The Winnebago County Forest Preserve system offers many locations with enjoyable fishing. Most of the preserves are located along on of the county’s four beautiful rivers: the Sugar, Pecatonica, Kishwaukee and Rock Rivers offer scenic stream bank fishing as well as access areas for fishing boats. Four Lakes Forest Preserve, a former fishery site, offers comfortable and productive bank fishing and the area’s smaller streams add to the variety of fish available. Fishing in forest preserves requires a valid Illinois fishing license.
Hot Fishing Spots
Four Lakes is 186-acres containing four small man-made lakes. This is the District’s most popular fishing area. Fish stocked include: bluegills, channel catfish, largemouth bass, walleye, brown bullheads, redear sunfish, northern pike, golden and silver shiners, fathead minnows.
This small picturesque stream offers catfish at its mouth, and upstream, in the deeper slow pools, by logjams, and below the small dam west of the Highway 51 bridge. Smallmouth are more common upstream in the rocky pool riffle areas. Other game fish and carp can be taken infrequently. Redhorse, suckers, and a variety of minnows abound in Kilbuck Creek.
The large, deep pools especially at the river’s bends have yielded many three to five pound smallmouth bass. The rocky areas from the Kishwaukee River Forest Preserve to the mouth of the Kilbuck Creek offer excellent smallmouth habitat. An occasional northern or walleye may be caught as they travel the river extensively in search of minnow prey. Catfish are also very common through this stream and are especially abundant at the mouth.
The “Pec” offers excellent fishing for channel catfish, carp and northern pike. Channel and flathead catfish are abundant in logjams everywhere. Northern pike spawn in the backwater areas near Meridian Road and are ever present in brush, logjams and at the mouth of many of the tributaries. Walleye, too, are surprisingly common for the apparent murky water. The greatest numbers are found in sand areas near the mouth and in flooded willows and smartweeds below the riffles from the Village of Pecatonica to Pecatonica River Forest Preserve. Smallmouth bass are common at the mouth over the rocky shorelines of the Rock River but absent elsewhere. Carp and buffalo are common in the backwaters where occasionally crappies and bluegills may be taken.
The Rock offers a variety of fishing opportunities from the swift, shallow, rocky-sided channels below South Beloit to the larger, deep and sluggish pools above the two low dams in Winnebago County. Channel catfish is the most abundant game fish in the river. Carp are abundant in shallow mud-bottomed pools, especially in slack current, and near brushy areas. Bullheads, too, frequent these areas. Walleye are more common below the dams, especially in March and April as they congregate to spawn. Northern pike congregate in marshy areas in early spring to spawn. As spring turns into summer, northern pike move extensively and are often found in tributary streams, feeding on smaller fish. Crappie, bluegill and largemouth bass are found in backwater areas and above dams where the water is more still. Smallmouth bass are increasing in numbers and are found over rocky areas where there is a moderate current such as below the Fordham Dam at the Atwood Homestead Forest Preserve.
The name Sugar River is derived from the Indian work “ke-pot-ah” meaning “sweet water.” One might hypothesize this name is the result of the sand in the water rather than from its taste. Like the Pecatonica, the Sugar River valley is an ancient lakebed. However, the striking difference in water clarity is a result of the sandy basin through which the river drains. Sandbars and deep holes alternate to compliment the occasional sheer sand bluffs, which shape the river valley.
The Sugar is an excellent stream for the fisherman who wants little of development and other people. The logjams and sand bottom provide excellent fish habitat. The channel catfish and smallmouth bass are the most common game fish. However, an occasional walleye or northern pike will be taken near tributary mouths and at the mouth where the Sugar joins the “Pec.” Carp can be taken in the slow muddy areas near road crossings. Occasionally, bluegills and crappies will be found in the side channels and backwaters where there is little water movement.
Because public access is limited to two forest preserves and only two bridges, the Sugar is not the place for the canoeist demanding easy access and continuous comfort areas. When the water level is low, portages should be expected over sandbars and logjams. The most popular canoe trip requires launching at Avon, canoeing to Sugar River Forest Preserve, camping for the night and then canoeing to the mouth near Shirland. Canoes may also be launched at Colored Sands Forest Preserve or Yale Bridge Road.
Users of the Sugar River may expect to find nature at its wildest. However, it is important to realize this may mean poison ivy antidotes and mosquito repellants which are a must in the summer.