A lifetime of fishing (35 years old) and i'm still trying to figure these things out. But, based on all the experience I have, all the fishing shows i've seen, all the books i've read, etc., here are some REAL rudimentary basics... (all referring to Chicago area fishing)
Walleye - Walleye like rocky/sandy locations. You generally won't find walleye under lilypads. Forget topwater fishing for walleye as they generally feed along the bottom. Jigs/minnow combinations are probably the most productive for walleye. In waters where there are walleye but not a lot of sandy/rocky locations (Skokie Lagoons, Busse, Beck), shallow weed flats at sunrise or sunset with crankbaits can be productive. Holes and drop-offs of course, are walleye magnets.
Smallmouth Bass - Like walleye, smallies like rocky/sandy waters. They also LOVE structure such as fallen trees, drop-offs, current seams, eddys. Jig and pig combinations, jig and minnow combinations, and crankbaits are some of my favorite ways to catch smallmouth bass. The key in the Chicago area is to fish where the smallies are! Regardless of what some people say, there are NO SMALLMOUTH BASS in Lake Glenview, Busse, Skokie Lagoons, Twin Lakes, and most of the forest preserve lakes. The best waters for smallmouth bass are the Fox River, The Kankakee River, Lake Michigan, Heidecke Lake, Lasalle Lake. There are smallies in other waters too, but check with a local bait shop first or post here if unsure of smallmouth waters.
Northern Pike - I've caught most of my northern pike in the Chicago area while bass fishing - usually with plastic worms! But if you really want to target northern pike around here, spinners and bucktails would be the way to go. Daredevil spoons are also good northern pike baits.
Crappie - Crappie love minnows. Crappie also love small jigs. Crappie really love structure such as timber. Find a log in the water, toss a minnow or small jog, catch a Crappie. Beck has some nice crappie as do the Skokie Lagoons. Shabbona has a great crappie population and the Northshore Channel of the Chicago River is one of my favorite crappie locations in the entire Chicago area.
Catfish - Chicken Livers late. It may be nasty, but it's damned productive. Get the livers from Jewel, Dominicks, etc. Liver hooks have a pin that helps hold the liver to the hook and are great to use. If you can't find any, a 2/0 hook with a weed guard works well. After dark has always been my favorite time to catch catfish. But remember, you cast, sit, wait. Bring a book or some beer.
Carp - While many people wave carp bait "recipes", kernel corn always does the trick. Load up a hook with the corn, have a big weight on the line and again - cast, sit wait.
These are just a few, simple ideas for targeting these fish in the area. In-Fisherman has produced all sorts of good books and videos on targeting these fish and they are excellent. Do a search on Amazon.com and see what you can find. As for FREE information, most search results return website for guide servicesm lodges, etc. Message boards like this are a good place to start.
Jason W. Norris
Managing Editor - WindyCityFishing.com