Fall Fishing Fun In Hoosierland

Though many sportsmen are likely to switch their attention to hunting, right now is prime time to enjoy some of our state's finest piscatorial pleasures. Here are six to consider. (September 2008)

When summer draws to a close and the autumn winds begin to blow, something strange happens all around our state. In the animal world, birds begin flying south, squirrels start hoarding nuts and fish start putting on the feedbag. They all know that the easy pickings of summer are not going to last much longer, so they get prepared for the wintry weather ahead.

Hoosier outdoorsmen get busy, too. Some begin to think about the upcoming hunting and trapping seasons, and they work on getting their equipment into tip-top shape. Some will spend quite a bit of time scouting for game in their favorite wood lots and farm fields. Others, however, still think about fishing.

Serious fishermen don't forget about the tremendous fishing that is available right now and throughout the fall. Besides, species like walleyes, catfish and bass begin feeding heavily in preparation for winter, while other species like chinook and coho salmon begin their annual spawning runs. Those salmon that were far offshore and out of reach all summer are suddenly within our grasp!

Our great state has plenty of excellent fishing holes where anglers can try their luck, so Indiana Game & Fish magazine has selected six waters to help you decide where to wet a line this fall. They include: Trail Creek for chinook salmon, Sylvan Lake for walleyes, Clear Lake for rainbow trout, Patoka Lake for largemouth bass, Lake Michigan for coho salmon and Brookville Reservoir for catfish.

TRAIL CREEK
Chinook Salmon

For many fishermen in northern Indiana, fall means that it is time for one thing only -- time to catch trophy-sized chinook salmon! Mature chinooks (also called kings) that have been living out in the wide-open expanses of Lake Michigan begin to home in on their spawning streams by the end of summer. Since large numbers of fish are stocked every year by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the spawning runs can result in some spectacular fishing.

The first salmon will usually appear at the stocking sites by the end of August, but in some years, they don't appear until early September. The entire month of September, however, is always prime time to fish. These are big, 4-year-old fish that have one thing in mind: spawning. Since Trail Creek is one of the sites that are stocked with fish, the mouth of Trail Creek where it meets Lake Michigan is always a hotspot.

Early in the run, boaters will intercept the returning salmon as they congregate around the creek mouth at Michigan City before heading upstream. These anglers troll the waters right in front of the mouth, but they will also spread out and cover the shallow shoreline areas to the east and west where roaming salmon might be cruising.

Shore-fishermen will concentrate on fishing the large concrete pier at Washington Park where the stream meets the lake and where the early action is usually hot. According to Brian Breidert, the Lake Michigan fisheries biologist for the DNR, this is a good place to start.

"In early September, the fall salmon fishing is best along the pier at Michigan City," he said. Anglers can do well using both artificial lures and natural baits.

A week or two after the first flurry at the pierhead, the action is better upstream in Trail Creek itself. Although much of the creek winds through private property, there are several public access sites where fishermen can try their luck. "Trail Creek has a number of new access sites," Breidert said. "One new site is Winding Creek Cove. It will prove excellent for salmon and trout into the future."

Fall kings can be huge, but most range in size from 14 to 16 pounds. There are always some smaller jacks around (immature males) that only weigh a few pounds, but the really big kings will weigh more than 20 pounds. Early in the run is when you have the best chance of catching a trophy in the 25- to 30-pound-class.

SYLVAN LAKE
Walleyes

Walleye fishermen at Sylvan Lake in Noble County have been in high spirits in recent years. Fish populations in the lake (including walleyes) are doing very well, and the future looks brighter than ever. The lake covers a total of 669 acres. Almost every square inch of it seems to have fish-holding potential. From the numerous islands and points to deep holes and protected coves, this lake has it all.

There are plenty of places to fish for walleyes on Sylvan, but individual anglers always have their favorite spots. Bill LaVigne, a local angler from Fort Wayne, likes to chase walleyes here as often as he can. "I like to fish the west end of the lake," he said. "I fish that whole western basin, checking every piece of structure that I can find. There are some good points and dropoffs."

LaVigne has caught plenty of walleyes from Sylvan Lake over the years, and although he has caught some good-sized fish, he said the majority of them are just normal keeper size. "The largest that I've caught here was about 7 1/2 pounds, but most of them are in the 14- to 17-inch range," he said.

The walleye-stocking program has changed over the years at Sylvan. Recently, however, things have been improving. In 2001, DNR biologists began stocking fingerling walleyes ranging in size from 3.7 to 12 inches (averaging 6.4 inches) at Sylvan as part of their Advanced Walleye Fingerling Project. The project continued through 2005 and was a great success.

Today, large numbers of walleyes inhabit the lake. Jed Pearson, the District 3 fisheries biologist, said that the walleye stockings are continuing at Sylvan. "We're stocking 6- to 8- inch fingerlings at a rate of 20 fish per acre each fall," he reported. "We have lots of small walleyes present, but we'd like to see more large fish out there."

The first salmon will usually appear at the stocking sites by the end of August, but in some years, they don't appear until early September.

Pearson conducted a creel survey at Sylvan Lake in 2007, but the report was not ready at press time. Preliminary data showed, however, that anglers were catching large numbers of small walleyes. According to the data, more than 3,500 walleyes less than 14 inches were caught and released in 2007. That's a good sign for the future!

CLEAR LAKE
Rainbow Trout

Clear Lake in Steuben County is another body of water that hosts some tremendous fish populations. This 800-acre water is known for many different species of fish, including walleyes, smallmouth bass, bluegills, northern pike and rainbow trout. The rainbow trout, in particular, have a devoted group of anglers that pursue them nearly year 'round!

Bill LaVigne also fishes Clear Lake, and he is an expert when it comes to catching rainbows here. He has been fishing Clear Lake for decades, and he knows just about every deep hole and submerged rockpile in the lake. He usually trolls for rainbows on this lake. "I also prefer to troll because I can release the fish that I catch easier," he said. "When bait-fishing, the fish often swallow the hook."

Most trolling anglers will use small spoons or minnow-imitating plugs when targeting rainbows, but some fishermen will anchor and fish with bobbers. When still-fishing, two of the hottest trout baits are live night crawlers and whole-kernel corn. "Believe it or not, corn works just about as well as night crawlers," LaVigne said.

Neil Ledet, the District 2 fisheries biologist, said that the state continues to stock trout here. "Clear Lake is still stocked with 4,000 rainbow trout annually," he said. "Holdover trout (fish stocked in previous years) are pretty common, too."

Besides rainbow trout, quite a few brown trout have been stocked at Clear Lake recently. LaVigne is one of the officers of the Northeastern Indiana Trout Association (NEITA), and he said that NEITA has been working with the DNR on a brown trout stocking project. "Last year, NEITA stocked nearly 1,000 fish, and we stocked almost 1,000 browns this past April," he said.

For more information on NEITA, check out its Web site at www.indiana trout.com.

PATOKA LAKE
Largemouth Bass

Patoka Lake in southern Indiana is a mecca for bass fishermen. At 8,800 acres, this huge reservoir is the second-largest lake in the state, and it features more first-rate bass habitat than one person can discover in a lifetime. There are flooded creek arms filled with standing timber, tiny weed-choked coves, rocky ledges that drop off into deep water, old submerged roadbeds -- the list goes on and on.

Largemouth bass inhabit all of these places, feeding on abundant populations of gizzard shad, crayfish and small sunfish. It should be no surprise, then, to hear that Patoka Lake is home to some really big bass. After all, once they reach a certain size, there is plenty for them to eat. The amazing thing is that even with all of the food available, they are still quite willing to hit the lures used here by bass fishermen!

According to biologist Dan Carnahan, Patoka Lake really is an excellent bass water. "I consider it the best bass lake in my district," he said. "It's a very good bass lake, especially for big fish. It is not one of those places where you are normally going to catch 25 to 50 bass in a day -- you are going to get quality over quantity."

Carnahan conducted a creel survey at Patoka Lake in 2007, and although the bass harvest did not change much since the last survey in 2003, the number of bass caught and released increased by 18 percent. "Of those 95,923 bass, 22 percent of them (20,752) were greater than 15 inches long," he said. Those are some impressive numbers!

One of the local fishermen who stay on top of the lake's bass movements is Tim Gibson from nearby Paoli. Tim is the only full-time fishing guide on Patoka Lake (812/936-3382), and he said that late summer and early fall are the best times to fish for bass at Patoka.

When asked where he likes to fish for bass when the weather starts to cool down, he immediately pointed to the lake's weedbeds. "I love the main-lake weedbeds," he said. In September, I usually use soft-plastic baits like tubes, worms and frogs around the grassbeds. Many colors will work, but I have found that watermelon and pumpkin are two of the best colors on this lake," he added.

For more information about fishing boat or pontoon rentals, local lodging, or fishing tackle, call Patoka Lake Marina and Lodging at (888) 819-6916.

LAKE MICHIGAN
Coho Salmon

Big chinooks are not the only salmon that head for the shallows at the end of summer. Lake Michigan's other salmon species -- coho salmon -- is also gearing up for its spawning run. Coho salmon only live for three years (compared with four years for kings), so they don't get quite as large as their cousins. However, don't think the cohos are anything like the 2-pounders you caught in the spring. Fall cohos can run as large as 8 or 10 pounds (or even bigger), and they don't give up without a fight!

One of the streams that the DNR stocks with coho salmon is the Little Calumet River (also fed by Salt Creek and Coffee Creek). Lake Michigan trolling anglers should concentrate on the area where the Little Calumet enters the big lake via Burns Waterway (or Burns Ditch as it is known locally).

The mouth of the Little Calumet River is located near Portage, and most boaters who fish there launch their boats at one of the marinas on Burns Ditch. It is only a short boat ride down the ditch to the lake, so anglers can prepare their tackle and tie on their lucky lures while they are waiting.

At Portage, the cohos often tend to gather near the creek mouth and then stage for a while. It's hard to say whether they are waiting for the creek temperature to be just right or if they're just waiting for a good rainfall to boost the creek's current flow. In any case, trollers who ply the waters anywhere from the creek mouth all the way over to the reef in front of the Port of Indiana's outer breakwall can catch them.

When asked where he likes to fish for bass when the weather starts to cool down, he immediately pointed to the lake's weedbeds.

Dodger-and-fly combinations, and spoons, are the best lures for the mature cohos when they first arrive. Many anglers will use dodger-and-fly combos exclusively. Bright orange dodgers and clown-colored dodgers (chartreuse with red dots) are the most productive attractors, but good tinsel fly colors can span the spectrum. Blue-green-gold is a perennial favorite.

Although fall cohos can reach double-digit weights before entering the creek to spawn, most range in size from 5 to 7 pounds. Occasionally, a real monster can be caught here. Several years ago, one lucky angler caught an 18-pounder on Mike Schoonveld's charter boat Brother Nature; call Capt. Mike at (219) 285-2123 for more information on this fine fishery.

BROOKVILLE LAKE
Channel Catfish

Brookville Reservoir can be found in southeastern Indiana's Franklin and Union counties, not far from the town of Brookville. This sprawling impoundment covers a total of 5,260 acres and provides tremendous opportunities for fishermen to pursue their favorite species of fish -- whether they are walleyes, crappies, bass or catfish. One of the most popular species is catfish, and more specifically, channel catfish.

Like many reservoirs, Brookville has an excellent population of channel catfish. According to fisheries biologist Rhett Wisener, Brookville's catfish are really thriving. "Channel catfish are the predominant catfish species in Brookville, and one of the most abundant fish in the lake," he said. Since Brookville is loaded with shad, there is plenty of food for them to eat, too.

DNR biologists surveyed Brookville last year, and they found impressive numbers of catfish. "In the 2007 general survey, channels accounted for most of the fish collected by both number (26 percent) and weight (51 percent)," reported Wisener. "They ranged in size from 6 to 24 inches and averaged 13.6 inches. Approximately 61 percent of them measured at least 12 inches, while 21 percent were 18 inches or larger. The largest channels we've seen during recent surveys pushed 30 inches and weighed over 10 pounds," he added.

Catfish can be found almost anywhere on the lake, but biologist Wisener offered the following advice. "If I were going fishing for channels in late summer or fall, I'd likely start my search on the deeper edges of one of the many expansive flats. As it gets later into the fall, I might move into one of the creek arms or coves, since that's where many of the shad go at that time of year."

Although most catfish hunters at this lake target channel catfish, there are some flathead catfish to be caught, too. "Many of the flatheads we've found in the past have been smaller (15 to 25 inches)," said Wisener, "with the largest measuring about 34 inches. Based on the habitat and forage available, though, I'd suspect there are good quality flatheads out there."

For a current Brookville Lake fishing report, call the 52 Pik-Up store on U.S. Route 52 in Brookville at (765) 647-3600.

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