Top Indiana Fishing Spots for 2012

Top Indiana Fishing Spots for 2012
Greg Allen, from southern Indiana, admires a nice spring coho salmon that he caught last March from Lake Michigan. Cohos are very active in the Indiana waters of Lake Michigan from March until May. Photo by Thomas Berg.

Last year, lucky anglers from all around Indiana made some exceptional catches, from salmon and trout to catfish and bass. This year should be no different; fishing in the Hoosier state is expected to be great once again in 2012. Our lakes, reservoirs, rivers, creeks and ponds are all set to offer up some fabulous fishing. You job is to take advantage of it.

Whether you love fishing for springtime bluegills or fall chinook salmon, Indiana features some of the best fishing around. If you would rather chase muskies or smallmouth bass, we have that covered, too. Crappies? No problem. Catfish? We have unbeatable fishing for channels, flatheads and blue cats.

If you are a little confused about where to start, we can help. Indiana Game & Fish magazine has compiled a list of the top Indiana fishing spots for some of our most popular species throughout the calendar year. Use this list to plan your next fishing trip or an upcoming vacation. You'll be glad you did.

JANUARY

J.C. Murphey Lake

Bluegills

Fishermen seeking large numbers of hand-sized bluegills have been doing very well at J.C. Murphey Lake in Newton County, in recent years. For anglers, this 1,200-acre impoundment is the centerpiece of the Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA), and although it is extremely shallow (3 feet average depth) it produces amazing numbers of big bluegills.

There was concern over a possible winter kill last season when the lake froze-up early and was then covered with thick snow, but the bluegills survived and fishermen had a great year in 2011. Bragging-sized bluegills of 9-inches or more, along with some monster redear sunfish, will be available again this winter.

Fishermen must remember that J.C. Murphey Lake has special regulations for panfish. Anglers may keep only 25 panfish per day (in any combination). Ice-fishermen should also note there are numerous areas with natural springs, muskrat lodges and small willow bushes that can hide areas of thin ice. Fish with a friend and be sure the ice is safe.

FEBRUARY

St. Joseph River

Steelhead Trout

Steelhead fishing on the St. Joseph River during the dead of winter can be tough at times, but if this winter is warmer than usual, look out! The fishing areas around Mishawaka come alive with hard-fighting steelhead during warming trends. Anglers who are around when the ice disappears can score excellent catches.

Skamania-strain steelhead and Michigan-strain fish are both present at this time of year, and they'll put your tackle to the test. Skamanias can be huge, anywhere from 10-16 pounds, although most are in the 6- to 9-pound range. They are long and slender, and jump like crazy. Michigan-strain steelhead are football-shaped and average 5-7 pounds.

One popular place for shore fishermen is the section of river just below the Twin Branch Dam. The public access there allows plenty of room for fishermen to target active fish. Rattling plugs and inline spinners are excellent lure choices, and some of the best colors include orange, red and silver. For current fishing reports, call Parker's Central Park Bait shop at (574) 255-7703.

MARCH

Lake Michigan

Coho Salmon

As soon as the ice leaves the harbors on Lake Michigan, scores of hardy anglers will be heading for the boat ramps to get in on some of the hottest fishing action of the year. The weather in March will determine the actual timing, but once we have open water the trollers will be out in force.

Large numbers of coho salmon are drawn to the southern shores of Lake Michigan in March because that's where the warmest water in the lake is located. Warm water attracts baitfish, and the hungry salmon are never far behind. Warm-water discharge sites at industrial plants along the lakeshore are real hotspots.

Coho salmon at this time of year average 2-4 pounds, and they frequently hit lures very aggressively. Trollers who find a concentration of fish can often circle around and troll through the same area multiple times, catching fish on each pass. When the cohos move in close to shore, limit catches (5 per person) are common.

APRIL

Monroe Reservoir

Crappies

Monroe Reservoir, near Bloomington, offers nearly endless opportunities for fishermen. It's the largest lake in Indiana, covering more than 10,000 acres. Located in Brown and Monroe counties, this expansive reservoir is especially well-suited for crappies. As a matter of fact, there are not many other lakes around where anglers have a good chance of catching a 2-pound crappie whenever they hit the water.

In April, most crappie anglers fish close to shore. Bob Raymer, a crappie tournament angler from Greenfield, often targets big crappies in shallow water in April. "I like to fish the Pine Grove area, Middlefork and in back of Ramp Creek," said Raymer. "I caught some real dandies there in 2011; my largest was probably 2 pounds, 4 ounces."

Good springtime structure includes shoreline brush, stumps along the creek channels and flooded timber. Although many anglers use live minnows for bait, Raymer prefers to use soft plastic tube jigs. Curly-tailed grubs and jig/minnow combinations are also productive.

Check out page two for top Indiana fishing spots for May, June, July and August

MAY

Patoka Lake

Largemouth Bass

Southern Indiana is home to the state's second-largest body of water, Patoka Lake. Patoka is an excellent largemouth bass lake, and since it covers a total of 8,800 acres, it is home to a tremendous amount of prime bass habitat. In addition to steep drop-offs and vast stump fields, there are weedy back bays, rocky creek arms and lots of flooded timber.

Bass are very active at Patoka in May, so covering a lot of water is a good strategy. Don't be surprised if you hook a trophy-sized bass here, as this lake is known for producing big fish. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) monitors bass tournaments on many Hoosier lakes, and in 2010 Patoka featured the largest average "Big Bass" in those tourneys (6.1 pounds). The largest bass weighed-in at Patoka's tournaments in 2010 was 7.2 pounds.

Tim Gibson, from Paoli, is a fishing guide for both largemouth bass and crappies on Patoka Lake (812-936-3382), and he often fishes for spring bass up in the creek channels. "Look for some timber right on the edge of the creek channel," he said. "If there are some weeds there, too, it's even better."

JUNE

Lake Michigan

Smallmouth Bass

Bass fishermen don't just fish inland lakes these days. They have taken to the Great Lakes like a fish to water. Lake Michigan is home to a wonderful smallmouth bass fishery, and scores of anglers take advantage of it every summer — usually beginning in June.

Smallmouth bass love rocks, boulders and stony cover, and much of the southern end of Lake Michigan fits the bill perfectly. Rocky breakwalls provide plenty of cover for the bass and the smaller fish and crayfish that they eat. Fishermen who target these areas with minnow and crayfish imitators will do well.

Average-sized smallmouth bass on Lake Michigan are usually 12-14 inches long, but there are plenty of 15-18 inch fish, too. Keep your lures near the bottom for the greatest chance of success. Tube jigs and other soft plastic lures are excellent choices, and dark colors like brown, pumpkin and other earth tones are good.

JULY

Ohio River

Blue Catfish

Hoosier catfish anglers certainly have lots of great choices when it comes to wetting a line. Many of our reservoirs and big rivers are teeming with whiskerfish, and even smaller lakes can be good. One of the best catfish spots in the state, however, is the Ohio River and, according to many diehard catfish anglers, the blue catfish is the king of the cats.

Blue catfish in the Ohio River are not only abundant, they also grow to incredible sizes. The Indiana state record blue cat was caught here and it weighed 104 pounds. Catfish tournaments held on the Ohio routinely feature monster-sized cats at their weigh-ins, too. The big fish registered during the Duracats tourney in August of 2011 was an impressive blue cat weighing 55.10 pounds.

Although other catfish often stake out a territory near the river bottom or along shoreline obstructions, blue catfish prefer to stay in the main river channel or suspend in deep water. Look for these areas and remember that blues are not afraid of holding and feeding in swift current. Many different kinds of fish (live or dead) make great blue cat baits, including skipjacks, shad and bluegills.

AUGUST

Cecil M. Harden Reservoir

Striped Bass

Cecil M. Harden Reservoir, in Parke County, is a 2,060-acre impoundment located just east of Rockville. Also known as Raccoon Lake, Harden Reservoir is popular with local fishermen and families, as well as anglers from around the state. Although a wide variety of fish can be caught here, the one most sought-after by trophy hunters is the striped bass.

Stripers have been growing very quickly at Harden, due in part to the lake's large forage base of gizzard shad. Angler John Maxwell, from Indianapolis, did very well on a recent trip here, trolling the deep water near the dam. He and his friends used downrigger lines and flatlines, and once they found a school of fish the action was fast and furious. "We kept trolling a figure-eight pattern on top of the school," Maxwell said. "We boated 13 stripers that weighed about 20 pounds each."

Trophy-sized striped bass are not uncommon at this lake, and a new state record striper was caught here in 2010. Jonathan VanHook, from nearby Rockville, caught a 39.08 pound behemoth while trolling with planer boards. The DNR's goal to stock more than 20,000 fingerling striped bass per year will help keep Harden's striper population going strong.

Top Indiana fishing spots for September, October, November and December can be found on page three

SEPTEMBER

Lake Michigan

Chinook Salmon

Salmon fishermen flock to Lake Michigan in March in search of coho salmon, but in September they come back for a much different kind of salmon. They come to pursue mature chinook salmon that have returned to the shallows in search of the stream mouths where they will start their spawning run. These salmon are really big, too, averaging 15-18 pounds each.

Since the chinooks are coming out of the main lake and heading for their "home" spawning stream, it makes sense for anglers to congregate at those creek mouths and intercept newly arriving fish. Depending on weather conditions (rainfall and water temperature), the salmon may hang around the creek mouths and wait several days for the right time to head upstream. This is the perfect time for trollers to target them.

Fall chinook salmon are often more active under low-light conditions, so it's a good idea to start fishing for them before sunup. Glow-in-the-dark lures are very productive, but once the sun comes up, switch to bright, flashy lures. Large trolling spoons and oversized plugs are good choices.

OCTOBER

Webster Lake

Muskies

Kosciusco County's Webster Lake has been a top-rated muskie water for many years now, and there is definitely good reason for it. This 774-acre lake produces big muskies all year long, and the fall months are among the best times to fish it. The cooler weather often sends these toothy predators on a real feeding binge.

There is plenty of room on Webster to troll or cast, and fish can be found almost anywhere. The main lake features several deep holes separated by shallower flats ranging from 5-10 feet deep. Weedy edges are great ambush points for muskies, so be sure to give them a try. Large bucktail spinners are productive, as are jumbo swimbaits, jerkbaits and jointed plugs.

For more info about muskie fishing on Webster Lake, check out the Web site for Webster Lake Guide Service: www.websterlakeguideservice.com. You may also call muskie guide Chae Dolsen at (260) 385-0623 to book a trip.

NOVEMBER

Brookville Lake

Walleyes

Brookville Lake, on the southeast side of Indiana, is a great place to hunt trophy-sized walleyes. This 5,260-acre reservoir in Franklin and Union counties is located north of the town of Brookville, and since there are ten public boat ramps on the lake, access for walleye anglers is very good, too.

Walleye fishing here can be extremely good, which is one reason that Brookville is used as the brood stock source for Indiana's walleye stocking program. There are some real monsters swimming around in Brookville's depths. As a matter of fact, Brookville Lake may be the best bet for catching a trophy-sized walleye in Indiana.

During the late fall, walleyes suspend over deeper water near breaklines and feed on shad. Good lure choices include shad-imitating crankbaits, jigging spoons and jig/minnow combinations. Once you find one walleye, there is bound to be more nearby.

DECEMBER

Lake Maxinkuckee

Yellow Perch

A favorite lake for ice-fishermen in north-central Indiana's Marshall County is expansive Lake Maxinkuckee. This 1,864-acre body of water is the second-largest natural lake in the state, and it's home to an excellent fishery. Anglers often have a tough time deciding what to fish for here: walleyes, perch, bluegills or bass. All are great choices, but many hardwater anglers opt for the tasty yellow perch.

First ice is a great time to try out new ice-fishing gear and, once ice is safely thick, perch fishermen should head for one of Maxinkuckee's many mid-lake humps and sand/gravel bars. Yellow perch tend to stay near the bottom, even in deep water, so concentrate your efforts there. Live minnows, flashy ice jigs and wigglers are all outstanding perch baits.

According to a DNR fish management report released in 2009, over 41 percent of the perch collected in their recent survey were 8 inches or larger, and fish over 12 inches were also recorded. One of the benefits of ice-fishing at Maxinkuckee is that you will likely catch other species besides perch, including walleyes and hand-sized bluegills. Who can complain about that?

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