Indiana'™s Fabulous Fall Fishing

Now isn't the time to put away your rods and reels just yet, not with our state's fine fall fishing for muskies, walleyes, hybrid stripers and more. Are one of these hotspots near you? (September 2007)

Photo by Eric Engbretson.

Right now is a peak time to enjoy some great fishing! Plenty of people indulge themselves in spring and summer fishing, but these same folks often miss the great angling opportunities available during the fall. So, don't put up that fishing gear just because the weather is cooling down. After all, some of the best fishing of the year is yet to come.

Most every angler is thrilled in spring when the weather begins warming and the water temperature starts climbing. Spring means spawning time for many fish species and that usually means great fishing. Who wouldn't be thrilled then?

However, another peak time is just around the corner. As the heat of summer fades, many things change making fall a great time to catch fish. Oxygen levels increase and fish begin moving more. Most game fish species begin feeding for the long winter to come and are eager to take an angler's offerings. With some species, the best fishing of the entire year is during fall.

Another advantage to fall fishing is the lack of angling pressure. Most all of the recreational traffic from pleasure boaters and skiers has come to a halt. As mentioned, many anglers have left the waters as well. This leaves those anglers who do fish a much quieter, calmer lake with fish that are not pounded with things to eat every day. Overall, it simply means great fishing.

There are plenty of places around the Hoosier State to get in on the great fall fishing opportunities. We've picked out five top locations and fish species to target right now. Take a look!

LAKE WEBSTER

Muskies

Muskie fishing at Lake Webster has become very popular during the last l0 to 15 years, according to District 3 fisheries biologist Jed Pearson. An angler survey in 2005 showed a high percentage of anglers at the lake were targeting muskies. Furthermore, the fall was an extremely popular time for muskie fishing, with 77 percent of anglers seeking these game fish in October and a remarkable 95 percent in November. The lake has enticed so many muskellunge anglers because of the excellent fishery there.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been stocking muskies at Lake Webster since 1981. The DNR tries to stock around 3,800 fish per year or five fish per acre of water. There are many older muskies in the population, as well as most fishermen practice catch-and-release. Pearson said the lake averages about six adult fish per acre, which is much higher than many other muskie lakes.

More evidence of the great muskie fishery there comes directly from the DNR. Lake Webster is used by the DNR to collect broodstock in order to furnish muskies to other lakes. If they didn't believe the fishery was in excellent shape, they certainly wouldn't be tapping it as a source for broodstock.

The average muskie caught from Lake Webster will range between 36 and 40 inches long. Big fish will generally top out at around 50 inches. The lake has a 36-inch minimum size limit on harvested fish and there is a one-fish daily creel limit.

Gizzard shad are the main forage for muskies at the lake. While many anglers will throw baits that resemble shad, many different types of baits and fishing methods will also work.

Trolling is a popular method with many anglers. Fishermen will use a variety of plugs and spoons and high-speed troll along varying depth contours as a means of locating fish. According to Pearson, there are about five different spots in the lake where there is much deeper water. Anglers often pick up fish by trolling along the edges of these drops.

Big jerkbaits and other lures cast around any remaining weedbeds are also highly productive. There are certain weedbeds that will remain on throughout the fall. These areas are very attractive to muskies. One such area is found in the northeast corner of the lake.

Anglers really believe in the muskie fishery at Lake Webster. In fact, the Web site for the Webster Lake Muskie Club claims, "Webster Lake is one of the Midwest's top 10 muskie lakes." More information on the club is available online at www.websterlakemuskyclub.org.

Biologist Jed Pearson may be reached at (260) 244-6805.

LAKE MICHIGAN

Steelhead

Anglers in northern Indiana during the fall can find some tremendous opportunities to tangle with steelhead. The fishery on Lake Michigan is doing great and there are some excellent fall runs to be enjoyed.

"Each fall, beginning in September, we see steelhead enter our tributaries on pre-spawning migrations. Not only do anglers have the opportunity to catch Skamania steelhead, but also later in the fall, they can tangle with Michigan-strain steelhead. Approximately 50 percent of our steelhead returns occur in the fall of the year. This makes for great action for those anglers who are willing to get out and wet a line," biologist Brian Breidert said.

An aggressive stocking program is one reason the fishery is in such great shape. Combined, Lake Michigan and the St. Joseph River typically receive stockings of some 500,000 steelhead per year. Most recently, Lake Michigan received 257,206 steelhead last year and a whopping 645,576 fish in 2005. During the same period, the St. Joseph River received 521,682 steelhead.

"We are very excited about our Indiana steelhead fishery. We have a world-class fishery here in the Midwest, which rivals those on the West coast. Not only do we have small-stream fisheries found in northwestern Indiana, but we have the big-river experience with the St. Joseph River in the South Bend area, as well as the fishery on the lakefront itself," Breidert said.

Anglers who experience the great fall fishing for steelhead really get a thrill. These fish fight hard, have tremendous bursts of speed, and can really be "aerial acrobats," according to Breidert. Hooking them is one thing, but landing one can be the real challenge.

Many different fishing methods are employed to catch fall steelheads. Worden's Rooster Tail lures and small spinners are very popular with anglers. Shrimp or night crawlers fished under a float can also yield great fishing success. Clumps of trout or salmon eggs wrapped in mesh bags can be fished the same way. Some anglers will also drift flies as well. Dark colors, such as brown or black, seem to work best.

There are plenty of access areas to the Lake Michigan shoreline and its tributaries. Fall fishing can be great in all these areas. There is a special section of the DNR's Web site devoted to fishing Lake Michigan and its tributaries. Anglers can find information on fish species, regulations, and how to find fishing access. The site may be found at www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/fish/lkmich/open.html.

Call biologist Brian Breidert at (219) 874-6824 for more information.

BROOKVILLE RESERVOIR

Walleyes

District 5 fisheries biologist Rhett Wisener said Brookville Reservoir probably has one of the top walleye fisheries in the state. After all, this water is where the DNR goes to collect broodstock and eggs that are used to stock other lakes in Indiana. "The fact that we use the lake to obtain broodstock is a testament to the quality of the walleye fishery there. We never have a problem there collecting fish," Wisener said.

The fishery is rated good for both numbers of fish and size as well. The last survey done on the lake was during the fall of 2005. Both shocking and netting were used and the results point to some very nice fish.

Walleyes were sampled from 5 1/2 inches up to 22 1/2 inches. Some 71 percent of the fish sampled were greater than the 14-inch minimum size requirement at the lake. Wisener said even though the longest walleye they sampled was 22 1/2 inches, there is potential for much larger fish.

Anglers there consistently catch walleyes in the 29- to 30-inch range with a few reports of walleyes longer than 30 inches being caught occasionally. Wisener said there was a newspaper story a few years back regarding a walleye caught at the lake that weighed over 14 pounds.

Fall can be a great time to catch walleyes at Brookville. Tag Nobbe is a fishing guide and owner of the 52 Pik-Up store. He has learned to consistently boat nice walleyes during the fall months.

He said the walleyes will generally be around 20 to 30 feet deep as fall begins, but will move deeper as the weeks lead toward winter. "You need a bait to get down there deep and stay in the strike zone." His preference is to use spoons.

Some people will use jigs or jigs tipped with minnows or night crawlers. Nobbe has used this method, but said the spoons just seem to work better. He said that often the spoons will generate what he terms "a reaction bite."

Hopkins spoons are his preference, but others will work. "You want to be able to feel the spoon at all times. You have to be able to get the spoon down to the fish, but you also want to feel it," he said.

Nobbe looks for walleyes positioned along steep dropoffs. He said the fish often like to stack up on drops where they can quickly move up or down from shallower water to 50 feet deep or more.

When fishing depths ranging from 20 to 30 feet deep, he will usually choose spoons weighing from 1/2-ounce to 5/8-ounce. Deeper depths up to 60 feet will require the use of heavier spoons up to 3/4-ounce or 1-ounce.

Tag Nobbe may be reached at (765) 647-3600. Biologist Rhett Wisener's number is (765) 342-5527.

MONROE RESERVOIR

Hybrid Stripers

Hybrid stripers have been stocked at Lake Monroe since 1983. Stocking usually occurs in June with a targeted number of stripers being 50,000 fingerlings per year in the 1- to 2-inch range. Biologist Dave Kittaka said the fishery is in really good shape with good size structure. Good numbers of fish are present from 6 to 11 pounds.

Each year, the DNR does a fall evaluation at the lake to look at the survival of the stocked fish. They had a really good return in 2006. In fact, it was double that of recent years.

Gill net surveys have yielded hybrid stripers from 5 to 27 inches. The 27-inch range fish are around 8 to 9 pounds, but weight can be deceptive on these hybrids. They become heavy quickly and even a 3-year-old fish can be fat and chunky. Hybrid stripers don't generally live past 7 to 8 years, but the DNR actually did collect three fish that were over 12 years old.

Fall is a great time to be on the water for hybrid stripers. In the summer months, these hybrid stripers are confined more to the lower end of the lake. Like their striped bass cousins, hybrids prefer the cool depths when the water heats up during summer. However, when the water temperatures begin cooling in the fall, these fish tend to move more and spread out. They will go all the way to the far upper ends of the lake. Kittaka said that anglers who do their homework will be the ones to catch the fish.

Hybrids will stack up along the riprap banks and along the face of the dam. They also like the stream channels. Hybrids have the option of moving between deep water and shallower water by congregating along the channels.

There are many ways to catch hybrids in the fall. Some people will continue trolling with deep-diving stick baits, which is a very popular summer method. Others will use downriggers with big striper baits to get down in deep water.

The No. 1 prey fish for the hybrids is shad. Therefore, by finding the big schools of shad, anglers can usually locate hybrids hovering below. Of course, this is where a depthfinder is very important.

These fish will sometimes be shallower when following shad in the fall. Anglers can often cast various shad-resembling baits and do quite well. Rattle-type baits seem to be especially popular on the lake in the fall.

Biologist Dave Kittaka may be reached at the District 6 fisheries office at (812) 279-1215.

HARDY LAKE

Crappies

One of the favorite fall species is the crappie. A great place to target papermouths is at Hardy Lake in Scott County. This 745-acre water sees the heaviest crappie fishing pressure from April through June, but there is also a strong contingent of fall papermouth anglers there, according to District 8 fisheries biologist Larry Lehman.

There are some really decent crappies in the lake and they are much sought after by anglers. A creel survey conducted in 2003 showed crappies to be the second most harvested fish in the lake. There were a total of around 12,000 crappies harvested, which ranged in size from 5 1/2 inches to 14 1/2 inches.

Lehman said DNR sampling was also performed that same year using both electro-fishing and nets. Biologists sampled fish up to 10 inches, but Lehman said that is not really indicative of the fishery there. He said crappies are a little harder to sample than some fish species.

Growth of crappies in the lake is good and over half of the fish sampled were 8 inches or longer. Crappies will generally reach 8 inches by their third year at Hardy Lake. Growth in 2003 was considered to

be above average.

During the spring, a very popular area of the lake with crappie anglers is the upper end where there is standing timber. Anglers will often hit the backs of bays looking for shallow-water fish. These areas can also be good at times during the fall.

However, Lehman said crappies can also be found suspended during the fall. Locating them can be a little trickier in the fall, but once found, anglers can enjoy great fishing success. Lehman said anglers should remember to fish in the top 15 feet of water until after the turnover. By mid-October, Lehman said crappies could be found most anywhere in the water table.

A variety of methods will work for fall crappies. Of course, many anglers choose the old stand-by minnows. Other folks will use jigs, jigs tipped with minnows or twistertail baits. Lehman said the water quality in the lake is good and the lake is easily accessible from four boat ramps. There is also one marina on the lake. There is a 25-fish daily creel limit. More information can be obtained by calling the Hardy Lake Office at (812) 794-3800.

Indiana has a wide range of fall fishing opportunities. If one of these areas isn't near you or to your liking, there's probably another that will more suit your needs. The DNR's Web site, the fishing regulations guide, and your district fisheries offices can be great assets to planning a fall fishing trip. Now, let's get out there and wet a line!

Find more about Indiana fishing and hunting at: IndianaGameandFish.com.

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.