Sarley: Why McHenry County is home to the best fishing in Illinois

And some spots in Lake County you might want to check out

Sarah Nader -
Matt Martin (left) of Crystal Lake and his son, Patrick Martin, 6, fish off the dock while attending Hooked on Fishing hosted by the McHenry County Conservation District at the Hollows Conservation Area in Cary Sunday, June 19, 2016. The event introduced families to fishing with demonstrations, prizes and more,
Sarah Nader - Matt Martin (left) of Crystal Lake and his son, Patrick Martin, 6, fish off the dock while attending Hooked on Fishing hosted by the McHenry County Conservation District at the Hollows Conservation Area in Cary Sunday, June 19, 2016. The event introduced families to fishing with demonstrations, prizes and more,

Is there any better county in our state for the purpose of fishing than McHenry County? I don’t think so. In fact, I know so. It’s the truth. As fishermen, we are lucky to be living here.

Between the Fox Chain, the Fox River and all of the many, many lakes that dot the map of McHenry County, anglers have a tough decision deciding where to go fishing when the urge strikes them.

Take a look at a map of Illinois. Most areas have a great opportunity but usually only just one. DeKalb County has Shabbona Lake and that is about it. Boone County has great fishing in its Kishwaukee River and that is about the extent of it. Kane County is lucky to have a good stretch of the Fox River running through it. They don’t have any lakes to speak of and don’t even do anything to manage or enforce the river.

In the more urban areas of Cook and DuPage Counties, their Forest Preserve Districts do a fine job of managing the fisheries in their jurisdictions. The lakes and ponds there produce good fish and are heavily pressured, so that is very hard to do. They are nice places to fish but nothing like what we have here in McHenry County.

If you can’t find a good place to fish in McHenry County, then you just aren’t looking hard enough. Sometimes people feel that you need to travel to find great fishing. I do not believe that, whatsoever. But if you do, you really do not need to look any further than our neighbor to the east, Lake County.

Lake County is second only to McHenry County as far as great fishing opportunities. I recently wrote a column for the The Lake County Journal's summer recreation insert and here are some of those Lake County fishing opportunities.

The Lake at Independence Grove in Libertyville is clean and well-maintained. This site is a great place to spend a day. Where else can you catch giant muskies in a Forest Preserve? Fifty-inch fish have been taken in the past and although they ceased stocking them, there are still plenty swimming there. There are good bass here, as well.

Sterling Lake at Van Patten Woods in Wadsworth is tough to learn but worth the effort. You can catch walleyes on live bait and muskies on big lures at this spot. Shore fishermen do very well here.

To almost everyone’s surprise, the Des Plaines River holds a great supply of northern pike. Cast silver spoons and black or white spinnerbaits toward rocks and fallen trees. Use heavier line because you will snag quite a bit. I am not kidding. The DesPlaines is the place to go if you are a pike fan.

Another hot pike spot is Waukegan’s Government Pier. This is one of the best shore fishing spots in the state. Cast crankbaits for giant northern pike that roam the weed beds. You can also try casting glow-in-the-dark lures for salmon.

Bangs Lake in Wauconda is about as good as it gets in Northern Illinois for bass fishing. There is a public pier but this is best fished by boat. The deep weed line edges hold some of the biggest largemouth bass in the state. This is a great spot to practice using plastic baits like drop shots and wacky worms.

Lake Michigan out of Waukegan Harbor and North Point Marina in Zion is wonderful for salmon and trout charter boat fishing. If you haven’t gone out on a charter boat on the big pond for these delicious fish, you don’t know what you’ve missed. It’s rare to not catch a cooler full of fish with a good charter captain

Loon Lake in Antioch has always been a favorite of mine when I need to put some huge bluegill filets in my freezer. It’s also a sleeper lake for big bass that also has some nice northern pike swimming in it. It is best fished from a boat but worth the price of a launch or rental. Don’t be surprised to have a big musky bite a bluegill you’ve just hooked.

Between those bodies of water and the wonder and beauty of our lakes, ponds and rivers in McHenry County, do you really think you ever need to travel further to go fishing? Keep the gas money and spend it on fishing tackle instead!

• Steve Sarley writes about the outdoors for Shaw Media. Write to him at Steve does a weekly podcast about fishing called “WeFishASA.” You can find it at

Fishing report

Northern Illinois – Dave Kranz from Dave’s Bait, Tackle and Taxidermy in Crystal Lake reports: “Fishing on the Fox River at the McHenry Dam, Algonquin Dam and Carpentersville Dam is good. Water levels are low due to a lack of rain but that makes it easier to find the current breaks that the fish are holding in. Summer is a great time for catfish! Use stink bait, cut bait and night crawlers. They will all work well. Backwaters off the river is also a great place to fish slop with a weedless frog.

Vulcan Lakes at Crystal Lake’s Three Oaks Recreation area continues to be for good bass fishing. Don't be afraid to fish as deep as 30-feet on clear sunny days. Practice catch and release only and no minnows are allowed at this lake.

McHenry County's Conservation area, The Hollows, also has a no minnows allowed policy but night crawlers or red worm will work for bluegills , largemouth bass and catfish.

Call 815-455-2040 for an update on any of these reported areas. “

Fox Chain report – Chris Taurisano of T-Bone Guide Service ( - 630-330-0090) sends word, “This week on the Fox Chain we encountered two cold fronts which made for challenging fishing at times. The trolling bite was a good option. Running baits a bit deeper and locating good schools of baitfish was important. On overcast days, the fish would move shallower and tuck into the weeds. Live bait for multiple species seemed to be working the best. Bucktails retrieved on top of the water worked well for muskies. Next week, with predicted stable weather should give us a good bite on the Chain.”

Lake Michigan – The Lake Michigan Fishing Report is provided by Captain Bob Rossa of Migrator Charters - 815-338-8093. “Fishing in the Illinois waters of Lake Michigan out of North Point Marina has been on fire this past week. Large Coho salmon, along with king salmon and steelhead are being caught in excellent numbers. The best water depth has been from 60 to 110-feet of water in the morning. As the day goes on, the fish have been sliding out to 140 feet of water. Chrome dodgers with white flies, and Moonshine's Crabface spoons have been very good baits. Shore fishing has remained slow.”

Geneva and Delavan – Electronics are a blessing but you don’t have to have the best stuff to fish Geneva successfully. The water is gin-clear and you can see the bottom at 25-feet fairly easily. Look for weeds. They are the key to finding fish. Now, sometimes the fish will be sitting on deep sand grass in 30-feet-plus and you’ll need a good sonar unit, but most of the time you can find fish using your eyes and your wits. Healthy weed beds that are in proximity to deep water should usually produce. Drop shotting is a great method to catch bass on Geneva. For Delavan, it’s pretty easy too, for the most part. There is a defined weed line that runs all of the way around most of the lake. The deep edge of the weed line ends in about 12 to fifteen-feet of water. Fish the end of this easy-to-find weed line and you’ll catch fish. If they aren’t on the deep edge, then try retrieving a topwater bait or a very shallow runner right over the tops of the weeds. Every once in a while the fish will fool you and sit on the very shallow inside edge of the weed line. Don’t pass that up is you are not getting fish to bite in the other spots. Wacky rigging Senkos is a great method for attacking Delavan.

All are welcome to attend the Lake Geneva Fishing Club’s next meeting on July 13th at 6:30 p.m. at the Cabela’s store located at 5225 Prairie Stone Parkway in Hoffman Estates. The July speaker will be Steve Kappel, a jig master and local lakes champion. Steve’s topic is “Dragging for Greens and Bronze.” Dues are $5 annually and non-members are assessed a $5 charge per meeting The club offers a chance to learn about Lake Geneva through club outings and by fishing with members that have fished the lake for many years.

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