Mention the month of May to any serious Hoosier angler and watch the reaction on their faces. May means fish €¦ lots fish, and at times some big fish, too!
As the first truly sustained and lasting warm temperatures raise water temperatures around Hoosierland, the fish will begin to feed in earnest to prepare for spawning, recuperate from spawning, or just break from their cold weather "hibernation," depending on the species.
SKINNER LAKE CRAPPIES
Fisheries Biologist Jed Pearson has monitored the waters in northeastern Indiana for many years. I asked Pearson what his thoughts were on a great panfishing spot in this area of the state for May. He quickly mentioned Skinner, a 125-acre natural lake located off of St. Rd. 8, just east of Albion in Noble County.
"This natural lake is loaded with black crappies. Although most of them tend to run small — about 8 inches long — some larger crappies are available. The water may be muddy at times, so light-colored jigs work best," he advises.
Twister-tail-style jigs of around 1/16 to 1/8 ounce work well for crappies and, as Pearson mentions, lighter colors seem to work best. Chartreuse, orange, white, or any of the translucent metallic-colored bodies work real well.
There are literally dozens of jigs, or jig-style lures, to use and it's well advised to switch colors often until you find one that the fish are taking on that particular day. As with many other types of fishing, trial-and-error will help you find a style of jig that you like best.
From there it's advisable to have several jig head sizes in a variety of known crappie-catching colors. You can mix and match jighead color with soft body color to find a combination that works for you.
There are many different types and styles of soft bodies to choose from, as well. I really like the Berkley Power-impregnated bodies for walleye and crappie, both. Mister Twister Exude bodies are a good bet as well.
Another great soft body lure is the 2-inch Storm Wild Eye Swim Shad. This is a different jig-style lure that actually has the lead weight inside of the soft body. This lure actually fishes lighter than it is and can be a great lure when fish aren't hitting that hard. It glides through the water in a unique way and can really lure crappies in for a strike.
Another great jig-style lure to use would be the time-honored Road Runner. This spinner/jig combo is one of the absolute best lures to use for black and/or white crappies anywhere. And no crappie article would be complete without mentioning the old Berkley Johnson Beetle Spin.
According to Pearson, the best places to fish for crappie in the spring are the along the emerging lily pads in the four corners of the lake.
Pitching jigs, or other crappie lures near lily pads, sunken timber along the shoreline or other suitable cover and slowly retrieving them back to the boat can yield some impressive catches.
Another great method is to use your electric motor and hover over active fish using a vertical jigging presentation. If the crappie bite is on, you shouldn't need live bait, but some anglers love to tip these jigs with lively crappie minnows.
If you prefer to use live bait to catch crappies, you can also just fish a simple minnow-and-slip-bobber rig. I've found that using Tru Turn hooks can be a real plus when catching crappies, or panfish in general. The long shank on the hook helps with removing it from a hungry fish's mouth. Crappies have a tendency to inhale live minnows.
Whatever your chosen presentation, you should find many active crappies on Skinner throughout the month of May. The DNR access is located off of Skinner Lake Drive West, on the west side of the lake. You can pick up St. Rd. 8 off of St. Rd. 3, outside of Kendallville.
CENTRAL INDIANA WALLEYE
According to Central Indiana Fisheries Biologist Rhett Wisener, Central Indiana's District 5 is home to many great fishing opportunities for the month of May.
He says, "May is a good month with a lot of different opportunities. Walleye fishing can be good in May as the post spawn bite picks up. Any of the lakes with walleye in central Indiana stand to be decent then: Brookeville, Summit, Cagle's Mill, Eagle Creek Reservoir and Prairie Creek Reservoir."
While Brookeville, Summit Lake, and Cagle's Mill get plenty of ink, we'll focus on a lesser-known central Indiana walleye fishery: Prairie Creek Reservoir.
Prairie Creek Reservoir is a 1,252-acre water supply reservoir located southeast of Muncie in Delaware County. The land surrounding the reservoir is managed by the city's Parks and Recreation Department as a recreation area that includes a beach, campground, boat ramp, docks and picnic areas.
A Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) policy change in 1998 allowed the DFW to manage the fishery at Prairie Creek. A basic survey in 1999 identified a high abundance of rough fish and recommended that an additional predator be stocked. In 2001, the DFW began stocking the reservoir with 1- to 2-inch walleye fingerlings.
Those stockings have continued through the 2009 season, with the exception of 2008, when no fingerlings were stocked there. While the success of the stockings has been overall generally positive, Prairie Creek still has an abundance of gizzard shad.
This is a good news, bad news situation; these shad are a high-protein source of forage for adult walleyes, but they also are very aggressive spawners and can disrupt and compete with other desirable species, like bluegills, perch, etc.
Another setback in this fishery was an outbreak of Columnaris bacteria in 2005 as a possible culprit of a fish kill, which was mainly comprised of walleye and white bass.
A general fisheries survey along with a targeted walleye sampling was completed at Prairie Creek in the fall of 2009 to evaluate that same year's stocking and current population. The walleye fishery here continues to provide good angling opportunity. Catch rates of all ages of walleye observed in the fall of 2009 exceeded the average catch rate of all ages from 2001 to 2007.
A great way to locate fish is to pitch twister-tail-style jigs and minnows into suitable walleye structure. You can generally locate impoundment walleyes near inlets, around sunken treetops, inside of deep bends in the main creek channel, hanging out on breaks near deeper water or within a reasonable distance of the main creek channel.
Bobby J. Patterson, superintendent of the park explains, "Over the past couple of years we have had some really good-sized walleye caught here. The fish average around 18-20 inches with some reaching 28 inches.
"The better spots are trolling the deeper creekbed in the center of the lake, or near the point by the campground area where another creekbed feeds into the reservoir. Other areas include the area near the dam and also on the south end not far from the island."
Another great lure to use would be any of the walleye crankbaits like Rapala Shad Raps, or Minnow Raps; Storm Thundersticks; Reef Runners; or Cotton Cordell Wally Divers. Other options would be simple Lindy-style live-bait rigs, spinner harnesses with nightcrawlers, or even ribbon leeches, if you can find them.
Once you've located walleyes, you can often count on picking up more than one. While the majority of your fish will be the smaller males, you can't count out catching a bigger male, or even a giant post-spawn sow.
Prairie Creek Reservoir and Campground is located 5 miles southeast of Muncie on Burlington Road. For general information on fishing conditions, camping, boat access or water levels, call Bobby Patterson at (765) 747-4776.
LAKE MICHIGAN MIXED BAG
Brian Breidert is the Lake Michigan fisheries biologist in Michigan City. He says, "During May there will be opportunities to pick up smallmouth bass on Lake Michigan out of East Chicago and Hammond. We should also have good coho and chinook fishing early in the month. Overall, May can provide some of the finest fishing on and around Lake Michigan for a variety of species as the lake temperatures warm."
While the smallmouth fishing in Lake Michigan is still a relatively untapped resource, the Big Lake is best known in Indiana as the place to catch members of the salmonoid family. The month of May is a great time to catch chinook, and especially coho salmon in Lake Michigan's Indiana waters.
My friend and colleague, Jim Slain, is a veteran fisherman who has been fishing the Indiana waters of Lake Michigan for several years now. He has developed a system of trolling that has put many salmon in his boat. His favorite place to put-in is at Michigan City Marina. From there he takes Trail Creek into the Lake.
He explains, "In May you can catch them anywhere from about 200 yards off shore in 8 feet of water, or 4 to 5 miles out in 60 feet of water. Once you find the depth the fish are in, you can generally catch them."
Slain first hunts for the fish with his electronics. He targets clouds of baitfish, and once he finds them he sets up and trolls right through the giant pods. The depth where the fish are will dictate how Jim sets up his trolling rigs, but he normally will send his lures 10-15 feet deep as a general rule in deeper water.
If the fish are shallow, he'll generally troll diving crankbaits like Reef Runners in the 4-inch size, and sometimes Hot 'N Tots. He likes to utilize an array of colors — some darker, some lighter — until he finds what the fish are hitting on that day. He likes to use a quality 20-pound test monofilament line and keeps those lines fresh.
If the fish are deeper, say 30 feet or more, he'll utilize his downriggers to go after the fish. Regardless of depth, Slain suggests anglers try to run the baits about 5 feet over the top of the fish, as they'll attack most any minnow imitator that is above them.
Slain also suggests running the downriggers in a "double stack" setup. The downrigger itself should be sent to the target depth where the fish and baitfish are suspending. He also likes to send leaders back at different lengths from the riggers, too.
On the second line that is clipped onto the same rigger line he also sends them at different depths to cover the targeted water column. This also helps keep lines from hanging on one another.
Spoons are Slain's choice for the downrigger lines. There are literally dozens of different brands of spoons on the market, and most of them will catch fish. Slain prefers to use the Stinger spoons in the 4- to 6-inch sizes; usually using the 5-inch size for many of his presentations.
The Michigan Stinger Stingray, Dreamweaver and Pro King spoons are a few of the more popular brands, and sometimes Slain will use a K.O Wobbler.
Two other rods are loaded with crankbaits and sent directly behind the boat. He also alters the length of line on these rods as well. One he may run 140 feet back, and the other he may run 160 feet back. This also helps to keep lines away from each other, and will also cause one of the cranks to run a bit deeper than the other.
As a general rule, both salmon species can be found in Indiana's waters in May, but especially the coho. Slain also had this to say about fishing on Lake Michigan, "It's a great time to take young kids because the fish are biting, and the young coho are good to eat."
CECIL M. HARDEN STRIPERS
Just east of Rockville, off S.R. 36 in Parke County, is Cecil M. Harden Lake, which is a 2,060-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir that was built by damming Big Raccoon Creek back in the 1950s. It is located at Raccoon State Recreation Area, which is managed by the DNR Division of State Parks and Reservoirs.
May of 2010 was perhaps the best month on record for giant striped bass fishing in Indiana's large reservoirs. One of the best lakes to catch giant stripers has become Harden Lake (also known as Raccoon Lake). Striped bass were introduced to Raccoon in 1995 as a means to control a burgeoning gizzard shad population.
Stripers historically have been an adronomous species that spawned in freshwater streams, but live their adult lives in the ocean. In present times, stripers are stocked in inland freshwater fisheries as a means to control rough fish populations and also to give sportsmen an opportunity to hook and then land these sometimes-monstrous members of the sea bass family.
In the early days, many anglers didn't have a clue what they were catching at Raccoon as die-hard crappie anglers occasionally landed one of these big, hard-fighting fish. In the past several years members of these early stocking efforts have ballooned to gargantuan sizes.
In fact, the new Indiana state record was caught on Raccoon by Rockville police officer Jonathon VanHook; a monster that tipped the scales at just over 39 pounds, with a length of 42 1/4 inches.
This boon in striper fishing, and the sporting opportunities they've created have caused a surge in interest in the species. Outfitters that are specifically targeting the fish have popped up accordingly. One such outfitter is Captain Dave Pennington of Reel Me In Fishing Charters.
Pennington has developed a serious system for catching these monstrous fish, and the month of May is one of the best for hooking a true monster. According to Captain Dave, the Month of May is live-bait time for stripers. The main tactic is to slow troll live jumbo redears, catfish, shiners or suckers behind a planer board. And, we're talking big bait.
When Pennington told me he uses 8- to 9-inch redears for bait, I thought to myself "I would rather eat them than use them for bait!" But, Pennington knows stripers well, and the giants he targets for his customers can inhale those offerings easily.
The key is slow-trolling at speeds around a quarter mile per hour, or as "slow as possible," according to Pennington, if the wind is right. At slow speeds the bait swims naturally, and big stripers will attack them with ease. Eight-foot, 3-inch Ugly Stick Downrigger Rods and big game reels spooled with 20-pound Berkely Big Game line are the tools of the trade.
Big #2-#3 hooks are normal-sized hooks for this live-bait presentation and they are tied to a 25-pound test fluorocarbon leader that is tied to a two-way egg sinker. The sinker keeps the baitfish down below the planer board.
On cooler days in early May, sometimes the winds and water temperatures call for a different tactic. On those type of days, Pennington will use his electronics to locate schools of shad and then fish vertically over the tops of the stripers that will no doubt be nearby, using 5- to 6-inch fluke minnows, a soft plastic minnow imitator.
As Memorial Day approaches, and the surface water edges closer and closer to 70 degrees, Pennington will switch to artificial lures and troll them behind downriggers. Big stripers become very active as June approaches so the tactics will switch, too.
Those fishermen looking to hire a guide for the day, or to get some general information regarding the fishing at Raccoon, can contact Capt. Dave Pennington at (317) 590-1061. You can also visit his website at www.reelmeinfishing.com.
While there are 5 different boat ramps, but the best one, according to Pennington, is at the State Park ramp. This large access ramp is located past the SRA office on S. Raccoon Parkway.
May is a great month for fishing throughout the state, and you are encouraged to try out some of these opportunities. Whatever your chosen target species or location, make sure you enjoy yourself and take a kid fishing.