Ice-Fishing Picks In Indiana: 6 Best Bets

Silver and Rockville lakes are just two of six waters that local experts chose as hot hardwater places to be this month. Is one near you? (December 2005)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

It's time for ice-fishing again in Indiana! Hardwater angling enthusiasts, who have waited patiently since last winter, will soon be rewarded. Cold winter winds and dropping temperatures will set the annual ice-making machine in motion, and by Christmas (with any luck), there will be safe ice for eager ice-fishermen to venture out upon.

Most Hoosier ice-fishermen are hoping that the weather this December and January will be a bit friendlier than it was last year. Last winter featured wild temperature swings that hampered good ice production and harassed fishermen. Some anglers never drilled a hole all season.

Last Jan. 1, the daytime high temperature in the northwest part of the state was a balmy 53 degrees. Four days later, the temperature had dropped into the mid-20s and 8 inches of snow had fallen. On the following day, the mercury dropped to 13 degrees. Good ice was just starting to get a foothold when a sudden warm front moved in to spoil the party. Temperatures soared to 60 degrees by mid-January, and heavy rains ruined the newly formed ice.

Rollercoaster weather patterns of that sort are the enemy of ice-fishermen everywhere. No one knows what the weather will be like this winter, but let's hope the ice will arrive before Christmas and linger into March. Regardless of when the first safe ice appears, though, rest assured that ice-fishermen around the state will be ready and willing to get out and wet a line.

Although some Hoosier ice-anglers will head for their favorite lakes, others are always on the lookout for new hotspots. Still, others aren't sure where to start. Well, look no farther. Indiana Game & Fish has identified five (six, actually) excellent places to fish to help narrow your choice. They include Holem and Cook lakes in Marshall County, Silver Lake in Steuben County, Rockville Lake in Parke County, Whitewater Lake in Union County and Ferdinand State Forest (SF) Lake in Dubois County.

HOLEM AND COOK LAKES

Since safe ice usually comes first to the northern part of the state, let's start with Holem and Cook lakes in Marshall County. Although these are separate lakes, they are connected by a common channel and are treated as one body of water by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR). These two lakes are just southwest of Plymouth, and are also connected (via culvert) to another popular fishing lake -- Mill Pond. Holem and Cook comprise a total of only 133 surface acres, but they are an excellent place for ice-fishermen to pursue panfish. Jeremy Price, the District 1 assistant fisheries biologist for the DNR, was quick to single out these lakes as a great fishing destination.

"That whole chain of lakes is among the best bluegill waters that we have," he said. "We surveyed Holem and Cook in 2002 and got great numbers of big redear and bluegill sunfish."

"We collected 1,281 fish in that survey, and 905 were bluegills ranging in size from just under 2 inches to 9.3 inches," Price said. "But the real story is the size of the bluegills. More than 10 percent of the bluegills that we caught were 7.5 inches long, and almost 15 percent were 8 inches long or better. It's a great-looking bluegill population!"

The resident redear sunfish are also doing very well. According to the survey data, redears were second only to bluegills in relative abundance, and individual fish as large as 10.6 inches were sampled. Really big redears also made up a very large percentage of the sample, as 11 percent were 9 inches long, and more than 12 percent were at least 9.5 inches. As if that wasn't good enough, a whopping 14 percent of the redear sampled were 10 inches long or better! Those numbers speak volumes.

Ice-anglers who are interested in other species besides bluegill and redear sunfish need not worry. Largemouth bass are also present, although not in extremely high numbers. Yellow perch and black crappies are relatively abundant. Perch were found up to 11.3 inches long in the survey, and crappies up to 11.4 inches were measured. There are also warmouth and pumpkinseed sunfish to add variety to the catch.

According to Price, the maximum depth is 52 feet and the average depth is about 15 feet. Anglers interested in catching a bunch of yellow perch should look to the deeper water and fish near the bottom. Many of the other panfish will be found in shallower water.

SILVER LAKE

Beautiful Silver Lake in Steuben County can be found almost straight west of Angola, one mile west of Interstate 69 and just south of U.S. Route 20. This 238-acre body of water is popular with local fishermen, both for numbers and size of fish that can be caught. Although the lake has a maximum depth of only 38 feet, the average depth is 20 feet -- which provides plenty of space for the thriving fish populations.

Neil Ledet, the District 2 fisheries biologist for the DNR, gives Silver Lake the nod when it comes to a good ice-fishing destination in northeastern Indiana. "Silver Lake produces some nice 8- to 9-inch bluegills and 9- to 10-inch redears, too. It also has some decent northern pike that can keep guys fishing tip-ups on the move."

One of the more popular fishing spots on the lake is on the north shore between the large cattail peninsula and the shoreline. Ledet's assistant fisheries biologist Larry Koza often fishes Silver Lake during the winter months and agrees that this area usually holds plenty of fish. "It is the most popular spot for bluegills," Koza said. "There is a big hole in the lake that is 17 or 18 feet deep, and the whole area is surrounded by shallow water."

Koza also recommends fishing for yellow perch in the deep hole in front of the church off U.S. Route 20. The bottom dips to 30 feet in that area, and fishermen catch perch up to about 12 inches right there. "Silver Lake produces some nice perch," Ledet said, "but ice-anglers have to keep moving every day or two to keep up with these schooling fish, which typically move a lot during the winter."

Perch fishermen generally use live minnows for bait here, but when they are searching for fish, they often use heavy minnow-imitating ice jigs until they get some action. Most pike fishermen use large, lively golden shiner minnows with their tip-ups, although there are still some anglers who swear by large dead minnows. As usual, it pays to experiment.

According to Ledet, the state hoped to complete a public access site on this lake last summer. "Even if the site is not completed this year, ice-anglers will be able to get to the lake from the state-owned public access site lot," he said. "To reach the site off U

.S. Route 20, go south on 360 W. to Lane 70, then go east to the next lane and turn right to the site."

ROCKVILLE LAKE

Located just a little north of the town of Rockville in Parke County, Rockville Lake has been somewhat of a "secret spot" for local fishermen for many years. Although it is a fairly small impoundment (100 acres), it consistently produces impressive numbers of bluegill and redear sunfish.

When asked about the current status of Rockville Lake's fish populations, District 5 fisheries biologist Rhett Wisener reported that everything was looking good. "It's one of our better quality panfish lakes in the west-central part of the state. The lake is only 100 acres, and usually the smaller lakes are better quality panfish waters."

Recent DNR survey results definitely back up Wisener's statements. In the spring of 2003, the lake was surveyed and bluegills dominated the catch (slightly more than 50 percent by number). Bluegills ranging in size from 1.6 to 9.8 inches were sampled, and two very large year-classes of fish were found (age 1 and age 2). Bluegill growth was also well above average when compared to bluegills in other central Indiana lakes, and the growth was identical to bluegill growth measured in the previous survey (completed in 2001).

"Bluegills were the most abundant, which is what we like to see," Wisener said. "Bluegills at age 3 here are averaging almost 7.5 inches. At age 4, they are averaging nearly 9 inches long. So with those two year-classes found in 2003 (if they maintain the same good growth rates), there may be a heck of a group of bluegills out there between 7 to 9 inches long this year!"

There are huge redear sunfish in Rockville, too. "The biggest one that we saw in the survey was 11.4 inches long," Wisener said. "This lake produces some really good quality fish. Redears made up about 11 percent of the fish caught in the survey, which is a pretty good percentage of redears. Many times, it's only about 5 percent of the total, even at some of our better lakes. Many of the fish we saw were 1- and 2-year-olds, but at Rockville some of the 2-year-old fish were already up to nearly 8 inches long!" How's that for excellent growth?

Although ice-fishing was not always allowed at Rockville Lake in the past, it is allowed now. For more information about the lake or to check on local ice conditions, call the park office at (765) 569-6541.

WHITEWATER LAKE

In southeast Indiana, 199-acre Whitewater Lake in Whitewater Memorial State Park will be a great place to fish this winter. Whitewater Lake is located in Union County on the north end of Brookville Reservoir, about two miles from the town of Liberty. Although the lake is small, it does have fairly deep water, with a maximum depth of about 46 feet.

Whitewater Lake was drained and renovated in 2001 because of a spillway reconstruction project and rough fish overpopulation problems (carp and gizzard shad). In November of 2001, the lake was re-stocked with approximately 150,000 bluegills (0.8 inch average), 99,600 redears (0.9 inch), 30,000 largemouth bass (4.3 inches) and 10,000 channel catfish (8.3 inches). In the spring of 2002, more than 15,000 additional channel catfish (3.6 inches) and 220 adult largemouth bass (11.5 inches) were stocked.

In fall of 2002, black crappies were also added to the lake. A total of 21,500 crappies (averaging 2 inches) were stocked to bolster the panfish populations. The DNR typically stocks crappies a little later than bass and bluegills to let them become established before the crappies arrive. When they are younger, bluegills (in particular) and crappies compete directly with each other.

Biologist Rhett Wisener also manages the fishery at Whitewater, and he expects great things at this lake. "In a newly renovated lake, fish will grow extremely fast," he said. "We surveyed Whitewater in the spring of 2004 and found bluegills up to nearly 9 inches long. The average size was about 6 inches. There was also a big group of fish that were 5 to 7 inches long, so this year most of those fish will be in the 7- to 9-inch size range. There is just a tremendous number of bluegills, and the growth is still really good out there."

The redear population is doing well, also. "We found redears up over 9 inches long," Wisener reported. "It is certainly feasible to believe that there are bigger redears out there. Just like with bluegills, we are not always going to see the biggest fish in the lake. Most of the redears that we found there were 7 to 9 inches long, so Whitewater is definitely the place to go for quality fish."

Besides the sunfish, there are a lot of largemouth bass in the lake now, too. This should be the year that anglers see a large percentage of bass hit the 14-inch size. "It looks like last year there was a big group of fish just under 10 inches," Wisener said. "They may have been pushing 12 inches by the end of 2004, and it would not surprise me if some of those fish would be at or near the 14-inch size limit by the end of this year."

Before the lake renovation, the water clarity was very poor because of the overpopulations of carp and shad. As a result, aquatic vegetation had become almost nonexistent. Since the renovation, the water clarity has improved dramatically and submerged weedbeds have become very abundant. This should increase the amount of productive habitat for panfish and bass, and benefit the fishery in general.

FERDINAND STATE FOREST LAKE

Ferdinand State Forest (SF) Lake in southern Indiana's Dubois County can be hit or miss when it comes to safe ice for winter fishermen, but when the deep freeze gets into high gear, it can be a great place to go. Since the lake is only 42 acres, it tends to freeze quicker and keep its ice a little longer than some of the other larger lakes in the area, too. Just keep an eye on the weather.

This small lake is located in Ferdinand SF, which is about seven miles east of Ferdinand. Historically, the lake has always possessed a very good bluegill fishery, and a recent survey earlier this year confirmed that fact. According to fisheries biologist Dan Carnahan from District 7, "We saw tons of big bluegills there during our bass sampling this spring.

"The lake has very good populations of bluegills, redears and black crappies. We saw bluegills up to 8.6 inches long, redears up to 10.1 inches, and crappies up to 12 inches. There was a good abundance of 7- to 8.5-inch bluegills, too," Carnahan said.

Channel catfish are stocked here every two years, so there is always a chance for a bonus catfish.

Bass fishermen should be aware of the bass management plans that were implemented here in 2002. A 12- to 15-inch bass slot limit went into effect (bass less than 12 inches and larger than 15 inches can be harvested), which resulted in improved bass fishing. The DNR survey completed on the lake in 2003 showed bass between 12 and 15 inches had become more abundant than at any time since the lake was renovated in 1981.

As far as where to fish, Carnahan suggests trying along the south end of the lake for winter bluegills and redears. "Try

the south shoreline near the dam," he said. "There are some fallen trees in deep water there."

The timber will attract fish, but just be aware of how thick the ice is at all times. You don't want to find a thin spot and fall through!

As you prepare your ice-fishing gear for this season, keep some of the lakes above in mind. They can provide first-rate hardwater action for a variety of species. Chances are good that at least one of them is located close to you. If not, pack up the car and make a wintry road trip!

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