Top Fly Fishing Spots in Illinois

Illinois may not be one of many destinations that come to mind when you think of fly fishing, but the Prairie State has much to offer regarding angling opportunities. With an array of rivers, lakes, and streams, Illinois provides a variety of fly-fishing experiences for beginners and seasoned anglers. In this article, we’ll explore Illinois’s top fly fishing spots, detailing each location’s unique characteristics and species to target.

Kankakee River

A Scenic River with Diverse Fly Fishing Opportunities

The Kankakee River, stretching over 130 miles from Indiana to Illinois, is known for its picturesque surroundings and excellent fishing opportunities. Flowing through forest preserves, limestone cliffs, and sprawling wetlands, the Kankakee River offers an immersive fly fishing experience.

Key Features and Target Species:

  • Smallmouth Bass: The river is home to a healthy population of smallmouth bass, which can be targeted with streamers, poppers, and crayfish imitations
  • Northern Pike: Use larger streamers and articulated flies to entice these aggressive predators
  • Panfish: Bluegill and crappie can be found throughout the river and are fun to catch on light tackle with small nymphs and dry flies
  • Access Points: Popular access points include the Kankakee River State Park and the Momence Wetlands

Fox River

A Suburban Gem with Abundant Fishing Opportunities

The Fox River, located in northeastern Illinois, is a fly angler’s dream with its diverse array of fish species and easy accessibility. Flowing through both rural and suburban areas, the Fox River provides an exciting mix of fishing opportunities within close proximity to the city of Chicago.

Key Features and Target Species:

  • Smallmouth Bass: Target smallmouth bass with crayfish imitations, streamers, and topwater flies around rocky structures and weed beds
  • Walleye: Use large streamers and crayfish patterns to target these elusive fish, particularly during low light conditions
  • Panfish: Look for bluegill and crappie in the shallower areas of the river, using small nymphs and dry flies
  • Access Points: Popular access points include the Fox River Forest Preserve, Fabyan Forest Preserve, and Batavia Riverwalk

Lake Michigan Shoreline

Expansive Great Lakes Fly Fishing

The Illinois shoreline of Lake Michigan offers unique fly fishing opportunities for those looking to target big lake species. With numerous harbors, piers, and beaches, anglers can find a variety of fishing spots along the coast.

Key Features and Target Species:

  • Salmon and Trout: During the spring and fall runs, anglers can target Chinook salmon, coho salmon, and various trout species with streamers and sinking lines
  • Smallmouth Bass: Fish around harbor structures and rocky areas using crayfish patterns and streamers
  • Carp: Sight fishing for carp along the sandy flats can provide an exciting challenge, using nymphs and small crustacean imitations
  • Access Points: Notable locations include Montrose Harbor, Belmont Harbor, and Waukegan Harbor

Apple River

A Scenic Driftless Area Trout Stream

Located in the northwest corner of Illinois, the Apple River flows through the Driftless Area, a region known for its cold-water trout streams. The Apple River offers anglers the chance to target brown and rainbow trout in a serene, natural setting.

Key Features and Target Species:

  • Brown and Rainbow Trout: Use nymphs, dry flies, and streamers to target these trout species in the deeper runs and riffle sections of the river
  • Insect Hatches: Be prepared for prolific insect hatches, such as caddis, mayflies, and midges, which can provide excellent dry fly action
  • Catch and Release: Many sections of the Apple River are catch and release only, so be sure to check the local regulations before fishing
  • Access Points: Popular access points include the Apple River Canyon State Park and various public access points along the river

Sangamon River

A Central Illinois River Rich in History and Fishing Opportunities

The Sangamon River, located in central Illinois, has a storied history, including being the site of Abraham Lincoln’s famous log-splitting feat. The river provides fly anglers with a variety of fishing opportunities, from smallmouth bass to catfish.

Key Features and Target Species:

  • Smallmouth Bass: Target smallmouth bass with streamers, crayfish patterns, and topwater flies around rocky structures, fallen trees, and weed beds
  • Channel Catfish: Use large, heavily weighted streamers to target these bottom-dwelling fish
  • Panfish: Bluegill and crappie can be found in the river’s backwaters, providing fun light tackle action with small nymphs and dry flies
  • Access Points: Popular access points include the Lincoln Trail Homestead State Memorial and the Sangamon River Forest Preserve


Illinois boasts a surprising variety of fly fishing opportunities for anglers to explore. From the tranquil trout streams of the Driftless Area to the bustling shores of Lake Michigan, the Prairie State offers something for every fly fisher. So grab your gear, head to one of these top fly fishing spots in Illinois, and experience the thrill of angling in the Land of Lincoln.

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