Indiana's Underrated Bass Lakes
October 04, 2010
These six-plus reservoirs continue to produce big bass while flying under the radar of most savvy bass fishermen. (April 2010)
Bass anglers are often creatures of habit. They fish a lake or a group of lakes regularly, and they tend to keep fishing those same lakes year after year. When they hear about a big-name lake that's producing good catches, they will often move to that lake and keep fishing there. While there is nothing wrong with that, it limits their fish-catching options.
The lakes that get the lion's share of the press and publicity are certainly good fishing waters. Some names that quickly come to mind include Monroe, Patoka, Brookville and Dogwood -- just to name a few. But there are plenty of other lakes in Indiana, literally dozens of other lakes that produce some hefty largemouth bass catches every year. And one of the best things about those lakes is that they aren't crowded.
So if you would like to get away from the hordes of bass boats and do some serious fishing on quieter waters, try one of the following lakes this season. They don't get the press of the big-name lakes, but they still produce big fish every year. Now is the time to get in on the action before the secret gets out!
BEAVER DAM LAKE
Bass anglers around the southern end of the state have plenty of choices for wetting a line, from large reservoirs to tiny farm ponds. Those fishing near the town of Jasper often head for the big-name waters like Patoka Lake to the east and Dogwood Lake to the northwest, but there is another option that is even closer. That spot is the 205-acre Beaver Dam Lake, located just five miles to the east of Jasper in Dubois County.
Beaver Dam Lake is a relatively small reservoir that was created in 1958 as a water-supply lake for Jasper. It has a maximum depth of nearly 30 feet near the dam, but the average depth is about 13 feet. There are three distinct arms of similar size and depth, and all three feature small coves, cuts and good shoreline areas to fish.
Dan Carnahan, a District 7 fisheries biologist for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), says that fishing for largemouth bass (and other species) is outstanding here. "Beaver Dam Lake contains an excellent fishery," he said. "Largemouth bass fishing has actually improved in recent years."
Carnahan and other biologists performed a general lake survey here in the spring of 2007, so he has a very good idea of what is happening with the local bass population.
"We collected a total of 151 largemouth bass that weighed 125 pounds," he said. "They ranged in size from 3.6 to 20.6 inches in length. Growth was good, and bass are reaching 14 inches in their fourth year."
That's not bad, especially when bass remain abundant. Quite a few large bass were found during the survey, too, which points to good opportunities for anglers. The percentage of bass sampled that were at least 14 inches (out of all bass larger than 8 inches) increased to 24 percent, which was nearly double the number from the last lake survey in 1999. Five percent of the bass collected were at least 18 inches long, with several measuring between 19 and 20 inches.
There is a concrete boat ramp on the west end of the lake, which is owned by the Jasper Parks and Recreation Department. The launching fee is based upon boat motor size, and outboard motors are permitted on the lake.
PRIDES CREEK LAKE
Prides Creek Lake in southeastern Indiana's Pike County is home to a surprisingly good fishery. Located just one mile south of the town of Petersburg, this 90-acre impoundment lies completely within the borders of Prides Creek Park. It offers shoreline fishing and two boat-launching ramps for anglers who bring their own craft. Outboard motors are permitted, but they may only be run at idle speed.
In past years, this lake was plagued by excessive weed growth. It made fishing difficult and hampered fish growth. Grass carp were stocked to reduce the vegetation, and they did such a good job that they nearly eliminated it altogether. Today there is only minimal aquatic vegetation in the lake, and because smaller prey fish have few places to hide, the largemouth bass population is thriving.
Biologist Carnahan also surveyed Prides Creek Lake in 2007, and found that the lake's fish populations are doing very well.
"The largemouth bass population has substantially improved since the last survey in 2004," he reported. "Prides Creek Lake should provide excellent largemouth bass fishing for several years. Besides good numbers of legal-size fish, bass up to 20.4 inches were also recorded during the recent survey."
Growth of bass was found to be excellent at all ages, which is a great indicator of future population strength.
Although Prides Creek Lake has virtually no aquatic weeds, there are still plenty of places to fish for roaming bass. Besides the usual shoreline habitat, there are submerged brushpiles scattered around the lake. Bass often hang around this woody structure, feeding on bluegills and sunfish that hide in and around it, too.
The lake's shoreline features many small coves and small creek arms that hold good numbers of bass, as well. Some of the points and mouths of these bays can provide great action, so fishermen in small boats should keep moving until they find some active fish. Bass tournaments are popular here on the weekends, so opt for a mid-week trip if you want to avoid other boaters.
MIDDLE FORK RESERVOIR
Middle Fork Reservoir is in east-central Indiana, right on the north side of the city of Richmond. Covering approximately 180 acres, Middle Fork serves as a water-supply lake for the city, but it also serves as a fishing destination for anglers. It is a fairly deep lake (41 feet max depth), with an average depth of 21 feet.
According to Rhett Wisener, a District 5 fisheries biologist, Middle Fork Reservoir is a good place for bass anglers to target this year.
"We did a fish survey out there in 2009, and largemouth bass were fairly abundant," he said. "While most of the bass we caught were 8 to 12 inches long, there was also a respectable number of 18-plus inch fish. The largest one that we saw was nearly 21 inches long."
Those numbers bode well for fishing in the years to come, too. Since most bass fishermen practice catch-and-release, those bass will have plenty of chances to continue growing and enhancing the fishery.
Unfortunately, gizzard shad were found in Middle Fork Reservoir for the first time last year. Gizzard shad compete with small young-of-the-year fish (including bass) for food, and their
presence usually signals a decline in other sport fish. "I don't know how long the numbers of bass will hold up, so I strongly encourage anglers to take advantage of the lake now since we usually see a significant drop in bass recruitment within a couple of years," said Wisener.
"I strongly encourage catch-and-release at this lake to help sustain the number of bass, since we do anticipate fewer of them being recruited into the fishery in the future."
In the meantime, however, bass fishing should continue to be very good for at least the next couple of years.
Middle Fork Reservoir does not contain many weeds or woody structure, but there are coves, bridges, and plenty of underwater break lines to fish. Boaters should keep in mind that there is a 6 horsepower limit on outboards here.
Northeast Indiana's Crooked Lake has received a fair amount of press in the past for its resident fish species, but not usually for largemouth bass. This deep lake in Noble and Whitley counties (108 feet maximum depth) is better known for its population of coldwater-loving ciscos, but recently its largemouth bass have caught the attention of local anglers.
Nate Thomas, a District 3 assistant fisheries biologist for the DNR, reports that Crooked Lake has a surprising number of nice-sized bass in it.
"We did some survey work out there this past year, and it showed that Crooked Lake has a healthy population of bigger fish," he said. "Though they may be tough to catch due to the lake's steep depth contours, our targeted sampling in the spring yielded a good number of bass over 18 inches."
Bass fishermen are always looking for big fish. They should be happy to know that the largest bass recorded during the 2009 fish survey was 21.5 inches long.
"The proportion of largemouth bass over 14 inches long was 23 percent," stated Thomas. "The proportion of bass over 18 inches long was 2 percent."
Besides the difficulties in fishing Crooked Lake's steep dropoffs. Another thing that makes bass fishing a little more difficult here is the incredible water clarity. Bass become much harder to catch in clear water, so lure selection and presentation become very important. For that reason, many anglers choose to fish here at night or during low-light conditions, when bass can't see as well.
The main forage species for largemouth bass at Crooked Lake are likely to be bluegills and sunfish, along with yellow perch, lake chub suckers and minnows. Anglers would do well to mimic those prey species when selecting their baits, though topwater lures will also be quite productive during low-light periods.
When asked where first-time fishermen might go on Crooked Lake in search of bass, Nate Thomas pointed to a variety of good locations.
"The flats along the north and south shorelines hold many smaller bass, but I have heard of larger bass being caught right at the dropoffs during the summer months. Crooked Lake also has numerous lily pad and spatterdock beds that provide excellent cover for bass."
Northern Whitely County is home to some beautiful natural lakes, but Blue Lake is particularly nice. This 239-acre water is also fairly deep, with a maximum depth of 49 feet and an average depth of 26 feet. Shoreline weeds and wetland areas provide excellent places for fishermen to wet a line, and bass fishermen are no exception.
District 4 assistant fisheries biologist Rod Edgell reports that Blue Lake could be a good bet for bass fishermen in the northern part of the state.
"Blue Lake has a good largemouth bass population," he said. He pointed to the 2006 fish survey that was performed here by DNR biologists, which showed a healthy bass fishery.
According to the survey data, 168 largemouth bass were caught that weighed in at 89.92 pounds. They ranged in length from 3 inches to 17.2 inches long.
Blue Lake has a small cove on the southwest side and some channels that attract fish (especially in the spring), but there are also numerous dropoffs and break lines that can be worked with soft-plastic lures and deep-diving crankbaits. There is also a weedy hump on the northwest side of the lake, which comes up to within 5 feet or so of the surface of the water.
There is a public access site on the southern shore of the lake where boaters can launch their boats.
SHAKAMAK STATE PARK LAKES
Shakamak State Park (SP) is located in Greene, Sullivan and Clay counties in the southwestern portion of the state. Within the park, anglers can find some excellent fishing opportunities in the three impoundments there: Kickapoo Lake, Shakamak Lake and Lenape Lake.
At 290 acres, Kickapoo Lake is the largest of the three bodies of water. Shakamak is next (56 acres), and Lenape is the smallest (49 acres). All three lakes have boat ramps, and anglers can move from one lake to the next very easily if the fishing action slows or if they want to try something different as they go.
According to Dave Kittaka, a District 6 fisheries biologist, Shakamak provides a very pleasant place to fish.
"The Shakamak SP lakes offer an atmosphere where there is no conflict with pleasure boaters, other than the occasional sail boat or kayaker (the lakes are electric trolling motor only)," he said. "There are plenty of largemouth bass and diversity of habitats to keep seasoned bass anglers interested."
Kittaka and his biologists performed a creel survey here in 2009, and although the report has not been finalized yet, preliminary data shows that bass anglers were catching some nice-sized largemouth bass.
"Approximately 5 percent of the bass released by anglers at Kickapoo Lake were above 15 inches," he stated. "Springtime bass surveys conducted at the other two lakes (Shakamak and Lenape) indicated a slightly higher percentage of 15-inch and greater bass."
The lakes inside Shakamak SP offer a good shot at big fish, too. Kittaka reports that bass up to 20 inches long were sampled at all three lakes in 2009. In fact, the largest bass found at Kickapoo Lake measured nearly 22 inches long. More than likely, the good bass fishing is a result of the state's management practices, as there is a 12- to 15-inch size limit for bass on these lakes.
Bass fishermen should have no trouble finding productive spots to fish here, either. Kickapoo Lake is the deepest of the three lakes (40 feet maximum depth), and the creek channel provides some good break lines. There are also numerous small coves, points and shoreline areas to fish, including submerged structure in the lake like some old flooded roadbeds.
Shakamak Lake is much smaller than Kickapoo, but that is what attracts some anglers to it. The water is shallower, but there are s
till plenty of points and other structure to check out. Lenape is another small, quiet body of water that is perfect for chasing bass. One favorite spot is near the boat dock area where there is an old creek bed that attracts fish year after year.