Apple River- Nw Illinois
Located in the far northwest corner of the state in Illinois's corner of the driftless area. This Jo Daviess county river has been a long time favorite with the folks from over at the Illinois Smallmouth Alliance. And for good reason, this is a gem of a river with rocky bluffs and cool blue pools are home to a robust population of smallies. This river is an absolute must for those who chase smallmouth in the Prairie State.
Des Plaines River- Ne Illinois
From its headwaters in Wisconsin, flowing the entire distance through Cook County, this river is a pike haven. Once known for its poor water quality, this river is on a major rebound. With DNR assistance with dam removal and smallmouth stocking this could be a river to watch in the next few years. But, for now the most likely catches will still be those hammer handle pike. Catches over 30 inches here should be considered trophy size.
Fox River- Se Wisconsin + Ne Illinois
Don't let the color of this water fool you. Though, often sporting a murky hue, this river contains some absolute pig smallmouth as well as a variety of lesser game fish. A larger watershed that offers some solid fishing both in Wisconsin and Illinois. When all the other rivers in the area are flowing low, you can count on this river to be moving water. This can be contributed to treatment plant discharge. Do not overlook the countless tribs that flow into the Fox as well.
Milwaukee River- Se Wisconsin
One hundred miles of bass and pike water here. The Milwaukee is considered to be a two tier fishery with lake run fish in its lower reaches and warmwater fish found through its entirety. Some would argue that is actually a 3 tier fishery with trout also found in its headwaters but that is just a rumor to me so far. Most of my warmwater fishing is done north of the city limits but some say that the smallies are bigger down low on this water shed. Another good river with some tributaries to explore as well.
Sugar River- South Central Wisconsin
The majority of this watershed is found in Dane and Green county Wisconsin though a small portion of its lower reaches run though Illinois. A two tier fishery with trout found in its upper reaches and warm water species in the lower. A great water shed with trout classified water flowing in as its tributaries. Walleye, pike, and buster smallmouth galore, this is on my short list for places to devote a good bit of more time exploring.
Upper Wisconsin River- North Central Wisconsin
Flowing through the famed Vilas and Oneida counties in the northwoods of Wisconsin, this is destination fishing at its best. Strong populations of walleye, pike, musky, and pike, as well as countless other less pursued species swim these waters. It's an extremely long watershed flowing from the north end of the state to the southern but here in its upper reaches it is perfectly suitable to the wade fisherman. Access can be spotty so a lot of people prefer to float trip this river. These tannin stained waters are must for any Wisconsin angler.