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Illinois River

Credit: U.S. Geological Survey
Department of the Interior/USGS U.S. Geological Survey

Illinois River Fishing Guide

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 1970s, 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. The depth of the river is regulated for navigation purposes by this series of locks and dams. Each section of the river between dams is called a navigation pool. The pools are given the name of the dam, which controls the water level of the pool, that is, the dam that is immediately downstream from the pool.

Illinois River Pools:

Lockport: Lockport extends from the Lockport Lock & Dam located near Lockport, Illinois, upstream to the Chicago Harbor Lock, in Chicago, Illinois.

Brandon: Brandon extends from the Brandon Lock & Dam located within Rockdale and Joliet, Illinois, upstream to the Lockport Lock & Dam located near Lockport, Illinois.

Dresden: Dresden extends from the Dresden Lock & Dam located south of Channahon, Illinois, upstream to the Brandon Lock & Dam, in Rockdale and Joliet, Illinois.

Marseilles: Marseilles extends from the Marseilles Lock located near Marseilles, Illinois, upstream to the Dresden Lock & Dam located south of Channahon, Illinois.

Starved Rock: Starved Rock extends from the Starved Rock Lock & Dam located near Utica, Illinois, upstream to the Marseilles lock located near Marseilles, Illinois.

Peoria: Peoria extends from the Peoria Lock & Dam located near Peoria, Illinois, upstream to the Starved Rock Lock & Dam located near Utica, Illinois.

La Grange: La Grange extends from the La Grange Lock & Dam located south of Beardstown, Illinois, upstream to Peoria Lock & Dam located near Peoria, Illinois.

Alton: Alton is used to describe the unimpounded portion of the Illinois River. It extends from the Mississippi River upstream to the La Grange Lock & Dam south of Beardstown, Illinois.

Species

Rank

Fish Status

BLACK CRAPPIE

Very Good

BLUEGILL

Very Good

BROWN BULLHEAD

Very Good

CHANNEL CATFISH

Excellent

Fishing is at its best when the river is rising and floods the lowland timber areas, revealing new food for these fish. There is a fish consumption advisory for channel catfish from the Peoria Pool to the head waters of the Illinois River.

LARGEMOUTH BASS

Good

SAUGER

Excellent

The major portion of the sauger population lies below the Starved Rock Dam and extends all the way down to the Mississippi River. Usually beginning 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.

WALLEYE

Excellent

Anglers can expect to find good numbers of walleye in the upper pools below the dams at Dresden and Marseilles. Some of the bigger walleye can be found at Starved Rock, with sampling finding fish ranging from 23 to 27 inches in length.

WHITE BASS

Excellent

WHITE CRAPPIE

Very Good


There were 35 tournaments held on this waterbody in 2017.

Species Total Fish Caught
Blue Catfish 2
Channel Catfish 1752
Crappie 45
Flathead Catfish 7
Freshwater Drum 10
Largemouth Bass 144
Sauger 53
Silver Carp 1
Smallmouth Bass 46
Smallmouth Buffalo 9
Walleye 15
Walleye/Sauger Hybrid 838
White Bass 8

Top 5 Largemouth Bass caught on this waterbody in 2017 tournaments:

1     3.43 lbs
2     3.25 lbs
3     3.12 lbs
4     2.94 lbs
5     2.88 lbs

Top 5 Bag Weights of Largemouth Bass caught on this waterbody in 2017 tournaments:

1     69.54 lbs
2     46.18 lbs
3     29.34 lbs
4     23.00 lbs
5     15.13 lbs

Interested in participating in one of these public tournaments? Contact us with tournament ID for more information.

2018 Approved or Pending Tournaments
Start Date End Date
(if different from start)
ID Approval Ramp Location Bank/Boat
Hook/Bow
Max Boats Species Open to Public?
October-208059ApprovedBarto Boat Landing (Spring Valley) boat
hook
10Largemouth Bass
Smallmouth Bass
No
October-2110542ApprovedBarto Boat Landing (Spring Valley) boat
hook
30Walleye/Sauger Hybrid
Yes
November-1010543ApprovedHennepin Village Public Ramp boat
hook
30Walleye/Sauger Hybrid
Yes
November-1110544ApprovedHennepin Village Public Ramp boat
hook
30Walleye/Sauger Hybrid
Yes
November-2410585ApprovedBarto Boat Landing (Spring Valley) boat
hook
50Sauger
Walleye
No