Illinois offers some of the best fly fishing in the Midwest. The waters in this state are teeming with sunfish and basses, trout, catfish, and bullheads. With over 150 lakes and rivers, there is a great spot for every angler.
Some of the best places to fly fish in Illinois:
- Apple River
- Crabapple Lake
- Frank Holten State Recreation Area
- Horsetail Lake
- Kankakee River
- Kickapoo State Recreation Area and more
The state of Illinois has a large variety of fish to target. Every year, the Department of Natural Resources waters thousands of acres around the state with fully grown Rainbow Trout as part of its conservation efforts. Because of this, Illinois is a top spot for fly fishing in the Midwest. Let's look at the top 19 locations in this state to score your next big catch.
Best Fly Fishing locations in Illinois
Anglers can find good fishing opportunities for all sorts of fish in Illinois, from largemouth and smallmouth bass to catfish, pike, walleye, and muskie. There are also many opportunities to catch stocked Rainbow Trout and wild Brown Trout.
1. Apple River
The Apple River is a tributary of the Mississippi River, about 55 miles (89 km) long, in southwestern Wisconsin and northwestern Illinois. It starts in Lafayette County, Wisconsin, and flows through Jo Daviess and Carroll Counties in Illinois before emptying into the river 7 miles northwest of Savanna.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Apple River, Illinois:
- Pheasant Tail Jig Natural - Size 16
- Parachute Adams Indicator - Size 16
- Slump Buster with Cone Black - Size 8
2. Crabapple Lake / Siloam Spring Lake
Crabapple Lake, also known as Siloam Spring Lake, is located in Siloam Springs State Park, 11 miles south of Clayton on Route 24 or 6 miles north of Route 104 in Adams County. This impoundment measures 58 acres and has a maximum depth of 43 feet with a 3.9-mile shoreline length.
The fish population dynamics were altered when bluegill entered the lake via overflow from nearby ponds or by anglers introducing them at that time. In 1965, Largemouth Bass were introduced to control an excessively populous Bluegill species. Today, Largemouth Bass, White Crappie, Bluegill, Redear Sunfish, and Channel Catfish are among the sportfishing catches. Rainbow Trout are also released for the trout season in the spring and fall.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Crabapple Lake, Illinois:
3. Fox River
The Fox River is a 202-mile-long (325 km) tributary of the Illinois River in the United States, flowing from southeastern Wisconsin to Ottawa, Illinois. In the 19th century, the Wisconsin section was known as the Pishtaka River.
The river enters Illinois in the southeast corner of Madison County, where it expands into a vast network of interconnected lakes known as the Chain O'Lakes. Fox Lake is the largest settlement in this region. The stream flows south for 118 miles (190 kilometers) until it joins the Illinois River at Ottawa.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Fox River, Illinois:
4. Frank Holten State Recreation Area
Frank Holten State Recreation Area is an Illinois state park in St. Clair County, with 1,080 acres (437 ha) of land. It's located approximately five miles southeast of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and is bisected by Interstate 255. Whispering Willow Lake and Grand Marais Lake have a combined water surface of 208 acres and 5 kilometers of shoreline.
Whispering Willow Lake was restored in 1983 when it was stocked with bass, bluegill, and channel catfish. Boat fishing is permitted on the bank, and boat anglers must use trolling motors or engines no larger than ten horsepower.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Frank Holten State Recreation Area, Illinois:
5. Horsetail Lake, Cook County
Horsetail Lake is in Cook County, Illinois. Horsetail Lake is adjacent to Cherry Hill Woods and northwest of Papoose Lake. It's 20 feet deep at its deepest point. Anglers can anticipate catching various fish, including:
- Channel Catfish
- Largemouth Bass, and
- Yellow Bass.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Horsetail Lake Cook County, Illinois:
6. Illinois River
The Illinois River is a major tributary of the Mississippi River, with a length of 273 miles (439 km). The river drains a large part of central Illinois and has a drainage basin of 28,756.6 square miles (74,479 km2). Michigan's drainage basin almost entirely encompasses the state.
The Illinois River connects to the Mississippi River through a modern waterway that links the Great Lakes at Chicago to the Mississippi River. Fishing is excellent for various fish, including:
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Illinois River, Illinois:
7. Iroquois River
The Iroquois River is a minor tributary of the Kankakee River in northern Indiana and northeastern Illinois that drains into the Mississippi River via the Kankakee and Illinois rivers.
The Iroquois River rises in Jasper County, Indiana, and flows generally west-southwestward through Newton and Iroquois Counties, Illinois, before turning northward and flowing into Kankakee County. It enters the Kankakee River from the south near Aroma Park, about 4 miles (6 km) southwest of the town of Kankakee.
The number of public access points on the Iroquois River is limited. The only public boat launch on the river is in Watseka, on the northwest side. Upstream from Aroma Park's public boat launch, travelers may reach the lower sections of the river by going upstream along the Kankakee River.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Iroquois River, Illinois:
8. Kankakee River
The Kankakee River is one of the tributaries of the Illinois River, approximately 133 miles long, in the northwestern portion of Indiana and northeastern Illinois. It formerly drained one of North America's largest marshes before being dammed to control flooding. It runs through a mostly rural farming region with reclaimed farmland on its southern bank, Lake Michigan.
The Kankakee is one of Indiana's most popular destinations for fly fishing. Close to Chicago, the Kankakee regularly has smallmouth and largemouth bass, crappies, and stocked trout. Most access points allow for wading or launching small boats.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Kankakee River, Illinois:
9. Kickapoo State Recreation Area
Kickapoo State Park is located near Danville in Vermilion County and is easily accessible via I-74. The Kickapoo State Recreation Area's 2,842 acres of deep-water lakes and nearly 221 acres of water for boaters, canoeists, and anglers along the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River.
Kickapoo, which has 22 lakes and access to the Middle Fork River, is known for offering water-based outdoor activities. In the waters, anglers may catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, channel catfish, bluegill, crappie, and redear sunfish. The annual fall and spring trout stockings are especially popular among rainbow trout enthusiasts, who get the chance to fish for catchable-size trout.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Kickapoo State Recreation Area, Illinois:
10. Kishwaukee River
The Kishwaukee River, commonly known as simply the Kish, is a 63.4-mile (102 kilometers) long river in Illinois. It is a tributary of the Rock River and derives its name from the Potawatomi word for "river of the sycamore." From Woodstock to Rockford, Illinois, the Kishwaukee River is a tributary of the Rock River.
The Rock River begins in Woodstock and flows north, and it goes through northern Illinois before merging with the Rock River at the town of Winnebago Rapids. This section of the river is referred to as the North or Main Branch. The average width of this stretch of water is 50 feet (15 m), but it expands and deepens near the Boone County border.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Kishwaukee River, Illinois:
11. Lake of the Woods
Lake of the Woods is a beautiful, natural lake in Mahomet, Illinois. The Champaign County Forest Preserve operates Lake of the Woods. The lake was built in 1945 and had a maximum depth of 28 feet with an average depth of 11.2 feet. Lake of the Woods has a 1.8-mile beachfront with a 600-acre watershed.
Lake of the Woods has long-term goals for providing good panfish and catfish fisheries and a nice spring trout season. Largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish, redear sunfish, crappie, bullheads, and muskie are all popular species in the lake. The lake is stocked with channel catfish, saugeye, and rainbow trout. There are also many smaller lakes and ponds to fish around Lake of the Woods.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Lake Of The Woods, Illinois:
- Flashback Hare's Ear Beadhead Natural - Size 18
- Copper John Beadhead - Size 18
- Parachute Adams Indicator - Size 16
12. Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and primary river of the second-largest drainage system in North America, behind only the Hudson Bay drainage system. From its origin at Lake Itasca in Minnesota's Northern Iron Range, it travels roughly south for 2,340 miles to the Gulf of Mexico via its many tributaries.
Between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains, the Mississippi's watershed drains all or parts of 32 US states and two Canadian provinces. Accessing the Mississippi River in Illinois is relatively easy, with many public boat ramps and fishing docks available. The Mississippi River basin is often divided into subregions owing to its vast size and wide variety of species, including:
- Largemouth & smallmouth bass
- White bass
- Northern pike
- Crappie, and more.
Recommended Fly Patterns for Bass on the Mississippi River, Illinois:
Recommended Fly Patterns for Walleye on the Mississippi River, Illinois:
13. Ohio River
The Ohio River is a 981-mile-long river in the United States. It runs southwesterly from western Pennsylvania to its mouth on the Mississippi River in southern Illinois, at the boundary of the Midwestern and Southern United States.
The mouth of the Wabash River is in Uniontown, Kentucky, and the Illinois section of the Ohio River extends 133 miles to its confluence with the Mississippi River at Fort Defiance. This area of the river has two locks and dams and two river pools, as well as an open water area. The pool areas, embayments, and open water areas provide a variety of habitats that are excellent for fishing.
The Ohio River is home to over 150 species, many of which are sport fish. For navigation, the river level is controlled by the US Army Corps of Engineers and features a buoyed channel that runs its entire length. The channel's water depths range from 9 to 90 feet.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Ohio River, Illinois:
14. Rice Lake
The Rice Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area is located in Central Illinois, near the Illinois River, around 4 miles south of Banner, Illinois, on Route 24 in Fulton County. The Rice Lake SFWA's fish populations vary in composition, numbers, and condition. Though some species are at a low population, species in Rice Lake include:
- Largemouth bass
- Black and brown bullhead
- Black crappie and others.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Rice Lake, Illinois:
15. Rock River
The Rock River is a 299-mile tributary of the Mississippi River in Wisconsin and Illinois in the United States. The name "Rock River," once known as the Sinnissppi, comes from Sauk and Fox Indians; it means "rocky waters."
- The Horicon River has three branches, each flowing into the Horicon Marsh.
- The West Branch begins north of Brandon in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, flowing east and south to Horicon Marsh.
- Dodge County's South Branch rises north of Fox Lake and flows east through Waupun before emptying into the marsh.
The Theresa East Branch rises southeast of Allenton in Washington County near the Niagara Escarpment and flows north and west via Theresa to the marsh.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Rock River, Illinois:
16. Siloam Springs State Park, Adams County
This park, located in the beautiful town of Decatur, is Illinois' largest state park. The lake contains bass, gill, redear, carp, and crappie. Walleyes and channel catfish are also present, stocked in 2021.
As far as park regulations go, an Illinois fishing license and an Inland Trout stamp (to own trout) are necessary and must be obtained before arrival at the park. Sport fishing tackle only is permitted in this designated fish preserve, and anglers may not utilize more than two poles and four hooks. Several fishing piers surround the lake, as well as bank casting possibilities.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Siloam Springs State Park Adams County, Illinois:
17. Silver Springs State Fish and Wildlife Area, Kendall County
The two small lakes at Silver Springs include channel catfish, large and smallmouth bass, bluegill, and crappie. In Loon Lake, rainbow trout are introduced twice a year. The fish are replenished from March 15 to April 1, and fishing is permitted in Loon Lake.
The Fox River has excellent bank and boat fishing and abundant small and largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, channel catfish, bullhead, carp, northern pike, and muskie.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Silver Springs State Fish And Wildlife Area Kendall County, Illinois:
18. Wabash River
The Wabash River is a 503-mile-long (810 km) river in Illinois that drains most of the state. It begins at the headwaters near Ohio's Indiana border and then flows southwest across northern Indiana before turning south near the Illinois border, where it forms part of the Indiana-Illinois border before emptying into the Ohio River.
The Wabash is the third-largest overall, behind the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers, and the second-largest northern tributary of the Ohio River. From Huntington Dam in Indiana to the end of its course at the Ohio River, it flows freely for a distance of 411 miles (661 km). The Tippecanoe River, White River, Embarras River, and Little Wabash River are important tributaries.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Wabash River, Illinois:
19. White Pines Forest State Park, Ogle County
The 385-acre White Pines Forest State Park is the southern limit of the historic Chicago-Iowa Trail in the Rock River valley. Today, White Pines Forest is ideal for family holidays to enjoy hiking, fishing, camping, and picnicking.
Pine Creek in the White Pines Forest State Park has a variety of fish, including smallmouth bass, sunfish, carp, and suckers. In the spring and fall, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources releases keeper-size trout into various rivers throughout the state.
Pine Creek has pristine, clear water that is cold year-round and spring-fed tributaries, allowing some trout to survive through the hot summer months.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the White Pines Forest State Park Ogle County, Illinois:
- Flashback Hare's Ear Beadhead Natural - Size 18
- Copper John Beadhead - Size 18
- Parachute Adams Indicator - Size 16
What Gear do I need to Fly Fish in Illinois?
Illinois is home to various fish, so choosing your gear depends on what you want to target. As long as you remember to match the hatch and use the appropriately weighted gear for the water you're on, you'll have no problem hooking into fish.
Fly fishing in Illinois requires some basic gear to be successful. This includes a rod, reel, line, tippet, and flies. In addition to this basic gear, waders and wading boots are recommended to stay dry and comfortable while fishing.
When choosing a rod, it is important to consider the type of fish you plan on targeting. A smaller rod in the 4-5 weight range will suffice for smaller fish, such as bluegill and sunfish. For larger fish, such as bass and trout, a larger rod will be necessary.
Additional Facts about Fly Fishing in Illinois
Are there any trout streams in Illinois?
Trout streams are found throughout Illinois, with the majority being located in the northern part of the state. To fish for trout in Illinois, you must have a valid fishing license and an inland trout stamp.
Are there wild trout in Illinois?
Wild trout are found in many streams throughout Illinois. In addition, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources stocks trout twice a year in select lakes and streams.
What is the best time of year to fly fish in Illinois?
The best time of year to fly fish in Illinois depends on the type of fish you want to target. For trout, the best time to fish is in the spring and fall when the water is cooler. For bass, the best time to fish is in the summer when the water is warmer.
Where is the best fishing in Illinois?
Some of the most popular fly fishing spots in Illinois include the Fox River, Kankakee River, Wabash River, and the White Pines Forest State Park.
Illinois offers anglers a variety of fly fishing opportunities, from small streams teeming with trout to large rivers full of bass. No matter what type of fish you're looking to catch, there's a spot in Illinois that's perfect for you. So grab your gear and head out on an adventure - you're sure to find some great fishing in the Land of Lincoln.