Indiana's Best Bass Fishing
October 04, 2010
No matter where you live in Hoosierland, there's a
top-rated bass water near you. Here are five of the best!
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
By Tom Berg
I could feel the lure that was tied to the end of my line ticking along the tops of the weeds in the unseen depths below, and I waited anxiously for the sign of a strike. The bright orange, curly-tailed jig seemed like it was going to swim along forever without enticing a fish. Suddenly, I felt the familiar tap as a fish took the bait.
For a split-second before setting the hook, I visualized a slab-sized crappie inhaling the bait. I hoped it would weigh at least a pound, but preferably a little more. When I reared back and drove the hook home a millisecond later, I was surprised to see a fat 16-inch largemouth bass come rocketing out of the water instead!
I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. Although I was fishing for crappies along one of Patoka Lake's isolated shorelines, largemouth bass are not an uncommon catch. Actually, just the opposite is true at this southern Indiana reservoir. Bass fishing at Patoka Lake has never been better, as scores of tournament bass anglers and thousands of "regular" bass fishermen have been finding out in recent years.
Patoka Lake is not the only hotspot for Indiana bass anglers, however. Productive bass lakes abound in our great state these days, thanks to the efforts of dedicated fisheries biologists and a strong catch-and-release ethic among fishermen. From small farm ponds to gigantic reservoirs, it is quite likely that there is a fishing hole within easy driving distance where any angler can hook into a bragging-sized bass.
But where are the best places to start? Although there are lots of lakes where Hoosier bass anglers can wet a line this spring, Indiana Game & Fish has chosen five places where it's hard to go wrong. They include West Boggs Lake, Patoka Lake, Dogwood Lake, Monroe Reservoir and Clear Lake.
WEST BOGGS LAKE West Boggs Lake is a relatively shallow 622-acre impoundment, located right in the heart of southern Indiana's big bass country. The lake is also known as West Boggs Creek Reservoir or simply Boggs. Although the bulk of the lake lies along the eastern edge of Daviess County, it also sprawls over into Martin County as well.
In 1994, West Boggs Lake underwent a complete lake renovation to remove undesirable fish species, such as gizzard shad and carp. The lake was restocked with largemouth bass, bluegills, redear sunfish, black crappies and channel catfish, and the fishery made a fantastic comeback. Bass fishing, in particular, has become phenomenal.
According to Brian Schoenung, the District 6 fisheries biologist for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the largemouth bass at West Boggs are still growing like crazy. "The growth rates for bass here are pretty much off the charts," he said. "In our last survey we caught a 5-year-old bass that was 17 1/2 inches long. The district average for a 5-year-old fish around here is 15.5 inches." That's impressive.
The bass fishing is still excellent, but a dark cloud looms on the horizon at West Boggs Lake. It appears that some misguided fisherman or other individual illegally stocked gizzard shad here, probably in 2000 or 2001. The problem with shad is that they compete with young game fish for food, and after they become established, they quickly dominate the lake. Overpopulated gizzard shad was one of the main reasons West Boggs was renovated several years ago.
"When the shad population really expands, we expect to see a decline in the quality of bluegills and probably a decrease in largemouth bass density," said Schoenung. "We surveyed Boggs in the summer of 2002, and bass still made up 37 percent of the fish caught by weight," he added. "Shad were not No. 1, but if we did a survey right now, they would be. They got off a tremendous spawn in the spring of 2002, so there are millions of gizzard shad out there now."
The good news is that it will likely be two or three years before bass fishermen notice a decline in fishing. Schoenung agreed, stating, "I'd say that it probably has not had any impact yet. It will probably be a couple of years before it really starts to affect the bass population." In the meantime, West Boggs Lake anglers will continue to enjoy good fishing and high harvest rates.
PATOKA LAKE Bass anglers with a hankering for a lake with lots of flooded timber and plenty of bass should head for Patoka Lake, just south of French Lick. Patoka is an 8,880-acre bass factory, and in recent years the factory has been working overtime.
Tournament bass fishermen have noticed the good fishing at Patoka, too, and more and more tournaments are being held here every year. As a matter of fact, catch rates for bass have been increasing steadily since 1996, when a 15-inch minimum size limit was placed on Patoka bass, replacing the existing slot limit.
Local fishermen have noticed that the largemouth bass population has improved over the last couple of years, too, especially with larger fish. Bass tournament weigh-ins typically feature a bass in the 8-pound range as the fish to beat for "big bass" honors.
Tim Gibson is a local bass fishing expert, and he is a professional fishing guide (812-936-3382) on Patoka Lake as well. He recommends looking for spring largemouths up in the Patoka River. "The water temperature up in the Patoka River might be 5 to 10 degrees warmer than in the main lake. The farther up the river, the better," Gibson said. "One of my favorite areas is between Walls Lake ramp and King's Bridge," he continued.
Gibson looks for productive water with timber nearby, but more specifically he looks for groups of submerged logs that he calls laydowns. "In the spring, the bass in Patoka like to stay close to laydowns. The bass will lie right alongside of them, and spinnerbaits worked slow along those logs are dynamite." He also uses jigs and the ever-popular jig-and-pig. "You can't ever pass that up," he said.
Other good places to try in the early spring are mud flats, especially those exposed to the sun. Gibson often fishes mud flats at this time of the year with buzzbaits and spinnerbaits. "There are some good mud flats between Walls and King's Bridge where the river goes out," he said. "Bass will move up on those mud flats as the sun warms them up during the day, and that's when the bass will eat up buzzbaits."
Public access for Patoka Lake boat anglers is very good, since there are 11 boat-launching ramps located at various points around the lake. There are also two full-service marinas, where supplies can be purchased and boats may be rented. Give a call to Pato
ka Lake Marina at (888) 819-6916 for more information.
DOGWOOD LAKE Another topnotch bass water in Daviess County is 1,400-acre Dogwood Lake, located in the middle of Glenwood Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA). Dogwood has been known as a good bass lake for quite some time, but since it is not as large as some of the other reservoirs like Patoka and Monroe, it doesn't seem to get as much attention.
Fisheries biologist Brian Schoenung points to Dogwood as the place to go for sheer numbers of bass. "Dogwood Lake tends to be a numbers lake rather than a size lake," he said. "If you want to catch large numbers of bass, this is the place to go."
But Dogwood is not devoid of lunkers. "It does have some larger fish in it," continued Schoenung. "We had a small fish kill here in the summer of 2002, and we saw some really nice bass, up to 8 pounds. Most of the bass that did die were those larger fish," he said. Investigations were made to determine whether or not a largemouth bass virus caused the fish kill, but the initial reports came back as inconclusive. Biologists will continue to monitor the population.
Dogwood Lake has a 10-horsepower limit on it, which somewhat restricts the size of boat that can be launched there. Once anglers are afloat, however, they should be ready for action.
"This lake has a lot of fish in the 12- to 14-inch size range. The catch rates are really high, too, up around 270 bass per hour when we do our fish surveys out there," Schoenung said. When you compare those catch rates to those at Monroe Reservoir (upper 50s per hour), you can appreciate how many bass are in Dogwood.
Many fishermen at Dogwood Lake use traditional lures to catch their fish: spinnerbaits, plastic night crawlers and crankbaits. But don't forget topwater plugs, stick baits and buzzbaits. Jigs are also very productive when worked along deeper structure.
Bass anglers interested in harvesting a few fish should keep in mind that there is a 15-inch size limit in effect on this lake. Glendale FWA is located between Jasper and Washington, and can be reached via state Route 257 from the west. For more information, call the Glendale FWA office at (812) 644-7711.
MONROE RESERVOIR If one body of water deserves to be on the list of bass fishing hotspots year in and year out, it must be Monroe Reservoir. Monroe has been producing both numbers of bass and trophy-sized bass for a long, long time. Located just south of Bloomington, Monroe Reservoir is easy to access, too.
Monroe is another lake that comes to mind for Schoenung. "It's a perennial producer of really large bass," he said. "If you are going to fish around here and want to catch a bass in the 8-to 10-pound range, this is where you should go." At more than 10,000 acres, Monroe certainly has the room to grow big bass.
As a case in point, Schoenung recounted a recent incident that really reinforces the fact that Monroe is chock-full of bruiser-sized bass. "We did get a good little peek at the bass population in an unrelated project here recently (fall 2002)," he stated. "Law enforcement officials dammed up roughly a mile and a half of the upper end of the north fork of Salt Creek to try and uncover some evidence for a crime investigation. We had to remove the fish from that area.
"They drained that section, which was primarily creek channel, and we moved the fish from there to the other side of the dam. We probably took out between 300 and 500 bass that weighed anywhere from 3 pounds to 8 pounds," Schoenung reported. "There were some pretty nice fish up in that section."
Fishermen seemed to have more success at Monroe last year, as opposed to the previous few years. One reason could be that submerged weedbeds thrived with the stable water levels of recent years, and a lot of the bass had left the established hotspots and moved into the weed edges. Many fishermen were slow to adjust to that change.
However, the extremely high water that was present in the spring of 2002 virtually eliminated the weeds and other aquatic vegetation that had been established around the lake, so the bass moved back to the traditional spots where anglers had always caught them in the past. Creek channels, dropoffs and underwater points suddenly became very productive again. "Everything I've heard has been that the fishing was real good on Monroe this year," said Schoenung.
If stable water levels return over the next few years, look for the weeds to return in the same areas where they were prior to 2002. When that happens, the bass will likely shift back to their weedy homes.
CLEAR LAKE Not all of the big bass in Indiana live in the southern part of the state, and not all of the bass are largemouth bass. Smallmouth bass deserve a mention when it comes to Hoosier bass fishing, too, and one of the best places in the state to catch a trophy smallmouth is Clear Lake.
Clear Lake in Steuben County is a great place to fish. Located in the extreme northeast corner of the state, Clear Lake is a bass fisherman's dream. Both largemouth and smallmouth bass are present here in good numbers, and there are big fish, too.
According to the DNR's District 2 fisheries biologist Larry Koza, Clear Lake has an excellent smallmouth bass population. He recommends fishing for smallmouths in the spring when the fish are in the shallows (even big smallies). "If you want a decent chance at catching a 4- or 5-pound smallmouth bass in Indiana, Clear Lake is one of the best places to do it," Koza said.
Other anglers agree. Bill LaVigne, a local angler from Fort Wayne, fishes Clear Lake as often as he can. In the spring, he specifically targets smallmouth bass. "There are some dandy smallmouths in Clear Lake," he said. "I have caught them in the spring, and my biggest spring smallmouth was probably about 5 pounds."
LaVigne likes to use a simple slip-sinker rig with a plain No. 10 hook and a live night crawler. "I hook a whole night crawler (or sometimes even a half night crawler) right through the tip of the nose, blow it up with air from a syringe and cast it out," he said. "You might catch six or seven smallmouths in a day. The average size is going to be 14 to 16 inches, but the 20-inchers are there," he reported.
Other productive presentations for smallmouth bass here include tube jigs, twistertail jigs, crankbaits that imitate crayfish and small minnow-imitating plugs. LaVigne is partial to tube jigs when he uses artificials, but he adds a special touch: "I always put some garlic scent in there," he confessed. Who can argue with success?
Most of the shoreline surrounding Clear Lake features a shallow, rocky ledge that tapers out from a couple of feet deep down to about 10 feet. That is the productive zone. Beyond the 10-foot mark, it starts dropping down to 25 feet very quickly.
When asked where he catches smallmouths on Clear Lake, LaVigne reveal
ed that spring bass are typically shallow. "I target them in 10 feet of water or less," he said. "Try to find shallow areas with gravel. I've actually caught a lot of smallmouths right by the beach, by the public access site. There are lots of stones and sand there."
These are just a few of the many choices available to Indiana bass anglers. Each of these lakes consistently provides good numbers of quality bass for Hoosier anglers throughout the spring months. The best part is that most of these lakes also produce trophy-sized bass on a regular basis. Your lunker bass may be waiting!
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