The 10 Best Fishing Lakes in Illinois

Written by Lev Baker
Updated: July 10, 2023
© dvande/
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Did you know that there are over 3,256 lakes dotted across the state of Illinois? The Land of Lincoln offers a fishing haven like no other. Whether you seek tranquility amidst serene reservoirs or the excitement of reeling in trophy-worthy catches, Illinois has it all. 

10 best fishing lakes in Illinois
Illinois Lakes are well-stocked and ready for your next fishing trip!

In this article, we will explore the best fishing lakes in Illinois, where every cast holds the promise of a thrilling catch!

1. Crab Orchard Lake

Great Blue Heron eating supper at Crab Orchard National Refuge in Southern Illinois, a long way south of Chicago
Blue herons are a common sight on the banks of Crab Orchard Lake in southern Illinois.

©Derek Richardson/

Welcome to the breathtaking Crab Orchard Lake, nestled in the stunning southern region of Illinois. This incredible destination is a haven for anglers, offering an expansive waterway spanning over 6,900 surface acres. 

While shoreline fishing is popular in Crab Orchard Lake, the best way to fully explore the lake is by boat. Don’t worry if you don’t have your own vessel – rental boats are readily available. Multiple boat ramps are conveniently scattered around the lake. And if you’re a fan of water skiing, Crab Orchard Lake offers the perfect playground for exhilarating rides.

Crab Orchard Lake is a place where families can create lasting memories together. Take a refreshing dip in the crystal-clear waters, perfect for swimming on sunny days. And for those seeking a truly immersive experience, there are camping facilities available. This way, you can extend your stay and soak up everything the lake has to offer.

When it comes to fishing, Crab Orchard Lake has some of the best fishing opportunities in Illinois. The lake presents an exciting array of species to target. From the thrill of reeling in largemouth bass and channel catfish or the art of angling for sunfish bluegill, black crappie, and white bass, there’s something for every angler’s taste. 

2. Lake Springfield

Close up of a Channel Catfish and Fisherman on a Lake
Lake Springfield is a premier destination for catfish enthusiasts.
Image: Brookieland, Shutterstock


Lake Springfield, located on the southern outskirts of Springfield, IL, is a premier destination for catfish fishing enthusiasts. Spanning an impressive 3,850 acres, this scenic lake offers over 50 miles of shoreline adorned with lush trees. 

Unfortunately, much of the shoreline is privately owned, limiting shoreline fishing opportunities. However, there are designated “Fishing Areas” where bank fishing is permitted. Additionally, the lake boasts a marina, restaurants, boat launch ramps, and boat rentals, providing visitors with an enhanced boating experience. Canoeing and kayaking are also an option – an opportunity to engage in fishing on a more adventurous level.

Anglers rejoice in the abundant fish population of Lake Springfield, which offers a wide array of species to catch. This scenic lake is teeming with prized catches like channel catfish, largemouth bass, flathead catfish, blue catfish, smallmouth bass, white crappie, bluegill, walleye, black crappie, and white bass. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a beginner, Lake Springfield is a haven that guarantees an exciting fishing experience.

3. Lake Shelbyville

Lake Shelbyville, Illinois lake & dam
Anglers looking for a good chance to catch largemouth bass should head to Lake Shelbyville.


Lake Shelbyville is widely recognized as one of the finest largemouth bass fisheries in the state of Illinois. Spanning an expansive 11,000 acres, this impressive reservoir offers ample opportunities for anglers to explore its vast waterways. With over 120 miles of shoreline, Lake Shelbyville provides a diverse and captivating fishing experience.

A significant portion of Lake Shelbyville’s shoreline is inaccessible for fishing due to its steep banks adorned with trees and private property. However, numerous boat launch ramps are conveniently located throughout the lake, facilitating easy access for boating and fishing enthusiasts.

Lake Shelbyville has become a favored destination for bass tournaments, where participants frequently showcase impressive catches exceeding the 6-pound mark. 

In addition to an abundance of bass, the lake boasts an impressive array of other popular fish species. Anglers can find channel catfish, walleye, black crappie, white bass, flathead catfish, white crappie, bluegill, yellow bass, smallmouth bass, and muskie among its diverse inhabitants.

4. Rend Lake

Rend Lake, Illinois
Rend Lake has over a dozen boat launch ramps, perfect for easy access to all parts of the lake.


With a sprawling body of water covering 19,000 acres, Rend Lake is among the best lakes for fishing in Illinois. This lake is 13 miles long and has an impressive shoreline of 160 miles.

Scattered throughout the lake are picturesque islands. The shallower areas in the river arms are teeming with submerged brush, providing an excellent habitat for both predator fish and their prey, the baitfish.

Rend Lake boasts over a dozen conveniently located boat launch ramps, allowing easy access to various parts of the lake. For those in need of boating gear, fishing tackle, or snacks, Rend Lake Marina provides boat rentals and a store catering to these needs. Alternatively, if you prefer fishing from the bank, multiple Public Use Areas and other access points are designated for shoreline fishing. Some of these areas even provide portage access for canoes and kayaks.

When it comes to fishing in Rend Lake, crappie and white bass are known to form schools and migrate throughout the lake, closely following the movements of the baitfish. Furthermore, it is not uncommon to encounter bass weighing over 7 pounds, with catches of 5- and 6-pounders occurring frequently.

5. Clinton Lake

Sunlit shoreline at Clinton Lake State Recreation Area in central Illinois
Clinton Lake is the perfect spot for fishing, kayaking, water sports, or sightseeing.

©Jason Patrick Ross/

Located in the east-central region of Illinois, a short distance east of Clinton, you’ll find the Clinton Lake. Spanning over 4,900 acres, this lake is one of the best places to cast a fishing line in the state. Clinton Lake boasts over 125 miles of shoreline, though not much of it is accessible for bank fishing. However, there are a few select areas, including near the boat ramps, that do offer some access for shoreline fishing.

For those seeking a more adventurous fishing experience, Clinton Lake provides ample opportunities for canoeing and kayaking. Additionally, the lake is equipped with convenient boat launch ramps, accommodating all types of boats, be it for fishing, water sports, or leisurely sightseeing. To further enhance the experience, a marina situated on the water stands ready to cater to the needs of boating and fishing enthusiasts, offering a range of standard marina products and services.

If you are looking for a superb lake for fishing in Illinois, Clinton Lake should be on your radar! Bass and crappie take the spotlight, captivating the interest of many anglers. The lake is also home to significant populations of white bass, hybrid stripers, and walleye.

6. Kinkaid Lake

Kinkaid Lake has many amenities, including boat ramps, bait shops, docks, and restaurants.

©Markkaempfer / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

Nestled in the southern part of the state, Kinkaid Lake spans an impressive 2,700 acres, offering a delightful array of fishing, boating, and water sports options. 

For those who prefer fishing from the shore, Kinkaid Lake has over 70 miles of picturesque shoreline. Conveniently located boat ramps, a marina, bait and tackle shops, fishing docks, and restaurants are also easily accessible on this lake.

Bring your own fishing boat and enjoy a day of water sports and sightseeing on the tranquil waters of Kinkaid Lake. Furthermore, if you enjoy fishing from smaller vessels, such as canoes and kayaks, there are various accessible locations, granting you access to even more hidden fishing gems.

Kinkaid Lake is renowned for hosting several bass tournaments throughout the year, with catches surpassing expectations. It is not uncommon to encounter bass weighing over 8 pounds, adding a thrill to your angling adventures. In addition to bass, the lake is home to an array of other sought-after fish species, including crappie, catfish, walleye, sunfish, and muskies.

7. Carlyle Lake

Carlyle Lake at Eldon Hazlet State Park Illinois
Carlyle Lake offers over 26,000 acres of prime fishing lake.

©Jason Patrick Ross/

Carlyle Lake is situated in the south-central part of Illinois and proudly holds the distinction of being the largest man-made lake in the state. Encompassing an expansive area of over 26,000 acres, this remarkable lake is a true haven for catfish fishing enthusiasts, deserving its title as one of the best fishing lakes in Illinois.

With well over 80 miles of shoreline to explore and cast your line, Carlyle Lake invites you to enjoy its abundant fishing grounds. Whether you choose to fish from the bank at West Access Marina or other shoreline spots around the lake, there are many opportunities to indulge in your favorite pastime. Keep an eye out for shoreline brush and rocky points, as these areas often serve as prime casting spots, particularly during the shallow seasons of spring and fall.

To facilitate seamless boat launching, Carlyle Lake is equipped with multiple strategically located boat launch ramps. Lodging options, restaurants, stores, camping facilities, and RV parks abound, ensuring that your time at this delightful fishing destination is as enjoyable as it can be.

When it comes to fishing targets, Carlyle Lake offers a diverse range of species to pursue. Among the prized catches you may encounter are largemouth bass, white crappie, redear sunfish, flathead catfish, channel catfish, bluegill, black crappie, and white bass.

8. Lake Decatur

Man ice fishing on a frozen lake. winter holidays and people concept
Ice fishing is a popular pastime during the winter months on Lake Decatur.
Image: PRESSLAB, Shutterstock


Lake Decatur is a fishing paradise in Illinois. This large lake is an excellent weekend getaway in central Illinois, with its vast 2,800 surface acres and an impressive range of fishing, boating, and water sports activities. Flowing through the small city of Decatur, this lake is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts seeking a delightful getaway.

When winter sets in, ice fishing at Lake Decatur becomes a popular pastime, often yielding satisfying catches. However, checking with local officials for authorization before venturing onto the ice for fishing activities is crucial. 

Lake Decatur is equipped with a variety of amenities to enhance your experience. A boat landing is available, ensuring convenient access for boaters. While camping and swimming options are not available directly at the lake, the surrounding area offers alternative choices. Unfortunately, boat rentals are not provided, but you can still enjoy picnicking and skiing activities during your visit.

Renowned for its exceptional fish populations, Lake Decatur is particularly famous for its walleye, white bass, and crappie. Anglers can expect plentiful opportunities to reel in these sought-after species. Additionally, the lake is home to bass, catfish, hybrid stripers, and sunfish, ensuring a diverse and exciting fishing experience.

9. Lake Mattoon

Silhouette of a wake skater as he launches off the wake behind a boat. Added lens flare and vintage filter.
Lake Mattoon attracts water sports enthusiasts due to its no limit on motor horsepower – but it is also great for fishing!
Image: SAPhotog, Shutterstock


Situated in central Illinois, just 10 miles north of Effingham, Lake Mattoon is a picturesque 1,050-acre reservoir fed by the waters of the Little Wabash River. This serene lake attracts water sports enthusiasts due to its unique feature of allowing boats with no limit on motor horsepower, making it a favorite spot for water skiing, jet skis, and towables.

While Lake Mattoon primarily serves as a water source for the City of Mattoon, Illinois, it also offers recreational opportunities for boaters. To safely enjoy everything the lake has to offer, boaters are required to obtain a permit, ensuring a regulated and enjoyable experience.

With its stunning 55 miles of shoreline, Lake Mattoon welcomes both fishing enthusiasts and vacationers alike with sandy beaches, rip-rap rock formations, lush grass, and charming trees. 

The lake is also esteemed for being one of the best fishing opportunities in Illinois, particularly for bass, bluegill, hybrid striped bass, saugeye, crappie, and catfish. Among these species, crappie steals the spotlight, captivating the attention of anglers due to their abundance of exciting fishing prospects.

10. Baldwin Lake

Channel catfish laying in a net in the bottom of a fishing boat.
Channel catfish are plentiful in Baldwin Lake.


Within the scenic Kaskaskia River State Fish and Wildlife Area, Baldwin Lake spans an impressive 2,018 acres, offering a haven for fishing enthusiasts. 

Baldwin Lake is home to some of the most fruitful fishing in Illinois throughout the year, with winter months drawing significant popularity. Even in late January, warm water areas of the lake can maintain temperatures in the pleasant 60s degrees Fahrenheit, adding to the allure of winter fishing excursions.

To facilitate easy access, boat docks, ample parking, and a well-equipped two-lane launching ramp are provided. Boats with motors of 50 horsepower(max) are permitted, ensuring a tranquil and peaceful boating experience. However, please note that activities such as swimming, sailboating, and waterskiing are prohibited in order to maintain the lake’s serene ambiance. 

The lake is teeming with a diverse variety of fish, including blue catfish, black crappie, bluegill, flathead catfish, channel catfish, hybrid striped bass, smallmouth bass, redear sunfish, and largemouth bass. Whether you prefer casting from a boat or from the shoreline, expect a rewarding angling experience at Baldwin Lake.

Summary of the Best Fishing Lakes in Illinois

1Crab Orchard LakeWilliamson County
2Lake SpringfieldMorgan, Sangamon & Macoupin Counties
3Lake ShelbyvilleMoultrie & Shelby Counties
4Rend LakeJefferson & Franklin Counties
5Clinton LakeDeWitt County
6Kinkaid LakeJackson County
7Carlyle LakeClinton County
8Lake DecaturMacon County
9Lake MattoonCumberland, Shelby & Coles Counties
10Baldwin LakeSt. Clair & Randolph Counties

The Featured Image

Lake Shelbyville, Illinois lake & dam
© dvande/

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About the Author

I have been a freelance writer for the past 2 years. My two biggest loves in the world are music and animals. I have even gone on to start my own personal blog called Frontman Philosophy. I have a huge love of animals and I love building my knowledge of animals through research. I love sea creatures in particular, my favorite being the octopus because of their intelligence, and I mean, come on, what's not to love! I have a rescue boxer named Dante who is the friendliest pup a man could ask for.

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