January 26, 2015
When it comes to fishing, Hoosier anglers should have no trouble finding a place to wet their line. Excellent opportunities are available statewide, no matter the time of year and regardless of the kind of fish you want to catch. From January to December, there are always several species of fish biting in our lakes and rivers.
Whether you prefer to fish for bass, catfish, panfish, salmon, muskies or any of our other popular gamefish, a fishing hotspot is probably located within a reasonable driving distance of your house. For many people, there are multiple spots to choose from, including large reservoirs, deep lakes, small farm ponds and slow-moving rivers.
With that in mind, Indiana Game & Fish has put together a list of great spots to fish for some of our most- popular fish species throughout the year. Plan your upcoming fishing trips month-by-month, or choose a hotspot and plan an entire vacation around it.
Lake Maxinkuckee, in southwestern Marshall County, is a very popular ice-fishing destination, and panfish typically garners the most interest from anglers. Although bluegills are usually the top target on this 1,864-acre natural lake, there are also some serious yellow perch fishermen here. Big jumbo perch are the reason.
Use your electronics to find one of the many humps that come out of deep water and rise to within 6-10 feet of the surface. Schools of big perch often roam over these humps, foraging as they go. Live minnows, ice jigs tipped with a beemoth and jigging Rapalas are good bait choices. Yellow perch up to 12 inches are often caught here, but some real jumbos over 13 inches are also taken every year.
Other Options: Crappies will be biting live minnows and ice flies in the channels on the northeast side of Lake Wawasee near Syracuse. In Steuben County, big bluegills around Clear Lake's weedbeds will hit tiny jigs tipped with spikes or beemoths.
St. Joe River Steelhead
Steelhead fishing in the dead of winter is so much different than in the spring or fall. The crowds are gone, the bugs are gone, everything is clean and white and covered in snow, and there is a solitude that just can't be beat. The fishing around Mishawaka can be awesome, too.
According to Ben Dickinson, one of the Lake Michigan fisheries biologists for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), February can be a great time to target steelhead.
"Anglers braving the cold and snow in the winter can catch lots of fish," he said. "When water temps are below 40 degrees, using a float and small 1/32 or 1/64-ounce jig tipped with a waxworm can be a deadly tactic." St. Joe River steelhead usually average 5-10 pounds, although bigger ones are definitely present.
Other Options: Bluegills in JC Murphey Lake at Willow Slough Fish & Wildlife Area (FWA) will be active around willows and deeper channels near the headquarters building. Downstate, sauger will be starting their annual spawning run to the dam on Shafer Lake north of Monticello.
Bluegrass FWA Crappies
DNR District 6 Fisheries Biologist Dan Carnahan manages the fishery at Bluegrass Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA) in Warrick County, and he points to the small pit lakes on the property as good places to catch crappies.
"Past creel surveys on Loon, Bluegrass and Otter pits have shown excellent numbers of good-sized crappie on each water," he said. "Fishing usually begins to pick up in March on warm, sunny days and can be good through the month of May."
Both black and white crappie are present in the Bluegrass FWA pit lakes. Since the lakes are connected by culverts, the fish populations are similar in each location. In a DNR crappie survey report released in 2011, white crappie up to 15.1 inches in length were observed here.
Other Options: The red-hot sauger run will be in full swing in southern Indiana on the Ohio River, with a jig/minnow rig as the top bait. Brown trout action on Lake Michigan will be great for boaters and shore-anglers using minnow-imitating plugs near industrial warm-water discharge sites.
Willow Slough Largemouth Bass
J.C. Murphey Lake at Willow Slough FWA in Newton County is a 1,200-acre fish factory that is loaded with largemouth bass. Tom Bacula is the local District 1 fisheries biologist for the DNR, and he is very familiar with the bass population at 'The Slough'.
"For lots of action on quality bass (13-17 inches), the fishing here is hard to beat," he stated. He should know, because he often fishes for bass on this lake himself.
The vegetation gets extremely thick during the summer, so many bass anglers opt for springtime trips here. The lake averages only a few feet deep, which means bass can be almost anywhere in April. "Fish the outside edges of emerging weedbeds," Bacula suggested. There is an 18-inch minimum size limit and daily bag limit of two bass at Willow Slough.
Other Options: Big crappies will be hitting twister-tailed jigs and live minnows around Patoka Lake's submerged timber and grass beds. Lake Michigan's coho salmon action should be fast and furious on crankbaits and dodger/fly combos near Buffington Harbor at East Chicago.
Cook And Holem Lake Bluegills
Bluegill fishermen always look forward to the spring spawn, and this year will be no different. Bluegills flock to the shallows in May to build nests and lay their eggs, and anglers should head for Cook and Holem lakes in Marshall County's Plymouth Lake Chain to intercept them.
Tom Bacula also supervises the fisheries at Cook and Holem, and he likes these small, interconnected lakes (93 acres and 40 acres, respectively) for hot bluegill action. "Recent surveys have shown bluegill dominating the catch at both lakes," he said, "ranging in size from 1.6 to 8.7 inches in length." Public access for Cook and Holem lakes is located on adjacent Mill Pond, via a culvert, which small boats may navigate.
Other Options: Good-sized striped bass on Hardy Lake will be taking trolled crankbaits that resemble shad. Redear sunfish will be gathering in the shallows to spawn in Lawrence Lake near Plymouth, and redworms will tempt them.
Kosciusco County's Winona Lake in Warsaw is home to a wide variety of gamefish species, and one of the most popular is the walleye. DNR biologists conducted several fish surveys here in 2014, including a special sampling of walleye in the springtime.
"In our spring survey we collected over 1,000 walleyes, with the biggest one being 28 inches long," reported Tyler Delauder, DNR's assistant fisheries biologist for district 3. That bodes well for Winona's walleye fishery, both for this year and into the future.
Since the lake is right in town, it's best to launch a boat on weekdays to avoid the crowds. Walleye are found in multiple places in June, but one productive spot is a series of underwater humps on the lake's southern end. The bottom rises sharply from deep water to within 10 feet of the surface, and walleye cruise the top and sides of the humps. Use a jig/minnow to probe the depths.
Other Options: Some of the best lake trout action of the year on Lake Michigan may be found offshore of Hammond and East Chicago this month, with spoons and dodger/fly combos catching most of the fish. Potato Creek State Park's Worster Lake provides excellent action for both numbers and size of largemouth bass during June.
Lake Michigan Smallies
Lake Michigan has become well-known as a smallmouth bass fishing hotspot in recent years, and the warm-weather months are a great time to head for the lakefront. Marinas in Hammond, East Chicago and Portage offer the best fishing, with productive areas located right outside the marina breakwalls.
Since smallmouth bass relate to rocky shorelines and underwater boulders, the man-made breakwalls along the lakefront draw them like a magnet. Crayfish, minnows and other small fish are also drawn to the stony cover. Tube jigs that resemble crayfish and small fish are an excellent lure choice. Smallmouth of 2-3 pounds are not uncommon, and fish up to 5 pounds are definitely possible.
Other options: Flathead catfish are on the prowl after dark on the Wabash River, taking large live baits like bluegills. Fluorescent orange spoons and plugs will entice summer-run steelhead in Lake Michigan at the mouths of Trail Creek in Michigan City and Burns Waterway near Portage.
Patoka Channel Catfish
Patoka Lake is well-known for its excellent bass and crappie fishing, but it also home to an exceptional fishery for channel catfish. Since the reservoir covers a total of 8,800 acres, there is plenty of room for the catfish to grow.
Fishing guide Tim Gibson says channel cats are a very common catch here. "We routinely catch big channel cats while fishing for crappies, in the timber and along weedlines," he said.
Patoka is also located in DNR biologist Dan Carnahan's district, and he is impressed by the number of catfish in the lake.
"The channel catfish population at Patoka has grown exponentially over the last 10 years," he said. "Net catch rates are very high, with all sizes of catfish up to 12 pounds. Anglers should target main lake structure like points, islands, humps and old road beds."
Other Options: Action for Lake Monroe's largemouth bass should still be good early and late with topwater baits. Smallmouth bass fishing in Harrison County's Blue River will be excellent for anglers using minnow and crayfish imitators.
Lake Michigan Kings
Early September usually marks some of the best fall chinook salmon fishing along the Indiana lakefront, and these fish are big. Chinooks (also called king salmon) average 13-18 pounds each, sometimes reaching weights of 20 pounds or more. These adult salmon are returning to the shallows to begin their spawning run, and they often stage at the creek mouths for several days before heading upstream.
Boaters can intercept the returning fish by trolling large, brightly-colored lures in the staging areas. Burns Waterway in Portage, Trail Creek in Michigan City and Buffington Harbor in East Chicago are productive areas to fish.
Other Options: Channel catfish will still be active on Indianapolis' Geist Reservoir, taking stinkbaits on the bottom and cut baits trolled along dropoffs. Saugeye (sauger-walleye hybrid) can be caught in Sullivan Lake's deeper water on jigs/minnows.
Ohio River Blue Cats
The Ohio River along Indiana's southern border is home to some tremendous catfish populations, and the resident blue cats rule the river. Blue catfish love big river systems, and they grow extremely large in the Ohio. Weigh-ins for catfish tournaments on the Ohio River are always dominated by blue cats, and it often takes a blue of 50 pounds to win Big Fish honors.
Blue catfish are primarily fish-eaters, so target them with baits like whole or cut skipjack, live or dead shad, or just about any other baitfish inhabiting the river. Drift your baits on circle hooks near the bottom or higher in the water column until you connect with a school of blue cats. Then hang on!
Other Options: Muskie fishing on Bruce Lake east of Winamac should be hot this month, especially off the points and the mid-lake hump. Crappie action on Patoka Lake will heat up over brush piles and submerged timber.
Webster Lake Muskies
Webster Lake in Kosciusko County is considered the best muskie lake in Indiana, and one of the best in the entire Midwest. Catch and release is the norm among muskie fishermen, and that helps explain the numbers of big fish are present here. There are certainly 50-inch muskies swimming in Webster right now, just waiting for a lucky angler to catch them.
The main lake features weedy flats, sharp dropoffs and deep holes where active muskies ambush their prey. Many anglers troll large bucktails, stickbaits or crankbaits to cover lots of water. Others cast over-sized jerkbaits, spinners and soft plastic swimbaits. Use a quality steel leader to eliminate bite-offs.
Other Options: Crappie fishing on Morse Reservoir near Noblesville will be on fire along shoreline docks. Fishing for big walleyes on Brookville Lake will just keep getting better as colder fall weather moves in.
Hamilton Lake Crappies
Serious crappie fishermen love to catch big crappies, and Hamilton Lake in Steuben County is a great place to accomplish that goal. This 802-acre natural lake has been producing over-sized black crappies for many years, and ice-fishing is the preferred method for some of the locals.
Hamilton Lake is characterized by large weed-filled flats, deep holes and sharp dropoffs. Ice-anglers target deeper water with access to weeds for some of the best crappie fishing. Black crappies of 15-16 inches can be caught through the ice here, although fish in the 12-13 inch range are more common.
Other Options: Kankakee River walleye become more active as cold weather takes hold. Use large minnows for the best action. Hefty northern pike in Clear Lake can be caught under the ice on tipups baited with large shiners.