While the Illinois River has begun to recede after last month’s flooding, it has caused a delay in the start of summer boating season for local mariners

Half of Cooper Island, the site of the Pekin Boat Club, remains underwater, according to Pekin Boat Club Caretaker Stan Lundy. He described boating activity on the river near Pekin as currently “nonexistent.”

“We have been flooded since May 1,” said Lundy. “About May 10, when the river got to 26 (feet) or so, (the Illinois Department of Natural Resources) closed the river off. First they closed it off to pleasure boating. Then it got to where they shut everything down. We’re still above flood stage.”

Lundy said the boat club reached a milestone last week when the river receded to the point where club members and visitors could drive on to Cooper Island. Since May, the club could only be reached by water. The river was reopened for recreational boating early this month, said Rachel Torbert, Illinois Department of Natural Resources deputy director and assistant chief of staff for communications.

Many members of the Pekin Boat Club use the river as a sort of highway for excursions to the Peoria Riverfront or will travel south to Liverpool and Havana, said Lundy. 

“A lot of members will put in on Saturday morning and go down about 10 miles, where there’s a really nice beach area,” he said. “They’ll pull their boats up there and grill and socialize.”

As a longtime area resident, Lundy said he tends to take the natural scenery along the Illinois River for granted. But Pekin is situated along the Illinois River Road, a scenic byway that offers an abundance of activities including bird-watching, fishing and hiking.

“It’s a great place to just sit and watch the boats, the barges, and depending on the time of the year, the eagles,” said Bill Fleming, executive director of the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce in an April interview with the Pekin Daily Times. “Our restaurants and hotels can meet the travelers’ needs, and we offer an abundance of recreational opportunities.” 

The Pekin Park District offers boating enthusiasts opportunities to rent boats for excursions on Mineral Spring Park Lagoon. According to the park district’s web site, the lagoon is open to boating from 11 a.m. to dusk until Aug. 11. Rental fees are $4.25 per person for 30 minutes. Each additional ride is $3.25 per person. The park district also offers a public boat ramp at Pekin Riverfront Park.

Boating and fishing often seem to go hand-in-hand. Lundy highly recommended the Illinois River to anglers, noting that the river near Pekin is teeming with crappie, bluegill, white bass, large mouth bass, catfish and carp.

“We have a lot of commercial fishermen out here putting their nets out,” he said.

The introduction of Asian carp into the Illinois River has been beneficial to the local ecosystem, said Lundy. As bottom-feeding fish, they help clean the river. They also have helped increase the population of game fish.

“The Asian carp were brought over for the sole purpose of cleaning out the fish farms in Arkansas,” he said. “Massive flooding in the early 1990s introduced Asian carp to our rivers. They spawn three times a year, where all the other (carp) spawn only once. So, there are a lot of minnows for our fish to eat. They’re doing the same thing in our rivers they were doing in the farm ponds — cleaning them out. I’ve heard several (people) say the white bass is making a comeback in the river. The bliuegill, the crappie and the bass are coming back. There are a lot more than there used to be, because they have more food.”

The Pekin Park District offers bank fishing at Mineral Spring and John T. McNaughton Park, as well as opportunities for boat-based fishing at Riverfront Park. The district will also host Larry’s Casting Kids, an annual fishing derby, July 20 at Mineral Spring Park Lagoon.