When people think of Chicago, they imagine The Bean, Michigan Avenue, the Chrysler Tower and Navy Pier. The art, food, and cultural experiences are second to none. However, when anglers visit the city, they can’t help but look at the local water and imagine the possibilities. The proximity to Lake Michigan means there are fish nearby. Surprisingly, fly anglers can have success in and around Chicago.
If you’re visiting Chicago, don’t forget to toss your fly rod in the car. You may have a chance to get away and experience the outdoor activities that the city has to offer. It’s a wonderful experience that you won’t soon forget.
Milliken Lake – Fly Fishing Solitude
While it’s not located in the heart of the city, Milliken Lake is located just outside downtown and provides an impressive number of fish as well as some peace and quiet. If you’re looking to wet a line and catch some urban fish, don’t be afraid to give this lake a try. This lake was made in 1961 and it’s fairly shallow. No boats are allowed so you’re able to wade out into fishier looking areas depending on where they’re feeding.
The lake stretches 25 acres and has a nice population of bass, carp and trout. The Illinois DNR stocks the lake with trout every single spring. If you’re willing to wait a few weeks for the fish to acclimate and grow, you’ll find that you’re going to have a nice chance at landing these fish. The lake isn’t overly deep so make sure you get out to target these fish before the temperatures rise. While fish do survive through the summer, the trout get extremely sluggish once the temperatures are warm.
Guide Tip: “I’m haunted by waters” a Maclean quote. Seriously Illinois is filled with fly fishing opportunities. I’ve got a great article pointing to some of the best! – Where to Fly Fish in Illinois
It’s catch-and-release so make sure you’re practicing this once you land fish. Make the short drive out of downtown and wade your way through the lake. You’ll have a blast catching the fish within Milliken Lake.
Make sure you bring along Parachute Adams, Woolly Buggers, Prince Nymphs and your fair share of minnows, crayfish and deceiver patterns. The different species give you a chance to switch up your fishing style.
Des Plaines River – Top Water Action
The Des Plaines River is the longest river within the Chicago region. It flows 133 miles and eventually finds itself meeting up with the Kankakee River. The river width ranges anywhere from 200 feet to only 30 feet. For the most part, this river is fairly shallow which allows for wonderful wading opportunities. Even if you’re not hoping to target bass and pike, fishing moving water is always good practice.
Fly anglers can get rusty if they spend too much time off of the water. Des Plaines River has a nice amount of eddies, pools and riffles for you to get some extra practice. In the meantime, you’ll have a chance to land some nice size pike and smallmouth bass. You can easily fish this river from shore, but if you want to try fly fishing from a canoe or kayak, that’s also an option. There are numerous launches and public access points.
Make sure you bring 0 or 1x leader when you’re fishing the Des Plaines River. The water is stained, so fish aren’t going to notice your leader. Large obnoxious patterns are going to land you fish. Mohair Leeches, Double Bunny Leeches, Muddler Minnows, Clouser Minnows and Woolly Buggers are great patterns to use. You can also use poppers if you’re looking to target fish on topwater.
Guide Tip: If your willing to drive just a little ways into Michigan, my buddy Dustan will put you on fish and guide you to an amazing day. Dustan operates Ripple Guide Service <-Link
Humboldt Park Lagoon
Humboldt Park is a rarity in Chicago. This park is around 200 acres and is truly one of the larger green spaces in the entire city. There is a lagoon within the park that holds a nice amount of carp, panfish and largemouth bass.
Largemouth bass receive quite a bit of pressure in these waters, but the carp are much less popular. Catching carp on a fly rod is an extra challenge! They’re extremely skittish, but a very rewarding catch. Plus, these are some of the largest fish you’re going to catch in the greater Chicago area.
Bring along your San Juan Worms, Mop Flies and Clouser Nymphs when targeting these fish. You’ll likely be able to see them swimming in the water, so sight fishing isn’t always too challenging. Bring the flies to the carp. Don’t cast right on top of them otherwise they’ll be gone in the blink of an eye.
The Chicago Riverwalk is another location that many anglers wouldn’t even think about fishing! This is obviously a tourist hotbed so you’re going to have to be careful when you fish so you aren’t hitting anyone with your fly line! However, landing a fish along the riverwalk would be an experience that you’d remember forever. You have the chance to catch bass, pike as well as carp.
Many of these fish spend their entire lives living in the harbor. The number of fish that come through the harbor is spectacular. If you’re fortunate, you may even have a chance to catch coho salmon or steelhead. These enter the harbor in the shallows in the spring.
The smallmouth bass in the harbor are beautiful! They live on the harbor walls and any sort of structure you can find through the harbor. They spawn in the spring and you are legally allowed to target them! If you cast your fly anywhere near their bed, you’re going to get a strong reaction. Make sure you’re careful when you’re returning them to the water!
As long as you’re considerate of other people and follow any signs that say no fishing, you’re good to go! Quite a few people will fish off of the riverwalk, so you won’t be alone.
Recommended Gear for Fly Fishing Chicago
If you’re fly fishing in Chicago, you’re not going to find the traditional fly fishing waters you may enjoy fishing in the western United States. You’re going to land carp, bass and pike! As a result, you should be equipped with a 5, 6 or 7-weight rod. These are strong enough to land aggressive fish and they’ll also allow you to make longer casts!
For your fly line, you’ll need floating as well as sink tip line. Some of the waters you’ll be fishing are deep and you want to make sure you can access the fish.
For your flies, stick with traditional streamer patterns. These will entice the aggressive fish! However, prince nymphs, clouser nymphs and other buggy looking flies will also land their fair share of fish.
Resources for Fly Fishing Chicago
If you’re looking for more information on fly fishing Chicago, check out the DNR website about rules and regulations!
- Link to Illinois Natural Resources Link: https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/Pages/default.aspx
- The Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters is another great resource! Visit their fly shop. Link -> https://chifly.com/
Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:
- How to Fly Fish for Bluegills – These amazing fish are all over the USA. I like to call them the “Gateway Drug to Fly Fishing”
- How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout – Find the cleanest, coldest, most beautiful streams and I’ll bet Brookes are present.
- How to Nymph Fish – Step by Step details for setting up, presenting and catching trout with nymphs.
- How to Fly Fish for Salmon – Image hooking into a +25 pound King Salmon in a river and your Fly Rod breaks! Seriously this happened to me on my first trip.
Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels