April 13, 2024

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Illinois Fishing Guide: Complete Guide

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Equally well known as the “Land of Lincoln” and the “Prairie State,” Illinois is a tale of two parts. The birthplace of eight US presidents and miles upon miles of agriculture, its story is one of human enterprise and natural abundance. And fishing in Illinois is just as varied.

From trolling Lake Michigan to casting along a part of the over 86,000 miles of rivers. From meeting monsters in the meanders of the Mississippi to outwitting Bass in power plant cooling lakes… For a landlocked state, there’s a heck of a lot for anglers to enjoy here. Let’s dive in.

Types of Fish in Illinois

There are about 200 fish species in Illinois, so we’d need a book to cover them all. This list covers the fish in Illinois that we think are most worth targeting.

Largemouth Bass

A woman with short hair holding a Largemouth Bass with open waters visible behind her and some land visible in the distance on a sunny day
Photo courtesy of River Valley Charter Service

Largemouth Bass live in almost every waterway in the state, making them the most common fish in Illinois for anglers to hunt. They’re happiest in warmer waters, but thanks to the state’s power plant cooling lakes, the season stretches well into winter in some parts. Some of the best Bass fishing in Illinois happens in October, as the fish will gorge on anything they can find in preparation for the cold season.

Smallmouth Bass

The Largemouth’s smaller and more agile cousin likes to keep its cool. You’re most likely to find Smallmouth Bass in the north of the state, in rivers and Lake Michigan. These fish put up a fight worthy of something much larger and are excellent to tackle on the fly. Locals insist that the best Smallmouth fishing is in Monroe Harbor, where they’re abundant around structure in spring and fall.


An angler with short hair and wearing sunglasses holds a Large Lake Trout aboard a fishing charter in Illinois, with clear blue waters visible behind him on a sunny day
Photo courtesy of Kinn’s Sport Fishing – Winthrop 38′

You’d be forgiven for forgetting that anglers catch three species of Trout in Illinois every year. But Illinois Trout fishing is a way of life. Brown, Rainbow, and Lake Trout all live in Lake Michigan, with Rainbow and Lake Trout being the most common. Trout fishing in Illinois doesn’t stop there. The state’s Department for Natural Resources stocks rivers and lakes with over 80,000 Rainbow Trout every year.

Anglers usually target Rainbow Trout from the first Sunday in April and, in waterways that receive a fall top-up, from the third Sunday in October. Some rivers and lakes are open for catch-and-release Trout fishing two weeks before the season officially opens. Check the Illinois DNR’s website for more details.

The best Trout fishing in Illinois includes:

  • Apple River around Canyon State Park. Twice-yearly Trout top-ups make this one of the most bountiful Trout fisheries in the state. And the surroundings are beautiful, too.
  • Big Lake in the Silver Springs State Fish & Wildlife Area. This is one of the few places in the state where Trout overwinter, so you can still catch some of the previous fall-s top-up in the spring.
  • Axehead Lake. Near an airport in northwest Chicago, this is hardly the most tranquil place to fish for Trout. But it does ice over and it’s possible to catch a Rainbow through the ice in the winter.
  • Pine Creek. A tributary of the Rock River, this is one of the few places you can catch Rainbow Trout in the summer.


A group of anglers stand on the deck of a fishing boat, holding up a number of Salmon, with a dozen or so more hooked from a wooden sign in front of them
Photo courtesy of Long Gone 3 Charters

Illinois Salmon fishing centers around Lake Michigan. Pacific Salmon were introduced here as early as 1800 and the lake still holds a good population of Chinook (King) and Coho (Silver) Salmon. The Coho season starts nearshore in April but fishing deeper waters from a boat for both types of Salmon gets very exciting in the summer.


A woman in a bright lime green hoodie and sunglasses holding a Musky caught in Illinois with calm waters visible behind her
Photo courtesy of Musky Mob Guide Service Fox Chain

Fast and toothy, Muskies are apex predators that some anglers devote their lives to targeting. Known as the “fish of 10,000 casts,” they’re famously hard to find and even harder to catch. Not around here, though. Musky fishing in Illinois is famous for its relative ease, thanks to heavily stocked lakes across the state. Experience the best Musky fishing in Illinois by trolling and casting in the Fox Chain O’Lakes in the fall.


A woman in sunglasses holds up a small Catfish and pretends to kiss it on a sunny day, with water and a tree-lined shore behind her
Photo courtesy of Sure Thing Charters

Catfishing in Illinois hit the headlines when a local angler caught what was the biggest Blue Catfish in the world at the time in the Mississippi River near Alton. As well as Blues, Flathead and Channel Catfish are also common in the state.

Some of the best Catfish fishing in Illinois takes place in the Ohio River, where Channel Catfish grow fat on spilled grain from barges and grain elevators.


An angler in full wading gear and a baseball cap, standing on an aluminum fishing boat with a motor visible behind him, holding a number of Crappie on a string on a cloudy day
Photo courtesy of River Valley Charter Service

Very possibly the best fish to catch and eat in Illinois, Crappie is an all-round hit with anglers. Both White and Black varieties live throughout the state, and you can find them in numerous lakes. Some of the best Crappie fishing in Illinois, though, takes place in the sloughs and backwaters of the Mississippi in spring.

Other Common Fish in Illinois

  • Bluegill. Illinois’s state fish rivals the Crappie in terms of taste and abundance. These Panfish live all across the state. Some of the best Bluegill fishing in Illinois takes place in Rend Lake, where they can grow bigger than average.
  • Walleye. This is another good eating fish. The best Walleye fishing in Illinois happens in the spring in large rivers and streams in the north of the state.
  • Pike. A toothy relative of Musky, Northern Pike hunt for their prey in glacial lakes and rivers north of Peoria. Anglers are divided over the best Northern Pike fishing in Illinois, but the Des Plaines River has a good number of them, particularly between Lyons and Lemont.
  • White Bass. Fun to catch on light tackle or a fly rod, White Bass is a top target across the state. White Bass fishing in Illinois is generally best in larger bodies of water, such as the Mississippi, the Fox Chain O’Lakes, and Lake Michigan.

How to Go Fishing in Illinois

Head to any of the state’s abundant lakes and rivers with a fishing rod and some nightcrawlers, and you’ll hook something sooner or later. But you’ll get far more out of fishing in Illinois if you try one of the experiences below.

Guided Fishing Trips

A mother and father help a little boy in a life vest with a large fishing rod in Illinois on a clear day, with the water visible behind them
Photo courtesy of Twenty Four VII Charters

If you’re set on Lake Michigan’s mighty Salmonids, there’s no substitute for a qualified fishing guide. You’ll need a boat to get to the deep waters where Salmon and Lake Trout hide, and a local captain will also show you how to find and hook a keeper. You can find Illinois fishing charters all across the state. However, most Lake Michigan charters run from Montrose Harbor in Chicago or North Point Marina in Winthrop Harbor.

Beyond Lake Michigan, a number of guides run fishing trips in Illinois’s smaller lakes and rivers. These provide an expert take on the region’s waterways, showing you the hottest spots and imparting local knowledge that you can only gain after fishing an area for years.

Fly Fishing

The Prairie State is famous for its big waterways, but it’s also home to secluded streams and rivers that are perfect for fly anglers. Fly fishing in Illinois mostly centers around Smallmouth Bass and Rainbow Trout, but there are plenty of opportunities for less conventional opponents, too. Pike, Crappie, and Largemouth Bass all go for flies if they’re presented properly, so bring a range of rigs.

Some of the best fly fishing in Illinois takes place in the Kankakee River State Park. There are Smallmouth Bass aplenty in the Kankakee, while its tributary, Rock Creek, receives stocks of Rainbow Trout in spring and fall.

Ice Fishing

A group of female anglers crowded in an ice hut on a lake in Illinois, with ice fishing gear set up in front of them
Photo courtesy of Wet N Wild Outfitters

For a family-friendly winter activity, pack your auger and head north. Ice fishing in Illinois is only reliably available north of Interstate 80, where families and friends wait for Bluegill, Crappie, Perch, and Walleye to take their bait under the ice.

The Fox Chain O’Lakes is one of the best places to ice fish in Illinois, while the backwaters of the Mississippi River in Pools 12, 13, and 14 also offer a great variety of species. Some people swear by Lake Michigan ice fishing, but treat this huge body of water with respect. Salmon, Trout, and Yellow Perch are all possibilities but the ice can come and go overnight. Always wear a personal floatation device and see where other people are fishing before you go out yourself.

Top Illinois Fishing Spots

Bordered by rivers and dotted with lakes, there are so many fishing spots in Illinois that it can be hard to know where to start. That’s why we’ve broken the top spots in Illinois down, region-by-region.

Northern Illinois

A view across the water towards three small, motorized boats leaning against the shore on the Fox River in Illinois on a sunny day, with trees visible in the distance

Most Illinoisans live north of Interstate 80. Unsurprisingly, this area is also the coldest, offering good fishing for species like Yellow Perch, Pike, and Smallmouth Bass.

The best places to fish in northern Illinois are:

  • Fox Chain O’Lakes. These are a collection of natural glacial lakes that cover over 7,000 acres. They’re famous for Walleye but almost all of Illinois’s fish species thrive here.
  • Lake Michigan. The second-largest Great Lake by volume forms Illinois’s northeastern border and houses world-class Salmon, Trout, and Yellow Perch fishing.
  • Mississippi River. While the river runs up the entire western border of the state, fishing the Mississippi River in Illinois really heats up north of Grafton. This is the best part of the river to fish for Bass in Illinois.

Central Illinois

A view across Lake Springfield towards the power plant on a sunny day, with smoke coming out of the chimneys on a clear day

The “Heart of Illinois” covers miles of what was once prairie. Now blanketed with corn and soy plantations, the landscape hosts a number of man-made lakes and numerous sport fish. Much of the best fishing in central Illinois is in these lakes, as well as the Illinois River, which runs diagonally across the region.

The best fishing spots in central Illinois are:

  • Lake Springfield. The 3,866-acre power plant cooling lake on the outskirts of the state capital is an exceptional Bass fishery. It offers high numbers of fish throughout the year – albeit not trophy sizes. Big Channel and Flathead Catfish also call these waters home.
  • Lake Jacksonville. At only 476 acres, this is the opposite of Lake Springfield. Set in beautiful surroundings, it’s home to larger, but more seasonal, Bass.
  • Illinois River. Almost half of the Illinois River flows through central Illinois, with the Marshall State Fish and Wildlife Area in Lacon being one of its most popular and scenic fishing destinations. The Peoria Pool is an excellent place to fish for Bluegill, Largemouth Bass, Walleye, and Channel Catfish.

Southern Illinois

A view across the water of Lake of Egypt, Illinois, towards a power plant at sunset, with the sun setting in the distance, creating a bright orange hue and a silhouette of the trees on the shoreline and the power plant and its smoke

Around and south of Interstate 64, “Little Egypt” is bordered by the Mississippi, Ohio, and Wabash Rivers. With several large lakes adding to these watery credentials, fishing in southern Illinois has a lot more going for it than you maybe thought.

Here are our pick of the spots:

  • Lake of Egypt. This 2,300-acre lake is home to the best Crappie fishing in Southern Illinois – or even the whole state. It’s famous for its winter Crappie fishing and is one of the first places in the state where the species starts spawning in the spring.
  • Mississippi River. The Mississippi in southern Illinois is famous for its Catfish. Huge Blues, as well as Channel and Flathead Catfish, call these waters home.
  • Carlyle Lake. The biggest man-made lake in the state, Carlyle Lake is a Catfish paradise. Its Channel Catfish population is particularly healthy and stocks of Blue Catfish have recently joined them.
  • Crab Orchard Lake. Covering 6,965 acres and with 125 miles of shoreline, this is one of the best places to fish in Illinois. It’s abundant with Crappies, and boasts a healthy Largemouth Bass population and excellent Channel Catfish and White Bass fishing.

Illinois Fishing Regulations

An infographic featuring the state flag of Illinois along with text that says "Illinois Fishing Regulations: What You Need to Know" against a dark blue background

Almost everyone over the age of 15 who goes fishing in Illinois needs a license. There are a few exceptions, so check out our handy guide to see if you need one and how to get yours.

Other than that, if you plan to fish for Trout in rivers and lakes outside of Lake Michigan, you’ll need a Trout stamp as well as your fishing license. If you’re fishing Lake Michigan, you should purchase a separate Salmon stamp, which covers both Salmon and Trout in this waterway.

With an abundance of waterways and different climates, there’s always something biting in the Prairie State. Spring is a great time to fish for Largemouth Bass and Rainbow Trout, while Salmon fishing in Lake Michigan is legendary in summer.

Fall is fantastic for Lake Trout and Coho Salmon in Lake Michigan, with Walleye, Musky, and Rainbow Trout all feeding up for the winter. Which, in turn, is the season for ice fishing in the north and Crappies in the south.

Illinois Fishing FAQs

Illinois: The Land of Fishing Opportunities

A view from a harbor in Chicago across crystal clear blue water towards a domed building in the distance on a clear day, with some boats visible on the right of the image

From the metropolis of Chicago to the border of the South, Illinois’s culture is a slice of quintessential America. You could say the same for its fishing. From Pacific Salmon to Bluegill, and Muskie to Channel Catfish, almost all the country’s favorite inland fish have found a home here somewhere. The only question is: which one do you target first?

There’s so much more to Illinois than we could fit in this guide. Where’s your favorite fishing spot in the state? Let us know in the comments below.

The post Illinois Fishing: The Complete Guide appeared first on FishingBooker Blog.

By: Cat
Title: Illinois Fishing: The Complete Guide
Sourced From: fishingbooker.com/blog/illinois-fishing/
Published Date: Thu, 03 Aug 2023 09:58:01 +0000

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