From Lake Michigan to Monroe Reservoir and beyond, here are six prime picks where you'll find fabulous fall fishing this season.
By Tom Berg
When it comes to fall fishing, few states can rival the diversity that we have right here in Indiana. From the huge expanses of Lake Michigan in the northwest corner of the state to the muddy currents of the mighty Ohio River down south, we have some of the best fishing in the entire country.
The funny thing is that most Hoosiers seem to take it for granted. They put away their boats and fishing rods when Labor Day arrives, and they begin thinking of the upcoming hunting seasons and other fall sports. Some even abandon outdoor pursuits entirely and contemplate painting the garage before winter (gasp)!
That is a real shame because autumn is an excellent time for fishermen to cash in on some fantastic late-season angling action. Many game fish species feed heavily at this time of year in preparation for the upcoming winter months, making them easier to catch. The lakes are also much less crowded, so you probably won't have to get up at the crack of dawn to get a good fishing spot. Right now, your toughest decision may be deciding where to fish.
Although there are plenty of good fishing holes in our great state, Indiana Game & Fish magazine has identified six outstanding places that you should try this fall. They include: Patoka Lake for channel catfish, Monroe Reservoir for largemouth bass, Glenn Flint Lake for panfish, Kokomo Reservoir for walleyes, Tippecanoe Lake for monster-sized muskies and Lake Michigan for smallmouth bass. Let's start with the last one mentioned first.
From largemouth bass to walleyes and muskies, now is a great time of year to be fishing on your favorite water. Photo by Mike Zlotnicki
LAKE MICHIGAN The smallmouth bass population in Indiana's portion of Lake Michigan is really thriving. Rocky shorelines that teem with crayfish and minnows attract huge numbers of the bronze-backed fighters, and the bass population is still growing.
Lake Michigan anglers first started catching large numbers of smallmouth bass in the 1980s, and ever since that time the catch rates have been soaring.
Warmwater discharge fishermen targeting salmon and trout were probably the first to catch smallies in the spring and fall, and then the bass fishermen discovered them. Although shore-fishing for smallmouth bass is still popular, anglers in boats have really taken over. It's now quite common to see a line of bass boats leaving the marina on a warm September morning.
Mike Evano, a Lake Michigan fisherman and owner of Lakeside Sports Tackle Shop, says that smallmouth bass fishing has been great lately. "There are so many good places to fish," he said. "It's turning out to be such a great smallmouth fishery, it's not even funny!"
Good places to fish for smallmouths are relatively easy to find. Look for sections of shoreline that are lined by rocks and boulders, and you will find bass. According to Evano, one of the best places to fish is near the Gary Light. "The discharge and the rocky area around the Gary Lighthouse is excellent," he said. "It's good from spring all the way through fall, and it holds a lot of smallies."
Other hotspots include: the Stateline Generating Station near Hammond and Whiting, Buffington Harbor near East Chicago, the Inland Steel break wall, the rocks just outside Pastrick Marina in East Chicago and the rocks bordering the Hammond Marina. Boaters can launch their crafts at these two marinas, or they can launch at the Portage Marina on Burns Waterway in Portage and near Washington Park in Michigan City. The wind and weather will often dictate where you can fish, so choose your launch site accordingly.
Although many lures are effective for smallmouth bass, some of the most popular baits are plastic jigs and grubs. Curly-tailed jigs, tube jigs and skirted grubs are absolutely dynamite, and the best colors are natural hues that resemble crayfish. Brown, gray, pumpkinseed, smoke and watermelon are all good color choices.
For current lake conditions, fishing licenses or a good selection of smallmouth lures, visit Lakeside Sports at 2109 Calumet Avenue in Whiting. For a current fishing report, call them at (219) 659-1042.
TIPPECANOE LAKE Tippecanoe Lake is located right in the middle of Kosciusko County's beautiful natural lake country. Other excellent fishing lakes, such as Lake Wawasee, Webster Lake, Dewart Lake, Big and Little Chapman lakes and the Barbee Chain of lakes surround it.
All of these lakes are popular with fishermen, but ever since last year when Darrin Conley caught the new state-record muskie from James Lake (50 inches long and 42.5 pounds), Tippecanoe Lake has become the center of attention for many Indiana muskie fishermen. James Lake is actually part of the Tippecanoe, and the locals often call it Little Tippe. Tippecanoe Lake has some giant muskies in it.
According to Jim Bagnoli, the Indiana public relations director for Muskies, Inc. and a member of the Hoosier Musky Hunters, Tippecanoe has many characteristics of a Canadian Shield lake. "It has very clear water," he said. "It also has a lot of great points and good humps. There are even submerged humps off points. It has good underwater structure, and these are all excellent places to target muskies in the fall."
When asked how he fishes Tippecanoe at this time of the year, Bagnoli was quick to respond: "The fish set up in many of the traditional spots that I just mentioned, so concentrate your efforts there. In the fall, I like to use jerkbaits, and I usually fish natural colors. Black and silver, perch color, sucker color (gray or gray/white), even brown or brown/white, are all good colors.
"I don't use anything real, real big," he added. "I use average-sized jerkbaits, like 9 or 10 inches long. I would probably also fish some crankbaits, mid-depth crankbaits that have a nice wobble to them." Choosing crankbaits that run at least 6 feet deep will allow you to tempt some of the fish that are suspended off edges and humps.
Tippecanoe Lake has three types of muskies in it: purebred (barred), tiger and spotted. The spotted muskies are silvery fish with black spots. "Spotted muskies were stocked by the Hoosier Musky Hunters," reported Bagnoli. "I caught and released a 42-inch spotted fish here last fall."
Tippecanoe has plenty of muskies swimming around in its depths, but there are big ones, too. Bagnoli has seen them. "There are some monsters in there," he said. "When I say monsters, I mean 50-inch-plus fish. I s
aw about a half dozen fish last year that ranged from 48 to probably 51 inches. It's a pretty cool place!"
KOKOMO RESERVOIR Walleye fishermen near Kokomo have two things on their minds when the weather begins to cool in September: walleyes and saugeyes. Kokomo Reservoir between Kokomo and Greentown has been stocked with both species of fish in the past, although now the stockings contain walleyes only.
Walleyes (And Saugeyes)
John Martino, the director of the Kokomo Parks and Recreation Department, says the fishing has been good since the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) began stocking saugeyes and walleyes here. "The DNR started stocking saugeyes in 1989," he said. "They stocked saugeyes to control the exploding gizzard shad population, but they also wanted to provide another fishery."
The plan worked, and now anglers look forward to good walleye/ saugeye fishing every spring and fall. "In 1997, the DNR switched to stocking walleyes instead of saugeyes," continued Martino.
Since saugeyes have been in the lake the longest, they are bigger than the walleyes. Martino has seen (and caught) quite a few big saugeyes from this reservoir. "There are some really nice saugeyes caught here every year, up to 7 or 8 pounds," he said. "As far as the walleyes, I've seen them up to 4 or 5 pounds."
The Kokomo Reservoir is really a very shallow impoundment. It averages only 5 or 6 feet deep, so any variation in the bottom (even a 6-inch variation) is a good place to try for walleyes. Martino recommends looking for the creek channel. "Since the reservoir is silted in, the creek channel is negligible in some places," he said. "But in other places you'll be able to find it.
"Actually," continued Martino, "most of the walleye fishing is done from the dam to the state Route (SR) 213 bridge south of Greentown." Since quite a few walleyes and saugeyes go through or over the dam, there is good fishing in Wildcat Creek west of the dam, too. "Just as many walleyes are caught in the creek as in the reservoir," he said.
Public access is limited from the dam west to U.S. Route 31 at the edge of Kokomo. But from the dam to SR 213, there are numerous public access points and parks. "There are access points at every bridge that crosses the reservoir," said Martino. "You also have parks located on both sides of the creek at SR 213. There is also a small boat ramp there, mostly for canoes and flat-bottomed boats." A larger ramp is available at county Road 400 East.
Since this reservoir is relatively small, Martino mentioned that it does receive a lot of fishing pressure. It can (and does) get crowded, especially on weekends. Because of the pressure on the walleye/saugeye populations, catch-and-release is highly recommended.
GLENN FLINT LAKE Located in Putnam County, north and a bit west of Greencastle, 371- acre Glenn Flint Lake is home to a relatively new population of game fish, including lots of spunky panfish. The lake renovation that took place in 1995 removed large numbers of carp, so the bluegills and crappies are now doing well.
Bluegill fishermen do well here in the spring, but the fall bite can be good, too. Small pieces of worms and bee moths take a lot of 'gills back in the brush and submerged wood on the east side of the lake, and the shallow shoreline areas attract fish, too.
Crappies are also being found in good numbers, and some of them exceed 13 and 14 inches. Live minnows and jig-and-minnow combinations are the most popular crappie baits, either fished under a small bobber or jigged below the boat.
Many of the crappies are also caught from the timber up in the creek arms, and at times they bunch up tight to the wood and snags. Jigging poles can be the best setup when they are tucked inside the brush, and wire hooks that bend when caught on a branch will save a lot of jigs.
Unfortunately, the lake renovation did not completely remove the shad that were present in the lake with the carp, and fisheries biologists will be monitoring their numbers here. If the shad population explodes again, it will be to the detriment of the game fish species, including bluegills and crappies.
MONROE RESERVOIR Monroe Reservoir is Indiana's largest reservoir, and with more than 10,000 acres of bass habitat, it is also Indiana's largest bass factory. Located just south of Bloomington in Monroe and Brown counties, this lake is home to some excellent bass fishing.
Last year saw record water levels in Monroe Reservoir as the lake topped the emergency spillway for the first time in the history of the reservoir. At that point, the lake was 18 feet higher than normal. According to Brian Schoenung, a District 6 fisheries biologist for the DNR, this spring the lake was back to normal.
"The high water levels didn't create a problem from a fishing standpoint," said Schoenung. "But it did create a problem from our bass sampling standpoint. We had planned to go out there and do some pretty intensive largemouth sampling last spring, but the high water destroyed any chance of that. It looks like we will be able to do it later.
"It's a very good bet that the bass had a really good year-class last year," continued Schoenung. "High water usually equals great largemouth bass year-classes." Since the high water floods shoreline brush and vegetation, there are all kinds of new cover and habitat for young fish to hide in and thrive in. "Everything else had a good spawn, too, so there should be plenty of food for the bass," he added.
The weedbeds and other vegetation that had been present in recent years are long gone after the flooding of last year, so fishermen will be able to move back to their old favorite fishing spots. Creek channels, dropoffs and submerged points will be very productive for anglers again.
PATOKA LAKE Nestled among the trees of southern Indiana's Hoosier National Forest, Patoka Lake sprawls along flooded creek arms and covers more than 8,800 acres. The quiet and solitude here becomes even more pronounced during the fall, and on many days (especially after Labor Day), it seems like you have the whole lake to yourself.
Bass and crappies are still sought by fishermen on pleasant weekends, but one species of fish remains relatively ignored: channel catfish. They are overlooked for the most part during the summer, too, and they are still left alone by anglers when they put on the fall feedbag.
Most anglers are oblivious to them, but not all. Tim Gibson is one local fisherman who catches catfish in the fall. Gibson is a full-time fishing guide on Patoka Lake (812-936-3382), and he reports excellent action for catfish lovers who are looking for a mess of good-eating whiskerfish. "The channel cats will be putting on a fall feed, just like all fish do," he said.
ember and October are great months for catching catfish around here," reports Gibson. "This lake was stocked heavily with channel cats and flatheads, and there nobody's fishing for them! The channel cats average 5 to 10 pounds, but there are a lot of 15- to 20-pounders."
Fishing along the main lake's creek channels can be very productive, especially at this time of the year. "It seems like the main-lake areas are the best in the fall," Gibson added. "Look for spots where the creek channel cuts in close to the bank. One good spot is the point on the left before you go around the dam. Another good area is down by the Little Patoka area, in the deeper water down there."
Indiana fishing regulations allow 10 catfish per day, per angler. Catfish offerings, including chicken livers and a locally made "prepared" catfish bait, are available at nearby Patoka Lake Marina. If you need other fishing supplies, lodging, etc., or just want more information on the lake, call Patoka Lake Marina and Lodging at (888) 819-6916.
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