The rampant excitement of spring fishing has tapered off some, but now it is time to ramp that excitement back up for a whole new kind of fun. The onset of summer means peak fishing success is winding down for some fish species, but certainly not for the whiskered kind.
The best weeks of catfishing are straight ahead, and whiskerfish enthusiasts are on the edge of their seats just considering the possibilities.
Yes it is catfish time, which means it is also time for our annual catfish forecast. Sure it is plenty easy to find a great catfish hole in Indiana, be it a big river, one of our huge reservoirs or just the farm pond down the road. But Hoosiers who are diehard cat anglers require and deserve a healthy dose of insider information just as do the bass anglers.
Therefore, we have talked with fishery biologists and local anglers, crunched some numbers and compiled a nice list of locations throughout the state where catfish action should be terrific this year. Let’s jump right into it.
To target really big catfish, many anglers head to the rivers, in particular the Ohio River. The Ohio River is definitely a place with a high probability of producing a trophy. The river has good populations of all three main catfish species and large specimens of each are caught frequently.
Channel catfish are the most abundant and also the most widespread, being found throughout the entire river in good numbers. Blue catfish are also abundant and fairly well distributed along the Indiana border; although they are more populated in the pools closest to where the Ohio joins the Mississippi River and blue catfish numbers begin to taper once past Cincinnati. There are also plenty of jumbo flatheads in the river, but they are less numerous and more nomadic.
Another great option is of course the Wabash River. All three species are present, with channel cats being the most abundant. But there are also some huge flatheads, with anglers reporting catches of fish weighing 40 pounds or more.
Craig Jansen, big river fisheries biologist for the DNR, said, “We’ve captured a couple 25- to 30-pound flatheads in the Wabash River all the way up near Lafayette.”
The Wabash offers lots of catfishing opportunity, but some of the river is fairly shallow, so anglers need to target efforts in more preferred catfish habitat.
The Patoka and White rivers also offer plenty of good catfish action. The latter of course is where the state record flathead was caught, a whopper weighing just shy of 80 pounds. Jansen said blue catfish seem to be becoming more abundant in the White River as well as the aforementioned Wabash River.
He also said they have captured flatheads in excess of 20 pounds while sampling on the “relatively small” Patoka River.
Like the rivers in Indiana, most all of the larger reservoirs offer good catfishing opportunities. Of these, some are obviously better than others. But the larger reservoirs have the size, forage base and diversity of habitats to help catfish populations stay strong.
About Brookville Reservoir, DNR fisheries biologist Rhett Wisener said, “Channel catfish are extremely abundant throughout the entire lake. In a 2013 survey there, they were the most abundant species collected. They were found up to 28 inches and were very abundant between 8.5 and 20 inches. Larger ones are out there. In a 2008 angler survey, the largest harvested measured 30 inches.
Flatheads can also be found in the lake, but we don’t see them as frequently as we do at a couple of the other big reservoirs, but that may just be the sampling gear and where it’s located as these guys can be difficult to catch in the reservoirs. However, one of the largest I’ve sampled in my career, 41 inches, was found there in 2013.”
District 6 fisheries biologist Dan Carnahan said results were good from a channel catfish survey performed at Patoka Lake last summer. He said, “The gill net catch rate was nearly 11 per lift, which is excellent. The largest sampled was 33.5 inches that weighed 15 pounds. Seven percent of the channels were over 25 inches, while 26 percent were greater than 20 inches.
There is a small flathead catfish population at Patoka also. Flatheads up to 30 pounds have been sampled. Channel cats can be found on typical main lake structure in the summer like humps, points and road beds. If there is aquatic vegetation there, it makes the spot better.”
Monroe Lake is Indiana’s largest reservoir and is home to a very nice catfish population. All three species are well represented, and there are some real trophies lurking below the surface. Some of the flathead catfish are particularly impressive, and anglers have reported catches of fish weighing more than 60 pounds. Many folks think a new state-record flathead may be pulled from Monroe some day. Channel catfish are very abundant and plenty of decent size blue catfish are also available.
Rhett Wisener said channel catfish are not as abundant at Cataract Lake, also known as Cagles Mill Lake, as at some of the other big lakes in his district. But compared to most lakes, the numbers are right on par.
Wisener said, “The fish at Cataract though are of good quality. In 2014, we saw a fairly even distribution of channels from 8.5 to 20 inches and the largest we caught was over 31 inches. While we don’t always collect a lot of flatheads there, we did catch a decent number of smaller ones, around 15 inches, this past year, which just reassures that the larger ones are around.
Many local and other catfish anglers in the know are already aware that this lake has a history of providing some of the largest catches of flatheads around, with fish annually that are 40 to 60 pounds being caught.”
Located on the northwest side of Indianapolis, Eagle Creek Reservoir is accessible to a lot of people. “Channel cats have always been one of the most abundant species collected there during surveys,” Wisener said. “Like the other locations, there is quite a size range of them available, including some that folks would consider trophies.
In 2008, channels were found up to 29 inches, over half of the ones caught were at least 12 inches and 17 percent were at least 18 inches. Like Brookville, we find them all over the lake. Creel survey results in 2011 show that, like at most of the lakes, they are readily caught from May through early fall.”
The biologist also spoke highly of Harden Reservoir and expects anglers to have good success there again this year. He said, “Channels are abundant like at Brookville and Eagle Creek. In 2014, they were collected up to 28 inches and were very abundant from 8.5 to 20 inches.
This is my most consistent lake in the district for finding flatheads. While I’ve never seen any that were much over 30 to 33 inches, the ones collected there are always very fat, well-fed fish, so I have to believe there are some brutes that are just too deep or large to be collected in our gear.”
Neil Ledet, a fisheries biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said anglers should find good action for channel catfish on the various lakes known collectively as the Indian Chain up in LaGrange County. The chain includes Witmer, Westler, Dallas, Hackenburg and Messick lakes for a total of 685 acres. There are DNR access sites located on Witmer, Westler and Messick lakes; however, once on the chain, anglers can boat to any of the lakes.
Ledet said, “This chain has been stocked with channel catfish for 20 years. While most fish reportedly run in the 3-pound range, 8- to 10-pounders are fairly common. This info is from reliable angler reports. We have not surveyed this lake for several years. While catfish can be caught during daylight hours, they are more active at night and again, according to anglers, they catch the larger cats at night. Night crawlers and commercial catfish bait are commonly used.”
Anglers near Daviess County may want to make a trip to Dogwood Lake in the Glendale State Fish and Wildlife Area. Dogwood Lake is a bit over 1,400 acres and has a very nice channel catfish population as well as some really nice flathead catfish. A recent creel survey showed the best months for harvesting these catfish are June, July and September.
According to fisheries biologist Dave Kittaka, there were 673 channel catfish harvested with a total weight of 509 pounds. The length of the channel catfish ranged from 11 to 18 inches. Kittaka said, “Trot and limb line catch data from anglers was noted, but not calculated with the creel data. Glendale Fish and Wildlife Area issues a maximum 15 trotline and limb line permits a week throughout the season.
Of the 160 permits issued, 113 submitted catch reports. A total of 315 channel catfish, weighing 2,337.5 pounds was reported. Length range for channel catfish was 10 to 36 inches. Flathead catfish were also harvested. A total of 68 flathead was harvested at a weight of 1,004.5 pounds. The length range of flathead catfish was 21 to 42 inches.”
Dogwood Lake has a lot of stumps and timber, which make good places to find catfish. But some of these areas become heavily vegetated by late spring. The east end of the lake tends to vegetate earliest. The lake’s average depth is fairly shallow, but there is one main channel and several smaller creek channels.
The lake has a wheelchair-accessible fishing pier, three bank fishing areas, and a 121-site campground. Two boats ramps with free launching are also available. Anglers may use boats with any size motor, but there is a 10 mph speed limit at Dogwood Lake. Boat rentals are also available at the lake, but anglers must bring their own trolling motors or small gas motors.
DISTRICT 1 LAKES
District 1 of the DNR fisheries is comprised of the counties in the northwest corner of the state. District 1 fisheries biologist Tom Bacula said anglers may want to consider three lakes in his district for hot whiskerfish action this summer. They are Shafer, Freeman and Bass lakes.
Bacula said, “Bass Lake is normally a good spot for people to catch channels. A few years ago while we had a creel going, some were running trotlines and doing quite well on the cats. The best location in the district I feel is Shafer or Freeman for channels and flatheads. When we are down there in the fall, we usually run across some nice channels. Four years ago was the last time we had gill nets in there and we saw a lot of 10-pound channels and a few flatheads, although I don’t think flatheads would get caught in gill nets as good as channels.”
Catfishing is not quite as popular in this section of Indiana as in some other parts of the state, but it has grown considerably in recent years. The biologist said he does not get a lot of feedback from local anglers on specific catches, but the general impression is that the anglers who target catfish appear to be having good success.
District 3 biologist Jed Pearson said, “We did some walleye and pike trapping there (Pike Lake) last spring and caught several nice flathead and channel catfish in our traps. However, we didn’t record much data on the catfish since they were not our focus.”
During some gill netting at Pike Lake in 2008, biologists captured 23 channel catfish ranging from 13 to 31 inches long, Pearson said. Based on a creel survey, anglers caught and kept an estimated 141 channel catfish that year. They caught and released another 198. May, June and July were the best months.