Indianapolis' three water-supply reservoirs hold their share of hard-fighting, great-eating whiskerfish. And there's no better time than right now to do battle with these bottom-hugging warriors. (August 2006)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
There's no time like summer to experience some awesome catfishing. As the air temperature skyrockets and water temperature follows suit, many species of fish such as bass and crappies become increasingly more difficult to catch. That's not the case with catfish, though. Whiskerfish willingly bite right now and are prime targets of late-summer anglers.
Indiana has numerous good locations throughout the state to find some excellent catfishing. Central Indiana is no exception. Here's a look at three great spots that are centrally located and very accessible.
EAGLE CREEK RESERVOIR
The catfish fishery at Eagle Creek Reservoir seems to be quite underutilized, which can mean great things for catfish anglers. The last creel survey done on the lake was in 1998 and at that time, catfish ranked fourth in number of fish being harvested. Only 5 percent of the anglers surveyed were targeting catfish, which is a very small percentage compared with the number of catfish present in this lake.
Both in that earlier survey and in another Department of Natural Resources (DNR) 2003 survey, the average size of the channel cats at the lake was 14 inches. Fish were recorded up to 28 1/2 inches long with some 62 percent being greater than 12 inches and 19 percent measuring 18 inches or more. Biologist Rhett Wisener said there is good size distribution and recruitment appears to be steady as well.
Eagle Creek Reservoir is 10 miles northwest of downtown Indianapolis and just off Interstate 465. It was impounded as a water-supply lake and covers approximately 1,350 acres. It has an average depth of 18 feet with a maximum depth of 45 feet.
Because of the thermocline, late-summer anglers probably won't find catfish much deeper than about 15 to 20 feet. There is still a fairly well-defined creek channel throughout the lake and the catfish will often be found hanging close to the edges of this channel. Most fish will hold close to deeper water and off the steep banks, especially during the daytime.
The catfish may come shallower late in the evenings to feed throughout the night. There are some fairly extensive flats along the creek channel, which are favorite hangouts for feeding catfish. Baitfish and other forage are abundant in the shallow-water areas, so the catfish are sure to follow.
Channel catfish are dependent on structure, so look for them around any available bottom structure. Woody structure is a favorite and there is an ample amount of it in the upper end of the lake. There are also many riprap banks and other structure, which create a variety of habitats. Different areas seem to be more attractive at certain times of the summer.
Fishing can be good from either a boat or the bank. Wisener believes that locating the catfish is not really difficult on the lake. "Eagle Creek is one of those lakes where you can just go out there and randomly pick a spot and probably catch catfish."
Morse Reservoir is also a water- supply reservoir for the Indianapolis Water Company (IWC). It covers some 1,350 acres and reaches a depth of around 45 feet in some areas. It does get fairly narrow in spots, though.
The reservoir was formed on the Cicero Creek, which still winds through the lake creating a great channel. There are also other great tributary habitats formed from the three creek fingers of Little Cicero, Bear Slide and Hinkle creeks.
There is also some very good underwater structure at Morse. It has several fairly steep drops in certain spots. There are many main-lake points, dropoffs, stumps and other good woody structure. There is also a gravel shelf with stumps that drops off abruptly to about 20 to 30 feet.
For anglers who haven't been to the lake in a while, some of the woody shoreline structure is no longer there. There have been some drought conditions in recent years, which caused the water level to fall quite low. Many of the homeowners with property bordering the reservoir burned the stumps and submerged wood when they became exposed during low water.
Catfish stay off in deeper water during late summer and only move shallow during overcast days or in the evening. Bottom-fishing or drift-fishing out near the edge of the channel is most productive, especially if fishing during the day. Catfish will often leave the edges of the channel in late evening and move shallower to feed on baitfish and other forage, especially around woody structure or the lake's numerous rocky areas.
Shad are great baits to use on Morse. Live shad are illegal for use, but cut shad and whole dead shad are often used for both bottom-fishing and drifting. Of course, other traditional baits such as night crawlers, shrimp, liver and stink baits will also work.
Most of the catfish population at Morse Reservoir is composed of channel catfish. The average fish caught is between 3 and 6 pounds, but there are some whoppers in there -- some up to 15 to 20 pounds. There is a smaller population of flatheads in the lake as well. Some of these whiskerfish are quite big, so anglers should come prepared with heavy tackle to handle the potential big fish one might hook.
One of the best catfish spots around might be Geist Reservoir, which is also an IWC water-supply lake. The 1,776-acre lake is formed from the impoundment of Fall Creek. This creek flows from the southwestern end of the reservoir some 17.6 miles before empting into the White River. Many other tributaries also feed the lake.
The reservoir's channel is a great place to find catfish in the summer months. Fall Creek winds back and forth across the reservoir and creates good drops along its edges. However, one has to consult a lake map or be very diligent with a depthfinder to locate and stay on the channel.
There has been some dredging at the lake, which has created some additional channeling and deep-water habitat. Approximately 30 to 40 acres were dredged, which converted a shallow area of around 5 to 6 feet deep to about 40 feet deep. There was also a canal dredged through the mud flats in the upper end of the reservoir. Originally, this area was only about 2 to 3 feet deep. Now it is around 8 to 10 feet deep.
Geist Reservoir has plenty of good underwater structure. There is an abundance of woody structure, such as stumps, throughout the lake. The upper end of the reservoi
r is fairly shallow, but it does contain some mud flats with many stumps. Fishing deeper water near this area can be great at times. Fishing around submerged vegetation and old boat docks are other good choices here for those who seek catfish.
As with Morse, shad are proven "killer" baits at Geist. The main forage fish for catfish at the lake is gizzard shad, so cut and whole (not live) shad can be very effective. Fishing these baits on the channel edges or between the channel and shallow water feeding areas can yield great results.
Like Morse and Eagle Creek, channel catfish make up the bulk of the reservoir's whiskerfish population. Most channel catfish will average from 3 to 6 pounds, but there are many that will weigh in high double digits -- some over 20 pounds! Heavy tackle is a must to haul in some these big battlers.
Alternative Fishing Method
Indianapolis resident Avery Dyer goes by the moniker "Catfish Hunter," and he has a very productive, albeit unorthodox method for catching catfish at Geist Reservoir. He uses a very heavy rod with 100-pound-test line. He retrieves his baited hook until it reaches the first eyelet and is sticking out vertically from the end of the rod.
He then wades out into the water and searches for preferred catfish habitat with his feet. He will "feel around" under riprap, undercut banks, and old submerged concrete building slabs looking for holes and caverns that are potential catfish hideouts. Upon finding a likely spot, he then probes the hole with his rod tip until a catfish clamps down on his offering.
After hooking the fish, he then muscles the cat from its hiding place with the heavy rod setup. As the fish emerges from the hole, he clicks the reel into free-spool because, he said, "They take off from the hole like a rocket and will snap the line." He then fights and lands the fish in the conventional manner.
This method, which he refers to as "rock and reel," has helped Dyer catch some very impressive fish. He uses this method successfully at several locations near his hometown. Flatheads and blues are his main targets, but channel cats will occasionally fall prey as well.