Don’t miss out on great fishing at McHenry Dam

I recently talked about Lake Defiance, a part of the complex that includes the McHenry Dam. They are both located in the Moraine Hills State Park between Routes 120 and 176, on River Road, which is on the east side of the Fox River. For information, please call 815-385-5921 or visit “Fish Tales Concession” on Facebook.

If you aren’t familiar with the McHenry Dam or Lake Defiance, you should do yourself a favor and check them out. These are a pair of terrific places to catch fish. I’ve said plenty about Lake Defiance, now I’d like to tell you a little about the fishing at the other part of the complex, the McHenry Dam.

There is usually something biting at the dam. If you aren’t set on a particular species, you can show up there, ask the regulars what kinds of fish are hungry and then target them.

You can catch walleyes there in good numbers. The shore fishermen catch some, but I think the boaters do better, in general. If you rent a boat, you won’t burn much gas because you really don’t have to travel out of eyesight distance to catch fish at the dam. Simple jig-and-minnow, jig-and-leech or jig-and-crawler rigs are what you’ll need to use to catch the Fox River walleyes. It’s as simple as that. Anglers catch plenty above the dam, but you’ll need your own boat. The rentals strictly operate below the dam.

Smallmouth bass can be found in abundance below the dam. When the water is high and running fast, the smallies hug the shoreline very tightly. You can catch them on slip bobber rigs with a crawler in as little as a foot of water.

Muskies cruise the Fox in good numbers at this spot and will chase standard muskie baits that are appropriate for the time of year you are fishing. Right now, even the biggest muskies will eat baits that you’d think are sized right for bass. You don’t need giant lures to catch spring muskies.

If you like white bass, the dam is the place for you. All varieties of worms, as well as small minnows take white bass and striped bass at the McHenry Dam. When the run is on, the anglers stack up shoulder-to-shoulder along the fishing wall, hauling these good eaters in.

Catfish are a popular attraction at the McHenry Dam and the water offers two species. Channel cats are the best eaters in the whiskered family. They are abundant here and can be caught as easily from shore as from the boats. Cut bait, chicken livers and stinkbait all work well.

The other kind of catfish that lives in this section of the Fox River is the flathead catfish. These are definitely only for catch-photograph-release. They take a lifetime to grow big, and I’d say big means 30 pounds and above. If that’s not big enough for you, there are fish weighing over 50 pounds caught in the Fox every year, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see pictures of an angler holding a giant on a scale weighing in at the 75-pound mark. You can use live bluegills to target flatheads. The gills have to be caught in the Fox River to be used as bait there. Flatheads sit in deep holes and are usually caught by boaters, but plenty of fishermen catch them from the shore, too.

Travis Schreiber runs a nice little concession trailer at the McHenry Dam. He has a limited supply of basic tackle and a good array of baits for all of the area’s fish types. They have food and beverages available for sale and you can always bribe a little patience out of the kids with a candy bar or ice cream treat, you know.

Although the fishing is good at the McHenry Dam, I like to go there and just walk around and watch what the anglers are doing. You can see people from every walk of life trying every technique and type of bait to catch almost every type of fish imaginable. There are a lot of regulars that populate the park and they are a friendly bunch. If you’re after conversation, that isn’t hard to find at all.

The McHenry Dam is a wonderful place to enjoy the outdoors. I hope to run into you out there some time.


Northern Illinois: Dave Kranz from Dave’s Bait, Tackle and Taxidermy in Crystal Lake reports: “The dams at McHenry, Algonquin and Carpentersville are very high and have a lot of floating debris. Be careful and don’t wade until the water has gone down. Remember that when the water goes up, fish move to the banks. When it goes down, they pull off of the banks.

McHenry County Conservation has Lake Atwood in the Hollows. Panfish, catfish and bass can all be caught there. Crystal Lake’s Three Oaks Recreation Area is warmer now and fishing is good. This is a catch-and-release area and no minnows are allowed to be used as bait.

For more info on Northern Illinois fishing, call 815-455-2040 for an updated report.”

Fox Chain O’ Lakes: Chris Taurisano of T-Bone Guide Service ( – 630-330-9090) sends word, “The Fox Chain is a “no wake” area right now, but the fish are still active and willing to cooperate. Walleyes can be found in the current areas. Muskies and bass are near shallow water. Panfish are in their spawn.”

Lake Michigan: The Lake Michigan Fishing Report is provided by Captain Caleb Weiner of Migrator Charters. “The coho salmon are definitely here. Good numbers of coho can be found in shallow water, from 20 to 45 feet. On top of the shallow water coho, there also seems to be a deep bite going on in 180 to 250 feet of water. The best rods have been high rods set with flat line planer boards and shallow Dipsy Divers. Little red dodgers and Peanut flies have been the best especially blue, green and gold Peanuts. Along with the coho, there are the occasional king salmon and lake trout. The best rods for them have been riggers down near the bottom with the Moonshine RV Shelly Snack and the regular Flounder Pounder. With the weather getting warmer more fish should continue to show up and the kings should follow. For information about charters give us a call at 224-234-3704 or check out our website at”


Morel mushrooms: Good friend of this column, Mike Miller from Lake in the Hills is calling for a very good week of morel hunting for those interested in the delicious fungi. The coming temps are ideal and the recent rains should bring up a healthy and large harvest. Remember that recently dead elm trees that are still standing are key areas. Don’t forget that when you harvest your morels to carry them in a mesh bag like the kind that onions are shipped in. This will allow the spores to spread to ensure a good crop for next year.

Take Dad Fishing: If you are looking for a great Father’s Day weekend activity, try “Take Dad Fishing!” “Take Dad Fishing!” is a free, fun event put on by McHenry County Conservation District. It will be held from 9 a.m. until noon on Saturday, June 16 at Lake Atwood in The Hollows, 3804 U.S. Highway 14 in Cary and Sunday, June 17 at Rush Creek, 20501 McGuire Road in Harvard.

You can try to hook up with the “big one” while learning fishing techniques and safety tips. Bring your own gear or borrow the district’s on a first come first served basis. There will be prizes for biggest fish, most caught and more. No fishing license is required, as this event is held in conjunction with Illinois’ Free Fishing Days. “Hooked on Fishing” gives families an opportunity to try out the sport of fishing for free, as well as spend quality time outdoors together,” said Conservation District Police Officer Dan Hibbeler. Adult supervision of children is required. Sign-in begins at 9:00 a.m.

Pre-registration is required and accepted online at, by phone at 815-479-5779, by mail and walk-in at Prairieview Education Center, 2112 Behan Road in Crystal Lake, or drop-off only at Lost Valley Visitor Center, Route 31 and Harts Rd. in Ringwood.

• 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

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