From Lake Wawasee to Patoka Lake and beyond, here are five topnotch bass waters to consider this season in Hoosierland. (March 2008).
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Hoosier State anglers are enjoying great largemouth bass fishing these days. The state's lakes and rivers of all sizes are pumping out brawny bass and the fishing is only going to get better. As the weather warms up this month, start looking to the southern part of the state for early-season action and then work your way north.
If you want to shake off the winter blues on waters that promise good spring bassin', then these are the lakes to try.
"Bass fishing at Patoka has remained about the same over the last five years or so with low numbers but some nice-sized fish," said Dan Carnahan, a District 7 fisheries management biologist.
March and April are the hot bass-fishing months at Patoka. The spawn usually peaks during the last half of April and early-season anglers should start out by fishing up in the creeks in the shallow water or work slowly along the cliff-like banks on the main lake.
Tournament anglers are enjoying admirable catches on Patoka, too. Big-bass weigh-ins in 2006 topped out at 7.31 pounds with an average weigh-in of over 5 pounds. Thirty-one percent of these weighed-in bass were at least 18 inches and 7 percent were 20 inches or longer.
"The best way to bass fish Patoka is to break the lake down," said Jeff Miley of Jeff's Bait and Guns. "The temptation is to hop, skip and jump around. That doesn't work very well here."
Slowing down and fishing the cover thoroughly is the key to success, Miley said. Find a creek channel, work it hard and experiment with baits. Fish the points and the windy side of the banks the same way.
The bass will dictate what they're going to hit despite your best efforts. As both a tournament angler and bait shop owner, he's found that the hot Patoka baits change from year to year. It was Rapalas and Rogues one year and plastic lizards the next. Spinnerbaits and jigs take their share of bass, but only when these finicky bass feel like taking them.
Miley's top spots for springtime action include Painter Creek Cove and in the river. The cove covers about 1,000 acres of water and warms up sooner than the rest of the lake. Fishing upstream in the river can be either a boom-or-bust bite, but when the bass are there, topwater baits take plenty of fish in the to 3- to 4-pound range.
Tournament angler Paul Jolley spends a good deal of time at Patoka. He's well equipped with a Ranger Z21 bass boat with a 250 Pro XS Mercury motor and Lowrance electronics. He takes success seriously.
Jigs and red crankbaits in the spring are the rule of thumb, Jolley said. They've worked well for him over time.
Patoka Lake covers 8,800 acres in southern Indiana. The lake is located on state routes 145 and 164 in Dubois, Crawford and Orange counties.
For more information, contact District 7 at (812) 789-2724, the park office at (812) 685-2464 or Jeff's Boat and Guns at (812) 482-6672.
For tourism information, visit the Patoka Lake Association's Web site at www.PatokaLakeIndiana.com
"Monroe is good in the spring and is definitely a crankbait lake," said Dedra Hawkins of the Fishin' Shed bait shop. "Bass will be moving into the shallows at this time of the year and will be using shoreline cover like fallen trees. Occasionally, there's a bass taken from 8 to 10 pounds."
Hawkins' choice of spring hotspots is what the locals call the Idle, which is the no-wake part of the lake. There are many laydowns, brush and stumps. This area has a tendency in the early spring to warm faster than other areas of the lake.
The second choice for good spring action is Saddle Creek Bay. The creek channel runs along the mouth of the bay, and there is great cover near the 10- to 20-foot depths, rock ledges and walls with deeper water close by.
Spinnerbaits and crankbaits in light browns and purple will do the trick in the Idle. Switch to watermelon- or pumpkinseed-colored, Carolina-rigged plastic worms and lizards for Saddle Creek Bay.
Tournament angler Paul Jolley finds plenty of largemouths in the main-lake basin in March, right before the spawners move into the Idle in April and May. Many baits work well, but Jolley is willing to put his money on a 4- to 6-inch jerkbait like a Lucky Strike, Smithwick or a Pointer 78 or 100. Suspending jerkbaits, jig-and-pork frogs and big-bladed spinnerbaits all hold out plenty of springtime promise. Once the water warms into the 50s, a Rat-L-Trap is the bait of choice.
During a tournament a few years ago, Jolley and a partner had a 29-pound weigh-in on Monroe that didn't win the tournament! His best bass from Monroe is a 7-pound largemouth, but he believes he's had 8- and 9-pound fish on the line and lost them.
Phil Wilson at the Monroe Reservoir office handles the permits for the bass tournaments and said there are several of them on the lake every year. In his opinion, Monroe is still one of the finest bass lakes in the state.
A fisheries survey conducted in the spring of 2007 showed the lake is producing good largemouth fishing, said fisheries biologist Dave Kittaka.
According to Kittaka, early-season anglers should target the largemouths on the inflowing creek channels. The smaller creek channels dry up in the summer and the grass and willows grow in the streambeds. When the water comes back to full pool, the vegetation is 5 to 6 feet under the water's surface. This is when grassbeds become exceptional bass magnets.
Monroe Reservoir covers 10,750 acres southeast of Bloomington in Brown, Jackson and Monroe counties. For more information, contact District 6 at (812) 279-1215 or the Fishin' Shed at (812) 837-9474. Contact the Jackson County Visitor Center at (888) 524-1914 or online at www.jacksoncountyin.com
"There's a lot of big largemouth bass in Brookville, but the smallmouth fishing is even better," said Tom Carr, the reservoir's wildlife specialist.
"The lake is long, deep and f
ull of great smallmouth habitat. There aren't any submerged weeds because of the lake's drawdowns and flooding. Even during bass tournaments, about 40 percent of the weighed-in fish are smallmouth bass."
The smallies are taken off rocky cover, which makes up much of the habitat in Brookville; the largemouths will often be taken in the same areas. Dual catches are not uncommon and the bass can be taken on the same baits.
According to Carr, the largemouths can be targeted specifically in the coves where there are still stickups, even though the coves can be 40 feet deep. There are a few flats that attract largemouths as well.
The Garr Hill ramp area has a flat that is about 8 feet deep. This area can be a productive largemouth haunt, though it doesn't have any vegetation. During drawdowns, the flat will be left high and dry. During full pool, this flat can be a hotspot after the sun goes down and bucketmouths move up to chase shad. In the lower half of the lake, the Templeton and Wolf creek arms will also hold spring largemouths.
Both smallmouth and largemouth bass utilize the outside points that border the coves. Many of these areas have shallow water between these points and serve as feeding flats. The bass will move up from the outside edges of the points in the evening to sample the shad cuisine. Largemouths up to 20 inches and smallmouths up to 18 inches aren't out of the question.
"Based on what we saw during a 2002 fisheries survey and then again in 2007, I'd say the smallmouth and largemouth fisheries are faring about the same if not a little better than they have been," biologist Rhett Wisener said.
The smallmouths are more abundant below the Fairfield causeway in the lower half of the lake, while the largemouths tend to dominate the shallower bays and relate to the wood cover in the northern half. There are weedbeds that will hold both species and it just depends on the location and depth of those weeds as to which species an angler is more apt to catch.
Brookville Reservoir is located southwest of Richmond in Franklin and Union counties. Contact District 5 offices for more information at (765) 342-5527, or the Brookville Reservoir's Wildlife Specialist office at (765) 647-2657.
For travel assistance, contact the Franklin County Convention, Recreation and Visitor's Bureau at (765) 647-3177.
"The fish populations are expanding into the restored water on Mississinewa Lake," said Ed Braun, a District 4 biologist. "Fishing should be on the upswing for a couple more years."
In 1999, major repairs to the dam were needed and a drawdown of massive proportions continued until the spring of 2005. No one knew how this would affect the fishing, but a Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) survey in 2006 found plenty of bass, some up to 19 inches long. Growth rates were determined to be above average with bass reaching the minimum-length size of 14 inches in just three years.
Smallmouth bass that were sampled didn't fare as well. The top length of the 15 smallies that were checked was only 14 inches.
The run-and-gun approach to finding largemouths is the way the most successful anglers approach this fishery, according to Mike Remie, the lake's wildlife specialist.
"Anglers who consistently catch bass hop from point to point," Remie said. "They'll cover 10 to 15 points, pound each one with about 10 casts and then move on. If they don't find any fish, they'll start over again. Both largemouth and white bass will herd the shad up along the shoreline where they can corner them and where they'll hit them from the water, while gulls will attack from the air. You'll catch a lot of fish, maybe a fish on almost every cast."
Cottonwoods, tulip poplars and willows flourished when the lake bottom flats dried out during the dam repairs. When the lake returned to full pool, trees 20 feet high were flooded and created ideal bass habitat. The growth rates of largemouth bass have been phenomenal as a result, and there is now a good population of largemouths up to 15 inches; they're growing fast.
Remie fishes the lake with his son and they have had a blast. They've had several 25-fish days and on their best day boated 37 bass.
Shad-colored baits are the way to go, Remie said. When the action is hot, use a silver, white or pearl-colored soft-plastic tail on a jig or crankbait. Shad Raps do well, but avoid treble hooks when the action is hot. A single-hook jig can be back in the water much sooner.
The trees that grew on the formerly dry lake bottom have been covered with water and now prove to be bass magnets. This upsurge in bass numbers will last as long as the habitat does.
Mississinewa Reservoir is on county Road 500S in Miami County. The best boat ramps are west of state Route 13.
The lake covers 3,180 acres in Miami and Wabash counties. Bank-anglers can access the fishing piers at the beach and mooring areas and several ramps offer access to boaters. Mississinewa is northeast of Kokomo.
For more information, contact District 4 at (260) 691-3181 or the lake office at (765) 473-6528. Information on where to stay is available from the Wabash County Convention and Visitor's Bureau at (800) 563-1169 or online at www.wabashcountycvb.com
Lake Wawasee is a tried-and-proven bass producer that occasionally yields fish up to 20 inches. Many lakes provide good fishing in manmade channels, but Lake Wawasee's bass take it to extremes.
"Based on our experience with radio-tracking largemouths in Lake Wawasee about 10 years ago, we found that bass were moving up into the manmade channels right after ice-out to set up for the coming spawn," biologist Jed Pearson said. "The bass are attracted to the warmer, calmer water where food may be more abundant and easier to find. I suspect that there is a natural homing tendency in bass so that they return to the same channels year after year."
Pearson found that bass in the channels generally stayed there until the end of May. They moved around some in nearby channels, but once they arrived, they definitely set up housekeeping.
Based on the actual tracking of large bass in the lake, a few of the hotspots this spring are predictable. A 16-inch largemouth was released into Bayshore Channel and then spent time in the immediate area and along the breakline. Among other locations, this bass also spent three weeks in Highland Channel. The same bass left the channel in late May to cruise the south shore in water less than 4 feet deep under docks, swimming rafts and moored boats. The female eventually found her way out into a milfoil bed outside of a small channel and into the center of the southeast bay.
A male largemouth over 17 inches was fitted with an ultrasonic tracker and followed basically the same pattern as the female. It had been released into the Bayshore Channel in mid-April and stayed there until early May. It moved around within the west and east arms of the channel before leaving for deeper water for only a day, possibly because of the application of herbicides, then returned to the channel for the next several weeks.
The moral of the story is that bass stick pretty close to the channels on Lake Wawasee. They'll leave for short periods of time but will generally return. Anglers should spend time in the channels and if a particularly nice bass is taken and released, chances are good that it'll be back.
Spinnerbaits, minnow-type lures and soft plastics fished along boat walls, docks and other manmade structure early on are good shallow-water baits. Natural-colored lures with some flash to imitate spring bluegills should be at the top of the tackle box.
Spawning will take place up in shallow coves that warm earlier than the rest of the lake. There's also a decent population of smallmouths up to 18 inches.
Lake Wawasee is Indiana's largest natural lake and covers 3,410 acres. The public ramp is on the southeastern shoreline. The lake is halfway between Fort Wayne and South Bend near Syracuse in Kosciusko County.
Contact the DFW's District 3 office at (260) 691-3181. For tourism information, call the Syracuse-Wawasee Chamber of Commerce at (574) 457-5637, or go online to www.syracusin.org
Additional information on Hoosier state bass angling is available on the DFW's Web site at www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/