From Pine Lake to Kokomo Reservoir, plus one other hard-to-beat pick, here's where you'll find fabulous ice-fishing right now in our state!
By Mike Graves
My fishing buddies and I were counting the days until we could go ice-fishing. After what seemed like an eternity, the ice had finally gotten thick enough for us to (safely) get out on the lake and do some ice-fishing in early January.
In northwest Indiana, safe ice usually occurs right after Christmas and unless you're a late-season deer hunter or waterfowler, the time can seem to drag by until the ice is finally safe. The timeframe for "first ice" in northern Indiana is pretty similar to when first ice occurs elsewhere in the state. However, it can often take a few weeks longer for ice-anglers in the southern part of the state to get out and start drilling holes.
On the first day we could get out to fish, the sky was bright and clear. The air temperature was about 22 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind was calm. This meant the numbing effects of wind chill would not be a factor, and we wouldn't need an ice-fishing shelter to keep us warm.
Unless it gets gusty and downright freezing, I use a piece of ice-fishing equipment that has been around for generations. This piece of equipment is amazing in its simplicity and functionality - and it really gets the job done. In essence, it's just a box with compartments and a hinged, padded seat on the top.
A compartment in the front of this seat is designed to hold a lantern; it has a window made of Plexiglas (on the front side) that keeps the lantern out of the wind and allows the light to illuminate your fishing spot at night. And maybe more significantly, while you sit on the box and fish, the heat rising out of the lantern compartment helps to keep you warm. This means my lantern is fired up day or night.
This type of ice-fishing equipment does not have any tent-like walls or roof to keep the elements at bay, but it is light enough to carry over your shoulder, thereby making it extremely portable. These ice-fishing sleds/ boxes are available at many traditional bait shops.
Largemouth bass are present -- and willing to bite -- during the winter ice-fishing season. Photo by Mike Graves
Our plan for the first day of safe ice is to try a favorite spot that has produced for us in past years. After my friend, Ed Lewandowski, drills three holes at the location where I will be fishing, I take my ice scoop and clear out ice from the holes. This is done so that the line won't get caught on the jagged edges of any ice ridges that would form and surround the holes if I didn't push the slushy ice away.
Ed drills holes for me to fish through, and then several more sets of three holes each at 20-yard intervals so that we can locate the fish in an efficient manner. Using a buddy system, I follow Lewandowski and clear each hole after he drills.
Fortunately, Lewandowski uses a gas-powered ice auger equipped with sharp blades. If you need to drill lots of holes, gas-powered ice augers are obviously the way to go! Pre-drilling several sets of holes in a pattern that matches the structure/topology of the lake you'll be fishing on will save you time and get you "on" the fish faster.
After walking back to my first set of holes, I tip a small ice-fishing jig with a bee moth and lower it to within 1 foot of the bottom in 8 feet of water. I know the exact depth of the water of this location because we measure it with a hand-held depthfinder (sonar) unit. Measuring the depth of the water you'll be "dropping" a line through is a good idea, since once the fish are located, you'll know exactly at what depth of water they are suspended.
If you don't have an electronic depthfinder, you can use a clip-on lead weight to measure the water's depth; they are available anywhere ice-fishing supplies are sold. With this method, you simply clip one of these weights onto your jig and drop your line through the hole. Once it hits bottom, you mark the spot on the line where it went slack, pull up the line and take a measurement between the weight and the mark . . . simple, but effective!
I bait up another pole and drop it about 3 feet under the ice; I like to start one pole deep and another one shallow and work them toward each other until I start to catch fish. In Indiana, you can legally fish with three poles, but the action on this lake rarely affords one enough time to fish three poles.
It didn't take long before we were all pulling nice bluegills through the ice. Some of the 'gills were about 9 inches in length with wide shoulders. They would make for some great table fare later.
Last season's ice-fishing season was a pretty good one, especially for those who were prepared when first ice came uncharacteristically early. Typical catches were realized at many lakes and ponds around the state. As the old saw goes, "the early bird gets the first worm," and this certainly applies to those ice-anglers who have all of their gear ready to go when the ice-fishing season starts early.
Let's take a look at three lakes where the ice-fishing will be good this year . . . providing that the weather cooperates.
PINE LAKE At 564 acres, Pine Lake in LaPorte County offers ice-anglers a lot of possibilities . . . and a lot of area to cover. Fortunately, there are several access points to get on the lake during the winter.
"Last season, they (ice-anglers) would park at the recreation area, which is located just off Pine Lake Road on the northeast side of the lake and walk out," said Gracie Bickey, who owns and operates Gracie's Fishing and Hunting store at 1350 Pine Lake Road; you can reach the store at (219) 362-7913. "Some of the guys would also park on Waverly Road and walk out from the boat dock," said Bickey.
"We had good ice this past season (2002-03). We were catching a lot of perch, northern pike and bass; it was good fishing," continued Bickey.
Pine Lake has a maximum depth of 50 feet, and good structure throughout. According to Bickey, many of the guys were out there on the north side of Pine Lake, but they were fishing everywhere on the lake. Last year, the lake was covered with ice shanties. Some folks even had 4x4s out there. Fishing was good throughout the lake.
On the north side of Pine Lake the maximum depth is 25 feet. Here you'll find tight contour lines that stair step down to the bottom outward from the shoreline. Setting tip-ups along these contour lines should produce some good-sized northern pike. Bickey said the pike were taken on minnows.
water is 5 to 10 feet out from the recreation area that is located on Pine Lake Road, but as you move south through the "narrows," the water gradually increases to a depth of 30 feet. Fishing along these contour lines is a good place to set a few tip- ups for pike and bass; it will also keep you fairly close to your vehicle if you parked at the recreation area.
If you're targeting perch, try the east side of Holmes Island, which is actually a peninsula that runs in an east-to-west fashion in the middle part of the lake.
Bickey's store carries a full complement of ice-fishing supplies and bait. "If the ice is thick enough, we should have another good year," Bickey concluded. It should also be mentioned that another good fishing lake is located immediately next to Pine Lake on Stone Lake. There is a short channel that connects the two lakes.
The composition of the bottom near the channel in Stone Lake is somewhat sandy, and there is a shelf that drops off from 5 to 20 feet in a stair-step fashion pretty rapidly. In good years, pike can be found roaming this shelf. The bluegill fishing on the northwest side of Stone Lake is also good during the ice-fishing season. Access to Stone Lake is via a boat ramp that is located off Lakeshore Road on the south side of the lake.
KOONTZ LAKE Koontz Lake is a natural waterway that is 346 acres in size. The lake is on the boundary line between Starke and Marshall counties. The average depth of Koontz Lake is 9 feet with a maximum depth of 31 feet. Several species of panfish can be caught at Koontz. These include bluegills, crappies, pumpkinseed sunfish, green sunfish and yellow perch. In terms of game fish, both largemouth bass and northern pike are present in Koontz.
If you're targeting bluegills, a good bet is to fish the shallows on the north side of the lake where the wetland conservation area is located. Accessing this point might take a little doing, as it is a fair distance from the main public access point.
Public access to Koontz Lake is facilitated primarily by the Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) boat ramp, which is located on the southeast side of the lake off South Lake Drive. There is ample parking space at this ramp, but persons using this access point should be sure to check the ice thickness in the channel that flows out to the lake from the ramp before venturing onto the ice.
A small creek feeds into the lake via this channel and the warmer water from the creek could affect the safeness of the ice in the channel or in the lake. Please be careful. Safety is very important when ice-fishing. District 10 commander Jerry Shepherd advises not to go out on the ice unless it is at least 4 inches thick.
"People do go on less than 4 inches, but it's a false sense of security. Three inches could hold you, but 4 inches is recommended and deemed much safer," Shepherd said.
An ice-fishing safety tip to keep in mind is to wear a personal flotation device (PFD), otherwise known as a life preserver, should there be any concern about the integrity of the ice. But the best tip of all is to use a spud bar or an ice auger near the shoreline to determine the thickness of the ice before venturing out any appreciable distance away from shore.
Always have a ruler or something to measure the ice thickness and make sure that it is at least 4 inches thick with no air or slush pockets. Speaking with other ice-anglers and communicating with local bait shops is another resource for getting a handle on the safeness of the ice.
Another access point is via a marina located on the west side of the lake on South Avenue. This is a private entry point, so please be sure to check at the marina about using this access.
When fishing Koontz Lake, locating game fish can be a chore. The use of tip-ups can help to expand your search area and save time. If you're unfamiliar with a lake the, use of a structure map (i.e., topography map) will help you to place tip-ups along contour lines or dropoffs. By placing a tip-up or two in strategic locations away from the hole you're fishing (with a pole), you substantially increase your chances of locating game fish.
If you're fishing with two or three friends, and all of them set tip-ups in addition to yours, the chances of locating fish will increase considerably. The nice thing about tip-ups is their ability to signal a fish strike to an ice-angler who is a long distance away. Coupling the use of a four-wheeler or snowmobile with radio communications can also really help to get you on the fish quickly.
With today's availability of reasonably priced two-way radios, one of your ice-fishing friends can hop on a snowmobile and see what's going on over on the other side of the lake. Cell phones can also be used to keep ice-anglers in touch with each other.
KOKOMO RESERVOIR Rounding out our three ice-fishing picks is Kokomo Reservoir. Kokomo is located in Howard County about 2.5 miles east of the town of Kokomo. If you like walleyes, then Kokomo Reservoir is good place is try.
Public access points to the reservoir are located on 400 East at the boat ramps, and at a boat ramp located on the south side of the reservoir toward the extreme eastern end near Greentown.
This reservoir is 484 acres in size, and it is about four miles long (east to west), but it is only about one-fourth mile wide at its widest point. Several years ago, some 25,000 walleye fingerlings were stocked. Presently, about 40 percent of these walleyes are of legal size.
When fishing reservoirs, be sure to check with the DNR and make sure no "drawdowns" are scheduled or possible. On water-supply reservoirs, drawdowns occur when public utilities pump water out of a reservoir to supply water to a city or a utility plant. This can create an unsafe condition for ice-fishermen by causing a gap between the ice and the unfrozen water beneath the ice, so please be sure to check. For details, you can call the DNR at (260) 691-3181.
Discover even more in our monthly magazine,
and have it delivered to your door!
Subscribe to Indiana Game & Fish