Walleyes, yellow perch, bluegills and more can be found at these five-plus top-rated ice-fishing picks from South Bend to Indianapolis. (Dec 2006)
Ice-fishing isn't for the faint of heart or the thin-blooded among us. It does take some fortitude to step out into the cold and leave all the comforts of home behind, but as thousands of hard-water anglers know, ice-fishing can put plenty of fish in the bucket. Anglers who are willing to brave the elements often find some of the best fishing of the year.
Here's a look at five waters with reputations for producing fish when the thermometer takes a nose-dive.
A multi-species water if ever there was one, Sylvan Lake in Noble County yields plenty of panfish during the winter season.
"Sylvan Lake has a lot of big bluegills, yellow perch, walleyes and crappies," said Jed Pearson, a Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) fisheries biologist.
Bluegills in the 7- to 8-inch range are common along with good-sized walleyes, which are newcomers to the lake.
"We seem to be having more and more walleyes," Pearson said. "We've been stocking them over the last four or five years and we're getting from 14- to 18-inch fish with an occasional 22-incher."
Hotspots for the walleyes are relatively new and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is keeping tabs on where most of them are caught. When biologists are conducting fish population surveys, the area of Sylvan where most of the walleyes are sampled can be described as a big triangle.
"The walleyes are pretty thick in there," Pearson said. "Basically, from the east side of Bishop Island, go to the northwest corner of what is locally known as Boy Scout Island. Then go to the southwest corner of Boy Scout Island and back again to Bishop Island. This area makes a big triangle and that's where we find most of the walleyes. This area has a lot of big boulders, rocks, sand and gravel and many of the walleyes are caught here."
Walleyes are taken on minnows, while other panfish can be taken on the standard mousies and grubs.
In 1984, Sylvan Lake was treated with Rotenone, a chemical used to poison fish in lakes and ponds. Carp dominated the fishery and the decision was made to start over. Walleyes and channel catfish were then stocked, along with other game fish; the lake has made a remarkable comeback.
Though largemouth bass are not commonly targeted in the cold weather, this is a lake where using a jigging Rapala might pay off. In 2004, the DNR estimated that the lake contained nearly 3,000 bass that were at least 8 inches or larger. The overall bass density was low compared with similar lakes, but the sizes were good. According to the survey, over 1,000 bass measured from 14 to 17 inches. There were about five of these good-sized bass per acre, which is five times the normal density rate. The lake had 88 bass that were 18 inches or larger, which made these lunkers twice as numerous as in comparable waters.
Sylvan Lake is in Rome and covers 669 acres.
Additional information is available by contacting District 4 at (219) 691-3181.
"Summit Lake is one of my top ice-fishing picks," said fisheries biologist Rhett Wisener.
Without a doubt, Indianapolis-area hardwater anglers have one of the best spots in the state to set up a couple of tip-ups.
"For its size, Summit is one of the first lakes to freeze up in central Indiana and see any ice action," Wisener said. "It offers anglers both quality and variety. Bluegills are the most commonly caught fish and the action usually starts with the first ice in the bays. Yellow perch, crappies, walleyes, bass and channel catfish are other species ice-fishermen commonly target and catch. It's also not unheard of for anglers to get into some nice white bass."
Daniel Miller of Miller's Great Outdoors said the lake is an all-around great ice-fishing destination.
"Ice-fishermen do real well on the lake for bluegills. When you find them, there's an almost endless supply," Miller said.
"Some big bass are occasionally taken through the ice, and last winter an angler took a largemouth that weighed 10 pounds."
According to Miller, a few diehard anglers fish through the ice for walleyes near the dam on the northwest end of the lake. Catfish, yellow perch and redear sunfish are taken along with some nice crappies. Crappies aren't especially popular in the wintertime on Summit, but the lake is loaded with them. The biggest winter perch that Miller is aware of was a 17-incher, though most will be around the 12-inch mark.
Miller points out that the Beaver Creek area on the northeast end of the lake is where most people start fishing, especially if they're not familiar with the lake. The lake is shallower here with plenty of submerged cover. This section of the lake is also the first part to freeze over and often has ice while the rest of the lake is still open water.
"Bluegills are usually pretty good during the first couple of weeks in the Beaver Creek area," agreed assistant Summit Lake State Park manager and fisheries biologist Dan Robinson.
"My son uses an Aqua-Vu underwater camera to find bass under the ice in Beaver Creek; he caught 15 of them one time, while I caught one. You'd think that bass wouldn't fight hard in the cold water, but they do."
Channel catfish will suspend in the deep water, sometimes as deep as 35 to 40 feet, Miller said. A few years ago, he helped one angler land an 18-pounder through the ice. They cut two additional holes in the ice to make a clearing big enough to get the catfish through.
When Robinson fishes the ice, spikes are his live bait of choice. If he's looking for largemouths, he'll tie on an orange or chartreuse jigging Rapala or a live minnow.
Summit Lake covers 835 acres and is northeast of New Castle at county Road 600N and Messick Road in Henry County.
Three boat ramps are available. Foot access on the ice is limited and Robinson recommends calling ahead to the state park to find out where it's being allowed.
For more information, contact District 5 at the Cikana State Fish Hatchery in Martinsville at (765) 342-5527; or the Summit Lake State Park at (765) 766-5873.
Miller's Great Outdoors is
just outside of the park and can be reached at (765) 766-6300.
"An option on the other side of Indy is Rockville Lake," Wisener said. "It doesn't offer the variety that Summit Lake has, but it does offer quality fishing. We just completed a fisheries survey there in May of this year and found many bluegills, the largest of which was 9 inches. There were also a good number of redear sunfish collected and a good percentage of them were from 8 to 11 inches. We also found a large number of crappies between 7 and 9 inches that should provide for quite a bit of action this winter."
Brian Emery, the superintendent of the Parke County Park and Recreation Board, has done his share of ice-fishing.
"The Park and Recreation Board began officially allowing ice-fishing last year," Emery said. "I did really well over about 16 feet of water just off the bottom and caught lots of nice bluegills. I've also had good luck along the dam catching redears. Across from the beach on the far bank is a good spot for crappies. This is the deepest part of the lake, where the old creek channel is located. There are a lot of downed trees in this area."
Channel catfish and bass are fairly abundant in the lake and can be taken during the colder months of the year. Though uncommon, largemouth bass up to 6 pounds have also been caught.
"Ice-fishermen on Rockville catch a lot of bluegills and crappies and they're nice keepers," said Norman Toney of Toney's Bait and Tackle. Toney has been in business for nearly 50 years. "Every once in a while someone will hook a bass or a catfish on maggots. This is the best bait for panfish, winter or summer, and they work well on everything swimming under the ice."
Anglers can check the park's voice mail at (765) 569-6541 (once cold weather arrives) for the latest information on ice conditions and whether or not access is available. Last year, there were only three good days of ice due to the prevailing warmer, spotty temperatures. Even without the ice, fishing can still be good, according to Toney.
A $4 fee is charged at the entrance of the park and anglers pay on the honor system.
Rockville covers 100 acres in Parke County, one-half mile north of the city of Rockville. The boat ramp is reached from state Route 29 via Anderson Street and then East Lane on the southwestern corner of the lake in Rockville Lake Park. An electric trolling motor-only restriction is in place.
Additional information is available from District 5 at (765) 342-5527 or from the superintendent's office at Rockville Lake at (765) 569-6541.
"I'd recommend Wolf Lake in Hammond for winter action," said Bob Robertson, a District 1 fisheries biologist with the Kankakee Fish and Wildlife Area.
"Wolf Lake lies in both Illinois and Indiana, but the two sides are fairly well divided by a levee. Some fish travel back and forth through a couple of tiles connecting the two sections, but the sections are still quite different."
According to Robertson, Perch America has been stocking the Indiana side of Wolf Lake with advanced walleye fingerlings for a number of years. For a while, the DFW stocked smaller fingerlings to supplement the Perch America stockings, but studies showed that returns on the smaller fingerlings were diminishing, so the stockings were discontinued.
"Ice-fishermen, in addition to bass and bluegills, have caught some very nice walleyes," Robertson said.
At times, there is open water from the hot-water discharge in the "channel" as it's called locally, on the north end of the lake. The channel used to be the outlet to Lake Michigan, but it's been closed for decades. The lake now discharges to the Calumet River on the west side in Illinois. Because of what remains of the connection to Lake Michigan, even an occasional salmon is taken from this lake.
The first rule in ice-fishing is to fish where the fish are, and that's one qualification that Wolf Lake has no problem meeting even in an urban setting.
"We surveyed Wolf in 2005 using electroshocking, gill nets and trap nets," said Jeremy Price, the District 1 assistant fisheries biologist.
"The walleye stocking program taken on by Perch America has done some really great things and there are a lot of nice walleyes to be taken. A whole-lake vegetation treatment was completed in the spring of 2004 and that kind of turned things upside down for a while for the walleye anglers, but I think things are probably getting better for them."
Bluegills and yellow perch are present but not impressive, Price said.
"The bluegill population was marginal. Our stock indices indicate a balanced population, but growth was slower than district averages and we collected no fish larger than 6 1/2 inches. We caught a few yellow perch that were flirting with quality sizes."
White perch are everywhere, Price said, and are an invasive species and tend to wreak havoc with lake food chains. However, they're in Wolf, Price said, and anglers might as well make the best of it. They definitely should keep what they catch in order to help native species out.
Last but not least, Wolf Lake is also home to northern pike, redear sunfish, pumpkinseeds, warmouths and tiger muskies.
Wolf Lake covers 385 acres in Lake County and is located on 121st Street at Calumet Avenue in Hammond.
For additional information, contact District 1 at (574) 896-3673 or the Hammond Marina at (219) 659-7678.
A one-fourth-mile channel in Lakeville connects Riddles and Pleasant lakes. These lakes are near the top of biologist Robertson's picks for ice-fishing destinations. Biologists recently completed a fisheries survey in 2003 and found nice opportunities for bluegills, crappies and largemouth bass.
"We were surprised by a few 14- inch crappies," Price said.
According to Price, bluegills and redears were sampled that measured up into the 8-inch bracket. Walleyes were found in both lakes but not in great numbers.
Bonnie Kelley of Kelley's Bait and Tackle has been in business for 42 years. She's seen plenty of ice-fishing seasons on Pleasant and Riddles lakes come and go.
"The ice-fishing is great at times, and at other times it's not," Kelley said.
"We haven't had any decent ice for the last two or three years, but cold-weather fishing is still good. As soon as the ice is off, the boats are out there."
Kelley pointed out that there aren't any spots on these lakes that are better than others. From her years of experience, she's noticed that ice-fishermen frequently change locations. On Riddles, the south side of the
lake sometimes produces more panfish, since the lake is shallower and there is more submerged structure there, but being a smaller body of water, the fish can still be just about anywhere. It might also be worthwhile to check out recently dredged spots near the channel.
Another tip that Kelley is willing to provide is that anglers shouldn't be fishing deep. The fish are usually shallow when they're actively biting.
The two top producers for all species are wax worms and red wrigglers, Kelley said. Red worms, night crawlers, minnows and leeches are popular alternatives.
The channel between the two lakes can be treacherous at best for ice-fishermen. The current seldom allows safe ice to form there.
Both of these waters are small and often overlooked. Pleasant covers 106 acres and Riddles covers 77 acres. Access is from the ramp on Pleasant Lake, and Riddles is accessible from the navigable channel stretching between them. Ice-anglers can walk on from the ramp located off U.S. Route 31 on the north end of the lake. There is no public access from the Riddles shoreline.
The public access site is located on the west end of Pleasant Lake in St. Joseph County, directly off U.S. 31. Kelly's Bait is located on the western shoreline of Pleasant Lake, just north of the ramp. Call (574) 784-8859 for more information.
For additional information on Hoosier ice-fishing opportunities, visit the Division of Fish and Wildlife online at www.in.gov/dnr.
Find more about Indiana fishing and hunting at: IndianaGameandFish.com