Indiana's 2011 Bass Forecast

Indiana's 2011 Bass Forecast

Hoosier State bassers should have some fine fishing ahead. Here's why.

Right now is one of the most exciting times of the year for bass anglers. All those heavy, egg-laden females and their aggressive male counterparts are just waiting out there for the temperature signal to start moving up the transition lanes toward shallow water. Just thinking about it makes the skin start to tingle.

Hoosier anglers have a lot to be excited about, for sure. Hardly a spot exists in the entire state where an angler can't make a short drive and be into some great bass angling. Between our natural fish populations and the great management of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), most bass fisheries are thriving.

Stu Shipman, the Northern Fisheries supervisor for the DNR, said all the bass populations in the state are self-sustaining and the DNR does no supplemental stocking. That's not the case in many of the nearby states where certain fisheries have to be boosted with stocked bass. Shipman said most all the DNR objectives are met with a statewide creel limit and length limits of 12 inches in streams and 14 inches in lakes.

Some tweaking to this statewide regulation helps regulate individual fisheries. There are some locations with site-specific regulations such as an 18-inch length limit with a creel limit of two fish. District fishery biologists closely monitor the lakes in their assigned area and recommend changes, if necessary.

Shipman said there has been pressure by some folks wanting to increase the size limit on stream bass. However, the DNR has been reluctant to do so, because spotted bass grow at a much slower rate than other black bass and the increased harvest size would hamper management of spots. Additionally, sub-legal smallmouths tend to get stockpiled with a higher length limit. Shipman said, "What we're doing now seems to be working best."

This year looks great for bass fishing and there are lots of great locations across the state from which to choose. Sometimes it's even hard to decide which one to go to first. The DNR divides the state into six different fishery districts, so for our bass forecast, we'll pick a bass fishery in each district that looks great for this year, including a few that seem to fly under the radar a bit. Plus, we'll take a look at the Lake Michigan bass fishery, which doesn't fall into one of the other six districts.

DISTRICT 1

Up in Fulton County, Nyona Lake looks really good this year according to District 1 Fishery Biologist Jeremy Price. The bass population was surveyed there in July of last year, which was the first standard survey performed since 1998. The results were very encouraging.

Price said, "One important thing to consider about this survey is how late in the season it was conducted. Typically, as the summer goes on, our electrofishing catch rates for bigger fish tend to decline. With that in mind, I'm confident that this sample conservatively estimates the quality of the bass population at Nyona."

Even so, some 205 largemouth bass were sampled, ranging in size from just over 2 inches to 19.3 inches. Weight wasn't recorded, but the size distribution is very good with 23 percent of the sampled fish being at or above the minimum size regulation.

Much of the improvement might be attributed to the introduction of hybrid striped bass to the lake in 1990. The DNR began stocking them in an effort to control the overpopulation of gizzard shad. Price said, "The strategy appears to be working as shad numbers have declined from 42 percent of the total catch in 1987 to 10 percent in 1998 and yet further to 6.5 percent in 2010. Reduced shad numbers equate to better survival for gamefish in the early life stages. In Nyona's case, this and the enhanced protection under the 14-inch minimum size limit have resulted in improved electrofishing catch rates for all sizes of largemouth."

Nyona is a 104-acre natural lake. It is comprised of two basins that are separated by a bridge. There is a state public access site on the north side of the south basin about a tenth of a mile west of the bridge. The water is fairly turbid and there's quite a bit of spatterdock along the east side of the lake. Shoreline access is pretty limited.

Anglers can stop in at nearby Malone's Bait & Tackle or call (574) 382-5051 for more information.

DISTRICT 2

Hamilton Lake, in Steuben County, is a very nice bass lake located in the northeastern corner of the state. At just over 800 acres, Hamilton offers a nice mid-range feel between a small water and a really large reservoir. The largemouth fishery there should make any bass angler tingle. District Fishery Biologist Neil Ledet said Hamilton is "still one of, if not the best, bass lake in this corner of the state."

The DNR does not spend a lot of time looking at their best lakes, so survey information hasn't been updated on Hamilton since 2004. Historically, over 30 percent of the bass collected in the past surveys were of legal size. Fish were collected up to 21 inches in length. Hamilton is very fertile and the bass grow well, so it's not uncommon to catch plenty of chunky bass in the 16- to 17-inch range.

There are numerous bays with lots of different structure found appealing by bass. Some of these bays warm up quicker than the others during spring and can become magnets for actively feeding largemouths. Also, anglers should notice much more native aquatic plant growth this year and less Eurasian Watermilfoil, which is an exotic invasive plant. The Hamilton Lake Association has been working to control the milfoil.

There is a DNR access site off Lane 150, a half-mile west of SR 1. The ramp is located on a bay in the southeast corner of the lake. Clarks Landing Marina is located on the north shore of the lake.

Anglers may want to check in with Hole in the Wall Bait & Tackle in Hamilton for the latest fishing information. They can be reached at (260) 488-3605.

DISTRICT 3

Fishery Biologist Jed Pearson said there are several good bass lakes in District 3 and narrowing down to just one is a tough choice. That's not a bad problem to have for area bass anglers. Nonetheless, Lake Wawasee most always produces consistently good bassing and this year looks like more of the same.

Wawasee is located in Kosciusko County and is the largest natural lake in Indiana. It totals about 3,410 acres. There is a good diversity of structure, vegetation, depth changes and channels in the lake which attract and hold bass.

Two of the best channels for bass include Bayshore Channel and Highland Channel. These areas hold bass much of the year, especially from ice-out up until May. T

arget these areas with minnow-imitating baits, including such standards as spinnerbaits, crankbaits and soft plastics. Also look for bass around shallow structure or beds of milfoil.

Anglers will find good numbers of chunky largemouths present, with plenty of fish in the 14- to 16-inch range. Bigmouths up to 20 inches are possible. Smallies are also present, with some fish up to about 17 to 18 inches.

A public boat ramp is located on the southeastern side of the lake and can be accessed from East Hatchery Road. For additional fishing questions, call the District 3 Fisheries Office at (260) 244-6805.

DISTRICT 4

As far as large lakes are concerned, Brookville Reservoir doesn't get the press for its bass fishery that some of the other big waters do. However, Biologist Rhett Wisener believes the lake deserves more attention. He said, "It is unique for central and southern Indiana waters in that it offers anglers a chance to target both largemouth and smallmouth bass."

Bass population estimates done in 2009 showed smallmouths over 21 inches and largemouths over 23 inches. Bass grow very well at Brookville, so anglers will find good numbers of decent-sized fish.

Anglers will find largemouths to be most abundant in the northern half of the lake. North of the Fairfield causeway, the lake is shallower and not as clear. Largemouths are also abundant in the lower half of the lake and will be found in the larger coves, such as Wolf Creek and Templeton Creek, where the water is shallower and there is ample standing timber and other woody structure.

The lower end of the lake is best for targeting smallies. Habitat there is much more attractive to the smallmouth, with deeper water and rocky substrates available.

Brookville Reservoir is 5,260 acres and has several boat launching facilities scattered about the lake. Shoreline anglers will find access at the boat ramps, along two causeways, and at the dam.

For more information on fishing at Brookville, contact the DNR District 4 Fisheries Office at (765) 342-5527.

DISTRICT 5

Anglers in this district might want to target the Dugger Unit at the Greene-Sullivan State Forest, according to Fisheries Biologist Dave Kittaka. A creel survey done by Kittaka and crew in 2008 revealed very encouraging numbers for bass anglers.

The Dugger Unit is actually a complex of 16 leftover lakes from coal mining operations. The lakes range in size from about one to 220 acres totaling some 629 acres. Obviously, bass anglers won't be real interested in the smallest waters, but the larger ones offer great bass fishing. These include Bass Lake (220 acres), West Lake (97 acres), Goose Lake (72 acres), Duck Lake (59 acres), Long Lake (38 acres) and Black Cat Lake (31 acres).

The creel survey done on those six lakes showed an estimated 42 percent of anglers there were targeting largemouth bass. Anglers harvested 679 bass during the survey period. Additionally, there were 7,723 bass caught and released, of which, ten percent were 14 inches or greater. The average length of bass caught was 15.9 inches with the largest being about 22 inches.

These lakes are very clear, even during the summer months, so long casts and light or clear line is necessary. Shore-bound anglers have plenty of access at the Dugger Unit and boaters need to remember that only electric motors are allowed. The Dugger Unit is very exposed to the wind, so weather should always be considered when planning a fishing excursion.

More information is available by calling the Greene-Sullivan State Forest Office at (812) 648-2810.

DISTRICT 6

Southern Indiana anglers should consider Bluegrass Pit in Warrick County. This 200-acre lake has a decent bass population with good size distribution and provides lots of opportunity.

Considering this lake is near Evansville, angler pressure is moderate according to Biologist Dan Carnahan. He said a 2009 creel survey showed that an estimated 17,905 bass were caught and released at Bluegrass Pit. No bass were harvested, which is the norm for this lake where a strong catch-and-release ethic exists. Approximately 713 of these fish were at least 18 inches in length. That figure was up considerably from the previous creel survey done in 2006.

Bluegrass Pit is relatively clear with weedbeds surrounding the lake out to about 12 feet of water. The lake is deep, but has lots of drop-offs as well as plenty of shallow water. Anglers should target largemouths on these drop-offs and in the shallow water vegetation. Gizzard shad and small bluegills are the predominant forage for bass, so baits resembling either are good choices.

Good access exists for both boaters and bank anglers. There is a concrete boat ramp and gravel boat ramp. Outboards are allowed at idle speed only. The creel limit for bass is two fish daily with a minimum length of 18 inches.

Call (812) 789-2724 for additional fishing infomation. A map and other info are available at www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/files/bluegrass.pdf and www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/3099.

LAKE MICHIGAN

Indiana owns the smallest share of Lake Michigan of the four states bordering the lake. Nonetheless, Hoosier anglers can enjoy some tremendous smallmouth fishing there. Good opportunity exists for both boat and shore anglers.

One of the reasons the bass fishery remains so strong at Lake Michigan is because most all anglers there practice catch-and-release, according to Lake Michigan Fisheries Biologist Brian Breidert. A creel survey done in 2009 showed only about three percent of the bass caught were actually taken home. This amounted to only 443 fish harvested out of nearly 13,500 bass caught.

Breidert said, "Looking at the long-term trends for the last 10 years, the vast majority of the bass caught by anglers on Lake Michigan are released. And of that, annually over 60 percent are legal size. This gives us a good indication that our population continues to thrive and do well." Other positive evidence from the creel survey showed anglers caught and released over 8,000 bass that were greater than 14 inches. The largest fish was estimated to be about 6 pounds.

The vast majority of bass fishing on Lake Michigan occurs from boats around the breakwaters and rock structures. However, shore anglers can also find good success at the Port of Indiana and at the marinas at East Chicago, Hammond, Burns Harbor and Michigan City.

More information on fishing at Lake Michigan is available on the DNR Web site.

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