Metro Indiana's Hot Ice-Fishing

Fine hardwater angling is possible for residents of South Bend, Elkhart, Indianapolis and many other metro areas throughout Indiana. Here are five to consider right now. (December 2007)

Photo by TimLesmeister.

City dwellers will find plenty of good ice-fishing this year just a stone's throw from home. There may only be a few weeks of solid ice, but when the ice is on, the bite can be hot. If you live in one of the state's urban areas, here's where you'll find some great hardwater action this year.

LAKE GEORGE

Hardwater anglers willing to drive to some great fishing are in for a treat this year. Lake George is within range of anglers from South Bend, Elkhart, Angola and Fort Wayne, and it is a lake that is more than worth the trip.

"I'd recommend Lake George for northern pike this winter," fisheries biologist Neil Ledet said. "This lake is the best spot for northerns in the northeastern corner of the state. All you need is a tip-up with a minnow or a jig and they'll tear you up."

Pike in the lake run from 25 to 30 inches, though most of them will be less than 22 inches in length. Even the smaller ones are powerhouses with razor-sharp teeth. Northern pike are not known for being fussy about what they eat. A big pike will eat fish up to one-third its own size and thinks nothing of refuting an angler's claim to who's boss.

The lake's average depth is just over 20 feet. If green vegetation can be located, there should be some pike close by.

When it's time for lure selection, jigs and jigging spoons complement live minnows well. Choose colors to mimic the lake's yellow perch, golden shiners and smaller pike. Northern pike will take a variety of baits, but matching the hatch is always a good bet. Pike will cruise right under the ice where the dissolved oxygen is concentrated. The hard surface seems to free them of their obsession with cover.

Assistant fisheries biologist Jeremy Price is more impressed with the lake's crappies.

"I've been told by several anglers that they've caught some really big crappies," Price said. "During our surveys, most of them were little guys, but some were in the 7- to 9-inch bracket with a couple over 13 inches."

Good-sized redears showed up in recent surveys as well, especially on the northern shoreline just to the east of the boat launch. Anglers can expect to see 'gills pushing quality sizes, too, Price said.

The lake is best known for its crappies, said Randy Dammarell of Lake George Bait and Tackle. The biggest he's personally seen was a 14-inch fish; of late, though, the bluegill, bass and channel catfish fisheries have been coming on strong.

Lake George covers 509 acres in Steuben County, Indiana, and Branch County, Michigan.

For more information, contact the District 2 office at (260) 829-6241 or the Lake George Bait and Tackle at (219) 945-1907. Local lodging information can be obtained by calling the Steuben County Tourism Bureau at (800) 525-3101.

BLUE LAKE

"Blue Lake near Churubusco has been a popular bluegill ice-fishing lake for many years and is only about 20 miles northwest of Fort Wayne," fisheries biologist Jed Pearson said.

Bluegill and crappie action is the draw to Blue Lake.

"I normally fish with spikes or wax worms for bluegills and crappies that are holding deep this time of the year," said Dave Bailey, a resident angler.

"I usually fish over 10 to 15 feet of water for crappies," Bailey said. "For bluegills, you have to look for the greener weeds and then fish right on the edges of the weedbeds."

The bluegills aren't as large as they used to be, Bailey said, but the crappies are running anywhere from the usual 8- or 9-inchers up to 12 and 13 inches.

Hotspots on Blue Lake include Horseshoe Bay and the northwest corner of the lake. These areas are shallower than the main-lake basin and have good weed cover all year long. Another top crappie location is the long point that tapers out onto the weed flat. The crappies will move up onto the flat to feed.

Bluegill fishing happens during the daylight hours. The crappie fishing is a different can of worms, Bailey said. He generally goes out onto the ice about a half hour before sundown and stays out until a couple of hours after dark.

There is also the likelihood of tangling with a largemouth bass even in the dead of winter.

"I've seen some nice bass come out from under the ice," Bailey said. "Most guys are catching them with Jig-n-Raps near the sunken islands. I've even seen a couple of bass anglers on the area with tip-ups, though I don't know how well they're doing."

The public access ramp is on the southern end of the lake off E. Harold Place, a separate road from the connected E. Harold Road. Ice-anglers can access the lake from this point, though it's a quarter-mile walk out to Horseshoe Bay. Both the northwestern corner of the lake and Horseshoe Bay tend to freeze over first. Blue Lake gets very little safe ice, so always check before venturing out.

The last DNR angler creel survey was several years ago. It's notable that well over 1,200 anglers were interviewed, and of these, 88 percent of them said that the fishery was improving, according to fisheries biologist Ed Braun.

Hotspots on Blue Lake include Horseshoe Bay and the northwest corner of the lake. These areas are shallower than the main-lake basin and have good weed cover all year long.

Not surprisingly, many anglers were fishing exclusively for the lake's bluegills. Many were fishing for panfish in general and several were looking for largemouth bass along with the bluegills and crappies.

Blue Lake covers 239 acres in Whitley County. It has an average depth of 26 feet. For more information, contact the District 3 office at (260) 244-6805. Fort Wayne tourism information is available by calling (800) 767-7752.

SCALES LAKE

"Scales Lake in Boonville is a good ice-fishing destination," fisheries biologist Dan Carnahan said. "Down here during a cold winter, we usually only have two weeks of safe ice, so most people are fishing the farm ponds and smaller lakes. The good thing about the short ice-fishing season is that we're always fishing either first or late ice, so the fishing is pretty good."

Several Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) surveys have been conducted on this Evansville-area lake since 1963. The bluegill fishing has been good for years and the most recent survey shows that the lake still offers good angling.

What Carnahan found was a lake loaded with bluegills and redear sunfish. The largemouth bass weren't bragging sized, so a 12- to 15-inch protected slot limit was instituted to increase the sizes.

The bluegill fishing is excellent. Fish in the 9-inch range were sampled during the survey with plenty of frying pan-sized fish to go around.

Biologists found redears that were over 10 inches. These tackle-busters came in second place in terms of species abundance behind bluegills. Black crappies and channel cats are in the lake but not nearly as numerous as the other panfish. A minnow under a float might take a crappie, or maybe one of the bonus winter bass.

As a rule, the fishing is pretty good year 'round, said park employee Cheri Ellis. The crappies, bluegills and redear sunfish are usually accommodating.

Access around the lake is good. The lake is part of the Scales Lake Park in the Warrick County Park and Recreation District. It's close enough for Evansville anglers to make a day trip of it and the fishing is good enough to make the trip worthwhile.

The lake is small but mighty at only 66 acres. It resembles one of the area's strip-mined pits with a small dam and depths reaching 20 feet in the main-lake basin on the eastern end.

To reach the lake from Boonville, take state Route (SR) 62 east. Veer onto Walnut Street for about three blocks, then turn left onto Park Lane Drive and follow it to the park entrance. The park lies northeast of both Evansville and Boonville in southwestern Indiana.

An entrance fee is charged on a per-car basis. The public launch is located off SR 61. The park is open year 'round with cabins and campsites available in the park campground for the stout of heart. Visit www.scaleslakepark.com for rental prices.

For more information, contact the District 7 office at (812) 789-2724 or the Scales Lake Park at (812) 897-6200. The Evansville Convention and Visitor's Bureau can be reached at (800) 433-3025.

WESTWOOD RUN LAKE

"My recommendation for Indianapolis anglers would be to head over to New Castle, which is about an hour's drive from Indy," fisheries biologist Rhett Wisener said. "Anglers can take their pick of Province Pond at 60 acres, Summit Lake at 800 acres or Westwood Run Lake at 173 acres."

All three offer the chance to catch quality-sized bluegills, redears and crappies, Wisener said. Bass are abundant in all three, but what tops the pick are the yellow perch in Westwood Run.

According to Max Jordan of the LD Bait and Tackle shop, ice-anglers did very well on Westwood last winter.

"Ice-fishermen caught a little bit of everything," Jordan said. "They caught a lot of bluegills, crappies, redears and even a lot of catfish, all of them through the ice."

Lake of the Woods in Marshall County has been the scene of intensive walleye stocking for over 10 years and now is the time to reap the benefits.

There may only be two or three weeks of good ice, but when Westwood freezes over the bite is on. Jordan is certain that the bigger bluegills are caught during the coldwater months, while the smaller ones are more commonly taken in the summertime. Expect 'gills from 7 to 8 inches, while crappies will be in the 9- to 11-inch range.

The lake's weedbeds and slight dropoffs are the key locations. For anglers unfamiliar with the lake, just look for the power lines. The lines are right where the weedbeds stretch across the width of the lake.

Jordan recommends dropping bait until it touches the bottom and then lifting it about 12 inches. If the fish aren't hitting, adjust the depth until you start to connect with fish. Target the outside weed edges and below the top of the flats, along the gradual dropoff, to pick up fish that are holding below the weedlines. Holes in the ice and anglers will be a dead giveaway as to where the more productive spots are located.

Mousies and bee moth grubs are top producers on this lake, according to Jordan. Biting during the winter season isn't the norm for channel cats, but so many have been stocked into the lake by the DFW that when an angler sets the hook, a catfish might be on the other end of the line. Local ice-anglers who fish the lake frequently aren't surprised when they hook one.

"The anglers tell me that the cats tear up their equipment," Jordan said. "When you find a school of catfish, you can catch several of them at a time."

Most of the lake averages between 10 and 20 feet deep, but it plummets to 44 feet near the dam and in the main-lake basin.

Westwood Run Lake has a public boat ramp off county Road 275W on the southwest end of the lake. The lake is southwest of New Castle in Henry County.

For more information, contact District 5 at (765) 342-5527 or the LD Bait and Tackle at (765) 529-5510. Tourism information is available from the Henry County Convention and Visitor's Bureau at (800) 676-4302.

LAKE OF THE WOODS

Lake of the Woods in Marshall County has been the scene of intensive walleye stocking for over 10 years and now is the time to reap the benefits.

"Walleyes are now the draw for Lake of the Woods," fisheries biologist Bob Robertson said.

"We've been stocking walleyes at Lake of the Woods annually and they can be taken through the ice. For the most part, anglers are jigging with minnows, setting tip-ups baited with minnows or using small Rapala jigs and Swedish Pimples when the lake freezes over."

The 'eyes tend to hang low to the bottom when the winter weather arrives. They can be found as far down as 30 feet, depending on conditions, and anglers are going to have to work for them.

Walleyes are actively feeding throughout the hardwater season and will hit jigs when they're well presented. Minnow heads or whole minnows can be put onto treble hooks of the jig for added attraction. Replacing the tiny trebles with a single hook or next size up treble shouldn't hurt the bait's action.

Using light tackle to detect subtle strikes is crucial. Line shouldn't be over 6-pound-test and a light-action rod will allow even cold fingers to feel when the bait is hit. Ice-fishermen should make absolutely certain that their tip-ups and reels run smoothly. The fish should not be able to feel the slightest resistance when it takes the bait. Light line with only a split shot or two is the rule of thumb with a lightly hooked, lively minnow on a small hook.

Lures that flutter and vibrate work well when ice-fishermen gently use a lift-drop jigging presentation. Let the lure rest between the lift and the drop and vary the amount of time between lifts. Bounce the lure off the bottom on occasion and generally keep it within a few feet of the bottom.

However, there's more than 'eyes under the ice.

"There's some improved bluegill ice-fishing for a change," Robertson said.

Recent years have produced some nice 'gills, but not like the lake used to pump them out. White bass were illegally stocked and made a big inroad into the local fish population. The numbers of white bass have declined, but even in their own right, silvers have created new winter fishing opportunities. Last year was particularly good with nice sizes and numbers of white bass hitting the bucket.

Anglers can step into a mixed bag on this lake. Yellow perch, black and white crappies, bluegills, pumpkinseeds, redears, hybrid sunfish, white bass and largemouth bass are all possibilities.

Lake of the Woods is located southwest of Bremer on West Shore Drive in Marshall County. It covers 416 acres with an average depth of 16 feet and a maximum of 30 feet. The public launch is off West Shore Drive.

For additional information, contact the District 1 office at (574) 896-3673. For tourism information, contact the Marshall County Tourism Bureau at (800) 626-5353.

The Hoosier State may only have two or three weeks of safe ice every year. Don't take chances on spongy or slushy ice. Ice should be at least 4 inches thick for safe walking and 5 inches for snowmobiles.

For more information, visit the DFW online at www.in.gov/dnr.fishwild.

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