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Rock River

©Illinois State Water Survey

Rock River Fishing Guide

Location: The Rock River begins just to the west of the village of Brandon in Metomen township, Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin and flows southward to the Illinois border ending 325 miles later at the Mississippi River at the Quad Cities in Illinois and Iowa. The river drains 10,280 square miles with about half of this area in Illinois. The Illinois portion of the river has major population centers at Rockford, Dixon, Sterling/Rock Falls, and Rock Island. The remainder of the Illinois portion of the basin is primarily agricultural. The Rock River has low-head dams at Rockton, Rockford, Oregon, Dixon, two at Sterling/Rockfalls, and a split dam at Milan.

Description: The Rock River, which winds 155 miles through northwestern Illinois, is one of the main tributaries to the Mississippi River and provides a diverse fishery. The river provides an aquatic resource of about 12,400 acres as it glides past towns like Rockford, Oregon, Dixon, Sterling and Rock Island before spilling into the Mississippi. Dams at Rock Island, Milan, Sterling, Dixon, Oregon, Rock-ford and Rockton produce fast, turbulent water, and these tailwaters are good spots for walleyes, sauger and white bass.

The river generally averages about 15 feet in depth in the main channel, but between Dixon and Sterling, depths may drop to 50 feet. The bottom is largely bed rock, but there are extensive gravel areas and some places where the bottom is covered with a layer of mud or silt.

From where it departs, Wisconsin to the mouth of the Kishwaukee River, the prime fishing spots are the dams at Rockton and Rockford and the tributary streams, which include the Pecatonica River and Willow Creek. Ramps are located in the Forest Preserve at Rockton, at Harlem Road south of North Park and at Blackhawk Park south of Rockford. There is a small forest preserve just upstream on the south bank of the Kishwaukee.

Pools where the Leaf River enters south of Byron is a good fishing spot as is the water above Oregon and at the dam there. Ramps are located at Byron and Lowden State Park at Oregon where there also is camping with electrical hookups. Ramps are available at Lowell Park on the west bank along Ill. Route 2 north of Dixon, at Page Park in Dixon and Oppold Marina north of Sterling.

Ramps are also located in Sterling, Rock Falls, at a roadside park downstream along Route 2, at Prophetstown State Park where camping and electrical hookups are available, and at the Erie Boat Club.

There are a few access areas south of Erie, and anglers will find many small islands as the stream flows through low farmland. Fishing should pick up where the Green River enters below Green Rock.

Status of the Sport Fishery: There are more than 80 species of fish in the Rock River Basin, including several species of sport fish. The most sought after of the sport fish are the catfish, with both channel catfish and flathead catfish abundant and of trophy size. Smallmouth bass and walleye fishing are also popular, and close to 70,000 walleye are stocked each year to support this excellent fishery. Panfish, such as bluegill and crappie, can be found in some of the back water areas, along with largemouth bass. Northern pike can be found in the northern end of the river near Rockford, but in limited numbers.

Lake Status Summary  ( Full PDF Report )

Click here for a list of all reports.



Fish Status



Channel catfish are extremely abundant in the Rock River in most all areas. In 2017 a survey was done on the Rock River from Dixon to Sterling to check the status of the channel catfish. Data from a total of 244 channel catfish were collected. The largest numbers of channel catfish were collected below the Sterling Lower Dam where there was a catch rate of 8.7 fish/net night. The fish collected ranged in size from 11 to 30.7 inches, with the majority collected (83%) over 16" in length, and 21% of these over 24". This is great news for fishermen looking for good size fish. The largest catfish collected was just over 30" in length and weighed 11.4 pounds. The average weight of the fish collected in this study was 3.78 pounds.



The Rock River is one of the best rivers in the state for catching trophy size flathead catfish. A survey done in 2017 collected data from a total of 179 flathead catfish, all over 16", with 119 of preferred size (over 24"), and 74 of memorable size (over 28"). Twenty eight of the fish collected were in the trophy range (over 36"), representing 16% of the sample! The average size of these fish was 28-29" in total length. The majority of flathead catfish were collected from Como, below the Sterling lower dam (0.6 fish/net night), and at Dixon (.57 fish/net night). The heaviest fish collected was 37 pounds and was 41 inches in total length.


Very Good

Smallmouth bass are common and abundant in the Rock River. A survey done in 2017 found the overall catch per unit of effort (CPUE) was 1.0 fish/ minute. This is good, and indicates plenty of smallmouth bass in the overall fish population. The percentage of adult fish (>11") in the population was 44, which is good and indicates that the strong year classes of 2013 and 2014 are now maturing into the population. Likewise the percentage over 14" was very high (33%), as was the percentage over 16" (21%). There were even a few fish collected that were over 18" (3% of adult fish collected) which is considered a trophy size fish. This is great news for fishermen! The largest individuals collected were found near Prophetstown. Best fishing areas are in South Beloit, below the dam in Dixon, and downstream of Prophetstown State Park.


Very Good

Walleye are stocked each year into the Rock River to provide a quality sport fishery for this species. Fishing is generally good below the dams and at the mouths of the tributaries. Walleye ranging in size up to and over the state record weight have been caught in recent years in the upper Rock River and the Pecatonica River, a tributary of the Rock near Rockford. A survey conducted in the fall of 2016 near Dixon found a catch rate of .5 fish/ minute with a total of 53 fish of all sizes collected in 110 minutes, well over the target rate for stocking success. The largest collected was just over 5.6 pounds. Fishermen regularly report catching memorable size walleye from Sterling up through Rockford. Best fishing for walleye is in the upper Rock River, north of Rockford however anglers report good fishing near Dixon and at Prophetstown State Park.

Fishing Regulations: *Consult the current Illinois Fishing Regulations Booklet for more detailed information.


Creel Limit

Minimum Length Limit

Black Bass (Largemouth, Smallmouth) Entire river including tributaries in State of Illinois.

6 singly or in combination with no more than 3 smallmouth bass in the daily creel

14" for Smallmouth Bass

Walleye, Sauger, or Hybrid Walleye Wisconsin state line downstream to the Sears and Steel dams at Milan

6 either singly or in combination

14"minimum length limit

Walleye, Sauger, or Hybrid Walleye Sears and Steel dams downstream to confluence with Mississippi River, State of Illinois (Rock Island County).

6 fish daily creel with no more than 1 walleye greater than 27" in total length

15" minimum length limit with a 20-27" protected Slot Length Limit.

Northern Pike

3 fish daily creel

24" minimum length limit

Note: There is a closed season on smallmouth bass. All smallmouth bass caught between April 1 and June 15 must be immediately released alive and in good condition back into the waters from which they came.

Rock River Fishing Reports

There were 8 tournaments held on this waterbody in 2018.

Species Total Fish Caught
Channel Catfish 304
Flathead Catfish 42
Largemouth Bass 10
Smallmouth Bass 15

Top 5 Bag Weights of Largemouth Bass caught on this waterbody in 2018 tournaments:

1     0.00 lbs
2     0.00 lbs

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

2019 Approved or Pending Tournaments
Start Date End Date
(if different from start)
ID Approval Ramp Location Bank/Boat
Max Boats Species Open to Public?
May-1112206Pending Castle Rock SP boat
20Channel Catfish
Flathead Catfish
June-0112113ApprovedPage Park - Dixon boat
100Channel Catfish
Flathead Catfish
June-15June-1612207Pending Castle Rock SP boat
20Channel Catfish
Flathead Catfish
July-1312102ApprovedErie Boat Ramp boat
50Channel Catfish
August-24August-2512208Pending Castle Rock SP boat
20Channel Catfish
Flathead Catfish
September-1412209Pending Castle Rock SP boat
20Channel Catfish
Flathead Catfish