Chicago Park District

Fishing Tips


  • Jigs, plastic lures and Maggots work for just about all species all year in Lake Michigan, park lagoons and the Chicago River. They work either cast or drifted under a float/bobber.  White, chartreuse, and pink are best all around plastic lure colors for this.
  • Crappie rigs with fatheads or Baby Roaches work well for perch, winter through spring.
  • Try Soft-shell pieces under a slip-float rig, about 18 inches off the bottom, for summer perch. Or cast soft-shell pieces on a single-blade perch spinner.
  • Use Polaroid glasses to spot weed beds and rock piles in clear water. Remember where they are. Fish them periodically to note what fish uses them and when.
  • The parks close at 11:00pm, but fish bite after dark, especially if there are streetlights on. So don’t run away at dusk.
  • ¼ to ½ oz spoons are still mainstays for spring Coho (silver or gold, silver/blue, silver/green).
  •  ½ - 1 oz glow-in-the-dark spoons for fall kings. Try silver/blue, silver/green spoons during the day.
  • Also productive for autumn salmon are larger crank baits that dive 6 – 10 feet down. Colors: firetiger, silver black, shad imitations.
  • Chicago River all-around setup: ¼ - ½ ounce weight on bottom, size 6 – 8 hook placed 6” – 18” off the bottom, and worms (night crawlers, red worms) for bait.
  • For quantity of fish in general, use the smallest hook you feel comfortable with. Try sizes 8 and 10. They hook and hold well.
  • Pencil bobber with small Aberdeen hook and maggots can catch lots of fish in the lagoons. Weight the float so that only 1/3rd of the top shows above water.
  • Cat fishing techniques get specialized at almost each lagoon. Ask the local fishermen for advice and tips.
  • Please release smallmouth bass – they are a valued asset to our Lake.
  • Plastic lure colors for smallmouth: motor oil, pumpkin, green pumpkin, root beer for late spring through September (crayfish and goby imitations).
  • White, chartreuse and black are excellent early spring colors for smallmouth.
  • Fish rock piles and close to the seawalls for smallmouth.
  • If you take kids fishing; start them catching gobies, pinfish and rock bass; all are easily caught and fun for kids.
  • In general, lighter line catches more fish than heavier lines. Try going with 6-pound-test (not for salmon).
  • Improperly set drags and poor fish-fighting techniques lose more fish (fisherman’s error) than small hooks or lighter line.
  • Learn three knots: clinch, surgeon, and loop.



Lessons gleaned from fishing with over 70,000 kids over twelve years

  • Patience is needed - yours, not theirs.
  • Focus on the child - the fishing outing is about them, not you.
  • Focus on helping them catch a fish, right then, right there vs. teaching them to fish.
  • This isn’t about teaching life-long lessons, but providing a magical moment.
  • Keep fishing outings short: 45 to 60 minutes. You can always come back, but you can never recover from boredom.
  • Fish for easily caught fish first - small abundant fish like bluegill, perch, gobies, rock bass, crappie. For kids it is about numbers (action) not size.
  • Encourage their sense of joy and accomplishment by showing excitement for any fish caught - no matter how small.
  • Simple 5 ½ foot, medium light spin casting equipment is simple to use, inexpensive and effective.
  • Use cigar shaped floats only. Throw out all of the round ones. Weight them so only the top third of the float shows.
  • Use Size 10, Aberdeen, snelled hooks in gold or bronze. Smaller hooks will hook more fish.
  • Use small bait – maggots, beemoth, pieces of worms, small minnows – to catch more fish, (not bigger fish, but more fish).
  • Fish are close to shore, not far out. Teach the underhand flip/pitch cast. Avoid sidearm and overhead casts and you’ll reduce hang-ups and injuries.
  • If the child wishes to touch the bait and fish, let them. If they don’t, that is OK, don’t make them or make fun of them. They’ll learn in time.
  • As soon as they show signs of boredom or being tired – stop for the day. They don’t love this yet like you do. You can always come back another time.
  • Stay positive and encourage them throughout your time spent fishing.  Tell them they did a good job and you are proud of them. The number and size of fish they catch is NOT a reflection on you. Relax. Take pictures.