From Lake Michigan salmon to Patoka Lake stripers, plus three other top picks, here's where you'll find sizzling fall fishing in our state right now.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
By Javier Serna
It's a shame, really. There are all of these fish swimming in Indiana lakes, and they're being neglected at this time of the year because sportsmen are changing gears to get ready for the hunting seasons. So lots of these fish, instead of biting into something with a hook in it, are just fattening up for the winter on natural forage. It seems half of the state's sportsmen are spending their time with a firearm at hand.
Indiana's fishery is a diverse one. From the brutish power of king salmon to the paper-thin mouths of crappies, there's something here for every angler, skill level and gear size.
And while the state offers more than five worthy fishing spots, Indiana Game & Fish magazine has compiled a list of five can't-miss fisheries for those planning out their autumn fishing itinerary. They include: Lake Michigan for king salmon, Loon Lake for largemouth bass, Patoka Lake for striped bass, the Mississinewa River for smallmouth bass and Geist Reservoir for crappies.
Under the moonlight glow and Lake Michigan slowly swaying the pier at Washington Park in Michigan City, the camera flashes were twinkling on a September night.
But not every flash meant a picture was being taken. It just meant that pier anglers were recharging their lures.
Every two or three casts, glow-in-the-dark lures are recharged with camera flashes. Cast out into the darkness, heavy 3/4-ounce spoons flutter to the bottom, at which point the line goes slack. The lures are slowly retrieved in hopes of a hit.
The time had clearly come. Every fall, king salmon stage near area creek and river mouths all over southern Lake Michigan, and the mouth of Trail Creek is one of the most accessible spots for anglers on foot.
King salmon are just getting ready to make the run up the creeks and streams that they were stocked in years before. Savvy anglers keep a pulse on the salmon's movement and to become aware of when they start running hard up select creeks and streams.
The first fish start staging in mid-August, but the salmon will continue to stack up throughout September and sometimes into October.
When the going is good, there might not be a more adrenaline-inducing way to catch them than casting from shore at night.
"Just before they make that dash up the river, they feed," said Capt. Greg King of Goshen. "Just about anything that gets in front of them, they'll eat."
King, a charter captain, will spend most of that time trolling Hot-N-Tots about 100 yards behind his boat. But this is the one time of the year that pier-anglers have a good shot at king salmon, too.
King salmon are dying in this stage of their lives, and their mouths are decaying. You really have stick it to them to ensure a good hookset.
Some anglers prefer spoons, while others will use crankbaits. Sometimes it can be a slow night, but oftentimes, a slow bite can quickly change for the better.
Weary eyes undaunted by continual flashes are bound to refocus whenever a fish hits. King salmon, especially when caught from land, put up a serious fight, one worth the time and effort you might have to put in at these precarious nighttime hours.
Call Lake Michigan Tackle at (219) 872-3474 in Michigan City for up-to-the minute updates.
Northern Indiana is home to many bass lakes, but few where bass aren't at the top of the food chain. Loon Lake at 222 acres is one of the smallest muskie lakes in the northern part of the state and the two species here coexist and thrive together. Loon Lake straddles the Noble-Whitley county line.
While muskie anglers frequent the lake, it has been getting less and less bass-fishing pressure as a result. Hence, the bass here just tend to be another neglected fishery.
An electrofishing survey conducted in 2000 showed that more than 14 percent of the fish populations in Loon Lake are largemouth bass (second only to bluegills at 61 percent). Many bass run from 12 to 14 inches and reports of 3- to 4-pound bass are not uncommon.
Muskies have thinned out the panfish population and increased their average size by reducing the competition. To a smaller extent, they've had the same effect on largemouth bass.
In the fall, Loon offers anglers a chance to fish a smaller lake, which usually means less fishing pressure.
Bass angler John Linton fishes from 2 to 12 feet of water when the water reaches 52 degrees and below. He concentrates on points and creek mouths and uses a jig-and-pig mostly. Sometimes he'll throw blade baits.
He pounds the shoreline and the inlets and outlets on the lake.
"There are in ands outs all the way around it," Linton said. "It just depends on the baitfish and where they are."
Linton stays shallow, even when some of the bass head into deeper water around turnover. This is because the deeper water has no cover.
"They're hard to target in deep water," Linton said.
By staying shallow and working slowly, bass are sure to consume just about everything as they go on their fall feeding binge. The other bait in Linton's arsenal is no surprise to savvy bass anglers. Tube baits are as productive as any bait for bass.
Like other lures, tube baits are best worked slowly on the lake's floor at this time of the year. Half the time, a bass will just lightly mouth this type of bait, so a sensitive rod will go a long way into upping your success. On cloudy days, chrome-colored jerkbaits aren't a bad bet, either.
"It's a fall lake," Linton said. "Spend a day out there and have a good time."
Longtime fishing guide Tim Gibson always keeps a trio of heavy-action setups handy for stripers, which command such gear. Patoka Lake stripers average 10 to 12 pounds and 16-pounders are common as well.
In the fall, stripers spend their days fattening up on schools of shad. Come September and October, as the water cools, stripers can predictably be caught in the 8- to 14-foot range.
At this point, Gibson said they could be found at that depth range in many places - on the main lake, at the dam area, near Lick Fork in the southwest part of the lake and in the Painters Creek area.
Just look for schools of shad. Patoka's clear water should make them easy to find. Or troll around with a keen eye on the fish-finder, and look for a cloud of baitfish.
"They're chasing the shad into the shallow water," Gibson explained. "They school up these shad and herd them into shallow water."
The stripers will often push several schools of shad into the back of coves, which are numerous on the lake. Gibson said stripers are easy to catch either by casting or trolling. If he sees stripers busting shad on the surface, he'll throw into the school with a jerkbait.
"They'll just slam that," Gibson said.
As the water continues to cool into October, more baitfish schools will end up in the back of the coves and fingers. This is true, especially in the evening.
At this point in the season, stripers are either schooled or in groups of two. Either way, they're concentrating on the shad schools and very vulnerable to artificial baits. Striper surface feeding activity will increase, making them easy to find.
"As long as you can get a bait in front of them, they'll hit it," said Gibson, who stresses the proper gear. He likes 15-pound-test fishing line and a medium-heavy 7-foot rod.
"There's no mistaking when a striper hits," Gibson said. "They hammer it. It's like being tied to the back of a freight train."
Gibson's arsenal includes spinnerbaits, suspending jerkbaits and lipless crankbaits. Gibson favors chrome-colored lures. Stripers can see well in the clear water of Patoka; hence, they'll chase down any well-presented offering from afar.
"They'll come out of 14 feet of water and bust a bait only 4 feet down with no problem," Gibson said.
When trolling, Gibson recommends downriggers and planer boards because they allow more lines to be run in tight quarters. Sometimes, if he finds a school of shad, he'll tight-line live shiners over the side of the boat.
Tim Gibson can be reached at (812) 936-3382.
Beneath the muddy stain of the Mississinewa River are enough smallmouth bass to satisfy your late-season need for these feisty bronze-colored battlers.
In the fall, bronzebacks take their second run of the year to the dam at Mississinewa Reservoir. They can be caught up and down the stretch of shoreline near Marion, where shore access is good.
Tracy Livingston of Riverside Sports in Marion said the best way to get them on the line is to come equipped with a variety of baits.
Livingston recommended bass minnows and small chubs worked under a bobber on the live bait side, depending on how aggressive the fish are. The list of artificial baits that will get the attention of Mississinewa smallmouths is long. Pre-rigged Anise worms in purple and white or purple with the fire tail are also local favorites. Crayfish-imitating crankbaits are popular, as are Roadrunner spinners. And 4-inch tube jigs in watermelon shouldn't be overlooked, Livingston said.
"It all depends on the water clarity," said Livingston, who recommended natural colors when the water is dirtier, brighter baits when clarity is good.
"The rain fluctuates the water clarity so much," Livingston said. "I always start out with a darker bait."
When it rains, the Mississinewa can get pretty muddy. Even when the water is at its clearest, it's not very transparent. Still, smallmouth bass, often thought of as clean-water fish, are plenty abundant in this waterway. There are also plenty of white bass and crappies that are likely to snatch up the same offerings.
Most anglers will wade the river, working their baits along the channel breakline, which is often about 5 feet from the shore. Anglers do best to work the eddies and drift their baits through the ripples.
"Smallmouths sit behind waiting for food to wash past," said Randy Southerland of Marion. "They like hanging out on the edge of the eddies. Work the baits into the ripples."
Southerland said the better fall action occurs when the water temperature fluctuates between 50 to 55 degrees.
Southerland drifts his bait slowly.
And he does it with anticipation.
"In the fall, they like cool water," Southerland said.
Get updates of river conditions by calling Riverside Sports at (765) 662-1590.
If tracking down crappies on Geist's 1,600-plus acres seems daunting, never fear. Crappies here, like on any other body of water, relate to cover and structure. If you can relate your boat to these two elements, you can land hordes of fall crappies.
"It's awesome," said Bryan Swhear, a bass angler who puts down his heavier tackle to clean up on crappies every fall. Swhear said there are two former gravel pits in the reservoir system. They both offer plenty of boat docks in unusually deep water.
While there's no shortage of docks on the reservoir, these two coves offer the best docks on the impoundment.
"They're deeper than the other docks," he said.
Crappies tend to stack up next to and under the manmade structures. When the getting is good, Swhear said that a couple of dozen keeper-sized crappies might be boated in the span of three hours. Dozens of smaller ones will go back into the lake during that time.
The best time to fish here is when the water temperature dips down into the high 40s. When fishing the docks, suspend crappie minnows 4 to 8 feet down with slip bobbers. Keep your bait in the strike zone - right under and on the sides of the docks.
The next area to concentrate on is an area known as Canal Place on the north side. A canal cuts away to an old, deep pond. On the west side of the pond, there's a beaver hut adjacent to stands of sunken timber or treetops.
Swhear will place a split shot about a foot above tube baits and attach a snap bobber to the line to float the bait through the wood.
The last spot to check is a series of old gravel roadbeds down by the main marina, just south of Salt Creek Road. There are two bridge abutments where the creek used to go through. The bridge pilings are still there, beneath the water's surface. Sometimes they'll be loaded with fish.
The spot is marked with a set of buoys indicating danger. In about 17 feet of water, the pilings lie just 3 feet below the surface during normal water levels.
"The roadbeds still lead up to them," Swhear said.
In any case, these tips should lead you to crappies at a time when few others are out on a lake that gets awfully busy from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Access to Geist is not cheap. In September, you must use the ramp on Oleo Road. In October, use the old Geist Marina ramp. During this time of the year, the launch fees can be as high as $10 on weekdays and $25 on weekends. On weekends, if you are off the water by 10 a.m., you can get a $15 refund if you show your receipt.
You'll have the entire lake and its crappies to yourself.
"It's overfished every other time of the year," said Swhear, who prefers damp, cool weather for his fall crappie fishing.
"The colder, the rainier the better," he said.
So there you have it, five prime picks where you're likely to catch more than a few bass, crappies, salmon or whatever. Don't miss out on this fabulous fall fishing at one of these - or your own - hotspots.
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