2011 Indiana Catfish Forecast
July 13, 2011
There's good catfishin' no matter where you live in Hoosierland. Cats are just about everywhere in Indiana and there aren't many waters where there aren't at least a few of these whiskered wonders. Some of our lakes and rivers have downright excellent fishing.
If you're set in your ways and won't budge from your favorite fishing hole, you just might miss out on the action this summer. But if you've spent the winter raring to explore the state best catfish waters, here's a look at destinations you'll want to think about visiting.
The Ohio River has always been big-cat country. The Newburgh dam tailwaters may be the spot to try for trophy-class cats, but the five locks and dams along the river all provide outstanding opportunities for cats.
According to Tom Stefanavage, the IDNRs' big river fisheries biologist, 100-pound fish are possible. Biologists tangled with a 90-pound fish while electroshocking, but couldn't bring it to the boat. The Indiana state record blue was caught in the Ohio and weighed in at 104 pounds. Stefanavage remembers a 54-pound flathead during one fisheries study. And he's seen clouds of thousands of young blue catfish that are just getting started.
The Newburgh dam area has yielded fish that boggle the imagination. Talk of 60-pounders is paled by an 87-pound fish known to have been taken here several years ago.
According to catfish guide Paul Willet of Camo Fish Guide Service, taking the guesswork out of tactics is the first step to successfully tackling the Ohio River. Willet's two top approaches are target anchoring and controlled drift fishing.
"Target anchoring is where I mark fish and use electronics like GPS to precisely anchor my boat so I can put a bait within a few feet upstream of big fish," said Willett. "With this technique anglers maximize their time on the water and put themselves in the position of catching more and bigger catfish."
Controlled drift fishing is another way to put cats in the boat. Drop the bait down to the desired depth and use a trolling motor to vary speeds and presentation. The wind and current are obviously factors to take into consideration but a trolling motor usually gives enough control to put the boat and the bait where you want them.
Contact the IDNR District 6 at (812) 789-2724 or Smith's Bait Shop in Evansville at (812) 425-0645. The Camo Guide Service can be reached at (270) 748-6077 or online at www.camofishguideservice.com.
Catfishing on the Wabash River is good just about anywhere you go. Both the northern and southern reaches of the stream provide good numbers of fish as well as opportunities to tangle with a big one. The best spot on the river is in Huntington, Miami and Wabash counties.
Stefanavage has seen his share of lunker cats in the Wabash.
"The IDNR has seen 20-pound flatheads downstream of Lafayette and there are blue catfish in the Wabash downriver from the confluence with the White River," said Stefanavage.
According to Stefanavage, a 60- to 70-pound blue, big by Indiana standards, was caught several years ago near New Harmony. A fish in the 50- to 60-pound range was caught in the Posey County section.
The blues are the beasts of the river. Start looking for them in the deepest pools and then on shallow flats in the evenings. Flatheads hunker down in the logjams close to deep water access. The channel cats spend their time avoiding the big boys.
Float trips are productive from Andrews downstream to the Salamonie River. Several islands break the current and harbor cats in the protected water. Start the trip in Wabash three blocks west of the State Road 15 bridge.
But this isn't the only good spot. The Mississinewa River inflows and channel cats abound. Float down to the power generating station in Peru by the Wayne Street Bridge.
Good fishing is also found in the tailwaters below Mississinewa and Roush lakes. Use legal live bait for tailwater flatheads that reach 30 to 40 pounds.
Call District 4 at (260) 244-6805, District 6 at (812) 279-1215, or the Peoria Bait and Tackle in Peru at (765) 475-0540 for additional information.
The White River is home to catfish throughout much of its upper and lower sections. Most angler attention is focused on the flatheads and channels in the lower stretches in Marion County. There are plenty of snags, rough shoreline, bottom holes and eddies to explore. The upper parts of the river in Hamilton and Madison counties yield a few nice fish as well.
According to Fisheries Biologist Rhett Wisner, over a decade ago a fish kill literally wiped out fish popuations along a 43-mile section of the river. The kill extended from the Anderson Waste Water Treatment Plant to the Broad Ripple Impoundment. A partial kill stretched another 12 miles to the Lake Indy Dam. An estimated 4 million fish went belly up in a short period of time.
The pollution was cleaned up and the cats have rebounded. Channels and flatheads are again found in good numbers and sizes.
A float trip down the White is a good time. Start at the State Road 37 Bridge in Lawrenceport and run a three-way sinker rig on the sandbars and down through the deeper holes. A second option is to put in at the Williams Dam and drift downstream to Shoals.
A 79-pound flathead was caught near Bedford on the East Fork and took the longstanding state record.
Boat ramps are available at the Broad Ripple and 16th Street dams.
Additional information is available from District 5 at (765) 647-3600, District 7 at (812) 789-2724, or the White River Bait and Tackle shop in Williams at (812) 388-7362.
ST. JOSEPH RIVER
"The St. Joseph River in Elkhart and St. Joseph counties is very good for catfish," said Fisheries Biologist Neil Ledet.
There aren't a lot of other opportunities for quality catfishing in the area and the river is one spot local anglers consistently do well on.
This is a naturally reproducing population of channel cats, explained Ledet, and they're taken in the daylight as well as at night. The fish hold in the logjams along the banks and in the deeper pools. Anglers just have to get out and fish the structure rather than one or two spots on the river.
Find a likely-looking spot and set up with a three-way rig tipped with a circle hook and a wad of bait. Cats can smell the odor drifting downstream and will move upstream to locate the source. The smellier, the better.
Drifting is one way to get into the mix and bank fishing is another. The river takes a bit of exploring for a fisherman to be successful and many anglers aren't willing to put in the time and effort. Typical offerings such as stinkbaits, chicken livers and shad are well received by hungry cats.
For more information call District 2 at (260) 829-6241.
INDIAN CHAIN OF LAKES
Aside from the St. Joseph River there isn't a lot of catfish action in the area but the Indian Chain of Lakes is the exception.
"We stock very few natural lakes with channel catfish and natural reproduction in our lakes here is extremely limited, at best," said Ledet.
There have been 6,000 8-inch channels released into the chain every couple of years since the 1990s and the results have been impressive. According to Ledet, the DNR hasn't done a lot of recent evaluation surveys on the chain but biologists get reports that the catfishing is excellent. Channels up in the 30-inch range are taken on occasion.
Witmer lake is probably the best spot to tangle with a lunker.
The chain consists of Dallas Lake at 283 acres, Witmer Lake at 204 acres, Westler at 88 acres, Messick at 68 acres and Hackenburg at 42 acres. The chain is located nine miles south of LaGrange, near Wolcotville, in LaGrange County.
Ramps are off 700S on Westler Lake, the south side of Witmer, and on the east side of Messick off 625S, south of LaGrange.
The chain is also known as the Dallas Chain.
For additional information contact District 2 at (260) 829-6241 or The Angler Bait and Tackle in Hudson at (260) 351-2877.
"Patoka Lake has a good population of channel catfish with a few flatheads mixed in with them," said Fisheries Biologist Dan Carnahan. "There's good fishing during the spawn in June on the riprap and when the cats are done spawning and move out to the points near the creek channels and road beds."
According to Carnahan, the channel cats occasionally break the 28-inch mark and are scattered throughout the lake.
Catfish guide James Collier, of J&R Guide Service, stakes his claim on shad guts as being the best channel cat bait on the lake.
"Shad guts will increase your success over traditional offerings," said Collier. "You may have to look around for a jar of shad guts but they're worth it."
Channels are best targeted on the flats and weedlines around the islands on the main lake from Newton Stewart ramp to the dam, according to Collier. A slip-sinker with a circle hook is a simple rig and a glow stick on the end of the rod tips lets you see the strike. An hour before dusk to 3:00 a.m. is the best time slot for channels. The Allen Creek and Sycamore Creek arms in the southeastern section of Patoka are top channel cat producers.
Patoka also offers up nice-sized flatheads. Collier tempts flatheads with small sunfish and bluegills around the rocky points between the dam and Hoosier Hills Marina.
Eleven boat ramps serve visiting anglers. A non-motorized and motorized annual lake pass is required. Shore anglers have access to the lake from the bordering roadways.
Patoka Lake covers 8,800 acres and is located 13 miles east of Jasper in Dubois, Crawford and Orange counties. Access to the lake is from highways 56, 145 and 164.
Contact District 6 at (812) 789-2724, the park office at (812) 685-2464, or the Patoka Lake Marina in Birdseye at (888) 819-6916 for more information. Call J&R Guide Service at (812) 797-9904 or visit online at www.patokaguides.com.
This little lake is a gem in the rough. Local cat anglers know it well.
According to Carnahan, the IDNR is creating a surprising fishery for a lake that covers only 148 acres.
"We stock Huntingburg Lake with approximately 2,300 channels on an every other year basis," said Carnahan. "You can expect to see fish in the 3-pound range with 8-pound channels being common."
It's tough to have any "secret spots" on a lake this size. Try the points and the old submerged dams. The dams attract a good number of cats throughout the warm weather.
The easiest way to fish Huntinburg is to tie on a sinker heavy enough to keep the bait near the bottom and slowly drift around the lake.
Channels have been stocked in this lake since 1978. During the most recent fisheries survey biologists found channel cats ranging up to 21 inches. Thirty-one percent of the sampled cats were at least 16 inches in length.
A concrete ramp and gravel parking lot is located on the northeast corner of the lake. Only trolling motors are allowed. Bank fishing spots are abundant for the shore-bound angler.
Huntingburg Lake is located a mile west of the town of Huntingburg on State Road 64 in Dubois County.
Call District 6 at (812) 789-2724 or Morrison's Rod and Reel in Huntington at (260) 468-9300 for additional information.
BLUE GRASS FWA
The Bluegrass, Loon and Otter pits are another winner in Carnahan's top catfish picks this year. The pits are interconnected by underground culverts so the cats come and go as they please. Channel catfish are caught in good numbers on all three small lakes.
"Expect channel cats up to 10 pounds with 2- and 3-pounders being common," said Carnahan.
The 2009 fisheries survey indicated that about 400 channel cats were harvested from Blue Grass pit alone. The combined weight was nearly 500 pounds. The largest fish hit the 26-inch mark and the average take-home cat was 15.5 inches.
The fishing is usually good along the deeper weed edges in Blue Grass Pit and in the sunken timber in Loon and Otter.
A lot of anglers miss the fish by laying baits on the bottom in the hot weather and then leaving them there. These cats will suspend during the summer months to take advantage of the shad in all three lakes. Try a shad-imitation soft plastic bait fished slowly if the bottom bite isn't producing. The approach is a bit unconventional, but it an approach that puts you on fish.
Blue Grass covers 200 acres, Loon 180 acres and Otter is 90 acres. The 2,532-acre FWA hosts 28 reclaimed strip-mining pits. Outboard motors have been allowed since 2007 on all three pits, but only at idle speed.
Shoreline access is available for Blue Grass and Loon pits along Boonville-New Harmony Road in Warrick County. These two pits both have one paved and one gravel ramp each.
Contact District 6 at (812) 789-2724 for additional information.