Lower Illinois River Trout Fishing
A Year-Round Trout Fishery!
The Lower Illinois River is one of two year-round trout fisheries in Oklahoma. It is stocked with Rainbow and Brown Trout by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) as water conditions allow.
- The Lower Illinois River is located near the city of Gore and considered the tail-race to Lake Tenkiller.
- The Lower Mountain Fork is located within Beavers Bend State Park and is stocked weekly.
In late 2017 and early 2018, trout stockings on the Lower Illinois River were postponed due to low water conditions and the availability of water rationed for power and water conservation.
In the interest of helping other fishermen, we publish this article with the intent to provide lessons we learned and other useful information when fishing the Lower Illinois River.
Good luck and good fishing!
Note: As of this article's publish date, the OWDC has resumed trout stockings!
What You Need to Know About Fishing the Lower Illinois
1. Special Regulations
In preparation for fishing the Lower Illinois River, we learned the area offers other fishing opportunities that include white bass, walleye and striped bass.
However, we also learned about special fishing regulations apply to the upper half that are different than the lower half of the river - specifically:
- The area between the stream gauge and the gravel plant is a special management area where harvest and terminal tackle are restricted.
- Harvest is limited to trout over 20 inches long and tackle is restricted to artificial lures and flies with barbless hooks only or with live bait using a 3/0 hook or larger.
- Regulations for the upper portion are the same as the rest of the river.
As a general rule before fishing the river, we check ODWC's website for the latest update and/or changes to the regulations on the Lower Illinois River.
2. Special Regulations (eRegulations)
General Trout Regulations
Having fished Beavers Bend State Park for trout, we were aware of special regulations that applied to the Lower Mountain Fork and made readily available online.
Published by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) are eRegulations that provide ready reference to trout regulations for a given trout fishing area in the state as well as general trout regulations applicable to all trout fishing areas.
A quick check online confirmed fishing license, harvest limits, and tagging requirements also applied to the Lower Illinois River (see picture below).
Note: Pay close attention to stringers and tagging requirements.
Lower Illinois River Regulations
Further reading of the eRegulations - Lower Illinois River (LIR) section we reviewed the applicable special regulations and obtained details about the area including maps and links to other resources (see picture below).
Note: Do familiarize yourself with the maps and boundaries before fishing the LIR.
3. Water Flow on the Southern Illinois
Cubic Feet Per Second (CFS)
Once we understood the fishing regulations applicable to the Lower Illinois River, we shifted our research on water flow.
Past experience when fishing a river that serves as a tail-race to a large reservoir has taught us to plan fishing trips with awareness to discharge rates.
As a general rule, we keep these discharge rates measured in cubic feet per second (cfs) in mind when anticipating the water flow and their impact to fishing conditions.
- Under 100 CFS - Very Low
- 100 to 200 CFS - Low
- 200 to 300 CFS - Ideal
- 300 to 400 CFS - Fishable, be very careful
- 400 to 500 CFS - For the brave and agile only.
- Over 500 CFS - Dangerous
The picture below shows the current conditions for US Geological Survey Station 07198000 located on the Illinois River near Gore, OK - specifically:
- The discharge was measured at 3,740 cfs at 7:30PM Central on April 24, 2019
- The median daily discharge for the days reported over the past 65 years was around 2,000 cfs, but on April 26 which was a Friday, the median dropped to ~1,500 cfs.
- Between Friday April 26 and Saturday April 27 the discharge dropped from just under 3,800 cfs to 100 cfs.
- The discharge continued to drop from 100 cfs to 50 cfs into Sunday, April 28, and then increased to ~3,800 cfs about mid-day on Sunday.
- The discharge then dropped late Sunday into the next morning Monday, April 29 to a low of ~80 cfs before increasing to ~3700+ later Monday morning or noon.
From the information provided we determined:
- The river would be dangerous for wading if we opted to fish at the time the measurement was taken - 7:30PM Central, April 29 (refer to the blue rectangle and blue star symbol in the graph)
- Based on data collected over 65 years, the discharge for the days reported stayed steady during the week but would drop over the latter part of the week and possibly the weekend (refer to red trend-line in the graph)
- For the discharge reported over the weekend, we could anticipate a significant drop in the discharge late Friday evening but later increasing to high discharge rates by Sunday - possibly mid-day. (refer to blue trend-line in the graph)
- We also could anticipate optimal water flows for wading Saturday morning, continuing all day into Sunday morning until mid-day (refer to the green square in the graph)
Army Corp of Engineers Gage Station
While researching the current conditions for the water flow on the Lower Illinois River, we also discovered the US Army Corps of Engineers' version of the US Geological Survey's Current Conditions site.
The Corps of Engineers uses a data table format that readily shows discharge rates - see GORO2: Illinois River, Gore, OK
From the table below, the section outlined in blue shows the river flow for the given date/time noted on the left. Of interest to fishermen are:
- Discharge early morning Monday, 29 April was 435 cfs (noted in yellow)
- Between 1AM and 8AM, conditions were fishable with discharge steadily dropping to a low of 82 cfs.
- By 9AM, discharge increase to 2,365 cfs and continued to 3,800+ at 7PM.
- No data showed for 8PM - 12PM.
4. Summer Versus Winter Conditions
Fishing the Lower Illinois River in the summer means wet wading and cool river temps. Although the air temperature may be hovering around 90 plus degrees, the river tends to the 50 degree mark often times.
That said, you should be able to leave the waders at home and go with shorts, wading socks, and wading boots. We strongly suggest wading boots with cleats as the rocks are slippery and will make for a tough time navigating the river.
As winter rolls around, it's better to bring the waders and wear layered clothes. Fall and early winter means waders as air temps will dip into the 30s. Luckily, as the day progresses, the air temperature will steadily rise, warming up to the 60s, 70s and sometimes to the 80s. Best to wear layers that can be easily removed as the day warms.
Once winter is in full swing, focus on "staying dry and staying warm." Go with insulated waders or the neoprene waders, layered clothing including thermals, and fingerless gloves (or better yet, mitten gloves that have a flap that exposes the fingers when needed). Air temperatures may not break freezing, so be prepared and do bring a change of clothing in case you have a dunking!
Moreover, keep wool blankets or similar insulating blankets in your vehicle in case you get stuck on the river due to hazardous winter road conditions.
5. Fishing Gear
Rod and Reel
- Ultralight Spinning Gear for smaller stocked trout in the 9"-12"
- Medium Spinning Gear for larger trout in the 20" plus length as well as larger Striped Bass.
- 5 or 6 wt Fly Rod/Reel are a good size, going heavier if targeting larger trout and Striped Bass.
- Waders and Wading Boats
- Wading Stick
- Landing Net
- Stringer (with appropriate tag)
- Polarized Glasses
- Appropriate Head Gear and Clothing
- Rain Gear (keep handy for those rainy days)
6. Baits, Lures, and Fishing Flies
We recommend live shad, especially for the Special Regulation zone. Otherwise, we have had success with the following:
- PowerBait Trout Dough Bait in Rainbow, Yellow Garlic, and Pink
- PowerEggs in Rainbow, Chartreuse, Orange, and Pink
- PowerWorms in Natural, Chartreuse, and Pink
- MouseTails in Chartreuse Egg and Orange Tails
- Salmon Eggs
For trout, inline spinners and spoons. In particular:
- Rooster Tails in Chartreuse, White, and Orange Firetail
- Mepps Anglia Spinners
- Panther Martin Spinners with Black Blade and Yellow Dots
- Super Dupers in Gold, Copper, Silver, and Rainbow Trout
- Kastmasters in Gold and Silver
For Striped Bass,
- Jig and Fluke Rigs
- Sassy Shads
- Pencil Poppers
- Bombers Lures
- Rattle Traps
Suggested Fishing Flies for Trout
For trout, we follow Tom Adams' advice in his article, "Six Fishing Flies Every Oklahoma Fly Angler Should Carry":
- Wooly Bugger in black, olive, brown and white in sizes 8-12 loaded in the box.
- Gold Bead Pheasant Tail Nymph in sizes 12-18.
- Parachute Adams with size depending on species of mayfly so take hook sizes in 12-20.
- Soft Hackle Fly in olive, orange or peacock with hook sizes 14-20.
- San Juan Worm When the flows are higher than normal. Also, tend to use it as a lead fishing fly on a tandem rig when tied as a San Juan Worm Ball.
- Midges as the trout are familiar seeing them and taking them. Go with size 16-24 and smaller and in black, red and olive to cover several species.
Plus we include additional patterns that have proven well on the Lower Illinois River, Blue River, and Lower Mountain Fork. Specifically,
- Near Deere in Size 8 and 10 and colors Olive, White, Pink, and Orange
- Rainbow Warrior in Size 18, 20, and 22
- Zebra Midges in Size 20 and 22
- Y2K in Size 16 and 18 as a trailing fly to the Near Deere
- Muddler Minnows in Size 10, 12, and 14
- Stonefly Nymphs
- Prince Nymphs in Size 16 and 18
Also, we will bring Corq Strike Indicators to work fishing flies in runs and pools using a dead drift presentation.
Suggested Fishing Flies for Striped Bass
For Striped Bass, we tend to use the patterns below, adjusting to where the fish are striking in the water column:
- Clouser Minnows in Blue and White, Chartreuse and White, and Red and White in size 2 to 6 and vary size weights to allow a fast sink rate as needed.
- Lefty Deceivers in similar colors and tending to larger sizes to work the upper part of the water column.
- Jig Fly in similar colors, sold locally at Dave's Bait and Tackle in Gore, OK.
- Craft Fur Clouser in Chartreuse and White in size 2 and size 6; tied Clouser style by the COAF Field Team.
7. Where to Fish?
Public Access Points
The map below provides public access points to keep handy when planning a fishing trip to the Lower Illinois River. Specifically:
- "The Pool": a pool located off the river and immediately below the dam that fishermen can access and fish even during high power generation.
- Power Plant Parking Area: parking area located nearest the power generating plant.
- Lower Parking Area: parking area located downriver from the power generating plant.
- Simp and Helen Watts Management Unit, which provides walk-in access to almost one mile of the trout stream and 320 acres of public hunting opportunity
- River Road Public Access Area about six miles downstream from the dam.
- Gore Landing Public Access Area, operated by the town of Gore, (918) 489-2636.
Lower Illinois River Fishing - Infographic
Expanding on the map above, the COAF Field Team created a simple infographic to provide specific details of where we like to fish when targeting trout. Do check it out and the accompanying YouTube Video posted on our Channel that walks you through the infographic!
Lower Illinois River - Infographic Video
Questions & Answers
Is this correct? I believe a majority of the river is accessible when the water flow is below 500 CFS; one can walk along the exposed bank to access the river.
When water flow is less than 500 CFS, one can walk along the bank to access the river. We prefer to fish when the water flow is 300 CFS or lower. It is easier to wade fish in those conditions.