From rivers to reservoirs to natural lakes, there is plenty of catfish action to be experienced right now in Hoosierland. Read on for five top places to try.
Photo by Jeff Samsel
Indiana is fortunate to have a great number of fishing opportunities to please most any angler's appetite. From feisty bluegills to big Lake Michigan coho salmon, our state has it all. With such variety, biologists have an interesting chore in managing certain species.
Catfish are one such species. And just as for other species, no one management strategy will work for catfish statewide. Different types of water, the health of the fishery present in each lake, reservoir or river, as well as this species' popularity with anglers are all factors that come into play.
Catfish are very popular with anglers in the southern part of the state. Whiskerfish aren't as admired in the more northern reaches of Indiana, as angler attention shifts more toward walleyes, trout and other species. Biologists tailor their management strategies based in part on this angler attitude.
Another factor that affects management strategy is whether or not the fishery at a particular water body has a self-perpetuating population. Most of the large reservoirs in the state have catfish populations that have adequate spawning to maintain quality fisheries. Smaller waters do not usually have this capacity to renew the resource fast enough. Of course, catfish are also introduced to some areas to help create a new fishery and new angling opportunities.
Most catfish stocking in Indiana is done in small lakes located in city and state park settings. These areas often receive a tremendous amount of fishing pressure and without stocking would soon be depleted of quality fishing. Some of these waters receive as much as 500 to 600 hours of fishing pressure per acre per year. The put-grow-take stocking method helps to continue providing a quality fishing opportunity.
There are literally hundreds of locations throughout the state that offer really decent catfishing opportunities. From small ponds to large reservoirs, anglers have numerous choices while pursuing whiskerfish in Hoosierland. Here's a look at our two largest rivers, plus three reservoirs, where Hoosiers can enjoy some superb whiskerfish angling.
Fisheries biologists have not done extensive studies on catfish populations in the Ohio River. Little data is known regarding population levels, spawning rates, growth rates or lifespan. Biologists do know the river has an excellent catfishery and angler success indicates the same.
Conflicts of interests along the river are leading biologists toward looking closer at the fishery present and evaluating the need for specific management. Casual sport-anglers, competitive anglers and commercial anglers all have different views of the catfish fishery and what should be done with it. In coming years, biologists will need to work out a multi-use management strategy to appease as many of these groups as possible.
Other states are also becoming involved and interested in catfish management in the river. Kentucky biologists have begun studying catfish populations, spawning habits and success and longevity near the Newburgh Dam. West Virginia has begun reintroducing blue catfish to the river.
The Ohio River probably offers anglers the greatest whiskerfish opportunity of anywhere in the state. The river has all three major species of catfish in good numbers. Trophy fish are present in all species, too. Channels, flatheads and blues can all be readily caught from the Ohio River, although blue catfish begin to taper off upriver toward Cincinnati.
Channel catfish are by far the most numerous catfish in the river and the easiest to catch. Anglers catch innumerable channel cats each year from both the shore and by boat. Most any catfishing method will work on these indiscriminant eaters, from rod-and reel fishing to limblines, juglines and trotlines. Common baits for use in the river include cut bait, shad, liver, stink baits, blood baits and night crawlers.
Flatheads and blue catfish are more challenging to catch. Anglers will need to target these fish more specifically and often use different baits, most preferably live baits. These two fish are the ones to target if an angler is looking to land a trophy specimen.
Flatheads are present in good numbers in the river and reach phenomenal size. Many fish in the 20- to 40- pound range are caught each year. Most flatheads are taken with live bait.
Blue catfish are the largest catfish in the river. Bruce W. Midkiff caught the state-record 104-pounder in August of 1999. The fish was caught in the tailwaters below the Cannelton Dam and qualified as a new world record for line-class catch-and-release.
Blue catfish are most abundant in the section of the river between the Illinois state line and Louisville, Kentucky. These fish are best located in the tailwaters below the major dams along the river. Blue catfish have breeding and feeding habits similar to channel catfish.
The Wabash River also has a tremendous catfish population, although the fish are not as numerous or as big as those found in the Ohio River. Nonetheless, this river provides excellent catches and opportunity and even outshines the Ohio in some respects. For one, the Wabash is much more accessible and easier to fish than the Ohio.
With its easier access, the Wabash River provides an estimated 720,000 sport-fishing opportunities for anglers each year. About one-half of Indiana's reported commercial fish harvest comes from the lower 310 miles of the river, with catfish making up some 70 percent of the total harvest.
The Wabash River enters Indiana south of Ft. Wayne and travels some 466 miles through the state. Huntington Dam, which is located 411 miles upstream from the Ohio River, is the only dam on the Wabash. This leaves the river with the distinction of having the longest free-flowing section of any river east of the Mississippi River.
As with the Ohio River, channel catfish are the most abundant species of catfish in the river. Flatheads are quite prevalent, too. Blue catfish are mostly found in the section of the river near the Illinois border.
Biologists are conducting surveys along the entire 466 miles of the Wabash that cuts through the Hoosier State. They will be looking at the river for probably another three years. Results so far show some interesting statistics for catfish.
With the aid of electroshocking equipment, 341 channel catfish were recor
ded. They ranged in size from 1 1/2 to 29 1/2 inches long. Six blue catfish were sampled, with the largest being just over 31 inches long. A total of 388 flathead catfish were collected ranging from 4 inches up to 38 inches. The largest flathead was caught seven miles upstream from the Ohio River near Mt. Vernon. The giant catfish weighed around 50 pounds!
The Ohio River does not have a patent on large catfish. Many very respectable size catfish are caught in the Wabash each year as well. Dennis Hoehn and Steve Carner pulled the former state-record blue catfish from the Wabash River in 1996 in Gibson County. That fish weighed 75 pounds.
Fishing for catfish in the Wabash River is not much different than fishing for them in the Ohio, other than there aren't many tailwaters to fish. Catfish can still be caught from both the bank and by boat. Finding holes, drops and changes in the bottom contour are your keys to success.
Channel and flathead catfish are often caught in the evenings and throughout the night with a variety of baits ranging from live bait to cut shad. Blue catfish tend to school up and stay on the move pretty much at random. Anglers looking to target large fish should use heavy rods and line with larger baits. Good electronics will help locate the haunts of the larger catfish.
The Salamonie Reservoir was formed by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dam on the Salamonie River to help control floodwaters in the Wabash River. Summer pool at the reservoir is maintained at around 2,665 acres and is approximately 25 feet above winter pool.
The reservoir is best known for crappie fishing and holds the Crappie USA Tournament each year. However, it also has one of the largest populations of channel catfish in the state. Biologists say the Salamonie Reservoir produces one of the highest gill net catch rates in the state. They catch both channel and flathead catfish ranging in size from the young-of-the-year up to around 15 pounds.
Most channel catfish caught at Salamonie will average around 16 inches long and about 1 1/2 pounds. This is perfect "fiddler" size. Many other fish caught are much larger.
Flathead catfish are also present in the reservoir, but are not as abundant as channel catfish. There are some real trophies in there for the lucky anglers who find them. Biologists frequently sample flatheads up to 30 to 40 pounds while electroshocking.
Late summer will usually mean catfish will be in deeper water to escape the sun and heat. However, they will often move shallower to feed. Bottom-fishing is most productive at this time of year.
The entire lake is good for catfish, as they may be found from the dam all the way to the upper end. There is not a lot of cover in the shallows along the main lake; however, points and drops can be productive at times. The old river channel is still present and catfish are often caught along the edge of the channel and in holes and drops nearby.
Catfish will also suspend at certain times of the year to chase shad. Many anglers who fish for white bass with shad-imitating baits are often surprised by an occasional catfish at the end of the line. By using a slip-bobber, anglers can target these suspended catfish with live or cut bait, although most anglers do not pursue this option.
Salamonie Reservoir is very accessible for both boating and shore-bound anglers. There are five boat launches at the reservoir. Ample camping facilities are nearby with almost 500 campsites available ranging from primitive tent sites to modern sites with hookups for RVs.
The Ohio River does not have a patent on large catfish. Many very respectable size catfish are caught in the Wabash each year as well.
It may be best known as the home of Indiana Beach, but Lake Shafer is also home to a fine catfish fishery. Formed by the Norway Dam on the Tippecanoe River, the lake offers around 1,291 surface acres at summer pool. Lake Shafer is just north of Monticello in White County.
Bob Robertson is the District 1 fisheries biologist who oversees Lake Shafer. He reports a good population of channel catfish in the lake as well as a few flathead catfish.
"We always catch a lot of channel catfish in the gill nets. We don't sample many flatheads, but they are there," he said.
Lake Shafer reaches a depth of around 40 feet near the dam. The lake has good water flow, which creates a pretty good flush rate. This keeps the lake well oxygenated all the way to the bottom. This is a good thing for the bottom-dwelling catfish.
Good catches of catfish are reported throughout the lake. Anglers catch a lot of catfish from the shore at Lake Shafer. However, anglers in boats have a better opportunity to access drops near the main channel.
Biologist Robertson said they also sample a lot of catfish in shallow water while electroshocking. By late summer, rising water temperature pushes most whiskerfish into deeper water. Coves off the main channel and near the dam are good choices during middle to late summer.
There is not a lot of natural structure in the lake except along the channel. Some of the embayments do still have some old stumpbeds remaining. Most fish are caught near the natural structure in the lake.
There is some artificial structure that has been added to the lake and can attract and hold some catfish at times. This structure was created using old tires. Some of the larger well-built tire attractors remain in the lake, as well as some of the smaller individually made ones that were properly designed. Many others of these attractors were not correctly built and have long since washed away.
Lake Shafer receives a good deal of fishing pressure from catfish anglers. However, the catfish population holds up well and is not enhanced with supplemental stockings. Survey and creel information on Lake Shafer was just performed last summer. After tabulating the data, the results will be posted on the Internet at
District 8 fisheries biologist Larry Lehman rates the channel catfish population at Hardy Lake as "decent." It must be pretty good because many anglers regularly travel there to try their luck at catching the bewhiskered fish. In fact, a recent survey from 2003 indicates that a respectable number of the anglers at Hardy are there solely for the catfish.
Lehman says he is seeing catfishing increase in popularity in his district. "It used to be mostly a Southern thing. Now, it is getting more and more popular (in Indiana)."
Reproduction is not adequate to maintain the fishery at Hardy Lake. Some 4,446 catfish are stocked there every o
ther year. Most of the stocked fish are around 8 inches long.
Angler harvest data compiled between April and October showed an estimated catch of 940 channel catfish. These fish ranged in size from 9 inches to 27 1/2 inches. Nice bullhead catfish are also present in the lake and catches up to 13 1/2 inches have been reported.
Hardy Lake is formed by a dam on Quick Creek and has a maximum depth of around 38 feet. The lake is approximately 741 acres and has four boat launch ramps. The lower part of the lake allows unlimited motor boating, while the upper end has a no- wake zone.
By using a slip-bobber, anglers can target these suspended catfish with live or cut bait, although most anglers do not pursue this option.
Anglers in boats with good electronics can still locate the old creek channel. Along this channel are good locations for late-summer catfish. There are some bays and fingers in the upper end of the lake that still contain some standing timber. Around this timber, along the channel, and places where the bottom contour drops off creating a deeper hole, are all good choices for bottom-fishing.
This lake is not the greatest for shorebound anglers, but there is opportunity in places. The dam is one of the primary places anglers who are without boats may be able to fish. On the north side of the lake, near the overlook area, there is another good spot for bank-fishing. In a grassy area near one of the boat ramps is yet another common destination for grounded anglers.
Night-fishing is very popular at Hardy Lake, especially near the dam. Both primitive and modern camping facilities are available on site. There are around 168 campsites available for a small fee. More information on camping and fishing at Hardy Lake can be obtained by calling (812) 794-3800.
These and other areas across the Hoosier State offer superb catfishing. Remember to check for changes in regulations before fishing. The most recent regulations as of press time state that there is no bag limit on catfish taken from streams and no bag limit on channel catfish taken from Gibson Lake (Gibson County) or Turtle Creek Reservoir (Sullivan County). In all other lakes and reservoirs, the bag limit is 10 fish for any combination of flathead, blue or channel catfish.