Don't pack all of your fishing tackle just yet, not when some of the season's best angling is occurring right now throughout Indiana. (September 2009)
The dog days of summer are over. Fall is rolling in and fish are putting on the feedbag. Competition for a meal is stiff in the underwater world since the young-of-the-year prey fish have been thinned out and the onset of winter is just around the bend.
Most anglers are already in hunting mode and have put up their rods and reels. With the added room out on the water and the seasonal feeding frenzy going on below it, now is the time to get in on some of the year's best fishing.
Here's where the action is in Indiana this fall.
BROOKVILLE LAKE STRIPERS
Striper fishing is coming of age at Brookville. The fishery has had its difficulties over the years, according to fisheries biologist Rhett Wisener. Some of the problems are because of variable stocking success and others are due to water quality issues.
Overall, the number of stripers is probably lower than it's been for some time. The Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) didn't have any fish to stock some years, and sometimes the stockings didn't pan out as planned. The year-class from 2002 is saving the day. Though overall numbers are down, the good news is that these fish will be 30 inches or better and can easily tip the scales at 10 to 15 pounds. That's a big fish in anyone's book.
As this group of fish dies off and is lost to anglers, it may be several years before fish of that quality appear again, said Wisener. That's even more reason to make Brookville a priority this fall.
Brookville is the one lake in the state where live shad can be used for bait. It's tough to keep shad alive on a hook, but if anglers can get one in front of a striper, it's likely to be hit. It's preferable to collect local shad out of Brookville so that diseases or other species aren't mistakenly introduced. If shad aren't an option, tie on a big crankbait or a striper jig with a large plastic trailer.
This is the time of year to watch for the surface action where stripers are busting in on schools of shad. Stripers will herd shad to the surface and then slash them in a feeding frenzy. Toss just about any bait you'd like into the boiling shad and the stripers will hammer it.
Ramp access includes 10 separate boat launch facilities scattered around the lake.
Brookville covers 5,260 acres and averages about 30 feet deep. The lake is 16 miles long and at its widest, nearly a mile across.
Private boat rentals are available from the Quakerton Marina on the northern end of the lake and Kent's Harbor Marina on the east side.
The reservoir is located a mile north of Brookville and five miles south of Liberty on state Route (SR) 101 in Franklin and Union counties.
For additional information, contact Brookville Reservoir at (765) 647-2657, local guide Tag Knobbe at the 52 Pik-Up in Brookville at (765) 647-3600, or the DFW's District 5 office at (765) 342-5527.
PATOKA LAKE LARGEMOUTH BASS
Patoka is a great bass lake in the warmer months and just as good a fishery when the leaves are turning colors. The lake isn't a numbers lake, but it has more 15- to 20-inch bass than any other water in this part of Indiana. According to fisheries biologist Dan Carnahan, the catch rate for 15-inchers is very good with a lot of 18-inch fish thrown into the mix. Bass in Patoka are also topping the 20-inch mark. Tournament results last year included several bass measuring from 19 to 20 inches. During the spring months of 2007, fish topping the 22-inch mark were taken that weighed in at 6 to 7 pounds.
Local angler Jeff Miley of Jeff's Bait and Guns in Jasper has caught two 8-pounders and one that pushed the 9-pound mark.
Bass fishing in the fall picks up dramatically as the water cools and the bucketmouths start packing it away for the long winter months ahead. The females are also putting on weight to help sustain them during the spring spawn and in the development of eggs.
The fall turnover occurs at this time of the year, usually between the last week of September and the second week of October. Fishing can be tough during this period, as oxygen that had kept the bass above the thermocline at 14 to 18 feet disperses throughout the water column; hence, the bass can be anywhere from the bottom to the surface.
The same structure that held bass in the early spring will be good for the waning months of the year. The standing trees and fallen timber in the creek inlets and the shallower bays are bass magnets.
The Walls Ramp, Southwick Fork and the Little Patoka River can be hotbeds of activity. Weedbeds harbor a lot of the bass at this time of the year, but these areas are tough to get baits and lures through.
If fishing tournaments results are any indication of the kind of bassing that Patoka offers, this lake is a keeper. Last year the average weigh-in bass was 3 pounds and measured over 17 inches. Big bass weights went up to over 7 pounds and averaged over 5 pounds.
According to Carnahan, it used to take tournament anglers well over 200 hours to hook an 18-inch fish. Things have improved dramatically, and last year it took less than 44 hours. Patoka possessed the best average tournament bass weights and took the fewest hours to connect with an 18-inch or larger fish than all the other tournament waters reporting in 2008.
There is a 15-inch minimum length limit in effect.
Patoka Lake covers 8,800 acres in DuBois, Crawford and Orange counties. There are 10 launch ramps. The lake is located south of French Lick on SR 145 and east of Jasper on SR 164.
For more information, contact Jeff's Bait and Gun Shop in Jasper at (812) 482-6672, Tim Gibson's guide service at (812) 936-3382, the park office at (812) 685-2464 or District 7 at (812) 789-2724. Boat rentals are available from the Hoosier Hills Marina at (812) 678-3313.
Contact the Patoka Lake Association's Web site for tourism information at www.PatokaLakeIndiana.com.
ST. JOSEPH RIVER STEELHEAD
One of the Hoosier State's premier game fish is the beautifully colored steelhead and one of the premier rivers to catch them in is the St. Joseph River. Steelies, also known as Skamania trout, have been stocked by the DFW into Indiana's Lake Michigan tributary streams for several years. The fish migrate out into th
e Great Lake to mature and then run back upstream to spawn. They'll often stay in the river throughout the winter and provide a year-round fishery that gives anglers a chance to tangle with trout in the 10- to 20-pound class.
The summer-run Skamania should be in the St. Joe by September. By mid to late October, the winter-run Michigan-strain fish will start showing up and run through Thanksgiving. When the migration is in full swing the action is intense.
Flooded conditions will often get the ball rolling. As the water rises, the fish move farther upstream in response to the moving water. Over the last few years the peak of the spawning run has been in September and October and then it starts up again in March. Some of the fish will stay.
Richard Parker owns Parker's Central Park Bait and Tackle in Mishawaka. He also runs a charter boat in the river during the fall bite. According to Parker, the steelies are skittish now. Approaching them has to be done quietly. The best baits have consistently been smaller Hot 'N' Tots, little in-line spinners, spawn bags, and big night crawlers.
The spawn is best presented by bouncing the bait along the river bottom. Other baits should be up in the current for good results. The trout will hold in holes on the bottom during low-water periods and be on the move when it's high. As the run gets strong, the fish seem to get bolder, so they'll occasionally be out in the strong current.
Parker's big trout is a 17-pounder. Most are smaller but still come in respectable sizes.
Steelies will hold downstream of the salmon spawning runs to pick up the eggs that float by. As fall moves into winter, the trout will keep feeding, but anglers will have to slow their crankbaits down and let the spawn bags drift down into the deep holes.
Michigan river charter captains work the river's deeper pools where the steelhead will spend the winter months. They'll start at the top of the depression and periodically let a few more feet of line out to cover the length of the hole.
Mishawaka hotspots that Parker recommends for public access include Zappia Park, Twin Branch Dam and Lincoln Park. Fish will move up into the Little Cal and Trail Creek streams off the main branch of the St. Joe.
For more information, contact Parker's Central Park Bait and Tackle at (574) 255-7703 or District 2 at (260) 829-6241.
CAGLES MILL RESERVOIR CRAPPIES
Cagles Mill and crappies go together like a jig and a minnow. Put them together and you're on your way to a bucket full of slabs.
The lake had plenty of flooding during the summer of 2007 with some reports indicating that it was at least 60 feet above normal pool. Water was up over the SR 42 bridge, plus much of the surrounding property that is normally high and dry was flooded as well. After the flooding was over, the crappie spawn was highly successful and the fishing has been great.
And it hasn't slowed down.
The year-class that dominated the fishery in 2004 and 2005 will be whopper-sized by now. Fish in the 14- to 16-inch class aren't uncommon and fish in the 17- to 18-inch range are possible.
Historically, Cagles Mill, also known as Cataract Lake, is one of the region's top papermouth producers. The lake has a typical cyclical crappie population that has highs and lows, up some years and then down. From all indications, it's on the upswing with some nice-sized fish to offer. These slabs can make ultralight gear sing.
Cagles Mill has very little classic crappie habitat such as standing timber. This lake is the oldest Corps of Engineers reservoir in the state, and any standing timber that was present when the lake was built has since fallen down. The upside is that when you find crappies, they'll be concentrated around the available cover and easier to pick off. There are submerged stumps and large boulders to target, but it's going to take a good depthfinder to pinpoint these spots.
As the weather gets colder, start fishing deeper in the areas where crappies were being caught in the spring. This includes any woody cover or other shallow shoreline cover where wood is absent. Use brightly colored jigs tipped with a minnow and add a little scent to sweeten the pot. Subtle colors sometimes produce better, so don't be afraid to experiment.
When jigs aren't working, try a No. 6 Rapala Husky Jerk or a No. 5 Rapala Countdown. Sometimes papermouths want a mouthful.
Cagles Mill covers 1,400 acres in Putnam and Owen counties and is part of the Lieber SRA. The area offers a fishing pier and nearly 250 class A and B campsites for the adventurous in the predictably unpredictable fall weather. The daily launch fee applies and there are rental boats available.
Cagles Mill is six miles southwest of Cloverdale off SRs 42 and 243, about midway between Indianapolis and Terre Haute.
Boats can be rented from G&G Marine at (765) 795-2166. Contact the Lieber SRA at (765) 795-4576, or the District 5 office at (765) 342-5527 for more information.
WHITE RIVER CATFISH
The word from fisheries biologist Rhett Wisener is that there are decent numbers of channels and flatheads in the White River and they're probably going to be hungry this time of the year.
Check various depths and plumb them well, said Wisener. Look for eddies, snags, depressions and other current breaks that the fish can move into as ambush points. Look anywhere a big cat can hold up to let the current bring it a meal.
Channel cats are found throughout the upper and lower portions of the river, though the lower section in Marion County gets the most angler attention. The upper sections in Hamilton and Madison counties provide some catfish action, but they're not as productive as the lower reaches of the White.
There are some flatheads available, but the numbers are down because of a fish kill in 1999. According to Wisener, anglers are still experiencing a multi-species boom as the river continues to recover from the fish kill.
During the devastating fish kill a decade ago, the West Fork of the White River had a 43-mile stretch in which fish populations were completely wiped out. The kill ran from the Anderson Waste Water Treatment Plant to the Broad Ripple Impoundment, and a partial kill extended another 12 miles to affect the river all the way to the Lake Indy Dam. Over 4 million fish died and the polluter was eventually fined $14 million. Channel cats showed their resilience by making a spectacular comeback in the midst of the recovery and the fishing will be good this fall.
Notwithstanding the difficulties experienced on the river, the state-record flathead was caught on the East Fork near Bedford in 1966. The monster weighed in at 79 pounds and 8 ounces. That the river can grow big cats is undisputed.
The White River is a great place to enjoy a float trip. Beginning at Lawrenceport, the sandbars serve as feeding areas for hungry channels and the occasional whopper-sized flathead. The put-in point is at the SR 37 bridge in Lawrenceport. The U.S. Route 50/SR 37 access site is south of Bedford, and a paved ramp is available.
The Williams Dam area has some camping and excellent catfishing opportunities. From the Williams Dam downstream to Shoals a float trip is an all-day affair. Start south of the dam at the Williams Dam State Fishing Area on SR 450 at the paved ramp and campgrounds. It can be tough going because of the shallow water.
The Broad Ripple Dam and the 16th Street dam have access ramps where anglers can use larger boats.
The annual summer Catfish Festival in Shoals hosts an open tournament in which anglers make a good showing.
For additional information, contact the DNR by calling District 5 at (765) 647-3600, the White River Bait and Tackle Shop at (812) 388-7362 or District 7 at (812) 789-2724.
Additional information is available on the Division of Fish and Wildlife's Web site at: www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild.