I parked at a convenient pull over spot high above Raccoon Lake and found a winding path through the winter-dormant woods leading down to the water. The last 100 feet or so was on the lake’s exposed lake bottom.
Raccoon Lake is one of the Army Corps of Engineers flood control lakes designed with a winter pool/summer pool strategy. Partially drain the lake in the fall and then let the spring rains fill it. That made finding my fishing spot both easy and hard.
I could look several hundred yards each way along the shoreline to see if I could spot a toppled tree situated so some of its branches were submerged. Not many were like that but it made the ones that were even better. These lone trees were magnets for winter weary crappies and I soon learned the fish were winter-hungry as well. A simple slip-bobber rig with a tiny split shot, a thin gold hook and a small crappie minnow was all the tackle I needed.
It was a week or more before the spring equinox signaled spring on the calendar, but a few days of south winds had made it feel like late April and gave me doses of spring fever and fishing fever at the same time. It happens every year and I succumb to the symptoms every year as well. There’s only one cure - go fishing.
Thousands of avid anglers catch the same illness and know the only cure is to grab a rod and reel and head for a lake, pond or stream. It’s great to get out and make the first casts of the season. It’s even better when something tugs at the end of the line.
Late winter and the earliest days of spring aren’t the best times to fish for many kinds of fish. If you shun anything but bass or bluegills, stay home. A few catfishermen know select spots where they might hook a whiskerfish or two, but why fish for something that isn’t biting or plays hard to get? There are other species, much more cooperative.
Crappies, like I mentioned at the beginning of the column are one. Can’t find a sunken treetop at your favorite crappie lake? Try around docks or other structures. They’ll be there.
Most of Indiana’s reservoirs have been stocked with walleyes for many years but the best fishing this has created isn’t in the impoundments, themselves. Over time, plenty of small walleyes washed over or through the dams and live in the downstream rivers.
In earliest spring, however, these river-dwelling walleyes make an upstream migration preparatory to spawning and run into the very dams they escaped years earlier. These tailwater areas fill with walleyes in late winter and a jig with a plastic tail is all that’s needed to get you in the game.
When most anglers think of Lake Michigan salmon, they think of sunny days and seaworthy boats. This time of year, however, the big lake’s salmon are in range of shore-bound fishermen with little more than a rod, reel and small spinner.
The fish are as anxious to warm up as the fishermen and the first to warm part of Lake Michigan is its extreme southern end. The first to warm areas at the south end of the lake are where the Indiana’s two tributary streams flow into the lake. That’s where the salmon are and that’s where you need to be.
At Michigan City, anglers flock to the pier that juts out into the lake at the mouth of Trail Creek. At Portage, the fishermen head for the Portage Lakefront Park to fish the fishing piers at the mouth of Burns Waterway. Most coho fans bring two rods, one to use with bait (either squid or nightcrawlers work), the other to cast small spoons or brightly colored spinners while waiting for a bite on the bait.
Suckers Are Fish, Too!
In central and southern parts of Indiana, nearly every small stream had one or more low dams built on it sometime in its history. These dams fed the canal systems, powered mills or were for other uses, long forgotten. But the dams remain and just as the walleyes migrate upstream to the big dams, suckers, (white, hognose and redhorse) move upstream on their own spawning migrations.
The dams, often only a few feet high, are enough to block the migration and concentrate the fish. They have small sucker-like mouths used to feed on the streambed. A pinch of nightcrawler or half a garden worm, will be the right size. Anchoring it right on the bottom puts it in the right spot.