Great panfish action is on tap on these handpicked smaller waters that contain bull 'gills -- and lots of 'em! (May 2010)
Bluegills easily lead the way as Indiana's most popular game fish. Anglers of every age have a great time dipping a worm or floating a fly for spunky springtime 'gills in any number of public lakes throughout Indiana.
Though rare, bluegills that would fill a pan are taken every year. In 2006, a bluegill measuring 11.25 inches was caught. This fish was dwarfed by a 13.5-inch 'gill in 2007 and again by a 14-inch fish in 2008. This spring will probably produce another rod-bender or two in this class.
Smaller public lakes are fished a bit differently than their larger counterparts. They not only warm up sooner in the spring but generally experience less fishing pressure. The locals aren't quick to share secret hotspots, and many of these lakes are tough to get to because of poor access or locations that give new meaning to the term "off the beaten path."
The best way to approach these lakes is experientially. It takes firsthand knowledge to find the best patterns and lake locations. You can do your homework, pack a lake map and bring a county road map, but when you walk up to the shoreline, you're still in the same boat as anglers who haven't prepared nearly as well as you have. You just have to launch out on the water and look around.
Here's a look at five lakes where you'll find good numbers of 'gills while also having the chance of latching onto a few whoppers.
Spring bluegill anglers fishing on Adams Lake will launch on the east end of the lake off county Road 550E. Once they do, they won't have to go far, according to fisheries biologist Neil Ledet. May and June will find bluegills on the weedline found north of the access and on the big submerged peninsula that extends out several hundred yards from the north shoreline.
The channels south of the boat ramp warm up early on and will hold 'gills in the spring and on into warmer weather. The submerged weed growth is good north of the ramp. Bluegills will be patrolling for insects and other tiny crustaceans in the developing cover.
Bluegills begin concentrating near shallow spawning areas as the water temperatures rise in the early spring. As temperatures push the 65-degree mark, the 'gills will fan out their annual dishpan-shaped nests. When temperatures hit 76 degrees or so, the spawn goes into full swing. Now's the time big 'gills can be caught by the bucket full.
Scattered bedding areas can often be seen from the shore, but are more easily spotted from a boat while cruising the shoreline. Polarized sunglasses cut down on the surface glare and come in very handy for spotting these nests. Male bluegills are guarding the nests and will do so with a tenacity that belies their size. These are the largest bluegills in Adams Lake, and this is the time to catch them. They'll be shallow for the spawn and then head back into the depths where they seemingly disappear for the summer. Bulls have been taken from this lake that exceed 10 inches.
Earthworms, night crawlers, mousies, mealworms and crickets all work here. Use them alone on a hook, under a float or on small jigs. Use just enough weight to keep them on the bottom.
Ultralight rods and reels work well with monofilament as light as 2- to 4-pound-test. If there are any submerged rocks or wood, then use slightly higher test line. A big bluegill will take your bait and head back to the nest or into cover. If you have to drag him out of sticks and emergent plants, the line will fray.
The lake averages 10 feet deep with a maximum depth of 20 feet. Most of the shoreline is developed. There is a state-owned access ramp by the inlet on the eastern shore off county Road 550E.
Adams Lake covers 303 acres northeast of Wolcottville in LaGrange County. For additional information, contact District 2 at (260) 829-6241 or The Angler Bait Shop at (260) 351-2877.
MIDDLE FORK RESERVOIR
Richmond-area panfishermen have a gem in their back yards. Middle Fork Reservoir lies off U.S. routes 27 and 35 just a few miles northeast of Richmond.
Bluegill fishing will be excellent this year. Last June, the Division of Fish and Wildlife completed a fisheries survey on the lake, and fish over 9 inches were sampled. The average-sized bluegill was 6.5 inches. These bluegills were on the beds at the time of the early June survey.
Assistant fisheries biologist Jamie Smyth recommends targeting the big 'gills in the bay just north of the boat ramp and along the eastern shoreline on the upper end of the lake. The spawners should be very cooperative.
Other good spots to try include emerging vegetation up in the shallows. Feeding and spawning are the only two things on the bluegills' calendar at this time of the year.
But there may be trouble on the horizon for Middle Fork Reservoir. According to fisheries biologist Rhett Wisener, the recent discovery of gizzard shad in the lake is sounding an alarm. He suspects that the glory days of Middle Fork's quality bluegill fishery may be limited, but at this point, only time will tell.
Well-intentioned anglers sometimes introduce shad, illegally, with the result of a destroyed fishery. Shad are prolific spawners and the young-of-the-year shad compete heavily with young bluegills and bass for plankton. This competition usually reduces the number of bass and slows the growth of bluegills. As bass numbers suffer and the remaining bass feed on the shad instead of the bluegills, the number of bluegills goes up and stunted fish are the result.
In this scenario an 8-inch bluegill becomes a thing of the past. What is known is that any solution to the shad invasion will be linked to the predators in the lake, since Middle Fork is a drinking water source. The lake has a dense bass population that might hold the shad in check. The Department of Natural Resources is looking at possible solutions.
But the hammer hasn't dropped yet. Middle Fork will be producing loads of big 'gills this year, and it's time to take advantage of the opportunity while it lasts.
The public ramp off Sylvan Nook Drive is owned by the city of Richmond. A 6-horsepower motor restriction is in place. Shoreline fishing is very limited.
Middle Fork covers 177 acres in Wayne County. For more information, contact District 5 at (765) 342-5527 or the Middle Fork Reservoir at (765) 983-7293.
Bruce Lake's bluegills are
growing fast and furious despite the presence of gizzard shad in the lake. The shad haven't been the death sentence to the fishery like they have been in so many Hoosier lakes. If things go well, there may not be a lot of negative impact on the fishery over the long haul.
The spawn-time action is due to the concentration of 'gills and their aggressive nest-guarding nature. Fisheries studies, as well as angler experience, have shown that taking bluegills off the nest won't hurt the overall population in the least. Bluegills spawn so prolifically that even in the smallest of public waters it's nearly impossible to fish them out. The ethics problem tossed around in angler circles about taking bedding bass isn't an issue for bluegills. Anglers are actually doing the Bruce Lake fishery a favor by thinning out the population a bit.
Small jigs and live bait retrieved slowly across the beds will draw hard-driving strikes. Or try using a bobber to suspend a tiny lure, live cricket or worm just off the bottom. Hopping the bait or dragging it across the beds kick-starts the defensive nature of the 'gills and it's not hard to tempt a bite.
Ultralight rods and reels are ideal for this type of shallow angling on Bruce. Long, light "crappie rigs" work well, too, giving anglers an extra few feet of rod length to reach the beds without spooking the fish.
Nest-guarding males will strike hard and fast, so keep hooks on the small side and be ready to set the hook immediately. If you don't set the hook fast, you'll be spending the day messing with fish that have swallowed the hook.
Bruce Lake is relatively shallow at 7 feet and has lots of lily pads emerging along the shorelines. The deep water is found in the middle and southern end of the main lake's basin.
The ramp is off Route 75E at the northwestern end of the lake. Bring a small boat, because there's not a lot of opportunity for bank-fishing.
The lake covers 245 acres nine miles east of Winamac along the Fulton and Pulaski counties line. For more information, contact District 1 at (574) 896-3673 or Whitey's Bait in Kewanna at (219) 946-3513.
The Hoosier National Forest provides a beautiful backdrop to one of the region's prettiest little bluegill lakes. Lake Celina is also a sleeper lying among more popular lakes like Indian and Tipsaw. All three lakes are within four or five miles of each other and anglers generally ignore Celina.
Anglers can catch some big bluegills out of Lake Celina, according to Jim Hagan, the owner of Big Tales Fish and Tackle. It's not unusual to catch hefty bluegills here.
The reason for the lake's lack of popularity is its unusually clear water. Anglers find catching fish in water this clear a real challenge. During the spring, the visibility can be 15 feet, and by midsummer, anglers might be able to see the bottom 30 feet down.
Bluegills bed deep on the lake and are usually in 4- to 8-foot depths. Anglers have to look for the beds in the few shallow areas along the shoreline or out on the shallow cuts in the lake. Hagan suggests targeting spawners in June with crickets and red worms after the first full moon.
Deeper beds mean tying on some additional weight to keep the bait down on the bottom. But too much of a commotion caused by an oversized sinker will temporarily spook the bull 'gills rather than drawing a strike. Tie on a small weight several inches up the line from a small jig tipped with a live cricket or small plastic curlytail. Another option is a hooked cricket or worm under a float that is drifted through the beds. Keeping the bait up off the bottom a few inches puts it right in the big bull's face. At times big 'gills will avoid the bait if they can see the line. Finesse is the name of the game in clear water where any unusual vibrations, sights or sounds can send the fish scattering. Larger bluegills can easily detect line tension and may spit the bait if they feel resistance. Hooksets have to be quick and sure.
A lake map will help visiting anglers find the cuts and shallow water. The DNR hasn't done a lot of work on the lake for over a decade because of the fees being charged for public access.
Lake Celina covers 164 acres near St. Croix in Perry County. Additional information is available from District 7 at (812) 789-2724 or the Big Tales Fish and Tackle shop in Cannelton at (812) 547-0908.
Indianapolis-area anglers have a great resource right in their back yards. According to assistant fisheries biologist Smyth, the lake is an excellent bluegill fishery and will be pumping out good numbers of harvestable fish this spring.
Anglers shouldn't have a problem making their way around Rockville Lake and finding bluegills. The lake is small enough to be effectively covered in a day.
Rockville hosts bluegills in the 8- to 9-inch range along with good numbers of redear sunfish from 8 to 11 inches. The size structure of the bluegill population is getting better.
The lake had its share of problems several years ago and the fishery suffered. Past problems revolved around the nuisance levels of underwater vegetation that grass carp were eventually stocked to control. The carp apparently went a little overboard and few plants remained in the lake until recently. The restoration of submerged vegetation is slowly coming along and helping to fuel the lake's recovery.
Winter drawdowns were another major problem, and once the Rockville Park Board decided to discontinue them, the fish population stabilized and has been improving ever since.
Rockville Lake covers 100 acres and offers numerous shallow points and bays with plenty of access for both bank-fishermen and small boats. To reach the park from the city of Rockville, travel east on Stark Road for about a mile until reaching the park entrance on the left.
Live bait is the most commonly used local bait on the scattered beds. Toss a small weighted worm, cricket or bee moth across occupied beds, and you'll see that, before long, the irritated 'gills will decide to take matters into their own hands. Fly-fishing is another option for great spring fishing on the beds.
A daily vehicle pass is charged to gain access to the lake, and rowboats are rented in season. Call ahead for availability of boats if you need one. An electric motor restriction is in place.
Rockville Lake lies north of the city of Rockville in Rockville Lake Park. It's within an hour's drive of Indianapolis.
For more information, contact the Rockville Park Board at (765) 569-6541 or District 5 at (765) 342-5527.
Additional information is available online at www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild.