Mining the Mother Lode

Editor's Note: In the August 2009 issue of BASS Times, you read about fishing strip mine lakes for huge bass, away from the big crowds at more popular areas. Here, you'll learn more about where to find these prime waters. After you finish reading, pack your kayak and your gear and hit the mines! Midwestern strip mine spots
Good strip mine fishing can be found throughout the Midwest. Here are some references for prime bassin' spots in Missouri, Illinois and Ohio. However, other states that produce good bass from strip mine lakes include Kentucky, Indiana and Iowa.

Check with local fisheries managers for leads on public and private fee-fishing areas. Missouri
The southwest corner of the Show Me State hosts a number of strip mine lakes near the cities of Joplin and Neosho, though most are private. Good pits lie north of Joplin, too, close to the Kansas border near the town of Mindenmines.

The Poague Conservation Area west of Clinton in Henry County is one of the best known public areas for strip-pit fishing in Missouri.

The Peabody Conservation Area located near Rich Hill in Bates County is the home of Harmony Mission Lake, one of a number of strip pits in Bates and Henry counties. Many are private clubs with fee-based membership.

The Shawnee Trail Conservation Area is 3,635 acres with 40 waters — 20 managed for fishing. Shawnee permits fishing year-round. Bass in the 12- to 15-inch range slot are protected. Some of the lakes contain primitive ramps. However, 14-acre Pin Oak Lake has an improved ramp. "You'll find really good private pits. Some have even been turned into vacation spots," adds Rick Horton of the Missouri Department of Conservation.

One such spot, located near the town of Liberal near the Kansas border, reportedly produced one of the state's largest bass, a 12.36-pound specimen. Illinois
The practice of strip mining ceased in Illinois decades ago, and the coal companies involved were required to reclaim the land.

Yet nature's own patient reclamation on countless pits in the Prairie State has created varied and unusual fish and wildlife habitat, often in the middle of Illinois' flat but extremely fertile farmland. "With the fertility of our land, the strip mines in western Illinois are very productive," said Ken Russell, district fisheries biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

He noted that Perry and Fulton counties vie for the most strip mine waters in a state that has an abundance of these off-the-beaten-track gems. Clubs and private owners have gobbled up most of Illinois' strip mine waters. Fortunately, Land of Lincoln anglers can count a number of state-owned strip mine areas offering fishing and other recreational opportunities. Among the more notable areas is the Banner Marsh Fish and Wildlife Area, south of Peoria, straddling Fulton and Peoria counties. The 4,363-acre area of Illinois River marsh contains more than 200 bodies of water, including chains of long lakes and haunting timber-filled potholes.

Several boat ramps serve anglers in three road access areas (maximum 25-hp limit). But some of the best bass fishing is left to bank anglers and belly boaters in waters off the beaten track. Special limits are in effect. The 100-plus strip mine waters of Snake Den Hollow State Fish and Wildlife Area, near Victoria in Knox County, offer excellent fishing for bass and big panfish. About 30 of the waters are managed for fishing. "Bass fishing can be very good," said site manager Rick Knisely. "And the average bass gets bigger the farther you get from the parking areas."

Most of the lakes are accessible only to hike-in anglers or those with bicycles. The Mazonia Fish and Wildlife Area near Braidwood in Grundy County provides a mix of long trench-like lakes with small-boat ramps and fertile hike-in ponds rich with bass and panfish.

The state acquired the Mazonia South lands and waters in 2001, adding a number of prime waters including famed Monster Lake, home of a former state record northern pike. Pyramid State Park west of DuQuoin in Perry County rewards anglers willing to prospect for their fish with excellent bass and panfish catches. Illinois also has hundreds of privately owned strip mine waters. Some are sportsman's clubs with limited membership. Ohio
American Electric Power Co. left 350 ponds and pits and planted more than 61 million trees on the 30,000-acre AEP ReCreation Area in Southeast Ohio. Most of the 750 acres of water open to public fishing are located in Morgan County.

Many of the bass entered in the Fish Ohio Program (minimum 21 inches) have come from AEP waters. "Anyone who fishes these lakes and spends time there falls in love with the area," said Mike Greenlee, aquatic biologist for the Ohio DNR's southeast district, who said he believes the area is "the pinnacle of strip mine fishing in the state." Greenlee sees 8-pound-plus bass come from the area each season. "The fishing is so exceptional for bass and bluegill ... we call it our diamond in the rough." A permit may be obtained at any AEP Office or by writing to American Electric Power, P.O. Box 328, McConnelsville, OH 43756 or Ohio DNR, Division of Wildlife, District 4, 360 E. State Street, Athens, OH 45701 or by visiting AEP's Web site. Facilities include primitive campsites.

Permits and maps can be obtained through the Division of Wildlife or through AEP directly. The Conesville Coal Lands is a 15,000-acre site located between Zanesville and Cambridge. Nearby is the Avondale Wildlife Area (4,198 acres) outside Roseville along state Route 93 between Roseville and Zanesville.

Both are day-use only areas requiring a valid fishing license and a fishing permit. Invariably, the best bass fishing is off the beaten track. "A lot of strip pits are high-walled lakes with steep banks and dense shoreline vegetation," says Greenlee. "That's why belly boats are popular craft in these areas.

They offer your best opportunity to reach trophy bass." For those who prefer easier access to remote pits, the Hanging Rock area near the town of Ironton in the Wayne National Forest permits ATV travel. More than 50 ponds are available for fishing on Hanging Rock's 5,000 acres.




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