Recently, my husband and I completed our Advanced Scuba Diving Certification. It culminated with the deep dive portion achieved diving a shipwreck in Lake Michigan. The experience convinced us we’d like to do a lot more wreck diving, but our next time on the Great Lakes we’ll be on our own, with no instructor to watch over us.
So we took the recommendation of our Milwaukee dive shop, The Scuba Diver Store/Great Lakes Diving, and went to Pearl Lake to further hone our skills. It was the perfect choice and an unexpected treat. Located in South Beloit, IL smack on the Wisconsin/Illinois border, it’s only an hour drive from Milwaukee, Madison or Chicago.
Beginning it’s life as a quarry, Pearl Lake has been owned by the same family since 1963, when they began developing a lovely 35 acre paradise where you’d least expect one. It now features a campground, seasonal park homes, a restaurant and bar, (only open on weekends) and a well-laid out swimming area and beach with a large deck, snack bar and DJ entertainment on the weekends.
All this is cordoned off from the bulk of the lake, though, so none of it intrudes on the diving experience. This small diving paradise has obviously been set up by people who know and love scuba.
One of it’s most appealing aspects is that there are four distinct areas to dive, each with numerous fascinating things sunk at varying depths. Each of these, like an airplane or sub, are marked by buoys at the surface with descent lines down to each. Most are large and open enough to swim through to practice wreck penetration. You can dive them individually or explore one after the other by swimming at a depth of 15 to 20 ft. — a great way to practice underwater navigation.
The east shore, where we dove in early August, has a number of small boats and dive platforms and a 33 ft. replica of a WWII U-boat sub. Also, “a Lake Michigan patrol boat can be found on the sandy slope in about 25 feet of water and a bit further to the south, the lake’s largest wreck, the 45 foot long “Thora Ann”, a classic Great Lakes fishing tug, rests at depths of 30 – 40 feet.”
“Every area of the lake represents a healthy natural habitat and an ideal freshwater ecosystem to be explored. Huge smallmouth and largemouth bass, walleye and yellow perch and rainbow trout cruise through lush weed beds. On occasion, one of the lake's 20-30 lb. channel catfish will add an extra heartbeat or two for the diver surprised by one approaching out of the gloom.”
I quote directly from the Pearl Lake website because I highly recommend you check it out under the “DIVING” area of the site. Very well written, it has a plethora of information and photos to give you a complete picture of what to expect not only in sunken attractions, but seasonal water temps, thermocline levels, rules and regulations, etc.
Other areas and highlights are the north shore, featuring a 33 ft. school bus, 30 ft. cabin cruiser, statues, and underwater railroad tracks left over from the lakes’ days as a quarry. The west shore offers more small boats and another cabin cruiser, a “steam shovel” and a Beechcraft twin-engine airplane. The south end is where the deepest part lies, ranging from 60 ft. to an 85 foot “hole” with platform at the bottom used for deep dive training by dive schools who frequent the lake with their students.
Since we didn’t take advantage of getting a tank refill on premises, which is another big plus, we have three more trips to look forward to before we’ve experienced them all. We dove on a Tuesday and had the lake pretty much to ourselves. I can’t attest to how crowded it may be on the weekends, but as described, there are enough areas to explore that there should be room for everyone who has found this inland diving paradise. Be sure to bring your certification card.
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