Illinois attracts many fishermen as a recreational sport with its many fishing tournaments. It is one of the best states to fish in in the Midwest as the Illinois fishery management has created many breeding reservoirs for recreational use.
Fishing in Illinois can be fun for anglers of all levels of skill because the Prairie State’s is abundant in natural lakes that are packed with large catfish and largemouth bass.
You’ll find a wide variety of fish here, just like you would in states like Connecticut or North Carolina. (Check out our full guide to catching the best fish in North Carolina here.)
If you are planning a fishing trip to Illinois, the many options might overwhelm you. But, fear not because here is a list of the top 10 tried-and-tested locations for a great fishing expedition. Keep reading so you can choose your favorite.
1. Mississippi River
The Mississippi River spreads across most of the United States, from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. The mighty Mississippi River is as long as it is muddy. But this river rewards anglers with some of the best trophy catches.
While fishing in Illinois, you can test your mettle by landing a jumbo catfish. All it takes is the right bait. During the day, you can scavenge for hidden caves for catfish and then return at night to snatch them when they are feeding.
Here’s what you can catch in Mississippi’s muddy waters:
- Largemouth and smallmouth bass
- Catfish (the most spectacular catfish, though, can be found in the Louisiana segment of the river)
- Northern Pike
Due to the vastness of the river, around 3,000 miles, it is widely believed that one could spend their entire lifetime casting a line on a 30-mile segment and would not be able to unlock all that portion’s secrets.
The Mississippi river is both immense and majestic, an earthly paradise for all sport fishing enthusiasts.
2. Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan is one of the top places to fish in the entire state of Illinois. It’s near Chicago, making it a great location for tourists with families, and giving you plenty to do if you decide to explore other outdoor activities than fishing.
Reelers of all levels of experience can enjoy boating on the lake. They do have a maximum speed limit of 55MPH on the lake, which shouldn’t be a problem for most anglers, unless you decide to do some speedboating in between your fishing expeditions.
There are also “slow” areas where you need to watch your speed and your wake. It’s also a great place for kayaking and overall exploring some of the more beautiful scenery in the Chicago area.
In winter and early spring, you can also go ice fishing on Lake Michigan. Make sure you bring your favorite Auger along.
The best part about Lake Michigan is that it hosts the greatest variety of fish among all of The Prairie State’s lakes, which makes it one of the best fishing locations in Illinois. It has almost any species of fish one could catch in Illinois and more, including trout, salmon, and the voracious pike. (Click here for some less-known fishing tips if you are into Northern pike).
Here are some of the types of fish you can expect to catch out on Lake Michigan in no particular order, depending on where you end up (it’s a big lake).
- Lake trout and/or brown Trout
- Northern Pike
3. Heidecke Lake
Heidecke Lake is a former cooling lake for the Collins Station Power Plant that has been out of service for more than 10 years. They have some rules to follow for fishing Heidecke lake, so be sure to review them before you go.
The lake is unique in structure because it has a perched part for better cooling, but it can be risky when it is windy.
The lake also varies in depth, so it is advisable to use a fish finder to locate schools of fish. There is not much vegetation there, but there is also less timber in the water.
It’s a great place to find a wide variety of fish, so you’ll want to have a variety of gear that can be tweaked on the spot to handle just about any type of fish.
Heidecke Lake now holds the title of an ambient lake that provides a wide variety of fish including:
- Smallmouth, striped, largemouth or yellow bass
- Hybrid striped bass
- Channel catfish
While fishing along the banks, you might get surprised by trophy-sized smallmouths (which this lake happens to be abundant in), walleye, hybrid striped bass (the last two species are more likely in spring).
4. Lake Springfield
When fishing in Illinois, you may want to visit Lake Springfield, a beautiful parkland with abundant wildlife. Woods and bluffs surround the shoreline. Anglers in the area can encounter wildlife like deer, turkey, and even eagles in the winter season.
Amenities include the nature park, picnic shelters, and a boathouse that offers a view of the lake and which you can rent for special occasions .
Anglers can rent a kayak or canoe, too, to go out on the lake. The warm water from the plant affects only one-fourth of the lake where schools of bass search for plankton.
Anglers can hook a variety of fish here as well including:
- The Common Carp
- Channel catfish
- Largemouth or yellow bass
- Suckers or golden redhorse suckers
- Tiger muskie
- Walleye (Gravel Lizards, Walters, Rock Melons)
- White crappie
- Yellow bullhead
- Green or longear sunfish
5. Crab Orchard Lake
Crab Orchard Lake is an artificial lake they constructed for flood prevention and recreational purposes. It is a 7,000-acre paradise for water skiers, swimmers, campers and fishermen.
They also allow all manners of water transportation without restrictions. Lotus planting and introducing largemouth bass every year have stabilized the local bass population.
The creel limit for largemouth bass is three per day and they must be larger than 16 inches. Spinnerbaits and artificial lures produce the best results for largemouth bass.
You can hook any of these fish species in Crab Orchard Lake:
- Channel catfish
- White and largemouth bass
6. Devils Kitchen Lake
Devils Kitchen Lake features a large amount of largemouth bass spreading over 810 acres. With steep slopes and sandstone valleys, the deep Devils Kitchen Lake is a sight to behold.
Clear waters and submerged timber make the ideal habitat for fishing. But there is a 10 horsepower limit on outboard motors. Plus, the southeast part of the lake is accessible only to boats with electric motors or by pedaling.
The lake has standard site regulations on fishing, including what types of watercraft you can use. The regulations and constant efforts of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources are contributing to the healthy numbers of fish in Devils Kitchen Lake.
Here’s what you can find on the end of your line:
- Rainbow trout
- Redear sunfish
- Largemouth bass
- Yellow perch
7. Rend Lake
When most people think about fishing in Illinois, they think of Rend Lake, a reservoir with a longshore close to Benton, Illinois.
The depth of this lake varies from 10 to 35 feet, which is enough for fisherman to explore. You can also get a guide or an eight-hour boat trip with supplies like water, bait and tackle.
There is a golf course at Rend Lake, too, making it a versatile place for fishing in Illinois.
The park also offers camping sites, museum tours, hiking and cycling. There are lots of largemouth bass, but you can only take those larger than the 14-inch minimum length.
Anglers can expect to find one of these fish species in Rend Lake:
- Largemouth or white bass
- Channel, blue or flathead catfish
8. Evergreen Lake
Evergreen Lake is a man-made pond in Central Illinois they built back in 1970. It still attracts people who love fishing in Illinois with its many eye-pleasing areas, lots of greenery, and camping facilities.
Whether you are a professional reeler in a rowboat or a landlubber on the shore, you’ll see plenty of fish. You can rent a paddle or rowboat for a fair price.
However, there’s a 10 HP limit for motorized boats on the Evergreen Lake, just like on any state-owned body of waters in Illinois to encourage a quiet fishing environment. What’s more, starting Oct. 1st until January 1st, gas-powered motors are completely forbidden in the Southern parts of the lake to protect migratory birds.
All in all Evergreen Lake, IL, is a beautiful and peaceful place for fishing or having a day out with family – the trails are very well-kept and there are many well-run camping grounds and play areas for children around the lake.
If the horsepower limit is not an issue, you can snag these fish at Evergreen Lake:
- Large- and small-mouth bass
- Rainbow trout (stocked)
- White, black, and hybrid crappie
9. Sand Pond
Sand Pond may only be a small pond, but it offers a place of relaxation on its sandy shores when fishing in Illinois. You can fish with choirs of western chorus and leopard frogs in the background. In the summer, the marsh-like pond is full of dragonflies and places for catfish to hide. This location is a must-go-to for landlubbers of all skills.
In the spring the trout almost jump on your hook. But there is a creel limit of one largemouth bass a day. You may even encounter waterfowl or Canadian geese, but stay away because they are protective of their young. They don’t allow boats or wading in Sand Pond.
Landlubbers can cast their lines and catch these fish:
- Channel catfish
- Largemouth bass
- Rainbow trout
10. Fox Chain O’ Lakes
The Fox Chain O’ Lakes is an impressive 987-acre fishing location with 488 miles of shoreline for anglers of all stripes very close to Chicago. The chain is a continuous string of lakes on the Fox River, without counting 5 adjacent lakes, that makes a fantastic fishing and boating location.
The deeper waters of the Fox Chain are heavily populated with motorized watercraft, especially in the weekends, thanks to the lakes’ close proximity to Chicago and Madison (steer clear of Fox Lake if you’re a peace-seeking angler at the end of the week).
The chain has been described as “the busiest, most used inland waterway per acre” in America.
But there are plenty of spots – look for shallower waters, where you can have your fishing fix in peace while admiring the natural scenery. The lakes are packed with bluegill, large-mouths, small-mouths, catfish, and walleye.
If bluegill is what you’re after, set camp on the 45-foot deep Catherine Lake. For Northern pike and trophy-sized bass head to Channel Lake. For a peaceful day bank fishing and excellent panfish, choose Buff Lake or Petite Lake, two smaller ponds in the chain.
Grass Lake is the shallowest in the chain (3 ft) but it is home to plenty of pike, catfish, and bass. For muskie, head to Fox Lake, but since it is heavily boat populated over the weekends get help from a local guide or do it yourself in off-season or during the week.
Even better, Lake Shabbona, which is a two-hour drive from Fox, is reportedly jam-packed with muskies. You can’t get back empty-handed from Shabbona.
The Fox Chain lakes aren’t short of campgrounds, bait shops, marinas, swimming locations, and local guides to fishing hot spots.
The guides specialized on catching the elusive muskie, or ‘Musky’ in local slang, are some of the best in the state, so if you’re looking for an adrenaline-packed fishing expedition that’s hard to forget don’t hesitate to book a trip beforehand. And bring Junior with you.
In wintertime, some of the lakes make great spots for ice fishing but check the state and local regulations for such endeavor before embarking on a fishing trip.
Here are the fish species that you’re most likely to see on the end of your line at the Fox Chain O’ Lakes:
- Flathead catfish
- Northern Pike
- Black and white crappie
- Other panfish
Bonus Lake: Lake Shelbyville
Lake Shelbyville is a man-made wonder in central Illinois. This artificial reservoir with 11,100 acres of pool surface and 172 miles of shoreline turns 50 this year.
The lake was originally build to shield Kaskaskia River Valley of rampant flooding, but in the meantime it has turned into a beloved attraction for anglers and vacationers alike.
With eight public beaches, just as many public campgrounds, 3 marinas, and more than 1,000 campsites, there’s plenty to do at the lake. Lake Shelbyville attracts throngs of anglers especially from early May to late June when the most predominant fish species, the white bass, can be caught by the hundreds.
It is estimated that around one million white bass now call Lake Shelbyville their home, with many fishing stories claiming that the white bass population there is so abundant that anglers can catch bass at almost every cast.
Other popular fish species at Lake Shelbyville include:
- Bigmouth buffalo (trophy up to 20 lbs)
- Carp (very popular with bowfishing enthusiasts)
- Crappie (there were reported record catch rates in the last couple of years)
- Freshwater drum
- Yellow bass
- Striped bass fingerlings
There’s no shortage of amazing fishing spots in Illinois. The Prairie State’s wide system of lakes and rivers offers plenty of room for both beginner and advanced anglers to cast a line and be rewarded royally soon afterward.
All Illinois fishing destinations on our list offer countless opportunities to catch some jaw-dropping trophy fish to remember for a lifetime. No wonder Illinois is currently one of the best places to throw a line in the Midwest.
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My articles appear in Marketing Edge Magazine, on Gizmogrind, and with various Medium publications. But one thing hasn’t changed in all of my life: no matter where I was or what I was doing. I’ve always loved to be outdoors.
A man needs nothing more than a good flannel shirt, a well-worn pair of jeans, and comfortable hiking boots. I don’t go for all the fancy luxury stuff. Suits are uncomfortable and shaving sucks.