Fishing in Illinois is a fantastic experience because there’s so much to explore! Whether a beginner or a seasoned angler, you’ll find plenty of lakes and rivers to fish in. The Prairie State’s wide system of waterways provides plenty of room for fishermen to cast their lines and find great catches. With over 2,300 square miles of water, Illinois has plenty of great fishing spots.
What’s more, the Illinois fishery management has created many breeding reservoirs for recreational use, making it easier to find large catfish and bass. And on top of that, there’s the breathtaking views of the state’s countryside and rural areas to enjoy. From the mighty Mississippi River to Lake Michigan, the Fox Chain O’ Lakes, and Lake Shelbyville, there’s no shortage of stunning scenery. So why not take a fishing trip to Illinois and experience the state’s beauty and abundance of fish firsthand?
15 Best fishing lakes in Illinois
When it comes to fishing lakes in Illinois, anglers have plenty of options. The Prairie State has a wide variety of natural lakes packed with giant catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, Bluegill, walleye, and many other species. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned angler, there’s sure to be a spot that’s perfect for you.
To help narrow down the options, we’ve identified the best fishing lakes in Illinois in terms of size, species, and location. Here are fifteen of the top fishing lakes in Illinois:
1. Crab Orchard Lake
Crab Orchard Lake is a great fishing lake in Illinois due to its large size of almost 12 square miles and its ever-growing population of various fish species. With its vast fishing territory and 11 boat ramps distributed around it, Crab Orchard Lake makes it easy to access the lake and find the perfect place to cast a line. It is home to some of the best Catfish, Bluegill, Crappie, and White Bass fishing in the Southern Illinois area. The lake is also surrounded by the 43,000 acres of the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, which provides a perfect home for a variety of birds and deer and waterfowl for hunting. The lake has seen extensive restoration efforts, including stocking, and now the fish are back in abundance, making it one of the best bass fishing areas in the area. With a daily bag limit of three largemouth basses over 16 inches in length, Crab Orchard Lake is the perfect place for a day of fishing and fun.
2. Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan is a great fishing lake in Illinois due to its immense size and variety of fish species. It is the sixth largest lake in the world and touches states such as Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan. With over 60,000 acres of open water, Lake Michigan offers anglers the chance to explore and fish in a massive body of water. It is home to many fish, including smallmouth and largemouth bass, trout, salmon, bowfin, panfish, perch, and whitefish.
The lake is also ideal for shore and boat fishing, with many marinas throughout Chicagoland offering charters and fishing tour guides. Furthermore, many Chicago harbors are top locations for ice fishing in the winter months, making Lake Michigan one of the top places to fish in Illinois.
Lake Michigan is also the perfect place for exploring other outdoor activities, such as kayaking and boating, with a maximum speed limit of 55MPH and designated “slow” areas to watch your speed and wake.
3. Pierce Lake
Pierce Lake in Rock Cut State Park, located on the outskirts of Rockford in northern Illinois, is a great fishing lake for those seeking a peaceful outdoor experience. At 162 acres and just over 11 feet deep, Pierce Lake is the perfect size for beginning anglers to practice their skills while experienced anglers can still find a challenge. The lake is home to various fish, including largemouth bass, muskie, walleye, and Bluegill. Walleye, in particular, are bountiful in Pierce Lake, with some of the highest walleye harvests per acre in northern Illinois. Additionally, no recreational watersports or motor boats are allowed on the lake, making it ideal for kayakers and families looking to fish while paddling. The lake is also located in Rock Cut State Park, which offers over 260 campsites, with 200 having electrical hookups.
4. Fox Chain O’Lakes
The Fox Chain O’Lakes is an impressive 987-acre fishing destination near Chicago with 488 miles of shoreline for anglers of all skill levels. The Fox Chain O’Lakes offers a fantastic fishing and boating experience, featuring a continuous string of lakes on the Fox River and five adjacent lakes. With its access to Chicago and Madison, the Fox Chain O’Lakes is one of America’s busiest, most used inland waterways.
The Fox Chain O’Lakes offers plenty of spots for fishing, boasting an abundance of Bluegill, Largemouths, Smallmouths, Catfish, and Walleye. Several lakes offer different fishing challenges; Catherine Lake boasts deep waters and plentiful Bluegill, while Channel Lake is good for Northern Pike and Trophy-sized Bass. Shallow Buff Lake and Petite Lake are great for peaceful bank fishing and panfish, while Grass Lake is known for its abundance of Pike, Catfish, and Bass. For Musky, Fox Lake is the best choice, though Lake Shabbona, a two-hour drive away, is also full of them.
5. Rend Lake
Rend Lake is an ideal fishing lake in Illinois with its wide variety of fish species and ample recreation opportunities. Its location in Franklin County and proximity to Benton provide a convenient spot for anglers, while its 19,000-acre size ensures plenty of room to explore. The lake’s depth varies from 10 to 35 feet, which gives fishermen ample opportunity to search for their favorite species. With catfish and crappie being two of the most popular catches at Rend Lake, anglers can expect plenty of bites and a good fight.
In addition to its excellent fishing, Rend Lake also provides visitors with various other activities, including golf, camping, museum tours, hiking, and cycling. With its many amenities and attractions, Rend Lake is a great spot for the whole family to enjoy the outdoors. Whether you’re looking for a challenging fishing experience or a fun day of outdoor activities, Rend Lake has something for everyone.
6. Kinkaid Lake
Kinkaid Lake is a great fishing lake in Illinois for various reasons. Firstly, its 2,750 acres provide plenty of space for anglers to explore and enjoy a variety of fishing spots, including the main lake islands, weed beds, and riprap banks. The lake is home to numerous fish species, such as Bluegill, catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, muskie, smallmouth bass, sunfish, and walleye. This ensures that anglers have plenty of options for catching various fish. Also, the lake is surrounded by the Shawnee National Forest, providing a beautiful and serene environment for anglers to enjoy. Lastly, the lake has three public boat launches, making access to the lake accessible.
7. Lake Springfield
Lake Springfield is a unique fishing lake in Illinois due to its larger size and abundance of fish species. With over 4,260 acres of water and 91 miles of shoreline, it provides plenty of space for fishing, boating, and other outdoor activities. In addition to the thirty feet max depth, Lake Springfield is home to fifteen fish species, including several basses, catfish, crappie, sunfish, and more varieties. This makes it an ideal spot for anglers seeking diverse fishing opportunities. Furthermore, the lake is home to several public parks and boat launches, making it easily accessible to visitors who want to take advantage of its many recreational opportunities. Lake Springfield is an ideal destination for anglers and outdoor lovers, with various activities and excellent fishing opportunities.
8. Heidecke Lake
Heidecke Lake is a great fishing lake in Illinois due to its unique structure, abundance of fish, and accessibility. Located close to Morris on the outskirts of Chicago, Heidecke Lake is a 1,955-acre reservoir once a cooling lake for the nearby power plant. It has a perched part for better cooling, but it can be risky when it is windy and varies in depth, so a fish finder can be useful for locating schools of fish. The lake is home to an abundance of fish, including Smallmouth, striped, largemouth, yellow bass, walleye, muskellunge, hybrid striped bass, channel catfish, crappie, Bluegill, pumpkinseed, and bullhead. Heidecke Lake is also equipped with a boat launch on the south shore, with a pair of rocky breakwaters around the harbor and a bank access site at the east end of the lake with a wheelchair-accessible fishing pier.
9. Clinton Lake
Clinton Lake is a great fishing lake in Illinois due to its ideal location and variety of fish species. The lake is located in DeWitt County, just a four-hour drive from Chicago, making it an accessible and convenient getaway for locals and visitors alike. Furthermore, its 4,900 acres of water and 48-foot max depth provide an excellent environment for fish to thrive.
Clinton Lake is home to many fish species, including black crappie, white crappie, largemouth bass, walleye, hybrid striped bass, white bass, blue catfish, and bullheads. This variety of fish makes it a popular destination for recreational fishing and competitive events such as the University of Illinois’s Rowing Team Races. Additionally, the lake is stocked regularly by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources with wipers, catfish, and other fish species.
10. Devil’s Kitchen Lake
Devil’s Kitchen Lake in southern Illinois is an excellent place for fishing due to its unique landscape and abundant fish population. The lake is 3.3 square kilometers, with a maximum depth of 27 meters, making it one of the deepest lakes in the state. The surrounding terrain consists of flat land, deep sandstone valleys, and sharp slopes, providing a unique environment for fish to thrive.
The lake is well-stocked with rainbow trout, largemouth bass, Bluegill, crappie, and yellow perch, making it a great spot for fishing enthusiasts. Fishing regulations are in place to ensure the lake remains healthy and thriving, and motors are limited to 10 horsepower. Several boat launch areas around the lake also allow anglers easy access to the water.
11. Carlyle Lake
Carlyle Lake is a great fishing lake in Illinois due to its vast size and extensive amenities. With an expansive surface area of 25,000 acres and a maximum depth of 35 feet, Carlyle Lake offers extensive activities and facilities, including camping, docks, swimming, and fishing. Carlyle Lake is divided into two environments, making it a great spot for challenging sailboat waters. Anglers can find various fish, such as bass, catfish, Bluegill, flathead catfish, white bass, and largemouth bass. Additionally, Carlyle Lake is an excellent spot for birdwatching. The lake has some of the largest waterfowl concentrations in the entire state, with many different species of birds and wildlife to be seen.
12. Newton Lake
Newton Lake stands out as a great fishing lake in Illinois due to its consistent ranking among the best largemouth lakes in the Midwest, its extended growing season for bass thanks to the warm water discharge from the Newton Power Station, and its excellent winter and summer bass fishing. In the winter, largemouths reliably follow shad toward the western arm of the lake, referred to as the Warm Water Arm. At the same time, in the summer, the best bass fishing shifts over to the Cold Water Arm, where weed beds provide outstanding habitat. Prime areas to target include riprap banks and shoreline laydowns, with topwater lures like buzzbaits and Zara Spooks being favorite lures. Spinnerbaits and fluke-style soft jerk baits are also highly effective.
13. Lake of Egypt
Lake of Egypt is an excellent destination for fishing, with great opportunities for both beginners and advanced anglers. The lake offers a variety of fish, including crappie, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, Bluegill, and channel catfish. It’s also known for its bass fishing tournaments, which are usually held in September and October, and the largest total tournament weight of largemouth bass caught in Lake Egypt was over 200 pounds. Boating is allowed, and there are several boat ramps available. For those interested in winter fishing in Illinois, Lake of Egypt is a great place to go. March through April is the best time for bass fishing, and in summer, working a buzz bait or crankbait over the tops of the vegetation is a great tactic.
14. Lake Decatur
Fishing at Lake Decatur is excellent, with abundant fish species, including crappie, Bluegill, bullhead, largemouth bass, catfish, and walleye. The lake is 11 square kilometers in size and has a maximum depth of 22 feet. It has five public boat ramps and provides a scenic view when driving along U.S. Highway 36, making it an ideal spot for fishing. Anglers can also take advantage of the nearby parks and the Scovill Zoo to enjoy while they fish.
15. Lake Sara
Lake Sara is a great fishing spot with various species, such as bass, channel catfish, Bluegill, and white and black crappie, for anglers to try their luck. There are several public access points for shore fishing and amenities such as restaurants, marinas, campgrounds, and golf courses in the vicinity from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The lake is full of wildlife like deer, turkey, and even eagles and is a relaxing spot for landlubbers of all skills. Trout may even jump onto your hook, and boats and wading are not allowed in the lake. With all this, Lake Sara is definitely an excellent spot for fishing!
What are the fishing regulations in Illinois?
The State of Illinois requires all anglers over 16 to purchase and carry a valid fishing license. Fishing regulations vary depending on the type of fish you are targeting and the location, so it is important to review the rules of each area. For example, certain areas may require the use of barbless hooks or may have special regulations for certain species of fish. In addition, certain areas may also have restrictions on the number, size, and type of fish that can be taken.
General regulations in Illinois include a daily limit of six fish, a minimum length of 6 inches, and a statewide ban on taking largemouth bass from May 1 to June 15. There are also regional regulations; for example, the daily limit for walleye in the Chicago metropolitan area is three fish, and you must use artificial lures with barbless hooks in the Apple River and other special regulations areas. It is essential to check the Illinois DNR website for the latest regulations before heading out.
What type of fish can be found in Illinois lakes?
In the lakes of Illinois, fishermen can find a variety of fish species, such as largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, northern pike, walleye, crappie, Bluegill, redear, green sunfish, channel catfish, flathead catfish, bullhead, carp, white bass, black crappie, muskie, and saugeye (a hybrid of walleye and sauger). Some of the more renowned species found in the waters of Illinois include the giant Lake Trout, Largemouth Bass, Coho Salmon, and Brown Trout. Illinois is an excellent place for novice and experienced anglers alike to enjoy a day of fishing.
Are there any camping sites near the fishing lakes in Illinois?
Yes, if you’re looking for camping sites near some of the best fishing spots in Illinois, you can find many options. In the northern part of the state, you can stay near Lake Michigan, Heidecke Lake, Fox Chain O’ Lakes, Pierce Lake, and Shabbona Lake. In the central part of the state, you can stay near the Illinois River, Lake Springfield, Evergreen Lake, Lake Shelbyville, and Clinton Lake. And in the southern part of the state, you can stay near the Mississippi River, Crab Orchard Lake, Devils Kitchen Lake, Rend Lake, and Lake of Egypt.
What type of fish is most commonly caught in Illinois lakes?
Largemouth bass and smallmouth bass are the most commonly caught fish in Illinois lakes. Largemouth bass is far more widespread and abundant throughout the state, thriving in lakes large and small with lots of weeds and woody cover. Smallmouths are incredibly dominant in Northern Illinois and Lake Michigan rivers and are known for their powerful fighting abilities. Other fish commonly caught in Illinois include chinook (king) salmon, coho salmon, lake trout, rainbow trout, brown trout, steelhead, crappie, Bluegill, yellow perch, smelt, carp, channel catfish, and freshwater drum.
What is the best time to go fishing in Illinois lakes?
The best time to go fishing in Illinois lakes depends on various factors. During the winter months, some of the best fishing can occur in cold water before the spring runoff. The Illinois River, Apple River, and Fox Chain of Lakes can be great spots for walleye and smallmouth bass in March and April. The state also stocks rainbow trout in April, offering an excellent opportunity to take a kid fishing. Later in the spring, Lake Michigan’s harbors hold brown trout, and Crab Orchard Lake is an excellent spot for largemouth bass. The Rock River can be a great spot for channel catfish in May. Contact local fishing guides or sporting goods stores for specific recommendations for the latest reports.