Outdoor Life Online Editor

Stop dreaming about ice-out and hitch up your boat trailer: Hot-water discharge from power plants on Sangchris Lake near Springfield, Coffeen Lake south of Litchfield and Newton Lake in Jasper County keep the water open and the bass surprisingly active throughout the winter. “The bass fishing is good to excellent on Newton right now,” says guide Gene Cailey (800-713-2944) of Litchfield. “Coffeen has been good, but Sangchris is slow this year.”

Expect to find plenty of four- and five-pound bass in 50- to 60-degree water on Newton. White spinnerbaits or crankbaits that imitate gizzard shad work well on all three lakes, but if you fish Newton bring dark jigs to imitate crayfish as well.

Cailey also reports taking clients on a 50-crappie trip on Coffeen earlier this month. “Thirty of those fish were over ten inches and we caught some twelve-inchers,” he says. The fish came from less than eight feet of water and succumbed to 1/16-ounce jigs tipped with pink head/white Curly-Tail grubs.

A 25-horsepower maximum is enforced on all three lakes. Cailey says be sure to dress warmly, but that fishing can surprisingly comfortable in January. “You get a lot of warmth coming up off the water,” he says.