Seven Great Illinois Family Fishing Getaways

Families that fish together, stay together - especially if there's a lot of other fun stuff to do while on vacation.

By Gary Thomas

It's time for the family vacation. Dad wants to go fishing. But the rest of the family has a half-dozen other ideas, ranging from golf and tennis to visiting historic sites and antiquing.

What's a father to do?

The answer is simple: read on. We've put together a list of what are some great places to take the family for a week or a weekend. You can visit action theme parks, go hiking or biking, visit casinos or historic sites, visit wineries, swim, play golf, shoot trap and skeet, and dozens of other things. And each of the places we've picked also includes great fishing opportunities.

We'll start at the north and work our way south.

Take along your ultralight or fly rod and enjoy fishing for one of Illinois' toughest fish in one of its prettiest streams. The Apple is a small stream flowing through rocky canyons and it's loaded with smallmouth bass at this pristine 300-acre state park. The bass won't be large, but they'll put up a big fight as you wade the cool waters. The Department of Natural Resources stocks catchable-sized trout here during the spring, so those are a bonus catch.

Photo by Chester Moore Jr.

The glaciers that leveled most of Illinois missed this part of the state, so you'll get a different perspective of our state in this neck of the woods. You can picnic or camp, plus enjoy several miles of scenic trails.

If the rest of the family is looking for other activities, they need look no farther than Galena. Located a dozen miles west of the park, this 19th century boomtown today features quaint shops, bed and breakfasts, and a lot of history. You'll find U.S. Grant's home there, as well the Old Market Place and numerous antique shops. You can visit the Galena History Museum for a look at a 19th century lead mine, or take an evening ghost tour.

There also are health spas, and a local winery to visit. The nearby community of Elizabeth was named for a woman who fought Indians, and today features an 1830s replica of Apple River Fort. If it's gambling that you're after, take the scenic drive to Dubuque, where you can enjoy both casinos and greyhound racing. If you drive another dozen miles you can see where "Field of Dreams" was filmed. The field is still there and visitors can run the bases or hit some fly balls.

If you've dreamed of "big-game" fishing, it's as close as Lake Michigan, and fishing there is great. Headquarter at Illinois Beach State Park near the Wisconsin border. You can camp in the state park or take advantage of the lodge located in the park.

Charter boat services are located at North Point Marina and in Waukegan. Anglers can catch coho salmon averaging 2 to 5 pounds, while chinook salmon range from 10 to 20 pounds. Anglers should call ahead for the best times and to make a reservation.

Illinois Beach features more than 6 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. It has numerous picnic areas and a large campground. There are plenty of trails for hiking and biking and there are large expanses of prairie and sand dunes, as well as colorful wildflowers. The lodge has all the amenities, including a great restaurant, an exercise room and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

You'll need a lot of vacation to take advantage of all the things to do close to Illinois Beach. Tempel Farms includes the largest herd of Lippizzan stallions in the United States, with shows on Wednesdays and Sundays. Gurnee Mills is one of the state's largest shopping malls. Next door is Six Flags Great America Theme Park, which is guaranteed fun for kids of all ages.

If you're looking to wager, there's a dog track just across the state line, and Chicago, with museums galore, is just 40 minutes away. There's the art institute, botanic gardens, arboretums, planetariums and aquariums. Or take a cruise up the Chicago River to admire the city's architecture or onto the lake for a spectacular view of the city's skyline.

You can enjoy a quality hybrid striped bass/walleye fishery in Pool 14 of the Mississippi River just north of the Quad Cities. This pool has been stocked with these species for more than 15 years, resulting in a fishery that is best described as excellent.

The best fishing for stripers is below the dam near Fulton, while you can find the walleyes in the rocky areas on the upriver side of the wing dams or by trolling near the dropoffs. Fishing pressure is light to moderate in this 12,500-acre pool. The average hybrid will be about 3 pounds and walleyes average 2 pounds, but hybrids in the 10-pound range and walleye larger than 6 pounds are not uncommon.

The Quad Cities are quickly becoming a vacation destination. There's a lot of history, plus some fun things to do. Start your visit at the John Deere Commons in downtown Moline. You'll enjoy the historic exhibits, including the restored Moline Tractor and Plow Company exhibit. If casinos are to you liking, there are gambling boats on both sides of the river. Take a cruise to dine and dance aboard a riverboat, or spend an evening at a dinner theater. Be sure to go onto Rock Island, where there is a Confederate cemetery, and visit Black Hawk Historic Site, where you can explore the Hauberg Indian Museum. You can also take a water taxi over to the Iowa side of the river for shopping.

There is a great series of trails along the river. Visitors might also want to take a short drive to Dixon, where they can visit Ronald Reagan's boyhood home, or to the Hennepin Canal, where you can see 19th century locks and aqueducts.

If you're looking for a lake that experiences a lot of fishing pressure but gets better each year, turn your attention to Sangchris Lake. The downside is that the lake restricts boaters to 25-horsepower motors or less.

Despite heavy fishing for largemouth bass, this 3,000-acre lake turns out 4- to 5-pounders regularly, and 6- and 7-pound fish are not uncommon. Or turn your attention to the striped bass. They average between 9 and 12 pounds, but 18- to 20-pound fish also are caught regularly. Begin your search in the deep water near the dam or off deepwater points. Catfish anglers congregate on the lake's east side, where they find channel cats swimming in the warm water. Fish in the 4- to 6-pound range are numerous.

This is a multi-faceted park, with more than 3 miles of hiking trails, a large campground, picnic areas, dog training area an

d numerous hunting programs.

Give yourself time to visit the Lincoln sites in nearby Springfield. These include Lincoln's home, tomb, office, depot and nearby New Salem. Those stops will also take you to the old Supreme Court and Old State Capitol buildings. Don't miss the new Lincoln Memorial Library and Lincoln Presidential Museum, which opens in 2004. The library will feature more than 3,500 photos and Lincoln-related items. Springfield also includes the Illinois State Museum, Fire Museum, Air Combat Museum, Funeral Customs Museum, State Military Museum (including Mexican General Santa Ana's artificial leg), Telephone Museum, several Civil War-era museums and a lot of Route 66 memorabilia, including Shea's Gas Station Museum. Visit the State Capitol or tour the Governor's Mansion. Nearby is Frank Lloyd Wright's Dana-Thomas House, or you can visit the world's third-largest carillon, in Washington Park (you can climb to the top for a great view of the city). The state's Korean and Vietnam War memorials also are located there.

If you're looking for a "laidback" vacation, consider Siloam Springs State Park. Located just a few miles east of Quincy, this is a quiet little park with a pretty little lake, and with plenty to do.

The 58-acre lake has a great population of bluegills and crappies. Bluegills will average 1/3 pound and go up to 1/2 pound. Redears average 1/2 pound. Look for them in the coves. Crappies are numerous and go up to 1 pound and are found in brushy areas. There's also a good bass population, and while the average fish will weigh 1 to 1 1/2 pounds, big fish are taken there each year. A bonus will be the catchable-sized rainbow trout that are stocked there spring and fall. And because Siloam Springs is fed by springs, some of the put-and-take trout live for several years and grow into trophy-sized fish.

The park features a nice campground and a number of picnic areas, plus 12 miles of hiking trails. There also are horse trials and an equestrian campground.

Nearby Quincy is a treasure trove for antique lovers. The city also has a war museum, and the John Wood Mansion. Quinsippi Island is a must-see, and you can visit Riverview Park on the bluff, where you'll enjoy panoramic views of the city and watch river activities. But start your visit at Villa Kathrine, a unique example of Mediterranean architecture set on the bluff overlooking the river, which also houses Quincy's tourist information center. You also will want to see the Fall Creek scenic lookout south of Quincy.

Nearby Hannibal, Mo., was the boyhood home of Mark Twain and includes his home and the cave he made famous.

There's great fishing in the Illinois River and its backwater lakes, and some of the best is near Pere Marquette State Park.

If you're looking for catfish, you don't even need a boat. Just cast a line from the shore of the river or from the public fishing areas in a backwater lake and get ready for action. Anglers can catch 2- to 3-pound channel catfish, or flatheads 10 to 15 pounds and larger. Anglers will find the area rich in both white bass and largemouths. These fish move around when water levels change, so check with local bait shops for the best areas. Whites average 1/2 pound, while largemouths up to 5 pounds can be taken. And if walleyes or saugers are your favorites, drive a little north of the park for some good fishing. They average about 2 pounds.

This is a great park to visit, with great views from the tops of river bluffs, extensive tracts of timber and a lot of river shoreline. The park has scenic campgrounds, including rent-a-cabin units, plus numerous picnic areas. There's a shrine marking where Marquette and Joliet entered Illinois as its first European explorer, and a large lodge built in the 1930s that is famous for great food. You can rent horses at the stable for riding the 12 miles of equestrian trails, or you can bring your own horse. There are also 12 miles of hiking trails and a great visitor's center with a small museum.

The area around Pere Marquette is loaded with attractions. Grafton has numerous trendy shops, several wineries and a water park for the kids. If you're looking for antiques, Grafton and Alton have more than 50 shops. The drive from Grafton to Alton is spectacular and includes the famous piasa bird painted on a river bluff. Along the way you might want to stop in Elsah, the town that time forgot. There also is a paved hiking/biking trail along the river road (bike rental is available at Grafton and Elsah). Alton has a park where Lincoln and Douglas debated, a life-sized statue of the world's tallest man (he stood 8 feet, 11 inches), a monument to Elijah Lovejoy and the ruins of a Civil War prison. There also is the new Great Rivers Museum to explore.

A few miles farther is the Lewis and Clark Historic Site, where the famous explorers camped 200 years ago before leaving on their exploration of the West. The new visitor's center includes a full-scale replica of the explorers' keelboat, with one side cut away so visitors can see what it would have been like inside. There's also a multi-media theater with films. Just a few miles down the road is Cahokia Mounds, and its unique visitor's center, showing what life was like in North America's largest city prior to European explorers. You'll also want to check out Lock and Dam No. 26 on the Mississippi River, the world's busiest waterway. If gambling's your thing, Alton also has a casino. You can check out the Olin Golf Course, considered one of the top public courses in the nation.

If you go the other way, you can take the free ferry into Calhoun County and enjoy the area's rustic beauty and great orchards, or visit the Kampsville Center for American Archeology.

If I had to pick one lake for the best overall fishing, I'd choose Rend. This 18,900-acre reservoir provides quality fishing for bass, striped bass, crappies, bluegills, channel cats and flatheads. Headquarter at Rend Lake Resort and get ready for good fishing.

The largemouth bass average nearly 2 pounds, but 8-pound fish are taken there each year. The best fishing is in the flooded brushy areas and along riprap in the bays. There has been a strong crappie population there for years. They average 1/2 pound, but 1-pounders are not uncommon. They're found in the brushy areas throughout the lake.

The lake also has a good and growing population of hybrid striped bass. These fish average about 3 pounds, but 8- to 10-pound fish are caught regularly along the submerged river channels and in the deep water. Bluegill anglers will find 1/3- to 1/2-pound fish in the shallow brushy areas at the north end of the lake.

The lake also hosts great populations of both flathead and channel catfish. Flatheads go up to about 30 pounds and are taken around the riprap or near dropoffs. Channel cats average 2 to 3 pounds, though 8-pounders are common. Look for them in the flooded timber or near riprap areas.

The resort is located only five minutes off Interstate 57 and includes 105 rooms, with 35 rooms having balconies hanging o

ut over the water so you can fish from your room. There also is a new wing that opened this year with all suites, including fireplaces, Jacuzzis and wet bars. You can also rent one of 22 cabins, each with a balcony overlooking the lake. The resort includes a cafe and general store, restaurant, cozy bar, swimming pool and tennis courts, and you can rent pontoons, fishing boats or bicycles to try the park's 7 miles of hiking and biking trails.

You're also within five minutes of a shooting complex (clays, trap and skeet), a 27-hole championship golf course, and an arts and crafts shop featuring the works of Illinois artisans. There also is a factory outlet shopping mall and three wineries within 15 miles of the resort.

* * *
We've only scratched the surface of activities and things to do at these vacation sites. Investigate the opportunities before making the trip, and you'll find dozens of additional sites and activities. Now it's time to get out there and have fun.

Following are some Web sites and toll-free telephone numbers from which you can get additional information about the areas we've recommended that you visit. You can also get information about state parks and fishing opportunities by visiting the DNR's homepage, located at

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