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Illinois' Family Fishing Getaways

Illinois' Family Fishing Getaways

From the Free Fishing Days in June to week-long vacation spots the rest of the summer, our state has something for everyone who needs to get away from it all.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Now that the kids are out of school, it's the perfect time to take the family fishing.

In Illinois we have Free Fishing Days at various locations around our state in June, state parks where you can get a little closer to nature and a bunch of other places where you can escape for a week.

Let's start with Free Fishing Days on June 10-13 this year. You'll find both organized events and extended-stay recreation. With a little research, you should be able to find not only a great fishing spot but also options such as hiking, boating, canoeing, picnicking, camping and other outdoors activities.

"You can go to any part of the state and find kid-friendly areas," said Jim Mick, Illinois Department of Natural Resources' Rivers and Streams Program manager. He suggests parents look for places that offer bank-accessible fishing and great yields of smaller panfish.

"There are a lot of places you don't hear about that have a lot of smaller fish, such as sunfish, bluegills, redear sunfish, green sunfish, small bass, small crappies, bullheads and sometimes channel catfish -- just lots of smaller panfish," Mick said.

As part of Free Fishing Days, many outdoor groups and social organizations host special family-friendly events that coincide with the second weekend in June. Many of the events are held at recently stocked ponds that provide good action for young anglers and families interested in trying fishing out for the first time. Go to the DNR's Web site at for events. For more information on Free Fishing Days events in Illinois, contact DNR Public Events and Promotions at (217) 785-8955 or by e-mail at


More fishing action can be found at the Wal-Mart fishing derbies. Wal-Mart sponsors fishing derbies throughout the summer, many of them with June dates. To locate Wal-Mart fishing derbies in your specific ZIP code, log on to

Civic organizations, scout troops, community groups and recreation agencies all sponsor fun family events in conjunction with the annual Illinois Free Fishing Days celebration June 10-13 when anglers can fish without purchasing an annual fishing license, inland trout stamp or salmon stamp.

If you're looking for a little more laid-back, less-structured weekend, the experts recommend taking the whole family to one of the public sites in the Illinois State Park system. They offer amenities such as camping, swimming, biking, hiking, birdwatching, canoeing and more.

Joe Ferencak, Impoundment Program manager of the Division of Fisheries, oversees the management of all the state lakes. His biologists use the information from the statewide Creel Program at the Illinois Natural History Survey to help improve the fish population for anglers. With this information, he can also gauge the quality of fishing.

Here are some family-friendly locations that Farencak recommends. Bluegill fishing is ideal for families with children, so the following lakes are excellent sites.


Northwestern Illinois

Lake Carlton in Whiteside County is a great place to take the family fishing. It has ample shoreline access, boat rental, bait, food concessions and camping. June is an exceptional fishing month, especially if you concentrate on small inlets with timber and weeds. You can expect fish averaging 1/3-pound. If you do take a boat, keep in mind the 10-horsepower limit on outboards. For more information, call (815) 772-4708.

Shabbona Lake in De Kalb County is another good place to take the family fishing because it offers ample shoreline access, boat rental, bait, food concession, and camping. You'll find bluegills averaging about 1/3-pound under diverse cover from weedbeds, snags, brush and riprap. The concession stand, Shabbona Lake Bait and Tackle, also offers a map of the many fish-attracting reefs placed in the lake. For boaters, there is a 10-horsepower limit on outboards. Contact the Shabbona Lake park office at (815) 824-2106, the concession at (815) 824-2581 or browse online at

Central Illinois

Lincoln Trail Lake in Clark County has amenities similar to Shabbona. This lake should continue to provide some exceptionally good bluegill fishing opportunities from May through September, with fish up to 3/4-pound. Hikers can enjoy the two-mile trail that winds through the park's oak and hickory forest. Campers have two Class A campgrounds with electricity, showers, tables, fireblocks, playground equipment, water, toilet facilities and a sanitary dumping station. For those who wish to be attuned to nature without the distractions of modern conveniences, Lakeside Campground also includes a Class C camping area for tents. Boat anglers should keep in mind there is a 10-horsepower limit on outboards. Contact the park office at (217) 826-2222.

Walnut Point Lake in Douglas County is another good family fishing destination, with bluegills up to 1/2-pound. There are two Class A camping areas with tables, stoves, electricity and a sanitary dumping station. Class C (walk-in tent camping) and Group Camping (youth or adult) are also available. Reservations are accepted. Note that there is an 8-inch length limit and 10-fish per day creel regulation in effect, and a 10-horse limit on outboards. Call (217) 346-3336 for more information about Walnut Point Lake.

Southwestern Illinois

Siloam Springs State Park in Adams County has a relatively small lake, but it continues to produce some good-sized bluegills up to 1/2-pound. The crystal-clear spring waters used to attract health enthusiasts long ago. Today, families flock to the park to enjoy the scenic wooded terrain, picnicking along the shoreline, camping and equestrian trails. Fishing is best by boat in back of small coves in June. For more info, call (217) 894-6205.

Siloam Springs State Park in Adams County has a relatively small lake, but it continues to produce some good-sized bluegills up to 1/2-pound.

Southern Illinois

Despite a tornado that damaged much of the area in 2003, the park is slowly recovering. Mermet Lake in Massac County is still a nice family fishing spot that also has camping. It produces bluegills up to 1/2-po

und in May and June. There is an 8-inch length limit/10-fish per day creel limit in effect. Boaters have access to four launch ramps on the 452-acre lake. There is a 10-horsepower outboard limit. Learn more about Mermet Lake by calling (618) 524-5577.


For the most comprehensive information on family fishing, all the experts recommend Developed last year by the DNR and Illinois Natural History Survey, this site combines information from numerous publications and more.

"Specifically, the family fishing link is one of my favorite parts," said DNR's Jim Mick. "There's all kinds of kid's info on fishing, fish hooks, how to tie knots, procedural and basic info. You can see it and print it all out."

The Web site also offers lake recommendations.

"Where to go has always been missing, so that is a highlight not in the regular books," said Mick.

Here's a few places recommended at the site.

Northwestern Illinois

Hennepin Canal is a 104.5-mile-long park that spans five counties. The canal is 925 acres, with an average depth of 5 feet and averages about 90 feet across. The majority is accessible to bank-fishing, which makes it family-friendly. Non-anglers can also elect to go boating, canoeing, picnicking, camping, or hike and bike a 93-mile multi-use trail. There are good populations of largemouth bass, bluegills, crappies, walleyes, channel catfish and flathead catfish. Call (815) 454-2328 for more information.

North Charter Oak Lake is part of the Peoria Park District in Peoria County. The lake is located on the northwest side of Peoria. Go one mile south of U.S. Route 150 on Orange Prairie Road to the parking area for the park. This 6.4-acre lake is accessible to shore-anglers by a paved trail and three fishing piers. The whole family can enjoy recreational activities including fishing, walking and nature watching along a paved trail near the lake. The children might enjoy the fact that the park also has a playground. The park also has a covered pavilion for picnicking. Anglers will find largemouth bass, bluegills, redear sunfish, channel catfish and carp. To learn more about the Peoria Park District's amenities, call them at (309) 682-1200.

Northeastern Illinois

In Kendall County, your family should check out Big Lake and Beaver Lake in Silver Springs State Fish and Wildlife Area. Both of these lakes are old gravel pits, with Big Lake the larger of the two at 22 acres and Beaver Lake at 4.5 acres. Maximum depths are similar at just over 20 feet. Since the majority of the shoreline of both of these ponds is accessible to shore-anglers, it'll make fishing easier for the kids. Activities include fishing, boating and hiking trails. Big Lake has a gravel boat ramp, and rental boats are available at the on-site concession stand. If you do take a boat, use electric trolling motors only. Both lakes contain populations of largemouth bass, bluegills, white crappies and channel catfish. Catchable-sized rainbow trout are stocked into Big Lake in the spring and fall. For more information about the park, call (630) 553-6297.

Central Illinois

Clinton Lake in De Witt County offers recreational opportunities for the whole family. The Clinton Lake State Recreation Area is operated by the DNR with the cooperation of Amergen Energy Company. Not only can you fish but there are also major water recreational activities such as swimming, boating and waterskiing. You can also go hiking and camping. Angling is mainly from boats, but numerous fishing piers and shoreline access areas are spread around the lake. Several bridges cross the lake and provide anglers great access to fishing. Popular species include largemouth bass, walleyes, hybrid striped bass, striped bass and the popular crappie. Call (217) 935-8722 for more details.

Located three miles southeast of Clinton, Weldon Springs in De Witt County is another family-friendly spot because the panfishing is so strong. The overall objective for this lake is to provide a good panfishery, while at the same time supplying a quality largemouth bass fishery. The lake is known for supplying good fishing for all species found in the lake. The good fertility of the lake offers excellent growing conditions for the fish, and the high fishing pressure keeps the larger fish cropped off, allowing room for the middle-sized fish to grow larger. The campground was named by Family Circle magazine to be one of the "Top Twenty Campgrounds in America." There are seven interpretive trails that wind throughout the property, providing information about history, biology and features unique to the park. For more information, call the park office at (217) 935-2644.

Central Illinois-East

Families will enjoy the facilities at Lake Shelbyville in Shelby and Moultrie counties. Lake Shelbyville has numerous public boat launching facilities. If you use U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-developed access area boat ramps, be prepared to pay a fee. But there is free access on Illinois DNR state parks or Corps gravel boat ramps. The lake is well known as a great crappie and catfish lake for shore-anglers.

Anglers can also catch white bass, walleyes, muskies and largemouth bass. Beyond angling, Wolf Creek State Park offers a swimming beach, camping and contains seven hiking trails, including a scenic 15-mile equestrian trail. Eagle Creek State Park offers a full-service resort with golf, swimming pool and restaurant. There is also camping, miles of backpacking trails and personal watercraft rentals available at the nearby marina. To learn more, call (217) 774-3951 or check out

Central Illinois-West

Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area in Cass County has three reservoirs totaling 270 acres and an additional 10 ponds totaling approximately 15 acres. Prairie Lake is 210 acres with a path around the entire 13-mile shoreline for easy bank-fishing access. Gridley Lake is 25 acres. There's a footpath around the entire shoreline for easy access and bank-fishing. Drake Lake is 35 acres with a path around the entire shoreline for easy access. All three lakes are about a maximum of 45 feet deep. There are 10 ponds on the site that have recently been renovated and restocked. With all this water comes some excellent fishing opportunities.

For information about their location, stop by the site office. Recreational uses include fishing and boating, including small sailboats, on Prairie Lake. All three lakes have concrete ramps. Prairie and Gridley lakes have pavilions for picnicking or family get-togethers. There is camping on Prairie Lake, from primitive tent sites to RV hookups. If your family members want cabins, they are available, too, but reserve them early. Prairie and Gridley have handicapped-accessible fishing piers. Playgrounds are located at Prairie Lake. There's a 10-horsepower motor limit on Prairie, and electric trolling motors only allowed on Gridley and Drake. Game fish include largemouth bass, bluegills, redear sunfish and channel catfish. There are muskies in Prairie Lake, too. Contact the site office for more details at (217) 452-7741.

Southern Illinois

In Marion Coun

ty, Forbes Lake is located in Stephen Forbes State Park, 15 miles northeast of Salem. It has good fishing for crappies, channel catfish and largemouth bass. Bluegills and redear sunfish are abundant but on the small side. Also available are saugeyes, hybrid striped bass, muskies and carp. Several ponds are also located in the park. Boston Pond receives spring and fall stockings of catchable rainbow trout. There are no horsepower limitations for boats on the lake, though the lake is zoned for waterskiing and no-wake fishing areas. Keep the family amused with camping and picnicking facilities as well as boat rentals. More information can be obtained by calling S.A. Forbes State Park at (618) 547-3381.

Ramsey Lake in Fayette County is located in Ramsey Lake State Park, three miles northwest of Ramsey. The lake has good fishing for channel catfish, bluegills, redear sunfish and crappies. Boats are allowed but limited to trolling motors only. Camping and picnicking facilities as well as boat rentals are also available. More information can be obtained by calling Ramsey Lake State Park at (618) 423-2215.

Another great place to check out is Red Hills Lake in Lawrence County. Red Hills Lake is 40 acres located on Illinois Route 50 between Olney -- the Home of the White Squirrel! -- and Lawrenceville. The lake contains largemouth bass, bluegills, redear sunfish, black crappies and channel catfish, so there's plenty to catch. Regulations include a 15-inch minimum length limit on largemouth bass, and an 8-inch minimum length limit with a 10-fish daily creel limit for bluegills and redear sunfish. The site is family-friendly, because it offers excellent access for bank-anglers.

There is also a boat ramp, and rowboats are available for rent, but boats are restricted to electric motors only. Both electric and non-electric campsites and picnicking facilities are available. If you're not up to cooking for the kids, you can feed the hungry troops at the on-site restaurant, which is open year-round. Learn more about Red Hills State Park by calling (618) 936-2469.

In Kendall County, your family should check out Big Lake and Beaver Lake in Silver Springs State Fish and Wildlife Area. Both of these lakes are old gravel pits, with Big Lake the larger of the two at 22 acres and Beaver Lake at 4.5 acres.

In Jackson County, Kinkaid Lake is 2,750 acres located five miles northwest of Murphysboro. Kinkaid Lake offers very little shoreline fishing access but the family might enjoy recreational boating or camping. There are three main boat ramps. A marina offers camping facilities and boat rentals. Camping facilities are also available at nearby Lake Murphysboro State Park. Call the marina at (618) 687-4914 for more about boating. This lake is annually stocked with walleyes, muskies and largemouth bass. Most anglers target largemouth bass, walleyes, muskies, channel catfish and crappies. The best chance to catch fish on this lake is in the spring and fall because this lake receives a lot of recreational boat traffic during the summer months.


Web sites such as, and can help you plan the perfect outing for your family. Many parks provide diverse recreation options. So the anglers, campers, birdwatchers, hikers and other outdoors enthusiasts can truly be part of one big happy family. For those without Internet access, Mick recommends that anglers contact their local DNR offices for printed information or advice.

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