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Fly Fishing in Illinois - Prime Fly Fishing spots in Illinois

Prime Fly Fishing spots in Illinois

Illinois might just offer the best fly fishing in the Midwest. There are over 150 different lakes and rivers that contain bass, panfish, catfish, and trout. The state has opportunities for anglers to catch all kinds of different specifies of fish in different types of water.

The department of natural resources stocks the state with fully grown rainbow trout as part of its conservation efforts. So, there is no lack of rainbow trout going around in the Land of Lincoln.

Below, we’ll have a list of some of the best spots to fly fish in Illinois. Check them out and see which ones you want to fish.


Apple River 

The Apple River is a tributary of the Mississippi River. It runs through Southwestern Wisconsin and Northwestern Illinois. The main species that you can catch here will be bass and stocked brown trout.

You’ll be able to catch trout here through fall, spring and winter. However, in the summer you’ll find the fishing challenging. This is despite how hearty the brown trout can be. Don’t let that discourage you though because bass and other species can still be caught during the warm summer months. 

You should stay within the Apple River Canyon state park. The rock walls make pools that trout thrive in. This gives them deep water to hide in the summer and ambush points for prey. There are also several different riffles and eddies ta you can target.

The water normally isn’t too deep besides a few holes, so all you need to fish it is some waders. However, in the spring after big rains you’ll need to be careful wading since water levels can rise quickly. What might’ve been knee high water the week before could potentially be at your chest after a large storm.

Since the trout in this river are stocked, you won’t have to worry about having a wide selection of flies. Just make sure you have a good drift, and you should be ok.

 Fly Selection


Kankakee River 

One of the most unique rivers in Illinois, the Kankakee is a tributary of the Illinois River. There is a wide array of species that live in this river. However, the most popular sport fish in this river is the smallmouth bass.

Smallmouth on the fly has been gaining in popularity in recent years, but it’s still second fiddle to trout. However, I’d argue that catching smallmouth is much more fun than trout. Smallmouth will eat throughout spring, summer, and fall. 

The river isn’t too far from Chicago. However, the river runs through the Kankakee state park, so you don’t have to worry about fishing around buildings or the noise of the city. The land is undeveloped, giving you great opportunities for you to get out and hike along the river to get to your spot.

Be careful when fishing this river as there is a lot of private land that surrounds it. The Park is your best option and gives you 11 miles of river to fish. Both sides are on the park so you can roam from side to side.

The paved trail along the side of the river is nice as well. Giving you a nice easy hike when you hop out of the water.

The river is 60 miles long, but the park will give you the longest stretches to fish without having to get permission from the landowner.

 Fly Selection 


Fox River

The Fox River connects what is called the Chain of Lakes. It encompasses 10 different lakes and while there may not be many access points, you’ll find that the fishing here can be great. You’ll be able to catch bass, pike, and walleye.

The river runs through a state park that also contains a lake. So, if you happen to get bored of the river you can always fish the lake too. It also makes it easier to hop in and out of the water knowing that it is all public.

You’ll want to fish the section of the Fox River that runs into the Grass River. Fish will sit at the mouth of the lake and wait for food to flow into it.

Most of the fish you’ll be targeting will toothy predator fish. There’s not trout, however pike, bass wand walleye are all fun fish to catch. You’ll want to make sure your flies are making a lot of noise and move a lot of water. 

This will help draw in the attention of these predators and entice them to strike on your fly.

 Fly Selection


Crabapple Lake 

What the lakes lacks in size, it makes up for in fish population. What you’ll find here is a very healthy, bass, catfish, and stocked rainbow trout population. Giving anglers multiple opportunities to catch different types of fish throughout the day. 

Fishing in lakes can be different than fishing in rivers. However, there are some skills that are transferable. Similar to a river you’ll need to look for structure. Sunken logs, fallen trees, and boulders. Shade from overhanging limbs can be great spots to target in the summer. Same with docks.

If you want to fish for trout, then doing so a week or two after they’ve been stocked is best. This gives them time to get acclimated to their new home and allows to get used to feeding on insects again. This way you can be sure they take your fly.

For bass you’ll want to use different streamers and clawdad patterns. If you see fish rising bass or trout, then switch to poppers for bass and dry flies for trout 

Fly Selection 



Illinois may not hold a great trout population, but that doesn’t really mean much. It is full of great freshwater that any angler would be happy to have hooked to the end of their line. Check out some of the spots above and figure out which one you like the best.

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