4 Spring Picks for Northern State Bass

4 Spring Picks for Northern State Bass

From Waveland to Worster lakes, plus two other top picks, here's where you'll find great bassing this spring and summer in the upper half of Hoosierland.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Mike Schoonveld

Are largemouth bass or bluegills the favorite fish of Indiana anglers? There are probably more bluegill fishermen, but I think that's a factor of perceived availability. If people thought there were as many good places to go bass fishing as there are places to go catch bluegills in this state, the competition would go to the bass anglers.

Other than the rare lake that is really hot for producing big bluegills, few anglers will head all the way across the state or from one end to the other to go bluegill fishing. Most panfishermen know about a nearby lake that serves up decent catches. That's when they'll slip away for their panfish sport an hour or two at a time.

When people think of bass fishing, however, they think of the big reservoirs such as Monroe, Brookville, Patoka or perhaps Indiana's few large natural lakes like Maxinkuckee or Wawasee. Unless one happens to live nearby to one of these spots, a Hoosier bass man is apt to put a lot of miles on his boat trailer traveling to his favorite bass lakes.

That's especially true for bass anglers who live "north of 40." U.S. Route 40 is the unofficial dividing line between northern Indiana and southern Indiana. And, as all know, the best bass reservoirs are all in the southern reaches of our state.

Northern Indiana isn't devoid of largemouths; it's just devoid of many big lakes to fish for largemouths. There are plenty of little lakes - bodies of water from farm pond size to several hundred acres where healthy bass populations can be found. Fishermen just need to find them.

One fine reference is Indiana's Fishing Guide, available wherever fishing licenses are sold. There are more than just rules and regulations in the guide. The back pages of the booklet list hundreds of lakes and streams (by county) where bass-fishing opportunities exist.

Here's how a friend and I adapted one time on a bass-fishing visit to a typical northern Indiana Lake.

KOONTZ LAKE
"Don't look," Ben advised. "You don't want to lose your night vision." He was about to "charge" his glow-in-the-dark lure with a camera strobe.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the light flash and heard the quiet puff sound the flash made when the strobe discharged. The lure was glowing so brightly after being activated by the flash I wondered if the glow from it was going to make me night blind.

We were night-fishing for bass on Koontz Lake and it's just as important to be able to make accurate casts at night as it is in the daytime. It's much harder to see, however, and one of the keys to success is to keep your eyes tuned into the darkness. We had launched our small boat without the aide of even a flashlight and kept the lights out on the boat, as well.

Working in the dark and avoiding lights would allow our eyes to adjust to the darkness. Our boat was propelled by an electric motor only, no gas outboard, so the only legal requirement for lighting was to have a strong flashlight on board. The only time the flashlight is required to be switched on, however, is if another boat is approaching. That's when you need a light to show one's position and to avoid a collision. As far as we could tell, we had the lake to ourselves, though I'm sure the water had been a buzz of activity during mid-afternoon and early evening.

Koontz Lake is only 346 acres big, which is perfect size for a good, fully charged battery and a powerful electric "outboard" to get all around the lake and back to the launch. Our electric motor allowed a stealthy approach and the windless night permitted us to position the boat using our oars as precisely as if we were anchored.

You could almost say our whole trip was planned to be as stealthy as a commando raid. A layer of carpet was placed on the floor of the boat to minimize any sounds our feet might make or the bumps associated with opening and closing tackle boxes and coolers. We chose to go with electric power only so we wouldn't be required to show a light unless needed for safety. Indeed, we chose to go under the cover of darkness because it would allow us to approach bass that seem to know how to avoid daytime confrontations with fishermen. Daytime fishing gives Koontz Lake a reputation as a spot reluctant to give up many bass for northern Indiana bass fishermen.

Koontz Lake, located in northern Starke County, is one of Indiana's natural lakes. Like many of our natural lakes, most of the high ground lakeshore was platted into lots and sold to individuals as home sites. Most of the homeowners are "water" oriented, which is both good and bad for fishermen.

The bad part of this equation is that on weekends and even nice afternoons on weekdays during the late spring and summer months, there are plenty of recreational boaters plying the waters. Skiers are common and even more common are speedsters riding their personal watercraft.

These users tend to stick to the mid-part of the lake, but the diminutive size of the lake means there is little time for the wake-waves to subside before they reach into areas fishermen are likely to be positioned. Few anglers relish the unfettered chop as they try to line up for their next cast.

Unlike the big reservoirs, there are few natural coves or even portions of these lakes that are cordoned off as idle zones where fishermen can benefit. The good thing for fishermen is almost every home has its own dock. These are one of the best-known places where the largemouth bass will hide out. Few of the docks have no fish, while the better ones have an abundance of bass. Though some dock owners don't like fishermen casting around "their" docks, most tolerate it. The docks are private property, but the water and fish under the docks aren't, so dock owners don't have any legal claim to keeping people away.

That doesn't give fishermen the right to tie up to the docks, to cast lures onto the docks or bang lures off the sides of boats tied up the docks. A little common sense and politeness will go a long way toward keeping everyone's temper in check.

Skipping or flipping plastic worms or other baits under and around docks is an enjoyable way to pass a morning. There are enough largemouths in Koontz Lake (like most natural lakes) to ensure a modicum of success fishing that way.

At night, however, bass lose some of their wariness and desert the shade and seclusion offered by the miniature wharfs. Night-anglers can expect to get stri

kes away from the docks, even in swimming areas bass would never go during the day.

Some people swear by black-colored lures in the darkness. The theory is that the black lures cast a strong silhouette against the night sky or even blacker subsurface background. Ben and I chose luminescent lures as much to benefit our own eyesight as that of the fish.

I think fish do pick up and strike at the "glow" lures at times better than a black or other colored bait. But many anglers night-fish with them more because it's easier to see them and make accurate casts. Though bass will move out from the docks or other cover, a well-placed cast is still more likely to produce a strike than a lure just tossed randomly toward the bank.

LAKE WAVELAND
Ever want to fish a new lake? Lake Waveland in eastern Parke County isn't exactly brand new - it was built in 1970 - but the fish population in the lake is as new as it gets. Fishermen plying the waters of the 358-acre lake, which is owned by the Parke County Parks Department, enjoyed some great bluegill fishing and fairly good bass fishing for the first 20 years or so of the lake's existence; but in the early 1990s some so-called "do-gooder" decided he or she would make the fishing even better by stocking gizzard shad in the lake.

The shad showed up for the first time in fish surveys of the impoundment in 1994. The problem with gizzard shad is twofold. They are prolific and they have the capability of growing too large for most predator fish to eat. Sure, the bass in a lake might benefit initially from an abundance of shad that are 3 or 4 inches long. Unfortunately, gizzard shad don't stop growing at baitfish size. They keep growing until they are much too large for largemouth bass to handle. When that happens, they are just taking up space in the lake - space most fishermen would rather see occupied by bass, bluegills or other catchable fish.

Shad fry also compete with bass fry for photo plankton and other nearly microscopic food. The end result is fewer bass make it past the initial stage of life.

The solution to the shad problem at Waveland was to plan a project that would completely eliminate all the fish - all the shad, all the remaining panfish and game fish. The fish kill was accomplished by lowering the water level in the lake and adding rotenone, a chemical that is very poisonous to fish. Once the fish were exterminated, the remaining water was allowed to naturally detoxify and as soon as it was safe to reintroduce fish, they were hauled out of state hatcheries from various parts of Indiana and planted in the lake.

This was all accomplished in the fall of 2002. Now the lake, or at least the fish population, is new and vibrant. Fortunately, too, a few large bass were recovered from the lake prior to the drawdown and renovation project. These were kept in other ponds and eventually returned to Waveland Lake.

Whenever fish are placed in a fertile environment with plenty of room to grow, they do. Indiana biologists expect fish stocked in a new habitat to grow at twice the normal rate. That means a bluegill can reach catchable size in just two summers and a largemouth can be expected to reach the legal "keeper" size of 14 inches in about the same time.

So this summer there should be a few big bass in Waveland, but there will also be an abundance of bass in the 2-pound range. For most people, that's an acceptable range and by scaling down the tackle being used, those fish will provide a wealth of sport.

WORSTER LAKE
Worster Lake is a favorite destination of many northern Indiana bass fishermen. Worster Lake is located inside Potato Creek State Park, which is about 12 miles southwest of South Bend. There is a quiet beauty to this lake as no homes or lots are located around its shoreline. Instead, you'll find mostly fields and forest. Gasoline-powered outboard motors are not allowed, either. You can get around the 327-acre lake just fine with an electric motor and don't have to worry about being crossed up by speedboats, personal watercraft or water ski enthusiasts.

Worster Lake is also benefiting from a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) lake renovation project. No, Worster Lake isn't being upgraded, Murphey Lake at Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area is. Murphey was drained last summer to facilitate dam repairs. In the meantime, largemouth bass that formerly called Murphey their home were salvaged from the Willow Slough lake and brought to Worster Lake until their home water is refurbished.

In the meantime, that means more keeper-sized bass for the anglers at Worster. The exact number isn't available, but more than one bass per surface acre of water in Worster was added. That doesn't seem like many fish, but when you consider the bass are never distributed randomly across a lake, it begins to hold significance.

Where one bass may have been holding off a submerged log, there may be two or three fish now. In a lake that might only hold 100 bass of 4 pounds or larger, the number of 4-pounders may be doubled.

Just because there are added bass, don't think that's a license to relax fishing ethics. Catch-and-release fishing works and it's just as important as it ever was to minimize your bass harvest, even with these additional largemouth bass in the lake.

Murphey Lake was one of the few northern Indiana lakes where a rowboat livery for daily rentals was maintained. That eliminates one spot people who would like to fish from a boat, but don't own one, could go. There's a rowboat rental facility at Worster Lake. Oars go with the boat or bring your own battery and an electric motor to clamp on the transom. Rates are $5 per hour or $20 per day. Indiana residents will also have to pay a $4 per vehicle park entrance fee.

There's often more to a day of fishing than just fishing, and while you are at Potato Creek Park, you should take time for a little exploring. The park features a wide array of activities and a variety of natural habitats await visitors. Included are old fields, mature woodlands, restored prairies and diverse wetlands. Each of these offers unique opportunities for plant and wildlife observations.

PROVINCE POND
In 1990, the DNR purchased 210 acres of land south of Muncie to create the Province Pond Wetland Conservation Area. Historically, there was a lake on the property, but when the land was purchased, most of the original body of water had been drained away. Only a 12-acre shallow pond remained. The DNR development of the property included construction of a levee and a water-control structure, which raised the water in the pond almost to its original level. Currently, Province Pond is about 60 acres in size.

As a part of the project, rotenone was applied to the existing water in the lake to eradicate the carp and other rough fish present. In 2000, Province Pond had filled enough to allow largemouth bass, bluegills, redear sunfish and channel catfish to be stocked.

Fisheries biologists surveyed the pond in the fall of 2001 to evaluate the

success of the initial stocking. Survival of stocked bass appears to be very good. If there's a problem with the fishing at Province Pond, it's abundant plant growth. That's not uncommon in new and newly rehabilitated lakes. It's generally good for the fish, but makes it hard to fish. Local biologists suggest some chemical vegetation control until the plant life in Province Pond stabilizes.

In the meantime, bass anglers need to think of weedless presentations to avoid frustration. A follow-up survey of the lake's fish was conducted in 2002. It found that the fish population was growing fast and thriving. Largemouths were the second-most abundant fish in the lake and 2-year-old bass are averaging around 12 inches long, which is very good growth. Those bass are all keeper-sized by now.



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