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Illinois Family Fishing Road Trips

Illinois Family Fishing Road Trips

Trying to decide where to take your brood fishing this summer? Visit a few of these hotspots where the fishing -- and the fun off the water! -- is guaranteed to put a smile on everyone's face. (June 2009)

About the time the first nice summer day happens along, my first thought is to take my wife and children, load them into the car, and head out to do some fishing. There is truly something to be said for the experience of having fun catching fish with your family.

There's no shortage of great family fishing waters in Illinois. If you're wondering where to go, you don't have to look far from home The fish are always biting, and chances are good your destination holds something for every member of your family to enjoy.


Photo courtesy of Ted Peck.

Illinois is home to scores of fantastic, kid-friendly waters. If you're trying to decide where to take the brood fishing this summer, visit a few of the hotspots outlined below. All are teeming with fish, have great access and facilities, and all are located within a stone's throw of some fantastic sidebar activities guaranteed to put a smile on everyone's face.

Apple River Canyon State Park stands among the most breathtaking parks in Illinois and has some phenomenal smallmouth bass fishing in its namesake river!

"Smallmouths abound in every pool in the river," says site superintendent Jeff Hensal. "Twenty or more fish in a day is not uncommon. Whole night crawlers fished on a float or drifted on a small hook will keep everyone in fish. Small spinners work well, too."

Hensal also notes sunfish are abundant and easily taken with small worms. And if you're up for a bit of a trudge, Apple River Canyon manages little 20-acre Hanover Lake. This facility is undeveloped, access requires walking, and few bother with it.

"In Hanover Lake, hybrid sunfish are fabulous, catfish numerous, and largemouths abundant but small. If you go you're going to catch some fish," Hensal reports.

Apple River Canyon State Park is north of Stockton in Jo Daviess County. Hanover Lake is 20 minutes away, south of Hanover, off South Hanover Hill Road. Jo Daviess County is home to some spectacular attractions. For more information about Apple River Canyon State Park, call (815) 745-3302. For travel information, visit or call the Galena Chamber of Commerce, phone: (815) 777-9050.

Families in Chicagoland have a great opportunity in Silver Springs State Fish & Wildlife Area.

"This is the place to go with the kids," says fisheries biologist Rob Miller of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. "There's good fishing for bluegills, crappie and bass, and excellent bank-fishing access to two main ponds."

Greg Freeman of Freeman's Sports Inc. in Yorkville, phone: (630) 553-0515, says youngsters can be kept busy "bringing in the 'gills with small hooks and wax worms or red worms, fished below a small float. For largemouths, try a night crawler on an un-weighted hook. Channel catfish are taken with stink bait on the bottom."

On premises, the Fox River also offers anglers a shot at smallmouth bass, walleyes, catfish and carp.

"For smallmouths, nothing beats a black-and-gold Rapala fished around the River Road Bridge," Freeman says. "Walleyes are good in the same area with twisters or minnows, and you can catch carp all day with corn or worms fished on the bottom."

If the fish aren't biting, there are hiking trails, picnicking, playground facilities and primitive camping. Nearby there's Raging Waves, Illinois' largest water park, phone (630) 882-6575 or at www.ragingwaves. com. The towns of Sandwich, Plano and Yorkville offer plenty of attractions and entertainment for visiting families.

Silver Springs FWA is located five miles west of Yorkville in Kendal County. For more information, call (630) 553-6297. For area information, contact the Yorkville Area Chamber of Commerce, phone (630) 553-6853 or online at www.yorkvillechamber. org.

Just up the road from Silver Springs FWA, little 20-acre Jericho Lake in Aurora is part of the Fox Valley Park District. According to fisheries biologist Vic Santucci, it's a destination well suited for the kids.

"Our (fisheries) survey showed an excellent largemouth population, with many bass in the 9- to 13-inch size range and a few over 16 inches," Santucci points out. "Bluegills are numerous, and crappie numbers are good with many up to 11 inches. Channel catfish are stocked, and there's a few northern pike. Overall, fishing is excellent."

Freeman says Jericho Lake is similar to the lake at Silver Springs FWA.

"Both are former gravel pits and have clear water. Kids do great on bluegills with wax worms. Largemouths bite well on night crawlers," he says, "but early in the summer are taken with small spinnerbaits and crankbaits. Catfish anglers do well with worms and livers. Crappies are taken on jigs and beetle spinners."

Good shoreline access and picnic shelters are available. Rowboats are allowed. The Fox Valley Parks District Bicycle Trail is one of the best in the state. Nearby is Sugar Grove Family Fun Center with mini golf, driving range, and go-carts; phone: (630) 466-3866 or online at

Jericho Lake is just west of Aurora in Kane County. For more information, contact the Fox Valley Park District, phone: (630) 897-0516. For information about the area at large, contact the Greater Aurora Chamber of Commerce, phone (630) 897-9214 or online at www.aurorachamber. com.

If you're looking for a little adventure, you'll definitely want to visit Wildlife Prairie State Park.

IDNR biologist Rob Hilsabeck says there are plenty of fish and attractions at Wildlife Prairie Park you won't find anywhere else.

"There are four ponds ranging in size from 2 to 14 acres, and decent shoreline access. Bluegills dominate the fishery," he reports, "with most ranging between 5 and 7 inches. Channel catfish are available, largemouths are abundant, and crappies are found here and there."

Jeff Lampe of the Peoria Journal Star fishes the park, too.

"These are old strip mine lakes with clear water. We bring a canoe to get back to difficult areas where the best fishing is,"

he says. "We catch a lot of bluegills on ice jigs and wax worms. Crappies bite well on minnows; and for largemouths, nothing beats an unweighted pumpkin Senko twitched along steep banks."

Park manager Linda Prescott says Wildlife Prairie State Park is the ultimate facility for a family vacation.

"We are a zoological park and have bears, cougars, elk, bison and many other animals to view. Our education department offers free activities. We have a train," she says, "a 60-foot sliding board; and, aside from a motel, families can opt to stay in a caboose, cabin or even a restored grain bin."

Wildlife Prairie State Park is in Hanna City, 10 miles west of Peoria. For more information, call (309) 676-0998, or go online to For travel information, contact the Peoria Chamber of Commerce, phone: (309) 676-0755, or visit online at

If you visit Springfield, be sure to check out the pond behind the Hanley Building at 2300 S. Dirksen Parkway.

"This 30-acre state-owned lake is a small, easily accessible pond that provides great bank access," says IDNR fisheries biologist Dan Stephenson. "It has a high population of bluegills and catfish, and is one of the best largemouth lakes around."

Jim Porter of Jim's Live Bait and Tackle in Springfield says most anglers go after the catfish with raw shrimp, night crawlers or cheese bait.

"Kids can catch lots of bluegills on crickets and wax worms," Porter reports, "and bass fisherman do well with small crankbaits, buzzbaits and spinners. The whole pond is good. At 30 acres, anybody can fish it all in an afternoon."

For more information about IDOT Lake, contact Jim's Live Bait and Tackle in Springfield, phone: (217) 787-1951. For travel and lodging information, contact the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, phone: (217) 789-2360 or online at

IDNR fisheries biologist Jeffery Pontnack fingers two family fisheries in Macoupin County just south of Springfield.

The first is little three-acre Terry Park Pond near the town of Palmyra.

"The impoundment provides plenty of bank-fishing spots in a groomed park setting," Pontnack says. "There are excellent populations of bass, crappies, bluegills and channel catfish."

Data shows that anglers demonstrate a catch rate of bluegills of 45 fish per hour. A cane pole with a float and night crawler pieces on a small hook results in a gazillion "spinebacks." Mom or Dad can show off a largemouth or two by parallel casting plastic worms or small spinnerbaits to shoreline weeds. Crappies are taken with small jigs, and traditional fare will find plenty of catfish.

Terry Park Lake is one mile east of Palmyra in northern Macoupin County. For fishing information, call Terry Park, phone: (217) 436-2531. Visiting families can check out area attractions and entertainment by contacting the Carlinville Community Chamber of Commerce, phone (217) 854-2141, or go online to

Mt. Olive Old City Lake is the second must-fish site for families on Pontnack's list. Located conveniently amid historic Route 66 towns, Jeffery says, the lake holds plenty of fish and there are not many anglers going after them.

"The lake is 30 acres and holds nice populations of bluegills, largemouth bass, crappies and catfish. There's minimal fishing pressure with a quiet, relaxed environment," he adds.

Try worms for the 'gills. Bass anglers do well with spinners, plastics and topwater baits, targeting bank cover and weeds. Channel catfish are numerous and easily taken throughout the lake with night crawlers and dip-baits. Crappies are taken next to shoreline brush with jigs and small Beetle Spins.

Good bank access is available. A city sticker is required to operate a boat. For more information about Mt. Olive Old City Lake, call the city clerk's office, phone: (217) 999-4261. For information about travel and lodging, contact the Litchfield Chamber of Commerce, phone (217) 324-2533, or go online to

Located about 20 miles northeast of Charleston in Douglas County, Walnut Point Lake is a small, scenic lake with a superb fishery. Nestled nearby to Illinois' largest Amish community, it makes for a great family fishing trip.

Within the 59-acre lake, the Illinois Natural History Survey conducted research about bluegill populations and the 'gills tend to be nice! Six- to 8-inch fish are common and caught on jigs and night crawler pieces fished near shoreline brush in the backs of the many coves.

Largemouths are very abundant, too, and easily taken with worms and minnows below a float or spinners and shallow-running crankbaits. Catfish are frequent biters and taken with livers and worms fished on the bottom. The best area is around the dam.

Great shoreline access, picnic areas, playgrounds and campsites are available. Boats are restricted to electric motors. Nearby, many Amish attractions are discovered at Arthur, 30 minutes to the west. Visit for information. Nearby Arcola offers travel, lodging and amenities. For more information about the lake, contact the park office, phone: (217) 346-3336. For area attractions and entertainment, visiting families can call the Arcola Chamber of Commerce, phone (217) 268-4530, or online at

Families visiting the St. Louis metro area might want to check out the lake at Gordon Moore Park. Although not the largest body of water, easy access, a superb population of kid-friendly fish, and close proximity to numerous sidebar activities translates to big fun.

"Gordon Moore Park (lake) has a great population of small sunfish and very high numbers of channel catfish," says IDNR fisheries biologist Fred Cronin.

Butch Emery of Bluff City Tackle in Alton says cane poles and 'crawler pieces will keep kids busy with the sunnies. "For catfish, try Sonny's Stink Bait on the bottom and have the net at the ready. Catfish aren't exceptionally large, but they are numerous," he adds. "There's also a good population of largemouths here. We see a lot of fish in the 1- to 2-pound class. Most are taken on small spinners and crankbaits."

Gordon Park is located in Alton at 140 College Park Ave. In addition to some good fishing, Raging Rivers Water Park, phone: (618) 786-2345, is nearby in Grafton, and the St. Louis metro area is within 30-minutes. For travel and lodging information, contact the Alton Regional and Convention & Visitors Bureau, phone: (618) 465-6676, or online at


l Prairie State families should visit the splendor of the Shawnee National Forest, and Glen Jones Lake in Saline County Fishing & Wildlife Area is a great place to start

IDNR fisheries biologist Curt Daine says Glen Jones has good bass, catfish and bluegill fishing, with great shore access. Most bluegill anglers cast a bobber rig with a cricket. Crappie fishing around shoreline brush and manmade cribs is good with minnows. Catfish range from 2 to 15 pounds, and anglers will catch plenty of fish in a day with chicken livers.

"Bass fishing is excellent," adds site superintendent Eric McLusky. "Three- to 4-pounders are common, and most (fishermen) do well dragging soft plastics over shoreline cover."

On the off chance the fish aren't biting, sightseeing here is as good as it gets, McLusky says. "Within a half hour of the park, there's Garden of the Gods, Pounds Hollow and the Ohio River," he points out. Dixon Springs State Park, phone: (618) 949-3394, has a public swimming pool. Saline County Fishing & Wildlife Area is five miles southwest of Equality.

For more information about Glen Jones Lake, call (618) 276-4405. For information about the Shawnee National Forest, visit http://www.fs.fed. us/r9/forests/Shawnee, or call (618) 253-7114. Visiting families can discover area attractions and entertainment by contacting the Saline County Chamber of Commerce, phone: (618) 252-4192, or go online to

On the west side of Shawnee NF, Lake Murphysboro is another prime fishery for family outings.

"It has great shoreline access and a healthy population of bass, crappies, bluegills, redear sunfish and catfish, reports IDNR fisheries biologist Shawn Hirst.

Terry Graef of Top of the Hill Bait Shop in Murphysboro notes that summer fishing is superb.

"Bluegills are big and most (anglers) go after them with a slip float and wax worms," he says. "Crappie fishing is very good with minnows fished under a float or jig. The lake is one of the biggest kept secrets for 3- to 4-pound largemouths. Spinnerbaits and plastic worms bring in the most bass. Murphysboro is loaded with channel catfish in the 18- to 24-inch range. It's nothing to catch your limit of catfish in an hour around the dam with night crawlers."

Graef says the entire 105-acre lake is accessible from the bank, and the area around the old concession stand tends to be a "catch all" for all species. Camping, hiking and picnicking are available. Boats are limited to 10 horsepower, and boat rentals are available.

Lake Murphysboro State Park is located in Jackson County, about one mile west of Murphysboro, off State Route 149. For more information, call the park office at (618) 684-2867. For travel information, contact the Murphysboro Area Chamber of Commerce, phone: (618) 684-6421 or online at

If you're interested in seeing some of the absolute best scenery, you'll be hard-pressed to find better than Ferne Clyffe State Park. Nestled in the middle of the Shawnee NF, Ferne Clyffe offers equally terrific fishing.

"Ferne Clyffe is 16 acres big and busting with bass, bluegills, redears and catfish. A one-mile-long trail surrounds the park, making it very accessible," says IDNR fisheries biologist Chris Bickers.

Bluegills and redears are fabulous at the lake in Ferne Clyffe. Many are longer than 8 inches, and redears push the 12-inch mark. Crickets, night crawlers and wax worms fished on a small float are effective. Additionally, the lake is filled with small largemouths that are taken with spinners, crankbaits and night crawlers fished on an unweighted hook. Catfish are easily caught with worms, livers and dip-baits.

Bickers says Ferne Clyffe State Park is a good place to camp, for access to the famous Tunnel Hill Bike Trail, which is seven miles to the east. Hiking is phenomenal. The town of Marion is close by, too.

For more information about Ferne Clyffe State Park, call (618) 995-2411. For information about travel and lodging in the area, contact the Marion Chamber of Commerce, phone: (618) 997-6311 or visit

There's definitely no shortage of great family-fishing waters in Illinois. If you're wondering where to go, you don't have to look much farther than these 12 hotspots. The fish are always biting, and chances are good that each destination holds something for every member of your family to enjoy.

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