THE ILLINOIS RIVER FACT SHEET
The slow-moving Illinois River, which twists 273 miles through the heart of the state before joining the Mississippi River 14 miles upstream from Alton, has shown an improved fishery since the late 1970's, and anglers have made fine catches of sauger and walleyes, white bass, channel catfish, largemouth bass and panfish from both the main stream and backwaters.
Forming at the junction of the Kankakee and Des Plaines Rivers in the northeastern part of the state, the Illinois and its backwaters provide some 87,000 surface acres. There are five dams on the Illinois River besides the one on the Mississippi at Alton in which pool the lower 80 miles of the Illinois is included. They are the LaGrange (between Meredosia and Beardstown) and Peoria Dams on the lower 228 miles of the sluggish river, and the Starved Rock, Marseilles and Dresden Island Dams on the upper 45 miles of faster flowing water.
RIVER FISHING LINKS AVAILABLE:
Tailwaters below each navigation dam are good fishing spots and provide white bass, channel catfish and sauger or walleye action at times. Generally, the rule is the farther one goes upstream the better walleye and sauger fishing he will find. It is best in early spring and fall.
Backwater lakes and sloughs are silting in at a rapid pace. During periods of low water, it is very difficult to maneuver a boat in these once lush spots. Dropoffs in the area between the edge of the navigation channel and the nearest flats hold fish and are excellent spots to probe for channel catfish during July, August and September. Shad, minnows and a variety of natural and cheese stink-type baits are good for these popular fish.
One of the best fishing stretches of the river runs from Starved Rock at Utica to Henry. Starved Rock State Park is a historic landmark and provides ramps and adequate parking area. Camping also is available, and many anglers utilize the sea walls and other banks in the area and catch a variety of fish. Starved Rock State Park also provides accommodations at its beautiful lodge: 815-667-4726.
The Vermilion River joins the Illinois a bit south of Starved Rock. This stream also can produce good fishing when water conditions are good. Other productive fishing spots in the area are the rip rap along shore at Peru, the Hennepin area, Twin Sisters Island south of Hennepin and the old dam area at Henry.
Some excellent sauger action has unfolded below the Starved Rock Dam in recent years and usually begins in March or even earlier. One of the best ways to catch these tasty fish is to use a minnow on a floating jig with enough weight to keep it on the bottom. The spring white bass run follows the saugers and walleyes, and if an angler arrives at the right time, he can catch both species.
Channel catfish and bullheads also are taken by trotliners who fish backwater areas. Fishing is at its best when the river is rising and floods the lowland timber areas, revealing new food for these fish. A lot of bullheads, drum and carp also are taken from the river as well as crappies and bluegills, in addition to largemouth bass and an occasional smallmouth.
From its beginning where the Des Plaines and Kankakee Rivers enter to Ottawa, the Dresden and Marseilles Dams, Sheehan Island and Covel Creek south of Ottawa and Ballard Island north of Marseilles are considered the best fishing spots. There are ramps available at Ottawa, Wm. G. Stratton State Park at Morris and Illini State Park near Marseilles. The latter also provides campgrounds with electrical hookups.
From Henry south to the Peoria Dam, the Peoria "narrows" near McCluggage Bridge (Ill. Route 150), the Woodford County Conservation Area, the East River area which enters it, Lacon Harbor and the Henry Island areas are good fishing spots. There are at least a half dozen launch sites along this stretch. Camping is available at both the Woodford and Marshall County Conservation areas which also provide bank fishing opportunities at "ditches" near the campgrounds.
Anglers wanting to fish below the Peoria Dam can launch at excellent facilities at Pekin and head upstream. Heading south, there also are ramps at Kingston Mines, Liverpool, Goofy Ridge adjacent to Lake Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, which also provides a fishery when water conditions are right, and Havana.
Though separated from the river by levees and adjacent private waters, Rice Lake Conservation Area also has made a comeback as a fishery, providing good bullhead, largemouth bass, white bass, bluegill and channel cat fishing at times. The area also has boat access and camping facilities with electricity. The lake is drawn down in summer to allow growth of aquatic vegetation for waterfowl.
South of Bath, to Beardstown, Anderson Lake backwaters around the Sanganois Conservation area can be good bass and pan-fish waters. Ramps are located at each area, and camping is permitted along the lake at Anderson. Launching also is available at Beardstown. Launching and camping also is available at the LaGrange Dam, and ramps also are located at Meredosia Lake, Meredosia, Naples, Florence and Pearl.
A number of island areas between Kampsville and Hardin provide good fisheries, and there are numerous backwater opportunities just north of Grafton where the Illinois enters the Mississippi. Stump Lake, a 1,036-acre area about six miles north of Grafton, is one of the better spots in the state for bluegills, crappies and bullheads. Fowler, Long and Swan Lakes in that area are also good fishing spots.
Camping is available at Pere Marquette State Park at Hadley Landing, the Glades in that area and at Godar Diamond a bit upstream and north of Hardin. Pere Marquette State Park Lodge, 618-786-3785.
Ice fishing also is popular on many of these sloughs and backwater areas of this river during the winter months.