MAHOMET — Champaign County Forest Preserve District officials on April 3 announced a postponement of trout fishing season’s opening day, fulfilling a request from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.
“They’ve been monitoring or seeing information that we put out there, and they were concerned that the amount of anglers that would show up (April 4) would constitute a gathering,” said Lisa Sprinkle, the forest preserve district’s marketing coordinator.
In mid-March, Gov. J.B. Pritzker banned gatherings of 50 or more people in response to the coronavirus pandemic. On March 30, President Donald Trump extended federal guidelines pertaining to the pandemic, including avoiding gatherings of 10 or more.
“The main lake at Lake of the Woods ... that will remain closed until further notice as we try and figure out a way so that we’re not recreating the opening day,” Sprinkle said. “We can help develop a system so individuals can fish but limit the numbers they have.”
General fishing still is permitted at other forest preserve lakes — Homer Lake, Middle Fork River and River Bend. None of those are stocked with trout, nearly 1,200 of which were put in Lake of the Woods on March 24.
Other spots within the county also available for fishing include Elk’s Lake, Sunset Lake, Shadow Lake and the Sangamon River.
Fishing is one of few outdoor activities that hasn’t been completely locked down. Fishing at state-managed and state-owned locations — such as Kickapoo State Park’s Clear Pond, another trout spot — was prohibited earlier this week by Illinois Department of Natural Resources officials. But city, county, federal and private properties without any of their own restrictions can offer fishing opportunities.
“Still being able to have that outdoor recreation piece and being able to get out into nature is definitely a bonus for people,” Sprinkle said. “And especially if they are fishermen, they’re still getting out and being able to do something that they are very interested in.”
Fishing hasn’t gone the way of golf, which briefly was allowed throughout the state during the pandemic before being cut off and eventually banned through the end of April.
The reason, according to Sprinkle, is fishing being more of a solitary venture.
“They don’t do it in groups,” Sprinkle said. “You usually go out for fishing, and you are by yourself. Golf obviously is different with, you go in a foursome most times.”
Even so, forest preserve district press releases over the last few weeks have included such lines as “please adhere to the social distancing guidelines and remain 6 feet away from the other anglers.”
“I did notice on one of our Facebook posts that people were talking about, ‘I hope nobody fishes ... until after the statewide ban is lifted,’” Sprinkle said. “We definitely have been trying to watch and see that there aren’t large groups of people fishing at the same time or on top of each other. We have several lakes or ponds that people can fish in, so there’s plenty of room to go around.”