It's winter in Indiana. This is the time of year that many Hoosiers sit inside and think about warmer weather and where they might like to go fishing during the upcoming year. Perhaps a favorite lake comes to mind where bluegills are big and plentiful.
Maybe the goal this year will be to explore new waters and fish for a new species. Maybe this will be the year you finally catch a real trophy! Indiana is home to a great variety of game fish species, from large salmon and trout to tasty panfish.
Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and even hybrid striped bass are popular with some anglers, while catfish are favored by others. Prefer to catch walleyes? We have plenty. Muskies, perch and crappies are available, too.
If you need some suggestions on where to go for specific species of fish during the year, Indiana Game & Fish magazine has put together a list of great locations statewide. Here are our picks for 2016:
Lake Wawasee Crappies
Ice-fishing is always popular at Kosciusco County's Lake Wawasee, and during the early ice period crappies are on the minds of many local anglers. One of the best places to find crappies is in the shallow manmade channels on the northeast side of this 3,400-acre lake. These canals freeze before the rest of the lake, making them the early hotspot.
Good-sized crappies feed in these dark-bottomed channels, and fishermen who get in on the early action are often rewarded with excellent catches. Suspend live minnows beneath a small float or slowly work a tiny ice jig tipped with a beemoth or wiggler.
Other Options: Big bluegills will be biting at Willow Slough's J.C. Murphey Lake in Newton County around the cattails and flooded willows. Winter-run steelhead will be holding in the deeper pools in Trail Creek near Michigan City.
Ohio River Saugers
The annual sauger run on the Ohio River should be heating up by mid-February, and hardy fishermen in southern Indiana will be braving the cold weather to get in on the action. Saugers of all sizes make their spawning run at this time of year, and huge numbers of them congregate in the pools below the dams.
Shore anglers can have good success bouncing a jig/minnow combination along the bottom near the shoreline rocks, but boaters have the advantage since they can cover more water. Look for pools and eddies near gravel bars and shoreline rip-rap areas and keep your baits on the bottom. When the fish are in, the action can be non-stop.
Other Options: Walleye in the Kankakee River will be actively feeding and preparing for their spawning run as well. In northeastern Indiana's Clear Lake, ice-fishermen will be catching hand-sized bluegills from weedy flats near the dropoffs.
Lake Michigan Brown Trout
In March, one of the hottest fisheries in the state will be taking place in Lake Michigan. Big brown trout will be close to shore and within easy reach of boaters and shore fishermen alike. Fishermen should concentrate their efforts in the harbors and at the industrial warmwater discharge sites.
Lake Michigan browns are big. Average-sized fish run 3 to 4 pounds, while larger specimens can weigh anywhere from 8 to 15 pounds. Trollers should use shad-imitating crankbaits, while shore fishermen can experiment with a variety of lures and natural baits like live shiners, cut squid, nightcrawlers and salmon eggs.
Other Options: Coho salmon action will also begin making their appearance in the nearshore waters of Lake Michigan, and anglers should use orange-colored lures to tempt them. Slab-sized crappies in southern Indiana's Patoka Lake should really turn on with the first few warm days in March.
Patoka Largemouth Bass
Patoka Lake near French Lick is a great place to fish for largemouth bass, especially in the springtime. This 8,800-acre reservoir is absolutely full of bragging-sized bass, and anglers should concentrate on structure to find them. Submerged timber, flooded stump fields, underwater weedbeds and winding creek channels are just some of the spots bass fishermen should check.
Department of Natural Resources Southern Fisheries Supervisor Dan Carnahan is very familiar with the bass fishery at Patoka, and he knows the bass fishing here can be outstanding.
"It's an excellent lake for both numbers and size of bass," he said. "It's a very good big-fish fishery."
Patoka bass feed heavily on resident gizzard shad, so anglers can use shad-imitating baits to tempt them.
Other Options: Oversized crappies will be taking live minnows around Hovey Lake's submerged timber in southwestern Indiana. Fishing for largemouth bass at J.C. Murphey Lake will be very good near the emerging weedbeds.
Barbee Chain Muskies
Indiana's muskie fishermen have more choices on where to fish these days than you might think, and one of the best is the Barbee chain of lakes in Kosciusco County. The Barbee chain is a group of seven interconnected natural lakes covering a total of 851 acres. The lakes include Kuhn, Big Barbee, Little Barbee, Irish, Banning, Sawmill and Sechrist.
According to Jed Pearson, the District 3 fisheries biologist for the DNR, springtime muskie fishing in the Barbee chain can be excellent.
"Each May, the Hoosier Muskie Hunters host a tournament on the Barbee lakes as well as nearby Tippecanoe and Webster lakes," he said. "During the 2015 tourney, three of the five biggest muskies were caught in the Barbee lakes."
Other Options: Chunky smallmouth bass will be active along current breaks in Sugar Creek, hitting minnow-imitating plugs and live baits. Large numbers of bragging-sized crappies will be in the shallows at Lake Monroe; live minnows and curly-tailed plastic grubs will take plenty of fish.
Eagle Lake Bluegills
Tiny Eagle Lake in Noble County may not be a household name for most Hoosiers, but it's a great place to get away and enjoy some fine bluegill fishing this summer. Located southwest of Ligonier in the Eagle Lake Wetland Conservation Area, this 81-acre natural lake is quiet and peaceful. Boats are limited to electric motors only, which also helps contribute to the quiet setting.
Biologist Jed Pearson also manages the fishery at Eagle Lake, and he conducted a lake survey there in June of 2015.
"We caught dozens of bluegills in the 7.5-to 8.5-inch range," he reported. "Large redear sunfish are also present. Redworms, beemoths and artificial flies are standard baits to try, especially around dropoffs near the shallow flats."
Other Options: Worster Lake inside Potato Creek State Park will feature excellent largemouth bass action around submerged timber and weedlines. Bluegills will be biting at Bruce Lake east of Winamac on worms and beemoths.
Lake Michigan Steelhead
Lake Michigan trout fishing is not just good in the early spring when brown trout are the target. In July, another trout species takes center stage on the big lake: steelhead trout. Skamania-strain steelhead are a strain of rainbow trout that begin their annual spawning run in the summertime, and July is when they leave the open expanses of the lake and head for their spawning streams.
The mouths of Trail Creek in Michigan City and Burns Waterway near Portage are two of the best places to intercept returning steelhead. Trollers work the areas in front of the creek mouths with large spoons and plugs, and shore fishermen cast lures and live baits in the same areas. Fluorescent red lures are hard to beat for steelhead, so be sure to have some in your tackle box.
Other Options: Huge blue catfish can be caught while drifting skipjacks and cut baits through deep holes on the Ohio River. Large numbers of smallmouth bass will be feeding among the shoreline rocks in Lake Michigan, from Whiting all the way east to Gary.
Morse Reservoir Channel Cats
Morse Reservoir on the north side of Indianapolis may be well-known to local pleasure boaters, but it is also known as a pretty good fishing hole. The crappie fishing here can be excellent, especially early and late in the year, but the catfish action stays hot throughout the summer.
According to local fishing guide Tom Hankins (317-478-4022), Morse Reservoir is absolutely full of good-sized channel catfish.
"It's not unusual to catch two or three dozen catfish here in one day," he noted.
Hankins specializes in fishing for crappies and catfish on some of the lakes in central Indiana, and Morse is one of his favorites for channel catfish. Most catfish will be in the 2- to 5-pound range, but fish weighing 10 pounds are certainly possible.
Other Options: Good numbers of rainbow trout can be caught after dark on Steuben County's Clear Lake, suspending nightcrawlers over deep water. Trophy-sized flathead catfish will be roaming the shallows in the Wabash River at night; large live bluegills or sunfish are top baits.
Worster Lake Wipers
Worster Lake is a stocked 327-acre impoundment located inside Potato Creek State Park in Saint Joseph County. The lake has been stocked with hybrid striped bass (wipers) since 2011, and those fish are getting big. Tom Bacula, the local District 1 fisheries biologist for the DNR, said the population is doing well.
"The last time we checked the lake, we already had 20-inch fish," Bacula stated. "I expect that now we have mid-20 inch fish; not quite 10-pounders, but getting close."
Wipers were stocked here to reduce the number of gizzard shad present, so shad-imitating lures are a good choice for anglers.
"Look for wipers around the beach area and over the deeper water connecting the two basins," suggested Bacula. Be sure to use top quality tackle, since these fish are very powerful.
Other Options: The peak of the king salmon run on Lake Michigan will occur this month; be on the water before dawn for the best action. Big largemouth bass on Lake Monroe will be hitting surface baits early and late in the day.
Lake Michigan Lake Trout
Lake Trout in Lake Michigan are normally only caught out in deep water, many miles from the nearest shoreline. But everything changes in October when the fish enter the shallows to spawn. Suddenly there are large numbers of trophy-sized lake trout, or "lakers," within easy reach of even the smallest boats.
Although lakers do not ascend creeks and rivers to spawn like other trout, they do spawn on shallow water reefs. One of the most productive is located just outside the Port of Indiana breakwall near Portage. Lake trout up to 20 pounds are taken here by late-season anglers every fall, and this year will be no exception. The best bite is usually around dawn, with large spoons and dodger/fly combos drawing the most strikes.
Other Options: Saugeye fishing on Sullivan Lake will be picking up with the cooler weather. Fish the edge of dropoffs for the best action. Lake Monroe's hybrid striped bass will be chasing shad in open water near the creek channels, so cast silver or gold lures to attract more strikes.
Eagle Creek Walleye
Eagle Creek Reservoir on the northwest side of Indianapolis is an overlooked spot for walleye. First introduced with walleyes in 1997, Eagle Creek has been stocked exclusively with larger fingerling walleyes since 2007.
DNR District 4 Fisheries Biologist Rhett Wisener reported Eagle Creek's walleye population is growing fast.
"In 2014, not only did we find a very successful year-class of walleye, but we also had good catch rates of 14-inch and larger walleye," he said. "The largest one we handled was 22 inches long." Target these fish along the riprap near the dam and causeway.
Other Options: Muskie fishing on Kosciusco County's Webster Lake will be good around the deeper basins and remaining weedbeds. Crappie fishermen on Morse Reservoir can catch easy limits under the shoreline docks and boat lifts.
Another early ice hotspot in northern Indiana (along with Lake Wawasee) is Lake Maxinkuckee near Culver. This 1,864-acre natural lake is home to a tremendous panfish population, and bluegills are at the top of the list for many hardwater fishermen.
Lake Maxinkuckee also falls within biologist Tom Bacula's fisheries management district, and he knows exactly where to go during the early ice season. "The channels on the southeast end of the lake are a big bluegill hotspot," he said.
"We surveyed fishermen using the channels during the 2012-13 ice-fishing season, and they harvested more than 8,600 bluegills there. Average size was 8.1 inches, but the vast majority were between 7.5 and 9.4 inches."
Other Options: Brookville Lake walleye fishing will heat up as the temperatures plunge, so keep some jigging spoons or large jigs handy. Ice-fishing for yellow perch will also be good at Cedar Lake in LaGrange County, as long as you keep your baits near the bottom.