Most outdoorsmen relish the thought of booking an extravagant fishing or hunting trip to some far-off locale, where the fish or game is plentiful and the chances of harvesting a trophy are great. African safaris come to mind for hunters, while Alaskan or Canadian fly-in lodges come to mind for fishermen.
Of course, those types of trips are prohibitively expensive for the majority of Hoosier sportsmen, and not everyone wants to travel far from home to pursue their favorite sport. Many people prefer to fish and hunt right here in Indiana. Staying local means there are no worries about airplanes, dealing with customs, or even figuring out how to transport harvested game back home.
One way to experience the excellent hunting and fishing opportunities that we have right here in Indiana is to set up a base camp near the action, and then explore the fishing and hunting areas nearby. Indiana has several state-run properties that feature lodges or cabins that are mere minutes from excellent hunting and top-notch fishing.
Booking a spot at one of these properties makes sense, and reservations can be made to coincide with hunting seasons or with the best fishing times at local waters. What follows are some top picks for great base camps in 2018.
POKAGON STATE PARK
One of Indiana’s most popular state-run properties is Pokagon State Park in Steuben County. This outdoorsman’s paradise is situated in the extreme northeast corner of the state, about five miles north of the town of Angola. The park is made-to-order for fishing enthusiasts, since it is situated right on the shores of an excellent fishing destination — Lake James.
To make things even more convenient, the state-run Potawatomi Inn is located within the borders of Pokagon State Park. Hunters and anglers may stay at the inn if they like, or for a little more privacy they may rent one of the 12 cabins situated on the property. The inn even has a very nice restaurant on-site. Prefer to camp? No problem. Pokagon also has a great campground with plenty of electric and non-electric campsites.
Anglers will have no shortage of places to wet a line here. Lake James is just one lake in the Lake James chain of lakes, which includes Jimmerson Lake, Snow Lake, Big Otter Lake, Little Otter lake, and of course Lake James. All of these lakes are home to outstanding populations of panfish, including bluegills, crappies, sunfish, yellow perch and more. They also boast excellent numbers of larger game fish, including largemouth bass and northern pike. Lake James even has good smallmouth bass fishing.
Some anglers prefer to bring their own boat when they plan a fishing trip, and that would be fine when fishing Pokagon’s local lakes. But fishermen without a boat can rent one from the concession right in front of the Potawatomi Inn on Lake James. There are also other businesses on the Lake James chain that will rent boats to the public.
Anglers looking for more choices can also try their luck at nearby Lake Gage for bass, panfish or even rainbow trout. Crooked Lake is also very close, and it is noted for bass, pike, walleyes and panfish. Another excellent choice is Clear Lake, about 12 miles to the east. Clear Lake holds great populations of bluegills and other panfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, northern pike and rainbow trout. There are several other small lakes in the area that provide good fishing, too.
The region around Pokagon State Park is an ideal spot for fishermen, but it is a great place for hunters, too. The large number of lakes, rivers and marshes in northeastern Indiana acts like a magnet for migrating waterfowl, so duck and goose hunters will want to visit during the fall when the waterfowl seasons are open.
One of the best places in the area for sportsmen who love to hunt is Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area near Mongo. This state-run property covers more than 12,000 acres and is only a 30-minute drive from Pokagon. It features a myriad of hunting opportunities, including hunting for waterfowl, deer, mourning doves, wild turkeys, pheasant, rabbits and other small game.
Some of the hunts at Pigeon River FWA are reserved hunts. Two examples are dove hunting and turkey hunting. Of course, even if hunters are not drawn for the reserved hunts they can still show up on those days and be entered in a no-show drawing. It’s amazing how many no-shows there often are on the day of a reserved hunt.
Deer hunters may set up tree stands and blinds as early as Sept. 15 and leave them unattended, but they must be identified with the owner’s DNR customer identification number or the owner’s name, address and phone number. There are other restrictions, also, so hunters should call the property office (260-367-2164) for details.
6 Lane 100A Lake James, Angola, IN – 260-833-1077 - in.gov/dnr
AccomModations: 138 lodge rooms ($74.99-$159.99); 12 cabins ($94.99-$129.99)
MCCORMICK’S CREEK STATE PARK
McCormick’s Creek State Park, located in Owen County, was Indiana’s first state park. And it remains a favorite of many Hoosiers to this day. Situated about 15 miles northwest of Bloomington, the park is bordered on one side by the White River and has the small but picturesque McCormick’s Creek meandering through the middle of it. There is even a scenic waterfall here, which visitors can view after a short hike.
One of the most popular places to visit inside McCormick’s Creek park is the spacious Canyon Inn. Sportsmen who would like to make this park their base camp can stay at the inn or rent one of the 14 family cabins that can be found on the property. Campers may prefer to stay at the large campground here, which has both electric and primitive campsites. Food can be purchased in the nearby town of Spencer (just 2 miles away) or visitors may eat in the Canyon Inn’s on-site restaurant.
Fishing is quite popular in this area, and there are some good fishing holes for anglers to choose from. As mentioned earlier, the White River marks one of the park’s borders, and shore fishermen can access the river from some of the hiking trails here. Anglers may also bring their own boats or canoes to explore different sections of the river. Channel catfish and flathead catfish are very common, with some flatheads reaching trophy size. There are plenty of other fish in the river, too, including largemouth and smallmouth bass, freshwater drum, rockbass, bluegill and sunfish, just to name a few.
Possibly the most popular fishing spot in the area is nearby Cataract Lake, also called Cagles Mill Lake (a 30-minute drive from McCormick’s Creek State Park). This sprawling reservoir covers 1,400 acres and is adjacent to Lieber State Recreation Area. The lake holds excellent populations of white crappies, largemouth bass, channel catfish and flathead catfish.
Bass fishermen love Cagles Mill Lake. Shad are the main forage species here, so shad-imitating baits are very productive. Ernie Pyle Island near Cunot is a favorite spot for some bass fishermen, and plenty of big bass are taken there every year.
This reservoir is literally packed with catfish, too, boasting big numbers of channel catfish and some huge flatheads. In fact, many catfish anglers make this their destination of choice when planning a trip to catch whiskerfish. The rocky ledges near Cataract Falls have always been a hotspot, particularly for the behemoth flatheads.
Other fishing options include exploring some of the small ponds inside nearby Owen-Putnam State Forest and some of the small creeks in the area. Mill Creek near Cagles Mill is known for smallmouth bass fishing, in particular. Both spincasting and fly-fishing is productive for smallmouths in the creeks.
Hunting seems to take a back seat to fishing in the areas around McCormick’s Creek State Park, but numerous hunting opportunities are available. Hunting is allowed at both Lieber SRA (whitetail deer, turkeys, squirrels and others) and Cagles Mill Lake (waterfowl). Hunting for deer, turkeys and squirrels is also allowed at Owen-Putnam State Forest.
Note that hunters at these state properties must register and sign-in at the various stations on the properties. Harvested game must also be recorded on hunter permit cards. Hunters at Owen-Putnam State Forest should be aware of their location and respect the rights of private landowners. The state forest properties are divided into small parcels and not all boundaries are well-marked. For all restrictions, call the Cagles Mill/Lieber SRA property office (765-795-4576) or the Owen-Putnam SF office (812-829-2462).
451 McCormick’S Creek Park Rd, Spencer, IN – 812-829-4881 – in.gov/dnr
AccomModations: 76 lodge rooms ($74.99-$149.99); 14 cabins ($55-$65)
CLIFTY FALLS STATE PARK
Fishermen and hunters in southern Indiana should head to Clifty Falls State Park near the town of Madison. This scenic park in Jefferson County is located slightly more than a stone’s throw from the mighty Ohio River, and the park itself is home to numerous beautiful waterfalls that draw people from all around the state. The outstanding fishing on the Ohio River draws anglers from far and wide, too!
Visitors to the park may stay at the famous Clifty Inn, where there are plenty of rooms and suites. There is even a nice view of the river. A full-service restaurant on the premises is also convenient for outdoorsmen who are too busy to cook. Those who prefer to camp may stay at the state park campground, where there are lots of electric and non-electric campsites.
Fishermen seem to outnumber the hunters when setting up camp this close to the Ohio River, and for good reason. The Ohio River and its tributary creeks are home to a tremendous fishery. There are huge runs of sauger in the early spring, largemouth bass are common throughout the river, slab-sized crappies can be found in the local creeks and the fishing for catfish is second to none.
Catfish anglers, in particular, flock to the Ohio River. Some fish from the bank, but most serious catfish hunters use a boat. Bass fishing can be surprisingly good on the river, too. Bass can be found wherever there is good structure or cover, such as along rocky riprap, near bridge pilings or among shoreline or submerged brush. Trees and root wads are common sights all along the river bank, and as long as the water is more than a few inches deep there may be bass hiding among the tree roots.
Hunters have some options if they would like to set up a base camp at Clifty Falls State Park, also. Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge is located only 15 minutes away, and hunting is allowed in designated areas for deer and squirrels. Besides normal state licenses, hunters also need a special refuge hunting permit. Contact the refuge office for additional details and requirements for using the property (812-273-0783).
Crosley FWA is also located nearby, just a 30-minute drive northwest of Clifty Falls. This fish and wildlife area allows hunting for deer, rabbits, squirrels, turkeys, woodcock and waterfowl. The first six days of turkey season are reserved hunts, but there are drawings each of those mornings for no-shows. Check-in is required for hunters. Call the property office for more info (812-346-5596).
1650 Clifty Hollow RD, Madison, IN – 812-265-4135 – in.gov/dnr
AccomModations: 71 lodge rooms, ($94.99-$194.99)