(State of Illinois, U.S.A.)
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When boating, regardless of water depth, wear a PFD!
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There is much written about the history of the Fox River before the United States existed. Unfortunately, most of that history was written about the Fox River that runs between Green Bay and the portage at the Wisconsin River in Wisconsin. The French had established a fort near the rivers mouth in Green Bay and used it extensively as a trading outpost.
But that's not the same river we see going through Chicago's far western suburbs.
Our Fox River, with its headwaters located between the Wisconsin Cities of Colgate and Menomonee Falls starts out as a small stream. It begins to pick up flow just south of Menomonee Falls from several tributary streams and swamps. Just past Waukesha, the river begins to get larger and travels through several lakes.
The Fox travels approximately 70 miles in Wisconsin before entering Illinois where, it travels just a little over 100 more miles before its final plunge into the Illinois River. In Illinois, the Fox is a controlled river sporting many dams. There is also one lock located near the Chain O'Lakes. The river's most infamous dam is just east of Illinois 47 in Yorkville. The largest dam on the Fox River is located near Dayton, Illinois and is the last dam before the river reaches the Illinois River. That dam is 38 feet high and is one of the few dams in this area that generate hydroelectric power.
Indians that lived along the Fox River in Illinois included the Potawatomi, Sac, and the Fox. The Fox Indians were a late arrival into the area and were driven here during the Beaver Wars between 1630-1690. If you'd like a great site to learn more about Native American history, try the First Nations Web Site.
8/20/98 Manure spill kills over 100,000 fish on Indian Creek. This creek enters the Fox near Aurora.
The Fox River travels generally due south from the Wisconsin border until it nears Yorkville. From Yorkville, the river takes a westerly course until just past Silver Springs State Park. After the state park, the river continues south until meeting the Illinois River.
The Fox River has 15 dams, of which the tallest is 38 feet high and generates hydroelectric power.
The lower Fox between Sheridan and Wedron are sometimes referred to as the Illinois Dells because of the cliffs and scenery and is the section most often paddled.
In the Elgin and Aurora areas, the Fox is home to large riverboat gambling casinos. It would be very wise to avoid these boats while paddling. In these areas the river also tends to have vertical concrete or steel walls making self-rescue skills more important.
The following text is from the IDNR's booklet "Fishing the Fox" and has only been slightly modified by us.
Originating northwest of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Fox River enters Illinois near Antioch and flows generally in a southerly direction for 115.2 miles through populous northeastern Illinois emptying into the Illinois River at Ottawa. This major tributary to the Illinois provides considerable recreational opportunity and is within easy access of the more than 7 million people living in the greater Chicago metropolitan area. Sport fishing is one of the major recreational activities engaged in along its course, particularly in the tailwater areas below 15 major dams, which impound the river into pools of varying length. The majority (11) of these dams are found in the Elgin-Aurora area, more specifically located at Carpentersville, Elgin, South Elgin, St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia (2), North Aurora, Aurora (2), and Montgomery. Other dams are located at McHenry, Algonquin, Yorkville, and Dayton. The Dayton Dam is the only one on the river used to generate electrical power.
The McHenry Dam, reconstructed by the State of Illinois in 1939, became the only dam on the river to provide boat Lockage and created the 6,500 acres of water forming the Fox Chain O'Lakes. Boaters can go through the lock at McHenry and proceed upstream into the Fox Chain O'Lakes, one of the most popular recreational areas in Illinois. A separate publication, FOX CHAIN O'LAKES ACCESS AREAS AND FISHING GUIDE, is also available through the Division of Fisheries.
When fishing the Fox River, anglers should consult State fishing regulations regarding current size and creel limits -- particularly, largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye*, and northern pike. All State boating and hunting regulations are also applicable and enforced.
Copies of these regulations can be obtained where fishing licenses are sold or by writing to:
Department of Conservation Division of Fisheries Lincoln Tower Plaza
524 South Second Street
Springfield, Illinois 62706
* A special regulation became effective March 1, 1986: A 16-inch minimum length limit was imposed upon all walleye harvested from the Fox Chain O'Lakes proper and that portion of the Fox River from the Illinois-Wisconsin State Line south to the McHenry Dam.
You can find pollution information here
Pollution problems have stemmed from enrichment -- particularly, in the form of nitrates and inorganic phosphates introduced from agricultural drainage, sewage effluents, and other sources. The enrichment triggers tremendous blooms of planktonic algae, which can give the river a bright green appearance during the warm summer months.
Water quality has improved due to good environmental management practices. Legislation has been enacted for flood plain protection, especially in the upper areas of the river and Chain O'Lakes region. Construction of housing, which displaced wetlands and marshes essential as biological filters and as fish spawning and rearing areas, has ceased because of recent legislation. In addition, governmental agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have assisted in controlling pollutants which are introduced into the Fox River Basin.
Whether boating or wading, safety is an important concern on the river. Avoid the areas immediately above and below dams. The boil area below the dam can be extremely hazardous, especially during high water periods. A certain amount of respect for the river is only good judgment.
|Areas to Fish|
The most popular fishing areas have been at the following dams: Dayton, Yorkville, Montgomery, North Aurora, St. Charles, and McHenry. Spring and fall are the best times to catch most species of fish found in the Fox River. Limits of walleyes are not uncommon at these times, especially in April and September, with many smallmouth bass taken right along with the walleye.
The farthest downstream dam at Dayton is located approximately 5.5 miles up from the confluence with the Illinois River. In addition to the tailwater area below the dam, another exceptional fishing spot is located here. Immediately below the hydroelectric power plant on the west side of the river just down from the dam has been a hot spot for walleye, white bass, crappie, and channel catfish.
Proceeding upstream, in addition to the fine tailwater fishery below the various dams, there are several well-known channel areas that provide fine angling opportunities. Channels and backwaters, in addition to spring and fall, can be exceptionally productive during the ice fishing season and at times of high water. Bluegill, crappie, and yellow bass are most commonly caught at these locations. The east channel just above Montgomery Dam has been noted as probably the best. This channel, at one time, was dug for the purpose of boat lockage; but the project was never completed and has provided a very popular place to catch fish and enjoy the outdoor setting.
Another good channel is an area known as Depot Pond. Located on the west side of the river, at the upper Batavia Dam, it also produces fine catches of panfish, especially crappie.
To the north, the farthest upstream dam is located 2.5 miles south of McHenry. Providing a tailwater fishery of the Fox Chain O'Lakes, this area provides more walleye than any spot on the river and is a prime area for channel catfish, white and yellow bass, and crappie. Flathead catfish have been caught below most Fox River dams, including McHenry Dam, where 20 to 30 pound fish are not uncommon. Northern pike are also taken, especially in April.
In order to be a successful fisherman, one must expend some time and effort to learn and understand the behavior and habits of the various fish; the types of bait ant tackle to use, and when, where, and how to fish for them. As the old saying goes, "Ten percent of the fishermen catch ninety percent of the fish." Hence, all fishermen must learn to be patient if they expect to consistently catch fish.
The following pages contain information relative to the public and private access areas along the Fox River. Sites are numbered and listed in tabular form showing facilities available. Maps show access numbers and river miles beginning at the junction with the Illinois River at Ottawa upstream to the Illinois-Wisconsin State Line near Antioch. Access areas along the section of river, which becomes part of the Chain O'Lakes, have been listed in a separate report, FOX CHAIN O'LAKES ACCESS AREAS AND FISHING GUIDE.
A few major named highways have been shown but a State highway map would be useful in finding exact locations of access areas.
The walleye, one of the most prized cool water game fish, is becoming especially popular on the Fox River system. Since 1978, millions of fry have been stocked by Illinois fishery biologists to supplement the once depleted population in the Chain O'Lakes; and their survival rate has been very good. Many of these fish have moved down the Fox River and are providing excellent catches during the spring run.
Walleye spawn to a limited extent in both the Fox River and Chain O'Lakes. The fish will seek out shallow, rocky, gravel areas when water temperatures approach 45 to 50 degrees.
Fishing begins when these fish move into the shallows to spawn. Minnow-jig combinations and small spinning lures are most effective if bumped along the bottom. During the summer months, walleye will gradually move out to deeper holes where a few can be taken by lures or deep diving crank baits. Fishing picks up again when water temperatures begin to drop in the fall, where similar techniques to those used in the spring can put this tasty fish in the frying pan.
Northern pike can be found in the Fox River and are most frequently caught in early spring. Shortly after the spring thaw, during March and April, northern pike migrate upstream seeking flooded, grassy lowland areas to spawn. Many of these fish end up below the dams where they can be easily found by fishermen.
Heavy tackle with steel leaders is considered a must when attempting to take this fish, as they are notorious for breaking poles and cutting line with their needle sharp teeth. Large spinners, crank baits, plugs, and minnows are all effective during the spring period. Toward summer the fish seek deeper, cooler water in which casting or trolling with large spoons or deep running crank baits generally produces good results. Tip-ups can be used to fish through the ice using large minnows. Shallower, quiet areas are preferred.
Largemouth bass are most frequently taken in the more quiet, slow moving pools and channels. They like the cover of weed beds, brush, stumps, willows, and fallen trees where they can hide from their prey. Since largemouth bass are sight feeders, they are attracted by action and not by smell of the bait or lure. They succumb to the temptations of a variety of lures, plugs, and jigs, which must each be retrieved in the manner best suited to the lure. Common lures are spinners and plastic worms. Minnows hooked below spinners provide more attraction than the lifeless form of a minnow alone. The best fishing is in May, June, and September.
Smallmouth bass are considerably more common than largemouth in the Fox River and found in swifter areas, particularly below the dams. Although the smallmouth does not attain the size of the largemouth bass, it is more of a scrapper and pound-for-pound provides a more heart-pounding action than any other stream species in Illinois. Artificial lures such as plastic worms, jigs, spin\-ners, and spoons are most effective, but live frogs and crayfish are also successful. Fish in early morning or late evening.
Sunfish occurring in the Fox include bluegill, green sunfish, warmouth, and occasionally orange-spotted sunfish, pumpkinseed sunfish, and rock bass. Fish near cover such as brush piles, stumps, or weed beds and drop your bait as close as possible to the cover.
For great action, an ultralight spinning rod or fly rod/reel combination using crickets, grasshoppers, red worms, small minnows, or wet flies are ideal. However, a cane pole and bobber can be just as rewarding. For ice fishing, wax worms are quite effective.
Both species of crappie, black and white, are found in the Fox River. Generally, white crappie favor areas which maintain a flow of current such as channels and are more tolerant of turbid waters. Black crappie inhabit calmer, clearer waters. Like bluegill, crappie are sight feeders and prey upon insects, crustaceans, and small fish.
Still fishing is the most common method used to fish for crappie. A number 6 or 8 hook with a small minnow in combination with a long, stiff fiberglass rod or cane will do the job. A bobber is not necessary, however, a 1/2 to I ounce split shot placed six inches above the hook should be used to get the bait down to the desired depth. The bait should be jigged to tease the fish into striking. Ice fishing using the same techniques as with bluegill is also very popular.
Channel catfish can be taken almost anywhere in the Fox River. "Cats" often hole up underneath old stumps, downstream of fallen trees, below dams and in other areas of cover. Since these fish rely primarily on their olfactory sense to detect food, prepared baits with a strong odor are most effective. These include blood baits, cheese baits, and various homemade concoctions. Worms, minnows, crayfish, liver, shrimp, and an almost endless variety of goodies are successful at one time or another for catfish.
The more solid, prepared baits can be balled around a treble hook and fished on the bottom with a tight line weighted by a sliding sinker. Pieces of sponge rubber are dipped in baits having a thinner consistency and placed on or before a hook. Best fishing is usually during May, June, September, and October, but anytime there is a rise in the water level a feeding spree can follow.
Whenever this species is caught, it is generally considered a bonus or trophy fish. The Fox River has a fair population of "flatheads" and some anglers specialize in trying to catch this species. Big hooks, big baits (golden shiners), and strong lines are some basic tackle requirements. Fishing is best during the months of May through September.
Most flatheads are taken in or around deep holes below dams. Catches of individual flatheads up to 40 pounds have been reported. This species is more often taken by anglers while fishing for other species. Flatheads are occasionally caught on worms, jigs, spinners, or crayfish. Live fish are preferred baits.
|White and Yellow Bass|
The white and yellow basses are the true basses native to Illinois. Fishermen will often group these two species together and commonly refer to them as "stripers" However, the true striped bass or Rockfish is their larger, ocean going cousin, which has adapted very well to inland freshwater lakes and rivers. The striped bass and its hybrids have been stocked in some of Illinois' larger reservoirs and power plant cooling lakes. Yellow bass,which do not attain the size of white bass, are more abundant in the Fox River. These fish like current and turbulence as is shown by their abundance in tailwater areas below dams. They can be taken using jigs and small minnows. Best fishing seems to be in the morning or evening, but bass may be taken from deeper water during the day by retrieving an artificial lure or minnow a short distance off the bottom. May and August have been the most productive months for the true basses.
Black, brown, and occasionally yellow bullheads are found in the Fox River. Although black bullheads are more abundant than the other two species, their combined numbers are not very great. Frequently these fish are inadvertently caught while fishing for other species using light tackle with nightcrawlers. Bullheads feed primarily at night in shallow areas. Although their unsightly looks make them somewhat unattractive to sport fishermen, anyone who has tried them knows that their exceptional good taste makes up for their unpalatable appearance.
Many anglers overlook real sport when they ignore the carp, especially when fishing is slow for other species. While carp are considered by many sportsmen to be a trash fish, unworthy of their expertise, the fish actually is a great fighter and a challenge to any sportsman who ties into one. Carp can be caught throughout the river from late spring to early fall.
Carp are most commonly taken on worms, corn, and doughballs. Doughballs can be made out of a mixture of flour, a flaky type cereal, and water. This mixture is balled around a small treble hook.
More and more anglers are finding that carp are good to eat. Filleted, scored (vertical 1/8 inch cuts made through the flesh down to the skin), rolled in cornmeal and cooked in hot deep fat (375°F), makes carp a tasty fare -- with no bones to pick out. Any dark areas should be trimmed away before cooking. Smoking carp is another fine way to prepare them. Another method of preparing carp is to fillet off the carp sides, remove the skin and cut into 11/2 to 2 inch chunks. These are then packed tightly into jars with 1 teaspoon each of salt and vinegar per pint, sealed and then pressure cooked for 1 to 11/2 hours at 15 pounds pressure. The result is a product that is difficult to distinguish from canned salmon. It contains no bones and is delicious when used in a salad, chip dip, or made into patties and fried.
Pickling is another preparation method gaining in popularity. The meat is prepared in the same manner as for canning, except the flesh is cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch cubes. These cubes are then soaked in a brine or one gallon of white vinegar and one cup of canning salt for 10 days, stirring once daily. After the brining period, the cubes are thoroughly rinsed in cold water and drained. The fish cubes are then packed into pint jars, alternating layers of fish and onion rings. Add one teaspoon of pickling spices and cover completely with a solution made of one cup of white vinegar and one cup of sugar (do not cook). Store in refrigerator. After 10 days, you will have tasty morsels that will be palate pleasing. Although this recipe is given for carp, other species of fish can be prepared in like manner.
A more detailed report on carp is available, which includes 25 recipes for preparing this underrated fish. Free copies of the OUTDOOR HIGHLIGHTS reprint CARP CUISINE are available by writing to:
Department of Conservation
Division of Fisheries
Lincoln Tower Plaza
524 South Second Street
Springfield, Illinois 62706
Boat ramps that can accommodate trailered power boats:
(This is a subset off the total access points, check the maps for more)
(The Dayton Powerhouse and Dam (Two individual pictures crafted together by sprockethead))
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|River Access and Fishing Maps|
Fox River between Johnsburg and the Illinois/Wisconsin Border(River miles 105 to 115)
Fox River between Burtons Bridge and Johnsburg(River miles 97 to 104)
Fox River between Algonquin and Burton's Bridge(River miles 84 to 96)
Fox River between Elgin and Algonquin (River miles 74 to 83)
Fox River between St Charles and Elgin (River miles 62 to 73)
Fox River between St Charles and North Aurora (River miles 52 to 61)
Fox River between Yorkville and Aurora (River miles 42 to 51)
Fox River Between Silver Springs State Park and Yorkville (River miles 33 to 41)
Fox River between Sheridan and Silver Springs State Park (River miles 23 to 32)
Fox River between Wedron and Sheridan (River miles 11 to 22)
Fox River between Illinois River and Wedron (River miles 0 to 10)
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Fish in this river include:
River report contributed by TC on Thursday, 11/24/02
The winter draw down has begun on the Chain O' Lakes and the upper Fox River. The Chain has 18-24 inches of water drawn down during this period of time and will remain that way through the spring. This makes for good canoeing in the section of the river just south of the McHenry Dam. By the way, the McHenry Dam access area is currently closed to the public so we can't launch there. There is road work and parking lot improvements underway.
River report contributed by TC on Thursday, 9/26/02
The past few Saturdays, I have been paddling the Fox River just north of the dam. I am going out early in the morning before power boating traffic begins. Once in a while a few "barefoot" skiers are out because the water is flat.
The area that I launch is a city park in McHenry and you can hand launch a canoe. The arear in front of the park and south to the McHenry Dam is "no wake", so the paddling is excellent. As the fall begins, this trip is senic and majestic. The McHenry Dam park is currently closed for major rennovation by the IDNR. Therefore, the area is literally uninhabited. This is a great urban adventure.
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