5-Plus Indiana Hardwater Hotspots

5-Plus Indiana Hardwater Hotspots

There's no better time than right now to drill for crappies, walleyes, yellow perch and more in our state. One of these great picks is surely near you! (December 2009)

Ice-fishing season is finally here! For those of us who relish the thought of bundling up in heavy parkas, insulated snowmobile suits, thick hats, gloves, boots and a wide array of other garments, the hardwater season couldn't come soon enough. We love drilling holes in the ice; but the real joy is in setting the hook and pulling a trophy walleye or monster-sized panfish through the hole. That's what keeps us coming back for more every year!

As usual, there is always some doubt and concern about when the ice will be safe enough to venture out upon. Will we have enough cold weather to generate 4 or 5 inches of good ice before Christmas? Or will we have to wait until the beginning of January? No one knows for sure, but all ice-fishermen hope that Old Man Winter will put his ice-making machine in high gear and get things started early!

Last year, at least in the northern half of the state, we skipped the late-fall period and went straight to winter. The temperature regularly dipped into the single digits at night, and by the third week of December, there were ice-fishermen out on some of the area lakes. First ice often brings hot action, and that was definitely the case last year.

Of course, these days it seems like it just wouldn't be normal to continue with the cold weather for the rest of the winter. The day after Christmas, a big warm front moved into the area, bringing rain and 60-degree temperatures. Ice-fishing was put on hold. But after a week or so, normal temperatures returned and the ice began to recover.

By the second week in January, an arctic blast moved back into Indiana, bringing temperatures down to the single digits again. On Jan. 14, the temperature dropped below the zero mark and didn't rise above zero for nearly three days! In the northern parts of the state, the temperature dropped to minus 20 degrees! Safe ice forms quickly at those temperatures!

No one can predict what the weather will be like this winter, but hardwater anglers around the state hope that it will be cold. Better yet, they hope that the weather remains stable and that there will be no wild temperature swings that constantly weaken the ice. Once the ice-fishing season opens, we hope that it sticks around for several weeks!

As soon as the ice is safe, Hoosier ice-fishermen will make a beeline for the nearest fishing hole. Since there is a multitude of impoundments and natural lakes to choose from in our state, Indiana Game & Fish magazine has singled out several excellent places that you should try this winter to simplify your choice. They include: The Shakamak State Park lakes in the southwestern part of the state, Pike Lake in north-central Indiana, Crooked Lake and Goose Lake in the northeastern "natural lakes" region, and Pretty Lake in extreme northeast Indiana.

SHAKAMAK STATE PARK LAKES
Shakamak State Park (SP) in southwestern Indiana covers a total of 1,766 acres in Greene, Sullivan and Clay counties. The park is located only about a half hour drive (southeast) from Terre Haute, and is almost due west of Jasonville. Shakamak is dominated by a series of three impoundments, and these lakes attract plenty of fishermen throughout the year.

The three lakes in the park were once a single body of water, but now spillways separate them. The largest of the trio is Kickapoo Lake (290 acres), followed by Shakamak Lake (56 acres) and Lenape Lake (49 acres). Since impounding Big Branch Creek formed the lakes, flooded creek arms characterize all three with fairly steep dropoffs along the banks.

According to Debbie King, the District 6 assistant fisheries biologist for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Shakamak SP lakes are excellent places to wet a line.

"All three lakes have good-sized bluegills, redear sunfish and crappies, and an occasional nice bass or catfish," she said. Bass anglers should keep in mind the fact that these lakes have a 12- to 15-inch slot limit for largemouth bass.

Kickapoo Lake features the deepest water in the park (40 feet), and the old creek channel meanders somewhat through the center of the lake until it meets the dam. There are plenty of small coves and creek arms to fish, but there is also a lot of underwater structure out on the main lake.

"There is an old raised roadbed that crosses the lake straight out from the boat ramp to the opposite shore. Try your luck about 15 to 20 feet deep," recommends King. "Also, try near the boat rental dock area."

Shakamak Lake covers a mere 56 acres, but it can produce some nice crappie and bluegill catches. Past DNR lake surveys have found bluegills up to 9 inches long here, along with black crappies that were nearly 13 inches. The shallower water of this lake attracts most fishermen, but there are still 15- to 20-foot depths just off the points that are worth checking out.

The smallest of the lakes, Lenape, is the favorite of many local panfish anglers. One good spot to try is straight out from the boat dock area. "There is an old creek bed that runs through there," said biologist King. To tempt the resident panfish, King advises the use of live bait. "For icefishing, anglers report that grubs like mousies and spikes work really well," she said. "You also can't go wrong with bee moths on an ice jig."

Shakamak SP maintains several cabins that are available to rent throughout the year, and they are ideal for people interested in setting up an extended ice-fishing trip. For more information, call the Shakamak SP office at (812) 665-2158.

CROOKED LAKE
Crooked Lake near Columbia City is well known among the area's residents as an excellent place for a day of fishing. Straddling the line between Noble and Whitley counties, this 206-acre body of water is also the second deepest natural lake in the state, with a maximum depth of 108 feet. The extremely clear, deep water is home to a variety of game fish, including bluegills, sunfish, yellow perch, largemouth bass and ciscoes, just to name a few.

District 3 fisheries biologist Jed Pearson points to Crooked Lake as a productive ice-fishing spot this year.

"Top species include bluegills up to 8.5 inches and yellow perch up to 12 inches," he said. "Over the past few years," continued Pearson, "Crooked Lake has been a consistent producer of bluegills."

Most of the lake's bluegills have been in the 7- to 8-inch size range recently, but there are some dandies present, too. Previous lake surveys have documented bluegills nearly 10 inches in length here.

There is an abundance of dropoffs and breaklines for anglers to fish here in the wintertime, including several deep holes and submerged humps. Shallow-water spots are limited to the shoreline areas and the small islands on the west side of the lake. According to Pearson, one of the most popular spots is close to the public access site near state Route 109. "Most anglers target bluegills there in 8 to 15 feet of water, over patches of remnant vegetation," he said.

Perch can be a bit tougher to find than the bluegills, and they tend to move around a lot. Just because you find them in a certain area one day does not mean that they will be back anytime soon! Use ice jigs or live minnows and concentrate your efforts near the bottom. DNR data shows that most yellow perch are in the 9-inch size range right now, but they normally run about 10 inches.

Ciscoes are usually caught here during the early-ice period (but not in great numbers) by anglers using tiny ice jigs tipped with bee moths. The northwest corner of the lake near the boat ramp is one of the places where they traditionally show up. They are nice-sized fish, though, since lake survey data shows that they can average about 17 inches in length.

PRETTY LAKE
Pretty Lake is a nice little fishing hole in LaGrange County, and it has been a favorite of local anglers for a very long time. This 184-acre lake is located about two miles west of the small town of Stroh, and like Crooked Lake it is very deep. The maximum depth is 82 feet here, but the lake is not just one deep pit. There are small underwater islands, holes and breaklines providing lots of places for fish to hide.

Larry Koza, the District 2 assistant fisheries biologist for the DNR, says that Pretty Lake is a great ice-fishing spot for a variety of fish.

"The primary species of interest for ice-anglers are bluegills, redear sunfish, yellow perch, northern pike and walleyes," he said. As soon as safe ice forms on the lake, fishermen begin targeting their favorite quarry.

"Bluegills are probably the most sought-after species during the winter, and there are some large ones in Pretty Lake," said Koza.

Previous lake surveys have shown that there are bluegills up to nearly 10 inches in length here, and Koza reported that there are still good numbers of 9-inchers present.

"Perch also get fairly big in the lake, as 12-inchers are not unusual," he said. "In the past, perch anglers have had good luck along the south portion of the east shoreline, where there used to be a water slide."

There are quite a few good places to fish on the lake, but much of the water is deeper than most ice-anglers want to fish (40 to 75 feet). Shallow flats ring the lake, and the edges of the dropoffs to deeper water can be very productive.

"There is a pretty good spot for bluegills just north of the boat ramp," continued Koza. It's a convenient spot since the public access site is located nearby on the western shore.

The most popular fishing spot on the lake, however, is an area known as Jobe's Hole. It is located in the northeast corner of the lake in the middle of some shallow, weedy flats. The hole itself is a little over 10 feet deep, and bull bluegills and big sunfish are attracted to it like a magnet. When the bite is on, you won't have any trouble finding it. Just look for the crowds!

Walleye fishing can be hot here, too, since the DNR has stocked walleyes in Pretty Lake every year since 1993.

"Walleye anglers often fish around a submerged island just northeast of the access site," advised Koza. Live minnows are great for tempting the toothy marble-eyed fish, but lures like artificial jigging minnows are also good.

PIKE LAKE
Pike Lake in Kosciusko County is a 228-acre natural lake that is located right on the north side of Warsaw. Since it is situated so closely to a heavily populated area, it gets plenty of fishing pressure. However, anglers still do pretty well here. The lake's population of largemouth bass, walleyes, bluegills, crappies, white bass and catfish seem to be very healthy.

According to Rod Edgell, the DNR's District 4 assistant fisheries biologist, Pike Lake will be a good bet for ice-fishermen this winter.

"You can catch quite a few different species by jigging right out in front of the beach," he said. "Channel catfish, white bass and walleyes are pretty common catches through the ice. Anglers can also find numbers of bluegills and crappies."

Edgell and other biologists from the district performed a creel survey on Pike last year, along with some targeted fish sampling. Although the final report has not yet been finalized, the data showed that both the panfish and predator fish populations are doing well.

"Bluegills were caught up to 9 inches, while crappies run 8 to 10 inches," reported Edgell. "White bass range from 12 to 15 inches, and channel cats get up to 30 inches." That's not bad, especially when you consider that there is also a good walleye fishery here. "We have been stocking the lake with walleyes, and they are plentiful," agreed Edgell. "They can stretch over 25 inches."

The ice-fishing begins to heat up as soon as the ice is safe, and that's when anglers begin to search out productive areas. Edgell advises that as far as aquatic vegetation is concerned, there is not much beyond about 4 or 5 feet deep. In the shallows, though, anglers will find a lot of naiads and some milfoil. Look along the deeper edges of those weeds for good panfish action.

There is good public access here and anglers will find plenty of parking at the city park.

GOOSE LAKE
Whitley County's Goose Lake can be found a few miles to the northwest of Columbia City, and it is somewhat of a sleeper lake. It doesn't seem to get the fishing pressure of other larger, better-known waters, and no one is complaining. Although it covers only 84 surface acres, there always seems to be plenty of room for the anglers who fish it.

The lake itself is somewhat oblong and shaped like a bean, and it has an extremely deep hole out in the center. The maximum depth there is 69 feet. There is another deep hole to the northwest where the depth reaches 65 feet, and there are some good break­lines to fish around both of these spots.

Biologist Rod Edgell is also responsible for the management of this lake, and he says that this is one lake that anglers should visit soon. "The fishery is fantastic," he beamed. "The yellow perch, bluegills and redear sunfish are plentiful, and they are big."

He should know, because he helped perform a lake survey here in 2009. The report had not been finalized by press time, but Edgell was able to summarize much of the data from the survey.

"We saw bluegills up to 10 inches," he said, "and redears up to 11 inches." Those are some hefty pa

nfish indeed! He also reported that yellow perch up to 13 inches were recorded during the survey. Largemouth bass are present in the lake, too.

There is a fair amount of vegetation in Goose Lake, and the weedlines often hold numbers of fish. One spot in particular that attracts anglers is the deeper water at the south end of the lake. The depth varies anywhere from 20 to 30 feet (maybe even a little deeper), and this can be a good place to find schools of dandy-sized yellow perch and bull bluegills. Live baits like wigglers and bee moths are dynamite for both species.

These lakes are certainly not your only ice-fishing choices this winter, but they might help get you started. Just be sure that the ice is safe before you venture out on any lake for a day of hardwater angling. Have fun and be safe!

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