It is just light enough to see, and there is a good chill in the air. A misty fog covers much of the surrounding lake surface as the angler eases into the cove with his trolling motor running slow and quiet.
His attire is a bit odd to some, consisting of a hooded jacket to fight off the morning chill and shorts in anticipation of warmer temperatures later. He spots the laydown he was looking for and casts the bait, the line peeling off noticeably louder in the morning silence. It is a perfect cast, and as he begins cranking the topwater bait over the honeyhole, the surface explodes into an eruption of sound, water spray and thrashing fish. It is going to be a good day.
Scenes like this are happening right now in the Hoosier State, and there is much to be excited about with spring and hungry bass headed our way. The water temperatures are rising, bass are moving shallower and it is getting ever closer to the most exciting bass fishing time of the year. That means it is also time for us to take a look at our annual bass fishing forecast.
Overall, bass fishing in Indiana is great right now. There are obviously a few fisheries that are not doing as well as hoped, but there is hardly anywhere in the state where anglers cannot travel a short distance and find superb bass fishing. With our many excellent lakes large and small, rivers and streams, and Lake Michigan, it is hard to not be excited about bass fishing in Indiana.
Each year, we talk with fishery biologists from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, pro anglers and guides, as well as local anglers and tackle shops to get the skinny on how different water bodies across the state are doing. All this great info, along with sampling and research data, helps paint a detailed picture of what anglers can expect in terms of bass fishing for the upcoming season.
Here is what we have uncovered for this year.
The Big Three
The big reservoirs are good for a lot of different reasons. Obviously they are large and provide a lot of room for anglers to spread out, and there are usually lots of different depths, channels, coves and habitats. This allows anglers to target the types of areas and use the fishing tactics they prefer.
Also, bass fisheries are not as prone to cyclical population swings as crappies are, but they do have up and down periods from time to time. Big reservoirs are much more stable, and the bass fisheries typically do not undergo major changes from one year to the next.
As such, anglers can expect another great year of bass fishing on Monroe, Patoka and Brookville lakes. Along with the distinction as Indiana’s biggest lake, Monroe also has a big bass population and big fish within that population. Anglers should not be disappointed hitting the water here this year.
Dominated by largemouths, the bass fishery provides lots of action and some quality fish. Largemouths are well distributed throughout the lake, and plenty of 5- and 6-pound fish are waiting to stretch anglers’ lines. Some real trophies turn up too. The spotted bass population appears to be in good shape as well, with plenty of fish up to 14 inches and a few larger individuals turning up from time to time.
Fishery biologist Dan Carnahan said, “Patoka Lake is good for quality size bass. It has a 15-inch minimum length limit. I did a bass survey in 2013 and a follow-up survey this past spring. Results from both surveys were similar. Approximately 30 percent of the bass sampled were greater than 15 inches, and 10 percent were greater than 18 inches.
The electrofishing catch rates for both years were nearly identical at 45 bass per hour. Tournament results for the lake are good and have not changed much over the past few years. Patoka is one of the better lakes for quality bass as the tournament catch rate for 18-inch and larger bass is always at or near the top of the list. It is not a ‘numbers’ lake. Don’t expect to catch a lot of bass, but the ones that are caught should be quality fish.”
The Brookville Lake bass fishery is also still in great shape. The lake has largemouths and smallmouths, and both species are looking terrific again this year. Bass typically reach the minimum harvest size of 14 inches in about four years, and there are plenty of fish in the lake over 20 inches in length. The body condition and quality is top-notch, with anglers regularly hauling out some very hefty fish.
It is very reasonable to expect catching largemouths up 7 pounds and smallmouths over 4 pounds. Even larger fish are present and turn up fairly frequently in angler creels. Most anglers target the smallies out on the main lake and look to the embayments in the upper end of the lake for bigmouths.
Blue Grass Pit
A total of 269 largemouth bass was collected during the most recent bass survey conducted by the DNR. The bass ranged in length from 3.5 inches to 22 inches and weighed a total of 302.93 pounds. The catch rate was a little down from the previous survey due to fewer fish being sampled between 8 and 12 inches. However, the catch rate for bass 20 inches, and larger was the highest it had been at three fish per hour of electrofishing.
Fishery biologist Dan Carnahan said the sampling effort resulted in an electrofishing catch rate of 90 bass per hour, with 7 percent of the sample being fish over 18 inches. Carnahan added, “Past angler creel surveys have the catch of 18-inch-plus bass at high levels.” J.C.
This lake at the Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area has a very nice bass fishery anglers may want to take advantage of this year. DNR biologist Tom Bacula and staff sampled the lake last year. Although the total number of fish and the catch rate was down some from the previous survey, the catch rate of bass in the “desirable” category increased from 26 fish per hour to 49.5 fish per hour.
The size structure index of this category, 14 inches and greater, went from 24 to 66. The DNR sampled a total of 457 bass in the 2014 survey, but only a fraction were above 18 inches, so this is more of a numbers lake than one for trophies. However, Bacula likes fishing the lake personally and said, “If you are looking for a summer fishery, this is a great one as it is very fun to fish weedless top-water almost anywhere on the lake and have the potential of catching bass.”
At less than 500 acres, the bass fishery at this impoundment in Sullivan County compares nicely with larger reservoirs in the state. Sullivan County is on the western edge of Indiana between Terre Haute and Vincennes.
Sullivan Lake receives a good deal of fishing attention from local bass anglers and plays host to several tournaments annually. Fishery biologist Dave Kittaka provided data from a creel survey and from a compilation of state bass tournament results, and both indicated the Sullivan Lake bass fishery was doing very well.
The creel survey showed a total of 150 largemouth bass was harvested weighing an estimated 319 pounds. The length of these bass ranged from 14 inches to 17.5 inches, and the average length at harvest was 15.5 inches. There were a total of 15,644 bass caught and released. Seventeen percent were reported as 14 inches and greater.
The latest compiled bass tournament results were from 2013, but the results are well worth noting. There were 15 tournaments in 2013 with an average of 34 anglers per tournament. Three data sets were used to compare Sullivan Lake bass to statewide data. They included catch rate or average time it took to catch a legal bass, average weight of bass caught and the mean weight of the “big bass” caught in all tournaments.
The average time it took to catch a legal bass statewide was 7.0 hours per legal bass. For Sullivan Lake, it took 5.8 hours to catch a legal fish. The average weight of bass for the same lakes was 2.4 pounds. Sullivan Lake’s average bass weight was 2.1 pounds. The mean big bass weight for these lakes was 4.8 pounds, and Sullivan Lake was 4.6 pounds.
When comparing Sullivan Lake bass tournament results to statewide data, it took less time to catch a legal bass at Sullivan Lake. The average weights of bass and big bass caught at Sullivan Lake were very similar to the statewide average. At 451 acres, Sullivan Lake is one of the smaller lakes in the statewide comparison.
The big reservoirs obviously offer lots of great fishing opportunities and other amenities one cannot find on small bodies of water. However, some of the smaller lakes in the state are well worth giving a look for the unique opportunities found there as well. In some regards, fishing on a small lake away from the huge crowds and bass tournaments can be quite refreshing.
DNR fishery biologist Rhett Wisener said, “There are several smaller lakes, 100-200 acres, around central Indiana that offer good bass fishing in a quiet, relaxed atmosphere. They all have boat ramps and are places folks can take their big boats; however, they are electric motor-only lakes, so those with small boats can get out there just as well.
“These lakes all have good numbers of bass, and if you catch them on the right day or at the right time of year you could easily catch 20 or more bass in a day. These won’t all be big bass, but there is a decent chance to catch some 3- to 4-pound fish, and the potential is there to catch a 5-pound-plus bass.
“The other nice thing is that these four lakes are somewhat spread around central Indiana, so one of them should be within a reasonable drive of people in this part of the state.” Westwood Run Lake near New Castle totals about 163 acres. This lake offers a very nice bass fishery and at one time had a reputation for producing some big fish, some over 7 pounds, in the early spring.
It has relatively clear water, and the primary habitat is aquatic vegetation. There are a couple of other lakes that are similar in water clarity and aquatic vegetation. Whitewater Lake is south of Liberty in Whitewater State Park and totals 183 acres. Yellowwood Lake is outside of Nashville in Yellowwood State Forest and totals 131 acres. The latter is full again after dredging was completed a few years ago, and the numbers of bass and angler catch rates are on the upswing.
Rockville Lake totals 104 acres and is in Rockville. This lake is known more for numbers of fish, so the catch rate is higher, but the size may be a little less. Vegetation is not nearly as abundant as the other three lakes, so anglers should concentrate more on contour breaks and wood cover to find bass.
The bass population at Lake of the Woods in Bremen appears to up and coming, according to Tom Bacula. This lake has historically been known for low numbers of bass, but the population has been increasing over the past couple of years. Bacula said, “We have not specifically targeted bass there in the past due to general low numbers. I am hearing this information from a few trusted anglers. Also the size of fish is decent, with quite a few legal fish being caught.”
Bacula said another lake in his district where anglers consistently catch good bass is Maxinkuckee in Culver. He said, “The few bass tournaments out there this year; their catches were pretty good and having mixed bags of smallmouth and largemouth.”
The biologist said anglers use different ways to target each species and those who like to fish clear water and off-shore structure do well on smallmouths with the occasional largemouth in the mix. To specifically target largemouths, anglers focus on the channels and also the various weed beds in the main lake.
The St. Joseph River in St. Joseph and Elkhart counties is looking really good, according to fishery biologist Neil Ledet. He said DNR fisheries personnel surveyed it in October 2013 and found great smallmouths in Mishawaka, starting below the Main Street bridge.
Anglers also have good shoreline access there as well. Ledet said, “The impoundment on the river above the Elkhart Dam is very good, especially fall through November as fish appear to head to the deep water to overwinter.”
Wet a Line
Well there you have it. Use this as guide to get started, but don’t be afraid to wet a line most anywhere in the state. Most all of our bass fisheries are in good shape, and there is plenty of rod-bending line-stretching action just down the road.