JANUARY - Yellow Perch: Lake Maxinkuckee
Ice-anglers in southwestern Marshall County should head to Lake Maxinkuckee near Culver as soon as the ice is safe. This 1,864-acre natural lake features plenty of fish to lure eager ice-fishermen, from toothy walleyes and hand-sized bluegills to beautifully marked jumbo perch. The yellow perch, in particular, are the favorite of some of the regulars here.
Lake Maxinkuckee is a great perch lake. It is deep, with a maximum depth of 88 feet and lots of holes and sharp breaklines. There are also several mid-lake humps where the bottom comes up to within 6-12 feet of the surface. Schools of yellow perch cruise along the bottom and over these humps, searching for an easy meal.
Other Options: Clear Lake Bluegills: Use ice jigs tipped with beemoths or spikes for top bluegill action. Lake Wawasee Crappies: Early-ice crappies will be active in the channels on the northeast side of the lake.
FEBRUARY - Northern Pike: J.C. Murphey Lake
Willow Slough Fish & Wildlife Area in Newton County is home to the shallow but productive J.C. Murphey Lake. Although the lake is known as an excellent bluegill water, recently stocked northern pike have been growing very fast here.
Department of Natural Resources District 1 Fisheries Biologist Tom Bacula manages the fishery at J.C. Murphey Lake, and he says the pike population should be in great shape.
"In 2014 and 2015 we stocked about 10,000 northern pike each year," he noted. "Based on previous growth rates, these fish should be in the 27- to 30-inch range during the 2017-2018 winter."
Pike can be targeted with tip-ups in the slightly deeper channels that lead from one area of the lake to another.
Other Options: Ohio River Saugers: A jig/minnow fished on the bottom can produce limits of sauger below the dams. St. Joseph River Steelhead: Steelhead will hit fluorescent orange spinners around the river's riffles and other structure.
MARCH - Brown Trout: Lake Michigan
Hardy anglers in northern Indiana know that March is one of the best times of the year to catch big brown trout from Lake Michigan. Higher water temperatures from industrial warmwater discharge sites and harbors attract browns to our southern shoreline throughout the winter, and by March there are plenty of fish in the shallows.
The average brown trout typically weighs 3 or 4 pounds, but it is not unusual to catch fish in the 6- to 12-pound range. Bigger trout that tip the scales in the teens are also possible catches whenever fishing around the warmer waters found near Hammond, East Chicago, Gary, Portage and Michigan City.
Other Options: Little Calumet River Steelhead: Drifting dime-sized spawn sacs through deeper holes can tempt resident steelhead to bite. Lake Michigan Coho Salmon: This is one of the best months for targeting schools of cohos in nearshore waters.
APRIL - Largemouth Bass: Patoka Lake
Patoka Lake in southern Indiana's Orange, Dubois and Crawford counties is an excellent place to fish for largemouth bass. With 8,800 acres to explore, bass anglers will have no shortage of places to wet a line. Bass habitat is almost everywhere, too, including underwater stump beds, rocky ledges, weedy back coves, muddy shorelines and submerged brush piles.
Patoka is known for both numbers of bass and size of bass caught here. Once small bass reach a size where they can eat other fish like gizzard shad, they grow very quickly. Bass of all sizes can be found throughout the lake.
One of the best places to fish for trophy-sized bass here in the springtime is up in the creek channels where the water is a little warmer.
Other Options: Lake Michigan Coho Salmon: Trolling dodger & fly combos becomes very effective for spring cohos in April. Lake Monroe Crappies: The crappie action can be hot around any sunken brush or submerged woody structure this month.
MAY - Bluegills: J.C. Murphey Lake
Biologist Tom Bacula reported that the bluegills are doing well.
"There is a good population outthere," he said. "Our 2017 survey collected more than twice as many bluegills as the 2016 survey, but most of those fish were in the 4- to 6-inch range."
The large increase in surveyed fish was from a very strong year class a couple of years ago, Bacula continued. "This isn't to say we haven't had similar populations of those nice larger bluegills as previous years, but finding them has been difficult for some anglers. This upcoming year class should be 5 to 7 inches (long) by the spring of 2018, so anglers could have good action but they might have to sort to get their keepers."
Other Options: Patoka Lake Channel Cats: Catfish will be close to shore and very catchable as they prepare to spawn. Lake Michigan Lake Trout: May is one of the best months to catch lakers offshore, using both shallow and deep lines.
JUNE - Steelhead Trout: Lake Michigan
According to some anglers, Father's Day is the traditional kickoff to the Lake Michigan summer steelhead trout season. This is the time of year when Skamania-strain steelhead begin their annual spawning run and return from the open waters of the lake to each of Indiana's creek mouths.
Steelhead return to the stream or river where they were born (or stocked) when it is time for them to spawn. In Indiana, they home-in on the mouth of Trail Creek in Michigan City and Burns Waterway near Portage. Depending on stream flows and water temperature, the steelhead may stage in front of the creek mouths for days or weeks before heading upstream.
Other Options: Jimmerson Lake Redears: Redear sunfish will be spawning this month around deeper weeds and lily pads. White River Channel Catfish: Channel cats will eat almost any natural bait, and this month they will be active near the shoreline.
JULY - Smallmouth Bass: Lake Michigan
It is common to see a long line of bass boats waiting to launch on weekend mornings. The nearshore fishing along Lake Michigan's rocky shoreline seems to be getting better and better every year.
Huge numbers of smallmouth bass cruise the shorelines around Hammond, East Chicago, Gary and Portage. The rocky breakwalls that protect those shorelines also harbor huge numbers of crayfish, minnows and other small fish like gobies. All of that food attracts the hungry bass and keeps them there for most of the summer.
Other Options: Prides Creek Lake Channel Cats: This 86-acre lake provides very good channel catfish action on natural baits such as worms, chicken livers and stinkbaits. Lake Monroe Wipers: Anglers should target hybrid striped bass that are actively chasing shad in open water.
AUGUST - Channel Catfish: Brookville Lake
Brookville Lake in Franklin and Union counties may be known as a great walleye lake, but it is also home to a tremendous channel catfish fishery. The reservoir covers a total of 5,260 acres, and channel catfish can be found from one end of the lake to the other.
Former DNR fisheries biologist Rhett Wisener recently noted: "During the summer, I'd probably start out fishing on one of the main lake flats or long tapering points; start out deeper during the day and make my way shallower until I find the fish."
Other Options: Wabash River Flatheads: August is one of the best months to target giant catfish at night on the river. Sugar Creek Smallmouths: Smallmouth bass will attack minnow-imitating lures in the creek's deeper pools.
SEPTEMBER - Blue Catfish: Ohio River
The Ohio River flows along Indiana's southern border, and it is home to a remarkable catfish population. Chief among the catfish that roam the river are the resident blue catfish. Blue cats love big river systems, and huge numbers of them are thriving in the Ohio. There are plenty of really big blue cats here, too. The Indiana state-record blue catfish was caught from the Ohio River back in 1999, and it weighed a whopping 104 pounds. More recently, a Cabela's King Kat Championship tournament (September 2016) featured the big fish of the tourney (a blue cat) which weighed 77.18 pounds.
Other Options: Lake Michigan King Salmon: Mature Chinook salmon can be caught at dawn at the mouth of Burns Waterway near Portage. Dogwood Lake Flatheads: Target giant flatheads at night by using large live bluegills as bait.
OCTOBER - Lake Trout: Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan's deep-water lake trout spend most of the summer in the offshore reaches of the lake, far from shore and far from most fishermen. In the fall, however, they migrate to shallower water to find nearshore reefs and other structure as they prepare for their fall spawning run. One of the best reefs to target these trout is located along the outside edge of the Port of Indiana breakwall near Portage. The rocky reef is submerged, so anglers will need to use their electronics to find it.
Other Options: Bruce Lake Muskies: Cover lots of water with large jerkbaits or bucktails to raise a big musky here. Sullivan Lake Saugeyes: Fish large jig/minnow combos near drop-offs for good saugeye action.
NOVEMBER - Muskies: Webster Lake
Kosciusco County's Webster Lake has been producing big muskies for many years, and this year will be no exception. This 774-acre lake has plenty of great musky habitat, with several deep holes featuring sharp drop-offs, and quite a few shallow weedy flats and points. Some muskie fishermen here swear by live bait, but most anglers use artificial lures. Oversized bucktail spinners are popular, as are large jerkbaits and jointed plugs.
Other Options: Lake Michigan Lakers: Besides the reefs, lakers can be caught trolling the nearby sandy beaches in 8 to 15 feet of water, too. Lake Tippecanoe Muskies: Underwater points and drop-offs are a good place to try a quick-strike sucker rig for big muskies.
DECEMBER - Crappies: Morse Reservoir
Hamilton County's Morse Reservoir on the north side of Indianapolis is a waterskiing mecca during the summer, but by December the lake is nearly devoid of boaters. This 1,800-acre impoundment is a good fishing lake for a variety of species, not the least of which are crappies. Crappies can be caught almost anywhere on this long and narrow lake, but some of the best places to catch them are beneath the many floating boat docks that are left in the water year-round.
Other Options: Brookville Lake Walleyes: The walleye bite here only improves as the weather gets colder in December. Bruce Lake Bluegills: Early ice can produce catches on tiny ice jigs/beemoths.