Your guide to fishing in the preserves

Want to boost your success rate on the water? We’re here to help.

|  Story by Meghan McMahon |


Fishing is one of the most popular activities within the Forest Preserves, but that doesn’t stop some visitors from complaining that the fish don’t bite at Monee Reservoir and other top fishing spots.

“Anybody who doesn’t catch a fish says there’s no fish here,” said Mark Loekle, a former facility concessions manager at Monee Reservoir.

Loekle, however, sees evidence to the contrary every day as fish at Monee Reservoir are reeled in by anglers of varying experience levels.

He said he often hears from people that there are no fish at the reservoir, but he tries to use it as an opportunity to start a conversation, asking about where they are fishing and what kind of bait they are using. He said people will often tell him they’ve been in the same spot for an hour or more with no luck. In those cases, a change of scenery may be in order, even if it’s just moving a short distance away.

“Fish won’t come to you, you need to go to the fish,” he commented, adding that he often tells people to change locations after 10 or 15 minutes without any luck. “The big thing is to move around.”

A preserve visitor holding a largemouth bass.

Monee Reservoir has a lot of regular anglers who Loekle has come to know over the years, and they are helpful in sharing tips and tricks of the trade, which he is then able to pass on to others who may be looking for suggestions on, for example, what kind of bait to use for a particular fish.

The regulars also help keep an eye on things around the preserve.

“They’re an extra set of eyes on the water as well,” Loekle said, adding that they’ve gotten calls before from regulars about canoes that have capsized and people having trouble getting back in or people stranded on the lake because their trolling motor died far from shore.

Both the staff at Monee and many of the regular anglers care about the health of the lake and also always have that in mind.

“We’re all concerned about the habitat and maintaining the species,” Loekle said.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources oversees all of the bodies of water within the county’s preserves, Loekle said. They inspect the lakes yearly. One year they’ll survey the species and individual fish populations in a body of water, and the next they’ll catch some of the fish to check the health of the species, looking for parasites and other conditions, for example.


A view of the lake at Monee Reservoir.

He said nearly all of the fish species at Monee Reservoir are self-sustaining, except for crappies. A few years back, IDNR’s fish survey determined the crappie population had been depleted. Since then, they’ve been stocking the lake with between 1,500 and 2,500 crappie a year to help boost the population. The channel catfish is also stocked by IDNR every other year because it reproduces more slowly than other fish species and regular stocking helps maintain the population.

Monee Reservoir is a great spot for catching a variety of fish, but Loekle encourages anglers to visit other preserves with good fishing spots for an even wider variety. Whalon Lake, for example, is a great place to catch walleye and smallmouth bass – two fish you won’t catch at the reservoir.

If you’re not experienced at fishing, Loekle said that shouldn’t be a deterrent to giving it a try. He said they have a lot of newcomers and families visit the reservoir, and he’s always happy to help with bait suggestions and pointing out some good places to try for a catch.

“We offer pole rentals, we’ll help tie the line,” he said. “We sell bait, and we’ll tell people what’s been working.”


Catch and release

An underwater view of bluegill.

The Forest Preserve District encourages catch-and-release fishing as a conservation tool for maintaining healthy fish populations and quality fishing opportunities. You can help conserve our natural resources by practicing the following guidelines:

  • Don’t exhaust a fish once it’s hooked. Play it quickly so it can be released in the best possible condition.
  • Keep your hands wet while handling fish, and handle them as little as possible. A fish’s skin has a coating designed to protect it, and dry hands can remove this protective coating.
  • Use needle-nose pliers to move hooks.
  • Use your judgment with swallowed hooks. Trying to pull out a deeply swallowed hook can cause more harm than good, so it may be best in some cases to cut the line.
  • Barbless hooks are easier to remove and also less likely to harm fish, improving survival rates.
  • Take your photos and measurements quickly. Keep fish in the water as much as possible to reduce stress and allow the fish to breathe.

For the general health of the surrounding wildlife, be sure to properly dispose of fishing line. Cut the line into segments no longer than 6 inches each and dispose of it in a covered container.

Where catch and release is not practiced, anglers must adhere to daily limits.


Where to fish

The Forest Preserve has several premier fishing locations:

A view of the dock and lake at Monee Reservoir.

Monee Reservoir

The reservoir’s 46-acre lake is stocked with bluegill, black crappie, largemouth bass and channel catfish. The preserve, located in Monee Township, has a visitor center. Minnows must be purchased from the visitor center, and the use of amphibians, reptiles and crayfish is prohibited. Check current fishing conditions at Monee Reservoir by calling 708.534.8499.


A boat in the water at Whalon Lake.

Whalon Lake

This 80-acre lake in Naperville is stocked with bluegill, black crappie, largemouth bass, channel catfish and walleye. The preserve has a boat launch to allow for entry of small fishing boats with trolling motors only.

Aerial view of Rock Run Rookery Preserve.

Rock Run Rookery Preserve

The preserve, in Joliet, has two lakes. The large lake on the east side of the preserve has a boat launch to allow for entry of small fishing boats with trolling motors only.

Preserve visitors fishing at Lake Chaminwood.

Lake Chaminwood Preserve

This preserve, in Minooka, features two lakes. Small fishing boats with trolling motors are allowed, but only watercraft that can be transported on top of a vehicle are permitted. No boat trailer parking is available at the preserve.


Aerial view of Lake Renwick.

Lake Renwick Preserve – Turtle Lake Access

This preserve, in Plainfield, provides access to both Turtle Lake and Budde Lake for shoreline fishing. Fishing is restricted to posted areas to protect the breeding and foraging habitat for birds at the nearby Lake Renwick Heron Rookery Nature Preserve.


Shoreline fishing is permitted at many other preserves. Fishing by boat is also allowed at some preserves. Visit the Forest Preserve District’s Fishing page for specific information.


Fishing licenses

Anyone 16 years old or older must have a fishing license to fish on a public Illinois waterway. Cost is as follows:

  •     Illinois resident: $5.50 per day or $15 per year
  •     Nonresident: $10.50 per day or $31.50 per year
  •     Senior fishing license (for residents 65 years old or older): $7.75 per year

Fishing licenses expire on March 31 each year. You can purchase a fishing license at the Forest Preserve District’s Monee Reservoir or at many retailers across the county. They are also available online through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.


Fishing regulations

Preserve visitor fishing along the shoreline at Monee Reservoir.

Fishing is allowed year-round in Will County preserves, weather permitting; ice fishing is not allowed. Fishing is allowed only during the posted Forest Preserve hours. Night fishing is prohibited.

Only line fishing is allowed, and anglers can use a maximum of two poles, with no more than two hooks or lures per pole. Taking frogs, turtles and mussels is prohibited. Anglers can use minnows, worms, insects, lures, wet flies, dough balls or stink or blood bait; amphibians, reptiles and crayfish are prohibited for use as bait. Collecting bait is not allowed within the preserves, and live, unused minnows should not be released into waters.

Where fishing by boat is allowed, people must be entirely secure in the watercraft. Swimming, wading and float tubes are prohibited.

All statewide fishing regulations apply, including daily creel and size limits, and may be obtained from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.  Additional regulations apply to fishing within the preserves. For more information, download the District's General Use Ordinance No. 124 or call 815.727.8700.


Photo credits: Glenn P. Knoblock, Suzy Lyttle, Chad Merda, Ron Molk, Phil Pursley, Jack Retterer

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