The first thing you notice about Newton Lake bass is that they are well-fed.
"These fish are fat," says Tab Walker, Newton Lake guide and owner of Outdoor Sportsman's Lodge in Newton, Ill. "Some like you wouldn't believe."
Take the Newton bass he captured that weighed 6 pounds, 14 ounces, but stretched the tape to only 17 1/2 inches — under the lake's legal limit! "Luckily my partner caught a 7-pounder that day. Otherwise, we would have released the biggest bass of the tournament."
Like the real estate business, a Newton Lake bass bonanza usually boils down to three things: location, location, location. The lake's thriving shad often gang up in big numbers near prime locales, particularly in winter months when fish pack the warmwater west arm. Find shad, hook bass.
"I once caught and released over 100 keeper bass from an area the size of a living room," says Walker. "The shad were stacked in there so thick … and the bass kept feeding on them all day."
The 1,775-acre lake is located southwest of Newton, Ill., in the Newton Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area in Jasper County. Central Illinois Public Service Company (CIPS) created the lake to cool the generators of the Newton Power Station in 1979. Today AmerenEnergy Generating Company owns and operates the facility.
"It's a textbook lake with ditches, ledges, islands and flats," says Michael Murphy, tournament pro, outdoor television guide and former public relations director for Shakespeare Fishing Tackle. Murphy counts Newton among his favorite bass waters anywhere. "If you want to crank, you can. If you want to jig or fish worms, you can. The lake has everything."
Newton Lake is known for big fish and plenty of them. The subtle pop of a bass inhaling a jig could mean a tangle with a healthy 15-inch fish or a hawg rassle with a 7 1/2-pounder.
The lake has yielded at least three documented bass of 10 pounds or better, according to site superintendent Dave Miller. Guide Walker estimates that he has taken 25 bass over 8 pounds, including three 9-pounders, over the past 15 years — huge bass for northern latitudes!
The combination of surrounding forest and rich Illinois farmland makes the area fabulously fertile for wildlife, too. Deer families and wild turkeys gambol along Newton's banks throughout the day.
Bassmaster Classic Champion Denny Brauer, who has filmed more than a dozen TV and video segments on Newton Lake, has called the area a "sportsman's paradise." The park gives outdoorsmen a shot at both trophy largemouth bass and Illinois' renowned trophy bucks. Pheasants, quails and wild turkeys bookend with bass for cast and blast weekends. The Outdoor Sportsman's Lodge offers complete guided and semi-guided packages, meals included.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which leases parklands from Ameren Corp., imposed an 18-inch minimum size limit when the lake opened to the public more than a quarter century ago. The lake has a 25-hp limit. Larger outboards are permitted on the lake but may not operate.
"The lake produces large bass and always has," says DNR biologist Mike Hooe.
Newton Lake hosted the collegiate Big Ten Bass Championship in March 2007.
1,775 — Size of Newton Lake in acres
10-6 — Lake record bass — one of three documented Newton bass over 10 pounds
35 — Maximum lake depth in feet at full pool
18 — Minimum size limit in inches for Newton Lake largemouth
41 — Percent of adult bass over 15 inches
Newton Lake Trip Check
Newton Lake is located in South Central Illinois, southeast of Effingham in Jasper County, near the town of Newton. From Effingham, travel east on Highway 33 for 17 miles, then go south nine miles on Highway 4 to Newton Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area. The 1,775-acre lake is part of the 2,315-acre Newton Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area. The lake has a maximum depth of 35 feet at normal pool.
The Outdoor Sportsman's Lodge offers all-inclusive sportsman's packages including meals, lodging and fully guided or semi-guided fishing, whitetail deer hunts, guided pheasant and quail shooting, and Cast and Blast combos. Contact Tab and Vicki Walker at 618-752-5075 or www.outdoorsportsmanslodge.com; Effingham Convention & Visitors Bureau: 217-342-5310, www.effinghamil.com; or Jasper County Chamber of Commerce: Beverley Worthey, 618-783-3399.
Wildlife watchers spot ospreys, bald eagles, herons and wild turkeys. The park includes a 12-mile trail for hikers, cross-country skiers and equestrians. The lake abuts the Jasper County Prairie Chicken Sanctuary and an adjacent 200 acres donated by AmerenCIPS for the management and conservation of the greater prairie chicken. The Illinois DNR also attempted to reestablish the endangered river otter in Newton in 1994. Contact: Newton Lake Fish & Wildlife Area, 3490 E. 500th Ave., Newton, IL 62448; phone: 618-783-3478.
When To Go:
Fishing is best fall through spring. High lake temperatures stress bass in July and August. The lake is closed to fishing for seven days during Illinois' firearm deer season in November. Anglers are restricted to the warmwater arm during the waterfowl season from Thanksgiving until the end of January.
Lures To Pack:
Newton Lake bass feast on shad 12 months of the year, so make sure your lure arsenal is well-stocked with faux shad baits in white, pearl, chrome, clear and related colors and finishes. Carry lipless crankbaits such as the Rattlin' Rapala and the Cordell Spot, and an assortment of crankbaits ranging from shallow runners to deep divers.
Techniques and tactics:
The entire tacklebox may get a workout at Newton. Topwater baits will produce in the dead of winter on Newton's warmwater arm.
Walker's bait of choice is the skirted jig with a hefty plastic craw trailer, especially for big prespawn bass in late winter and early spring. Michael Murphy prefers the 1/4-ounce BOO Jig from Booyah and Strictly Bass jigs for Newton lunkers.
Try a Texas rigged worm or a Carolina rig with a Zoom Lizard or Brush Hog after bass settle into summer patterns in mid-May.
A sleeper bait is a Road Runner jig with white marabou or a white and chartreuse grub tail. Use it to jumpstart a slow bite.