We've selected six rivers and lakes that serve up their hottest action of the year during the dog days, with offerings that range from panfish to jumbo blue cats. (July 2010)
Believe it or not, the hottest days of the summer turn some people into hermits. They lock themselves inside and turn up the air conditioner. When the temperature climbs above 90 and the humidity hovers close to 100 percent, those people refuse to go outside and pursue outdoor activities like fishing -- even when the fish are biting!
But that's not how it works for everyone. Some people thrive on the summer heat, and they also like to go fishing. They are certainly not going to let the hot weather stop them from enjoying the productive summertime bite on their favorite waters. After all, this is the best time of year to catch many species!
Summertime weather triggers certain species of fish into more active feeding patterns. When that happens, the action can get hot very quickly. Other fish, like salmon and trout, react to their natural spawning urges as the summer months wear on.
From ravenous catfish on our largest rivers to largemouth bass and hybrid striped bass on our most expansive reservoirs, our state has plenty of world-class summer fishing available. And don't forget about small lake panfish or Lake Michigan's mighty salmon and trout, either. All of these species offer summertime angling that is second to none.
Read on to find out more.
WABASH CHANNEL CATFISH
During the heat of the summer, there is nothing quite like sitting on the bank of a river at dusk, waiting for a hungry catfish to swim by and gobble your bait. For many Hoosier anglers, there is no better place to do so than along the banks of the Wabash River. The Wabash is home to an amazing fishery for catfish, and the most popular species of catfish on this river is the channel catfish.
The Wabash is a remarkable river, running from the northeastern part of the state down through Logansport, Lafayette, Terre Haute, Vincennes and then south to the mighty Ohio River. There is an abundance of habitat along the length of this waterway, including sandbars, mud flats, logjams, deep holes, gravel beds and flat slate ledges. Channel cats can be found throughout the river, and once you find one fish, you will often find several.
Tom Stefanavage, a big-river biologist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said that the Wabash River is loaded with channel cats.
"You can find channel catfish just about anywhere," Stefanavage said. "They do like the pools, of course, but the biology of the channel catfish makes them generally more spread out throughout the pools. When it is extremely hot, everything is in the deeper water where the water temperature is cooler."
Catfish anglers also do a lot of fishing from boats on the Wabash. A favorite tactic is to anchor above a good pool or logjam and drift baits down into the strike zone. This is extremely effective at night, but it works well during the daytime, too. Popular baits include night crawlers, cut shad, large live minnows and stink bait.
Although most channel catfish on the Wabash run between 1 and 5 pounds, it is not unusual to catch fish up to 10 pounds. Fishermen that target flathead catfish with large live baits often hook-up with bragging-sized channels. Those bigger channel cats are not shy at all about grabbing over-sized baits meant for someone else!
LAKE MICHIGAN TROUT/SALMON
Some people love to fish Lake Michigan during the winter and early spring, when the weather is really cold. Others wait for the dog days of summer. Both are great times to fish the big lake, but summertime is trophy time! From hefty steelhead and giant bottom-hugging lake trout to bruiser chinook salmon, the hot days of July and August constitute a great time to get out on our Great Lake and wet a line.
Since nearshore water temperatures are very warm during the summer, most salmon and trout will be holding in deep water offshore. That is not true for steelhead, however. Summer-run Skamania-strain steelhead will be staging in the shallows, preparing to run up one of our tributaries to spawn later in the year.
The mouth of Trail Creek in Michigan City and the mouth of Burns Waterway near Portage are two hotspots that attract returning steelhead every year. Skamania-strain steelhead are well-known for their aerial acrobatics, and once you hook one, you will know all about it. These fish are not small, either. Most will weigh 6 to 10 pounds, and there is always a good chance that a steelhead of 15 pounds or more will slam your lure.
Anglers in search of big summer lake trout must head offshore to find them. Look for water that is at least 90 feet deep, and keep your lures near the bottom. Many trollers head out to deep water and just start trolling north while they look for fish. The water gradually gets deeper as you head away from shore, and that's where the lakers lurk. The majority of lake trout taken by Hoosier anglers average 7 to 10 pounds, but there are plenty of big fish in the 15- to 20-pound class taken every summer, too.
Mature chinook (or king) salmon begin gearing-up for their fall spawning run in August, so they gradually drift closer and closer to shore as the summer wears on. Kings that might have been 20 miles out in the lake a few weeks earlier are now within a half-dozen miles of shore. By the end of August, many of them are within a mile or so. They are big, too. Average-sized spawning kings weigh 14 to 18 pounds, while trophies push the scales past 20 or even 25 pounds.
PATOKA LAKE LARGEMOUTH BASS
Largemouth bass can be tough to catch during the heat of summer, but it helps if you fish a lake that has a tremendous bass population. Patoka Lake near French Lick is one of those special lakes. This 8,800-acre reservoir features miles of exceptional bass habitat, including shallow weedy bays, timber-filled coves, rocky shorelines and submerged creek channels. All of these places will hold big bass at one time or another.
According to Dan Carnahan, one of the District 6 fisheries biologists for the DNR, this is a great place for bass fishermen to visit. "Patoka Lake is an excellent largemouth bass lake," he said. "The best bite during the summer is going to be at early morning, dusk and at night." Fishing at those times will enable anglers to catch more fish and avoid the heat of the day.
There are a lot of bass tournaments held on this sprawling reservoir each year, and Carnahan makes a point of monitoring the results. "In 2009, the average bass weighed in during tournaments on Patoka was 2.78 pounds," he said.
There were some really big
bass caught, too. "Out of 25 tournaments last year, the biggest bass was 8 pounds, and the average big bass for all of the tournaments was 6.2 pounds."
Tim Gibson, a local fishing guide on Patoka (812-936-3382), also likes to fish for bass during low light conditions in the summer. "If you fish at night, use topwater lures and buzzbaits over the tops of the large weedbeds," he said. "In the early morning, I like to fish grass beds in 7 to 9 feet of water with soft-plastic lures. The bigger bass will often be stacked along the deeper edge of the weeds."
Big bass can be caught all over the lake, but Gibson's clients had good luck fishing in the Painter's Creek area last year. They caught bass up to 7 pounds there. "In Painter's Creek there is some good structure: rocky areas, grass beds and timber mixed in," Gibson said. "That's what holds the big fish."
OHIO RIVER BLUE CATFISH
Southern Indiana anglers know that the Ohio River is a catfish mecca. They also know that the river is home to catfish in astounding numbers and sizes. The word is spreading. Anglers from all parts of the state are now making annual trips to the Ohio, and many are coming from out of state, too. Most of them are seeking catfish, and the species at the top of their list is the mighty blue catfish.
Blue catfish are different than their cousins, the flathead and channel catfish. Blue cats love deep water, and they often suspend over the bottom or over deeper channels. Flathead catfish, on the other hand, usually stake out a home territory and live and feed in that area. They prefer to hang around the bottom just like channel cats do, and both species look for structure to relate to and use for ambushing prey.
Tom Stefanavage studies fish populations on the Ohio River as well as the Wabash, and he has seen some monster blue catfish on the Ohio. "I saw one while electrofishing in 2007 that was in the 80- to 90-pound range," he said. "We weren't able to get to it, and even if we can get to one that big, I don't know if we would be able to bring it into the boat."
When searching for big blue catfish, look for suspended fish near the dams and over the deep creek channels. Live and dead baits both work, although one type may outproduce the other on any given day. Shad and baitfish ranging in length from 4 to 8 inches are good baits for blues, and don't be shy about trying baits that are even larger than that. A 40-pound blue cat will make short work of just about anything you offer it!
"Trophy catfish fishing is really on the rise these days," continued Stefanavage. "In terms of sportfishing, it's a growth industry. Not many people are commercial fishing on the Ohio anymore, especially for catfish. Channel catfish are a dime a dozen, and hardly anybody is going after them. The trophy guys are after the blues, and they are doing very well."
LAKE MONROE HYBRID STRIPED BASS
Like Patoka to the south, Lake Monroe is a bass factory. Monroe has a tremendous population of largemouth bass, but it also boasts an excellent population of hybrid striped bass. At more than 10,000 acres, this reservoir offers its bass populations plenty of room to roam and an abundance of forage.
Hybrid striped bass (also called wipers) are a genetic cross between white bass and striped bass, and the result is a fast-growing fish that provides great sport for recreational anglers. Wipers typically travel around the lake in schools, searching for their favorite food: gizzard shad. Anglers who find the schools can experience excellent action.
"July and August are good times to fish for hybrid striped bass on Monroe," said DNR District 5 fisheries biologist Dave Kittaka. "The lake stratifies in June, and that restricts the area of good hybrid habitat to the lower 1/3 of the reservoir. In a tracking study conducted by the Division of Fish and Wildlife, hybrids utilize the whole reservoir during the spring and fall, but during the summer months they are restricted to the area between Allens Creek and the dam."
Many wiper fishermen troll this area when searching for active fish, and they use lures that resemble the gizzard shad forage base. Since the schools of hybrids are constantly moving, it pays to troll and cover as much water as possible. Downriggers are a good choice for presenting lures to deep-running fish, but surface lines and planer board lines are also productive since the wipers often herd baitfish toward the surface.
"The hybrid population is doing well at Monroe Reservoir," Kittaka reported. "Approximately 50,000 hybrids 1 to 2 inches long are stocked annually. By age 3 they can be more than 20 inches long and weigh 3 to 4 pounds." Kittaka and his biologists performed a survey for hybrid striped bass in the fall of 2009, and they found fish up to 8 pounds and 26 inches long.
WHITEWATER LAKE BLUEGILLS/REDEARS
Whitewater Lake in Union County is one place that panfish anglers may want to visit this summer. Located inside Whitewater Memorial State Park near Liberty, this 182-acre lake is home to a relatively new population of fish since the lake was renovated in 2001. After the renovation, the lake was restocked with gamefish and those fish have been growing very quickly.
According to Rhett Wisener, one of the District 4 fisheries biologists for the DNR, this is a good lake for people to come and get away from it all and do some relaxing fishing. "I definitely recommend the panfish (bluegill and redear sunfish) at Whitewater," he said. "The lake was last surveyed in June of 2008, and bluegill was the predominant species collected."
The survey data showed that bluegills up to nearly 9 inches in length were found, and 44 percent of the bluegills were 7 inches long or larger. "Redear sunfish are not as numerous as bluegill, but they are prevalent," said Wisener. "We found redears up to 9.6 inches, and 43 percent of them were at least 8 inches long."
At this time of the year, the larger panfish will usually be holding in deeper water than during the spring. "The more consistent action during the summer will likely come from deeper water," continued Wisener. "Try outside weed edges in 8 to10 feet of water." Redworms, pieces of night crawlers and other small baits will be productive. Live crickets should be especially good.
Anglers pulling a boat to Whitewater Lake should keep in mind that outboard motors are not allowed here. Electric trolling motors are permitted.