What does the crystal (ice) ball have in store for state anglers this winter season? Read on for top places to try right now. (January 2006)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
How long it will last is anybody's guess, including highly touted meteorologists of TV fame. However, if Indiana weather follows the form sheet of most Hoosier winters, first ice suitable for fishing will skid into our northern tier counties (roughly the northern one-third of the state) about the same time that Santa arrives.
A look at first-ice journals of the past two winters, the last decade, or probably even winters of the Neolithic Age, graphically tell the unchanging story. Indiana is a Midwestern state and the ice gods bide their time in bringing us hardwater for fishing. Hoosiers have come to expect it.
For example, consider last winter's ice-up calendar. As reported by Larry Stover, owner/operator of The Tackle Box at North Webster (the heart of Kosciusko County's natural lake region), brave souls started fishing the channels of larger lakes on the Sunday before Christmas (Dec. 19 to be exact).
Soon thereafter, an Alberta clipper hit northern Indiana. The inch of ice that opened the fishing crept out to open-water areas (the deeper water) of larger lakes in what appeared to be the beginning of winter-long hard-water angling. But it wasn't to be. A warming trend came soon after Christmas, and by New Year's Day, Hoosier ice-fishermen were scratching their heads in wonderment that the ice was gone, or at least very unsafe.
Stover said that while anglers fished the channels of the larger lakes through the holidays, ice was not really safe. The warming trend of the last days of December ran into January and halted hardwater angling until after mid-January.
However, Stover said another blitz of winter hit the northern tier counties with lows of minus 12 and 11, respectively, on Jan. 18 and 19 and that set the stage for safe-ice conditions until another period of 40-plus high temperatures hit on March 19 (50 degrees).
With Indiana weather being influenced by at least four weather zones, and prevailing southwest winds, ice-anglers must live by the old Indiana saw: "If you don't like our weather, just wait a minute." Hence, ice-fishing is a play-it-by-ear deal in Hoosierland, and the northern tier counties always seem to get the high cards.
Still, the dealer usually doles out some old-fashioned winter weather to the central and southern parts of the state before the sun heads north, and this often offers some safe-ice periods, especially on smaller lakes, farm ponds, and other small standing waters. But the larger lakes and reservoirs of central and southern parts of the state seldom offer safe ice.
Generally, though, ice-fishing in Indiana centers on the four Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) management districts that make up roughly the northern one-third of the state. Districts 2 and 3 are the heart of Indiana's natural (glacial) lake county. However, natural lakes occur, though less prominently, in other parts of the state as well.
District 1 is composed of 16 counties in the extreme northwestern corner of the state. Roughly, it is four counties wide and deep.
District 2 is made up of the three counties that border Michigan in the northeastern corner of the state. County by county, District 2 probably has more natural lake water than any of the others. Counties here include Elkhart, LaGrange and Steuben.
District 3 lies directly below District 2 and includes Allen, De Kalb and Noble counties and the northern third of Kosciusko County.
District 4, five counties wide and four counties deep, is made up of 14 counties immediately south of District 3. It includes the southern two-thirds of Kosciusko County.
District 5 contains 20 counties of a wide swath that stretches from the border of Ohio to that of Illinois. It is immediately south of districts 1 and 4. Thus, it offers some ice-fishing in times of extreme cold.
To learn more about the ice-fishing potential of the various fish management districts this year, I went to Jeremy Price, assistant fisheries biologist of District 1; Neil Ledet, fisheries biologist for District 2; Jed Pearson, fisheries biologist for District 3; Ed Braun, fisheries biologist for District 4, and Rhett Wisener, fisheries biologist for District 5.
Jeremy Price has studied the standing waters of District 1 for many years with district biologist Bob Robertson, and both men wave the wand of excellence over the Plymouth lakes chain.
This chain, situated about five miles south and slightly west of Plymouth in Marshall County, is made up of four, five or six lakes, depending upon how one views the terrain. Totally, the lakes offer slightly more than 400 acres of ice for hardwater anglers.
This chain of natural lakes is situated west of U.S. Route 31 and east of state Route (SR) 17. It is an east-west chain, starting with Lawrence Lake (69 acres) and running westward through Myers Lake (96 acres), Cook Lake (84 acres) and Mill Pond, (168 acres, including Kreigbaum Lake). A fifth lake, Holem, is considered part of Myers, somewhat like Mill Pond and Kreigbaum are thought of as one lake by some, and as individual lakes by others.
Price says bluegills are by far the dominant species of the Plymouth Lakes, noting that 'gills of 8 to 9 inches are taken consistently by both open-water and ice anglers.
However, Price adds that redear sunfish are the second-best species in the chain, and that 10-inchers are fairly common. Studies of the chain indicate crappies and yellow (ring) perch are about the same in numbers as third/fourth most-numerous species. Largemouth bass and northern pike are next in that order. Bass have run small in recent creel surveys, but Price believes the lakes may host good numbers of legal-sized bass (14 inches) now.
Price points out that among ice-anglers Lawrence and Myers probably are the most popular lakes of the chain, but he thinks any of the lakes that are connected by culverts or inlet/outlets could produce good fishing for any of the species of the chain.
Public access sites with parking lots are found at the east and west ends of the chain. The site on Lawrence Lake may be accessed from Oliver Road, about 2.5 miles south of Plymouth, and the site on Mill Pond is on county Road 12, about one-fourth mile east of SR 17.
Crooked Lake, 800-plus acres some five miles northwest of Angola, gets Neil Ledet's nod as one of the best -- if not the best -- lakes of District 2 for
ice-fishing. Crooked Lake offers three basins and good populations of walleyes and bluegills. Both species have good numbers of followers among hardwater anglers.
The first (east) basin, largest of the three, has public access at a county park situated on the east shore of the lake. The maximum depth of this lake is about 30 feet.
The second basin is separated from the first basin by a peninsula (Comfort Point) extending south from the north shore of the main body of the lake. The second basin contains the deepest water of the lake at about 80 feet.
Although the first and second basins are roundish in form and deep, the third basin is long (roughly one mile long), narrow and rather shallow, only about 9 feet deep.
Ledet said studies of Crooked Lake in recent years have revealed walleyes up to 20 inches, but added that the lake hosts many walleyes in the 15- to 16-inch class.
Ledet said historically, the first and second basins have been the best for walleyes, but recent studies show good numbers of walleyes, and good catch rates of this species, in the third basin as well.
Crooked Lake, 800-plus acres some five miles northwest of Angola, gets Ledet's nod as one of the best -- if not the best -- lakes of District 2 for ice-fishing.
"There is no particular best spot for walleyes," Ledet said. "They are scattered throughout the lake."
Crooked Lake has good populations of largemouth bass and bluegills, but Ledet said the bulk of the 'gills are about 7 to 8 inches. He added that most ice-fishermen do not fish for bass at Crooked Lake.
Conventional ice-fishing gear and baits are best for the bluegills, Ledet said, adding that while some anglers use tip-ups with minnows for walleyes, most anglers use jigging spoons or the Rapala jigging lure of middle size. Many anglers will dress the hooks of the jigging spoons with very small minnows.
Ledet said Crooked Lake also has yellow perch in good numbers, but added that they are small.
Anglers looking for larger bluegills and redear sunfish will find them at Silver Lake, 238 acres, four miles west of Angola off U.S. Route 20, according to Ledet.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has property at the northeast corner of the lake, but it is not yet developed as an access site.
Silver Lake is producing good number of 'gills and redears in the 8- to 10-inch range.
Ice-fishermen can park at the DNR property, but many anglers access Silver Lake from a church parking lot on the south side of U.S. 20.
Jed Pearson said Sylvan Lake's 630 surface acres of water will be the best bet for ice-anglers in District 3, citing a big population of bluegills that run 7 to 8 inches long. There is also a good population of walleyes that will meet the state's minimum-size limit of 14 inches; finally, there is the potential for anglers to catch yellow perch in the 8- to 10-inch range.
Sylvan Lake is a long, east-west body of water situated at Rome City (Noble County). Pearson thinks of it as having three main basins. The lake's maximum depth of 36 feet can be found in the Cain Basin at the southeast end of the lake.
A large island separates Cain Basin and a shallower basin in the northeast corner of the lake forms a large, nameless central basin. The lake continues into the west basin through a narrow neck. A boat ramp at the public fishing area is located near the outlet of the west basin. The central and western basins of Sylvan Lake have maximum depths of less than 20 feet.
This manmade lake on the headwaters of Indiana's central Blue River, is in Summit Lake State Park. Thus, it offers plenty of parking and easy access to the ice.
Wisener said bluegills are definitely the top species in the lake, but he added that walleyes seem to be taking off. Walleyes run up to 26 inches, Wisener said, pointing out that earlier surveys turned up numerous walleyes that ranged just below the 14-inch minimum size limit, and that those fish probably are legal size now.
Recent surveys of the lake have not turned up great numbers of yellow perch, Wisener said, but he added that other indicators (including creel checks) note that there are some perch up to 15 inches. Summit Lake also offers a good population of largemouth bass.
Southern district biologists point out that while the length and geographic location of Indiana tends to eliminate ice-fishing on larger bodies of water in most years in the southern half of the state, smaller standing waters (especially farm ponds and small watershed lakes) offer some good fishing for a variety of species. Ice doesn't usually come as early there, nor does it last as long. But the smaller southern waters do get safe ice occasionally.
Jed Pearson said Sylvan Lake's 630 surface acres of water will be the best bet for ice-anglers in District 3, citing a big population of bluegills that run 7 to 8 inches long.
The southern district biologists are Dave Kittaka, District 6 (10 counties on the western border of the state immediately south of District 5), Dan Carnahan, District 7 (10 counties in the southwest corner of the state), and Larry Lehman, District 8 (the other 14 counties of the southeastern part of the state immediately south of District 4).
Kittaka pinpointed smaller strip pits in Greene-Sullivan State Forest, and small ponds and lakes of Indiana's state forests and the Hoosier National Forest, especially for bluegills, redear sunfish, bass and crappies. He added that the DFW has been stocking smaller standing waters with thousands of channel catfish fingerlings and that this fishery has much to offer if ice comes to the southern part of the state.
Carnahan nods in favor of small lakes at Ferdinand State Forest on the Dubois/Perry counties line, and the water-supply lakes of Oakland City, and other smaller cities and towns for a panfish/bass smorgasbord. Lehman said Delaney Park Lake, off SR 135 in Washington County, offers very good fishing for bluegills and redears. He added that Yellowwood Lake, in Yellowwood State Forest (Brown County), has been giving up strings of 10-inch bluegills.
To polish off this collection of ice-fishing potential in Hoosierland, Bill James, chief of the DFW's Fisheries Section for many years, was asked to pinpoint some of the spots he would go for various popular species of game fish.
Here are his picks: For bluegills and redear, Summit Lake; for walleyes, Maxinkuckee, or Sullivan Lake for hybr
id walleyes (saugeye); Lake Wawasee for yellow perch, or many of the other natural lakes of the northeast; for northern pike, the narrows between Lake James and Snow Lake (far northeast corner of the state); for largemouth bass, the natural lakes of the northeast on first ice, and for crappies, Dogwood Lake (Glendale State Fish and Wildlife Area in Daviess County) or Sullivan Lake.