The state of Illinois offers plenty of opportunities for excellent fishing. Illinois has more than 1.6 million acres of public water.
Laws & Regulations
Educate yourself on Illinois’s fishing laws and regulations to ensure you stay legal and avoid costly fines.
Where to Fish in Illinois
Best Fishing Lakes in Illinois
- Lake Michigan – Lake Michigan holds the state records for more species than any other body of water within Illinois. Atlantic Salmon, Brook Trout, Brown Trout, Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, Lake Trout, Pink Salmon, Rainbow Trout, and Tiger Trout were all caught on Lake Michigan.
- Strip Mine Lake – The state records for Black Bullhead, Smallmouth Bass, and Spotted Bass were all caught caught at Lake Strip Mine Lake.
- Stone Quarry Lake – Stone Quarry Lake offers a great variety of fishing but what it’s best known for it’s Largemouth Bass state record.
Best River Fishing in Illinois
- Mississippi River – The Colorado River has produced multiple species state records including: Blue Catfish, Buffalo, Sauger, and Saugeye.
- Rock River – Rock River offers anglers some great fishing. The state records for Black Buffalo and Shovelnose were both caught on the Rock River.
- Kaskaskia River – The state records for Walleye and White Bass were caught on the Kaskaskia river.
Fish Species in Illinois
Illinois has over 190 species of fish, most of which are not seen by anglers. Below you will find the common game fish that anglers typically see when fishing in Illinois.
Illinois has 6 types of bass including: largemouth, smallmouth, striped, hybrid striped, white, and yellow bass.
Largemouth bass are the most targeted species for freshwater anglers. They can be found in every state other than Alaska. They are the largest species of bass.
Learn more about largemouth bass
Smallmouth bass are the most aggressive bass which makes fishing for them a ton fun. They have a ton of fight which makes up for their smaller sizes. Even though they are smaller than largemouth they still can get pretty big.
Learn more about smallmouth bass
Striped bass started out as saltwater fish but were added to freshwater where they survived and adapted. They are a schooling fish, so if you catch one it is very likely there are more around.
Hybrid Striped Bass
- Hybrid mix of striped and white bass
- Broken horizontal strips on body
- Two separate tooth patches on back of tongue
Learn more about hybrid striped bass
- Silver-white to pale green color
- Dark back, with white sides and belly
- narrow dark stripes through the length of their sides
- White bass look like shorter versions of striped bass.
Learn more about white bass
- Smallest species of bass
- Brass to yellowish coloring
- Broken stripes on their sides that are offset on the lower side of their anal fin
- Two dorsal fins that are connected by a membrane whereas both white and striped bass are separate.
Learn more about yellow bass
Illinois has 6 types of catfish including: blue, channel, flathead, yellow, brown bullhead and black bullhead catfish.
Blue catfish have a flat dorsal fin and forked tail. They have smooth scaleless skin with a light blue body and white belly. They have four pairs of whisker-like barbels.
Blue catfish can grow up to 5ft long and more than 100 lbs. The average size you see is 1-2ft long.
Learn more about blue catfish
Channel catfish have a slender scaleless body with a forked tail. They have an olive green to light grey color body with small black spots along their body.
Channel catfish can grow up to 52 inches long and 60lbs. The average size you will see is 1-3ft long and 1-15lbs.
Learn more about channel catfish
Flathead catfish have a flathead and a smooth scaleless body. They have a pale yellow to light brown colored body with a cream belly.
Flathead catfish can grow up to 3-ft long and weight 123lb. The average size you will see is 10-15lbs.
Learn more about flathead catfish
- Yellowish brown on back and sides
- Yellow to white belly
- Rear edge of the tail fin is nearly straight
- Anal fin rays usually number 24–27
- Dark greenish or yellowish brown
- belly is yellowish or white
- Black chin barbels
- Upper jaw projects beyond the lower jaw
- Anal fin usually has 17–21 rays
Brown Bullhead Catfish
- Olive to yellowish brown body
- Dark brown spots throughout body
- Four pairs of dark barbels
- Squared tail
- Sharp spines on dorsal and pectoral fins
Illinois has both black and white crappie.
Black crappie have white bodies with a dark green and black back. Throughout their bodies they have black and brown spots.
World Record: 5 lb 7 oz – 19.25 inches long
White crappie have a white to silver body with a dark green back. They have blotches that make vertical bars across their sides.
World Record: 5 lb 3 oz – 21 inches long
Illinois has 6 types of panfish including: Bluegill, Green sunfish, Redear sunfish, Longear sunfish, Redbreast, and Warmouth.
- Large, deep bodied sunfish with a small mouth
- Sides are dark bluish-green in color with vertical bars throughout their body
- They have a large dark spot at the rear of the soft dorsal fin
- Their belly is deep orange to rust color
- Adults can grow to 16 in. but usually reach 6-11 in.
Learn more about bluegill
- Large, robust sunfish with a large mouth
- Blue irregular stripes of color on the sides of their head
- Large black spot at the rear of their soft dorsal fin
- Adults can grow to 12 in. but usually reach 8-10 in.
Learn more about green sunfish
- Large, deep bodied sunfish with a small mouth with long, pointed snout and small mouth
- Adult males have a red margin on the gill cover flap while females have a light orange flap
- Adults can grow to 15 in. but usually reach 8-11 in.
Learn more about redear sunfish
- Medium-sized, robust sunfish with a large head and mouth
- Dark olive to grey colors with brownish sides and yellow markings
- Dark red-brown lines flowing from the back of their eye
- Adults can grow to 12 in. but most are less than 10 in.
Learn more about warmouth
- Dark green or brown color with brassy yellow flecks
- 4-5 wide dark saddles over the back and down the sides
- Often called “redeye” or “goggleye” due to its large, deep red eyes
- Has 5 or 6 spines in their anal fin
- Adults can grow to 17 inches but fish exceeding 12 inches are rare
Learn more about rock bass
- Molted blue, orange, yellow, and olive green coloring
- Wavy blue lines on cheeks
- Orange belly
- Black earflaps with red or orange boarder
- 10 spines on the front of dorsal fin with a rounded back
Learn more about pumpkinseed
Illinois has 3 types of gar including: Longnose, Shortnose, and Spotted gar.
- Brown to dark olive coloring
- Dark spots on back, sides, and fins
- Elongated jaws that form a needle-like snout nearly three times the length of its head
- Upper jaw has a row of cone-shaped teeth
- Diamond-shaped interlocking scales
- Brown to olive green coloring
- White belly
- Black spots on the top of the head and on paired fins
- Upper jaw has one row of cone-shaped teeth
- Beak is only about 5 1/2 times as long as its narrowest width
- Brown back that gradients to a silver to white belly
- Has dark spots on its head, fins, and body
- Upper jaw has one row of cone-shaped teeth
- Maximum length of 3ft
Illinois has 4 types of perch including: Walleye, Yellow perch, Sauger, and Saugeye.
Walleye (Sander canadensis)
- Olive back that gradients down to gold side
- 5 dark bars along sides
- White tip on tail
Learn more about walleye
- Yellow to gold coloring
- White belly
- Green to yellow eyes
- 6-8 dark bands along their sides
- Dorsal fin with 12-14 spines and a second dorsal fin with 12-13 soft rays plus 2-3 spines
Sauger (Sander canadensis)
- Bronze to olive color
- Dark blotches on side with white belly
- No white on tail
Learn more about sauger
- Hybrid between walleye and sauger
- Mix between gray to silver color of a walleye and the bronze or brown color of a sauger
- Dark vertical bars between the spines of the first dorsal fin
- White tips on the lower part of the tail and anal fins
Illinois has 2 types of pike including: Northern Pike and Muskellunge.
- Long torpedo shaped body
- Grey to green body with light-colored spots
- Yellowish-white belly
- Scales cover their entire cheek and the upper half of their gill covers
- Greenish to golden brown coloring on their backs and upper sides
- Long thin body with a flat head and mouth filled with sharp teeth
- 6 to 9 pores on the lower jaw
Learn more about muskie
Trout & Salmon
Illinois has 6 other types of trout including: Brook, Rainbow and Lake Trout and Chinook, Coho, Pink Salmon.
Brook Trout (Salmo trutta)
- Worm like markings along back & head
- White edges along fins
- Found in eastern North America, Europe, Argentina, New Zealand, and Australia
Learn more about brook trout
Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
- Distinct red pink stripe down their side
- Black spots throughout body
- Square, broad tail
Learn more about rainbow trout
- Dark green to brown or greyish color
- Darker on top half of body
- White to yellow spots throughout body
- Blue-green on head and back
- Silver on sides
- Irregular black spots on tail, back, and upper fin
- Black markings around gums
- Male Chinook salmon have a distinctive hooked nose at the top of the mouth and a ridged back
- During the mating season, both male and female salmon develop a reddish tint around their back fins and tail
- Bright silver body
- Small black spots on the back
- White gums
- Spawning adults of both sexes have dark backs and heads with reddish sides
- Smallest of the Pacific salmon found in North America
- Young pink salmon are completely silver without any dark vertical bars or spots
- In the ocean, adults are bright greenish-blue on top and silvery on its sides
- Develop large black spots on their back and all over their tail when they return to freshwater
- Males develop a large hump, and hooked jaws when entering spawning grounds
Illinois has 4 other types of game fish including: Common Carp, Bigmouth Buffalo, Freshwater Drum, and Bowfin.
- Babels in each corner of their mouth
- Olive-brown to reddish-brown with a yellow belly
- Large and thick scales
Learn more about common carp
- Brown to black back and sides with copper and greenish reflections
- Large scales that are not dark-edged.
- Belly is white to pale yellow
- Breeding males are slightly darker and have small tubercles over the head, body, and fins
- Humped back with sloping forehead
- Gray body with bronze reflection and white lips
- Rounded triangular tail
- Green and brown coloring on side and back
- Silver to white colored belly
- Black spot surrendered by orange ring on tail
- Paired fins and anal fin are bright green
- Jaw has strong conical teeth
Illinois Fishing Records
Find Illinois’s fishing records for over 50 species and how to qualify & submit your catch for the record fish program.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most common fish in Illinois?
The most common fish in Illinois are bass, catfish, crappie, and various panfish.
Are there wild trout in Illinois?
Brook trout are the only native trout in Illinois. Rainbow and Lake trout have been introduced to various creeks and streams throughout Illinois.
Is there snakehead in Illinois?
Snakehead are not known to be found in Illinois. They are illegal to possess, sell, or release within the state.
What is the biggest fish caught in Illinois?
The largest fish ever caught in Illinois was a Grass carp weighing 66 lbs 8 oz on Lake Petersburg in 1998.