These close-to-town bass waters produce their share of fine largemouth bass angling each year. Read on for a great bass lake in your neck of the fishing world. (June 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
Hoosier anglers don't have to go far for excellent largemouth bass fishing these days. As a matter of fact, some of the state's best big-bass waters are only a stone's throw from Indiana's urban areas. Here's a look at five lakes that will be producing lunker largemouths this year in our state.
CECIL HARDEN RESERVOIR
"Cecil Harden is a good lake to target larger bass," said Rhett Wisener, a District 5 fisheries biologist with the Division of Fish and Wildlife.
"Harden has one of the fastest growth rates for largemouth bass in this area of the state. As a matter of fact, we're seeing better growth rates than in any of our big reservoirs. There's a good forage base and predators of all sorts grow fast here."
The 16-inch minimum-length limit may have helped, according to Wisener. "It's provided more protection for the bigger bass than the 14-inch limit did, and now it's common to find 14- to 16-inch fish. There is definitely the possibility of catching a 5- or 6-pound largemouth bass in Harden, especially in the spring when the females are egg-laden. We caught a fair number of 18- to 20-inch bass during the last electro-shocking survey."
The last Department of Natural Resources (DNR) survey showed a nice year-class or two that will be moving up into the 18- to 20-inch range within the next couple of seasons. That means more bass are already growing up to replace those lunkers that are being caught and kept or are dying of natural causes.
Hotspots during the early summer months are the riprap and chunk rock shoreline areas of this lake. Bass always relate to the rocks, Wisener said. The woody laydowns and stumps are another draw for bass and excellent spots for anglers to key in on.
Other hotspots on Cecil Harden for late spring and early summer action include the stumpfield in the area known as the "12-foot line" on the Trottmans Branch side.
"There are a lot of big bass in there, but it's a tough lake to fish because of the heavy boat traffic," tournament angler William Twitchell said.
"If you get out there before 9:30 or 10 a.m., you can beat the traffic. Once the recreational boating starts, the bass will go deeper to get away from it. Fish from 5 to 15 feet deep along a sharp break or dropoff where the bass have dropped over the edge to avoid the boats. Firetiger-colored crankbaits or a Bagley with an orange belly work well in this situation."
Local fishing clubs and the DNR have cooperated to drop fish structures and Christmas trees into the lake during the winter drawdown. The trees were purposely sunk near docks to provide good bank-fishing opportunities.
Doing a little pre-season scouting for these fish structures when the water is low is the best way to find one of these hidden honeyholes when the water is high. Beginning in October, the Corps of Engineers draws the lake down as far as 20 feet. Water levels are generally back to normal pool by May 1, in time for the spawning bass to nest in the shallows.
Boat access includes the ramp off U.S. Route 36, the Portland Mills Ramp on the northern end of the lake, the Mansfield Ramp on the southwest shoreline and the Walker Dam access on the eastern end.
The lake is located nine miles east of Rockville on Route 36, 50 miles west of Indianapolis and 35 miles north of Terre Haute. Anglers from both Terre Haute and Indianapolis have a good bass fishery right around the corner.
Contact District 5 at (765) 342-5527 or the Raccoon State Recreation Area at (765) 344-1412 for more information.
South Bend anglers have a real sleeper on their hands in Fish Lake.
"During our spring electrofishing bass surveys, it's not uncommon for us to handle over 500 largemouths before we see a 5-pounder, but this is a lake that breaks the rule," fisheries biologist Neil Ledet said.
According to Ledet, the shallow, weedy lake in northeastern Indiana is a virtual largemouth bass factory. There are a fair number of bigger bass as well, and some of them are huge.
"Everyone thinks they need to go to a big lake to catch a nice bass, but that's not the case," Ledet said. "During the spring 2006 survey on Fish Lake, we sampled a few 18- to 20-inch fish. Most of these are females that can run from 4 to 5 pounds or more. There is also lots of 15- to 16- inch bass. There's not a lot of fishing pressure, but it has increased some over the last year or so. The locals slip out there to enjoy it once in a while."
For three decades, the lake has consistently produced high numbers of well-fed, chunky bucketmouths. Most of these fish are released right back into the water as few anglers take them home.
June finds the bass in the postspawn mood, hanging in weedbeds off the shoreline. This natural lake is rich in submerged vegetation and provides plenty of bluegills for forage. Lily pads and cattail beds are abundant all around the lake.
Ledet points out that big black jig-and-pigs worked slowly through the cover will take some trophy bass on this lake.
Fish Lake is tucked away in Steuben County and only covers 59 acres. Anglers looking for a quiet pond-like experience should definitely check this little gem out.
The state-owned access is on the west side of the lake off county Road 325, a mile north of Fremont. There are no motor size restrictions, but a 10 mph, no-wake rule is in place. Ron Deak, former owner of the Fish Lake Campground, has been privileged to hear all sorts of stories, some of which are true. One such story is of an 8-pound, 24-inch largemouth bass that was taken from the lake. This one ended up being mounted.
"Fish Lake is perfect for spawning largemouths," Deak said. "The shoreline is surrounded by cattails and lily pads, which extend pretty far back."
Deak pointed out that most anglers are trying to catch the lake's bluegills and crappies, and that bass fishing isn't really the draw.
"One tournament angler told me that the only reason the fish are so big here is because they don't bite," Deak said.
But bite they will if you're patient and consi
der finesse tactics like plastic worms and other soft plastics.
Shoreline access is almost nonexistent. The only spot to tangle with a bass from the bank is from the public launch.
The lake is located about an hour east of South Bend and Elkhart off Interstate 80 and about the same distance north of Fort Wayne.
Additional information is available from District 2 at (260) 829-6241; or call the Fish Lake Campground at (260) 495-3081.
Hardy is another of the Hoosier State's golden bass opportunities, and it's located just a short drive from an urban center.
Fisheries biologist Larry Lehman helped conduct the most recent survey on the lake and the bass population stacked up favorably.
"We found bass up to 16 inches during the 2003 survey, but I've heard by word of mouth that bass clubs are more satisfied with the fishing now than they were then. We also conducted a creel survey at about the same time and estimated there were 1,600 legal-sized bass harvested that year, which averages to two bass per acre, which is really pretty good. The largest bass was over 21 inches and the average size was 15 inches."
Researchers found that good numbers of largemouth bass were caught and released and that the catch-and-release rate was right around 82 percent. That's high even in bass fishing circles.
"Anglers can catch larger fish just about anywhere on the lake, but the bigger ones are tough to get," said Jeremy Cox of Scott's Hardware. The hardware store carries supplies for anglers.
"Last fall, a 6-pounder was caught in the east end of the lake in the stick-ups. It's nothing to go out on Hardy Lake on a decent day and catch 20 to 25 bass, with about half of them being keepers."
About one-half of the lake is a no-wake zone and nearly 25 percent develops thick submerged vegetation during the summer. The southeast end of the lake has some lily pads, which are bass magnets.
Eurasian milfoil has made an appearance in Hardy. The insidious invader fills in naturally occurring weedlines and edges that bass prefer and leaves a solid, dense mat of vegetation. It's been only a minor problem so far.
Hardy Lake receives heavy boat traffic. The bays are where serious anglers usually find themselves in order to get away from it.
Public boat ramps are available. On the northwest corner of the lake, the Sunnyside and Alpha Site ramps are off Sunnyside Road. The Wooster Ramp is off county Road 550 on the west side; the Caramel Ramp is off Blake Road on the lake's east side.
Hardy Lake is located in Scottsburg in Scott and Jefferson counties and covers 714 acres. The lake is six miles east of Austin and three miles north of state Route 256, southeast of Indianapolis.
For more information and maps, contact District 8 at (812) 358-4110, the Hardy Lake State Recreation Area at (812) 794-3800 or Scott's Hardware at (812) 752-2991.
Loon Lake is an easy drive for Fort Wayne anglers, but there is surprisingly little fishing pressure on bass at the lake. And the lake is one of the most promising fisheries in northeastern Indiana for nice-sized bass with a few lunkers thrown in for good measure.
A recent DNR survey of the lake determined the density, body structure and growth of Loon Lake's bass. The results look good.
"Based on the number of fish sampled, the lake contains nearly 3,000 bass," fisheries biologist Jed Pearson said. "That averages out to 13 bass per acre with the largest measuring 20 inches. The percentage of larger bass has increased."
The entire shoreline was checked during the survey and a pretty accurate gauge of the bass numbers and sizes was obtained.
"Over 1,000 bass were from 14 to 17-plus inches and 88 were 18 inches or larger," Pearson said. "The largest was a 20-inch fish. Some 38 percent were legal-sized or better and at least 14 inches long."
Water dock, spatterdock and cattails are the more common plants found along the lake's shoreline, while submerged bass cover consists of eelgrass, coontail and curlyleaf pondweed. Eurasian water milfoil is present in the lake but not abundant at this time.
Spinnerbaits, shallow-running Rapalas and other minnow-imitating crankbaits all excel as bass catchers along the lake's weed edges. Top-water lures at night produce well.
"Most of the anglers I talk to complain that muskies are eating everything. They don't say too much about the bass fishing," said Lois Totterman of Mike's Sport Shop. "The local anglers go to some of the other area lakes for bass, so Loon Lake doesn't get much fishing pressure. The fishermen here are usually looking for panfish."
The lake is lined with cottages, except for the remaining natural shoreline and significant wetlands along the east and southeastern sides of the lake. Depths average 26 feet, but go much deeper. A thermocline under the 10-foot mark develops when the water warms up. Most of the weeds are in water about 8 feet deep, but can easily be reached by crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Put all of this together and you'll find most of the good bass fishing is up along the shoreline docks, structure and shallow, weedy areas, especially after the spawn and on into the early summer months.
Loon Lake is a natural water covering 222 acres. It is three miles west of state Route 109 on County Line Road and seven miles north of Columbia City, close enough for Fort Wayne anglers to easily take advantage of. It's located in Whitley and Noble counties.
The public ramp is on the southeast corner of the lake along the Friskney Ditch. There is a 10-mph speed restriction in place.
Contact District 3 at (260) 244-6805 or Mike's Sport Shop at (260) 248-8798 for more information.
EAGLE CREEK RESERVOIR
"Eagle Creek offers the opportunity for a big bass," biologist Wisener said.
"It's been a few years since we surveyed the lake, but when we did, the bass population was looking pretty good. Growth rates might be a little better than the state average. About half of the bass we sampled were 14 inches and larger, which is tremendous and probably due to a good year-class. I'd say a person could go out there and catch a 4- or 5-pounder. You may not be able to do it every time you're out, but if you fish the lake regularly, you might get one."
Most of the bass are done spawning by June. This is a time of transition from the shallows back into the deeper water. It can be a tough time to put fish in the boat.
"Anglers will want to fish the emergent water willow gras
s along with the riprap and chunk-rock banks," Wisener said. "Bass will also hold in laydowns and stumps in the upper end of the lake. I'd recommend spinnerbaits and plastic worms in the water willow. For bigger bass, try jigs and larger sizes of soft plastics."
William Twitchell, a tournament angler who has fished the lake a number of times, is impressed.
"There are a lot of 3- to 5-pound bass in the lake," Twitchell said. "For a small lake, it has good numbers of bass. The biggest I've seen weighed in was close to 7 pounds."
"In June, I'd go to the area north of 56th Street and to the wetlands on the west side of the lake. The bass lie in the weedbeds or are holding near them. I've found that spinnerbaits are always the most productive baits. Early on, go with dark green or brown and a two-bladed willow-leaf spinnerbait. When the fish are hitting near the surface, topwater baits also work really well."
The 2003 DNR fisheries survey showed an impressive population of largemouths. Over 20 percent of the sampled bass were at least 16 inches or larger, and a whopping 8 percent of these fish were at least 18 inches. A few were even larger. The top fish was a 21-incher.
Eagle Creek is located on the northwest side of Indianapolis, just 10 minutes from the downtown area in Eagle Creek Park. It lies one mile west of Interstate 465 off 38th or 56th streets.
Eagle Creek covers 1,350 acres of water. The public launch ramp is on 42nd Street at Dandy Trail.
Canoes and rowboats can be rented at the city park. A 9.9-horsepower motor limit is in effect.
For more information, contact the Eagle Creek Park at (317) 327-7110 or call District 5 at (765) 342-5527.
For more information on urban-area bass fisheries, visit the Division of Fish and Wildlife Web site at www.in.gov/dnr.
Trip planning assistance and lodging can be found by contacting the Indiana Office of Tourism Development at (888) 365-6946, or visit online at www.in.gov/enjoyindiana.