A Guide to Fishing Trips in Chicago IL (2024)

We all know that Chicago is known for its tall buildings and deep-dish pizza, but it surprisingly has an awesome fishing scene. From Lake Michigan’s beautiful waters to the scenic, winding routes of the Chicago River, there is something for everyone. Let’s find some great fishing trips in Chicago (and beyond).

In this comprehensive guide, let’s cast our nets wide, exploring the top fishing trips in Chicago and Chicagoland area.

We’re talking about everything from hidden urban fishing spots to lake adventures, complete with tips on gear, best practices, and how to make the most of your fishing expedition in the city. If you’re looking to kayak, this is a great resource for kayaking around the Chicago/suburbs.

List of Chicago Fishing Charters

Why Fish in Chicago?

So, why set your sights on fishing trips in Chicago? It’s not just the city’s famous deep-dish pizza and iconic skyline that’ll catch your attention; it’s also an fisher’s dream destination.

Here’s why:

Diversity of Fishing Spots:

Chicago’s fishing scene is as diverse as its neighborhoods. From Lake Michigan offering deep water adventures to the more intimate settings along the Chicago River, there’s a spot for every style of angling. Whether you’re into shore fishing, boat fishing, or even ice fishing in the winter, Chicago’s got you covered.

Fish Variety:

This city’s waters have a variety of fish species. In Lake Michigan, you can battle it out with salmon and trout, while the river and inland spots offer bass, crappie, and walleye. It’s like a lucky dip – you never know what you’re going to reel in!

Accessibility for All Levels:

One of the best things about fishing in Chicago is that it caters to anglers of all skill levels. Beginners can find plenty of spots with calm waters and rental equipment available, making it easy to get started. Experienced fishermen can still find the honey hole with fish!

Urban Meets Nature:

Fishing in Chicago is unique because it blends urban life with natural beauty. Imagine casting your line with the city skyline as your backdrop – it’s an experience you won’t find just anywhere. The combo of cityscape and nature not only makes for a great fishing expedition but also provides stunning views and photo ops.

Community and Events:

Chicago has a vibrant community of fishing enthusiasts. There are a number of clubs, tournaments, and events throughout the year that bring together people who share a passion for fishing. These are great for learning new techniques, sharing stories, and making new friends.

Year-Round Fishing:

No matter the season, Chicago offers fishing opportunities. Spring and summer are prime for lake and river fishing, while fall brings its own charm (into late October), and winter ice fishing can be a unique adventure altogether. It’s a year-round playground for anglers! Fishing season is all year round in Chicago.

Different types of fish you can catch in Lake Michigan:


Lake Michigan is renowned for its salmon fishing, particularly for Chinook (King) Salmon and Coho Salmon. These species are highly sought after for their challenging fight and delicious taste.


The lake is also home to several species of trout, including Lake Trout, Rainbow Trout (Steelhead), and Brown Trout. These fish are known for their size and are a favorite among anglers.


Yellow Perch are a popular catch in Lake Michigan. They’re known for their delicious flavor and can be caught in good numbers, making them an easy target for casual fishing trips.

Smallmouth Bass:

Smallmouth Bass are another species that anglers can find in Lake Michigan. They put up a great fight, making them an exciting catch for sport fishermen. Did you do your push ups today?


While not as commonly targeted in the open waters of Lake Michigan as in inland lakes or the Great Lakes’ bays and estuaries, Walleye are still a possible catch, especially in nearshore areas and during certain times of the year.


Lake Whitefish are found in the cooler, deeper waters of Lake Michigan. They’re often targeted in the winter months and are prized for their delicate flavor.

Northern Pike:

Though more common in inland lakes and rivers feeding into Lake Michigan, Northern Pike are occasionally caught in the lake. They’re known for their aggressive nature and are a thrilling catch for any angler.

Each species requires different techniques, baits, and times of the year to fish effectively.

Why Lake Michigan Fishing

​Lake Michigan isn’t just a backdrop to Chicago’s skyline; it’s an angler’s paradise, a giant body of water filled with fish and adventure. Pack some pinwheels in a cooler, and have yourself a day! Find an ice cream shop after you’re done to cap off the day deliciously!

Here’s what makes fishing trips in Chicago a must for any fishing enthusiast:

A Rich Variety of Fish Species:

Lake Michigan is famous for its diverse range of fish. It’s a hotspot for catching Chinook and Coho salmon, as well as lake, brown, and rainbow trout. Perch, another popular catch, is often a favorite among local anglers. Each species offers a unique fishing experience and a thrilling challenge.

Best Spots for Lake Fishing:

In the vastness of Lake Michigan, knowing where to drop your line is key. Popular fishing spots include Montrose Harbor, known for its salmon and trout catches, and Belmont Harbor, a great place for perch fishing. Navy Pier and Northerly Island also offer excellent shore fishing opportunities, especially for beginners.

Boat Fishing vs. Shore Fishing:

Lake Michigan caters to both boat and shore fishing enthusiasts. Chartering a boat can lead you to deeper waters where bigger catches await. On the other hand, shore fishing offers the ease and accessibility of fishing without the need for a boat. Both experiences have their charms and challenges, making Lake Michigan versatile for all preferences.

Seasonal Tips and Tricks:

Timing is everything when fishing in Lake Michigan/Chicago area. Spring is prime time for Coho salmon, while summer brings in the Chinook. As the water warms up, trout also become more active. During fall, steelhead and brown trout are more commonly found. For the dedicated angler, winter ice fishing can be a rewarding, though challenging, endeavor.

Fishing Tournaments and Events:

The lake hosts numerous fishing tournaments and events throughout the year, drawing both local and visiting anglers. These events are not just about competition; they’re about community, sharing knowledge, and celebrating the joy of fishing.

Safety and Regulations:

Safety is paramount when fishing in Lake Michigan. Staying updated on weather conditions and adhering to local fishing regulations is essential. Also, remember that fishing in a Great Lake requires a specific fishing license.

Lake Michigan Fishing Charters:

If it’s your first time to Lake Michigan or looking to up your game, look for some guided fishing trips in Chicago. Experienced guides can provide invaluable local knowledge, techniques, and even some secret spots, ensuring an enjoyable and potentially fruitful fishing experience. These can offer half day trips as well as a full day trip. This is great for large groups or even a private group.

Shore Fishing in Chicago

Shore fishing: This is a great option for beginners and experienced anglers alike. There are many public piers and beaches in downtown Chicago where you can cast a line for free. Some popular spots include:

1.) North Avenue Beach:

This popular beach offers great views of the city skyline and plenty of space to fish. You can catch salmon, trout, and perch here.

2.) Montrose Harbor:

This harbor is home to a variety of fish, including salmon, trout, catfish, and carp. There is also a bait shop and boat launch on site.

Ice Fishing in Chicago/Chicagoland

Ice fishing: If you’re looking for a winter adventure, ice fishing is a great option. There are many lakes and ponds around Chicago that offer good ice fishing, including:

Lake Michigan:

You can catch salmon, trout, and perch on Lake Michigan in the winter. However, it is important to be safe and make sure the ice is thick enough before venturing out.

White Pines Forest State Park:

This park is located in northwest Illinois and offers good ice fishing for bluegill, crappie, and perch.

Moraine Hills State Park:

This park is located in northeast Illinois and offers good ice fishing for bluegill, crappie, and largemouth bass.

Jackson Park Harbor:

This harbor is located on the South Side of Chicago and offers good fishing for salmon, trout, and perch.

Lake Michigan Fishing Charter Trips and Guided Tours

​Going on a fishing charter or guided tour can really enhance your fishing trips in Chicago, especially if you’re new to the area or looking to up your angling game.

Here’s what you need to know:

Benefits of Fishing Charters and Guided Tours:

  • These services offer the advantage of local knowledge and expertise. Guides and charter captains know the best spots, the right techniques, and the best times to fish.
  • They can provide valuable insights into the local ecosystem and fish behavior, increasing your chances of a successful outing.

Top-Rated Charters for a Hassle-Free Experience:

  • Chicago has some highly-rated fishing charters. Whether you’re looking for a full-day excursion or a few hours on the water, there’s a charter service to fit your needs.
  • They typically provide all the necessary gear, so you don’t need to worry about bringing your own equipment. You can find bigger or smaller groups, based on whatever you need.

Types of Charters Available:

  • There’s a variety of charters to choose from, depending on your interests. Some focus on specific types of fish, like salmon or trout, while others might offer a more general fishing experience.
  • You can find charters that cater to individual anglers, families, or larger groups.

What to Expect on a Guided Fishing Trip:

  • A typical guided trip includes instruction on fishing techniques, gear setup, and assistance with baiting and casting. It’s a great time had by all.
  • The guide will also handle navigation and provide insights into the area’s fishing hotspots. Safety briefings are usually part of the experience, ensuring a secure and enjoyable trip.

Learning Opportunities:

  • These trips are not just about catching fish; they’re also a great learning opportunity. You can pick up new techniques, learn about local species, and get tips on bait and tackle.
  • It’s an experience that can enhance your overall fishing skills. It’s always a great day on the water.

Customizing Your Experience:

  • Many charters and guides offer customizable experiences, whether you’re looking for a relaxed day on the water or a more intensive fishing adventure.
  • Let them know your preferences and skill level to your guide to tailor the experience to your liking.

Booking a Charter or Tour:

  • When booking, consider factors like the charter’s reputation, the guide’s experience, and the type of fishing you want to do.
  • It’s also helpful to check reviews and ask for recommendations from local anglers or fishing forums.

Costs and Considerations:

  • Prices for charters and guided tours vary based on duration, type of trip, and services offered.
  • Be sure to understand what’s included in the price (e.g., gear, food, fishing licenses) and any additional costs that may apply.

List of Chicago Fishing Charters

KingFisher Charters:

Known for their focus on fishing near the Chicago skyline and their experienced captains. They operate 3 boats and offer trips from 4-12 hours.

Confusion Charters:

Operates two boats from Montrose Harbor, “Confusion” and “Massive Confusion,” offering trips for salmon, trout, and perch.

Chicago Charter Boat Company:

Offers private charters on their boat “Second Wind” targeting salmon, trout, and perch. Located in Belmont Harbor.

Captain Al’s Charter Boat Fleet:

Offers trips on their boat “Sea Queen” for up to 6 passengers, targeting salmon, trout, and perch. Located on Randolph Street.

Knot My Boat Charters:

Offers a variety of boat rentals and charters, including fishing charters. Their fleet includes pontoons, cruisers, and yachts.

Storm Warning Fishing Charters:

Focuses on salmon and trout fishing on Lake Michigan. Offers half-day and full-day trips on their boat “Fish On.”

Thin Blue Line Fishing LLC:

Targets salmon and trout, a perfect fit for first timers, kids, elderly and pros! Trips are 5 hours to 8 hours (or more!).

Windy City Salmon:

Offers half-day and full-day trips and overnight on their boat. Their communication is awesome, and they have an awesome online store if you’re looking for some flies!

Chicago River Fishing

​The Chicago River, winding through the heart of the city, offers a fishing experience that’s as unique as the city itself.

Here’s why angling in the Chicago River is a must-try:

Urban Angling at its Best:

Fishing in the Chicago River is an experience that beautifully contrasts the natural and urban worlds. Imagine casting a line with iconic skyscrapers as your backdrop. It’s a serene yet vibrant setting that offers a different kind of fishing tranquility, one where nature and city life coexist.

Surprising Variety of Fish:

The river is teeming with a variety of species, offering a delightful surprise for anglers. You can find largemouth bass, catfish, bluegill, and even the occasional northern pike. The diversity of fish adds an element of excitement and unpredictability to your fishing adventure.

Accessible Fishing Spots:

The Chicago River is easily accessible, with numerous spots where you can cast your line right from the riverwalk or a city bridge. Places like Ping Tom Memorial Park and the area around Wolf Point offer convenient and scenic spots for urban fishing.

Safety and Environmental Considerations:

When fishing in the Chicago River, it’s important to be mindful of safety and environmental factors. The river is an urban waterway, so being aware of water conditions and local advisories is crucial for a safe experience. Additionally, practicing catch and release can help maintain the ecological balance of the river.

Connecting with the Local Angling Community:

The Chicago River is a hub for local anglers. Engaging with fellow fishermen along the river can enhance your experience. It’s an opportunity to exchange tips, share stories, and become part of Chicago’s vibrant fishing community.

Year-Round Fishing Opportunities:

The river offers year-round fishing opportunities. While spring and summer are popular, fall fishing can yield some great catches, and for the intrepid angler, winter presents a unique challenge with ice fishing possibilities.

Regulations and Best Practices:

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the local fishing regulations, including catch limits and size restrictions. Practicing ethical fishing practices makes sure that the river stays a thriving fishing destination for years to come.

Hidden Gems: Lesser-Known Fishing Spots in and Around Chicago

Outside of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, the Windy City and its surroundings are have some lesser-known fishing spots that promise tranquility and an excellent day of fishing.

Here’s a look at these hidden gems:

Skokie Lagoons:

Nestled in the Cook County Forest Preserves, Skokie Lagoons is a network of seven interconnected lagoons. It’s a peaceful retreat from the city buzz, offering a serene setting for catching largemouth bass, northern pike, and channel catfish. The lush surroundings also make for a picturesque day out, especially for kayak fishing enthusiasts.

Busse Woods (Ned Brown Preserve):

This tranquil fishing spot, located near Elk Grove Village, is a favorite among locals. Busse Woods features a large reservoir with populations of largemouth bass, bluegill, and walleye. The easy accessibility and family-friendly environment make it a great spot for a leisurely fishing day. This place is so much fun for the entire family!

Wolf Lake:

Straddling the Illinois-Indiana border, Wolf Lake is a haven for anglers looking for diversity. It’s home to a variety of species, including bass, pike, and perch. The lake’s unique position also offers a mix of urban and natural scenery, adding to the charm of fishing here.

Powderhorn Lake:

Hidden away in the southeast side of Chicago, Powderhorn Lake is a quiet spot known for its abundant bluegill and crappie population. It’s a perfect place for those who prefer a more secluded fishing experience.

Axehead Lake:

Located near the O’Hare International Airport, Axehead Lake is a popular spot for trout fishing, especially during the spring and fall seasons. The lake is regularly stocked, providing consistent fishing opportunities.

LaSalle Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area:

A bit of a drive from Chicago, but well worth the trip, LaSalle Lake offers an excellent fishing experience. Known for its hybrid striped bass, catfish, and bluegill, the lake also provides a beautiful natural setting for a day trip.

Tips for Fishing in Lesser-Known Areas:

When exploring these hidden gems, it’s important to respect the natural environment. Practice catch and release where required, and always clean up before leaving. Also, checking local regulations and obtaining the necessary permits is crucial for a hassle-free experience.

Fishing Licenses

​When planning your fishing trips in Chicago, it’s crucial to gear up correctly and ensure you have the appropriate licenses. Here’s a breakdown to help you get started:

Fishing License:

First things first, you’ll need a valid Illinois fishing license if you’re over the age of 16. You can easily purchase one online, at a local sporting goods store, or at various other retailers.

Remember, fishing without a license can lead to fines, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Anyone 16 years of age or older needs a valid fishing license to fish in Illinois.

Who Needs a Fishing License in Illinois?

  • Anyone 16 years of age or older needs a valid fishing license to fish in Illinois waters, including lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and streams. This applies to both residents and non-residents.
  • There are a few exceptions to this rule:
    • Residents under the age of 16
    • Blind or disabled residents with a valid disabled fishing license
    • Residents on active military duty with a valid military ID

Types of Fishing Licenses in Illinois

Illinois offers a variety of fishing licenses to suit different needs and budgets. Here are some of the most common:

Resident Fishing License:

Valid for one year, this license allows you to fish for all legal species in Illinois waters. It costs $15.00.

Resident Fishing License Illinois

24-Hour Fishing License:

Valid for 24 consecutive hours from the time of purchase, this license is a good option for short fishing trips. It costs $5.50.

Resident Senior Fishing License (65+):

Available to residents aged 65 and older, this license costs $7.75.

Resident Senior Fishing License (75+):

Available to residents aged 75 and older, this license costs only $1.50.

Sportsmen’s License Illinois: This combination license allows you to fish and hunt in Illinois for one year. It costs $26.25.

Lifetime Sport Fishing License:

This one-time purchase grants you a lifetime fishing license in Illinois. It costs $435.00.

Where to Buy a Fishing License in Illinois?

You can purchase your Illinois fishing license in several ways:


The most convenient way to buy a license is online at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) website:

In person:

You can also purchase a license at any IDNR license and permit vendor, such as sporting goods stores, bait shops, and county clerks’ offices. Find a list of vendors near you on the IDNR website.

By phone:

You can purchase a license by phone by calling the IDNR Customer Service Center at 1-866-716-6550.

Additional Information

  • When purchasing your license, be sure to have your Social Security number and date of birth handy.
  • You must carry your fishing license with you while you are fishing and be able to show it to a conservation police officer upon request.
  • Fishing licenses expire on March 31st of each year.
  • You can find more information about fishing licenses in Illinois, including a complete list of fees and regulations, on the IDNR website:

FAQs About Fishing in Chicago

What’s the best time of year to fish in Chicago?

The best time really depends on what you’re fishing for. Spring (early April to June) is ideal for catching Coho and Chinook salmon in Lake Michigan. Summer (July to August) is great for bass in the Chicago River.

Fall (September to November) offers good trout and salmon fishing, especially as they migrate. Winter ice fishing is also popular, particularly for perch and panfish.

Do I need a boat to fish in Chicago?

Not necessarily.

There are plenty of shore fishing opportunities in Chicago, like along the banks of the Chicago River, Montrose Harbor, or various piers and beaches on Lake Michigan.

I will say, having a boat does give you access to deeper waters and potentially more diverse catches in Lake Michigan. A boat will be helpful to give you a more rounded experience in fishing trips in Chicago.

Can I fish in Chicago if I’m a beginner?

Absolutely! Chicago is a great place for beginners to learn fishing. Many spots are accessible and suitable for those just starting out.

Consider starting at easier locations like local park lagoons or joining a guided fishing tour where you can learn the basics.

What kind of fish can I catch in Lake Michigan and the Chicago River?

In Lake Michigan, popular catches include salmon (Chinook and Coho), trout (lake, brown, and rainbow), and perch. In the Chicago River, you can find largemouth bass, catfish, bluegill, and occasionally northern pike.

Are there any kid-friendly fishing spots in Chicago?

Yes, there are several kid-friendly spots. The Lincoln Park Lagoon, the North Pond in Lincoln Park, and Humboldt Park Lagoon are great for families and beginners.

These areas are safe and easy to access, making them perfect for a family fishing adventure.

Do I need a special license to fish in Chicago?

You’ll need an Illinois fishing license if you’re over 16 years old. These can be purchased online or at various local retailers. Special stamps or permits may be required for Lake Michigan or specific species like salmon or trout.


Fishing trips in Chicago isn’t only about catching fish. It’s also about enjoying nature, hanging out with family or a group of friends, and being part of a group that cares a lot about keeping our water and fish safe and healthy.

Whether you live in Chicago or are just visiting, the city’s rivers and lake are ready for you to explore and fish. Chicago has all kinds of fishing spots, and it’s important we all fish in a way that keeps the water and fish safe for many years.

So, happy fishing in Chicago!