Pyramid State Strip Pit Fishing Worth the Drive

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A kayak angler ties into a big fish on a Pyramid State Recreation Area strip pit.

A kayak angler ties into a big fish on a Pyramid State Recreation Area strip pit.

Many strip mine areas across the Midwest have come a long way since the days of bulldozers and dump trucks. What were once devastated landscapes have been returned to nature as thriving fish and wildlife habitats. Pyramid State Recreation Area in southwest Illinois is one of my favorite strip pit fishing destinations.

Pyramid State Recreation Area is located near the town of Pinckneyville, which is just west of Rend Lake. The property consists of 19,701 acres. There are just over 500 acres of surface water, with strip pits ranging in size from one-tenth of an acre to 276 acres. Most of the typical Midwestern warm-water fish species are abundant, including largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie and catfish.

My favorite time to visit Pyramid is in the early spring. There is hardly anyone else using the lakes and fish are becoming aggressive as water temperatures begin to increase. On warm days with temperatures pushing into the 60’s, I like to target bass in the shallows with my fly rod. When the conditions align, you can wear your arm out hauling in largemouth in these strip pits.

Another great time to visit Pyramid State Recreation Area is during the bluegill spawn in late May and early June. During the spawn, bluegills are aggressive defenders of their nests. They’ll hit just about anything you drop on them. They’ll take worms, beemoths, dry flies and poppers on the surface, but for the most intense action, drop a cricket on them that slowly sinks.

Bluegills bed in large numbers. Once you find a spawning location, chances are you won’t have to move for quite awhile. Look for bluegill beds in the shallows near the back of bays, amongst stump beds, along weed lines and beside brush piles. Also, along gravel areas beside boat ramps are a prime spawning locations.

Canoeing and kayaking are popular on the strip pits, because most of the waters are small enough to thoroughly cover in a motorless craft. I enjoy the peace and quiet of paddling around, without any noise but the sounds of birds chirping and bass busting the surface as they engulf my fly.

Camping at Pyramid State Recreation Area is another advantage of making a trip over to fish. There are many primitive, water front sites where you can pull you boat or canoe right up to your site. It’s rarely crowded, and if you go over in early spring, the weather is perfect for sleeping in a tent.

If you want to get out and stretch your legs, or if you need to walk off the pound of bacon you had for breakfast, trails weave throughout the property. There are 16.5 miles of trails that may be used for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.

If you’ve never experienced the Pyramid State Recreation Area, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised as long as you’re not looking to stay in a Hilton or eat at a TGI Friday’s. If you enjoy combining fishing with paddling, camping, hiking, bird watching or horse riding, it’s all waiting for you in the strip pit region of southwest Illinois.

See you down the trail….

Brandon Butler


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