Indiana offers plenty of great fishing waters, and most anglers have their favorite spots to cast for trophies. But with temperatures warming up and the school year winding down, this is the perfect time to focus on a different kind of destination: the best locations for a family fishing trip. The goal this month is to find waters where your kids can actually catch fish, and perhaps enjoy some fun diversions along the way. Here are a few places where you can make some memories.
Fisherman is a moniker that no longer fits the overall demographic. Admittedly, in the past, fishing was almost entirely dominated by males, primarily adult males, but that is no longer the case. Anglers now come in all ages and genders and in many cases; fishing is a complete family affair, not just something dad does on the weekends. Indiana, as well as most all states, has taken notice, and there are numerous waters across the state that are family-friendly and offer tons of great fishing opportunity.
Fishing families desire different things, just as individual anglers do. Some families with older children may concentrate on bass or crappie fishing, while families with younger children may want to stick with bluegills and catfish. Regardless, there are certainly plenty of places in the state that not only fulfill the fishing itch, but offer lots of great side trips for the family to enjoy off the water. Here is a look at just a few.
Our first pick is a very small lake, but that does not necessarily mean it is small in opportunity. Diamond Valley Park Lake in Evansville is just under 3 acres and is part of the “Go FishIN in the City” program from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. This program provides excellent shore fishing opportunities in select cities throughout the state.
Diamond Valley Lake has great fishing opportunities for sunfish, bass and catfish. Channel catfish are stocked monthly in April and June. The catfish are between 14 and 18 inches at the time of stocking, but there are larger carryover fish in the lake.
Channel cats make an excellent fishing pursuit for the whole family. They are easily caught from shore with simple tackle and live or natural baits. Good options include worms or night crawlers, chicken liver, shad guts or commercial stink baits. Dip bait is another great option that is easy to use and very effective for channel cats. These baits may be fished on the bottom with tight line, a slip sinker rig or suspended under a float.
The lake also offers plenty of action for younger kids on sunfish. Bluegills, green sunfish and redear sunfish are all present in the lake and provide lots of action all spring and summer. Most of the fish caught are not large, but they are loads of fun to catch on light tackle. A simple spinning or baitcasting rig is all it takes for lots of action. Simply suspend a red worm or cricket beneath a bobber and cast near any visible cover or shaded area.
Diamond Valley Lake has a fishing pier and the park has a playground, basketball court and paved walking trail. Fishing is open from dawn until dusk daily. Diamond Valley Park located in Evansville. Find bait at Smith’s Bait & Tackle.
Along The Way
There are lots of family activities to be had in Evansville. One of the best is a visit down along the riverfront near downtown. The Evansville Museum is a great stop complete with art, and lots of history and science exhibits including an historic three-car train, early 1900s Sears Motor Car and much more. Temporary and traveling exhibits occur intermittently and there are lots of dramatic presentations at the Koch Immersive Theater and Planetarium.
Within a mile or so of the museum is the USS LST 325 Memorial. This working ship has been in operation since 1943. The ship also participated in the D-Day landing at Normandy and other operations. Tours aboard this famous ship are available and a great adventure for the entire family.
From one of our smaller waters we now jump to one of our largest profiled. Patoka Lake is huge, at nearly 9,000 acres. But that does not mean it needs to be intimidating for families. Sure, there are plenty of big water options at the lake, but there are also plenty of low key things to do for families with younger children.
One of those options is targeting the numerous channel catfish at Patoka. It has a fantastic population of channel cats and they are fairly easy to catch from either boat or the shore. Shore-bound anglers often cast baits to the bottom, put the rod in a forked stick or rod holder and tighten the line to remove the slack. Boaters fish the same way and also use slip sinker rigs or drop baits under a bobber near standing or submerged trees and stumps.
For families with older children, Patoka offers some excellent fishing for largemouth bass and crappies. A basic minnow rig with a bobber is a great option for targeting the abundance of woody structure in the lake.
Bluegills and other sunfish are yet another option. These fun fish are catchable from bank or boat throughout the summer with red worms, crickets, meal worms or wax worms. Try areas near shore such as boat docks and submerged trees. Boaters looking for bigger ‘gills should target wood or brush in deeper water.
Patoka Lake has numerous boat launching ramps scattered around the lake, and there are also plenty of places to buy bait and tackle nearby. Lodging is available at area motels and there are also cabin and bunkhouse rentals as well as houseboat rentals. Numerous campsites for RVs and tent campers are located near the lake.
Along The Way
Families do not have to wander far to find great entertainment options. Of course there are plenty of options on the water, such as boating, swimming, skiing, tubing or crashing the waves on personal watercrafts. However, there are some seven state recreation areas around the lake offering lots of outdoor activities including hiking and biking trails and much more.
Patoka Lake is within the Hoosier National Forest, and there are lots of things to see and do there. Nearby, there are several caves to tour along the I-64 corridor and southwest of the lake is the famed Holiday World theme park, rated one of the best in the nation. Just west of Holiday World is Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. For more info, check out www.patokalakeindiana.com.
The city of Fort Wayne is another location that is part of the Go FishIN in the City program. There are two such locations in Fort Wayne, and between the two there are plenty of fishing opportunities with a lot of diversity. One provides lake fishing, and the other provides a stream fishing experience.
The latter is Spy Run Creek, which is found in Franke Park. The portion of the creek that runs through the park is stocked in April with rainbow trout. These fish are fun to challenge with a fly rod for adults and older children and they provide great rod and reel fun for all ages when targeted with live and natural baits. Some of the most popular baits used are red worms, meal worms, cheese and even whole kernel corn. Inline spinners such as the Rooster Tail or Mepps work great too. The creek also provides fishing action for largemouth and smallmouth bass as well as bluegills in slack water areas.
The other Fort Wayne location is Lakeside Pond found in Lakeside Park. This small lake offers great shore fishing for bluegills, largemouth bass and crappies. There are also plenty of channel catfish and even a few carp caught from the bank. The lake is stocked in April and June with channel catfish.
Lakeside Park has fishing piers, pavilions, basketball and tennis courts, a garden, playground and hiking trail. Franke Park also has a hiking trail, theater, playground, pavilions and a BMX track. Both locations are open from dawn to dusk. More information is available at www.fortwayneparks.org.
Along The Way
Fort Wayne offers all the lodging and dining amenities one would expect from a mid-sized city. Additionally, there are lots of attractions and things to do within the city. Plenty of attractions are available for families with children of all ages.
One such must-see spot for younger kids is Science Central, an informative and fun learning experience. Older youths may enjoy the History Center or botanical gardens. There is also the Fort Wayne Firefighters Museum, Fort Wayne Aviation Museum, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo and much more. Check out the “visitors” tab at www.cityoffortwayne.org for more.
INDIANA DUNES STATE PARK
Angling families looking for a big water experience can get no bigger in Indiana than Lake Michigan, and the Indiana Dunes State Park is a great jumping off spot to experience the big pond. There are lots of bank fishing opportunities along the Lake Michigan shoreline, but getting out in a boat opens up many more options. Obviously, fishing at this location more suited for families with older children.
There are five species of salmonoids, salmon and trout, along with smallmouth bass and yellow perch. The latter is the easiest to catch from shore, but even some of the salmon and trout are catchable by casting from the shore at certain times. Smallmouths are generally targeted along the riprap areas and breaker walls near shore.
Trolling is a favorite fishing method on Lake Michigan. Anglers troll crankbaits, Rapalas and other stick baits and plugs for brown trout, cohos and others. Silver spoons and live baits are also employed. Anglers with their own boat may launch at the Portage Marina to reach Lake Michigan. It is located just off State Route 249. Families without boats are not left out, as there are numerous charter boats available for all-day and half-day guided fishing trips on the big pond and taking the family out on a charter fishing excursion may yield great memories that will last a lifetime.
Shoreline fishing is also possible, and there are numerous places nearby that offer public access. Anglers often cast near rocky areas for smallmouths or fish natural baits such as night crawlers, shrimp, spawn bags, frozen alewives or smelt for other species. There are several shoreline fishing spots in Michigan City and also some access at the Port of Indiana. Some of the bays and harbors also have largemouth bass, catfish and other species available to pursue.
The best way for anglers who are not familiar with fishing at Lake Michigan to learn the ropes is to start with the DNR website. The website has an entire section dedicated to fishing at the Great Lake. It is much different than merely visiting a nearby pond or reservoir, and regulations are also different. Special fishing tackle and long-handled nets are required for some shoreline access locations.
To learn more, visit www.state.in.us/dnr and then under the “Things To Do” tab; click on “Fishing.” From the fishing homepage, scroll down and click on “Lake Michigan Fishing.” Anglers can also call the DNR at (317) 232-4200 for additional information.
Along The Way
Indiana Dunes State Park offers lots of family fun. Of course, the dunes are fantastic, rising some 200 feet above Lake Michigan. There are lots of hiking trails and nature activities. The state park has a nature center, picnic shelters and other amenities. It is a great place for bird watching and seeing other wildlife.
Swimming and frolicking on the beach are some of the most popular activities at the park. A large beach offers great access to Lake Michigan, but swimming is sometimes restricted when weather conditions make it unsafe.
Indiana Dunes State Park totals 2,182 acres, so there is lots of area to explore. Camping is available at the park, or families may want to stay at one of the nearby motels.