Pistakee Lake, Illinois, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Illinois - Chicagoland -

Also known as:  Lake Pistakee, Fox Chain O'Lakes

Pistakee Lake is a well-known destination to generations of Chicago area Lakelubbers. Located on the famous Fox River Chain of Lakes in the Chicagoland Region of Illinois, Pistakee Lake has been welcoming visitors since the mid 1800s. The southernmost large lake in a chain of lakes stretching north to the Wisconsin border, Pistakee Lake attracted settlers early. Efforts at farming were often stymied by the marshes and bogs surrounding the lakes. Fishing and hunting quickly became the main cash business, and hunting inns were soon built along the shorelines. Brown’s Inn in McHenry was the first inn to be built on the chain in 1837. By 1883 cottages were being built along Pistakee Lake, primarily as hunting lodges and upper-income resorts. Resort inns and accommodations soon proliferated around Fox, Nippersink, and Pistakee Lakes.

The Pistakee Lake area attracted large numbers of visitors coming to enjoy the fishing, hunting, and the many acres of American lotus that covered much of Grass Lake, another lake in the Fox Chain. Only 40 miles northwest of Chicago, the Fox Chain also attracted the less-than-genteel clientele who came for gambling and other vices. Several of the inns and resorts became favorites of notorious gangsters, and there were several concerted efforts on the part of officials to ‘clean up’ crime, only to find their efforts were in vain. The marshy ground and maze of waterways simply made it too easy to hide illegal behavior; an uneasy co-existence usually resulted until the next outburst of outrageous behavior again brought forth the wrath of the authorities. Meanwhile, more legitimate visitors enjoyed speedboat racing as early as 1905, picnics, steamboat excursions and the proliferate speakeasies during Prohibition. After World War II, people gave up the excursion by train in favor of the private automobile, and the resort hotel was replaced by the lake cottage. Pistakee Lake was considered a commute-able distance from Chicago and the daily job; communities such as Fox Lake Village grew with new residents and businesses.

A rough dam was built near McHenry across the Fox River in 1907 to try to stabilize lake levels . It succeeded in raising the lake levels, but was not reliable and was subject to flooding. In 1939, The William G Stratton Lock and Dam was completed, providing reliable water levels and boat navigation down the Fox River. Water levels are lowered in winter to reduce possible damage from ice. The Fox Waterway Agency, located on Pistakee Lake, was created with a heavy responsibility to waterway users. Their web site states their mission thus: “to improve and maintain the Fox River and Chain O’ Lakes public waterway for recreational use, to restore environmental quality, control flooding, promote tourism and enhance the quality of life along the waterway for residents and users alike.” As the chain is the busiest inland recreational waterway per acre in the United States, the Agency does an admirable job of managing the varied needs of all users. Navigation maps, boat registrations, and regulatory enforcement are all managed by the Agency.

The Fox River Chain, as the area came to be known, consists of at least 10 large lakes and many smaller lakes connected by natural or artificial channels. Pistakee, Nippersink, Fox, Grass, Bluff, Channel, Marie, Petite, and Catherine Lakes are connected along the Fox River and its tributaries. Redhead and Dunn Lakes, Lake Louette, Lake Jerilyn, and Lake of The Hollow are accessible by navigable channel or stream. Other small lakes in the area surround the chain, although many are not directly connected. The area is also home to several protected marshes, including a rare bog that exhibits all stages of bog succession. Southeast Volo Bog Nature Preserve features a floating mat of sphagnum moss, cattails and sedges surrounding an open pool of water in the center of the bog. Sandhill cranes, great blue and green-backed herons, raccoon, mink, muskrat, whitetail deer and many other smaller creatures are often observed. Interpretive trails and a visitors center attract many visitors each year to this rare landscape.

Boating on Pistakee Lake is one of the main reasons people visit. Sailboat racing occurs nearly every weekend near Kings Island, and large pleasure boats often cruise both the lake and the Fox River to points both upstream and downstream. All types of watercraft are permitted, from jet skis to power boats. Residents and visitors alike enjoy water skiing, tubing, wakeboarding and pontooning. Canoes and kayaks especially enjoy accessing the smaller lakes via stream and channel, or heading upstream on Nippersink Creek. The Chain O’Lakes State Park borders Grass, Marie and Nippersink Lakes. The 2,793-acre state park provides camping, fishing, mountain biking and nature trails. Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are enjoyed in winter. The State Park and the adjoining 3,230-acre conservation area support a variety of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, raccoons, skunks, badgers, beaver, opossum, mink, rabbits, fox, coyotes and nearly 200 species of birds. In the winter, some areas are open for hunting with permit. A large area along the shore on Pistakee Lake is conservation land under the control of McHenry County Conservation District and open for public use.

Several species of game fish attract fishermen to Pistakee Lake year round. Fish caught here include white bass, largemouth bass, yellow perch, bluegills, crappies, channel cat, and the big fish: northern pike, walleye and muskie. The smaller bays and connected lakes are particularly fruitful fishing waters. Nearly a dozen boat launch sites along the northeast and southwest shores of the lake assure easy access from every travel direction. Ice fishing and ice skating are enjoyed in winter. Several marinas are located on Pistakee Lake, with more located on other lakes in the chain. Several inns and restaurants on the chain are accessible by water – some have been in existence for over a hundred years.

Vacation rentals are available on the lakefront of Pistakee Lake. Both resorts and private rentals exist, as do townhouses and condos available on weekly and monthly lease. A few bed-and-breakfasts exist in the area. All amenities are available locally, including golf courses, shopping, movie theaters, cultural activities and sports venues. Real estate is usually for sale in the area, often close to both the lakefront and the Metro train to Chicago. Pistakee Lake offers everything the visitor or full-time resident could want from water sports to fishing to swimming. Come spend a weekend at Pistakee Lake. You’ll fall in love with this water wonderland – come, fall in love.

Things to do at Pistakee Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Tubing
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Ice Skating
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • Movie Theater
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Pistakee Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Muskellunge
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Walleye
  • White Bass
  • Yellow Perch

Pistakee Lake Photo Gallery

    Pistakee Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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    Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

    Water Level Control: Illinois Dept. of Transportation-Division of Water Resources

    Surface Area: 1,716 acres

    Shoreline Length: 22 miles

    Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 732 feet

    Average Depth: 6 feet

    Maximum Depth: 36 feet

    Water Volume: 13,081 acre-feet

    Completion Year: 1936

    Water Residence Time: 36 days

    Drainage Area: 3 sq. miles

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    Trophic State | LakeLubbers

    Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

    An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

    A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

    A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

    The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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    Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

    Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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    Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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    Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

    Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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    Completion Year | LakeLubbers

    This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

    The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

    You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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    Water Volume | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

    You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

    Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

    1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

    The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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    Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

    You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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    Average Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

    Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

    Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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    Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

    At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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    Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

    Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

    When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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    Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

    You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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    Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

    This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

    A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

    When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

    You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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    Surface Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

    The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

    You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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    Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

    This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

    Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

    "Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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    Lake Type | LakeLubbers

    There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

    - A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

    - A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

    - A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

    "Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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