2017 Indiana Crappie Fishing Forecast
February 15, 2017
Indiana crappie fishing?
In any discussion of good crappie fishing, the state of Indiana does not often come up. That is not because Indiana is not good, just that it is not well-known. But with tournaments such as the Crappie USA tournament held in 2015 on Patoka Lake, more anglers are looking to Indiana.
Recent surveys show that perhaps the crappie crop is in a down cycle right now in many lakes. This is not an unusual factor in the life cycle of crappies. That is not to say it will not soon recover. The number of fish caught statewide is still up. The length just seems to be down. Fish in the 7- to 9-inch class are numerous and will soon be larger.
The key to finding crappies is like good real estate investment. It's all bout location, location, location. Their location seems dependent upon structure and water temperature, for the most part.
Indiana has a statewide limit of 25 fish per day, with no size limit. The two exceptions are Dogwood Lake and Hardy Lake, where the minimum size for keeper crappies is 9 inches.
Crappies seem to move about 1 or 1.5 foot for every 2 degrees of water temperature change. They need structure to relieve stress. Underwater channels are their roadways as the water changes temperature and they seek different comfort levels.
To the fish channels are like roadways on dry land. River channels are the Interstates for crappie. Creek channels are the state highways and stream channels are city streets.
In the spring rising water temperatures trigger a feeding binge as they prepare for the spawn. At 62 degrees, the males move in to the spawning areas to select nests. The males select beds in only certain depths in response to the amount of light that filters through the water to the eggs.
During the spawn, it is the males that tend the nest and the young. The females lay their eggs, then move about 10 feet off the bank and 1 to 1.5 feet deeper. The amount of fish taken during the spawn is a heavy burden on the species. One can practice catch and release during this period.
Once the water temperature reaches 70 degrees, the spawn will end. As a result of the post-spawn stress the intuitive angler fishes lures slowly during the next 72 hours as the crappie are not aggressively feeding.
As the water warms during the summer months, crappies move down and suspend rather than relate to shallow water structure. Locating fish and catching them becomes a challenge.
Water cooling reverses the process. The angler that understands the crappie's movement is the one that finds the fish.
Most crappie anglers are vertical jig fishermen. Some will use live bait while others do not like live bait due to an inability to control its action. Minnows move away from crappie out of fear. An artificial lure will stay in place.
Popular colors include black/pearl, Read/pearl, red/chartreuse, pink/pearl, and chartreuse/blue. Change colors as required.
Count down to where the fish are taking the lure. To more consistently hold the jigs at a specific level use a rubber band. Once the lure is the right level to take fish, simply place the rubber band around the reel spool. Then you can reel it up and drop the lure right back to the exact same depth.
Crappies will take bait tail first then turn it around in their mouth before swallowing it. That is the reason crappie anglers often feel a double tick on the line.
Maintain a steady pressure but not yank the fish in retrieving the fish. If fish cease to bite, move the lure just a few inches away until you find them again. Crappies stay in the same location, they just change their view. Anglers just need to change the angle used to present the lure.
In an effort to find crappie-fishing honey holes within the state we have contacted fish biologists and anglers as well as combing the press and Internet in search of areas to recommend to our readers. Here is some of what we found.
Indiana Crappie Fishing Hot Spots
This 8,800-acre reservoir is Indiana's second largest lake. It contains 26,000 acres of shoreline for public use. According to Phil Rambo, local angler from Bloomington, Ind., who specializes in catching crappies, many tournaments held each year have produced winning catches in all parts of the lake. The water is probably the clearest of any lake in the state according to Rambo.
Rambo explained that the Patoka River arm of the lake seems to produce the best fishing while the Lick Creek arm of the lake is a close second.
In 2015 Illinois anglers Kyle Schoenherr and partner Rodney Neuhaus won the Crappie USA National Championship on this lake. Schoenherr explained that they had difficulty finding 9-inch-plus fish. They explored the river arms of the lake in extremely shallow water. Using electronics they located four submerged shallow treetops that held quality fish. They succeeded in taking nine fish the first day of the tournament and 14 the second. The fish were in the 1- to 1.5-pound class, but 2-pound fish were present.
According to Rebecca Pawlak, district 6 fisheries biologist, a survey completed last spring found that more white crappies are present than black crappies. The fish in the lake seem stunted, but that is probably due to a cycle they go through, and she expects them to recover in the near future. The average crappie in the lake now seems to be 5 to 7 inches in length. But it is possible to catch fish in the 14- to 15-inch class.
Lake Monroe, located near Bloomington, Ind., contains some 10,750-acres of water.
"It has produced, in my opinion," noted Rambo, "the largest crappie year after year."
Productive areas, according to Rambo, include Pine Grove, Middle Fork and Saddle Creek. They are all in the upper end of the lake. The water in the upper end of the lake is not very clear, however is does not get extremely muddy. Except for the main channel, the water is rather shallow. Look for this area to produce 2-pound fish.
Noblesville, Ind., professional crappie angler Matt Morgan also likes Lake Monroe.
"As the largest lake in the state," explained Morgan, "Monroe can be a bit intimidating to a lot of anglers." But he goes on to say it can also be very good in terms of size and numbers.
This lake has an overabundance of small fish. There are a lot of 2-pound fish in the lake as well. If you are looking for those mature big fish you may have to work pretty hard. If you are persistent, you will succeed. Morgan noted that the weekend angler will find Monroe hard to beat.
"You can surely fill your limit with plenty of 9- to 10-inch fish," he advised.
Morgan finds the upper end of the lake as always productive. He looks for cover adjacent to the creek channels as the best way to find the big white crappies in pre-spawn period. The structure found there includes stumps, brush and some illegal manmade stake beds. Stake beds are illegal in all public lakes in the state. He trolls a double minnow rig around and over cover. If the water is high, then vertical jigging in the tightest and nastiest cover you can find produces good fish.
With the lake being so vast, Morgan believes the use of electronics is a must. He uses a side scan to locate fish holding on cover and a GPS to get right back on top of it to fish.
Another reservoir in Indiana that is a good crappie lake according to Rambo is 1,400-acre Cataract Lake in Owen County near Cloverdale, Ind. Also known as Cagles Mill Lake, it is located in Lieber State Recreation Area. Built as a flood control lake Cataract Lake experiences high water in the spring. At normal pool it has a maximum depth of 50 feet.
"It consistently produces good numbers of 9-to 12-inch crappies including a few in the 1.5-pound range," he explains. Rambo recommends fishing the steep drop-offs near the dam as well as the wooded areas up in the various arms of the lake.
There is nothing sour about this Indiana "sleeper lake," which was recommended to us by Brushpile Fishing host Russ Bailey.
This 1,650-acre impoundment experiences some pressure from recreational boaters in the summer, but the rest of the year it is a gem of a crappie lake. There are ample numbers of 12-inch fish. Generally the white crappies are larger than the blacks crappies. What the fish give up in length they make up for with the thickness of their bodies.
Bailey recommended using electronics to locate the main river channel as well as some of the abandoned farmhouse foundations. The use of spider rigs and 14-foot trolling poles allow the angler to ease along the channels. He searches for bends in the channels, as that is generally a good location for crappies to congregate. Often, the irregular structure on the bottom holds wood and other structure attracting fish.
If the fish in the channel are not biting it is possible that they are holding tight to structure in the more shallow water. Here, Bailey recommended vertical jigging instead of the spider rig. The key is to keep moving until the fish are located. Then drop a buoy and work the area hard. Lake Lemon is about 10 miles northeast of Bloomington.
The only state-owned reservoir in Indiana not created for flood control is Lake Hardy, located near Scottsburg in Scott and Jefferson counties. That results in the lake maintaining a constant level.
Rebecca Pawlak, district 6 fisheries biologist, reported that there are both black and white crappies present. The black crappies have greater numbers, though. According to her surveys the average fish is 6 to 7 inches in length, with a few fish reaching 10 to 12 inches.
Because of the smaller fish being prominent the size length this year changed to a 9-inch minimum length for keeper fish.
The lake is 741 acres and is a great location for family fishing.
Dogwood Lake is in the Glendale Fish and Wildlife Area and is 1,400 acres surrounded by 22 ponds and over 8,000 acres of upland game habitat.
White crappies are the species available in this Daviess County lake. Because of a predominance of small fish appearing in surveys, Dogwood Lake also has a 9-inch minimum for keeper fish. Anglers can take 25 fish per day.
Over in Steuben County, just off Interstate 69, is the 119-acre Golden Lake. It is located near the community of Angola.
Water clarity is not good but the fish population is good. The best fishing seems to be along the wind-blown shoreline, the weed lines and various points. The deepest location is only 31 feet.
Although the lakes mentioned offer some outstanding crappie action, they are not the only places to fish. There are little lakes and farm ponds that speckle the state. Many are well suited for wade-fishing or shore fishing. Many are located near your home if you look around.