Ancient map makers placed a statement on their maps to justify why they had no information about tan area. The statement was “There be dragons.”

Time was Illinois fishermen could use such a statement might to cover what they knew about fishing the Rock River. Today it is a popular catfishing river as well as for other species like smallmouth bass, muskies and carp.

Although other species are present the September bite on the Rock River, near Rockford is for channel and flathead catfish. The channels bite all day long but the flathead action is best in later afternoon, evening and early morning. Channel catfish action seems to be best in low light of either morning or evening or on an overcast day.

There are any number of catfish locations along the 155-mile length river between the Wisconsin state line and the Mississippi River near Rock Island. Perhaps the most popular is the tailwaters below the Oregon Dam in Oregon, Ill. There is a boat launch above the dam on the eastern shore and another to the south on the western shore in Castle Rock State Park about 2 miles south of Oregon.

A free brochure on the Rock River entitled “Fishing the Rock” is available on the IDNR website (

Channel catfish are around fallen trees, root wads, stumps and log jams. Bank fishermen use minnows to catch catfish with a slip bobber in late afternoon. Slip bobbers make it possible to suspend them at different depths.

In the main river stink baits, blood baits, cut bait and chicken livers are popular with channel catfish fishermen. An aroma flows with the current down river to the location of the fish. Catfish follow the scent back up river to the location of the bait.

Big flathead catfish prefer fresh bait as opposed to the smelly concoctions that appeal to channels. Bluegills fresh caught are the best bet. Bluegills are legal in Illinois as bait. Flathead anglers catch them in farm ponds and then use them for bait. It is illegal to sell bluegills as bait.

Hook the bluegill through the back and allow it to swim free. If you clip one front fin it will move erratically attracting the catfish.

The flatheads hang out in deep holes like the ones below dams. Cast the bait to the upriver side of the hole and allowed to drift down. Preferring deep water, the flathead will hole up in these deep water locations during the day and move up into more shallow water as the air cools in the evening.

A large fallen tree in an area of deep water also can hold flatheads.

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