From Adams Lake to Blue Lake, plus three other top waters, here's where you'll find excellent ice-fishing for bluegills, crappies, yellow perch and more!
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
By Tom Berg
Every year, Hoosier ice-fishermen hope for a few arctic blasts between Christmas and New Year's Day to set the annual season in motion. Once the ice reaches a thickness of 4 or 5 inches, many anglers will don their snowmobile suits and heavy boots and head for the lake. Others will wait for the security of 6 to 8 inches of ice before declaring the lake "safe," but they all have one thing in common: They all love ice-fishing.
Last winter was a more "normal" winter for most Indiana ice-anglers, with the first ice appearing in January and lasting through most of February. In the northwest part of the state, the first really frigid weather appeared on Jan. 6, when the temperature dropped to 7 degrees below zero.
The temperature stayed relatively cold for most of the rest of the month, and then during the last week of January the ice-making machine turned on full blast! The temperature dropped below zero every night for five nights in a row, culminating in a minus 10-degree reading on Jan. 31. That makes for some thick ice!
Ice-fishermen took advantage of the good ice during late January and through the middle of February. There was not a tremendous amount of snow cover, and the fishing was good. But by the third week of February, daytime highs were hitting the mid-40s, and most of Indiana's icefishing was gone before the month was over.
It's anyone's guess as to what the weather will be like this winter. Hopefully, the ice will appear early and stay late. But even if it is a normal winter, the ice-fishermen will be chomping at the bit to get out on their favorite waters or try a few new spots.
Although there are hundreds of great places for Hoosier fishermen to choose from when deciding where to drill their first ice hole, Indiana Game & Fish has identified five excellent places to fish to help narrow your choice. They include: Blue Lake in Whitley County, Adams and Oliver lakes in LaGrange County, Bruce Lake in Fulton County and Fish Lake in LaPorte County.
Located just a little north and east of Columbia City in Whitley County, Blue Lake has been a haven for panfish and bass anglers for many years. Although the lake is relatively small (239 acres), the fish population remains diverse and very strong. Bluegills, redear sunfish, black crappies, yellow perch and largemouth bass are the most sought-after species, but there are also plenty of pumpkinseed sunfish, warmouths and three species of bullheads, too.
Blue Lake has a maximum depth of 49 feet, and there are plenty of weeds of all kinds for the fish to hide in. Shallower wetland areas along the northwest and northeast sides of the lake commonly attract good numbers of fish and fishermen. There is a public access site on the south side of the lake with plenty of parking for ice- anglers.
Even though Blue Lake does not cover a lot of surface acres, over the years it has produced surprising numbers of very large panfish - especially bluegills. The most recent creel survey performed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recorded bluegills up to 10.5 inches in length, and dozens of 'gills measuring between 9 and 10 inches. Those are some hefty bluegills!
Yellow perch and black crappies have also been favorites at this lake in the past, and fish up to 12 inches (of each species) are not uncommon. Largemouth bass are also quite popular with anglers here, and there are some real trophies present, too. Creel clerks observed bass up to 20 inches long during their survey, and DNR biologists collected bass as large as 21.5 inches during their night-fishing sampling efforts.
Ed Braun, a District 4 fisheries biologist for the DNR, agrees that Blue Lake is good place for Hoosier hardwater anglers to try their luck. "It is very popular with ice-fishermen," he said. "The bay in the southeast corner is a good fishing spot, and it usually freezes early." Although that particular bay has water about 12 feet deep, it is quite weedy and produces great bluegill catches.
Blue Lake has not been surveyed in the last few years, but the fishing is still very good. Bluegill fishermen, in particular, have still been catching good numbers of the really big bluegills. "I don't expect any big changes in the fish population," Braun said. "It remains one of the better bass and bluegill lakes."
Adams Lake is located in LaGrange County, just northeast of Wolcottville. It is an extremely deep lake, with a maximum depth of 93 feet. Although the average depth is 25 feet, there are extensive shallow flats and sandbars where ice-fishermen try their luck.
Neil Ledet, a District 2 fisheries biologist for the DNR, reports that Adams Lake is good place for Indiana hardwater fishermen. "It's got really good bluegill fishing," he said. "The ice-fishermen like to hit the bluegills during early ice." One of the early- season hotspots is in the channels, in 5 or 6 feet of water. "Just south of the access site is a series of channels. First ice in those channels can be really terrific."
Bluegill fishing can be fast and furious, at times, and there are plenty of hand-sized 'gills to be caught, too. During the last fish survey at Adams, bluegills up to 9.6 inches were collected. "Many of them are probably in the 8-inch range," estimates Ledet.
"Adams has also traditionally had quite a good yellow perch fishery. There are some nice perch in there. The guys who catch perch follow them around all winter long, since the schools move around quite a bit. They are fishing for the perch in 25 to 35 feet of water, right on the bottom."
Although some perch are caught on bee moths, the preferred bait is a live minnow. "From what I've seen," Ledet said, "it's mostly a minnow fishery. But they also use small minnow-imitating jigs. They put a spike or two or a wax worm on the treble hook, and with that they can cover a lot of ground."
Bass fishermen can do pretty well at Adams, too. "It has decent bass fishing," Ledet said. "But I don't see a lot of people fishing for them through the ice. Everybody used to put out a tip-up or two when they were out on the ice in the past. I think attitudes about bass have changed so much that not many people are doing it here."
In north-central Indiana, 245-acre Bruce Lake is also known as a good bluegill producer. It straddles the Pulaski and Fulton line just north of state Route
14, and is located about nine miles east of Winamac. The maximum depth of the lake is 34 feet and the average depth is 14 feet. A public access site is on the northwest side of the lake.
Bluegills are not the only fish that can be caught through the ice, though. Lucky anglers can ice yellow perch, black and white crappies, largemouth bass, sunfish and even the occasional channel catfish. Northern pike were stocked many years ago, and muskies have been stocked for the past four years. Some of those muskies are now more than 40 inches long.
Bruce Lake was surveyed by the DNR in 2000 to analyze the fish populations and determine growth rates for individual species. A total of 23 species of fish were observed, and bluegills ranked first in abundance by number at 33 percent of the sample. Gizzard shad were second by number at 21 percent, followed by yellow perch and largemouth bass at 12 percent each.
Most of the fish collected in the survey showed average growth despite the presence of gizzard shad, but bluegill growth was above average. The bluegills that were sampled ranged in size from 3 to 9 inches long, and 41 percent were of harvestable size.
According to Phil Hurleurt, who runs Whitey's Bait Shop on the northwest side of Bruce Lake, icefishermen love this spot. "The icefishing is usually pretty good! Some guys fish for bass and northerns, but not as many as fish for panfish," Hurleurt said. "And now they've got muskies in here, too."
When asked about the size of the pike and muskies in the lake, Hurleurt reports that there are some big ones. "I've seen northerns up to 18 pounds," he said. "There are not very many of them, but they're in here. There are many more muskies now. The biggest muskie that I have seen so far was 14 pounds."
Jeremy Price, a District 1 assistant fisheries biologist, said Bruce Lake is scheduled to be surveyed again in the summer of 2005. "We surveyed prior to the first muskie stocking, and we are going to do another survey to see what the impacts are," Price said. "We are hoping there will be a reduction in the number of gizzard shad."
Price reports that the new muskie fishery here should draw more and more interest as time goes on. "We've heard numerous reports of muskies being caught," he said. "I talked to one fisherman who said he had caught one that was 37 inches long. I also heard that a man from Winamac caught a 41-inch fish in the spring of 2004."
One of the more popular places for ice-fishermen to gather is on the northwest side of the lake, where the water is about 5 feet deep. "They fish the weedlines right there," Hurleurt said. Most anglers use spikes, mousies, bee moths and small crappie minnows. The tip-up fishermen use larger minnows. For an up-to-date fishing report or to stock up on live bait, visit Whitey's Bait Shop at 1755 N. 675E in Kewanna. Or call Phil Hurleurt at (574) 946-3513.
Oliver Lake is another hotspot in LaGrange County once the ice is safe to walk on. Located almost straight south of the town of LaGrange (about four miles), Oliver Lake is a body of water known more for rainbow trout than for panfish or bass. It is a deep lake with steep dropoffs. Although many fishermen pursue bluegills and bass here, trout are often the main quarry.
Oliver Lake is the largest body of water in the 500-acre Oliver Lake Chain. It includes Oliver Lake (371 acres), Olin Lake (103 acres) and Martin Lake (26 acres). Biologist Neil Ledet said that most of the icefishermen on the chain these days are trying to figure out how to catch trout through the ice. "They do catch a handful of panfish in the channels during the winter," he said. "But the trout are the most sought-after species."
Some places are better than others when targeting trout. According to Ledet, deep holes and sharp dropoffs are the ticket. "There's a big hole on the other side of the channel leading into Olin," he said. "The channel is very shallow, but as soon as you enter Olin it drops right off. They fish similar breaks on Oliver, too.
"The access site is on the north side of Oliver Lake, probably closer to the northwest corner," continued Ledet. "There's even a deep hole right out in front of the access site. They used to catch a lot of trout there." Many anglers use live minnows for the trout, but bee moths are probably just as productive and just as popular.
Although most of the rainbows that are caught on the Oliver chain are recently stocked fish, there are quite a few holdovers, too. Holdover is the term given to trout that have remained in the lake for more than one year after being stocked. The water quality in this chain of lakes is good enough to support a year-round trout fishery. Many trout continue to grow from year to year until they are caught. Some rainbows reach a weight of 5 or 6 pounds.
"The catch is probably about 80 percent stockers and 20 percent holdovers," Ledet said. There are also some nice-sized brown trout in Oliver, which were stocked by NEITA - the Northeast Indiana Trout Association. According to Ledet, some of the browns stocked by NEITA are close to 18 inches long, which is the minimum size for brown trout at Oliver (bag limit is one). Rainbow trout must be 7 inches long to keep, and there is a five-fish bag limit.
Fish Lake in LaPorte County is the most westerly body of water on our list, and it gets plenty of pressure from ice-fishermen. Located three miles east of Stillwell, Fish Lake consists of Upper Fish Lake (139 acres) and Lower Fish Lake (134 acres). There is a bay at the southeast corner of Upper Fish Lake that is known as Mud Lake to the locals.
Ice-fishermen find a wide variety of fish to catch here, including largemouth bass, walleyes, bluegills, redear sunfish, yellow perch and black crappies. The Fish Lake Conservation Club regularly stocks fish in the lake to increase angling opportunities for fishermen. Past stockings have included larger-sized walleyes, channel catfish and yellow perch.
There are extensive shallow, weedy areas around both basins that attract groups of ice-anglers. Steeper dropoffs exist in Upper Fish Lake where the water reaches a depth of about 24 feet. In Lower Fish Lake, the water does not get much deeper than 16 feet. Mud Lake has one deeper hole that is little more than 10 feet.
Bluegill and redear fishermen try their luck along weed edges throughout the chain, using bee moths, spikes and wigglers. The crappie and perch fishermen usually rely on small live minnows to ice their preferred fish. Bass and walleye fishermen set up tip-ups with golden roaches or larger bass minnows, mostly around weed edges and at the edges of some of the dropoffs.
The last DNR fish survey at this lake was several years ago, but it found bluegills up to 8.6 inches long, redear sunfish nearly 10 inches long, and walleyes up to 18 inches in length. Bluegills were the most abundant fish collected, representing 46 percent of the fish sampled. Redear sunfish were second at 15 percent and largemouth bass were third at 10 percent.
Regardless of where you decide to wet a line during this ice-fishing season, be sure to play it safe. Always fish with a buddy and always be sure the ice is thick enough to support your weight and the weight of your gear. Be especially careful in lakes with springs or in shallow channels where the ice may be thinner than at other spots on the same lake. When in doubt, don't go out!
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