Illinois' Family Fishing Getaways

If you are looking for a place to take your clan for fishing and fun this summer, head for one of these waters. (June 2007)

Photo by Bill Banaszewski.

Summer is approaching, the kids are getting out of school, and families are making plans for vacation. This is an exciting time, but especially for those of you looking forward to fishing in Illinois.

If you are looking for a place to take your clan for good fishing and fun, head for the following destinations. From north to south, we have awesome lakes and parks loaded with kid-friendly fish, and there are a bunch of fun sidebar excursions just in case everyone's arms get tired from reeling in the big ones!

ILLINOIS BEACH STATE PARK

In Chicagoland's far northern suburbs by Waukegan is a park that has something for everybody -- Illinois Beach State Park.

"Inside Illinois Beach, Sand Pond has a great population of nice bluegills to keep the kids busy," said Department of Natural Resources biologist Frank Jakubecik. "There are also catfish and largemouth bass."

There are also a number of smaller ponds for the kids. The Lake Michigan shoreline and the Com Ed fishing pier offer access to salmon, trout and perch. North Point Marina just north of the park is a hotspot for anglers preferring largemouth or smallmouth bass, or you can take a charter for salmon and trout. You can also launch your own boat at North Point Marina.

Superb camping, picnicking, bicycling, hiking and perhaps the best beach in all of the Prairie State await you in this 4,160-acre park. If your camping days are over, Illinois Beach Resort & Conference Center has a hotel, large indoor pool, game room and lounge.

For more information, call (847) 662-4811, or go online to LakeCounty.org. For other travel and lodging information, call the Zion Chamber of Commerce at (847) 872-5405.

LAKE LE-AQUA-NA

DNR biologist Ken Clodfelter said if you like to catch a lot of bass, then you have to visit little 42-acre Le-Aqua-Na in Stephenson County.

"In our last sample, the bass population in Le-Aqua-Na was very encouraging," Clodfelter said. "We sampled nearly 100 fish per hour. We sampled a lot of bluegills, a fair number of crappies, plenty of catfish, walleyes and a few northern pike."

The west end of the lake seems to be the best area for largemouths, which are taken on everything from night crawlers to buzzbaits. Bluegills infest the shorelines. A wax worm on an ice-fishing jig will keep your little ones occupied with fish. Crappies and walleyes are caught on minnows around brushpiles. Catfish like any live or dead bait in the southeast corner. If you want a Kodak moment, set your child up with a roach minnow under a bobber and see if old Mr. Gator comes prowling.

Set within the rugged beauty of northwestern Illinois, there's camping, boat rental, picnic facilities and a nice fishing pier on site. Nearby is historic Freeport and Apple River Canyon with its awesome hiking trails through scenic bluff and ravine country. Galena, with numerous flights of fancy, is 30 miles to the west. And Scales Mound, the highest elevation in Illinois, is nearby.

For more information, call the park office at (815) 369-4282. For other lodging information, call the Freeport Chamber of Commerce at (815) 233-1350 or the Galena Chamber of Commerce at (815) 777-9050. You can also go online to www.ci.freeport.il.us or www.cityofgalena.org.

I&M CANAL

If you're looking for variety, it's tough to beat the I&M Canal in the famed Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor. There's probably not enough time to do all there is to do here.

"Along its course, the I&M Canal has good access and excellent fishing opportunities," said DNR biologist Rob Miller. "In the upper stretches, there are a lot of bluegills, sunfish, bullheads and carp, and good bass and crappie fishing as well."

In the area around I&M Canal State Park in Channahon just off I-55, anglers catch bunches of bluegills on worms, crickets and wax worms. Crappies hit best on a minnow under a slip-float. Brushy banks hide nice largemouths. Dough balls or corn will wear a youngster out from catching carp. And if you want to catch a gazillion bullheads, a piece of night crawler on the bottom can't be beat.

Over by the town of Morris off I-80, the canal supports the same species, but with better numbers of largemouth bass.

Downstream from Morris, the canal becomes an intermittent waterway until the town of Utica between Ottawa and La Salle where Miller said sunfish and channel catfish are stocked annually. Lock No. 14 tends to be a hotspot. Worms on jigs work well for the sunnies, while catfish prefer dip baits and cut minnows. Largemouths in this sector prefer spinnerbaits pitched into shoreline brush.

The I&M Canal is also a great place for a family canoe trip. Good runs include from Channahon to Morris and from Utica to La Salle. Along the canal is the 55-mile Illinois & Michigan Bike Trail. Gebhard Woods in Morris offers primitive camping and features our state's largest tree. Near Utica, Starved Rock State Park offers scenic hiking, biking and the Starved Rock Lodge for superb overnight accommodations. Also nearby is the Great Bear Lodge Resort, which has an indoor and outdoor water park.

For more information on travel lodging, attractions and events associated with the canal, go online to www.heritagecorridorcvb.com.

JIM EDGAR PANTHER CREEK

STATE PARK

Families interested in following Abraham Lincoln's path through central Illinois are well advised to visit Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Park in Cass County. There is plenty of good fishing in all directions.

"On site, Gridley and Drake lakes have excellent populations of bluegills and big redear sunfish," said DNR biologist Dan Stephenson. "There's also good catfishing. Prairie Lake likewise has excellent bluegills and catfish, and a lot of largemouths in the 18- to 20-inch range."

Numerous ponds full of bluegills, bass and catfish are also available. Shore access is superb. Both Gridley and Drake lakes are restricted to electric motors, while Prairie Lake allows unlimited horsepower but has a no-wake restriction.

Camping, hiking, bicycle trails

and a canoe livery are available here. Nearby in Petersburg is Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site as well as a few bed-and-breakfasts. Springfield is 30 miles to the southeast, and there you can absorb many attractions. Also nearby to the west are Sand Ridge State Forest and the Jake Wolf Memorial Fish Hatchery.

For more information, call the park office at (815) 369-4282. For other lodging information, call the Freeport Chamber of Commerce at (815) 233-1350 or the Galena Chamber of Commerce at (815) 777-9050. You can also go online to www.ci.freeport.il.us or www.cityofgalena.org.

I&M CANAL

If you're looking for variety, it's tough to beat the I&M Canal in the famed Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor. There's probably not enough time to do all there is to do here.

"Along its course, the I&M Canal has good access and excellent fishing opportunities," said DNR biologist Rob Miller. "In the upper stretches, there are a lot of bluegills, sunfish, bullheads and carp, and good bass and crappie fishing as well."

In the area around I&M Canal State Park in Channahon just off I-55, anglers catch bunches of bluegills on worms, crickets and wax worms. Crappies hit best on a minnow under a slip-float. Brushy banks hide nice largemouths. Dough balls or corn will wear a youngster out from catching carp. And if you want to catch a gazillion bullheads, a piece of night crawler on the bottom can't be beat.

Over by the town of Morris off I-80, the canal supports the same species, but with better numbers of largemouth bass.

Downstream from Morris, the canal becomes an intermittent waterway until the town of Utica between Ottawa and La Salle where Miller said sunfish and channel catfish are stocked annually. Lock No. 14 tends to be a hotspot. Worms on jigs work well for the sunnies, while catfish prefer dip baits and cut minnows. Largemouths in this sector prefer spinnerbaits pitched into shoreline brush.

The I&M Canal is also a great place for a family canoe trip. Good runs include from Channahon to Morris and from Utica to La Salle. Along the canal is the 55-mile Illinois & Michigan Bike Trail. Gebhard Woods in Morris offers primitive camping and features our state's largest tree. Near Utica, Starved Rock State Park offers scenic hiking, biking and the Starved Rock Lodge for superb overnight accommodations. Also nearby is the Great Bear Lodge Resort, which has an indoor and outdoor water park.

For more information on travel lodging, attractions and events associated with the canal, go online to www.heritagecorridorcvb.com.

JIM EDGAR PANTHER CREEK

STATE PARK

Families interested in following Abraham Lincoln's path through central Illinois are well advised to visit Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Park in Cass County. There is plenty of good fishing in all directions.

"On site, Gridley and Drake lakes have excellent populations of bluegills and big redear sunfish," said DNR biologist Dan Stephenson. "There's also good catfishing. Prairie Lake likewise has excellent bluegills and catfish, and a lot of largemouths in the 18- to 20-inch range."

Numerous ponds full of bluegills, bass and catfish are also available. Shore access is superb. Both Gridley and Drake lakes are restricted to electric motors, while Prairie Lake allows unlimited horsepower but has a no-wake restriction.

Camping, hiking, bicycle trails and a canoe livery are available here. Nearby in Petersburg is Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site as well as a few bed-and-breakfasts. Springfield is 30 miles to the southeast, and there you can absorb many attractions. Also nearby to the west are Sand Ridge State Forest and the Jake Wolf Memorial Fish Hatchery.

For more information about the park, call (217) 452-7741. For area travel and lodging information, call the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce at (217) 632-7363, or visit PetersburgIl.com. The Springfield Chamber of Commerce can be reached at (217) 525-1173.

BEAVER DAM STATE PARK

Nestled within the wooded splendor of Macoupin County, Beaver Dam State Park is one small gem families won't want to miss.

"Beaver Dam Lake, at 57 acres, has a good largemouth bass, bluegill and channel catfish population," said DNR biologist Jeffery Pontnack. "There are a lot of small- to medium-sized bass, with a few pushing 5 pounds. Bluegills run up to 9 inches and there are tons of 1- to 3-pound catfish."

If bass trip your trigger, Dean Thompson of Bluff City Tackle in Alton suggested targeting woody shoreline cover.

"We've caught some really nice bass from Beaver Dam," Thompson said. "Before the weeds grow, we do well with suspending minnow baits. After the weeds grow, switch to plastic worms or topwaters."

Crickets and red worms will catch lunker bluegills. And if it's catfish you fancy, night crawlers or chicken livers produce well anywhere on the lake.

Boat rentals, good shoreline access and camping are on site. Nearby in the town of Shipman is the Southwest Farm & Home Museum, which showcases artifacts and memorabilia of the farmers of the southwest portion of Illinois. Not far away is the town of Carlinville, which has restaurants, shops and other amenities for traveling families.

For more fishing information, call (217) 854-8020. For travel and lodging info, call the Carlinville Chamber of Commerce at (217) 854-2141.

WALNUT POINT STATE PARK

As far as opportunity is concerned, it's tough to find a more accommodating place than Walnut Point State Park in southeastern Douglas County.

"Walnut Point has good bank-fishing access, fishing piers and excellent populations of bluegills, redear sunfish, crappies and catfish," said DNR biologist Mike Hooe. "Additionally, there's a superb population of largemouths up to 20 inches."

Crawler pieces fished on any bank will catch enough bluegills and redears to keep a youngster busy, while minnows do nicely for the crappies. In the evening, try soaking livers or crawler blobs for big channel catfish, and locals swear by a black or green jig-and-pig for largemouth bass. Boat launching is available but restricted to electric motors.

Supplementary to fishing, there are plenty of trails, plus camping, picnicking and playground areas. Not far away is the Charleston/Mattoon area with hotels, restaurants and shopping.

For more fishing information, call (217) 346-3336. For travel and lodging info, call the Charleston Chamber of Commerce at (217) 345-7041, or the Mattoon Chamber of Commerce at (217) 235-5661.

R

ED HILLS STATE PARK

Another small gem is Red Hills State Park between Olney and Lawrenceville, and according to the DNR's Mike Hooe, there is something for everyone here.

"Red Hills has good populations of bluegills, redears and channel catfish," he said. "There are some pretty nice bass, too."

The last survey turned up 185 bluegills per hour, with a high percentage of them being between 7 and 8 inches. The same survey observed 70 largemouths per hour, with fish up to 4 pounds. Redear sunfish up to 10 inches complement the bluegills, and the channel catfish run up to 30 inches.

Crickets are the local favorite for the 'gills and redears. Fish the bays for the bass with spinnerbaits and plastic worms around visible cover. For the cats, a blob of dip bait or chicken liver does well by the face of the dam.

Camping, hiking, picnicking, boat rental, a nice restaurant and concessions are on site. Of course, nearby Olney is "Home of the White Squirrels," where the little albinos run amok in the city. Olney is the only town in the country where the squirrels have the right of way on all city streets. Seriously.

For more fishing information, call (618) 936-2469. For travel and lodging info, call the Olney Chamber of Commerce at (618) 392-2241, or visit www.ci.olney.il.us.

HORSESHOE LAKE

STATE PARK

Any family heading to the St. Louis area this summer will want to stop at Horseshoe Lake State Park between Granite City and Collinsville. This 2,000-acre floodplain lake is packed full of fish -- which is a guarantee to keep everyone's bobber down.

"Horseshoe has great shoreline access and good populations of fish that will keep a young angler busy," said DNR biologist Fred Cronin. "There are lots of bluegills, yellow bass, bullheads and even orange-spotted sunfish. Crappies and catfish are very popular, and the lake has been a real sleeper for some really nice largemouths."

Night crawlers will produce a steady stream of the bluegills, sunnies and yellow bass. Most people target crappies with minnows or small jigs. Dean Thompson of Bluff City Tackle in Alton suggested that if it's bass you want, target the deep shorelines of the lake and throw shallow-diving crankbaits or flip jigs into woody cover. Catfish anglers swear by chicken livers or cut bait fished just about anywhere.

Every year, the Shawnee National Forest draws visitors from all around, and if you're thinking about visiting the big woods, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better fishing lake than Little Grassy in southwestern Williamson County in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge.

Picnic shelters, playgrounds, boat launching and camping are available. Nearby is Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, which at one time was the site of the largest manmade structure in the county -- a burial mound about 80 feet high. There is a water park within five minutes of the lake, and the attractions of St. Louis are nearby.

For more fishing information, call (618) 931-0270. For travel and lodging info, call (618) 876-6400.

SAM DALE LAKE

In northwest Wayne County, Sam Dale Lake Conservation Area is a definite must for anglers eager to reel in fish after fish.

Largemouth bass are the most sought-after species here, and the latest survey indicated better than 25 percent of the bucketmouths are over the 14-inch minimum. Largemouths up to 7 pounds are caught by anglers tossing primarily spinnerbaits or a jig-and-pig. For the abundant crappies, use a slip-bobber with a minnow, or twitch a small red-and-chartreuse tube jig over brushpiles and shoreline deadfalls. Bluegills and redear sunfish are likewise abundant, and they prefer crawlers and redworms. Channel catfish are stocked each year, and they rule the bottom of the lake. Ten-pound cats are common, and can easily be caught from shore.

Picnicking, camping, boat rental, trails and playgrounds are located on site. Sam Dale is off the beaten path, but the fishing is awesome.

For more lake information, call (618) 835-2292. For travel and lodging info, call the Flora Chamber of Commerce at (618) 662-5646.

LITTLE GRASSY LAKE

Every year, the Shawnee National Forest draws visitors from all around, and if you're thinking about visiting the big woods, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better fishing lake than Little Grassy in southwestern Williamson County in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge.

"Little Grassy is 1,000 acres and has excellent populations of bass, bluegills, redear sunfish and channel catfish," said DNR biologist Chris Bickers. "There's also a marina and campground complex located on the lake."

While many anglers consider Little Grassy to be a great bass lake, it's the bluegills and redears that really shine here. Bluegills and redears surpassing 8 inches are commonly caught on night crawlers. In the summer, try pitching jigs and minnows along deep weed edges for a big crappie population. And if you're looking to put Junior's first bucketmouth on the wall, 5-pounders are common, and 8-pounders are possible. Main-lake points and heavy cover is the summer pattern, but clear water requires a modified approach. Plastic worms, jigs and topwaters at first and last light are effective. Also, channel catfish surpassing 10 pounds are common on cut bait.

As a bonus, Little Grassy has a swimming beach. There are superb hiking trails at nearby Devil's Kitchen, Giant City State Park and Ferne Clyffe State Park. Carbondale is a short jaunt to the north, and it has lodging, restaurants and other amenities for traveling families.

For more information, call the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge at (618) 997-6869, or go to www.fws. gov/midwest/CrabOrchard. You can also call the Little Grassy Lake Campground at (618) 457-6655.

LAKE GLENDALE

Over on the east side of the Shawnee National Forest is Lake Glendale in Pope County just north of the intersection of highways 145 and 146 in Dixon Springs.

"Lake Glendale is a U.S. Forest Service lake just north of Dixon Springs State Park," said DNR biologist Kurt Daine. "It is electric trolling motor-only, and has excellent bluegills, catfish and small bass for the kids."

At 80 acres, Glendale is superb for a lazy afternoon of chasing giant bluegills with redworms around weeds and deadfalls. Catfish bite on typical fare off the levee, and small topwaters and crankbaits will keep everybody supplied with enough pole-bending largemouths.

Any family heading to the St. Louis area this summer will want to stop at Horseshoe Lake State Park between Granite City and Collinsville. This 2,000-acre floodplain lake is packed full of fish -- which is a guarantee to keep everyone's bobber down.

Lake Glendale is about three miles north of Dixon Springs State Park, which has an in-ground swimming pool with a waterslide, and camping. If you are into comic book superheroes, the city of Metropolis is about 20 miles to the south. Giant statues and other memorabilia commemorate the hometown of "Superman." About 20 miles to the north is the Garden of the Gods with its awesome rock formations and hiking trails.

For more information about Lake Glendale or Garden of the Gods, call the USFS at (618) 658-2111. For information about Dixon Springs, call (618) 949-3304. For travel, lodging and inquiries about the various amenities of Metropolis, call (618) 524-2714, or go online to www.cityofmetropolis.com.

* * *

Well, there you have it. This certainly is not all there is to do in Illinois, but these are definitely some of the best family-oriented fishing waters and activities our state has to offer. For additional information, go online to www.dnr.state.il.us.

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