More Northern State Bass Picks

Anglers who live from South Bend to Indianapolis are finding plenty of good largemouth fishing in the five less-pressured waters highlighted here.

By Paul Moore

Sometimes very good fishing spots can be overlooked in favor of our large, fish-producing reservoirs. It's obvious why these larger waters attract anglers. However, some of those less-talked-about fishing holes can provide fishing results that are definitely worth any angler's attention.

Northern Indiana bass anglers have a good number of natural and man-made lakes from which to choose. They range in size from just a few acres to several hundred. Looking at the whole upper half of the state makes it very difficult to single out individual waters to consider. Picking one from each area of the north helps ease the burden for anglers.

Indiana is divided into eight different fisheries districts. Five of these districts are located from the Indianapolis area north. Here's a look at a bass hotspot in each of the first five districts.

St. Joseph County is home to 29-acre Pleasant Lake. A 1/4-mile channel connects the lake to Riddles Lake, which adds another 77 acres. These two natural lakes look very promising this year.

These lakes were just surveyed in June of 2003. Some very interesting information was unveiled regarding the bass populations in each. Bob Robertson, a fisheries biologist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), says the size of bass at these lakes looks "very exceptional."

The survey on Pleasant Lake indicated that largemouth bass made up about 14 percent of the total fish population with bluegills being the most abundant, followed by gizzard shad at No. 2. The two latter fish are the main forage base for largemouths. Balanced forage and prey ratios usually indicate a healthy fishery.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

A total of 41 bass reaching lengths up to 19 inches were caught during the survey period. Of these, 39 were over 8 inches, 32 were over 12 inches, 15 were over 14 inches, and seven were over 16 inches. In layman's terms, this means the size distribution at the lake tends toward the larger size.

Riddles Lake was also surveyed during the same period. A total of 38 largemouth bass were caught with the longest fish being 21.7 inches long. Numbers on the exact breakdown were not immediately available, but the percentages should parallel those of Pleasant. This should be great news to bass anglers.

Robertson says the outlook for largemouths at these lakes in 2004 "looks very good." There have been no recent creel surveys, but anecdotal information suggests anglers have been very successful at targeting bass at both Pleasant and Riddles. Good facilities are an added bonus.

A public access boat ramp is located on Pleasant Lake just off U.S. Route 31 in Lakeville, just south of South Bend. Bait, tackle and boat rental is also readily available nearby. The Riddles Lake Conservation Club also provides a boat ramp and campground at the other side of these lakes, which can be used for a small fee. A 10-mph speed limit restriction is enforced on the lakes.

Both of these lakes are somewhat round or kettle-shaped. The shorelines are not very developed and feature a lot of shallow water. Look for bass at this time of year along these shorelines in the warmer water among emergent vegetation. There is plenty of cover for bass along these shores in the form of spatterdock, water lilies, cattails and rushes.

Anglers in the northeastern corner of the state have a fine 800-acre bass honeyhole in Steuben County called Hamilton Lake. Although the lake receives a fair amount of fishing pressure from weekenders as well as tournament anglers, it still is a good prospect for 2004. District fisheries biologist Neil Ledet said, "It is one of our better bass lakes in this district."

Hamilton Lake has not been surveyed recently, but historically it has been ranked as one of the better waters for bass growth. The lake is very fertile and the fish there are healthy and robust. It is common to catch chunky largemouths there in the 16- to 17-inch range.

Hamilton Lake is very shallow and has a lot of area with the water depth of 10 feet or less. There are lots of bays with different contours and structure, which makes bass fishing very enjoyable.

The second week of May typically signals the start of major bass movement toward spawning. Bass will move up into the shallow muck flats found in the north end of the lake as well as in any of the bays that are somewhat protected and have muck bottoms. Some of the bays, such as Muskrat Bay, warm up faster than the main body of the lake. Bass tend to be more active in these areas at this time of the year.

Another tip for early spring fishing is to look for water lilies. The lilies are just starting to pop up in these northern lakes and are sometimes the only cover available. Bass will tend to seek these areas out at this time of year. Anglers can often benefit greatly by fishing the vegetative cover.

Gizzard shad and small bluegills are the main forage for bass at Hamilton. "It is one of the few lakes in this corner of the state that has gizzard shad. I have only three or four lakes in my entire district that have shad," said biologist Ledet. The lake also has lots of small bluegills, which supplement the shad base.

Both a public access ramp and a marina are located on Hamilton Lake. The ramp is located on a bay in the southeast corner of the lake. It is somewhat limited and only holds around 25 trailers. This can sometimes be a problem during fishing tournaments, but not often a problem other times.

Tournament organizers usually do a good job of making arrangements with private landowners in the area to provide supplemental parking. Most years, at least one tournament is held per weekend during the spring and early summer. The cooperation of organizers and landowners has helped prevent the tournaments from taking any opportunity away from weekend anglers.

Syracuse Lake in Kosciusko County is part of a lake chain. The 414-acre body of water is but one basin within a larger area. Its direct connection to Lake Wawasee gives a total of over 3,800 acres.

The lake underwent an electroshocking survey in 1997. The results for bass at the lake were somewhat low compared to some other lakes in the area. The bass population at Syracuse was estimated at 3,400 fish at that time. The size distribution estimate

s indicated only around four bass per acre over 12 inches with one bass 18 inches and over per every 10 acres.

The district fisheries biologist believes the lake has probably improved somewhat since the survey. Biologist Jed Pearson gives two reasons for his optimism. First, the size limit has been raised to 14 inches, which means less bass are being removed from the lake. "We have been seeing some regional patterns where bass are improving due to better reproduction," Pearson said.

Even though the survey numbers might not have been overly impressive at that time, Syracuse has always yielded good bass fishing. The increased size limit requirement, along with other factors, makes it even more attractive now.

"I have reason to believe there are more bass out there now, so I have no reason to think there will be a decline. It should be as good as it always has been," the biologist said.

Lake Wawasee has its own ramp as well as a couple of marinas and bait shops. However, a lot of the tournaments on Lake Wawasee are headquartered out of the ramp located on Syracuse because it features better facilities. The tournament situation has led to some interesting observations and helped to initiate a radio- tracking study of largemouths in the two lakes.

Anglers were catching fish in Wawasee and then releasing them in Syracuse after checking in at the conclusion of tournaments. Biologists wondered if the bass were staying in Syracuse or making their way back to Wawasee. They found that only one in six bass returned to Wawasee.

The displaced fish exhibited unusual behavior after being released into unfamiliar water. They were extremely active and appeared to have no sense of direction and basically covered the whole lake.

"There was no particular habitat or area of the lake that seemed to draw them. They were basically just lost out there," said biologist Pearson. One tracked fish even showed up in a lake downstream.

Syracuse is shallower than Wawasee. It has an unusual contour with a lot of shallow flats and many different kinds of aquatic vegetation. There is a more different diversity of plants in Syracuse than is seen in most of the area lakes.

There are two small channels on the eastern end of Syracuse, which are good draws for bass in the spring. They are protected and have good habitat for spawning. Part of the eastern shoreline around a cattail marsh is designated as an eagle zone and is marked off with buoys. Boaters are required to use idle speed only within the marked area.

Spring will also produce some catches of smallmouths at Syracuse. However, anglers specifically wanting to target smallmouths may find better success on Wawasee. A fair number of smallmouths are pulled from Wawasee each spring with 18- to 19-inch lengths being common.

The dividing line for districts 3 and 4 splits Kosciusko County. The aforementioned Lake Syracuse is in the northern section of the county. The southern part of the county is home to another very good bass lake called Winona Lake.

At 562 acres, Winona Lake is rated as one of the better bass fisheries in northern Indiana, according to many of the area anglers. District fisheries biologist Ed Braun believes the fishery is in good shape; he is very optimistic about the outlook for 2004.

The latest survey information from the lake shows some surprising results. Close to three-fourths of the bass collected during the survey met the legal size of 14 inches or better. There is very good size distribution of bass in the lake, especially with larger size fish. There are plenty of largemouth bass in the 14- to 21-inch range as well.

The downside to fishing Winona is that it is near Warsaw, so there is plenty of human development. The lake sees a lot of power boaters, water skiers and other pleasure craft. Early morning hours are best for anglers who want to escape the disturbances caused by other lake users.

Winona is a typical Indiana natural lake with a maximum depth of around 80 feet. On the eastern side, shallow water extends out about 200 feet from the shore, which becomes thick with aquatic vegetation during the summer. There are three channels on the north end of the lake and one channel on the south end. These areas tend to attract and hold bass early in the spring.

May is usually the month when channel fishing begins to subside. The exact timing is obviously dependent upon the weather. As the channel fishing success declines, most bass anglers will begin targeting the southwestern portion of the lake. Baits resembling shad and perch are popular due to the two species being the primary forage base for largemouths at Winona.

There's an intriguing project ongoing in Parke County with Lake Waveland. The 358-acre lake is newly renovated and shows excellent promise to become a bass hotspot. There may not be any record fish pulled out of there this year, but 2004 should mark the beginning of some very good bass fishing years to come.

Gizzard shad had basically taken over the lake prior to a renovation completed in the fall of 2002. Carp had also expanded tremendously. The number of bass was very low and bass growth was less than what it was in the past. Bluegill numbers were also low and growth rates stunted.

Assistant fisheries biologist Rhett Wisener explained that the goal was to eliminate both shad and carp in not only Waveland, but also in the area watershed. The biologists did extensive work in the watershed and talked with area pond owners. If ponds were found with shad or carp, they were killed out with the owners' permission and restocked with bass and bluegills. One pond, in particular, was overloaded with green sunfish. It was also renovated.

The pool at Lake Waveland was lowered and then the lake was killed out. Approximately 350 to 400 adult bass were salvaged from the lake prior to the fish eradication. Several weeks later, after the lake detoxified, the lake was restocked with bass, bluegills, redear sunfish and channel catfish. The adult bass were also returned to the lake.

Wisener says the lake was sampled during 2003 to "see how the restocking took." In early September, biologists used gill nets and electrofishing to collect fish. The results were very interesting.

There were a good number of largemouth bass collected with the majority being in the 4- to 7-inch range. There was another group of fish in the 9- to 12-inch range. The latter group was most probably the bass stocked in 2002. Those largemouths were 2 to 4 inches when stocked. The largest fish picked up was 14 1/2 inches long.

The first category of bass mentioned is the most interesting. These fish appear to be spawned from the adult bass that were reintroduced to the lake after renovation. All indications appear there was a decent spawn at the lake during the spring of 2003.

Growth rates in newly renovated bodies of water are extremely fast. There is an abundance of food available and the number of fish is obviously lower. There is not as much competition for food in the early years, so fish have ample opportunity to feed and grow at an accelerated rate.

Lots of vegetation has returned to Lake Waveland since the renovation. "People who used to go out there and were accustomed to seeing a lake that was void of vegetation and not a lot of structure will see a change. Now there is some habitat out there for fish to relate to and anglers to target," said biologist Wisener.

These are but a few of the waters in the north with excellent bassing. Plenty more are out there just waiting to yield their bounty. This may be the year to break out of the rut of fishing the same old waters, with the same old scenery, and the same old results.

The DNR Web site dnr is a great place to begin studying when looking for a new fishing spot. There is information on where to fish, as well as detailed information on individual lakes. Phone numbers for fishery personnel and a map of the individual fisheries districts are also available.

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