Top Spots for Spring Fishing in Southwest Illinois

Netting a trophy catfish -- whether it’s a channel cat, blue cat or flathead -- isn’t that unusual in the Great Rivers & Routes region of southwest Illinois.

Picture yourself sitting along the banks of the Mighty Mississippi, fishing pole in hand, your line drifting in the water and dreams of snagging the perfect channel or blue catfish swimming around in your head. The skies are clear; in terms of the weather, it's been almost a perfect day. Then your line jerks and your day just became one to remember.

fishing at sunset in Great Rivers & Routes

“The Mississippi and Illinois Rivers in our region offer some excellent and diverse fishing opportunities,” Fred Cronin, a Fisheries Biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources says. “The rivers are well known for producing trophy sized blue catfish and flathead catfish.”

Fishing season typically starts in late March or early April, depending on the year.

father and son show off their catch on the banks of the river
Fishing on the river: A proud father & son show off their catch!

Fishing Overview

Kids can learn how to fish at Pere Marquette State Park’s pond located in front of the Visitor Center. Or experienced anglers can hop in a boat and cruise the rivers in search of the elusive ‘monster’ catfish rumored to roam the waters. Then again, it could be a local ‘fish tale’.

But catfish aren’t the only fish anglers look for. The region is full of large mouth bass, bluegill, crappie, white bass, sauger, freshwater drum, common carp and gar. And according to Cronin, in the early spring when waters are high, there are opportunities to try your hand at bowfishing. Rivers, lakes and area ponds are open to anglers of all ages and skill levels.

A young, enthusiastic angler tries their hand at one of the "kid pools" at Pere Marquette State Park.

“Every year someone pulls out a catfish (from the Mississippi River) that weighs over 100 pounds. The record came in at 148 pounds. There are bigger fish in the Mississippi River though. There are sturgeons that are over 200 pounds but no one ever gets those." Mark McMurray, Owner Bluff City Outdoors

Bluff City Outdoors

When McMurray heads out to fish, he goes for the lakes. There are lakes throughout the region ideal for beginners and experienced anglers. McMurray says good spots include Hillsboro Lake, Otter Lake and Gillespie Lake. Lake Lou Yaeger is another great spot for fishing.

lake lou yaeger in rivers and routes region
Lake Lou Yaeger, known for its bass, bluegill, and catfish. Look out for bald eagles nesting along the shoreline.

Where to Fish: So Many Options!

Fishing Spots in Great Rivers & Routes

Scott Isringhausen, Urban Fishing Coordinator at Pere Marquette State Park recommends the following fishing spots:

  • Pere Marquette State Park, Grafton: An education pond ideal for kids is located near the old cabin at the park Visitor Center. It is a ‘kids only’ pond; has a catch-and-release requirement and is stocked with hybrid bluegill.
  • Leclaire Lake, Edwardsville: “This is an excellent place to catch fish. The fish you catch are small, but the population is tremendous,” Isringhausen says. The lake has a popular of six-inch or smaller bluegill, has catfish and bass.
  • Beaver Dam State Park, Carlinville: The lake is handicapped accessible and has docks and bank access. Major fish include large-mouth bass, bluegill, crappie, readear, channel catfish, large flathead catfish and trout. Boats with trolling motors only are allowed.
  • Gordon Moore Park, Alton: The pond at the park is stocked with bluegill, green sunfish, and catfish. “The fishing spot is underrated as a bass fisheries,” Isringhausen notes. “The bass fisheries contain several bass weighing over three pounds.”
  • Belk Park, Wood River: Fish include green sunfish, large-mouth bass and channel catfish, flathead catfish and crappie.
  • Glazebrook Park, Godfrey: The lake is handicapped accessible and has bank access. Numerous bluegill, catfish and bass are stocked in the lake.

Fishing is available year round at Litchfield’s Lake Lou Yaeger. Catfish, crappie, bluegill and bass can be found in the lake. Shore fishing is free but boat fishing requires a paid pass. Day passes and annual passes are available. Bait is also available for purchase at Marina 1.

Fishing Limits

  • Large or Smallmouth Bass: 3 per day harvest limit with 15-inch minimum length
  • Channel Catfish: 6 per day harvest limit
  • Crappie: No limit
  • All Fish: 2 Pole and line fishing only