From north to south, here's where you'll find our state's best largemouth (and smallmouth) fishing this spring -- and for the coming season! (March 2006)
Bass angling in the Hoosier State is only getting better. No matter where you live, there is a good bass lake within easy driving distance. In many of our lakes, trophy-class bass are present, and sometimes in good numbers.
The Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) has worked hard to improve the bass fisheries and the results speak for themselves. Special restrictions, such as minimum size and slot limits, along with habitat improvements and angler surveys, have produced excellent bass fishing in many waters.
Here's a look at our best bets for tangling with big bucketmouths this year.
"Monroe is a good night spot from my experience," said Bob Craig, a local bass-fishing expert on Monroe.
"I haven't caught the (size) bass on Monroe that I've caught on Patoka, but I've done well at night.
"I'll use plastic worms after dark in a red shad color. If you can see 1 foot into the water, bass can see from 8 to 10 feet. They've got much better eyesight than we do."
Spring fishing for bass means plying the creek entrances and on upstream for a bit. Jig-and-pigs and shallow-running crankbaits are ideal for catching bass that are moving up into warmer water.
Monroe Reservoir covers 10,750 sprawling acres in Monroe, Jackson and Brown counties. The water is relatively clear in most places and reaches depths of 54 feet.
Spring largemouths tend to congregate on the dropoffs in Moores Creek Bay. A small launch ramp is available on a finger extending off the bay on Paynetown Road. Tossing spinnerbaits is one of the most effective ways to catch bass here.
The Allens Creek area still has plenty of fallen trees and old stumps with some good vegetation. The closest ramp is at the east end of the area off Allens Creek Road. Another spring hotspot is the Ramp Creek area's submerged weedbeds and fallen trees.
Boat ramps dot this fine reservoir. The nine public ramps are located on Monroe Dam Road north of the dam, Fairfax Road, Allens Creek Road, Hardin Ridge Road, Paynetown Road, Gilmore Ridge Road, Crooked Creek and on the loop off state Route 446, south of the causeway.
For more information, contact District 6 at (812) 334-1137 or the reservoir office at (812) 837-9546.
For trip-planning assistance, contact the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention and Visitor's Bureau at (800) 800-0037 or online at www.visitbloomington.com.
"Brookville is unique for the southern half of Indiana because it offers good opportunities for both smallmouths and largemouths," said Rhett Wisener, a fisheries biologist with District 5.
"We find largemouth bass more prevalent in the upper half of the lake and in the creek arms, such as Templeton and Wolf, in the lower half. The upper section of the lake is shallower with more flats than the lower end and the creeks offer a good amount of standing timber and laydowns. In addition to being deeper and having more bluff-type banks, the lower section of the lake has plenty of rock and boulder structure. This is where the smallmouths tend to be."
The sizes of the largemouths are more impressive than the numbers.
"Most of the bass anglers I know don't think Brookville has much to offer," Wisener said.
"I have seen quality-sized largemouths 20 inches and larger. I'd guess the biggest smallmouth was 18 inches. In 2002, 25 percent of all largemouths collected during the survey were 14 inches or longer."
The lake is extremely clear with some estimates claiming visibility runs to 20 feet at times. Look for bucketmouths in submerged vegetation, which should be more abundant this year because of increased water clarity.
Give the hundreds of Christmas trees placed near the main boat ramp and other shallow areas a try. Plastic worms and other finesse lures are definitely called for even in low-light conditions.
Rocky bottom structure south of the Fairfield causeway is where anglers pick up the smallmouth bass.
Brookville Reservoir is located in Franklin and Union counties near the town of Brookville. The Mounds and Quakertown state recreation areas border the lake.
Ramp access includes 10 separate boat launch facilities scattered around the lake. Biologists are asking that boaters decontaminate their boats before moving them to other waters because of the zebra mussel infestation. Zebra mussels are easily moved to other lakes on boats that haven't been cleaned.
Depths range to over 100 feet. The lake covers 5,260 acres and averages about 30 feet. At its widest, Brookville is nearly a mile wide and is 16 miles long.
Contact District 5 for more information at (765) 342-5527. For travel assistance, contact the Franklin County Convention, Recreation and Visitor's Bureau at (765) 647-3177.
"Bass fishing is pretty good here," said Bob Smokey of Smokey's Landing bait shop in Syracuse, which is right on Lake Wawasee.
"There are many good bass spots on the lake. Anglers do real well in the springtime at the back of Johnson's Bay where there are cattails and lily pad cover."
The upper section's channels are also good spots to cast Rapalas and similar crankbaits, Smokey noted. Boat docks are good spots to find bass as well. "Just don't snag the boat covers," Smokey said.
"There's a local Amish man who makes the Stutzie Bass Killer that Amish anglers catch many bass on. It's a 6-inch pre-rigged worm and the big colors on the lake are purple and root beer," Smokey said. The lure is available locally at Smokey's Landing.
Lake Wawasee is a tried-and-proven bass producer. It's billed as Indiana's largest natural lake. It covers 3,410 acres and six square miles of water.
"The largemouth bass population is pretty normal as far as our larger reservoirs go," said District 3 fisheries biologist Jed Pearson.
"Lake Wawasee is one of our most popular bass lakes. We've seen some largemouths in the 18- to 20
-inch range and there are some nice smallmouths up to 18 inches. There's a fair number of legal-sized 14-inch bass."
Largemouth numbers have held steady over the last several years. The 14-inch minimum size limit has cemented in the stability of the population on Wawasee.
Try fishing the manmade channels in the early spring. Coves warm earlier than the rest of the lake and are more protected from wave and wind action and make for good spawning areas. There are some cattail marshes with channels cut through them, but they are actually not as productive as the manmade channels that are bordered by houses and cottages. Shoreline vegetation and structure hold the bass, Pearson said.
Shallow crankbaits and plastic worms fished in the weedbeds and woody cover are called for early in the season. Switch to deep-running baits when the lunkers move into deeper water for the summer.
Boat rentals are available at several boat side locations. Three restaurants are accessible to boaters as well.
Boat ramps are available off county road 1000N and Turkey Creek Road. Access is also available from Syracuse Lake via the channel on the northwest section of the lake.
Lake Wawasee is four miles south of Syracuse on state Route 13, then two miles east on Old Road 8 in Kosciusko County.
For more information on the lake's bass fishing, call District 3 at (260) 691-3181 or Smokey's Landing at (574) 457-5232.
Local tourist information can be obtained from the Kosciusko County Convention and Visitor's Bureau at (800) 800-6090.
TURTLE CREEK LAKE
Turtle Creek Lake is owned by the Hoosier Energy Company and is essentially a giant cooling lake. Heated water is pumped into the lake to assist in the operation of the power plant. The availability of warm water year 'round makes for a unique fishing opportunity for largemouth anglers.
In the early spring, bass will be near the warm water, some of which is not open to fishing. Baitfish will have moved into the area and the bass keep feeding throughout the year.
"Go to the north side of the lake near the hot-water discharge," said Joe Trotter of Trotter Sports Center in Sullivan.
"There's a cable across the water to keep boaters out, but many of the guys will anchor along the cable and cast into the area. The north end of the lake is where a main tributary is located and where the hot-water discharge is as well. Hit the middle of the channel, since that's where the flow is."
The 20-inch minimum size limit for largemouth bass has essentially made Turtle Creek Lake a catch-and-release water. The fishery has responded well and has become a trophy-class opportunity.
"You'll find some bass up to 6 pounds. A 20-inch bass will weigh around 4 1/2 pounds," Trotter said.
Trotter has seen just about every bait imaginable take these big bass.
"I'm a firm believer that a guy can do well on bass if he fishes any bait that he knows how to fish well. If an angler knows what he's doing and he knows how to work it, he can do well on Turtle Creek," Trotter said.
"I fish with plastic worms often and let them float limp. Pinch on one or two BB-sized split shot a foot above the worm. I just bump and jig it along and it floats naturally. A Texas-rigged worm would work as well.
"There isn't any one bait that you can say is hot on Turtle Creek with the exception of in the early spring. In the spring, use something flashy like a spinnerbait. The Bomber Slab Spoon is hard to get now, but I've caught many bass on it. I've never caught a bass on it anywhere else, but it works here."
In addition to the Hoosier Energy discharge, Trotter suggests anglers try near the Turtle Creek inflow for spring largemouths. Look north from the creek inflow to the long, narrow arm that nears county Road 250 north.
Another hotspot during late winter and early spring is from the county Road 25 causeway. Bank-fishing can be done from this county-owned section of roadway and you'll be in the discharge area where boating is prohibited.
Turtle Creek covers 1,550 acres in Sullivan County. A one-bass bag limit is in effect.
There is a boat ramp on the southern shore off Old State Road 54, north of the dam. For more information, contact District 6 biologists at (812) 279-1215 or the lake office at (812) 356-4744. You may also dial Trotter Sports Center at (812) 268-3559.
"I always have good luck on the walls ramp area and around the Little Patoka River," said Bob Craig, an experienced angler on the 8,800-acre Patoka Lake. "I catch quite a few bass in the 15- to 18-inch range every year."
According to Craig, Patoka bass are taken in the spring on 3/8-ounce jigs and tube baits around the weedbeds in these areas. As summer moves in, he does well on small-lipped crawfish-colored crankbaits.
Craig has fished tournaments on the lake and has noticed the difference in catch rates from one day to another.
"We fished one-day tournaments and sometimes we catch two or three fish and sometimes we catch 30," Craig said.
Fisheries biologists are no strangers to the lake's big bass, either. According to Dan Carnahan, the district's fisheries biologist, Patoka leads the pack of big-bass waters in southwestern Indiana.
"It's not a numbers lake, but there are more 15- to 20-inch largemouth bass available here than in any other lake in my district," Carnahan said.
A recent electrofishing sample conducted by fisheries personnel showed a high incidence of 16-inch-plus fish. As a matter of fact, over 20 percent of the bass sampled were 16 inches and better. According to Carnahan, the average weight and length of a weighed-in bass during 2004 bass tournaments was just shy of 3 pounds and 17 inches.
Tournament results are more than impressive. Where many Hoosier-land lakes produce big fish winners in the 3- to 4-pound range, Patoka anglers can boast an average big-bass weight of over 5 pounds. Largemouths weighing in at over 7 pounds have been recorded.
Gizzard shad top the list of prey fish these big bass rely on. Lures should imitate small shad in color and action as closely as possible.
Fishing the weedbeds located throughout the lake most easily targets Patoka Lake bass. Plastic worms, crankbaits and topwaters all work when conditions are right. Check up in the tributaries early in the season and east of the boat ramp off state Route 164 later on.
Trotter has also fished P
atoka as well. "It's a good lake for bass," Trotter said. "In some necks of Patoka, there's a great deal of standing timber in the inlets, which is tremendous for spring largemouth fishing."
Stripers are also a big draw on Patoka and largemouth anglers targeting open water next to deep cover might be surprised to be tangling with one of the lake's biggest fish.
Patoka received its first stocking of striped bass eight years ago. Since then, over 500,000 fingerlings have been released into the lake. Decent fishing for stripers has resulted. According to biologist Carnahan, striped bass are reaching 15 pounds and averaged 9 pounds during the last survey. Some of these big fish are approaching 3 feet long.
Patoka Lake sprawls across parts of Dubois, Orange and Crawford counties in northeastern Indiana. There are 11 boat ramps and bank-fishing access is anywhere a road borders the lake. Seven state recreation areas are located along its shoreline.
For more information on fishing Patoka, contact District 7 in Winslow at (812) 789-2724 or Bob Craig at Scott's Hardware in Scottsburg at (812) 752-2991.
These are some of our state's excellent bass fishing waters.
Here is a friendly reminder that most anglers already know.
"If you are not going to keep the fish you just caught, release it carefully back into the water as soon as you can," biologist Lehman said.
Though some bass will invariably die when hooked and removed from the water, catch-and-release works.
Additional information on Hoosier bass angling is available on the Division of Fish and Wildlife's Web site at www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild.