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Crappies & Panfish Fishing Indiana

Hoosier Statewide Crappie Outlook

October 4th, 2010 0

From north to south, east to west, here are some of our state’s very best crappie waters for you to try. (February 2007)


When the fishing is good, you can catch plenty of crappies quickly. Remember to keep count because even our state’s generous limit of 25 per angler can be filled in a hurry.
Photo by Terry Madewell

The record for the largest crappie ever caught in Indiana is 4 pounds, 11 ounces. Now that’s a crappie! Willis Halcomb put this behemoth papermouth into the record books back in 1994. Obviously, a crappie that weighs almost 5 pounds is not going to be your everyday occurrence. Yet, crappies in the 1-pound range are pretty common in Indiana.

Last year was very typical of what can be expected from crappie fishing in Hoosierland. “Fishing has been normal in most respects,” said District 1 fisheries biologist Bob Robertson. Robertson also noted that there wasn’t much winterkill, and that there was little summer kill due to algae bloom.

Crappies are fairly prolific throughout Hoosierland, and they consist of two subspecies: white and black. Black and white crappies are often found in the same body of water, but what they prefer in terms of a water habitat is quite different.

Black crappies are most often found in clear lakes or rivers with plenty of weedy cover. In terms of a significant factor that differentiates the two subspecies, black crappies cannot stand as much turbidity as the white crappies. Turbidity is a characteristic of water that defines how clear it is. If a body of water is muddy or loaded with suspended particles, it has a lot of turbidity. Conversely, if it’s clear, it has low or very little turbidity.

Crappies tend to school together, which is a good thing for anglers because where you find one crappie you’re likely to find many more. Moreover, crappies (as a general rule of thumb) are not found very far from some form of heavy cover.

“Find heavy cover like a tree that’s fallen in the water with lots of branches and chances are you’ll find crappies,” said longtime crappie angler Ed Lewandowski of Valparaiso.

Lewandowski noted that it is wise to use a slip-bobber rig when fishing around cover that holds crappies, so that you can get your bait down to them without becoming snagged.

The type of cover that crappies use is very diverse. It can be weeds, sunken Christmas trees, sunken brushpiles, submerged logs and trees. Papermouths prefer forage fish like minnows more so than other types of panfish like bluegills. This is why one of the main live baits for crappies is a minnow.

Let’s now take a look at several fisheries in Hoosierland where the crappie fishing has been historically good, and where it is predicted to put smiles on the faces of those who seek out these tasty game fish this season.

BRUSH CREEK RESERVOIR
Located in Jennings County at the Brush Creek Fish and Wildlife (FWA) area, Brush Creek Reservoir is a relatively small 149-acre impoundment where the crappie fishing can be pretty darned good.

A fish survey was conducted at Brush Creek in August of 1999 and it revealed that both black and white crappies are found in this impoundment in good numbers. The survey also showed that white crappies vary in size from 5.1 inches to 14.4 inches. And the survey revealed that black crappies ranged in size from 5 inches all the way up to 13.2 inches. As all crappie fishermen can attest to — including this writer — when crappies come in at around 14 inches, they earn the nickname of slabsides.

But there’s good and bad news from Brush Creek in terms of its status as a public fishery. Renovations of the dam were taking place as of this writing, which is the good news. However, District 8 fisheries biologist Larry Lehman said, “It’s still up in the air,” about whether the impoundment will continue to have public access. Lehman said the Department of Homeland Security will be using the impoundment for training, and that public access could be stopped. But he also noted that a shared concept is a possibility whereby training and public access could take place on alternate days.

This reservoir has a maximum depth of 32 feet and an average depth of 11 feet. The north branch of the reservoir has contour lines that range in depth from 5 feet nearshore to 25 and 30 feet near the middle of the impoundment. Crappie fishermen should target downed trees, stickups and aquatic vegetation, which afford both black and white crappies cover near the contour lines and break points.

The weather during the tournament was mostly sunny with air temps in the upper 60s during the afternoon. Water temperatures were between 64 and 65 degrees, and the water was stained.

Shore-fishing is not very good at this location, but there is a boat ramp off county Road 500 that provides boaters nice access to the lake. Since public access to this fishery is going to change, please be sure to call the Brush Creek FWA office for details before you plan a trip. For more information, call Brush Creek FWA at (812) 346-5596.

HARDY LAKE RESERVOIR
Hardy Lake Reservoir covers 741 acres in Scott County near Austin. Well known for being one of Indiana’s best muskie fisheries, Hardy has come on strong as a crappie producer as well.

A creel and fish survey was conducted here in 2003 from April through October; and for slabside seekers the news is very good.

“Some 12,000 black crappies were caught in the 2003 creel survey, and they were the second most common fish caught right behind bluegills,” fisheries biologist Lehman noted. A total of 12,000 crappies is a heck of a lot of fish in anyone’s book! “They ranged in size from 6 inches to 14 inches,” Lehman said.

Hardly Lake has a maximum depth of 40 feet, and an average depth of 16 feet. Hardy is manmade and is very typical of a body of water that is created by a dam. The lake has many fingers, coves and tributaries. Hardy Lake has three very sizable fingers; each of these juts out from the main portion of the lake in an easterly direction. All are good bets for crappies, especially the finger that is located the farthest north. This finger here has a 20-foot contour line and would be a good bet if the crappies were suspended.

The north part of the main lake is on average about a one-half mile wide, and it has numerous fingers on the west side and several coves to the east.

“From what I’ve seen, the whole upper no-wake zone has a fair amount of timber and the cover is pretty good,” Lehman said. The fingers and coves have a lot of stickups making them
very suitable for crappies.

Crappie fishermen should note that Hardy Lake is a multi-use pubic facility, so it has its fair share of water skiers, and other non-fishing boaters. This will probably make the upper part of the lake — in the no-wake zone — more appealing to fishermen.

If you want to mix in some camping with your crappie fishing, Hardy Lake Reservoir property is the ideal place to do it because it has 149 campsites with electricity. There are also hiking trails and even pontoon-boat tours if your crappie-fishing trip turns into a family affair.

There are four public-access boat ramps located around the lake as well. For more information on Hardy Lake, call (812) 794-3800.

MONROE LAKE
Located a few miles south of Bloomington, in Brown and Monroe counties, Monroe Lake is 10,750 acres in size, and it is Indiana’s largest lake.

Monroe Lake is such a good crappie fishery that the American Crappie Association (ACA) held a crappie-fishing tournament at this location in May 2006. When an outstanding organization like the ACA selects a lake for one of its nationally known tournaments, it means the fishing is more than just good.

The ACA states that its purpose is: To establish and expand a family oriented, cost-effective and competitive arena for amateur and semi-pro crappie anglers as the foundation to promote and market products and services. It is interesting to note that the ACA held a total of four tournaments in Hoosierland last year.

Three of these tournaments were held in either April or May (one tournament each at Patoka, Salamonie/Huntington and Monroe). These events are actually qualifying events in the ACA’s Region 3 for the prestigious Cabela’s Crappie USA Classic, which took place last September on the Pickwick/Wilson Lakes in Sheffield, Alabama.

What does this all mean for crappie fishermen? It means there are some pretty doggone good crappie fisheries right here in Indiana. It also means that lakes selected for one of these tournaments is a very likely place for you to catch slabsides!

The winners of the tournament held at Monroe last May in the Amateur Division were Joe McWhorter Senior and Joe McWhorter Junior. This team came in with 9.15 pounds of crappies (with no more than seven crappies submitted). The father-and-son team was trolling hair jigs baited with minnows and targeting brushy areas where the water is 12 feet deep.

The biggest crappie caught during the event weighed in at 2.31 pounds, and was entered by the team of Rick Solomon and Mike Walters. The winners of the Semi-Pro Division, Jim and Bob Raymer, came in with 12.56 pounds of crappies, and they were fishing in 12 feet of water, too. They were using purple and chartreuse jigheads.

The weather during the tournament was mostly sunny with air temps in the upper 60s during the afternoon. Water temperatures were between 64 and 65 degrees, and the water was stained.

And if that wasn’t good enough news for crappie fishing at Monroe, an angler/creel survey was held at Monroe Lake in 1998. The survey revealed that crappies were the third most abundant fish caught, coming in at 11.6 percent of the total catch recorded. Not insignificantly, another angler creel survey was conducted in 2000 and crappies were the most abundant species caught. During this survey a whopping 85,258 crappies were caught from May 3 through October 2000.

If you’re going to fish Monroe Lake, be sure to get a map, because this lake is huge and it is loaded with crappie hotspots; one of these hotspots is the finger that Jacobs Hollows drains into. You can also go to the ACA’s Web site at www.Crappieusa.com and get detailed information on how and where the competitors caught their fish at Monroe, and other lakes where ACA competitions were held. The DNR office number for information about Monroe Lake is (812) 837-9546.

SALAMONIE RESERVOIR
Located in Wabash County north of Marion, Salamonie Lake contains 2,855 acres of water. It is another of Indiana’s fine crappie fisheries. Like Monroe Lake, Salamonie was also included in the ACA’s tournament circuit in 2006. This means that Salamonie Lake is another prime location to go after these popular fish.

A creel and fish survey was conducted here in 2003 from April through October; and for slabside seekersthe news is very good.

Thomas Nimrick and Robert Williamson won the Amateur Division. These skillful angers took a total of 6.53 pounds of crappies (no more than seven fish total). The winning pair was fishing brush (structure) in 8 to 9 feet of water with the fish being suspended 3 feet from the bottom. Nimrick and Williamson utilized a vertical-jigging technique with 1/16- ounce red and orange jigheads to come away in first place.

Deb and Dave Gregory won the Semi-Pro Division. The winning couple started out fishing in deep water, but opted to switch to shallow water where they scored big by using black/chartreuse jigs.

The big-fish award went to the amateur team of Nimrick and Williamson with a 1.64-pound crappie. Water temperature at the time of the tournament was 62 to 64 degrees. This reservoir is about four miles long, and one-half mile wide at its widest point. It, too, is loaded with fingers and coves that crappie fishermen should target.

There are least four public access boat ramps at Salamonie Reservoir. The reservoir is loaded with fingers and small coves that have crappie-attracting structure. Because of its relatively large size, it would be wise to obtain a map of this good crappie fishery before you hit the water.

For more information on Salamonie Reservoir, call (260) 468-2125.

J. EDWARD ROUSH LAKE (HUNTINGTON LAKE)
This fine crappie fishery is located in Huntington County, near Huntington. At 870 acres, Roush Lake is a fairly large impoundment, and it, too, was on the ACA’s tournament list for Region 3 in 2006.

Roush Lake is fed from the waters of the Wabash River. The maximum depth of this lake is 30 feet and this occurs after heavy rains. A fish survey was conducted on Huntington Lake in 1997 and white crappies were the most abundant species collected — coming in at 24.3 percent of the total collected. Black crappies came in fourth with a relative abundance of 10.5 percent.

Roush Lake is about 2.5 miles long and approximately one-fourth mile wide (at its widest point.) It has a very large finger that juts out to the north on the west end of the lake. The structure in this large finger should be a good spot for crappies in the spring. Roush Lake has comparatively few fingers, but it does have a fair number of coves, and there are several tributaries that flow into the lake. The entry point of these tributaries is a good bet because they will oxygenate the lake’s water and stimulate minnow activity. If there’s abundant structure near the tributaries the crappie action can be dynamite!

As noted above (from the tournaments), when water temperatures start warming to 60 degrees (Fahrenheit) the crappie action can really pick up. This is one of the reasons that tournaments are held in the early part of the year when warming temperatures stimulate the crappie’s metabolism.

Like other reservoir properties managed by the Department of Natural Resources, Roush Lake is a multiuse recreational facility that offers a myriad of outdoor activities including camping.

Access to the lake is easy as there are three public ramps. For more information on Roush Lake, call (260) 468-2165.

Good crappie fishing to you this season in Hoosierland!

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