There is a strong connection between successful anglers, various fishing techniques, and knowledge about the fish species. The more you know about your favorite fish’s behavior, foraging habits, and seasonal habitats, the better angler you will be.
For specific tips on your favorite sport fish, look under our Sport Fish of Illinois page.
Here are some of our favorite fishing tips:
- Obtain a map or chart of your destination and determine what type of fishable habitats are in the area and where. Learning about fish habitat and how best to fish each different type is part of the challenge of thinking like a fish.
- Prevent unnecessary noise, especially in a boat.
- Use the appropriate line and size of hooks for your target catch.
- Check our your line occasionally but feeling the last 2-3 feet for kinks, nicks, or frays. If there is a problem spot, feed out some new line, cut off the bad line, and attach the lure.
- Keep your hooks sharp.
- Wear polarized sunglasses. This reduces glare and allows you to better see fish and your lure in the water.
- Keep an angler diary. Keeping track of what equipment you used under what conditions for both your successes and failures is a great way to review and learn.
- Set the hook. Make sure your fish is hooked before you start reeling and be sure to keep a steady pressure on the fish. Keep the rod tip up and out of the water.
- Make sure to use your drag and regularly check that it is working properly.
- Learn how to fish lures effectively. This takes practice. Learning the techniques for fishing with a jerkbait, a jig, a topwater lure, as well as becoming proficient at pitching or flipping, will improve you success on the water. There are many online videos and article in fishing magazines to help hone your skills.
KNOW YOUR FISH HABITAT
Fish need cover, either to seek protection from predators or to hide in so they can ambush prey. Here are some tips about what to look for when you get to your fishing destination:
Docks — Floating and permanent docks provide excellent fish habitat. The shade on the underside of docks offers fish a refuge to conceal themselves from predators. In turn, predators often lurk nearby, ambushing unsuspecting victims. Algal growth on dock posts and the docks themselves draw small baitfish that feed on the algae and in turn draw in larger fish that consume them.
Rocks — Many lakes and rivers in Illinois have man-made rocks piles along stretches of shoreline to prevent erosion. This rocky habitat extends into the water, and the crevices provide excellent hiding places for small fish. Bigger fish roam the edges of the rocks looking for other fish and insects to feed on.
Wood — Branches, limbs, or even whole trees that fall into the water are tremendous fish habitat. The more complex the better. Little fish can dart in and out of the protection of small twigs protruding from branches, and bigger fish can conceal themselves amidst the tangled branches to ambush prey. In fact, wood cover provides such good habitat for fish that the IDNR will often purposefully sink old Christmas trees into lakes to add more habitat in areas that may be lacking.
Weeds — Aquatic vegetation (commonly referred to as weeds) serves many purposes, including providing structures for microscopic invertebrates to feed on, forming the base of the food web in many waterbodies. Like the above habitat types, as small fish are attracted to the protection and potential food source aquatic vegetation offers, bigger fish are in turn attracted to the abundance of small baitfish. Some lakes may have a seeming overabundance of aquatic vegetation, in which case it’s prudent to look for any irregularities such as other habitat types nearby or pockets without vegetation