From our northern-tier counties to more southerly reaches, here's where you'll find some of our state's topnotch hardwater angling right now. (December 2008)
Being on the right lake at the right time is the key to winter fishing. Nose-diving temperatures and howling winter winds don't signal the end of the fishing season. As a matter of fact, the best fishing is just around the corner.
Don't look any farther, here's the inside track on the best Hoosierland lakes to dip your bait in this winter.
Hamilton Lake is one of Indiana's most interesting ice-fishing lakes. The multi-species fishing here draws plenty of anglers, as nice catches of crappies and northern pike come through the ice; however, the bluegill fishing has taken a nosedive.
Crappies are the bread and butter of the lake's ice-fishing, according to fisheries biologist Neil Ledet. Hamilton isn't necessarily a numbers lake, but if you're looking for fish that will circle around and touch their tails in the bucket, this is the place to go.
Largemouth bass are overlooked as a winter species, but these game fish can definitely be taken through the ice, though not usually in big numbers.
The fishing isn't always consistent, but a decent chance at 15-inch crappies makes the trip worthwhile. The fishing gets even better after ice-out, but if you wait until summer, you'll swear there isn't a crappie to be caught for 100 miles.
Northern pike are another of Hamilton's hard-water highlights, Ledet said. The lake produces some nice ones.
Big northerns are active throughout the winter and thrive in the colder water. When your ears ache from the cold and the thermos won't keep the coffee hot, big northerns are just getting warmed up. This is the time of the year when the largest pike are the most vulnerable, not only because of their propensity to roam, but primarily because they're holding high in the water column. Dissolved oxygen in wintertime lakes will usually be at its highest concentrations right under the ice. A large minnow only 1 or 2 feet deep may be all you need to tempt a 25-inch fish. Make sure your hole is big enough to accommodate the lunkers!
Largemouth bass are overlooked as a winter species, but these game fish can definitely be taken through the ice, though not usually in big numbers. The warm-weather bassin' in this lake is phenomenal with catch rates doubling other Hoosierland bass waters. As a bass food, shad excel.
However, shad are no friend of the lake's bluegills and redear sunfish, Ledet said. Division of Fish and Wildlife surveys have indicated that the number of panfish in the lake has dropped over the last few years. According to Ledet, Hamilton has the lowest bluegill population of any lake in Steuben County.
The northern end of the lake is essentially a large, shallow flat. The mixture of different types of pondweeds provides some weedbeds that stay green under the ice, supplying oxygen and fish cover. The northwestern corner of the lake holds milfoil and spatterdock where northerns, bass and crappies congregate.
Points and dropoffs are throughout the rest of the lake. An underwater viewing system like an Aqua-Vu can take the guesswork out of where you should be spending your time. It also doesn't hurt to see what the crowd is doing and buddy-up with someone whose ice rods are busy.
The state-owned access is located on the west side of the eastern bay off state Route (SR) 1 on Circle Park Road.
Hamilton Lake covers over 800 acres in Steuben County. The lake tends to ice over and is a consistent place to drill a few holes all winter long.
Additional information is available by contacting the Division of Fish and Wildlife's District 2 at (260) 829-6241.
For information on lodging and other amenities, contact the Angola Area Chamber at (260) 665-3512 or visit online at www.angolachamber.org.
Put a minnow on your line and drop it in through a hole in the ice on Sylvan and there's no telling what you'll catch.
"One of the tried-and-true lakes in District 3 is Sylvan Lake," said fisheries biologist Jed Pearson.
Yellow perch, walleyes, crappies and even a few white bass and largemouth bass are taken through the ice at times at Summit Lake.
The best bet for Sylvan's bluegills is in the Cain Basin on the southeast end of the lake. Bluegills in the 7- to 8-inch range are taken here regularly. And it's not just the bluegills that make this a top winter destination. Black crappies and yellow perch have a following as well.
But the real pride and joy of the lake are its walleyes. Since 2001, walleyes have been stocked in the lake and that effort is paying off. Most of the fish will be under the 22-inch mark, but there are plenty with enough size on them to eat.
The 'eyes can be taken with Rapala ice jigs or live minnows placed under a small bobber. The advent of under-the-ice viewing instruments like the Aqua-Vu can help take the guesswork out of locating fish. Walleyes will relate to bottom structure but are still on the prowl.
Most of the walleye action will be in an area forming a rough triangle that starts on the east side of Bishop Island. From there, draw a line to Boy Scout Island in the northwest corner of the lake. Move on down to the southwest corner of Boy Scout Island and connect it back to Bishop Island. Rocks, big boulders, gravel substrate and sand make great walleye habitat, and that's why you'll find them in this section of the lake.
An unexpected, but welcome, surprise is the occasional nice largemouth bass that's taken. Most are caught incidentally by fishermen targeting other species. Many bass ranging from 14 to 17 inches are present, with some reaching up to 21 and 22 inches. Chances of connecting with one are excellent.
The lake's yellow perch will be feeding right through the winter season. The diffused low-light conditions allow them to respond to angler offerings in sometimes surprisingly shallow water. You'll find them wherever the
y happen to be on the day. Minnows, small jigs tipped with larval baits and soft plastics can open up some fast action.
The lake's bluegills are reaching 7 and 8 inches and are present in good numbers. There are numerous smaller bait-stealers around, so if you're having trouble with them, fish a few feet below the little guys. Monster bluegills will hold below and maybe a bit off to the side of their smaller counterparts along rocks and weed edges.
The crappies will provide good winter action as well. Right now, they're covering many different year-classes, so you'll catch them in a variety of sizes.
Park at the Gene Stratton Porter state memorial for the best walk-on access to productive water. Sylvan Lake is a 669-acre manmade water at Rome City in Noble County.
Call District 4 at (219) 691-3181 for more information. For tourism information, contact the Noble County Convention and Tourism Bureau at (877) 202-5761 or visit online at www.nccvb.org.
Panfishermen can be a finicky lot and have certain ways that they like to do things. Sticking with the old family secret baits won't be necessary here. Getting on the ice is the first step and after that, just about everything works.
Round Lake is renowned as a winter panfish lake, especially for first-ice fishing. It seems that every year the story repeats itself with nice catches of bluegills, redear sunfish and crappies. The bluegills are the main draw with sizes generally running into trophy specimens.
The southwest corner of the lake normally has the first safe ice cover, according to Ed Braun, the District 4 fisheries biologist. Some anglers in the Hoosier State feel that there's never safe ice, while others will fish on 2 or 3 inches, or less, and take their chances.
Round Lake comes by its name honestly. It's circular and small at only 48 acres with an average depth of 11 feet. Depths drop uniformly around the shoreline until reaching about 25 feet in the center. An advantage to this setup is that you can explore differing depths by only moving a short distance. The disadvantage is that the fish can be anywhere.
The most recent fisheries survey on the lake was conducted in 2007 and it showed good numbers of both bluegills and largemouth bass. Surprisingly, the DFW found that the bluegill population was overabundant and consisted mainly of harvestable fish. Bluegills took top billing and ranged to well over 7 1/2 inches. The lake's largemouths ran fairly small, with only a few bass surpassing the 14-inch minimum length limit.
Sporadic catches of yellow perch and crappies are available along with the occasional channel cat. Round Lake also offers the possibility of taking warmouths, pumpkinseeds, redears, green sunfish and spotted gar.
Walk-on access is from the east side of the lake where there is a small boat launch at the American Legion Post. The ramp is north of 1000N off Troyer Road near Laketon in Wabash County. The access is open to the public at no charge. There is no state-owned access on the lake.
For more information, contact District 4 at (219) 691-3181. Call the Wabash County Convention and Visitor's Bureau for information on lodging at (800) 563-1169 or visit online at www.wabashcocvb.com.
Anglers with a catch-anything-biting attitude will appreciate Summit Lake in Henry County.
"Summit offers the chance to catch quality-sized bluegills, redears and crappies," said Rhett Wisener, a fisheries biologist with District 5. "Bass are also abundant and if the lake freezes over enough to allow you access, the deeper water has decent numbers of yellow perch. Walleyes are also a draw for quite a few anglers."
There aren't any magic spots on Summit, according to Wisener. The bluegills move around.
Summit Lake covers over 800 acres near New Castle, about an hour's drive from Indianapolis. The lake will be the best option for Indy-area anglers if they're serious about taking home a mess of fish.
Start out for bluegills in the bays during first ice and then in the Beaver Creek area in the northeastern end when the winter winds start howling. This area is shallow with bottom structure, weeds down to about 15 feet and is usually the first spot on the lake to freeze up.
Yellow perch, walleyes, crappies and even a few white bass and largemouth bass are taken through the ice at times at Summit Lake.
Perch are going to be roaming throughout the deeper water. When you find a school, live minnows will produce. When the fish are deep, a jig tipped with a soft-plastic trailer or a jigging spoon can work wonders.
The same holds true for walleye anglers. The 'eyes will likely be hugging the bottom, so a deep jig-and-minnow combination or heavy jigging and plastic might rouse some interest. Some anglers drill a hole or two for walleyes near the dam on the lake's northwest corner.
Crappies are where you find them. No guarantees here, but when you find them, the action can be fast.
Bass anglers can try for a big Summit lunker. Fish up to 22 inches have been taken and are willing biters even in the cold winter months. Slow is the only speed the bass know when the temperatures are low and their metabolism has followed suit. A wacky-rigged worm, large minnow or weighted soft-plastic bait is going to be the ticket to success.
Summit is another Hoosier lake where winter catfishermen might do well. The channel cats are slow and lethargic and aren't interested in traveling far to get a meal.
Start in the bays or in the shallow northeastern section of the lake for most everything swimming. Move on out into deeper water for the perch and walleyes.
Summit Lake is located eight miles northeast of New Castle at County Road 600N and Messick Road. Indianapolis anglers have about an hour's drive to reach the lake.
Access on the ice is limited and calling ahead to the state park to see where it's being allowed is a good idea and helps avoid any last-minute surprises.
For more information, contact District 5 at (765) 342-5527 or the Summit Lake State Park at (765) 766-5873. Lodging and other amenities can be found by contacting the Henry County Convention and Visitor's Bureau at (888) 676-4302 or online at www.henrycountyin.com.
FERDINAND AREA LAKES
Southern Indiana has ice-fishing when the conditions are right, but that doesn't seem to happen all that often. The region's smaller waters have a much better chance of getting s
afe ice than do larger bodies of water, so anglers have to do the best they can.
"Our ice-fishing season is hit and miss, and locations are based on whether or not the ice is safe," said District 7 fisheries biologist Dan Carnahan. "On a good year we'll get a couple of weeks of ice-fishing in on the smaller lakes in our area. Some years we never get safe ice."
The ponds and small lakes in the Ferdinand State Forest and around the Ferdinand area in Dubois County are the most dependable winter waters, give or take variations in the weather. On a good year, the 42-acre Ferdinand Lake is fishable through the ice for bluegills, redear sunfish and black crappies and will produce fairly consistent catches. The lake is only 39 acres in size.
A 12- to 15-inch slot limit was implemented on the largemouth bass in 2002 and it was definitely a good move. The numbers of smaller bass gave way to 15-inch-plus fish that are far more common than they once were. Some of these bass are at 20 inches or better. The real purpose of regulating the bass was to improve the bluegill fishery and that resulted in 'gills in the 8-inch range.
The redear sunfish are also whopper-sized. Some are pushing the tape measure at 10 inches.
A well-placed worm or minnow can also take a channel cat. Coming out of the cold water makes deep-fried catfish taste even better. Catfish are stocked on alternate years at a rate of 13 fish per acre.
The state forest is seven miles east of the town of Ferdinand.
Old and New Ferdinand lakes are associated with the town of Ferdinand and are also top bluegill producers, Carnahan said. These lakes are each about half the size of the state forest lake and generally have good ice.
New Ferdinand is nearly 11 acres in size. Though small, anglers can make a good showing on this little gem.
The DFW surveyed both Old and New Ferdinand lakes and the results were impressive. The longest New Ferdinand bluegills measured well over 9 inches. There is a decent redear population and the largemouth bass round out the offering, though the bass aren't much to get excited about.
New Ferdinand Lake is off Ferdinand Road a mile and a half east of the city of Ferdinand.
The Old Ferdinand City Reservoir covers 15 acres and reaches 20-foot depths. Just about everything here is good eating size. Bluegills and redears reach 8 inches, crappies between 8 and 9 inches and the largemouth bass about 16 inches. Channel cats are reaching 17 inches.
The Old Ferdinand Lake is a quarter mile east of the city of Ferdinand in Dubois County.
For more information, contact District 7 at (812) 789-2724. The Dubois County Visitor's Center and Tourism Commission can be reached at (800) 968-4578 or go online to www.visitduboiscounty.com.
Additional information on fishing these and other Hoosierland waters is available on the DFW's Web site at www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild.