From Indianapolis to South Bend, here's where you'll find some of the best bassing right nowin the northern half of our state. (May 2009)
Bass fishermen in the northern half of our state are a bit different from their counterparts down south. The northern lakes tend to be much smaller than the huge southern reservoirs like Monroe, Patoka and Brookville. But what the lakes north of Indianapolis lack in the way of acreage, they more than make up for in sheer numbers.
There are numerous lakes for bass anglers to choose from in northern Indiana. As a matter of fact, the northeast region of the state is called the "natural lakes region," simply because it is dotted by so many small and mid-sized natural lakes. Of course, they aren't all small, and they aren't all natural lakes. But there is no denying that there are plenty of them to choose from!
Obviously, the season starts a little later in this half of the state because of the colder weather "up north," but by May, the fishing gets better every day. As the water warms and bass become more active, excellent catches can be made at literally hundreds of lakes. Here are some waters in the northern part of the state that look especially promising this year:
J.C. MURPHEY LAKE
Most fishermen living in the northwest part of the state are familiar with J.C. Murphey Lake. This shallow 1,200-acre impoundment is located inside the Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA) in Newton County, and in the last couple of years, it has become a favored destination for local anglers.
The lake was drained and renovated in 2004, and once it was restocked, the fish populations really took off. According to Mike Schoonveld, the assistant property manager at Willow Slough FWA, all of the lake's fish (including bass) are growing like crazy. "There are bluegills up to 10 inches and redear sunfish up to 11 inches," he said. "The fish are growing so fast since the renovation that I wouldn't be surprised if we have 18-inch bass that were born here!"
Bob Robertson, the District 1 fisheries biologist for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), also reports that the bass are doing well at Murphey. "We stocked a lot of bass there after the renovation. One of the stockings included 27,000 bass that averaged 10 inches in length. Some were adults, too, so immediately there were some big fish. We also stocked fingerlings, so we have a real variety there."
The Slough, as locals know it, is a shallow-water bass fisherman's dream come true. The lake's average depth is only about 3 feet, and bass can be found almost everywhere. Largemouth bass are structure oriented, and this lake is absolutely loaded with structure. There are weed edges, sunken trees, flooded willows, small islands, shallow flats and dense cattail stands. "It's a great place to fish, and I think the bass fishing will be really good this spring," Robertson said.
A creel survey was performed here in 2008, and although the results were not ready by press time, Schoonveld had some preliminary data.
"Our creel clerk examined two bass that were kept by anglers that met the 18-inch minimum this past summer," he said. "But there were several other big bass that were caught and released by anglers that exceeded 18 inches."
Please keep in mind that J.C. Murphey Lake has new largemouth bass regulations that were enacted in 2006. Anglers here may only keep a total of two bass per day, and there is an 18-inch minimum size limit as well.
Note that the lake is also an electric trolling motor-only lake. You may launch your own boat at the ramp near the headquarters, or you can rent a rowboat from the concession. For more information, call the Willow Slough FWA office at (219) 285-2704.
Worster Lake is a 327-acre impoundment located right in the middle of Potato Creek State Park (SP) in St. Joseph County. This lake offers a diverse amount of habitat for bass anglers to explore, including submerged timber and brush, weed edges, points, wooded shorelines and even an old sunken road. There are lots of bass here, too, including some really big ones!
Biologist Bob Robertson also manages Worster Lake, and he knows that it is a good spot for largemouth bass.
"We did some electrofishing at Worster in the spring of 2008," he said, "and the results were excellent. We sampled 387 bass in three hours of electrofishing over three different nights. All of those fish were nice, healthy fish. A lot of them were good-sized bass, too, up to 20 inches long."
Unfortunately, gizzard shad were illegally stocked in Worster Lake back in the 1980s, and the shad adversely affected the fish populations. But Robertson and other DNR personnel have been performing selective gizzard shad eradications, in an effort to reduce the shad population. "We treat the lake with low concentrations of the fish toxin rotenone to kill off large numbers of gizzard shad," Robertson said. Gizzard shad are more sensitive to rotenone than other fish species, so using very low doses of it can specifically target them.
The gizzard shad reductions appear to be working, as the bass population is thriving. "After the first gizzard shad selective in 2006, we stocked about 36,000 largemouth bass fingerlings in the lake. That's good, especially for bass fishermen who like to catch numbers of bass. In 2008, after we completed the same procedure, we stocked another 16,000 bass," he added.
But Worster Lake is also home to some big bass. "I think every year someone picks up a nice 6- or 7-pounder there," Robertson said. "There are plenty of 3- and 4-pounders."
Worster Lake also allows electric trolling motors only. For more information, call the Potato Creek SP office at (574) 656-8186.
Carr Lake in Kosciusko County is a small, deep lake with relatively little development along its shoreline. Like most natural glacial lakes in this area, it is characterized by sharp dropoffs and impressively deep water when compared with its small size. The lake's maximum depth is 39 feet. Located almost due south of Warsaw, this lake actually receives fairly light fishing pressure.
A lake survey was performed here in the spring of 2008 by DNR biologists to obtain additional data on bluegills and largemouth bass. Previous surveys had shown that the largemouth bass population here was only fair, mainly because of the low number of bass over 14 inches.
Although the current survey confirmed that the numbers of legal bass are still low (only 4 percent of bass are above 14 inches), the actual number of bass in the lake is high. According to Rod Edgell, the DNR's assistant f
isheries biologist for District 4, this lake can still provide plenty of action for bass anglers.
"Carr Lake may be our best lake in terms of numbers," he said. "Carr Lake appears to have a large population of largemouth bass, but with a relatively small percentage of larger fish."
Bass fishermen who are interested in a lot of action can do well at Carr. Although most of the fish will be less than the legal limit of 14 inches, catch-and-release fishing should be very good. According to Edgell's survey data, a remarkable 283 bass were sampled in one hour of electrofishing in 2008. That's not bad!
In the previous general lake survey performed at Carr in 2006, largemouth bass actually ranked No. 1 by weight, which corresponds to the current information pointing to a large population of bass that are less than 14 inches. Not all of the bass here are small, though. In the 2008 survey, largemouth bass up to 18.2 inches long were recorded.
Carr Lake has a public access area on the northwest corner of the lake, but parking is somewhat limited. That is usually not a problem, though, since angler use is fairly low here.
Also located in Kosciusko County, Palestine Lake is a sprawling, shallow body of water that covers a total of 290 acres. It is actually a pretty interesting lake, with two deep basins that were individual lakes before the dam was constructed and the surrounding area flooded. The two deep basins have a maximum depth of 31 feet (western) and 21 feet (eastern), respectively. The resulting larger lake has an average depth of 4 feet, and there are numerous points and small bays located all around the lake.
One of the downsides of the shallow water is that the lake is susceptible to summer and winter fish kills. Weed growth can also be excessive here, and during the hot summer months, there are often large algae blooms. Even so, the largemouth bass population is doing well at Palestine Lake.
Biologist Rod Edgell also performed a lake survey here in early June 2008 in an effort to determine the effects of a summer fish kill at the lake in 2007. High temperatures, low oxygen levels and a large algae bloom during the summer was the cause of this most recent fish kill. The last documented fish kill before 2007 was in 1999.
Luckily, the survey showed that the fish kill that took place in 2007 was relatively minor. "Despite the summer fish kill last year, Palestine still contains a good number of big bass," Edgell said. "Although our electrofishing catch rate of largemouth bass was lower this year than in the past, the lake still has good numbers of legal bass."
In fact, fully 49 percent of the bass sampled were greater than the 14-inch minimum size limit. The previous lake survey performed at Palestine Lake was completed in the spring of 2006.
"We estimated the population size of largemouth bass greater than 8 inches to be 7,072 or 24 per acre," Edgell said. In the current survey, bass up to 17.3 inches were recorded.
Bass fishermen in the spring should take advantage of the fact that the weed growth is not yet out of control. Emerging lily pads can be good places to look for bass. Once summer arrives, though, it is best to fish around the weed edges and along the deep basins where it is too deep for the weeds to grow.
BIG TURKEY LAKE
Big Turkey Lake contains 450 acres of water and lies right on the Steuben-LaGrange county lines, just northeast of the town of Stroh. It is a deep lake with many deep holes and numerous sharp dropoffs. The lake's average depth is 16 feet and the maximum depth is 65 feet. Although much of the lake is deep, there are several areas on the north side and the eastern and south sides where there is shallow water and plenty of weed growth.
According to Larry Koza, the District 2 assistant fisheries biologist for the DNR, this lake has a very diverse sport fish population and is very popular with anglers. "It gets a fair amount of bass tournament pressure every year. The water quality is good and there is a good mix of shallow water and deep-water habitats."
Biologists last surveyed this lake in 2003. In that survey, Koza reports that largemouth bass were sampled ranging in size from 4.8 to 19.0 inches long. Bass also ranked second by both number (11.6 percent) and weight (19.1 percent) behind bluegills. Although harvestable-sized bass (14 inches long or greater) comprised only 5.4 percent of the sample, previous surveys showed better numbers.
First-time visitors to Big Turkey Lake often head either for shallow water or tackle the sharp breaklines when searching for bass. Underwater dropoffs are located all over the lake, but for those interested in shallow water, the eastern and southern shorelines are popular. There are small islands in both areas, and bass are often found feeding there.
"There is an old railroad bed that splits the lake and emerges in spots," Koza said. "It ran to an old cement factory that is no longer there. The lake was also mined for marl, which created the islands and some interesting geographical features. Overall, it is just a very interesting place to fish, and it produces nice bass, too!"
LITTLE LONG LAKE
For anglers who like to live on the edge, Little Long Lake on the Indiana-Michigan state line is perfect. This small 154-acre water straddles the state line and provides excellent fishing opportunities for both Indiana and Michigan residents.
Because of the regulations for boundary waters, residents of either state can fish lakes that lie in both states, as long as they have a resident fishing license from their state. However, you must abide by the regulations for the state that you are fishing in. If you are fishing on the Indiana side of the lake, you must go by Indiana laws, etc. This includes closed seasons and bag/size limits.
Biologist Larry Koza performed a general lake survey and a largemouth bass population estimate during 2008, and the results were somewhat surprising. "We collected a lot of very nice-sized bass," Koza said. "We still collected lots of small bass, too, but we were impressed by the number of big bass that we saw."
There is a very healthy sucker population in the lake, as well as lots of panfish, so the forage base is very good. "In fact, many of the larger bass that we captured had lake chub sucker tails sticking out of their throats," Koza said. "Some of those chub suckers were more than half the size of the bass that ate them! It must have been their first meal after spawning."
The largemouth bass population estimate was performed in the spring of 2008, and the general lake survey was performed in June. During the spring sampling the largest bass collected measured 20.7 inches long. There were also several other bass in the 20-inch class, and more than 40 bass that ranged in size from 18 to 20.7 inches.
"We don't know why we didn't see the big bass when we last surveyed the lake back in 1992," Koza commented. "One re
ason may be that we typically collect more large bass during spring sampling compared with summer sampling because of water temperature and because bass are more commonly found in the shallows around the spawning season."
When Indiana raised the minimum size limit for bass to 14 inches several years ago, it may have also helped bass reach larger sizes and to take better advantage of the larger chub suckers in the lake.
"It's hard to say for sure," said Koza, "because we don't have enough information yet. We do know, though, that there are a lot of nice-sized largemouth bass in the lake!"