January 26, 2017
It may be cold outside right now, but the weather will be changing before you know it. Since warmer weather will be here soon, now is the perfect time to make plans for upcoming fishing trips later in the year. Will you want to fish the lakes and rivers near home? Or would you rather explore new fishing holes at the other end of the state?
Luckily, there are plenty of places to wet a line in Indiana.
With that in mind, Indiana Game & Fish magazine has compiled a list of top-notch spots to fish for some of our most popular fish species in 2017.
JANUARY - Hudson Lake Bluegills
Fishing is very good at Hudson Lake in LaPorte County, and this winter should be no exception. Department of Natural Resources District 1 Fisheries Biologist Tom Bacula surveyed Hudson Lake in 2016 and found a strong population of bluegills and sunfish there.
"We sampled bluegills up to 9.7 inches long, with an average size of about 7.5 inches," he said. "We also collected quite a few bragging-sized redear sunfish. Many were over 10 inches in length, and the largest was 11.7 inches."
Ice-anglers can drill their holes near shallow weedbeds along the western shoreline and fish close to the bottom. Tiny ice jigs and ice flies tipped with a bee moth or mousie should bring plenty of action. The hour before sundown is typically the "magic" hour.
Other Options: For good walleye action at Steuben County's Crooked Lake, target weedbeds in 8 to 14 feet of water. Look for hot bluegill action at J.C. Murphey Lake in Newton County around flooded willows and cattail stands.
FEBRUARY - J.C. Murphey Lake Pike
J.C. Murphey Lake at Willow Slough Fish & Wildlife Area has been an excellent ice-fishing spot for decades, but this year may be a little different. Besides the usual numbers of hand-sized bluegills, this shallow Newton County water is now home to a flourishing population of hungry northern pike.
Biologist Tom Bacula also manages the fishery at J.C. Murphey Lake, and he reported that pike anglers should see some great action here this winter. "We stocked approximately 10,000 northern pike here in 2014 and again in 2015," he said. "This winter those fish should be very close to the legal length (20 inches)." Bring some tip-ups and a bucket of large minnows to target the pike in the deeper channels along the weeds.
Other Options: Nice-sized bluegills will be biting on bee moths and wigglers at Blue Lake in Whitley County. Walleyes will be active in the Kankakee River, hitting artificial lures and jig/minnow combinations.
MARCH - Lake Michigan Coho Salmon
The nearshore waters of Lake Michigan will be the destination for early-season salmon anglers in March, and schools of coho will be their target. As soon as the boat ramps and harbors are ice-free in East Chicago, Whiting and Hammond, trollers will be out on the lake and searching for fish.
Coho salmon are drawn to the Indiana waters of Lake Michigan in the early spring since our water warms-up first, and they cruise the shallows in search of food. Anglers should fish the top 5 feet of the water column for the best chance of success. Lures painted fluorescent orange or red are among the best choices for spring cohos.
Other Options: Brown trout action remains hot around Lake Michigan's warm-water discharge sites. Trail Creek should be thick with steelheads preparing to spawn; fish the deeper holes and around any available gravel bars.
APRIL - Lake Monroe Largemouth Bass
Lake Monroe near Bloomington is a real honeyhole for largemouth bass, and many bass fishing diehards say it's the best place in Indiana to catch a bass of 8 pounds or more. While bass that large are very rare, hefty bucketmouths in the 5- to 7-pound range are caught here every year.
This 10,000-acre impoundment has no lack of habitat for bass fishermen to explore, either. Submerged timber, rocky points, winding creek channels and underwater brushpiles are magnets for prowling bass. Anglers use a variety of lures to catch them, from plastic nightcrawlers to deep-diving crankbaits. Silver or gold shad-imitating lures can be especially productive.
Other Options: Slab-sized crappies will be biting on live minnows at Blue grass FWA in Warrick County. Fishing for coho salmon will still be hot on Lake Michigan, and depending on the weather they may be near the harbor mouths or on the sandy shoals north of Inland Steel.
MAY - Patoka Lake Crappies
Patoka Lake in southern Indiana's Crawford, Dubois and Orange counties has long been known as a crappie fishing hotspot. This sprawling 8,800- acre reservoir is absolutely packed with crappies of all sizes, from bait-stealing 5-inchers to behemoth 17-inchers. One of the nice things about Patoka is anglers have a reasonably good chance of catching a trophy-sized crappie almost anytime they fish here.
One fisherman who knows the coves and creek channels of Patoka Lake is local crappie fishing guide Tim Gibson from Paoli. Gibson recommends fishing the lake's extensive grassbeds during May. "Look for grassbeds near submerged timber," he said. "If the creek channel is also nearby, the spot can be even better." Live minnows are productive crappie baits, but tube jigs are often just as good.
Other Options: The bluegill spawn will be in full swing at J.C. Murphey Lake this month, so look for large colonies of dish-shaped nests for the best action. Big lake trout will be active offshore on Lake Michigan; last year a state-record laker weighing over 37 pounds was caught out of Michigan City.
JUNE - Westwood Run Lake Redears
Westwood Run Lake in Henry County is a small 177-acre reservoir with a great panfish population. Although there are plenty of bluegills, yellow perch and crappies here, some anglers come here specifically for the redear sunfish. Redears typically grow larger than bluegills, and Westwood has plenty of them.
Rhett Wisener, the DNR's district 4 fisheries biologist, performed some survey work here in 2016, and he liked what he found. "Redear sunfish are more plentiful at this lake than at most of the other lakes in my district," he said. "The biggest redears we saw consistently measured 9.5 inches." Of course, there are likely larger fish present, too, so see if you can find them.
Other Options: Large numbers of eating-size channel catfish will be active at night along the shorelines of Patoka Lake. Sugar Creek's deeper holes and current breaks will hold lots of spunky smallmouths.
JULY - Lake Michigan Steelheads
July is prime time on Lake Michigan when it comes to steelhead trout fishing. Large numbers of adult Skamania-strain steelheads begin their annual spawning run at this time of year, and they will be staging at the mouths of Trail Creek in Michigan City and Burns Waterway near Portage prior to running upstream.
Anglers in boats concentrate on trolling spoons and plugs just offshore of the stream mouths, while shore fishermen use heavy casting spoons and various natural baits. Live nightcrawlers and minnows will catch fish, but raw shrimp, cut squid and salmon eggs are often better. Remember that steelheads are big: small ones run 6 to 8 pounds, while big ones weigh 15 pounds or more.
Other Options: Target trophy-sized striped bass at Harden Lake in Parke County by trolling shad-imitating lures in the deep water near the dam. Big flathead catfish will be cruising the Wabash River's shallows at night, and anglers using large live baits like 8-inch bluegills should connect.
AUGUST - Oliver Lake Rainbows
Oliver Lake in northeast Indiana's LaGrange County is very deep (93 feet), but its excellent water quality is one of its most important features. Rainbow trout thrive in its cold, clean waters — and not just for a few months, either. The trout here can survive year-round, allowing them to live from one year to the next and grow larger than in most other Hoosier lakes.
Both rainbows and brown trout are present here, but the rainbows are the most numerous. Some fishermen troll small lures for trout during the day while others fish at night with bobbers and live bait. Nightcrawlers are a top bait, but minnows and soft cheese baits also work. Note that there is a five-fish bag limit for trout, and only one may be a brown trout.
Other Options: Smallmouth bass of all sizes will be chasing crayfish and minnows along the shoreline rocks in Lake Michigan near Hammond and East Chicago. Channel catfish can be caught during the day or at night with cut baits and nightcrawlers on the White River.
SEPTEMBER - Lake Michigan King Salmon
Fall fishing usually means just one thing to Lake Michigan salmon fishermen: the annual king salmon run! Adult king salmon (also called chinook) begin their spawning run in early September, so now is the time to fish for them. Like steelheads, they congregate at the stream mouths (Trail Creek and Burns Waterway) so those are the best places to fish for them.
Chinook salmon are most active early in the run, and they prefer low-light conditions. Dawn is prime time, but fishing at dusk and at night can also be productive. Use large rattling body-baits and oversized spoons to get their attention. Glow-in-the-dark lures are great after dark, while silver, chartreuse and other bright colors are good during the day.
Other Options: Largemouth bass action will be good at Patoka Lake around submerged timber and weed edges, especially early and late in the day. Walleyes will be biting at Eagle Creek Reservoir near Indianapolis. Find them in the deeper water near the dam and causeway.
OCTOBER - Ohio River Blue Catfish
Catfish anglers shouldn't hang up their gear for the season just yet. Big blue catfish are still biting in the depths of the Ohio River in southern Indiana. As colder weather moves in, these catfish often put on the feedbag, providing excellent late-season action. Make sure you bring suitable gear, since most blue cats weigh anywhere from 10 to 20 pounds, with some brutes pushing the scales past 60 pounds.
Blue catfish will take a variety of baits, but whole fish and cut baits are often the best. Cut skipjack herring from the river are hard to beat, as are cut shad and other oily fish. Although channel catfish are easily caught from shore, blue cats usually favor deeper water and it is generally more productive to fish from a boat.
Other Options: Hybrid striped bass will be chasing shad near the surface on Lake Monroe, so cast rattling shad-imitating lures when fishing for them. Muskie hunters should head for Bruce Lake east of Winamac to target the big muskies swimming there.
NOVEMBER - Brookville Lake Walleyes
Brookville Lake in Franklin and Union counties is Indiana's go-to lake for walleyes once you get south of Indianapolis. This 5,260-acre impoundment is home to some giant walleyes, and many trophy-sized fish are caught here every year. Anyone looking for a walleye measuring 28 inches long or more should visit Brookville.
Walleyes will be actively feeding on gizzard shad in November, so fish deep-water drop-offs adjacent to feeding flats. Drifting with jig/minnow combinations and heavy jigging spoons will usually produce strikes. But trolling is also effective. Trollers can use shad-imitating crankbaits and body-baits to tempt hungry walleyes.
Other Options: Muskie fishermen should visit Kosciusko County's Webster Lake before ice-up to try for a big fall muskie. Lake Michigan lake trout action will still be good for boaters trolling the artificial reef outside of the Port of Indiana.
DECEMBER - Golden Lake Crappies
Crappie fishermen may want to try their luck at 119-acre Golden Lake in Steuben County's Pigeon Creek chain of lakes this winter. According to DNR District 2 Fisheries Biologist Neil Ledet, this small lake near Angola could be a hidden gem.
"We surveyed this lake in April of 2015," he noted. "We found that 97 percent of the crappies collected here were over 8 inches long and 56 percent were over 10 inches. Not exactly monsters, but this is a good place for crappie."
Since crappies often suspend, try different depths when you're fishing for them. Most anglers use small live minnows under a float, but ultralight ice flies tipped with a bee moth are also productive for these fish. A DNR access site for the lake is located off Golden Lake Road.
Other Options: Bull bluegills should be active along Clear Lake's weedy flats in Steuben County. Crappies will be stacked-up under the floating docks at Morse Reservoir north of Indianapolis; soft plastic jigs will bring plenty of action.