Monroe and Patoka lakes top our list of places to seek largemouth (and some smallmouth) bass this season -- along with some other not-so-high-profile waters as well. Read on! (March 2010)
Every year as the temperatures rise and the thin ice melts, anglers from across the state head out in search of largemouth bass. Some search large reservoirs and others may start by casting their favorite spring lures to bass in small, secluded farm ponds. Both strategies may lead to success.
The fact is Indiana is full of quality bass waters from top to bottom, making it an overwhelming process trying to figure out where to start. Although I can't cover every body of water, here is a guide to a few of the state's most popular bass-fishing destinations plus a few hidden hotspots you may want to try this season.
With 10,750 acres to fish, Monroe is the largest reservoir in the state. Located about 10 miles southeast of Bloomington, it spans across the counties of Monroe, Jackson and Brown. The damming of Salt Creek in the early 1960s created Monroe. The lake has a whopping 190 miles of shoreline. You can easily wear your arm out casting for bass here!
You have more than several options when it comes to launching. There are nine different ramps that surround the lake. Not only is Monroe the biggest in the state, it's also probably the most popular among Indiana's bass fishermen. Some fishermen even think the next state-record largemouth will come from Monroe. With the unofficial lake record weighing in over 11 pounds, they may be correct. That's a good enough reason for me to keep going back to Monroe time and time again.
The quickly rising temperatures of spring will bring pre-spawn bass into the dark-bottomed creeks and away from the main lake. Ramp, Allens, Saddle and Crooked creeks all will hold many quality largemouths, with Crooked Creek being a well-known favorite. All of these creeks are loaded with stumps and flooded timber, which are bass magnets in the spring. Crooked Creek, in particular, offers excellent springtime bassing. The stumps and weeds along the breaklines are prime areas for big spring bass.
You don't need to get too technical with your tackle when it comes to spring bass. I have a few select lures that I rarely stray from. The best bet, after you've figured out where to start your day, is to use a lure that covers a lot of water fast. My first choice here is a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait. Considering the endless supply of shad in the lake, a baitfish pattern is your best bet. Cast to every bit of cover you see as you make your way along the creek. My largest bass to date, which I will go into more detail about later, was caught under these same circumstances. Normally, after I've caught a few fish, I'll slow down and pitch a jig with a craw trailer to whatever cover I single out with the spinnerbait.
The creeks I've mentioned above are also great for bass during the spawn. Although some people dub the spawn as an "unfair" advantage, the spawn can mean behemoth bucketmouths. Watching a big female inhale a bait from her nest is a sight in itself. I've seen actively nesting bass take just about any lure.
Some anglers prefer to use bright- colored baits like a white jig or a pink tube. Anglers choose these colors because of the visibility advantage they have over more natural colors like green or brown, which can disappear to the human eye in the dark background of the lake bottom.
As temperatures rise during summer, don't think the great fishing is over. You can find numbers of post-spawn bass on deeper cover and structure throughout the lake. The immense complex of docks near the Fairfax Ramp holds bass over the summer. I like to fish around the edges of docks with a whacky-rigged soft plastic like a Zoom Trick worm. The bait suspends there in front of the bass' nose until they're tempted to strike it.
There are also various riprap points along Monroe's immense shoreline that can be productive when fished with various crankbaits.
Overall, Monroe Reservoir is a good bet and provides plenty of options when it comes to catching spring bass. This lake place should be one of the first on your list to try this season.
Patoka is Indiana's second largest reservoir, with 8,800 surface acres. Located near the town of Jasper, Patoka spans across Crawford, Dubois and Orange counties. The lake offers great accessibility. There are nine launch ramps at various locations around the lake. As far as popularity among anglers goes, Patoka and Monroe are neck and neck.
Right now, the bass at Patoka are already packed into the backs of the creek channels. It's spring and now those dark-bottomed areas away from the main lake are warming up. The Patoka River Arm is one of the best areas to target spring bass. Pitch a jig-and-trailer combo into the thick stuff. Target flooded timber and weeds. Spinnerbaits and shallow-diving crankbaits are also a good choice for early spring. The area around Kings Bridge is a popular spot among locals. Cast to bass with jigs or soft plastics in the flooded timber and laydowns.
As summer approaches and bass start moving a little deeper, begin searching for largemouths around the main-lake points. Awesome topwater action can the reward for early birds who start before the heat of the day arrives. Later in the day, you can usually catch good numbers of bass with deep-diving crankbaits and Carolina-rigged soft plastics.
Don't be afraid to fish shallow even on the hottest of days. Every year, during the dog days of summer, I manage to pull a few lunkers from the shallows. Flip heavy jigs or Texas-rigged soft plastics to matted vegetation and heavy wood cover. The fishing may be slower, but usually the bass you do catch are quality size.
With tons of cover to fish, and hog largemouths being caught at every tournament held, Patoka Lake is a good bet for the 2010 bass season.
Brookville is the state's third largest reservoir. Stretching through Franklin and Union counties, the lake covers an average of 5,260 acres. Brookville is probably better known for its walleye fishing than anything else. That means more bass fishing for the rest of us.
Brookville is also Indiana's premier smallmouth bass reservoir, with anglers catching 4- and 5-pounders on a regular basis. In fact, the last tournament I fished there, a smallmouth was the big fish winner. It was over 5 pounds and there were also several other sizable smallies weighed in Don't count largemouth bass out. The lake holds a great population of those, too.
The best smallmouth fishing is probably below the dam, in the tail-waters. Live bait is always a sure bet. If you want
to make it a little more challenging, try jigs or tube baits. Smallmouths are usually a little more aggressive than largemouths, so you can throw a wide range of lures and still be successful. A popular spot to catch smallmouths is below the Fairfield Causeway, in the lake's southern half. Also, the entire length of the dam will hold some fish.
As far as largemouths go, my favorite places are around the boathouses and floating boat docks. I like to finesse fish, using Strike King Shaky Head jigs with straight soft-plastic worms. Usually, shaking the bait ever so slightly will entice that wary largemouth into biting. That's what put me into the points during a tournament last year.
I had a long conversation with a Morse Lake veteran angler Darrell Pettigrew, and learned a lot from him about this body of water. The 1,700-acre reservoir was built in the 1960s and is completely developed. According to Pettigrew, the lake is full of docks, too.
"Dock fishing is big here," says Pettigrew. "Finding the right docks in 8 to 10 feet of water with additional cover like brushpiles is the key here. There aren't any natural banks. Sea walls and riprap make up the shoreline. The water is dingy, so using lures with lots of vibration like a big spinnerbait is also a good idea."
Pettigrew caught his all-time best bass by fishing docks with a Hank Parker spinnerbait with a big gold blade. He went into detail about his catch.
"I had only planned on fishing for a half hour. The stars were aligned. I came up to this dock with a ladder on the side. On the fourth cast, the bass hit the bait and I knew right away it was a big fish. After landing the fish and weighing it, the big bass was declared the unofficial Morse Lake record by the DNR. The fish weighed in at 8 pounds, 10 ounces."
Pettigrew says the lake can get very busy on the weekends and he recommends trying to hit Morse during the week if possible. Also, there is a moderate fee to launch. Darrell Pettigrew has been fishing Morse for years and has caught many bass in the 7-pound range. Just talking with Darrel and hearing his stories has convinced me to put Morse Reservoir on my list of places to fish this year. I hope reading this will convince you to do the same.
TURTLE CREEK RESERVOIR
Turtle Creek isn't your everyday bass lake. Located in Sullivan County near the town of Merom, this place is a diamond in the rough. Although not a huge body of water at 1,500 surface acres, this lake produces fish like you would expect out of some of the previously mentioned reservoirs.
Hoosier Energy owns the land around the lake and discharge from its power plant causes the water to maintain warmer temperatures throughout the year, especially near the discharge area.
Several years ago, Turtle Creek was named one of the nation's top 25 bass lakes by a national fishing magazine. There are largemouths caught regularly in the 8- to 9-pound range. There is a 10-mph speed limit on this lake. There is only one launch ramp located west of the dam on the south end of the lake. Make note that there is a moderate fee for launching your boat.
This lake gets its heaviest fishing pressure during winter and spring because of the warmer water caused by the discharge. While your buddies are trying to use their numb fingers to bait their hooks for panfish, you can be pitching your favorite baits for big largemouths. During the spring, start at the north end of the lake and fish the shoreline cover with spinnerbaits and jerkbaits.
Later in the year, fish the creek arm points where the channel swings closer to the bank. Fish with deep-diving crankbaits and Carolina-rigged soft plastics. Of course, you can still find bass in the shallows where they were being caught earlier in the year. Turtle Creek is a great place if you're looking for that fish of a lifetime. Let the lures fly and hang on tight!
Located in Brown and Monroe counties near Bloomington, Lemon Lake seems to be more popular for boating than fishing. Don't be fooled. This 1,440-acre lake is full of healthy largemouths. Bass are regularly caught that weigh in the 7- and 8-pound class range. The lake is completely developed and has a county-owned ramp that charges a fee for launching.
When it comes to finding bass here, you can basically split the lake into halves. The east end of the lake is really shallow and filled with pads and grassbeds. The west end of the lake is deeper, and that's where you'll find the majority of the bass in the summer. The entire lake is full of docks. This is a favorite hangout for bass also. In the spring, throw spinnerbaits and jerkbaits. During the summer, as the water warms and the fish move out to the dropoffs, a Carolina-rigged soft plastic will be your best bet.
Don't let the size and boating activity of this lake discourage you from trying it out. I fish this lake several times a year and always wind up with a boatload of fish and fond memories.
FARM PONDS & GRAVEL PITS
With all the hype of outrageously fast outboards and major bass tournaments, let's not forget about what got most of us hooked on bass fishing in the first place. I will never be able to forget the times when Dad would take me to a small pond and turn me loose with my Zebco 33 and a small tackle box full of hand-me-down lures. When I landed my first bass on an old Rapala, I was hooked for life.
The ponds and pits from our childhood days are always good for recollecting, but they also still offer some great bass fishing. My biggest bass to date came from a private gravel pit in Bartholomew County. It was the very end of February in 2009. The weather was uncommonly warm for a week or two. The ice melted away and off I went.
As I approached the corner of the pond, I could see all the bluegills stacked into the shallows, warming under the sun's rays. I tied on a chartreuse Terminator spinnerbait with a white curlytail grub tipped on the trailer hook and cast to the far bank. I saw something big flash and take the bait and started to set the hook. However, I cleaned the reel the night before and forgot to tighten the drag. With the swift hookset, I almost bird-nested the line. I frantically reeled in all the slack.
I had that feeling in my stomach you get when you miss a big buck. I was getting upset already and I didn't even know if I'd lost the fish. The bass gods must have been looking down on me that afternoon . . . because the fish was still on! I fought the fish in to the bank and had to drag it into the cattails. The bass wasn't in my grasp yet, but I remember yelling "Hog!" over and over to my buddy, who already had the camera out.
Not worrying about anything but getting my hands on that bass, I handed the rod to my friend and into the 40-degree water I went. After a few short moments (which seemed like an eternity), I dug through the cattails and finally lipped her. Just like that, on the first cast of the first bass-fishing trip of 2009, I had my biggest bass ever.
The whopper weighed in at 9 pounds, 2 ounces!
That bass wasn't a fluke either. Two years before, during the summer, I landed two bass from that very pond, both weighing around 7 pounds. I've also caught numerous big bass from other small ponds just like that one. Moral of the story: Don't count small waters out or you could miss out on some big fish.
I hope this article leads you to lots of bass and plenty of memories this fishing season. Indiana is loaded with huge reservoirs and tiny farm ponds that are all teeming with big bucketmouths. Take time to study lake maps and research where you'll be fishing and the bass will come. Just remember to check your drag!