Fishing and hunting abound along the Kankakee River

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Rick Thomas sent this photo of a 20-inch smallie that he caught from the Kankakee river in May, 2009. | Supplied Photo

Last fall, a youngster walked in the Bass Pro Shops in Portage and handed the staff an eight-pound walleye pulled from the Kankakee River. Today, that fish continues swimming around the store’s in-house aquarium, a reminder of the great catches available on one of Indiana’s most often overlooked fishing destinations.

Meandering through northwest Indiana’s Porter and Lake counties, the Kankakee River remains a somewhat forgotten anglers’ retreat featuring an array of fish species, scenic spots, and active catches.

While some fishermen seek a secluded spot along the riverbank — which the Kankakee offers in abundance — others take their poles and bait to more populated spots, such as the Kingsbury Fish and Wildlife Area near LaPorte, the Kankakee Fish and Wildlife Area, the architecturally engaging Dunn’s Bridge, Grand Kankakee Marsh County Park, and the LaSalle Fish and Wildlife Area.

Some of the best things about fishing on the Kankakee are “its ease of accessibility and its variety,” said Jim Osborne, general manager of Portage’s Bass Pro Shops and the man who enthusiastically received the young angler’s donation last fall at the store.

“There’s an opportunity to catch quality, which is nice if you’re by yourself, or quantity, a real plus if you’re with kids. There’s also the opportunity to go to different spots along the way and try for different species as well.”

What’s there to catch

The Kankakee’s species are numerous, led by pike, a frequent find in the Kankakee Fish and Wildlife Area, as well as small-mouth bass, crappie, blue gill, and walleye, an Illinois-stocked fish that rides the Kankakee into Indiana.

“There’s quite a variety that anglers can go and catch and [the Kankakee River] offers a nice game fish community,” said Jeremy Price, a district fisheries biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

While catch rates will vary along the Kankakee River, Price said there’s a strong mix of action-packed spots filled with hungry fish as well as those that allow anglers to capture a larger catch.

“The Kankakee is not without some big catches,” Price said.

In recent years, Price has noted the rise of bow fishing on the Kankakee River. He says many bow-fishing anglers, a growing number, will capture carp and suckers at various spots along the waterway.

“The Kankakee is among the area’s best spots [for bow fishing],” Price said.

More than fish to be nabbed

The Kankakee hasn’t only gained a reputation for its fishing resources.

The river and its adjacent areas have long been popular hunting destinations, with some of the area’s most dedicated outdoor enthusiasts frequently trolling land near the Kankakee throughout the year.

The Kankakee Fish and Wildlife Area remains one of Indiana’s most robust waterfowl areas, while the Kingsbury Fish and Wildlife Area hosts a variety of upland habitat, including deer and rabbits.

“With access through both state and private areas, there’s always a good opportunity along the Kankakee to go down, get a hunt, and enjoy the camaraderie of fellow hunters,” Osborne said.