Chicago is the city of big shoulders known for vibrant sports, culture, restaurants… and fishing?. While not necessarily known as an anglers paradise, Chicago sits on Lake Michigan’s shores, has a river running through it, and is home to over ten parks with stocked fishing ponds.
To help make your windy city fishing experience a breeze, we’ve put together eight of our favorite fishing locations in Chicago. Every spot on this list is open to the public and lies within Chicago’s city limits.
1) Chicago Riverwalk
The Chicago Harbor system consists of 9 main harbors that stretch across the city’s lakefront from north to south. Operated by the park district, the Chicago Harbors can accommodate up to 6000 boats.
When fishing the Chicago harbor system, you can target what I like to call “resident” fish or “roamers.” Resident fish spend most of their lives living in the harbor system. With enough grass, depth, current, and food species like largemouth bass, bluegill, carp, rock bass, or northern pike might spend most of their life living within the harbor systems.
In addition to the “resident” fish, the Chicago harbor system is also home to “roamers.” I consider roamer fish any fish who spend most of their lives swimming outside the harbors in the depths of Lake Michigan. Throughout the year, certain fish push into the Chicago harbors in the effort to feed or spawn. In the spring, coho and steelhead move to the shallows along the shores of Lake Michigan which includes the Chicago harors.
Smallmouth bass living outside of the Chicago harbors along break walls, pilings, and other offshore structures will move into the harbors each spring to spawn. Catching smallmouth bass during the spawn is the easiest time of the year to catch a large bass in Chicago but it’s also the most controversial. Smallmouth bass create nests each spring to fulfill their spawning routine, and male smallmouth will protect these areas at all costs making the susceptible to anglers fishing near these obvious spots. It’s well within the legal right of an angler to target bedding bass in Chicago but there are others who think it’s too easy and can be damaging to the fish during a crucial time. I’ve personally seen the same smallmouth pulled off a bed over three times, to be completely honest, one of them was by me.
Please remember that big smallmouth in Chicago harbors might take over 15 years to grow 4lbs so please take care of the fish, especially when they’re spawning and most vulnerable.
Turkey Day Bonus
Just around Thanksgiving each year, Yellow Perch will flock in the Chicago harbors, piers, and shipping canals with some perch even finding their way up the Chicago River. When the perch are biting in Chicago, it can be some of the best panfishing you will ever experience. Keep up with area fishing reports around Thanksgiving and keep a pulse on the perch fishing. scene. Because once the perch are in, there are usually enough fish that anglers will fill you in on the details.
2) Douglas Park
Chicago has ample green spaces throughout the city’s neighborhoods—one of the premier parks often overlooked is Douglas Park. Nestled on Chicago’s west side, Douglas Park includes a small lagoon holding catfish, bass, panfish, and carp. The Chicago Park District maintains and stocks this pond, which has helped it turn Douglas Park into a local catfish honey hole.
3) Navy Pier
One of Chicago’s most visited tourist attractions becomes one of the cities’ best fishing holes each winter. Around Thanksgiving Lake, Michigan’s Yellow Perch pushes into shallow water, making them accessible for shore anglers. Some people target southside slips or northside harbors searching for jumbo perch, but the biggest crowds will be at Navy Pier. The most popular Chicago perch fishing rig is a Crappie Rig, essentially a pre-rigged drop shot bait with two hooks. Other popular Lake Michigan Perch baits include spoons and jigging raps.
4) Humboldt Park
Located on the northwest side Humboldt Park is an outdoor oasis for anyone looking for a quiet place to relax and recharge. At just over 200 acres, Humboldt Park is one of those places you can spend the entire day. The park features a lagoon with plenty of parking and picnic space nearby. The park’s lagoon has always been a gem of the neighborhood, but it took on a new level of notoriety in 2019 when an alligator was found swimming in its waters. Nicknamed “Chance The Snapper,” the Humboldt Park alligator was captured and removed after a short stint.
If you’re going to fish, Humboldt Park expect a relaxed and kid-friendly environment with decent fishing. Catfish, carp, and panfish will be the most commonly targeted species. However, this lake does hold largemouth bass, they’re very pressured by the onslaught of anglers in the area, but they’re in there.
5) Jackson Park
Located on the city’s Southeast side, Jackson Park features an extensive harbor system that feeds into a backwater pond. You can catch carp, catfish, panfish, and largemouth bass throughout the year in Jackson Park. With the harbor system connected to Lake Michigan, you also have a chance at salmon, smallmouth, perch, and drum. A popular area is the bridge between the inner and outer harbor. This area has a good grass bed and is also where the lake Michigan water is funneling into the back harbor. This creates current and brings in food for the fish swimming nearby.
6) Palmisano Park
A small catch and release fishing pond sits in the back of my favorite park in Chicago. Originally a limestone quarry, the Palmisano Nature Park was converted into a public space in 2009. At only 26 acres, this is the smallest park on the list, but what it lacks in sizes makes up for in topography. The old quarry’s remnants have left a big hill on one side of the park and a deep hole with steep limestone walls on the park’s other side. It’s genuinely one of the more unique green spaces in Chicago. The park’s pond is small but regularly stocked with panfish, bass, and catfish. Again, this is catch and release only, so don’t expect to bring home dinner.
Plenty of parking and other fun outdoor activities surround the area making Palmisano Park a good destination trip for somebody looking to spend the day outside. Try catching a sunset or sunrise while up on the park’s hill, it’s one of my favorite views in the city.
7) Lincoln Park Lagoon
The Lincoln Park Lagoon is a human-made shallow pond that sits on the city’s north side along Lake Michigan’s shores. Bass, panfish, northern pike, and carp swim in the lagoon, but salmon is known to run each fall. The Lincoln Park lagoon is one of the only places where salmon snagging is permitted in the area, and each fall, anglers flock to the lagoon to catch a king salmon. While this technique is very controversial, the king salmon they are catching are near death and would otherwise rot along the shoreline in the coming weeks.
8) Chicago River Park
The Chicago River Park is on the Northside of city where two channels of the Chicago River come together. The park once featured a dam which added oxygen into the water, making it a popular fishing spot for local anglers. While the barrier made this specific fishing spot much better, it harmed the rest of the riverway. For that reason, the dam was removed in 2019, opening the river back up to a more natural state.
Anglers still routinely catch crappie, carp, catfish, and bass at the Chicago River Park. Target the eddies and deep pools right below where the two river channels come back together. Parking, playgrounds, and soccer fields surround the Chicago River Park making it an excellent option for a family outing.
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