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Wanna get away? 3 good options

A young fisherman enjoys beauty an evening nearby destinatisuch as Kankakee River State Park. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times

A young fisherman enjoys the beauty of an evening at a nearby destination such as Kankakee River State Park. | Dale Bowman~For the Sun-Times

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Updated: September 3, 2011 12:33AM

In an area of Illinois far enough out to have wild asparagus growing in roadside ditches last week, I found gas selling for under $4. One of the perks of my work is wandering forsaken areas. Even out there, it spiked above $4 again before the start of the holiday weekend.

Reality is, we’re looking at a summer with high gas prices. Gas high enough to scramble vacation options. Gas high enough that tourism officials to our north, south and east are worried about whether Chicago area residents will go for their usual summer trips.

They should be worried. This year, one of my favorite North Side fishermen even quit making his weekly fishing trips to Delavan Lake, just across the border in Wisconsin, unless he has a buddy along to split the costs.

But there are options beyond sitting at home and whining.

Two weeks ago, I looked at public-transit options — CTA, Metra and Amtrak — for hitting quick fishing trips from Kenosha, Wis., to Geneva to St. Joseph, Mich.

Today, I would like to suggest three options within Illinois that are less than a 11/2-hour drive from downtown Chicago for extended fishing getaways.

The criteria I put on them include having camping and cabin options. Remember, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has switched its reservation system to for campsites, cabins and shelters.

Second, there has to be quality shore fishing. But two of them also have boat rentals; the third has a canoe-rental option. Oh, and they all are able to handle crowds. There’s no point in somebody in my position suggesting a super-secret tiny spot.

With that, let’s begin with Shabbona Lake Recreation Area. Shabbona Lake amazes me. It’s only 318 acres in DeKalb County, and no other public lake in Illinois is fished as intensely per acre, yet it continues to provide a quality fishing experience for multiple species.

Crappie, largemouth bass, catfish and bluegill are the anchors. But no other muskie water in Illinois matches it per acre. Shabbona has produced four Illinois record muskies. It has quality smallmouth bass, walleye and perch. And Lakeside ( offers boat rentals of different types.

I just find it a beautiful setting. There’s something soothing about being in the bowl of Shabbona as the sun sinks below the tree line. It feels like your soul is revived. That’s the essence of a summer getaway.

People of a certain age have fond memories of the Chain O’Lakes as a summer getaway. With shoreline developments, that has changed in recent decades. Public access is tough. But the great option remains Chain O’Lakes State Park. There’s boat rental. But there’s also shore fishing and a lake within the park.

The leading fish are catfish, white bass, walleye and panfish. Of my three suggestions, it’s the most high-pressure area, yet it feels like a getaway. You can disappear here and feel like a million miles from home.

From the far north, we move far south to Kankakee River State Park. What sets this apart as special is the 10-mile bike path along the river that opens all kinds of options for adventuresome fishermen.

Smallmouth and catfish are the primary target species, but there are also lots of northern pike, rock bass, crappie, largemouth, gar and panfish. The camping and cabin areas are adjacent to the river.

There are no boat rentals, but Reed’s Canoe Trips (reedscanoe
) offers a trip through the state park. I highly recommend them and have used them going back years.

KRSP is a place of my heart, a place where I have gone to simply sit on the rock overlook to watch the sun go down along the river and figure life.

You don’t need to fly to Canada or drive to Wisconsin to do that.

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