big whitetail buck photos
Don Jones

Less than 50 miles from the Windy City, Fox Chain O’Lakes is northwestern Illinois’s most diverse winter fishery. Several species including walleyes, pike, bass, panfish, yellow bass and catfish all are possible catches through the ice in February and March. A network of connected impoundments and natural lakes along the Fox River in Lake and McHenry counties, the Fox Chain includes nine major lake basins linked by a series of channels. The system’s epicenter is 2,793-acre Chain O’Lakes State Park in Spring Grove. With nearly 6,500 acres of water and 488 miles of shoreline in the park, it provides the best public access. Different lakes in the chain offer different challenges. Channel, Marie and Petite lakes are best bets for walleyes with live bait on tip-ups or jigging sticks near weed edges and pockets on flats. The bite is generally better at night, but walleyes can be caught anytime by cold-footers fishing current eddies in channels between lakes. The more mobile you are, and the more ice you cover, the more likely you are to score. Marie Lake, with its 400 acres of gravel bottom, provides outstanding winter walleye habitat. For yellow bass, go with small jigging Rapalas and bladebaits off Bald Knob Point on Pistakee Lake and in Minneola Bay on Fox Lake.Contact: Chain O’Lakes State Park, Spring Grove (847-587-5512); Greg Dickson’s Triangle Sports & Marine, Antioch (847-395-0813); Chandler’s Bait & Tackle, Inc., Round Lake (847-526-8217); Jim’s Bait and Tackle, Fox Lake (847-587-4588); Larry’s Bait & Tackle, Beach Park (847-872-0805)