Fly Fishing in Chicago

To say that a city located on the shores of one of the Great Lakes has amazing fishing is just stating the obvious. Chicago fly fishing is no exception to this. However, the Windy City is far from being a one-trick pony. Adventurous anglers will have plenty of other freshwater spots to explore if they’re looking to go off the beaten path.

What to Catch

There’s some great fishing to be had in the local fresh waters, with species like Walleye, Salmon, Trout, and Bass being the norm. Crappie and Perch are also an option if you know where to look.

Where to Go

Lake Michigan is the obvious first choice for many anglers, and for good reason. As one of the Great Lakes, it’s known all over the nation for its exceptional fishing. On the other hand, a quick drive to some of the other nearby rivers and lakes can be very rewarding, too.

Lake Michigan

Chicago freshwater charters focusing on Lake Michigan have their work cut out for them. The lake is teeming with the likes of Yellow Perch, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, Salmon, and Trout. Local fly enthusiasts mostly stick with Bass fishing, but you’re free to make your own rules in these waters.

Fox Chain of Lakes

If Lake Michigan is the obvious choice, then the Fox Chain of Lakes is the hidden gem. A few dozen miles away from the center of Chicago, you’ll find some of the best freshwater fishing in the state. These waters are great for both fishing on canoes or from the shore. Fishing is off the table in winter when the lake freezes over, so watch your timing.

Kankakee River

Located near Wilmington – an hour’s drive from Chicago – Kanakee River is great for any fly angler who wants to test their line against Crappie and Trout, as well as Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass. Fishing from shore is prohibited, so be prepared to either wade on in or hire a guide with a boat.

How to Fish

In most cases, a 5-6 wt, 7’ fly rod is what you’ll need for a successful day on the water. The only exceptions to this are big Steelhead and Muskies, for which you’ll need to kick it up a notch. If you’re there only for the Bass, you can work with just a 4 wt rod and wooly buggers if you know what you’re doing.

Make sure to bring flies for the species you’re targeting. Insect patterns are best for Carp and Sunfish, while crayfish imitations work best for Smallmouth Bass. If you’re after Muskies, stock up on some big streamers.

When to Go

Spring and summer are the main times for fly fishing in Chicago, especially in the nearby rivers. For example, the rivers are usually stocked with Trout in the early weeks of spring, and tend to be depleted by the end of June. Come on down when the fishing is going strong and you’ll be rewarded with a diverse fly fishing experience.


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Top Targeted Fly Fishing Species in Chicago

Lake Trout

Lake Trout

Rainbow Trout (Steelhead)

Rainbow Trout (Steelhead)

Brown Trout

Brown Trout

Salmon (Chinook)

Salmon (Chinook)