The 5 Best Fish to Catch in Illinois This Summer

Written by Crystal
Published: September 2, 2022
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Some anglers prefer the glamorous gigantic sports fish, while others are willing to target overlooked gems. Pros know it’s all about finding the fish that will provide them with the best opportunity to test their skills (and have fun). Whatever you’re looking for, Illinois‘ waters have a fish for you.

Here are the best fish to catch in Illinois this summer.

1. Chain Pickerel

Chain pickerel are sometimes called black chain pike.


Chain pickerel belong on our list of the best fish to catch in Illinois this summer because they are abundant, active, and challenging. Their long bodies have even earned them the nickname ‘snake.’

It’s easy to mistake a chain pickerel for a walleye. They have very similar appearances. However, walleyes belong to the perch family. Chain pickerel in Illinois are smaller than the northern pike or muskies. They can grow to be 18 inches long.

Chain pickerel prefer freshwater, but they can occasionally be found in brackish water. They are known to be voracious feeders. They go after their prey with speed and ferocity. The way they target their prey affects how they eat it. Their intense feeding habits make chain pickerels exciting game fish. Even though they’re small, they can present quite a challenge. You’ll need a lot of patience and the right gear if you want any hope of making regular catches. Since chain pickerel are voracious feeders, start by retrieving your spoons or spinners quickly. This will help stimulate aggressive strikes. Before you know it, the chain pickerel will be biting!

2. Channel Catfish

blue catfish vs channel catfish

Channel catfish are usually bottom feeders.

©Jennifer White Maxwell/

Get ready for a challenge with a big reward, fishing for channel catfish. These fish are omnivorous; they eat a variety of plants and animals. You can find a lot of channel catfish throughout Illinois. Like other catfishes, channel catfish use their excellent sense of taste to run down their prey. Once you find a hotspot, get ready for some exciting fishing. The fun catfish provide is why they’re on our list of the best fish to catch in Illinois this summer.

The best opportunities are at night. In general, bait fishing outperforms lure fishing every time. Choose hook sizes that match the size of your bait.

You’ll want your bait buried, with only the barb and point showing. The best setup includes using a sliding sinker rig. The line passes through a bell sinker until 12 to 16 inches protrude. Then a small split shot sinker pinches on the line near the sliding sinker. After tying a hook on the end of the line, you’ll be good to go! This type of fishing technique helps the fish pick up the bait without feeling the weight of the sinker.

3. Crappie

Black Crappie

There’s an abundance of crappie in Illinois waters.


When you’re looking for the best fish to catch in Illinois this summer, you have to try your hand at catching black and white crappies. They’re the perfect fish for beginners, too.

The best fishing tackle includes closed-face or open-face reels and sensitive rods. You’ll need the rods in the forty-foot range to catch many crappies. Ultra-light rods work well since they give you better sensitivity. Some of the best ultralight rods for catching crappies include graphite or boron-made rods.

Make sure that your rods and reels match perfectly. You’ll need a balanced combination. Light outfits are ideal for casting the tiny lures and baits used for crappies. Overall though, a large variety of lures will be effective.

You can use small spinners, plugs, and even spoons. The favorite lures are usually some type of jig spinner and jig combination. You’ll find that the whistler spinner is also very effective. Crappies can’t resist bait fishing. It’s almost like they were made for it! You can even use a bobber. Combining a bobber with jigs and bait means you’ll have more crappies than you know what to do with them.

4. Muskellunge

Musky or Muskellunge

The biggest muskellunge ever caught was 69 pounds and 15 oz.


Are you ready to try catching some muskies in Illinois rivers this summer? The world record muskellunge weighed 69 lb and 15 oz and had an incredible 60.25-inch length. This behemoth was caught back in 1957 out of the St Lawrence River.

During the first 6 months of muskies’ lives, they average 10 to 12 inches. The average size is right between 10 and 20 lb. However, you could wind up catching a trophy-sized muskie while you’re in Illinois. One that weighs as much as 30 pounds or more!

You can find muskies south of Tennessee and throughout Illinois. These fish are popular for their ferocious strikes. They use their speed to suddenly burst into action and engulf their prey in one devastating bite.

There are a lot of angling methods for catching muskies. However, during the summer months, you’ll have the best luck trolling the waters. The muskies seek out cool deep waters, which means you can usually find many of them in one place.

5. Perch

Yellow Perch

Perch are related to walleye and sauger fish.

©RLS Photo/

Closely related to walleye and sauger, the yellow perch lives in the northern waters of Illinois. Yellow perch love hanging out in the freshwater lakes, and they can reach sizes of 1 to 2 lb. However, it’s more common to catch yellow perch between 1/4 and 3/4 of a pound.

If you find schools of perch, they’ll likely have a smaller size than a jumbo perch swimming by itself. Along with yellow perch, there’s also white perch in Illinois. White perch typically grow to be 8 to 10 inches long and weigh just under a pound. Unlike the yellow perch, white perch prefer brackish waters. Since they’re not light-sensitive, night fishing doesn’t give you any advantage. Instead, you’ll want to focus on looking for perch near the thermocline.

The thermocline is the water layer where the temperature suddenly more drastically with depth. It’s a location that attracts various fish, including white and yellow perch. You can also target perch around islands, breakwaters, rocky shoals, and bridge abutments. If the water reaches a depth of 20 ft or more and the bottom is rocky, you’ll be in the perfect perch habitat. Perch also enjoy bottoms that are sandy or have moderate vegetation.

If you’re going to use live minnows for perch, make sure they’re small. The minnows shouldn’t be over 2 in size. For some reason, anglers who use larger minnows rarely have more than a few hits daily.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Jennifer White Maxwell/

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About the Author

Crystal is a dedicated writer at A-Z Animals, focusing on topics related to mammals, insects, and travel. With over a decade of experience in the world of research and writing, she also fulfills the role of a skilled video and audio engineer. Residing in sunny Florida, alligators are Crystal's favorite animal.

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