February 08, 2011
Get in a full year of productive fishing by following our Indiana fishing calendar.
By Tom Berg
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It looks like 2011 is shaping up to be another great year for Hoosier fishermen. Our lakes and rivers are literally teeming with fish and, since most of our fishing seasons are open year-round, there are plenty of opportunities to wet a line. Whether you prefer to fish a lazy river for catfish during the summertime or enjoy ice-fishing for panfish during the frigid winter months, there is something for everyone in Indiana.
From the northern end of the state to the extreme southern tip, Indiana is home to a tremendous variety of waters and fish species. Our deep natural lakes and sprawling reservoirs, along with our mighty rivers and tiny creeks provide excellent fishing options for every month of the year. Bass, catfish, salmon, pike, perch, bluegill, crappie and walleye (just to name a few) call these waters home, and they are just waiting for you to give them a try.
Don't know where to start? Don't worry. To help point you in the right direction, Indiana Game & Fish magazine has assembled a list of exceptional spots for pursuing some of our most popular fish species throughout the calendar year. Here are our picks for this year:
Hamilton Lake Crappie
Hamilton Lake, in Steuben County, is a great choice for ice-fishermen who like to catch crappies. This 802-acre natural lake is well-known for its excellent populations of both largemouth bass and black crappies, but most of the ice-anglers are here for the outstanding papermouth fishing.
Although Hamilton is a deep lake (70 feet max.), there are lots of shallower areas to wet a line, too. One popular spot is a 25-foot hole across from the public access site on the east side of the lake. Crappies suspend there and can be caught with a simple live minnow rig. Numerous points, dropoffs and weedy flats around the lake are also worth investigating.
Large crappies are not unusual at this lake, but most of the harvested fish fall into the 10- to 12-inch size range. Bigger fish, though, are brought through the ice every year. Crappies of 15-17 inches are not too uncommon, and a couple of years ago an 18-inch slab was caught through the ice here. For a fishing report or current ice conditions, call the Hole in the Wall bait shop in Hamilton at (260) 488-3605.
Ohio River Sauger
Anglers at the south end of the state look forward to open-water fishing trips at this time of the year, even though the weather is still cold. The late-winter sauger run on the Ohio River is the reason they are eager to hit the water, and the fishing for these popular gamefish has been terrific recently.
In most years, sauger begin their annual spawning run during the month of February. Depending on temperature and local rainfall, the run may not peak until the end of the month or even in early March. But once the fish arrive, the action can be fast and furious. Cloudy, overcast days are best, and the most successful anglers keep their baits very close to the bottom.
There are plenty of places to catch sauger on the Ohio, but one good spot is just below the dam at Cannelton in Perry County. Try the riprap near shore away from the swiftest current for good action. Live minnows and twister-tailed jigs take the vast majority of these fish. The fishing at Clarkesville has been very good, too.
Patoka Lake Largemouth Bass
Patoka Lake in southern Indiana's Orange, Dubois and Crawford counties is home to an excellent largemouth bass population. This 8,800-acre reservoir abounds with good bass habitat, from weedy coves and stump-laden creek arms to rocky points and bays filled with submerged logs. Bass and bass fishermen love it!
As the water warms in the spring sunshine, the bass become more active, but keep your retrieve slow. Jigs that resemble crayfish are very productive, especially when slowly hopped along the bottom on a muddy bank. Shad-imitating plugs can be dynamite along main lake points and near creek channel timber.
One local angler who knows where to find Patoka's spring bass is Tim Gibson, from Paoli. Tim is a fishing guide on Patoka (812-936-3382) who catches plenty of big bass there every year. "I like to fish along the creek channels in March, anywhere from 8- to 12-feet deep," he said. "The upper part of the Patoka River by Kings Bridge is usually very good." Call him for more information or to book a trip.
Hardy Lake Striped Bass
Striped bass anglers can add another fishing hole to their list of places to catch a trophy-sized striper: Hardy Lake in Scott and Jefferson counties. This 741-acre impoundment has a maximum depth of 40 feet and an average depth of 16 feet, and it holds some bragging-sized fish for those interested in pursuing them.
According to Dan Carnahan, the District 6 fisheries biologist for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Hardy Lake's stripers are doing very well. "There are some strong year-classes of striped bass in the lake, and some of them are approaching the 25-pound mark," he said. Carnahan and his assistants completed a lake survey here in the fall of 2009, and the results showed excellent growth for striped bass of all ages.
Carnahan recommends trolling the main lake area for these fish and, as the spring weather improves, the stripers will be chasing large schools of gizzard shad. Don't forget the mouths of the many creek arms, too. Shad-imitating crankbaits and soft plastic lures will do well for these large predators.
Shakamak SP Lakes Bluegill & Redear Sunfish
Shakamak State Park (SP), in southwestern Indiana's Greene, Clay and Sullivan counties, is a popular destination for Hoosier anglers, and the three lakes located inside the park are the reason why. Shakamak Lake (52 acres), Kickapoo Lake (290 acres) and Lenape Lake (49 acres) all provide excellent fishing for bluegill and redear sunfish.
Dave Kittaka, the DNR's District 5 fisheries biologist, conducted a creel survey at Kickapoo Lake in 2009. He found that fishing for bluegill and redear was very good. "The average length for harvested bluegill was 7.7 inches," he said, "but bluegill up to 10 inches long were caught, too. Redear sunfish averaged 7.8 inches and the largest also measured 10 inches."
Since bluegill and redears will be spawning at this time of year, look for them in shallow water along the shoreline. Spawning colonies of dish-shaped nests can be found in the many coves and shallow creek arms. Kittaka noted that aquatic
vegetation can become a problem here later in the summer, so he recommends fishing in the spring.
West Boggs Creek Lake Channel Catfish
Fishermen interested in catching some nice-sized channel catfish should make a point of visiting West Boggs Creek Lake in Daviess and Martin counties this year. Channel cats are usually not too shy about taking a variety of baits, and their willingness to bite makes them very popular among anglers.
Dave Kittaka and his biologists also manage the fishery at this reservoir, and in 2010 they performed a creel survey here. "Although not completed yet, preliminary data indicate excellent channel catfish opportunities," reported Kittaka. "Channels up to 24 inches were harvested and the average length was 15 inches." The survey also showed that the early summer months were the best times to fish for catfish here, with 36 percent of the harvest occurring in June and 35 percent occurring in July.
Channel catfish typically bite better under low-light conditions, but they can certainly be caught during the day. Daylight anglers often target them in the creek channels. Nightcrawlers and chicken livers are popular baits, but minnows, cut fish and stinkbaits are all productive.
Lake Michigan Steelhead Trout
Summertime is prime time for steelhead trout in Indiana, especially when you are talking about Skamania-strain steelhead. Skamanias are a summer-run strain of trout that begin their annual spawning run in the summer rather than the fall. They move into the shallows from the vast expanses of Lake Michigan, and then prepare to enter their natal streams to spawn.
The staging areas in front of the creek mouths at Trail Creek in Michigan City and Burns Waterway in Portage are the main places to intercept these super-charged trout in Indiana waters, and the action can be fantastic if you hit the run just right. Since the fish average 6-10 pounds and can reach weights of 20 pounds or more, be prepared to fight some monsters!
Steelhead are attracted to the colors orange and red, so anglers should use lures that are painted those colors. Spoons and crankbaits are very productive, and plugs with internal rattles are especially effective. Boaters should not worry about trolling too fast for summer steelhead; these speedy fish can catch any lure that passes in front of them!
Lake Monroe Hybrid Striped Bass
Lake Monroe, in Brown and Monroe counties, is the largest inland lake in the state. At 10,000 acres, this reservoir provides habitat for countless numbers of fish and other aquatic creatures. One species of particular interest to anglers, however, is the hybrid striped bass (or wipers).
Wipers are a genetic cross between a striped bass and a white bass, and they are an aggressive, fast-growing fish that are sought-after by anglers. According to Kittaka, they are also very mobile. "Trolling to find roving schools of hybrids is the most popular method of fishing for them at this time of year," he said. "Trolling artificial shad-imitator lures is very popular."
The wipers at Monroe are doing very well. Kittaka and other biologists from District 5 performed a survey for hybrid striped bass in the fall of 2009, and they found strong year-classes of age 3 and age 4 fish. By age 3, wipers can be more than 20 inches long and weigh 3 to 4 pounds. They also found fish up to 8 pounds and 26 inches long.
Blue Grass Pit Largemouth Bass
Largemouth bass fishermen have been finding great success recently at Bluegrass Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA) in downstate Warrick County. One of the lakes at this FWA is the 200-acre Bluegrass Pit, and since an 18-inch size limit and 2-bass bag limit was enacted here in 2003 the bass fishing has really been outstanding.
This lake also falls under District 6 Biologist Dan Carnahan's area of responsibility, and he commented that the fishing for big bass has definitely improved lately. "The lake is providing a lot of 18-inch and larger bass," he said. "We had a creel survey here in 2009 and the bigger bass catches were way up since the last survey in 2006." At that time, 50 bass of at least 18 inches were recorded; but in the 2009 survey, a total of 713 bass of 18+ inches were caught and released!
Although large bass can be caught here throughout the year, the 2009 survey showed that September is the month with the highest catch and release totals: 4,564. That bodes well for local bass fishermen, so make plans now to try it for yourself.
Big Long Lake Bluegill
Big Long Lake, in LaGrange County, may well be northeast Indiana's best bluegill lake. It has a maximum depth of 82 feet; numerous holes, submerged humps and sharp drop-offs; and it regularly produces bluegills that exceed 10 inches. As a matter of fact, this 365-acre lake might actually be the best bluegill hole in the entire state!
According to Larry Koza, the DNR's District 2 assistant fisheries biologist, Big Long Lake is hard to beat when it comes to bluegill fishing. "This lake is good in both the spring and fall," he said. Since fewer anglers are out in the fall, October is a great time to fish here. Both the north and south ends of the lake are good places to start fishing.
Koza helped perform a creel survey here in 2005, and the results were pretty amazing. Bluegills that were 8 inches or larger made up 62 percent of the harvest, while 16 percent were at least 9 inches long. A total of 149 bluegills were harvested measuring 10 inches, and 30 more were an amazing 10.5 inches long! Those are some monster bluegills!
Webster Lake Musky
Most musky fishermen in the state have heard of Webster Lake in Kosciusko County. As one of the best musky lakes in the entire Midwest, Webster produces a staggering number of large muskies each year. Yearly stockings and a dedicated catch and release ethic among anglers helps maintain a fabulous fishery at this 774-acre lake.
Although muskies can be caught in the backwater area of the lake, most of the action takes place out on the main lake. There are several deep basins bordered by weedy flats, and anglers usually work these deep edges looking for active fish. Some people troll spinners and crankbaits to cover lots of water while others cast to underwater structure in search of action.
The most popular lures include magnum-sized jerkbaits, stickbaits, bucktails and soft plastic baits. Some fishermen rely on the use of large live baits like live suckers. Regardless of the type of bait you use, just be sure to use a quality steel leader to eliminate bite-offs.
Lake Wawasee Crappie
Ice-anglers in northern Indiana's Kosciusko County have quite a few choices when it comes to picking a good place to fish in December. One of the best options, especially at first ice, is the 3,400-acre Lake Wawasee at the town of Syracuse. First ice here is a great time to catch crappies, both in good size and numbers.
Lake Wawasee has several manmade channels tha
t freeze before the main lake does, and the crappies move in there to feed. Johnson Bay, on the northeast side of the lake, has quite a few good channels for early ice action, but be sure the ice is safe before venturing out. Live minnows work well for Wawasee crappies, along with small ice flies and ice jigs tipped with a bee moth larva.
Also, please note that parking is limited for early-season ice-fishermen at Lake Wawasee. Also, crossing private property to reach the frozen channels requires landowner permission. Once the main lake freezes, however, anglers can walk over the ice without trespassing on private property.