5 Hoosier Papermouth Picks

5 Hoosier Papermouth Picks

When it comes to catching crappies this spring, you'll catch your share of big ones in the five lakes highlighted here. (March 2009)

If you're looking for some great crappie fishing, now's the time to go. Most of our lakes host plenty of crappies and a few of them will be pumping out good numbers of trophy-class slabs this year.

Whether you're looking for a fish fry this spring or the chance for a wallhanger, here's where some of the state's best crappie action will be.

CECIL M. HARDEN LAKE
Cecil Harden is an old standby that's always near the top of any list when it comes to Indiana's best crappie waters. A few years ago, a cyclical upswing in the papermouth population sent hordes of fish into the 10- to 13-inch range. There are still plenty of these fish up for grabs.

"Based on survey results and some past creel results, I'd venture to say that the number of crappies had dropped to a low spot a couple of years ago," said fisheries biologist Rhett Wisener. "With that said I suspect that recruitment improved in the past year or two and that this year will be a good one for crappie fishing."

Ryan Lemery, the Raccoon State Recreation Area (SRA) assistant property manager, fishes the lake often and he knows it well.

According to Lemery, there are many 10- to 12-inch crappies in the lake. He's successful with a 1/8- to 1/16-ounce jig and a 2- to 3-inch plastic grub in a variety of colors.

According to Lemery, the lake's hotspots produce well. These include the Walker Boat Ramp area and the treetops in the area known as the Narrows, which is north of the main boat ramp where the rock bluffs have eroded. Shore-bound anglers will enjoy the action near the U.S. Route 36 bridge. The structure is right up along the shoreline and the fishing is good. (Continued)

As summer rolls in, the crappies will move out into deeper water. The best locations to find the bigger fish are where the water drops into the depths fairly rapidly. Papermouths up to 17 inches have graced anglers' stringers. Jig-and-minnow combinations and minnows fished under a bobber are irresistible offerings.

Crappies are notorious roamers on Harden. At times, they'll be up along shallow shoreline cover, especially in the early spring, and then will move out into water 10 to 15 feet deep and seemingly disappear. Good electronics can take much of the guesswork out of finding them and save time that might otherwise be wasted on dead water.

Cecil M. Harden Lake is also known as Mansfield Reservoir or Raccoon Lake. It covers 2,060 acres in Parke and Putnam counties and is part of the Raccoon SRA.

Harden Lake is nine miles east of Rockville on U.S. 36. Several boat ramps are available and a daily or an annual boat launch permit is needed at designated ramps. Rowboats and canoes can be rented at the state park.

For more information, contact District 5 at (765) 342-5527, the Raccoon SRA at (765) 344-1412 or Buddy's Bait Shop in Waveland at (765) 435-2317.

Information on where to stay can be found by contacting the Parke County Chamber of Commerce at (765) 569-5565 or online at www.parkecounty chamber.com.

HAMILTON LAKE
The crappie numbers in Hamilton Lake have been on the upswing lately. These days the lake is currently producing some nice fish. There aren't very many bluegills in Hamilton, which leaves plenty of room for both crappies and the shad.


Few waters in Hoosierland offer crappies as big as those in Monroe Lake. It might be safe to say that as a general rule, these slabs are a step up from any other lake in the state.
 

"During the 2007 winter, Hamilton produced some huge crappies," said fisheries biologist Neil Ledet. "These fish were 17-inchers."

Hamilton slabs follow the general rule of moving shallow to spawn and then holding off the spawning areas as the water warms. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) access site in the bay is considered a great place to start.

The northern end of the lake in general is the place to begin searching for crappies. A weed-control program has been in effect and that influences the locations of weedbeds from year to year. Much of the northern end of the lake is about 5 feet deep; it drops sharply off to the east and the south. Much of Hamilton Lake is at least 30 feet deep with a drop to 70 feet in one spot. The DNR once believed the lake to be an ideal candidate for establishing a walleye fishery, but efforts to do so weren't successful.

Something else to keep in mind is that slabs will sometimes suspend to take advantage of gizzard shad movements. Minnows are the obvious favorite of both anglers and crappies alike. Slip a minnow onto a gold-shanked hook and cast it to shallow wood and brush cover in the spring. Small jigs tipped with larval baits and minnows also provide good action.

Ultralight fishing gear works well to get your bait to cover without having to tote long poles. Cane poles are no longer a familiar sight and have been replaced by lightweight crappie rods and spinning reels these days.

Hamilton Lake has had its struggles with invasive plant species, such as curly leaf pondweed and Eurasian water milfoil, which have been treated to reduce these plant species presence in the lake. Add the sectional treatments of pesticides to the naturally fluctuating levels of native vegetation and the only way to pinpoint deeper weed edges, shallow cover and mid-depth crappie hangouts is to actually go on the lake and take a look around.

Hamilton Lake covers 802 acres in Steuben County, and is directly north of the town of Hamilton. For more information, contact District 2 at (260) 244-3720.

The Steuben County Tourism Bureau can be reached at 1-800-LAKE101 or online at www. lakes101.org.

MONROE LAKE
Few waters in Hoosierland offer crappies as big as those in Monroe Lake. It might be safe to say that as a general rule, these slabs are a step up from any other lake in the state.

In a 2007 fisheries survey, biologists collected a total of 1,362 crappies, biologist Dave Kittaka said. Ninety-six percent of these fish were white crappies. Like other flood-control reservoirs in Indiana, white crappies thrive in these conditions.

It gets even better, Kittaka said. Slabs

were checked during the survey that measured over 15 inches and weighed in at almost 2 pounds.

May and June are the top months to target whopper-sized crappies in the lake. As of July of last year, well over 1,200 fish had been harvested and most of them were measured during creel census interviews. Creel clerks got a treat when they put the tape on fish that were over 16 inches long.


He and a fishing partner recently took 50 crappies in a Bass Lake tournament, and most of these fish were from 10 to 11 inches long.
 

The lake flooded badly during the summer of 2007 and most anglers stayed at home, said Dedra Hawkins of The Fishin' Shedd in Bloomington. According to Hawkins, they missed their opportunity.

"We had the best year we've ever had on Monroe for crappies," Hawkins said. "The water was so high that we were literally fishing treetops. We caught a lot of fish and quite a few were 2 pounds-plus. This is an awesome lake."

Hawkins has fished Monroe for over 40 years. The current crappie production has been exceptional when compared with most years' fishing, but the lake always seems to produce well.

The Saddle Creek and Pine Grove areas are at the top of Hawkins' crappie stopovers throughout the year. The Morse Creek area and various coves rank nearly as high on the list. Fish the same areas when the water warms up for the summer months, but stay out in the deeper water.

Hawkins uses a 2-inch Southern Pro plastic grub on a 1/32- or 1/16-ounce jighead for the thick cover.

"If you think you can't get your jig down through the cover, then you're in the right spot," Hawkins said.

Crappie anglers are used to the post-spawn slowdown, but that isn't an issue on Monroe. Some of the biggest crappies of the year make their way through the bait shop even during the summer months.

Monroe Lake is the state's largest inland water at 10,750 acres. This massive reservoir is located in south- central Indiana, 10 miles southeast of Bloomington in Brown, Jackson and Monroe counties. The lake is accessible on secondary roads from state roads 37, 46 and 446.

For more information, contact District 6 at (812) 279-1215, the Monroe office at (812) 837-9546 or The Fishin' Shedd at (812) 837-9474.

Tourism information is available from the Bloomington/Monroe County CVB at (866) 333-0088, or online at www.visitbloomington.com.

BASS LAKE
Bass Lake has been a big surprise and no one saw it coming. According to biologist Bob Robertson, the fishery has taken off within the last few years without warning and the crappie fishing is exceptional.

"There are some big crappies in there," Robertson said.

White crappies dominate the lake, literally. Local angler Paul Byer assists biologists in electroshocking surveys on a part-time basis. He also enjoys fishing on his own time. He and a fishing partner recently took 50 crappies in a Bass Lake tournament, and most of these fish were from 10 to 11 inches long. This mess of fish went straight to the district fisheries office in the form of a fish fry and it fed the entire staff.

"The crappie fishing on Bass Lake is the best I've seen for a long time," Byer said. "The spring fishing had turned off, but within the last couple of years it's been good."

The spring hotspots are just off the submerged dredge channels. These channels can be from 12 to 15 feet deep and bordered by water only 2 or 3 feet deep. Move along in the shallow water and cast a minnow out into the deeper water to work the edges. A few of the channels have adjacent sandbars that are now marked by buoys.

Another early-season spot is called the Pocket. The area has a dark, mucky bottom that warms up in the sun, which draws in the cold-blooded slabs. A small jig can work fairly well in the woody cover in the Pocket area. The Pocket is north of the public boat ramp about 300 to 400 yards out from the shoreline.

The spot about 25 yards south of the public access ramp is also a good choice. The bottom is dark and the surrounding water is only a couple of feet deep.

Spring isn't the only time the fishing is good on Bass Lake. The crappies will bite all year long if you can find them. Byer has caught fish weighing nearly 3 pounds through the ice. There aren't many of these slabs, but there are a few. The lake seldom stratifies and allows the fish to go deep.

Eurasian water milfoil has been a problem. The DNR annually treats the lake with an herbicide to control the milfoil and some years clears out much of the natural vegetation as well. The lily pads on the northern shoreline were in good shape last year and provide good overhead cover and foraging opportunities for crappies.

The boat ramp is off SR 10 and was renovated in 2008. It's located two miles east of the intersection of SR 10 and U.S. 35. Bass Lake covers 1,400 acres in Starke County, five miles southeast of Knox.

Contact District 1 at (574) 896-3673 for more information.

To find accommodations, call the Knox Welcome Center at (877) 733-2736, or visit online at www.explore starkecounty.com.

LAKE OF THE WOODS
Lake of the Woods is a bit of a mystery water. Local anglers like Lance Gould have been having success, but the bite has been a tough one of late. Fisheries biologist Bob Robertson isn't sure about the lake based on an electrofishing survey.

But you just can't argue with success. Gould has been fishing for crappies on Lake of the Woods for years; he knows the inside scoop on how to tag the lake's big slabs.

"I've caught some respectable crappies on Lake of the Woods and there are some big ones in here," Gould said.

Once spring arrives, Gould is just as finicky as the crappies.

"I fish strictly with minnows under a bobber and a split shot," Gould said. "Keep it light with 4-pound-test line with a hook, minnow and a split shot."

The fish are still grouped together and can be found with a little persistence. They'll soon move back into deeper water or hover right at the thermocline. Finding the papermouths can be a tough assignment even for the old-timers on the lake.

Fishing the shadows is the key during the dog days of summer. Look for a raft or other structure over about 10 feet of water and toss a minnow into the shade. Crappies will be hanging in the slightly cooler weather to escape the sun. Deep weedlines and weedbeds are good places to try shado

w fishing as well, but getting the bait deep enough in the tangle can sometimes be a challenge. According to Gould, fishing open water on Lake of the Woods during the summer heat is a waste of time.

A couple of the channels have been dredged recently and Gould is keeping a sharp eye on them. These might be great spots during early spring.

As the ice leaves, start fishing in 17 feet of water and work your way in shallows because the fish will begin moving into pre-spawn and spawning positions. They'll be concentrated on structure and will really start to bite by Memorial Day weekend. After that, start checking the Conservation Club property area near the weeds.

Robertson reported poor results in the recent survey. Only four crappies showed up during the electrofishing, and the largest was only 8 inches long. Whether the poor survey results in 2007 indicate a catastrophic downswing in the population or simply show how elusive these slabs can be is anyone's guess.

According to Roberson, part of the problem may be the growing white bass population, which was illegally introduced several years ago. White bass are very aggressive and tend to elbow their way into the dinner table leaving other predators on the sidelines. Other species were well represented in the survey and included walleyes, bluegills and bass.

Lake of the Woods covers 416 acres in Marshall County southwest of Bremen on West Shore Drive.

For more information, contact the District 1 at (574) 896-3673.

For tourism information, call the Marshall County Tourism Bureau at (800) 626-5353, or visit online at www. marshallcountytourism.org.

Visit the Division of Fish and Wildlife's Web site at www.state.in.us/dnr/fishwild/index.html for additional information.

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