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Carlyle Lake, located in south-central Illinois, holds dual titles as largest artificial lake and largest body of water wholly contained within the state. Located about 50 miles east of St. Louis, Carlyle Lake was created by the Army Corps of Engineers between 1958 and 1967. Though its 26,000 acre surface still provides flood control for the surrounding region, it has developed as a major recreational hub for those who love boating, fishing, and other outdoor activities.
Carlyle Lake offers many interesting tidbits for U.S. history buffs. Humans first settled the region over 10,000 years ago, and the Native Americans built their settlements around the area's Kaskaskia River, traveling over a natural ford to conduct their daily activities. Today, that site is host to the historic General Dean Bridge, a member of the National Historic Registry and the only such suspension bridge in Illinois. European settlers first arrived to this region around 1812, building a fort and lock house to protect themselves against the Native American inhabitants. The Europeans named the area Carlyle, after Sir Thomas Carlyle, a prominent figure in 18th Century literature.
Carlyle Lake is an angler's delight, offering over 30 species, including bass, bluegill, catfish, crappie, sauger, and walleye. In fact, the lake is a favorite of anglers due to its impressive 3,250 pounds per water acre, one of the most productive in Illinois. Renting a boat at the lake is easy, so grab your pole and bait box and ask any of the friendly local fishermen where the fishing is best. You're sure to enjoy a beautiful day on the lake as you drift along, waiting to reel in a prize catch.
Hunters also take great pleasure in Carlyle Lake's offerings, as the wildlife is prevalent and hunting a celebrated pastime. From November through January, Eldon Hazlet State Park holds a controlled pheasant hunt. In addition, the Department of Natural Resources has sanctioned seasons for hunting bobwhite quail, mourning doves, squirrels, turkeys, and white-tailed deer, providing opportunities for almost any hunt you can imagine.
When you're finished catching your next meal, head out onto the waters of Carlyle Lake, known by sailors as one of the best and most challenging lakes on which to sail. Indeed, the winds are good at the reservoir: in 1994, the U.S. Olympic Festival Sailing Competition was held here, and exciting races occurred almost every weekend during the summer. Though that summer has come and gone, sailboat enthusiasts flock to the lake every year for some time on the water.
For those who simply want a vacation, Carlyle Lake fits the bill: camping areas, golf courses, rental boats, swimming areas, and delicious restaurants dot the shores, tempting you to try out a bit of everything. Two state parks -- Eldon Hazlet State Park and South Shore State Park -- share the shoreline, providing boat access as well as picnic areas, green space, and ideal spots to lay your beach towel down as you soak up some sun and enjoy the cool waters on a hot summer day.
Whether you're a dedicated angler, hobbyist sailor, or vacationer wanting to get away from it all, Carlyle Lake will offer you everything you're looking for and more, so make some room in your schedule and head to one of Illinois's greatest lakes.
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