Although native trout may be hard to find in Illinois, that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to catch trout in the Prairie State. Thanks to a robust hatchery program, rainbow trout are available in areas statewide.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) stocks approximately 80,000 catchable rainbow trout every spring at dozens of locations across the state. They do the same in fall in many waters, creating two distinct Illinois trout seasons.
Trout season in Illinois traditionally begins on the first Saturday in April and the third Saturday in October. In select lakes and streams, catch-and-release trout fishing is allowed during the two weeks leading up to the official season.
Northern Illinois Trout Fishing
Apple River Canyon
The Apple River is a trickling stream that meanders across the state line from Southwestern Wisconsin into Jo Daviess County, the northwesternmost county in Illinois. It’s known for its rugged scenery and for being one of the best trout streams in the state.
The Illinois DNR stocks the Apple River with catchable rainbow trout for both the spring and fall trout seasons. You’ll find the most stocked trout around Apple River Canyon State Park.
This area features hilly terrain and steep rock bluffs that overlook the river. There is ample access to the Apple River within the park, and flows are generally tranquil enough that wading and hiking along the bank is easy.
Numerous pools along this gravel-bottomed stream can be excellent for stocked trout. Some of the best spots are where other tributaries, including the South Fork Apple River and Clear Creek, meet the main river.
These hatchery-raised trout may fall for live bait and a wide range of spinners, spoons and soft plastics.
Many anglers also come here to fly-fish for trout, and classic patterns like Copper Johns, Pheasant Tail Nymphs, Stimulators and Elk Hair Caddis often do the trick.
The Apple River is one of the waters that are open to catch-and-release only trout fishing two weeks before the beginning of the spring and fall trout seasons. This a great place to fish in late March and early October, as long as you don’t mind returning your catch to the water.
Also known as Loon Lake, Big Lake is within Silver Springs State Fish & Wildlife Area in Kendall County. The lake is stocked in spring and fall with catchable rainbows and supports channel catfish, bass and panfish populations.
Spanning 16 acres, Big Lake is “big” only in the sense that it dwarfs its neighboring lake in the wildlife area, 4.5-acre Beaver Lake. Still, it’s a great place to fish for freshly stocked rainbows in April and October.
Ample bank access is available on Big Lake, including multiple wooden fishing platforms, and the lake is also open to boats with trolling motors and non-powered craft.
Big Lake is close enough to Chicago that it can get pretty crowded on opening weekend, so plan your visit on a weekday if you can.
Trout are known to overwinter here, so there’s a chance of catching some good-sized holdover fish in spring that were stocked the previous fall. As with most Illinois lakes, Big Lake gets too warm to support trout in summer.
Many classic baits for catching stocked trout, including PowerBait and Trout Magnets, will work here. Live red worms are also popular and may also entice a few yellow perch and bluegill.
Rock Creek is a small tributary of the Kankakee River that flows just shy of 25 miles through Northeastern Illinois. The creek carves out a steep canyon and tumbles over a small waterfall before emptying into the river.
The confluence of Rock Creek with the Kankakee River is within Kankakee River State Park. And while many anglers target walleye and smallmouth bass on the larger river, the creek is stocked in spring and fall with rainbow trout.
An abundance of access is available within the park just off Route 102, including ample parking and footpaths that follow Rocky Creek. Some of the best trout fishing is right around the 102 Bridge.
Rock Creek is open to catch-and-release trout fishing two weeks before the statewide season begins. Fishing during these weeks is a great option for fly anglers who want to get a jump on some early rainbows.
The creek may be high and muddy early in spring, but it generally flows clear much of the season.
Tiny dry flies in sizes 18 to 20 often account for some beautiful trout here, and nymphing with a strike indicator is another good tactic.
One of several stocked trout lakes in the Chicago area located on Cook County Forest Preserve land, Axehead Lake spans 17 acres. It is a popular spot for city residents to fish for trout in April and October.
Boats are not allowed on Axehead Lake, but just about all of its shoreline is easily accessible for bank fishing. It’s a steep-sided gravel pit-type lake with clear water and depths up to 30 feet, and it’s not difficult to cast into deep water from the bank.
The best fishing takes place during the first two weeks of trout season, though some trout do live longer.
Ice fishing is permitted, and a few big rainbows are usually brought up through the ice each winter.
Mepps and Rooster Tail spinners typically attract their fair share of bites in Axehead Lake.
Axehead Lake also supports a decent largemouth bass population, and angler attention generally shifts to bass during the warmer months.
Just over 30 miles southwest of Rockford, Pine Creek offers excellent trout fishing in Ogle County. The section of the creek that flows through White Pines Forest State Park is stocked with harvest-size rainbows every spring and fall.
And while anglers catch most of these fish within the first month after being stocked, the spring-fed waters of Pine Creek stay cool enough that a few trout often survive through the summer in the creek’s shady pools. It’s one of the only places in the state where this is possible.
Multiple road and trail crossings crisscross Pine Creek throughout the state park, so there’s no shortage of access to fish the bank or wade upstream. The banks are partly wooded and partly open and grassy.
Anglers take many trout using small spinners and live bait, but fly fishing can be a lot of fun here as well. You may also catch a few of the creek’s resident smallmouth bass.
Early-season catch-and-release trout fishing is allowed here.
We could make a strong case that Lake Michigan is Illinois’ best trout water. But plying the deep waters of this Great Lake is a very different experience than fishing most small Illinois trout streams and lakes.
This is big water, and it’s home to big fish. The Illinois state records for rainbow trout, brown trout and lake trout—the latter being the only one native to the Great Lakes—have all come from Lake Michigan. For the most part, anglers catch these fish by trolling deep offshore reefs.
If it’s your first time fishing for trout in Lake Michigan, booking a charter is your best bet. Several guide services operate out of the Chicago area, taking clients to the productive waters off Montrose Harbor, where 20-pound-plus giants are a real possibility.
Lake trout are often caught 10 to 30 feet down during spring and fall, but in summer may be found more than 100 feet deep. As for shore fishing, your best options are in winter, the only time nearshore waters are cool enough for trout.
Anglers land a few big lake trout from piers and breakwalls in Chicago’s harbors in January and February.
In addition, a modest brown trout run enters the Chicago River from September to December.
Central Illinois Trout Fishing
Siloam Springs Lake
Surrounded by picturesque woodlands in Adams County, Siloam Springs Lake (also known as Crabapple Lake) is the centerpiece of Siloam Springs State Park.
The lake was built in 1955 to give state park visitors a place to fish.
Various warm water species have been stocked in Siloam Springs Lake over the years, and the state plants rainbow trout every spring and fall, providing some of the best trout fishing in West-Central Illinois.
State park land surrounds the 58-acre lake and provides ample bank access and several fishing piers around the lakeshore.
A boat ramp is available to launch small boats, but no gas motors are allowed. The park also rents out rowboats and canoes.
Early catch-and-release fishing is allowed here two weeks before the statewide spring and fall trout fishing seasons start.
Siloam Springs Lake is generally clear to lightly stained, and trout commonly fall for live bait and soft plastics.
Located a stone’s throw from the Indiana state line in East-Central Illinois, Clear Lake is one of 22 fishing ponds—reclaimed from what was once a strip-mining operation—that dot the landscape of 2,842-acre Kickapoo State Recreation Area.
Just about all of these ponds offer good fishing but Clear lake is the only one officials stock with trout. So anglers from all over the region come here to tangle with these feisty catchable-size rainbows.
Trout are stocked in spring and fall, and the best fishing is usually within the first two weeks after the season-opening dates.
Bass, bluegill, crappie and catfish are also available.
Clear Lake (sometimes called Clear Pond) is over a mile long but just over 100 feet across in places.
Ample bank fishing access is available within Kickapoo State Recreation Area, along with canoe and kayak rentals and a launch ramp for electric and non-powered craft.
Located within Nauvoo State Park in Hancock County, Horton Lake is a small reservoir encompassing 13 acres. It offers some of the best fishing for stocked catchable rainbow trout in the western part of Illinois.
A fishing pier is on the southern shore of Horton Lake, and bank fishing access is available at several other spots around the lakeshore. The park also provides a hand launch for canoes and kayaks.
Horton Lake tends to be a bit stained, so try live bait or a lure that creates some flash and vibration, like a spinner or spoon.
Trout are stocked in spring and fall, and early catch-and-release fishing is permitted.
Beaver Dam Lake
Although 57-acre Beaver Dam Lake is better known for warm water species (channel catfish, largemouth bass and redear sunfish are all abundant), this Central Illinois reservoir is also a quality trout lake.
Rainbow trout are only stocked in fall here, which makes mid to late October the best time to target them.
Beaver Dam State Park surrounds the lake, and its mostly-wooded shoreline is stunning as the leaves change.
The lake has multiple fishing piers, ample bank access, and a small boat ramp for electric and non-powered craft.
The park’s concession stand also sells bait and tackle, making this an easy destination for a family fishing trip.
Southern Illinois Trout Fishing
Beall Woods Lake
Beall Woods State Park sits alongside the Wabash River in Southeastern Illinois, offering one of the better trout fishing options in this corner. The park’s Beall Lake gets hatchery rainbow trout in both spring and fall.
Beall Lake offers 14 acres of water, and trout fishing is generally excellent in the weeks that immediately follow stocking.
Try fishing with spinners tipped with PowerBait Trout Nuggets or suspending live worms beneath a bobber.
Several fishing piers and a stretch of riprap along the shoreline of Beall Lake make access easy.
Boats with electric motors are allowed. You’ll find a launch at the south end of the lake, which is the deepest area and tends to be where the best trout fishing takes place.
Frank Holten Main Lake
Located just outside of East St. Louis, Frank Holten State Recreation Area is a 1,080-acre park with an 18-hole golf course and a 97-acre stocked fishing lake generally referred to as the Frank Holten Main Lake.
This lake provides an excellent urban fishing destination for a variety of species, but is best known as one of the few places where anglers can catch trout in this part of the state. Officials stock rainbow trout in both spring and fall.
The Frank Holten Main Lake has a mostly open shoreline open to bank fishing. Boat ramps are there for anglers launching electric and non-powered boats.
Some of the best fishing is near the lake’s center, where a narrow bottleneck divides it into two separate basins.
Boston Pond is a tiny speck of water that often goes unnoticed in Stephen A. Forbes Recreation Area. That’s partly because the park also includes 585-acre Forbes Lake, which offers very good bass fishing and allows boats with unlimited horsepower.
But don’t overlook Boston Pond during trout season. This small pond is stocked with catchable rainbow trout in time for the season openers in both April and October. It provides one of the best trout fishing opportunities in South-Central Illinois.
Boston Pond is accessible via a short hiking trail. It’s a quiet, out-of-the-way spot and a great place to introduce kids to trout fishing.