Illinois’ Smallest State Park

Illinois’ Smallest State Park
Don Dziedzina

When I receive photos from readers they’re usually of the largest fish that the person ever caught.  Too, they’re photos of one they’re proud of because it’s bigger than the normal catch for them, the lake or simply just another big fish.

When the boys get together at the bar for a cool one and the fish stories start to fly, there’s always some talk about the “Big One” that was caught or got away.  When the story teller holds his hands apart to show how big the fish was, normally it’s a bit more than the actual size.

Never is the little guy ever talked about.  After all, would it be exciting to hear a story about the trip on Lake Michigan where all you caught were five inch perch?  Does anyone really want to hear about the four pointer that a deer hunter took because he just didn’t see anything else?

These are all stories that just get kicked to the wayside to make room for a tall tale that makes listeners or readers want to hear more.

Well, if you’re looking to read something here about Illinois biggest state parks, sorry, it’s not going to happen.  What I will be writing about is one of Illinois’ smallest state parks.

Our fine state is the host hundreds of state parks and recreation areas.  Some of them are very big with literally thousands of acres of land.  But forget about it.  I don’t want to tell you about those big parks. You probably heard about them or been there anyway.  But I do want to bring to you some information about one of the state’s smallest parks which is right down the road in Grundy County.

According to the IL DNR publication on state parks, the William Stratton State Park is only seven acres large.  I don’t have the statistics on it but a betting man might just say that more visitors come to this little park to sit on the shores on the Illinois River or launch a boat or jet ski than several other state parks found in other areas of the state.

The park is small but with being so close to the Chicagoland area and being on one of the most popular rivers for fishing and boating, it can get pretty busy there during the summer months with thousands of visitors.  The park is probably best known for having a large concrete boat ramp as well as a small one for jet skis.

The Stratton State Park is the host of several bass fishing tournaments in the early spring and late fall.  There once was a rule that no fishing tournaments are held there during the summer on weekends because the park is used by so many people and the boating traffic at times can be quite heavy.  Local club tournaments are there during the week in the evenings.

Located below the Rt. 47 bridge that goes over the Illinois River, the park is easily reached by taking I-80 to Rt. 47 south.  After driving through the town of Morris, go west on Illinois Avenue for five blocks and turn south on to Calhoun Street to cross over the Illinois Michigan Canal.  Take a left turn, going east on North River Road to the park.  It’s really not as confusing as sounds.  There are signs directing you to the park.

The first time that I visited the park a friend and I fished from shore.  Gosh, this goes back well over forty years ago.  We sat on the bank fishing for catfish and carp.  We used heavy line, wire hooks and small pieces of nightcrawlers to get our fish.  It was one of those days when nothing would go wrong.  We literally caught hundreds of fish.  I can’t explain it but this was one of those days where it was fish after fish after fish.

We arrived at the river at about six in the morning and didn’t get home to our wives until after seven that night.  Not that it was a long drive or anything, but we just kept catching fish.  We couldn’t leave.  This was back in the days before cell phones so the wives had no clue as to what was going on.  Yes we were in trouble when we got home, but it was worth it.

I’ve been back there many times over the years as the sauger, striper, bass and crappie fishing in the area is actually pretty good.

You’ll see while driving to the park that there are many places to eat or buy snacks to bring to the park.  BYOB to this fishing hotspot… that means Bring Your Own Bait.  There is none available at the park.

The Stratton State Park has good concrete boat ramps, a good sized staging area, and plenty of parking.  There are picnic tables, restrooms and a playground for the kids.  The park is a good starting point for fishing the Illinois River and in the fall, waterfowlers who enjoy hunting out of duck boats use the park for launching too.  The area holds a lot of ducks and geese.

For more information about the William Stratton State Park you can call 815-942-0796.  For more information about this park and all the others here in Illinois, visit www.EnjoyIllinois.com.  This is a good site that can help you plan day trips, weekend trips and even week long vacations right here in Illinois.

If I was ever asked which of the State Parks would be my favorite for fishing, I’d have to say that the Stratton State Park is right up there with only a couple others.  The reason being is that with this park being so close to home, great fishing is not that far away.

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