October 04, 2010
Fishing's a year-round pastime no matter the weather outside. Read on for 36 fabulous piscatorial picks to try right now and throughout the year.
Fishing in our great state seems to be better than ever. It doesn't matter whether you like to fish small ponds, wide rivers, giant reservoirs or clear, natural lakes, there is something for everyone in Indiana. Our state's fish populations are thriving as well. We have largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegills, crappies, walleyes, salmon, trout and catfish -- just to name some of the more popular species.
There are nearly endless opportunities for wetting a line, whether you prefer to catch a few fish for the table or whether you are on a quest to land the trophy of a lifetime. You can also indulge your appetite for fishing 12 months a year, since Indiana has a year-round fishing season. Something is always biting! But one of the biggest questions is: Where do I start?
To help narrow the field of choices, Indiana Game & Fish magazine has put together a list of excellent places to pursue some of our most popular fish species throughout the calendar year. Plan your upcoming vacations or even weekend fishing trips month by month. Here are our top choices!
Adams Lake: Bluegills
The ice-fishing action at Adams Lake has been great in recent years, and this year should be no exception. Adams is a deep (93 feet), natural lake located near Wolcottville in LaGrange County. It covers a total of 308 acres, and it features a variety of structure, depths and excellent fishing spots.
One good spot, especially for ice-anglers during the productive "first ice" period, is in the narrow channels on the east side of the lake. The water in the channels is only 5 or 6 feet deep, and the protected water allows safe ice to form quickly. Large bull bluegills congregate here and provide excellent fishing for those who pursue them.
Another good area is along the edges of a large, shallow flat near the north-central part of the lake. There are some sharp dropoffs along the flat, and big bluegills can be found feeding at the edges. Tiny ice jigs tipped with a wax worm or mousie work great.
Lake Michigan: Brown Trout
Hardy anglers who don't mind cold weather can find some spectacular open-water action on Lake Michigan this month. Brown trout are the main quarry, and the fishing can be hot and heavy at various industrial warmwater discharge sites along the lakefront. These fish can be big, too. Lake Michigan browns average 3 to 4 pounds, but fish in the teens (or bigger) are always possible.
At this time of year, the lake's nearshore water is typically only a few degrees above freezing. Because of that, the resident brown trout flock to the harbors and warmwater discharges where the warmer water attracts baitfish and other small prey. Fishermen will target the browns with a combination of natural bait (live minnows, salmon eggs, night crawlers) and minnow-imitating crankbaits and small plugs.
Several warmwater discharge sites provide open-water fishing throughout the winter for shore-fishermen. They include the Amoco Oil refinery in Whiting, the state line generating station near Hammond and the Nipsco plant near Portage. If we have a warm winter, many of the local harbors will be ice-free and fishable, too. Examples include the Port of Indiana near Portage, the mouth of Trail Creek at Michigan City and Pastrick Marina in East Chicago.
If there is no pack ice restricting the use of boats, fishermen can also motor out to the discharge sites at the Gary Light and the Indiana Harbor Shipping Canal. Both spots provide dynamite fishing, but be sure to keep an eye on the weather!
Bass Lake: Muskies
Bass Lake is one of several lakes located in the Dugger Unit of the Greene-Sullivan State Forest in southeastern Indiana's Sullivan County. The lake is on reclaimed coalmine land, and at 220 acres, it is the largest body of water in the unit. It is also a deep lake, with a maximum depth of 50 feet.
One of the main attractions of Bass Lake is its resident muskie population. Muskies have been stocked here annually since 1997, and a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) muskie survey in March of 2008 showed that these fish are doing extremely well. During the survey, 68 different muskies were captured and measured, ranging in size from 30 inches to nearly 44 inches long. The largest fish weighed a very healthy 26.4 pounds!
An excellent forage base keeps the muskies well fed at Bass Lake, since there are plenty of gizzard shad, alewives and sunfish present. Early- season anglers can pursue muskies on the lake's large, shallow flats, and then move deeper as the year progresses. Shad-imitating plugs and crankbaits will be productive, as will traditional muskie baits like bucktail spinners.
Cecil M. Harden Reservoir:Striped Bass
Cecil M. Harden Reservoir, also called Raccoon Lake, is a sprawling 2,060-acre impoundment in Parke County. Like most large reservoirs, it has lots of deep water and many coves, points and deep-water breaks between its dam and the farthest upriver reaches. It is also home to an excellent population of striped bass.
Rhett Wisener, the District 5 fisheries biologist for the DNR, reports that Harden Reservoir is a great place to fish for striped bass.
"We surveyed the lake in October of 2008, and found stripers up to 21.5 pounds," he said. "There are certainly larger fish present, as angler reports and photos attest to fish in the 25- to 30-pound range being caught here."
Stripers grow very large at Harden, and one of the reasons is that they have plenty to eat. They feed heavily on the lake's abundant gizzard shad, so look for schools of shad dimpling the surface or on your electronics when fishing for striped bass here.
"If you find concentrations of shad, you're likely to find some stripers nearby," said Wisener. Search along the creek channel and near the deeper points out in the main lake.
Griffy Lake: Bluegills
Griffy Lake is a small, 109-acre reservoir situated on the north side of Bloomington in Monroe County. It is home to largemouth bass, channel catfish, crappies, bluegills and redear sunfish, but the bluegills and redears have really come on in recent years.
DNR biologists performed a lake survey at Griffy in 2009, and the data looks promising. According to Debbie King, the District 6 assistant fisheries biologist for the DNR, the fishing at Griffy Lake should be excellent this spring.
"There are good numbers of nice-sized bluegills and redears h
ere," she said. "Approximately 13 percent of the bluegills ranged in size from 8.0 to 8.8 inches, and more than 10 percent of the redears ranged from 9 to 11 inches!"
Of course, springtime bluegill and redear fishing centers around spawning fish, so look for spawning colonies of dish-shaped nests in shallow water. Bluegills nest in water anywhere from 2 to 6 feet deep, while redears stick to the deeper side of that range. The upper end of the lake east of the causeway is shallow, but there are plenty of other spots to check in the small coves along the shoreline.
Winona Lake: Walleyes
Kosciusko County's Winona Lake (562 acres) is located right on the south side of Warsaw, making it a very convenient place for local fishermen to wet a line. One of the fish that they pursue nearly year 'round here is the walleye. Winona has been stocked with walleyes for many years, and a very good fishery has developed.
Although some anglers search for walleyes during all four seasons, most fish for them in May and especially in June. Recent DNR survey data has shown that more walleyes are caught (and released) in June than in any other month. Many of those fish are at or below the legal length limit, but walleyes in excess of 25 inches were also recorded.
Walleyes can be caught all over the lake, but some of the more popular spots include the break lines and underwater humps out away from shore near the south end of the lake. Fish can be caught there on live bait (night crawlers, live minnows) or on curly-tailed jigs, among others. Deep-diving crankbaits will also catch their share of marble-eyes.
Ohio River: Channel Catfish
The mighty Ohio River along the state's southern border has been a catfish hotspot for generations. Channel catfish, flatheads and blue cats are common throughout the river, but channel cats are definitely the most numerous. As a matter of fact, flathead and blue catfish hunters often complain that they have trouble keeping the annoying channel cats away from their baits!
But that's good if you are targeting channel catfish. The Ohio River provides so much good catfish habitat that you can literally catch channels anywhere in the river. Shallow or deep, you can bet that a channel cat will swim by at some point during the day. Although many of the fish will be small, there are countless channel catfish in the hefty 5- to 8-pound range, too.
Besides being numerous, the Ohio's channel cats are not too picky about what they eat, either. Anglers using night crawlers, cut shad, minnows, chicken livers and prepared stink baits will catch plenty of fish. Even though channel cats occasionally swim up and take suspended baits, most bites will occur near the bottom.
Lake Monroe: Largemouth Bass
Monroe Reservoir in south-central Indiana's Brown and Monroe counties is a 10,000-acre fish factory. Located just to the south of Bloomington, Lake Monroe produces fish on an epic scale. Whether you are fishing for largemouth bass, crappies or hybrid stripers, this lake is hard to beat. During the dog days of August, one of the most popular species among anglers is largemouth bass.
Since Monroe is a large reservoir, it features an abundance of deep-water structure in addition to shallower water in the many creek arms and coves. During the day, bass fishermen will concentrate their efforts along the main lake's deep breaks, points and submerged creek channels. In the evening and at night, the bass will move up onto the flats and into the lily pad beds and stumpfields.
Gizzard shad are the main forage fish for the bass, so use crankbaits and soft-plastic lures that resemble shad. Spinnerbaits with large gold or silver blades also work well. Bass up to 3 pounds are quite common on Monroe, and you need to catch one over 5 pounds to raise many eyebrows. Bigger bass in the 6- to 7- pound range are caught every year, too.
Lake Michigan: Chinook Salmon
Lake Michigan is well known for its world-class salmon fishing, and September is the month when these fish migrate back to our nearshore waters in search of a suitable spawning stream. Mature chinook salmon, also called king salmon, home in on the stream or location where they were stocked, and eager fishermen are there waiting for them.
Some of the best areas to intercept these returning fish are at our local stream mouths. The mouth of Trail Creek in Michigan City and the mouth of Burns Waterway in Portage are two hotspots every year. Salmon are also stocked near Whiting Park and along the Inland Steel break wall in East Chicago, so those areas are salmon magnets, too.
Fall king salmon are big (15 to 20 pounds), so most anglers will pursue them with large lures. Magnum-sized spoons, large crankbaits and oversized plugs are standard lure choices at this time of year. Large dodger-and-fly combinations can also be productive.
Lake James: Bluegills
Bluegill fishing in the fall is one pursuit that is ignored by the majority of Hoosiers. Some fishermen will turn their attention to bass, muskies, walleyes or crappies, while others put away their fishing rods completely in favor of hunting. That's all fine, but they are missing out on some terrific bluegill action!
One lake that is known for great autumn bluegill fishing is Lake James in Steuben County. This 1,038-acre natural lake is located on the shores of Pokagon State Park north of Angola, and it is home to some hand-sized bluegills. Fall bluegills feed heavily in preparation for winter, and one of the best baits to use for them is a simple bee moth suspended beneath a small float.
Neil Ledet is the District 2 fisheries biologist for the DNR, and he recommends Lake James as a great place to pursue 'gills when the weather starts to turn cold. "It is one of the best fall bluegill fisheries in this corner of the state," he reports. "Try fishing in Sowles Bay and near the old Docksiders on the west shore."
Patoka Lake Crappies
Patoka Lake in southern Indiana is a crappie fisherman's dream. There are 8,800 acres of flooded timber, shallow creek arms, extensive weedbeds, rocky shorelines and deep creek channels to explore. Since it is nestled within the borders of the Hoosier National Forest, there is a feeling of solitude and isolation there. Located almost due south of the town of French Lick, Patoka Lake is also within easy reach of most Hoosiers.
According to Dan Carnahan, the DNR's District 7 fisheries biologist, Patoka Lake's crappie population is doing very well.
"We did a crappie survey in 2009 at Patoka," he said. "The data was very good. The catches of 10-inch and larger crappies were just about the best I've ever seen here. Crappies larger than 10 inches comprised 10 percent of the sample, and crappies larger than 12 inches accounted for 4 percent. Crappie fishing should be good this year!"
One fisherman who monitors Patoka's crappies is Tim Gibson from nearby Paoli. Tim is a local fishing guide who specialize
s in catching big crappies.
"November is a great time to fish for crappies in relatively shallow water," he said. "Fish brushpiles, logs and submerged treetops in 5 to 8 feet of water."
For more information, visit the Web site for the Patoka Lake area at www.patokalakeindiana.com. It lists information on local lodging, dining, activities and more.
St. Joseph River Steelhead
The St. Joseph River near Mishawaka is a steelhead-fishing hotspot, and December is a great month to try it. Summer-run Skamania-strain steelhead have been in the river since July, and winter-run Michigan-strain fish are arriving now, too. The Skamanias typically average 6 to 10 pounds, but fish in the 10- to 15-pound range are not unusual. Winter-run fish tend to be a little smaller.
There are plenty of good places to fish on the river, but one of the most popular is the stretch of river just below and downstream of the Twin Branch Dam. There is good public access and room for lots of anglers. There are also many underwater snags in that area, so be prepared to lose some lures and terminal tackle.
Steelhead can be finicky at times, but they will actually hit a wide variety of lures. Inline spinners, crankbaits and tiny flies are all good. Popular colors include orange, red, pink and silver with a splash of orange or red. Good natural baits include wax worms, night crawlers, minnows, salmon eggs and sardines (canned sardines tied into small spawn bags).
For current fishing reports or river conditions, call Parker's Central Park Bait shop at (574) 255-7703.