Here's a district-by-district look at our state's finest bass fishing for the coming season. Surely one (or more) of these picks is near you! (March 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Few anglers are as passionate about their sport as bass fishermen. We've come to expect a lot when it comes to bass angling opportunities, and Indiana's Department of Resources (DNR) fisheries managers have risen to the task. The occasional 5- to 6-pounders are real possibilities in many of our waters these days, and you can expect the bass action to be very good this year as well.
Here's a look at some of the best bassing opportunities available in Hoosierland for 2007.
Two up-and-coming bass waters in District 1 are Pleasant and Riddles lakes in St. Joseph County, according to fisheries biologist Bob Robertson.
"They're small, but they have very good bass populations," Robertson said. "We surveyed both lakes this past summer and did a bass population estimate in the spring. We saw a lot of nice bass during the night electrofishing and ran into a number of happy bass anglers while doing it."
Robertson saw plenty of good-sized bass from 16 inches and up. Biologists found that the bass population on Pleasant was more bass per acre than on Riddles, but both lakes will offer outstanding bassing opportunities for 2007. These lakes are located just east of U.S. Route 31 near Lake — ville.
Boaters can get on Pleasant Lake via the small public access site on Route 31 and then access Riddles through the 1/4-mile-long channel connecting the two lakes. There is no public launch on Riddles Lake. The public access site is located on the west end of Pleasant Lake in St. Joseph County. Kelly's Bait is located on the western shoreline of Pleasant, just north of the ramp and can be reached at (574) 784-8859. For additional information on either water, call District 1 at (574) 896-3673
Aptly named, Fish Lake is one of the lakes in Steuben County that fisheries biologist Larry Koza points to as having a lot of potential.
"We've done largemouth bass population estimates at Fish Lake several times since the 1980s and the lake has consistently had a good bass population, especially for a small lake," Koza said. "Fish Lake only covers 59 acres, but during the last survey, we collected a total of 571 bass. Of these, 33 were 18 inches or larger and two topped 20 inches."
Koza explained that when the number crunching was done, the DNR estimated that there were an unbelievable 80 largemouths in the lake at least 18 inches long.
"I know of an angler who's having a 24-inch largemouth mounted," said Ron Deak, owner of the Fish Lake Campground. "The whole lake is good for bass with lots of lily pads and cattails around the edges."
Anglers wanting to camp on a hotspot and tie their boats on the channel next to their trailer should consider Fish Lake Campground. The state-owned access is on the west side of the lake off county Route 325E, a mile north of Fremont.
Marsh Lake is Koza's second choice for a District 2 bass destination. It's small at only 56 acres and located in Steuben County in the northeastern part of the state.
"I was surprised to see in our 2004 survey that bass numbers were much better than a previous survey in 1989 showed," Koza said. "We collected more than twice as many largemouths in 2004 than we did previously."
According to Koza, the lake has always been known more for its big bluegills than for bass, but that will soon be changing.
Marsh Lake is located two miles southwest of Fremont and is part of the Marsh Lake Wetland Conservation Area. The public boat ramp is located on the south shoreline and is accessible off Feather Valley Road. Only electric motors are allowed.
Additional information is available from District 2 at (260) 829-6241 or the Fish Lake Campground at (260) 495-3081.
Fisheries biologist Jed Pearson points to Loon Lake as one of northeastern Indiana's finest largemouth bass waters. This nice-sized fishing lake showed a lot of promise when the DNR sampled it in 2004.
A recent survey on the lake helped biologists to determine the number, body structure and growth rates of Loon Lake's bass. The results are promising.
"Based on the number of fish sampled, Loon Lake contains nearly 3,000 bass," Pearson said. "That averages out to 13 bass per acre with the largest measuring 20 inches. The percentage of larger bass has increased."
Most of the anglers are buying worms for the panfish and ignoring bass, which may be the reason this lake is such sleeper for big largemouths.
The weedbeds are found in water usually less than 8 feet deep, allowing good access to anglers who use diving crankbaits.
Loon Lake is a natural 222-acre water located three miles west of state Route (SR) 109 on County Line Road and seven miles north of Columbia City. It's in Whitley and Noble counties.
The public ramp on the southeast corner of the lake is along the Friskney Ditch. There is a 10-mph speed restriction on this lake.
Contact District 3 at (260) 244-6805.
"Robinson Lake is our quality bass water with lots of big bass," said area biologist Ed Braun.
A fisheries survey showed 30 bass per acre on this 59-acre jewel and many of the bass measured 18 inches or better.
Robinson Lake has historically been a good bass producer, but is another water where the locals prefer to fish for big 'gills rather than for bass.
The lake's shallows become weed-choked later on in the summer but provide outstanding fishing through the spring. A boat is pretty much required due to the dense shoreline vegetation.
Robinson is a big-bass lake with plenty of lunker fish in it. Panfish make up the bulk of the forage base, so crankbaits in silver and black colors and dark-colored plastic worms fished slowly off the weed edges will often get slammed by largemouths.
A gravel ramp in the Deniston Natural Resource Area provides small-boat access to the lake and is open to the public.
Robinson Lake is located in Whitley and Kosciusko counties east of Warsaw. There is an 18-inch minimum length and two-fish daily bag limit. Contact the Deniston NRA at (574) 834-4461 for more information.
Palestine Lake in Kosciusko County is Braun's runner-up largemouth water in his district.
"The preliminary bass population estimate on this lake is 25 bass per acre, 70 percent of which are legal-sized."
Jack Rickel, owner of Palestine Lake Bait and Tackle, can't say enough good things about the lake.
"I know an angler from Goshen who caught 14 bass in one day, many of which were nice ones," Rickel said. "I've watched him pull a bass out of the lily pads right across from the bait shop with a white Zoom top-water frog."
Rickel said that the top bass he's seen come out of Palestine Lake was a 9-pounder; he said that 3- to 4-pound largemouths are common.
Palestine Lake covers 290 acres southwest of Warsaw off SR 25. For more information, contact District 4 at (260) 244-6805.
"The last survey conducted on Westwood Run Lake was in 2004," said Rhett Wisener, fisheries biologist with District 5 in central Indiana.
Presently, the lake is under a 14-inch minimum size limit. There was a 12- to 15-inch slot limit in effect roughly from 1992 to 2002. A strong year-class of largemouths should be maturing this year to provide great fishing for legal-sized and better bass.
"I don't always hear a lot about Westwood unless we're there surveying the lake, but one thing I usually hear is that it's a good lake to fish in the spring," Wisener said. "I think this is due to the fact that the weedbeds aren't quite as thick in the spring. Also, the bass are shallower and easier to catch than in the summer. What helps is that there are some good-sized bass being caught in the spring, too."
Westwood is located four miles northwest of New Castle on county Route 275 West. The lake covers 175 acres and is part of the Big Blue River Conservancy District (BBRCD).
For more information, contact District 5 at (765) 342-5527 or the BBRCD at (765) 987-1232.
"West Boggs Creek Reservoir offers plenty of good fishing for legal-sized and larger bass," said fisheries biologist Dave Kittaka. "We surveyed the lake in 2006, and though it wasn't for the purpose of estimating bass numbers, we sampled 300 bass and 50 percent of them were at least 14 inches long. . . ."
Biologists have found declining numbers of bass since the gizzard shad invasion, but the fishery is still worth the trip.
West Boggs covers 622 acres in Davies and Martin counties.
Sullivan Lake in Sullivan County is another top pick of Kittaka's.
"We conducted a bass population estimate for Sullivan last April and collected a total of 1,918 bass over the course of three nights of electrofishing. Sullivan Lake has a good, stable population of bass and good opportunities for taking legal-sized largemouths, and bigger."
A DNR survey in 2003 showed over 15,000 bass were caught and released.
"My best bass from Sullivan Lake was over 7 pounds, and every spring anglers bring 6- and 7-pound bass into the shop," said Joe Trotter of the Trotter Sport Center.
"I caught it on a Kelly's Striper plastic worm. These worms are made in Fort Wayne and the purple worms with a white stripe have been my best sellers for years."
Contact District 6 at (812) 279-1215 or the Trotter Sports Center at (812) 268-3559 for more information.
Year in and year out, 8,800-acre Patoka Lake is one of the best bass waters in the state, according to fisheries biologist Dan Carnahan.
"The catch rate in Patoka for 15-inch and larger bass is very good with a lot of 18-inch largemouths now available," Carnahan said.
Jeff Dukes of the Hoosier Hills Marina points out that the tournament anglers have clued in on the great bassing Patoka offers.
"In the spring, the action starts up in the river where the water is shallower and warms up first, then spreads down toward the deeper areas of the lake," Dukes said.
He recommends targeting the abundant flooded timber and the hundreds of lake-bottom springs as the weather warms up. The lake is only about 25 years old and still maintains plenty of submerged, woody structure. The irregular shoreline and winding arms of Patoka can make locating bass difficult.
Ten launch ramps serve boaters on this sprawling lake in Dubois, Orange and Crawford counties.
Patoka is located south of French Lick on SR 145 and east of Jasper on SR 164. Visit the Patoka Lake Association's Web site for information at www.PatokaLakeIndiana.com. The park office phone number is (812) 685-2464. Boat rentals are available from the Hoosier Hills Marina at (812) 678-3313.
The Ferdinand State Forest Lake is just about the opposite of busy Patoka Lake in every way but one, and that's the excellent bass fishing. The lake only covers 42 acres but is highly recommended by Carnahan.
"Since the imposition of the 12- to 15-inch slot limit in 2001, the numbers of larger bass have significantly increased," Carnahan said.
Over half the lake is open to shoreline fishing and boat rentals are available. Dipping a line in Ferdinand can result in a 20-inch-plus largemouth.
Ferdinand Lake is located in Dubois County in the state forest and only trolling motor use is allowed for boaters. To reach the forest, travel six miles east of Ferdinand on SR 264. The office can be reached at (812) 367-1524. For more information, contact District 7 at (812) 789-2724.
Bischoff Reservoir, also known as Batesville Reservoir or Morris Reservoir, in southeastern Indiana, may be one of the region's best bets for 2007. There are plenty of big largemouth bass in this little lake.
"Based on data collected by nighttime electrofishing in 2005, I would recommend bass anglers check out Bischoff Reservoir in Ripley County," said fisheries biologist Larry Lehman.
"I collected 121 largemouth bass in two hours of electrofishing at Bischoff. Over 25 percent were 14 inches or longer and the longest bass was over 21 inches."
A 14-inch minimum length limit is in place. Boaters are allowed motors up to 6 horsepower or may use electric motors on the lake's 190 acres.
Starve Hollow has even better largemouth prospects than Bischoff, according to biologist Lehman.
"I collected approximately 150 largemouth bass in 90 minutes of electrofishing at Starve Hollow Lake in Jackson County," Lehman said.
"Over a third of these bass were 14 inches or longer, which is the minimum length limit, and the largest bass was nearly 18 inches."
Only electric motors are permitted on this 145-acre lake and a DNR launching permit is required. Additional information is available from District 8 at (812) 358-4110.
Lake Michigan's smallmouth bass numbers are growing, said Janel Palla, assistant fisheries biologist with the DNR's Lake Michigan office in Michigan City.
"Shoreline development in the form of riprap and other structures create good smallmouth bass habitat," Palla said. "Protected areas, such as the land side of breakwaters and the inside of marinas, where fishing is allowed, produce the best action. Where you find protected riprap areas, you're going to find big bass."
Many of the best areas are closed to boat fishing, Palla said, and the responsibility to know where these off-limits areas are lies with the angler. The Port of Indiana, for one, has an administrative rule prohibiting fishing from a boat, but allows limited shoreline angling. Each marina is different and some provide fishing platforms and allow boat fishing. The on-duty attendants at the security gates can provide on-site information or contact the marinas by telephone.
"Areas other than marinas that provide good smallmouth action are outside of the Inland Steel Wall in East Chicago, Buffington Harbor in Gary and even outside of the marina locations in calm wave conditions," Palla said.
March and April water temperatures can be on the chilly side. The warmwater discharges may be the early-season ticket. Homeland Security measures are taken seriously and have resulted in some areas previously open to public angling being closed. The Dominion State Line Power Plant, formerly known as the State Line Generating Station and located on the Indiana/Illinois state line, the BP Oil Company/Amoco plant in Whiting and the Northern Indiana Public Service Company in Michigan City all have warmwater discharges that provide good smallie action.
Bass regulations on the big lake are a daily bag limit of three bass with a minimum size limit of 14 inches.
For more information, contact the Lake Michigan DNR office at (219) 874-6824, and for port information, call the central office of the Port of Indiana at (800) 232-7678 and the State Line Plant and Hammond marinas at (219) 659-7678.
For information on where to stay, contact the Indiana Office of Tourism at (800) 677-9800 or visit online at EnjoyIndiana.com.