Illinois' Best Family Fishing Getaways

From north to south, we have many places to enjoy a family vacation. But if you want to get in a little fishing time, head for these state parks, where everyone will be happy.

By Gary Thomas

Vacation time is just around the corner. If you want to take your family on a fun outing and have fun yourself, we have some ideas for you.

You don't have to go out of state or spend a lot of dollars to find a great spot where your family can enjoy a fantastic vacation. There are places close by that charge reasonable rates, and one of them will meet the needs of your family.

It may surprise many people to learn that the best innkeeper for outdoor adventures is the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. That agency has lodges and/or cabins located in nine state parks, each operated by concessionaires, and each is an ideal place for a family and for Dad to find fishing opportunities.

"From Illinois Beach Resort at Lake Michigan to Cave-in-Rock in southern Illinois, there is something for everyone at the lodging facilities at Illinois State Parks," said DNR director Joel Brunsvold. "Some lodges are historic in nature, while others feature modern architecture. All of the lodging at Illinois State Parks is family friendly and are great places for a weekend getaway or a week-long vacation."

If your fishing goal is big fish, head for Illinois Beach State Park, located on Lake Michigan north of Waukegan. When you hook into one of the lake's salmon or trout, there's going to be a fight.

You can book a guided trip at North Point Marina or Waukegan Harbor. Take along a cooler, because when the fishing is good you'll be taking home filets big enough that one fish can feed a family of four.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

The coho salmon average 2 to 3 pounds in the spring, and 5 to 6 pounds during the fall months. Spring chinooks go about 7 pounds and will average upward of 15 pounds during the fall. Steelhead will weigh 5 pounds on average. Lake trout will average 10 to 15 pounds, but 18-pounders aren't uncommon. Brown trout will stay closer to shore and particularly near warmwater discharge areas. They average about 4 pounds.

There is a five-fish-per-day limit on salmon and trout together, except for lake trout. Anglers are only allowed two lakers per day.

Lake Michigan also has developed a pretty good smallmouth bass fishery. Look for these fish near structure in the harbors.

The lodge at Illinois Beach State Park is actually a full-service modern hotel with 92 guest rooms, a full-service restaurant, lounge, swimming pool, jacuzzi, health club and game room.

The park has a large campground, picnic areas, numerous hiking and biking trails, and a public golf course nearby. You're also just minutes away from the Six Flags theme park and the large Gurnee Mills Shopping Mall, plus the Temple Farms Lipizzan stallions with shows Wednesdays and Sundays. If all that doesn't interest you, keep in mind that you're just 45 minutes from Chicago's Loop and dozens of internationally renowned museums.

More about Illinois Beach Lodge is available at, or call for a reservation at (847) 625-7300.

One of our state's most historic state parks also has some of the best walleye, sauger and white bass fishing Illinois has to offer.

Located on the Illinois River between La Salle and Ottawa, Starved Rock State Park is known for its scenic views of the river and spectacular canyons. The river has the reputation for producing great walleye and sauger fishing. The fish average 2 to 3 pounds, but larger ones are common. If you're not familiar with the river or how to catch these tasty fish, the best way to learn the river is to hire one of the local guide services.

White bass are numerous, too, especially near where the Vermilion River empties into the Illinois River. You can also catch these fish off the park shoreline near the visitor's center. The fish average 3/4 to 1 pound. You'll also find plentiful numbers of channel catfish and flathead catfish up and down the river.

One of the best views of the river is from Starved Rock Lodge, located on the river bluff. The stone and log lodge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and features the Great Hall with beamed ceiling and a giant fireplace, and it is decorated with Native American artifacts, rugs and artwork. The lodge was enlarged and modernized several years ago and today features 72 guest rooms and 22 cabins, the latter having wood-burning fireplaces. There also is an indoor pool, a gift shop, and restaurant and lounge.

You won't run out of things to do either. Begin your visit at the new visitor's center and museum to learn the park's history and natural history. The lock and dam across the river from the park also has a visitor's center/museum that is worth visiting, as is a visit to the Utica museum and the historic I&M Canal. The park has more than 15 miles of hiking trails winding through scenic canyons and along the river bluff. There also are biking trails, horse-riding stables and playgrounds, as well as a large campground and picnic areas.

There is a public golf course close by, as well as canoe rental and whitewater rafting opportunities in the spring. There also is a nearby water park.

More information about the lodge is available by calling 1-800-868-ROCK, or visiting

What's your pleasure? Muskies? Bass? Walleyes? Crappies? Channel catfish? White bass? Welcome to Lake Shelbyville, central Illinois' best all-around lake. It has good fishing for all the major species of fish and a great state park with a modern lodge alongside the water.

Located just south of Decatur, Shelbyville is one of the state's premier muskie lakes. Fish range from 10 to 25 pounds and are found off riprap, gravel points and near deadfalls.

The lake's largemouth bass population is on the upswing, with 2-pounders being average and 6-pounders common. Look in the flooded timber, off points and near dropoffs.

Lake Shelbyville has a good walleye population, with average fish going 2 1/2 to 3 pounds, and found near dropoffs and on the flats.

Crappies are abundant and nice-sized, going about 1-pound average. Look for them in brushy areas and near


Although they don't get much attention, the lake also has a great white bass population. The fish average nearly 1 pound, but 2-pounders aren't uncommon. Fish off points, on the flats and near riprap.

Channel catfish average about 2 pounds, but 6- and 7-pounders are common. They are found throughout the lake, but particularly where creeks enter into the lake, along riprap areas and near dropoffs.

Eagle Creek Resort, a modern, luxurious hotel on the west shore of the lake, puts you in the middle of the action. It features 138 rooms, including 10 executive suites with fireplaces. There is a great restaurant, bar and grill. The lodge features a championship golf course, indoor and outdoor pools and whirlpools, saunas and a fitness room, a gift shop, a miniature golf course and tennis courts. There are hiking trails nearby, and you can rent pontoon boats. There also are numerous craft and antique shops nearby.

Learn more about the resort at, or call 1-800-876-3245.

The Illinois River runs by Pere Marquette State Park, and big catfish swim there. Anglers catch blue, flathead and channel cats in good numbers along the park frontage, and the fishing is good.

The best fishing for blues and flatheads is by drifting with the current and using cut bait or large minnows. Channel cat anglers make nice catches using prepared stink baits. If drift-fishing isn't your thing, there are a number of backwater lakes with good shore-fishing opportunities for channel catfish.

Pere Marquette Lodge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Its great room features a 700-ton fireplace and a life-sized chessboard. The lodge has 72 rooms, or you can stay in one of the stone cabins adjoining the historic building. The lodge dining room is known for its family-style meals, plus there's a cocktail lounge, indoor swimming pool, sauna, whirlpool and exercise room, video room, gift shop and tennis courts.

Located 20 miles west of Alton, the park has a number of hiking/biking trails, visitor's center and small museum, a large campground, picnic areas and playgrounds, and a riding stable. Nearby Grafton has numerous antique shops and a water park, plus you're 45 minutes from downtown St. Louis.

You can get more information and/or make a reservation by calling (618) 786-2331.

For years, Carlyle Lake - our state's largest inland lake - was known for its big water and mediocre fishing. That's changed. The 24,500-acre lake has developed a great largemouth bass fishery, a walleye population that attracts anglers throughout the Midwest, a strong white bass population and great catfishing.

The bass are found throughout the lake, along riprap, in coves, near standing timber and in brushy areas. The fish average about 2 1/2 pounds, but 6- and 7-pounders aren't uncommon.

The lake's walleye population continues to improve. Look for 2- to 3-pound fish near the islands and along riprap.

The white bass population is good, with fish averaging 3/4 pound, but 1 1/2-pounders are common. Fish near the islands, around riprap areas and off points.

Crappie fishing is only fair, but those who fish around brushy structure find fish from 1/2 to 1 pound.

The lake is full of big catfish. Channel cats are from 1 1/2 to 2 pounds on average and found in creek channels and around bridges. Flatheads range from 5 to 20 pounds and are caught using live bait near riprap and along channels.

Eldon Hazlet also has the state's newest cabins, and they're located alongside the big lake. There are more than 20 cabins already built, and each will sleep up to six people. Each has a living room with sleeper sofa, fireplace, furnished bedroom and a loft with two twin beds. Amenities include microwave ovens and a small refrigerator, plus housekeeping items.

There is a camp store/restaurant offering limited dining, camping supplies, groceries and bait. There is a nearby golf course, swimming pool and beach, plus the park includes a playground, picnic shelter, campground and hiking/biking trails.

More information is available by going to or by calling 1-877-342-8862.

Rend Lake offers a full array of fishing opportunities in a great setting. If you like fishing for largemouth bass, hybrid stripers or crappies, you're in the right place, and a resort built on the lake is an added bonus.

The largemouth bass population is on an upward swing. Fish average between 1 1/2 and 3 pounds, but 7- and 8-pounders come out of the lake each year. The lake is full of brushy areas, standing timber and riprap, all of which hold fish.

Rend also is a great hybrid striped bass lake. Fish average about 2 pounds, but you'll also hook into 6- and 8-pound fish, and an occasional 10- to 12-pounder comes out of the lake. Look for fish on flats near dropoffs and near bridges.

Rend is a powerhouse crappie lake. The average catch is 2/3-pound, but 1 1/2-pound fish are often taken. Look for fish in brushy areas, standing timber and around fish attractors.

Located just five miles north of Benton, Rend Lake Resort is a waterside resort featuring 105 units of first-class accommodations, including cabins and brand-new suites looking out over the lake. All of the units have balconies or decks, most with lakefront views, and some of which hang out over the lake so you can actually fish from your balcony. Rooms have all the amenities, and some have fireplaces. A few feature sleeping lofts and some include spas. The cabins have refrigerators but no cooking facilities.

There's a full-service restaurant, lounge, outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, playgrounds, stables (with carriage rides available), a nearby golf course, shooting area, convenience store, gift shop, boat rental, paddle boat rental and guide service. Guests also can check out miles of hiking/biking trails found in the park.

You can learn more about the resort at or book a reservation by calling 1-800-633-3341.

The DNR's smallest lodging facility is alongside one of its largest and most popular fishing spots. Historic Cave-in-Rock State Park is in the middle of Smithland Pool, a 72-mile-long section of the Ohio River. There are dozens of creeks and small rivers emptying into the river, each full of structures holding nice populations of bass and crappies.

Largemouths average about 2 pounds, but 5- and 6-pounders are common. The pool also holds Kentucky spotted bass

and smallmouth bass. Look for the largemouths in creeks, on flats and near stickups and deadfalls, while spotted bass and smallmouth bass are found in the main river, especially where creeks empty into it.

Crappies average 2/3 pound and are found in most major creeks and smaller streams by fishing near brush and stickups.

Striped bass average 8 pounds, but 12- to 15-pound fish are common. Look near the rocky areas, at creek openings, and ahead and below river islands.

Cave-in-Rock's name comes from the large cave along the river that was used as a hiding place for pirates preying on river travelers in the 1700s and 1800s. The park's restaurant is on the bluff overlooking the river, and specializes in catfish dinners. There are four duplex cabins with eight suites, each accommodating up to four people. Each room has a patio deck overlooking the river.

The park has a campground, playground and picnic shelters. Garden of the Gods and other scenic wonders are found in nearby Shawnee National Forest.

You can get more information or reserve a stay by calling (618) 289-4545.

The DNR also has lodges and cabins at two other state parks, though fishing at those is limited.

White Pines State Park has a stone and log lodge that includes a lounge, gift shop and full-service restaurant. The park has 25 one-room guest cabins scattered in the piney woods, each with queen-sized beds and full-sized trundles, the usual amenities, plus gas-log fireplaces. The park is located in northwestern Illinois west of Oregon, and more information about the lodge and cabins is available at Reservations can be made by calling (815) 946-3817.

Located south of Carbondale, Giant City State Park Lodge is in the middle of the Shawnee National Forest, and features a rustic lodge surrounded by 34 cabins in a wooded setting with giant rock outcroppings. In addition to a full-service restaurant known for its family-style dinners, there's an outdoor pool, stables and gift shop. Call (618) 457-4921 for information or reservations.

* * *
For more information about each of the areas we've recommended, check out And enjoy your family fishing getaway!

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