Guide to Fishing in Illinois

A General Guide to Fishing in Illinois

Illinois, being one of the wealthiest states in the Great Lakes region, has developed a large, highly enthusiastic fishing community.

The reasons are clear: Take a large, mostly rural population, add exciting marine fauna that’s seldom seen anywhere else and top it all off with a near-absolute lack of nagging regulations or restrictive anti-fishing laws. What you get is an angler’s paradise!
Still, there are some things to learn, some rules to be aware of and some conventions to get used to when going fishing in Illinois, especially if it’s your first time.

Let’s start off simply with the following question:

What do you need to start fishing?
The answer couldn’t be any easier:
A government-issued permit and a pole, hook and bait of your choice.
That’s it!

Picture: Mike Zimmer of WaterlooZimmer-Crappie-Illinois Record

Caught: Kinkaid Lake – A Southern Illinois Lake

Zimmer caught his 4-pound, 5-ounce crappie out of Kinkaid on a chilly March 15. The fish, believed to be a white crappie, is just two ounces short of the state record.

Source: Prairie State Outdoors: Read Full Story


The aforementioned license is easily obtained in exchange for a small fee; this counts for anyone wishing to fish in Illinois, not just permanent residents. Anglers below the age of 16 are exempt from this and do not need a license. If you own land that borders on a body of water, fishing there also doesn’t require you to have a license.
There are also some free fishing areas at various interesting locations across the state which. as their name implies, don’t require a license, either, so for anyone and everyone, there’s an easy opportunity to get started with fishing in Illinois without too much hassle. Regarding gear, there isn’t a lot to worry about.
Almost any kind of bait can be used, and there are no restrictions on poles, hooks or any other kind of equipment.
There are, however, lots and lots of unofficial, unwritten yet important rules to be aware of.

For example, fishing culture in Illinois has, especially in recent years, evolved and changed greatly. It’s no longer the pure, no-compromise sport it was forty or more years ago; nowadays, more and more efforts are made towards preservation and protection of the endemic species.

This is motivated strongly by the state itself, of course, but regardless of any legal angle that there might be to this, the optimal way to fish in Illinois, provided you want to make a good impression, is to handle your catch with respect and care. This means carrying fish in a manner that doesn’t inflict damage to their gills or mouth, using bait that isn’t liable to cause any significant injury and, most importantly, after having snapped your pictures and celebrated your catch, releasing it back into the water.

Pallid Sturgeon

Status: Endangered, listed September 6, 1990

Habitat: Mississippi River downstream of its confluence with the Missouri River; Ohio River below Dam #53; Missouri River

Range: Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Tennessee

Learn More Here: Illinois Fishing

And, of course, remember that fishing endangered species, as unfortunately easy as it is, remains one heck of a way to ruin your local reputation. The environment is an important part of Illinois’ existence, and safeguarding it should be one of your top priorities as an angler.

It might be a good idea to mingle a bit with the locals; you’ll probably learn a great deal more about what it’s like to fish in Illinois than we could possibly explain within a short overview like this.
We know that this might all seem a little daunting at first. But remember, fishing in Illinois is one opportunity that simply doesn’t exist anywhere else in the States. From the unique fauna that is just waiting to be explored to the mesmerizing Northern rural scenery and the one-of-a-kind fishing culture there to guide your hand, there is no other angler-friendly State, like Illinois.

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