Fishing for crappies in Indiana is growing fast among anglers of the Hoosier State. Once thought of as either a way to quickly provide a meal of fresh fish or to teach youngsters the thrill of fishing, local crappie fishing appears to be responding to sound management by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and is attracting anglers — residents and non-residents — to crappie fishing faster than fishing for many other species of game fish.
And while modern lures and fish-finding electronics lead modern anglers to great catches of crappies, both the older generations of Indiana fishermen and young anglers, alike, enjoy what many see as a simple fishing pursuit. Armed with little more than a fishing rod, wire hooks, bobbers and minnows for bait, Hoosier anglers north to south enjoy crappie-fishing outings, collectively proving to be an economic challenge to the greater world of bass fishing.
As state-funded management objectives for crappie fisheries continue to ramp up, Indiana anglers across the state have plenty to look forward to. Where the fish are found in the north half of the state, black crappies appear to outnumber white crappies. In our southern waters, white crappies are caught more frequently than black crappies, but the state records for both species don’t stand so far apart. The state-record black crappie — 4 pounds, 8.8 ounces — was caught in 2017 at Kinkaid Lake by Ryan Povolish. The state-record white crappie weighed in at 4 pounds, 11 ounces and was caught in 1994 by Willis Halcomb in a private pond in Jennings County.
In extreme northeast Indiana, Lake James is a natural lake that is made up of three basins, comprising 1,228 surface acres to lay claim as the state’s fourth largest natural lake. It lies mostly in Steuben County and its waters eventually flow into Lake Michigan.
Crappie anglers in northern Indiana enjoy an additional dimension to their crappie fishing not commonly seen across the southern half of the state: Ice-fishing for crappies.
When Lake James is locked up next December and January, consider fishing for its crappies through the ice. Drill holes near wood structure and weed beds where the fish have gone for the winter. It may be necessary to drill multiple homes before locating schools of fish. Portable electronics and video equipment help if they are available.
Once spring arrives and pushes into summertime, pondweed and milfoil emerge in the lake, along with a variety of indigenous vegetation that benefits the crappies, as well as other game fishes. Professional crappie angler Russ Bailey, host of Brushpile Fishing videos online, says he likes to drift tiny crappie jigs beneath a slip float over these weed beds, working the edges. He says Lake James’ clear water calls for making long casts with 1/32-ounce jig heads in chartreuse, white or pink, tipped with a soft-plastic, purple-shad patterned body.
Lake James crappie population appears to be dominated by black crappies that commonly range in size to 11 inches.
Skinner Lake — located in the heart of Noble County about 3 miles east of Albion — is a 125-acre natural lake noted for numbers of white and black crappies that commonly measure up to 9 inches long, but individual fish up to 16 inches long have reportedly been caught in the lake.
IDNR fisheries reports recommend local anglers fish for Skinner Lake crappies in springtime around the lily pads that are found in the four “corners” of the lake. The rest of the year, the crappies are best sought on downwind shorelines and along the edges of the weed lines. On especially hot days, look for the fish to suspend over the deep hole along the northwest side of the lake.
Standard minnow rigs are recommended, fished in two ways: 1) Slide a size 6 or 8, long-shank, gold-wire hook through the tail of the minnow and use a long jigging rod to drop the minnow straight down through surface vegetation over deeper water. This technique is popular with ice-fishermen, too, but done with short ice-fishing rods, of course; or 2) add a spilt shot to the line 18 inches above the hook, slide the hook through the eyes of the minnow and fish it like a jig in the vegetation. Bobbers can work with both rigs, but the smaller the better. Small jigs armed with soft-plastic bodies also produce.
Indiana’s second largest reservoir, Lake Monroe, stretches into portions of Crawford, DuBois and Orange counties, 10 miles south of Bloomington. Surrounded by state-owned public land, the 10,700-acre lake holds a quality crappie population, but the crappies do not get a lot of angling attention. Local anglers are more inclined to fish for largemouth bass, catfish and wipers.
Monroe’s crappies — individual fish can weigh upward of 2 1/2 pounds — are found in shallow water in the spring and in deep water as the air and water temperatures rise with the coming of summertime. In the fall, the crappies move back into coves where inflows provide cool water that attracts baitfish.
Fishing Guide Brandon Barrett of Lake Monroe Guide Service has fished the lake for the past 30 years. A few years ago, flooding of the lake severely damaged much of the lake’s vegetation, but Barrett says the vegetation — pondweed, milfoil and coontail — has grown back, and the crappies love it. The lake’s sometimes windy conditions, Barrett says, leads him to use 20-pound braided line with a 12-pound fluorocarbon leader, armed with small jigs tipped with cream-colored bodies. More recently he has begun using blade-baits by STEELSHAD. Both are fished on the edges of the weeds, drop-offs, brush piles and in standing timber.
Minnow anglers also fare well with the offerings rigged under a slip float or with a minnow pinned to a bottom-fishing rig. Jigs tipped with meal worms work well, too.
For the past two years, the IDNR (with the assistance of local anglers) has been placing fish attractors in Lake Monroe. Bass and crappies appear to be following the baitfish into the attractors, which are made from wooden pallets. Contact the IDNR for the locations of the attractors and learn more about the state’s Reservoir Habitat Enhancement Program online at wildlife.IN.gov.
Best Fishing Tips Ever-Terry Blankenship
Patoka Lake is the state’s second-largest reservoir. It spreads across 8,880 surface acres in Crawford, Dubois and Orange counties, just south of the historic towns of French Lick and West Baden. Some 18,000 acres of surrounding property is largely state-owned land.
Kyle Schoenherr, winner of the 2015 Crappie Masters Classic held on Patoka Lake, says Patoka crappies are not only numerous, but they grow large, too, in the lake’s fertile water — rich in nutrients that support plankton, baitfish and game fish — especially up the several river arms where the water is cloudy or stained. Schoenherr says he believes Patoka’s crappies eat more — thus, grow larger/heavier — where the water is most fertile.
In spring, Schoenherr uses several long rods, positioned in a spider rig around his boat, fishing leadhead jigs, tipped with small minnows, in about 2 feet of water, pushing the several presentations into the brush in hopes of landing Patoka’s best crappies. Individual fish, Schoenherr says, can weigh 2 1/2 to2 3/4 pounds.
Anglers looking to catch a lot of Patoka crappies do best down-lake on the deep ledges and vegetation at mid-depths in the clear water of the lake’s main pool.
The crappie fishing legacies of the large lakes in southern Indiana contrasts sharply with Lake Lemon. The 1,440-acre lake lies behind an earthen dam across Bean Blossom Creek. Located just 10 miles northeast of Bloomington, the lake sees a lot of recreational boating in the warm months.
Russ Bailey spends his fishing time here, too. He recommends spider-rigging for fish over the lake’s submerged woody structure. His rods feature stiff “backs,” he says, that allow him to pull hooked fish directly upward out of the water without becoming entangled in the other lines. The 14-foot rods are armed with 8-pound, high-visibility monofilament that makes it easy to see sideways, as well as downward, movement of the line when a crappie takes the bait. He recommends following the irregular changes in the path of the old creek channel in the upper end of the lake.
Bailey uses a typical crappie rig with one important change. He mounts a 3/4-ounce sinker above two jigs, tied 18 to 20 inches apart to a single leader. This allows the jigs, which are tied with a loop knot, to float naturally. He baits up with leadhead jigs, armed with tube bodies or tipped with small live minnows.
Local anglers report catching a lot of crappies at Lake Lemon in the 8- to 12-inch range. Spring fishing is best in the trees near the dam, before summer pushes them into weedy areas, where vertical jigging in the holes is best. In the fall, they return to their spring pattern before the lake locks up with ice in winter. If the ice is safe enough for ice-fishing, Lake Lemon’s winter anglers fish for crappies suspended over a large flat just off the dam in 15 to 20 feet of water.
Night Fishing for Crappies in Indiana
Night-fishing anywhere, including Indiana, can be slow fishing that pays big dividends. It requires patience, despite using many of the same techniques for crappie fishing during the day.
· During the day, anglers can plainly see underwater structure and vegetation. At night, rely on an electronic fishfinder and the feel of the lure or bait to determine locations of structure and vegetation. Electronics will also help you pinpoint crappie in cover near deep water.
· Pay close attention to the retrieve of your lure. “Feeling” the retrieve can tell you the lure is running around stumps, brush, weeds, wood and rocks — even what size of rocks the lure is bumping into.
· Night-feeding crappies sometimes follow free-roaming bait fish near the surface. The bait fish are following micro-organisms that seek light — either fading daylight or artificial light of docks, boats and piers.
· Hanging lanterns on just one side of the boat will keep insects from surrounding your head. Placing them close to the water provides light for tying tackle and unhooking fish. An LED headlight also is handy for such tasks.
· The swarms of insects that emerge at night and rest on the lake’s surface draw feeding crappie and bait fish alike.
· Running lights and anchor lights are important for safe boating at night. From sunset to sunrise, both must be visible from 360 degrees around the boat until docked. Use LED lighting inside the boat.