Catfishin’ in the Hoosier State has never been better. Boaters and bank-fishermen alike are finding plenty of action right now, and there are plenty of whiskerfish to go around. Channel catfish still lead the way for numbers in the Hoosier State’s whiskered lineup, while flatheads and blues produce the lunker specimens.
Here’s a look at five of our most promising catfish waters and what 2009 holds in store.
Lake Maxinkuckee, in Marshall County, is one of the best catfish lakes in the region. This 1,854-acre large water contains a nice population of channel catfish, according to fisheries biologist Bob Robertson. The lake offers anglers a reasonable chance for landing a big channel cat. There aren’t a lot of catfish in the lake, but there seems to be plenty of big ones.
“There are some sleeper big ones in there,” said Roberts. “During the last survey, we saw some large fish in the trap nets. The numbers aren’t high in Maxinkuckee, probably due to all the other game fish in the lake, but the sizes are.”
Randy Walter has fished the lake for a long time. As owner of Randy’s Place Bait Shop, Walter has had some personal experiences with Maxinkuckee’s big cats.
“This is a big-fish lake,” said Walter. “I was fishing with my older brother from a bass boat and he hooked a catfish on 35-pound-test line. That fish dragged our boat around for a half hour and we never even got a look at it before it got off.”
Walter is convinced there are bigger catfish in the lake that no one may ever see. Anglers generally come unprepared for what swims in the lake’s depths and the result is usually the same as he and his brother experienced. The water at the dam reaches 100 feet, so there’s plenty of room for whiskerfish to grow fat and sassy. He’s seen many 20-pounders and has taken a 35-pound fish himself, but they get much bigger than that.
One of Walter’s customers tried netting a big catfish that had a head large enough that it wouldn’t fit into a regular-sized bass net. When the angler and his partner tried to wrestle the catfish into the boat, it surged, broke the line and sank back into the deep water. They claim the fish was several feet long. Catfish like this are the stuff legends are made of.
The most productive areas for channels and flatheads are on the south end of the lake along the east side at night or in Academy Bay. Both areas have shallow water and lots of structure.
Maxinkuckee Lake is Indiana’s second largest natural lake and is located in Culver. There is a ramp on the southwest corner of the lake.
For more info, call Randy’s Place in Culver at (574) 842-3070.
For information on where to stay, visit www.maxinkuckee.com on the Web.
INDIAN CHAIN OF LAKES
The best catfish lake in District 2 is the Indian Chain of lakes. It also goes by the name of the Dallas Chain. But no matter what you call it, the lake pumps out some hefty channel cats. Fisheries biologist Neil Ledet gives the chain a thumbs-up and recommends it highly.
The Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) has been stocking 10-inch fingerling channel cats into the chain since 1990. Over the last decade, the number of catfish stocked on a bi-annual basis has increased to about 6,000 fish per stocking.
“Indian Lake is kind of a sleeper fishery, though the chain has drawn some interest from the catfish clubs and tournaments,” said Ledet. “I’m told these tournaments allow five fish to be weighed in and that it takes 40 to 50 pounds to get into the money. This isn’t a typical catch, but there are some pretty nice catfish taken.”
Most of the catfish aren’t trophies, but big ones are taken now and then.
Lenny Cooper of The Angler Bait and Tackle Shop dips a line in the chain on Witmer Lake.
“That’s where the biggest catfish are,” said Cooper. “I caught one that was in the 30-inch range in the daytime on a bass lure.”
Most low-light anglers prefer stink baits, but night crawlers seem to work as well as anything, said Cooper, and anglers specifically targeting the chain’s cats stock up on crawlers along with other traditional baits when they’re in the bait shop.
Shoreline access is limited, so visiting anglers should bring a boat.
The Indian Chain consists of Witmer Lake at 204 acres, Westler at 88 acres, Dallas at 283 acres, Hackenburg at 42 acres and Messick at 68 acres. The chain offers a total of 685 acres and is located nine miles south of LaGrange near Wolcottville.
State access sites are located on the south side of Witmer, on Westler off county Route (CR) 700 and on the east side of Messick off CR 625. Anglers can boat throughout the chain no matter where they launch.
For additional information, contact District 2 at (260) 829-6241; or call The Angler Bait and Tackle in Hudson at (260) 351-2877.
Tourism information is available from the LaGrange County Convention Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) at 1-800-254-8090 or online at www.backroads.org.
Though a large water at 10,750 acres at summer pool, Monroe Lake isn’t the first place that comes to mind when the discussion turns to catfish, but that is changing as the word is getting out.
“There are excellent opportunities for catfish at Monroe,” said fisheries biologist Dave Kittaka. “During the 2007 fisheries survey, we collected 332 channel cats with the largest being well over 33 inches in length.”
The population of good-sized fish is very impressive. Of the catfish collected, 51 percent were also at least 16 inches in length. Five percent were at least 24 inches long and 1 percent hit the 28-inch mark, or longer. No matter how the numbers get crunched, Monroe is offering up some nice-sized catfish and lots of them.
An amazing thing about Monroe’s fishery is that it’s self-sustaining without the advantage of the DNR’s bi-annual stockings. The lake received an initial stocking over 40 years ago, but conditions are just so that stocking is no longer necessary.
According to Kittaka, the DFW’s survey conducted a couple years ago showed th
at only 5 percent of the anglers who spend time on Monroe are after catfish. An estimated 3,312 channel catfish and 181 flatheads were harvested in 2007 between April and October, with June being the best month for channels. The channel cats taken home that year measured anywhere between 10 and just over 29 inches.
Flatheads are less numerous but bigger, said Kittaka. Anglers took home flatheads ranging to 30 inches with an average length of over 25 inches.
According to Dedra Hawkins of The Fishin’ Shedd, four anglers fished every other weekend last summer and caught a total of 600 pounds of catfish. Flatheads in the 20- to 30-pound range were part of the catch. Two years ago, a couple of flatheads ranging from 50 to 60 pounds were taken.
“There are some huge catfish in here, but the lake is also good for eating-sized fish,” said Hawkins.
Anglers do very well in the Pine Grove and Fairfax areas. Chicken livers, shrimp and night crawlers top the list of baits used.
Catfish are amazing creatures. A fish only a few inches in length is already covered with a quarter-million external taste buds. The mouth, gill rakers, belly, back, whiskers and fins are all covered with these tiny organs. Catfish can “follow their nose” to the source of waterborne odors, which is why natural baits work so well.
Seven state recreation areas and 10 launch ramps serve the lake and provide access for both shorebound and boating anglers.
For more information, contact District 6 at (812) 279-1215; or call The Fishin’ Shedd in Bloomington at (812) 837-9474.
Contact the Bloomington CVB at 1-866-338-0088 or visit online at www.visitbloomington.com for lodging.
Fisheries biologist Dan Carnahan is impressed with the population of channel cats in 8,880-acre Patoka Lake. Last year, the DFW study produced 287 channel catfish with a gill net catch rate of 12 fish per lift, which is very good. Good catch rates have been consistent during surveys conducted over the last four years. Some of the channels are reaching 28 inches and an occasional flathead shows up as well.
“There are a lot of channel catfish scattered throughout the entire lake,” said Carnahan. “I’d consider Patoka to be an excellent place to go for channel catfish.”
The Allen Creek and Sycamore Creek arms in the southeastern corner of the lake are the top producers, according to Gary Hopkins of The Cove Resort and Bait Shop. The fishing is good not only in the lake but also upstream in the Patoka River. Some of Hopkins’ guests are sold on three-day-old stew meat, the smellier, the better, and others choose chicken livers and night crawlers. When it comes down to it, anything goes, said Cooper.
Catfish-hugging bottom structure isn’t in short supply. Flooded timber, irregular shorelines and shallow bays abound with great catfish habitat and concentrate the fish during the daytime. Whiskerfish will move up into the shallow water to feed during the evenings and can be intercepted by floating at the entrance to shallow bays at the edge of deep water.
Patoka Lake sprawls in Crawford, Dubois and Orange counties, some 13 miles east of Jasper.
Eleven boat ramps serve boaters. Most of these ramps are concrete and have no trouble handling good-sized watercraft. An annual statewide lake pass is required. The Newton-Stewart State Recreation Area charges an additional entrance fee for a daily gate pass. Bank-fishermen have lots of access anywhere a road borders the water.
For more information, contact District 7 at (812) 789-2724, or the Patoka Lake Marina in Birdseye at 1-888-819-6916. You can also call the park office at (812) 685-2464 for current water levels and lake conditions. Boat rentals are available from the Hoosier Hills Marina at (812) 678-3313. The Cove in Taswell has excellent accommodations and can be reached at (812) 338-3296 or online at www.thecoveonpatoka.com.
Contact the Patoka Lake Association’s Web site for tourism information at www.PatokaLakeIndiana.com or the Crawford County Tourism Office at 1-888-846-5397 or online at www.crawfordcountyindiana.com.
Brookville Lake, though a large reservoir at 5,260 acres, is a numbers lake, according to fisheries biologist Rhett Wisener. Channel cats are the predominant catfish and one of the most abundant fish species in the lake.
Wisener has the survey results to back up his claim. In the general fisheries survey the DFW conducted in 2007, channels accounted for 26 percent of the total number of fish sampled and 51 percent of the total weight of all fish collected. The average size was over 13 with top lengths around 24 inches. Nearly 25 percent of the catfish captured were at least 18 inches long and in the 2-pound category.
“The largest channels we’ve seen during recent surveys pushed 30 inches and weighed over 10 pounds,” said Wisener. “When we’re sampling catfish in Brookville we find them all over the place.”
According to Wisener, flatheads are established in the lake as well, but seldom show up in the surveys. He’s convinced there’s a decent flathead fishery, but the equipment he uses during the surveys leaves a bit to be desired when it comes to sampling fish buried deep on the bottom. Based on the available forage and habitat, Wisener suspects there are quality fish he’s never been able to connect with. Most of the flatheads brought up during DFW surveys have been smaller and in the 15- to 25-inch range. The largest was 34 inches, and there are undoubtedly bigger ones out there.
Anglers shouldn’t have a lot of trouble locating a group of good-sized catfish, if Wisener’s experience with trap netting is any indication of their availability. The habitat allows the catfish to range throughout the lake. A creel survey showed that anglers are taking advantage of the fishery and that channel cats were the second most-harvested fish. Their popularity fell in behind crappies, bass and walleyes with about 15 percent of the anglers targeting catfish specifically.
Drifting is one way to pick up a stray catfish or two, and it is a great way to find actively feeding groups during the daytime. Use a bottom-bouncing, three-way rig with just enough weight to keep the bait down on the bottom– but not so heavy as to create drag when a fish picks it up.
Catfishing is especially good along the southern end of the lake from the mid-lake section south, according to Steve Owens of Kent’s Harbor Marina. The fish are generally eating-sized and readily available.
“I can usually keep half of my catch on any given day,” said Owens. “From the Kent’s Harbor Marina docks to the south end of the lake it’s fairly shallow. Just cast night crawlers out about 30 feet and slowly drag them along the bottom until a catfish hits them.”
Ramps are located all around Brookville Lake
and are easy to find on an Indiana Atlas & Gazetteer by DeLorme. Boat rentals are available from Kent’s Harbor Marina and the Quakertown Marina.
Biologists recommend that anglers decontaminate their boats due to the zebra mussels before moving boats to other waters.
Call District 5 at (765) 342-5527, the Brookville Reservoir office at (765) 647-2657 or Kent’s Harbor Marina in Liberty at (765) 458-7431 for more information.
Call the Franklin County CVB at 1-866-647-6555 or visit online at www.franklincountyin.com for information on where to stay. For more information, contact the DFW online at www.in.gov/dnr.