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Top Fishing Charters in Chicago

Fishing in Chicago

The fishing in Chicago will knock your socks off. Mention the Windy City and people often think of its architecture, jazz, and deep dish pizza. But all we can think about is the fabulous fishing—and it is fabulous.

Fly fishermen can explore urban rivers for Bass and Salmon, ice fishermen can carve themselves a prime fishing hole in Lake Michigan, and anglers of any skill level can join the midnight rush for Smelt in spring. Take your pick of Chicago fishing charters or test the waters from shore. Whatever you decide, get ready to experience a whole new side of this city.

Chicago Fishing Spots

The waters in and around Chicago are rich with coveted game fish like Salmon, Trout, Perch, Bass, Crappie, and Northern Pike. With no shortage of lakes, rivers, creeks, and reservoirs, it’s hard to pick a bad place to cast your lines around here! We’ve selected a few hot spots to get you started.

Lake Michigan

The Great Lakes are famous for their Salmon and Trout populations, and with good reason. Here in Lake Michigan, you can hook into Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Lake Trout, and Brown Trout. Anglers also reel in Perch, Walleye, and a host of other game fish while they’re at it.

Lake Michigan fishing charters in Chicago generally run from April through October. Prices range from $750-$950 for a full day trip (8 hours) and about $550-$800 for a half day (6 hours), depending on the size of your group.

At the start of spring, you’ll see a very special Chicago tradition taking place on the shores of Lake Michigan. For a brief period in April, anglers flock to the Lake under cover of darkness to haul in nets full of Smelt. Fishermen line the shore from 7pm to 1am the next morning, scrambling to get in on the Smelt fishing Chicago is blessed with for just a few weeks each year. Locals have been cheerfully making “April fools” out of themselves this way since the 1930s.

Chicago Harbor

Chicago Harbor is the place to start if you’re eager to get in on Lake Michigan’s world class fishery. Here you’ll have access to the offshore waters of the lake as well as plenty of shore fishing opportunities. Book yourself a fishing charter or even wet a few lines from shore. Navy Pier at the north end of the harbor is a great place to get a taste of the Perch fishing Chicago has in store. Or take a quick stroll south and try your luck in Monroe Harbor for Salmon and huge Bass.

Montrose Harbor

Just a 15-minute drive north of Chicago Harbor, Montrose Harbor offers anglers a very different Lake Michigan fishing experience. This area gives you access to bigger Salmon, Steelhead, and Trout offshore. Chicago boat charters are a popular choice here, since you’ll need a well-equipped ship and a savvy guide to get the most out of your experience.

Fishing in Montrose Harbor also comes with a little something extra. This deep bay has a very narrow point of access to the lake, which allows ice to form here during winter. The ice is thick enough to set up camp between the docks for some quality winter Perch fishing.

Chicago River

The Chicago River flows straight from Chicago Harbor into the downtown area, bringing a variety of game fish within reach of urban anglers. The most popular catches in this river are Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, and Crappie. But pretty much any species swimming in Lake Michigan also shows up here from time to time.

Visitors get a kick out of this fishing environment, where the surrounding landscape consists of Sears Tower, Trump Plaza, and the historic Tribune Building. If you’re eager to escape the city, you’ll find a few patches of secluded woodland that should make you feel like you’re fishing out in the country.

It’s easy to scout out some prime fishing spots along the river right in the heart of downtown Chicago, as well as the area between Foster and downtown, the North Shore channel, and parts of the river’s south branch.You can hire a Chicago river fishing guide for the day for less than $400.

Busse Lake

Located roughly 10 miles northwest of O’Hare Airport, Busse Lake gives you 457 acres of fantastic freshwater fishing. Popular species here include Largemouth Bass, Walleye, Crappie, Northern Pike, and Catfish. While Busse Lake has a lot more fishing pressure than the Chicago River, it’s still one of the best fishing spots around. You’ll have tons of shoreline to work with, including a few fishing walls. Between April and October, you can rent a fishing boat on the lake for $20 an hour (2 hour minimum).

In winter, anglers go ice fishing on Busse Lake or they head to Salt Creek, running south of the lake. The creek receives a warm water discharge from Busse Lake which never freezes, allowing anglers to sneak in a little open water fishing for Bass, Crappie, Bluegill, Walleye, and Northern Pike in the dead of winter. Bring your lighter gear to avoid spooking these fish.

Types of Fishing in Chicago

Trolling Lake Michigan

If you spend your time in Chicago fishing Lake Michigan, expect a whole lot of trolling for Salmon and Trout. Trolling the deep waters of the lake calls for downriggers and dipsy divers. Your captain may also lay out some planer boards to spread the lines.

Shore Fishing

If you plan on fishing from Navy Pier or the shores along Lake Michigan, you’ll have great success catching Perch and Smallmouth Bass. Live bait like wax worms, Minnows, and nightcrawlers are irresistible to Perch. Smallies are known to smash a good lure like nobody’s business.

Fly Fishing the Rivers

Fly fishers will find no shortage of opportunities in the local rivers here. While it’s certainly convenient for city dwellers, Chicago River isn’t the only place to cast a few lines. The nearby Kankakee River and the DuPage River southwest of Chicago also offer great fly fishing opportunities. Since you’ll have such a wide variety of species at your disposal, it’s best to bring a 4 or 5-weight rod. Bushy streamers, clouser minnows, and wooly buggers work well when targeting Bass.

Need to Know

Chicago fishing charters do not provide a fishing license for their customers. Anglers age 16 and older can buy a license online through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. You will also need a Salmon or Trout stamp if you plan on fishing for these species. Non-residents can buy a 24-hour license for $10.50 (price subject to change). Trout and Salmon stamps cost $6.50.

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Chicago Fishing Seasons

There won’t be much action on Lake Michigan at this time of year, unless you’re eager to carve a hole in the ice and drop a line for Perch! Or check out Busse Lake and the running water in Salt Creek.

Average temperatures are between 25-30°F in February. It’s still a great time to test the ice, or see if you can scrounge up a few Walleye and Trout in the local rivers.

In some years, the ice is starting to thaw by now. Best to play it safe and keep your feet on dry land. Salt Creek offers no shortage of Crappie, Bluegill, Walleye, Northern Pike, and more.

Make the most of April Fool’s Day this year and drag your loved ones to Lake Michigan for Chicago's Smelt season! Fishing charters are starting to run their trips for Salmon, Trout, and Perch.

The spring fishing season is well underway here in Chicago. Come fish Lake Michigan for Coho Salmon, Lake Trout, Brown Trout, and more. Or check out the action on Busse Lake if you’re looking to relax.

Why not cast a few lines in the Chicago River? Hook into a Bass and capture the perfect picture with the cityscape behind you! Steelhead and King Salmon reach their peak in Lake Michigan later this month.

Catch the tail end of Coho’s peak season in Lake Michigan while fishing for King Salmon, Perch, Steelhead, and more. If the lake is feeling crowded, head to the rivers around town instead.

Temperatures range from 63-82°F at this time of year, and it doesn’t get any more perfect than that! You’ve got plenty of time to get in on the hype at Lake Michigan and to explore the waters outside the city center. 

You can still reel in a steady supply of Walleye, Trout, and Salmon while fishing Lake Michigan. Or hire a guide and see what the Chicago River has to offer. Who knows, there could be a Bass with your name on it!

The charter season on Lake Michigan will be coming to a close this month. Book a trip while you can and indulge in the last of this season’s Salmon, Trout, and Steelhead. 

It’s getting chilly here in Chicago, with temperatures ranging from 32-48°F. If the ice is already thick enough, some anglers will be setting up camp on the lakes.

Don’t let the winter blue get you down! There’s plenty of fish to be had beneath the ice and in the warm water discharge at Salt Creek. Bundle up and add a little angling adventure to your holiday plans.

Chicago Fishing Calendar

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Top Fishing Techniques in Chicago

  1. Fly Fishing

Top Targeted Species in Chicago

Bass (Largemouth)

Walleye

Crappie

Rainbow Trout (Steelhead)

Top Chicago Destinations