catching muskies in the spillway below the Shelbyville dam where a crappie fisherman caught the current state record of 38 1/2 pounds in April, 2002.

All winter long, fishermen cast baits they can get to the bottom to land fish in the 40-inch range. He heard of one friend who caught five muskies in one day there recently. If weather gets too chilly, they merely head to a nearby restaurant or to their vehicles in the parking lot to warm up.

Phone Welch at (217) 762-7257.

Club notes

Larry Dozard of larrysfishinghole.com will speak at PrairieLand Anglers at 7 o'clock tonight at Lincoln Leisure Center, Bloomington, on "Fishing the Moon Phases & Effects of Weather."

Scott Richardson is Pantagraph outdoor editor. Phone (309) 820-3227 or e-mail srichardson@pantagraph.com

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