The start of fall Trout season is one of the most exciting dates on the Illinois fishing calendar. Every year, the Department of Natural Resources stocks ponds and streams around the state with thousands of fully-grown Rainbow Trout. Soon after, an army of anglers shows up to battle hard-fighting fish and earn themselves a tasty dinner for their efforts.
This year, things kick off on October 16, with an early catch and release opener in some waters. The DNR will stock 59 spots state-wide, but which one should you hit? That’s why we’re here. With the big day just around the corner, we put together a list of the best places to enjoy Illinois’s fall Trout season.
Apple River Canyon State Park, Jo Daviess County
Apple River State Park is hidden way up in the north of Jo Daviess County, near the Wisconsin border. Trust us, it’s worth the trip. This is a land of rolling hills and rocky limestone bluffs, with deep gorges gouged out over thousands of years by the winding course of the Apple River.
The water here branches into four sections. The South Fork Apple River first meets Clear Creek, before hitting the main branch of the Apple River, forming a small pool before heading downstream. Each of these sections is fishable and has its own character.
The special thing about the Apple River is that you can actually fish here a full two weeks before the main season starts. While you have to wait until October 16 in most places, you can start here on the first, as long as you release all your fish. There are only seven other spots like this in the state.
Kankakee River State Park, Kankakee County
The Kankakee River is famous among Illinois anglers. A federally-registered Clean Stream, it’s a popular spot for Pike, Walleye, Smallmouth Bass, and Channel Catfish. However, this October, the attention switches from the river itself to the nearby Rock Creek, where hundreds of Trout are set to be introduced.
Rock Creek is another one of those special spots where you can catch and release fish from October 1. Don’t worry, you can also keep them from the 16th. This is all the more reason to stay at a local campground. You can cook up a fishy feast, discuss the day’s catch, then bed down ahead of another great day’s fishing.
The surrounding area offers much more than just fishing, mind you. From hiking and horse trails to campgrounds and boat launches, the park has something for everyone. All this, just a 15-minute drive from the city of Kankakee, and a short hop off the I-57.
Silver Springs State Fish and Wildlife Area, Kendall County
Silver Springs is a small park in Kendall County, just a half-hour from downtown Aurora. It doesn’t feel like it, though. Spread along the banks of the Fox River, its wild woodland and pretty ponds feel a million miles from the urban sprawl of the Chicago Metropolitan Area – especially when you have a rod in your hand.
Rainbow Trout will be stocked in Loon Lake, also known as Big or Silver Springs Lake. Not to be confused with the Loon Lakes up in Lake County, this is a large, clean fishing pond with a small boat dock and multiple wooden fishing platforms. Cast from land or rent a kayak to get out on the water. However you do it, expect lots of tasty Rainbows!
It’s not all about Trout fishing, mind you. The area also has a decent Smallmouth Bass bite, as well as Channel Catfish, Bluegill, and Crappie. When you’re done with fishing, track down the spring itself, a natural source of crystal clear water bubbling out of the ground. Then there are the prairie fields, wildflowers, hiking trails – it sure packs a lot in!
Horsetail Lake, Cook County
Horsetail Lake is one of seven different spots in Cook County that will be stocked with Trout this fall. If you ask us, it’s the best. Less than 20 miles from the Chicago Loop, it’s a clean, quiet place to unwind and recharge your batteries.
The lake is surrounded on three sides by a forest preserve. The south side has ample bank access, as does the eastern tip, where the waters are deepest. If you have a kayak, you can explore the more remote areas on the north of the lake. This will also shield you from the occasional road noise.
But that’s just the lake itself. The surrounding woodland is full of hiking and equestrian trails where you can forget about city life. Otherwise, just park yourself down on a bench and take in the autumn leaves reflecting across the lake. It doesn’t get much more relaxing than that.
White Pines Forest State Park, Ogle County
White Pines State Park is important for a number of reasons. It marks the southern boundary of the historic Chicago-Iowa Trail, a vital trade route across the state for decades. It’s also the state’s last remaining natural white pine forest, and the most southern one in the entire country. Oh, and it also has awesome fishing!
White Pines open on October 1 for the special release-only season. And boy is it special. With miles of bank access along the winding Pine Creek, you can easily find a secluded spot to battle hard-fighting fish – even on opening day.
Feel like making a weekend of it? Check into the local White Pines Inn lodge, or pitch up at one of over 100 campsites. You may need to hop across stepping stones or drive through the river at one of the fords to get there, but that’s all part of the adventure!
Siloam Springs State Park, Adams County
Siloam Springs is one of the most popular fishing spots in central Illinois. The park is centered around Crabapple Lake, whose clean, spring-fed waters are home to a wide range of good-sized fish. Most of the year, Bass, Sunfish, and Catfish are the main targets. Come October, they’ll be joined by hundreds of delicious Rainbow Trout.
You can fish the lake by boat, kayak, or on foot. Sadly, you’re no longer able to rent boats here, but there’s a concrete ramp on the southeast shore if you bring your own one along. There’s also the old wooden boat dock, as well as tons of bank access for shore-bound fishermen and women.
Once you’ve caught your fill, you’ll still have the rest of the park to explore. There are several different campgrounds and lots of trails. The park isn’t quite as well-maintained as some of the others on this list, but that gives it a wild feel that’s half the reason we get into the outdoors to begin with.
Kickapoo State Recreation Area, Vermilion County
Kickapoo Recreation Area is a real testament to the healing powers of mother nature. Once a sprawling strip-mine, the old coal pits have been filled in with clean water, and plant life has covered almost any sign of its industrial heritage. Visiting today, it’s hard to believe that this was once home to a cutting-edge mining facility.
Instead, Kickapoo is a pretty wooded park banked by the Middle Fork Vermilion River and home to no less than 22 fishing ponds. Depending on where you fish, you can catch a variety of panfish, as well as both Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass.
Most importantly, though, Clear Pond is stocked with lots of mature Rainbow Trout. It may only be 100 feet wide in places, but it’s over a mile long, allowing for large numbers of anglers to hit the banks without it feeling crowded. And if it does, you can always catch a few Trout then head over to any of the other ponds – you’ve got plenty to choose from.
Frank Holten State Recreation Area, St. Clair County
Sitting right on the edge of East St. Louis, this is the most southern spot on our list. And in many ways, it’s also the most interesting. Featuring barbecues, picnic areas, a mix of woodland, and a full 18 hole golf course, you can really make a day of it in this relaxing spot just a stone’s throw from downtown St. Louis.
The fishing here centers around two large lakes, both of which are home to Largemouth Bass, Channel Cats, and Bluegill. If you’re after Trout, head to the southern Grand Marais Lake. You can park right at the water’s edge, and there’s also a boat ramp if you want to head out onto the water.
Frank Holten State Park has undergone a big improvement effort since the golf course reopened in 2019. It’s still rough around the edges, so don’t expect championship-level grass or pristine waters. However, it’s still a great place for a relaxing day out – especially with a couple of thousand Trout waiting to take your bait!
Illinois Fall Trout Season Regulations
Before you head out to bag some lunch, let’s cover the regulations for Illinois’s fall Trout season. We know, it’s not exactly exciting, but it could save you a hefty fine! Anyone over the age of 16 needs a license to fish in Illinois, as well as a separate Inland Trout Stamp to target Rainbow Trout, even if you’re releasing all your fish.
The main 2021 fishing season officially kicks off at 5:00 A.M. on October 16, with a daily limit of five fish per person. In some spots, you can fish from October 1, but you have to immediately release any Trout you catch. Four of the spots on our list open early: the Apple River, Rock Creek, Pine Creek, and Crabapple Lake. For more info, check out the DNR’s memo.
That’s it, boring stuff over, we promise! It’s time to pick your spot, grab your rod, and start fighting fish! Once you’re done, drop us a comment to let us know how it went. Which spot did you visit, and what did you catch? We’d love to hear about it!