The daily grind sure gets mighty monotonous after a while. Fortunately, we are right on the cusp of some of the best weeks of the year to slip away to wet a line and have some fun with the family. Whether for a weekend getaway or an entire vacation, a family fishing trip brings a much needed reprieve.
Many of us who fish dream of big trips with big fish. Perhaps it is for trophy largemouths or even a deep sea charter experience. Those may sound like a bunch of fun, but regrettably they are often not best suited for family fishing and perhaps even beyond what the budget allows. Luckily, there are many great destinations right here in Indiana that offer excellent family fishing and do not require busting into the piggy bank. Here is a look at just a few of them.
POTATO CREEK STATE PARK
Starting in northern Indiana, Potato Creek State Park is found about 12 miles southwest of South Bend. Plenty of family activities are available at the park, not the least of which is great fishing on Worster Lake, which totals about 327 acres. Not only does Worster Lake provide great angling, but there are several other natural lakes plus the St. Joseph River within a short drive of the park.
Panfish is the name of the game for family fishing at Worster Lake. There are very good populations of bluegills and redears, and they are very eager to bite all summer long. Some of the fish reach good size, so a little time spent with a fillet knife yields the main ingredient for a terrific fish fry back at camp or the cabin.
Plenty of fish are within casting distance of the shore, but most of the bigger ’gills and shellcrackers are found a little deeper than the bait robbers hugging tight to the bank. If bigger fish are the goal or the fish are simply farther out than the youngsters can reach by casting from the bank, they are easily accessible by boat.
There are two boat ramps on the lake, one at each end, and anglers may bring their own boat or rent one at the lake. However, only electric motors are allowed. This might not sit well with a
bass angler who likes to scoot across the water at high speed, but it’s great for a family looking for some great panfishing. No gas motors means no pleasure boaters or skiers to disrupt the fishing or rock the boat.
Live bait is the best bet for bluegills and redears, although the bait can be tipped on an artificial bluegill bug if desired. However, the simplest approach is to use a small hook, bait up with a red worm or cricket and suspend the offering below a bobber. Redears are a little tougher to catch because of their penchant for feeding on snails and other forage on or near the bottom, thus the moniker of shellcracker. However, a slip bobber is an excellent choice for making lengthy casting easier, but yet getting the baits down to the needed depth.
Potato Creek has many amenities and fun things to do, such as hiking, boating, canoeing, biking, horseback riding or visiting the nature center. Cabin lodging is available on site, or there is always the option of staying in one of the campgrounds. The one downside to fishing Worster Lake is the presence of blue-green algae, but algae are possible at many other waters in the state as well. Visitin.gov/dnr and then clicking to find individual lakes or reservoirs.
Along the Way
Potato Creek State Park is only a short distance from South Bend, and there is plenty to do in the big city, from shopping and dining to a multitude of entertainment options. For a museum experience, visit the Studebaker National Museum, History Museum, HealthWorks! Kids’ Museum, Hannah Lindahl Children’s Museum or the South Bend Chocolate Factory and Museum. The Potawatomi Zoo is the oldest zoo in Indiana and features more than 400 animals. Other choices include the Kitchen BMX and Skatepark, the Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center or a trip to the Bodine Fish Hatchery.
At the other end of the state near Scottsburg, north of Louisville, Ky., is Hardy Lake, the only state reservoir not created for flood control. That means the water level remains consistent and the results are obvious on the shoreline and surrounding area. Hardy Lake totals 741 acres and is a superb family fishing destination.
The campground features 149 electric sites and 18 primitive sites. Room lodging is available a short drive away. At the reservoir there are numerous activities such as swimming, boating, water skiing and hiking. The area also features a playground, archery range, basketball and volleyball courts. There are four launch ramps for anglers bringing their own boats, and rowboats are available for rent.
Hardy Lake has good fishing for a variety of species including bass, crappies, catfish and panfish. The latter is of particular interest to families as they are easily accessed by boat or the shore. There is plenty of bank access around the lake including pier fishing. Bluegills, as well as other sunfish species, are very numerous. Good catches are relatively easy all the way until fall.
Channel catfish also make a good target and a change of pace from watching for a bobber disappearing beneath the surface. Use a standard slip rig and fish on the bottom with nightcrawlers, chicken liver, commercial stink bait or dip bait. Areas with brush or other woody cover is a great place to start, but move around until the fish are found. Channel catfish are possible day or night, but the action is better beginning about an hour before dark and then into the nighttime.
Along the Way
For a nice side trip, the whole family can enjoy a trip over to the Madison area. The historic town has several very old buildings from back in the 1800s, and there are plenty of shopping and dining opportunities to enjoy. Other attractions include the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site, the Schroeder Saddletree Factory or nearby Clifty Falls State Park. The state park is a beautiful setting complete with forest, gorges, rocky cliffs and waterfalls.
A trip down I-65 toward Louisville quickly puts the family in a big city feel in the Jeffersonville and Clarksville areas. There is almost unlimited shopping and dining in the area, plus many other fun things to do. Traveling west from there leads to the Corydon Capitol State Historic Site, O’Bannon Woods State Park and Squire Boone Caverns; one of the most scenic caving experiences to be had.
East of Indianapolis near New Castle is Westwood Park, home of Westwood Run Lake. The park totals about 800 acres and is open year-round, providing a lot of opportunities for fun activities, not the least of which is some awesome fishing. The lake is about 180 acres and has great panfishing opportunities as well as good fishing for catfish, crappies and bass. Tent and RV camping is available at the modern campground. While there, other activities include hiking, biking, picnicking or playground facilities.
Fishing for bluegills and redears is great at the lake, and there are some really decent fish present as well. Bluegills and redears up to hand size are not only fun to catch, but also plenty big enough to produce some tasty fillets. The gatehouse at the park sells live bait such as red worms, nightcrawlers and bee moths. For the panfish, simply bait a small long-shank hook with a moth, worm, cricket or piece of nightcrawler, add a small split shot and bobber, cast out near cover or a shaded area and wait for the action.
There is plenty of bank fishing available, provided anglers enter through the main entrance, and also a handicapped accessible fishing dock. A boat ramp is available, but no gas motors are allowed. Anglers must use electric motors only. A fish cleaning station is also provided near the boat ramp parking lot.
Channel catfish are also present in good numbers. Most fish caught are what would be considered smaller sized, but reports of a few fish up to 5 or 6 pounds are not unusual. Use standard channel cat baits and methods to tempt the fish. Please keep in mind there are special regulations on night fishing later in the year.
Westwood Park provides a lot of opportunities, but there are a few fees involved. Obviously, camping requires overnight fees as is the case at most any campground, but there are also day-use fees for varies activities for people not staying in the campground. If planning to make several trips to the park throughout the year, save money by purchasing an annual pass. More information on the park and lake is available at www.visitwestwood.com.
Along the Way
New Castle is not a large city, but there are places to eat and shopping in town. Just outside of New Castle is the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Northeast of town is the Wilbur Wright Birthplace and Museum. If a bigger lake experience is desired, Summit Lake State Park is but a short drive northward.
Of course, Indianapolis is only about 45 miles away and is easily within reach for a great day trip or two. The largest city in Indiana certainly offers an almost unlimited amount of family activities. The Indianapolis Zoo is a must-see experience for sure, but also consider the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Conner Prairie Interactive History Park or the Indianapolis Firefighters Museum.
SHAKAMAK STATE PARK
Southeast of Terre Haute near Jasonville is the Shakamak State Park. Visitors here find more than 1,700 acres of public access for hiking, camping, swimming, fishing and more. There are three man-made lakes on the property totaling some 400 acres: Lake Kickapoo, about 300 acres; Lake Shakamak, about 52 acres; and Lake Lenape, just a little smaller. The three lakes offer good crappie and bass fishing for families with youths having adequate fishing experience.
For families with younger anglers, or for those simply wanting the enjoyment of panfish, there is some very good fishing for bluegills and redear sunfish. The panfish are present in good number, with most fish caught being in the range of 6 to 8 inches.
The slip float rig mentioned earlier is the best bet for getting to the bluegills and redears. The slip float allows easy positioning of the bait at different depths until the fish are located. Remember, shellcrackers feed on and near the bottom, so the baits must be presented there to catch these tasty sunfish in good numbers. Crickets and red worms are the best bet for bluegill baits, but the latter seems to work a little better for redears.
Shakamak has electric and non-electric campsites, plus seven Rent-A-Camp buildings that sleep six and have electricity in the building. There are also cabins for rent. The lake has a boat ramp, and there are paddleboats and rowboats available for rent. Only electric trolling motors are allowed.
Along the Way
Shakamak State Park is sort of out of the way as far as big cities are concerned, but that is great for “getting away,” and there is plenty to do right at the park. However, a day trip to Terre Haute is less than an hour drive away, and there is plenty to do there. The Terre Haute Children’s Museum and Wabash Valley Railroader’s Museum are but a couple of options. Another side trip to consider from Shakamak is a visit to Cataract Falls State Recreation Area.