(Winnebago, Ogle, Lee, Whiteside, Henry, and
Rock Island Counties, Illinois, U.S.A.)
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Geologically, the Rock River is older than Lake Michigan. Before the glaciers came to Illinois, the Rock River linked up with the Illinois River east of Princeton. Glaciers buried that section that linked the two great rivers with loose rock, however, water still flows in that underground river today. It is now called the Princeton Aquifer.
The area between the Mississippi River and the Fox River (west of Chicago) was once the hunting grounds of the Illinois Indians after they migrated here from the Pacific coast around A.D. 900. Later, as the Illinois began to decline due to wars with the Sauk, Fox, Iroquois, and Sioux and illnesses introduced by contact with the French, the land was settled by the refugee tribes of the Sauk (or Sac) and Fox Indians fleeing the Iroquois Raids to the East and the French to the north (Green Bay Area).
In 1804 the Sauk and Fox tribes first signed a treaty with the U.S. Government in St Louis relinquishing all their holdings east of the Mississippi. At that time the tribes lived primarily across the river in the area now known as Iowa.
In the War of 1812, a tribal leader named Mucata Muhicatah (English translation is Black Sparrowhawk which was shortened to Blackhawk) fought for the British and was with Tecumseh when Tecumseh was killed near Detroit.
In spring 1831, Blackhawk lead a rogue Sauk group across the Mississippi to resettle their homeland. General Gaines lead a 1500 man force against them and when Blackhawk heard of the approaching force, he crossed again to the west bank of the Mississippi and signed a treaty while General Gaines's forces torched the Indian village at he and his followers left behind.
In spring 1832, Blackhawk once again crossed the river, however this time with an estimated 700 warriors and many women and children. Governor Reynolds of Illinois called up the Illinois Militia again and over 1800 men gathered in the area of John Dixon's home on the Rock River.
On May 12th, a detachment of 275 men lead by Major Stillman left Dixon and marched north along the banks of the river without orders to do so allegedly seeking the glory that would come to them by defeating the Indian leader. As they marched they eventually abandoned their supply wagons and continued to march northward hoping to be fast enough to catch Blackhawk's group. At Old Man Creek in the area now known as Stillman Valley (however after the incident known as Stillman's Run), some of Stillman's forces decided to make camp for the night, however another group of Major Stillman's forces still pressed on and caught up to a small group of Sauks. The fact that they caught the Sauks is almost admirable (except that they were not supposed to have left Dixon), however the end result would be the worst defeat any United States military force would suffer at the hands of Native Americans (until Little Bighorn). Two small groups engaged each other when suddenly a larger force of about 40 Sauks attacked, swooping in quickly, and yelling and hollering creating the sound of a much larger force. The green Illinois Militia troops were terrified and attempted to flee back to Major Stillman's camp, but the soldiers in camp, without supply wagons, sentries or warnings of a impending battle were helpless. The Sauks drove the Illinois Militia back thru Major Stillman's camp and chased them all over the prairie that night. After Stillman's Run, that Illinois Militia would never recover. On May 27th, the Dixon Militia was discharged from service by the Governor of Illinois, who had determined they were too demoralized and undisciplined to be able to successfully carry out a Indian campaign.
Just east of Byron Illinois is Stillman Valley, and in the town playground, just off Illinois Route 72, you'll find a historical marker indicating that spot as where Stillman was camped and routed. Along the Rock River just south of Byron, you'll see a large statue of Blackhawk, looking downstream.
Governor Reynolds again set out to raise an army. Mean time, the Sauk attacked the Apple River Fort and were repulsed by its defenders in a 15 hour battle. Then Wisconsin Militia's General Dodge (who would later become Governor of Wisconsin) repulsed the Sauks at Fort Hamilton on the Pecatonia River near present day Rockford.
General Scott had been ordered to take his army from Fort Monroe on Cheseapeake Bay to Illinois. They marched 18 days to Chicago but before arriving suffered a major cholera breakout that would haunt them for the rest of the war. When Scott arrived in Chicago's Fort Dearborn, cholera would break out in Chicago. Scott's forces rested in Chicago for a month before blazing a trail into the prairie. That trail still exists today and is called Army Trail Road and runs thru the western suburbs. Scott's army continued to bury cholera victims along the route and buried several in the vicinity of Salt Creek. With Scott's army moving slowly because of the cholera, a new Illinois Militia would fight again with the still moving Sauk tribe. In the Battle of the Wisconsin, Illinois and Wisconsin Militias under Generals Dodge, Alexander and Henry would inflict much more damage on Blackhawk's forces.
The final battle of the Blackhawk War would be in Wisconsin at the Bad Axe River. Here, U.S. Regulars under General Atkinson, Wisconsin and Illinois Militia forces under Generals Dodge, Alexander and Henry, as well as Winnebago and Sioux tribes would destroy the majority of Blackhawk's forces. Blackhawk, Naapope (Blackhawk's son) and Wabokishick (referred to as Prophet, and no, he wasn't the same prophet who advised Tecumseh at the much earlier Battle of Tippecanoe) would escape along with about 20 warriors to the "Dalles on the Wisconsin" (the area referred to today as the Wisconsin Dells). Winnebago and Sioux warriors took pursuit and returned the three to General Street per a pre-arranged deal. The final treaty was to be signed in Rock Island, however, General Scott had arrived with his army, bringing cholera with them, so General Street retreated with his prisoners to Jefferson's Barracks near St Louis.
Blackhawk, Naapope, and Wabokishick were held prisoners (hostages) in Washington D.C. to ensure that the Sauk Tribe would not cross the Mississippi again. They were released from prison June 4th, 1833 and paraded on the eastern coast before being allowed to return home to Iowa. Blackhawk would die on October, 3th, 1840 and was buried on the banks of the Mississippi.
For more information on Blackhawk (some of which conflicts with our findings above, but it's important to get as much information as possible to draw your own conclusions), be sure to check the First Nations Web Site.
Also, more information on the Illinois Confederation can be found at the Prairie Nations site.
07/97 The Rock River made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.
Most canoes on the water at one time. The event was sponsored by the U.S Canoe Association.
02/99 In some areas access problems continue, rather than poke fun at the problem as we did in the past, we would like to encourage you to contact the IDNR and remind them that the Rock River is a public, navigable river and is by law, open to all and that is it their job to enforce that law!
The following text is from a Illinois Department of Conservation Booklet Fishing The Rock and has been only slightly modified by us.
The Rock River is well situated to provide fishing opportunities for a sizable portion of northern Illinois' population. Fortunately the river is up to the task, with populations of channel catfish, walleye, northern pike, largemouth and smallmouth bass, sauger, white bass, bluegill, flathead catfish, drum and bullheads.
The Rock River rises near West Bend, Wisconsin and flows south 130 miles into Illinois where it takes a southwest course for 155 miles past Rockford, Oregon, Dixon, Sterling(Rock Falls) and Rock Island to empty into the Mississippi. The river provides an aquatic resource of some 12,400 acres. Dams at Rock Island, Milan, Sterling(Rock Falls), Dixon, Oregon, Rockford, and Rockton cause tailwater and lake habitats in addition to the slough, side channel, main channel, and main channel border habitats naturally occurring. Tailwater habitat, found below each dam is fast turbulent water caused by the passage of water over the dams. Tailwaters receive heavy fishing pressure because fish congregate in these rough waters. Walleye, sauger and white bass are most frequently taken from tailwater areas. Lake and slough habitats have little or no current and may have aquatic vegetation. Lakes have greater average depths than sloughs. Bluegill and other sunfishes, bullheads and largemouth bass like these habitats. Since there is a scarcity of lake and slough areas on the Rock, these species are not as abundant as other sport fish.
Side channels are departures from the main channel and may be as wide and deep as the main channel or so shallow that they resemble sloughs. All side channels have current in them during normal water stages. Most of the side channels on the Rock are short passages around small islands and differ little from main channel border habitat.
Main channel border habitat is that area adjoining the shoreline and extending outward to include brush logs, stumps and other debris or structures associated with the shoreline This area is often shallower with slower current than main channel habitat.
The main channel is that portion of the river between main channel border habitats. It is usually the deepest, swiftest, part of the river with no brush or debris to provide fish cover and is favored by catfish. A relatively large portion of the Rock is main channel habitat which helps explain the high catfish population. Catfish are more abundant than other sport fish and are found virtually everywhere on the Rock.
The boundaries between habitats are usually not clear distinct lines but are zones of gradual change from one habitat to another.
The Rock is a catfish stream -- more so than any other large stream in the state. Channels can be taken almost anywhere along its course and are the primary sport fish. Huge flatheads lurk in the deeper holes. "Cats" often hole up underneath old stumps, downstream of fallen trees, around log jams and in washout holes along banks. They can frequently be found on the edge of the main channel border habitat where the bottom drops sharply to deeper water in the main channel. 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 of an odor most foul. Worms, 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. Around trees and log jams a bobber may be necessary to prevent loss of gear. Many catfish are taken on trotlines baited with crayfish or fish. If you're seeking flatheads, use large hooks and big bait such as 6" carp on your trotline. Fishing is best for catfish when it's slacking off for many species during the hot months of summer. Since light for vision is not necessary for feeding catfish, often the best fishing occurs at night.
Northern pike are not abundant in any stream of this state, but apparently the largest population is in the Rock River. The best time to fish for them is early spring (March) when they move to spawn. They spawn in shallow slough areas and this type of situation is presented when the Rock floods each spring, spreading out over fields and marshy areas presenting northerns with just what they are seeking. During this spawning activity northerns can be taken from the flooded lowlands and later during the year out of deep holes where they seek the cold water they prefer They are not particular what they strike at so long as it's presented close to them and many of the artificial lures are successful, Large minnows are also well received. Once hooked he is a terrific fighter which makes him such a popular sport fish. In addition he's a tasty beast.
Bullheads may be caught during the warmer months in quiet shallow areas. Most bullheads are taken by bank fishermen using worms below a bobber or fished on the bottom 10-30' from shore.
Walleye and the less common sauger are taken in the tailwater areas in March and April. These species are excellent sport and table fish and are avidly sought wherever they occur. Although the walleye and sauger differ in appearance and maximum size (state records of 14 lbs. for walleye and 5 lbs. 12 oz., for sauger), they respond to the same bait or lure. A common lure is a jig-minnow combination with the minnow hooked through the head and a weight attached via a three way swivel to fish the jig a foot or so off the bottom. Lead head jigs or minnows by themselves are also popular.
Bluegill can be taken during the summer months on a variety of baits. The most popular is the nightcrawler on a small hook, but crickets and grasshoppers work well. Fish near cover such as brush piles, stumps or weed beds and drop your bait as close as possible to the cover, Use a small bobber to keep the bait off the bottom. Bluegill fishing is best during the evening, June through September.
The white bass is often called "striper" which can cause some confusion since the true striper (striped bass) is occasionally taken in southern Illinois. The striped bass is a much larger salt water cousin of the white bass which is being stocked in various fresh water impoundments and has escaped into streams below these lakes. So if you hear of a 30 pound striper taken somewhere, don't believe that it was a white bass. White bass like current and turbulence which is why they favor tailwaters. They are often taken on jigs by bank or boat fishermen casting into the rough water directly below a dam. Another place to try is the downstream side of a bridge abutment, concrete wall, or some other such obstruction where the water rolls after passing around or over the obstruction. Spinners with minnows or artificial lures resembling minnows are effective. Best fishing seems to be in the morning or evening and May and August are usually the best months.
The smallmouth bass does not attain the size of largemouth bass, but it is more of a scrapper and pound-for-pound provides more heart-pounding action than any other stream species in Illinois. Artificial lures such as plastic worms, jigs, spinners, and spoons are most effective, but live frogs and crayfish are also successful, Fish in early morning or late evening near brush, stumps, willows, and fallen trees where they can play hide and seek with their prey. Largemouths are sight feeders 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. Worms are popular. Minnows hooked below spinners may be more effective on rivers than on impoundments. Still fishing with minnows will seldom take a largemouth, The best fishing is in early morning or evening in May, June and September.
Carp are not considered in the maps section because they are so common that they can be caught almost anywhere. Their size and fighting strength are increasing their popularity every year, Next to the flathead catfish, carp are the largest fish regularly taken by anglers. Properly prepared, carp are a match for any fish in palatability. It is not surprising that more fishermen are actively fishing for carp with worms, corn and doughballs among other baits. Fish on the bottom or near the bottom with a bobber in shallow areas from May through October.
Drum are commonly called white or silver perch, although they are not a member of the perch family. On rivers they are most common in areas where there is good current --tailwater, main channel, and main channel border habitat. They are commonly taken on worms fished with a tight line, on the bottom, and are occasionally caught on trot-lines.
In the following map section, some of the access areas available to the public are noted. Certain public areas and private areas open to the public are available only after paying a fee and such fees are usually posted. Unless an area is known to be public or is posted as a public area, it should be assumed that it is private and permission from the owner is necessary to use that area.
|Specific Areas to Fish:|
On the following maps, areas have been marked that are known to have good sport fish populations. For each area marked, the sport fish most likely to be taken are listed. It is realized that the areas marked represent only a portion of those occurring on the river, and as more fishing spots are discovered this guide may be updated. Access sites are listed. No attempt was made to list all access sites, but only those nearest fishing areas marked on the map.
Boat ramps that can accommodate trailered power boats:
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|River Location Map|
Rock River between Wisconsin Border and Mississippi River
|River Access and Fishing Maps|
Rock River between Wisconsin Border and Kishwaukee River
Rock River between Kishwaukee River and Castle Rock State Park
Rock River between Castle Rock State Park and Sterling
Rock River between Sterling and Erie
Rock River between Erie and the Mississippi River
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