Indiana & the Great Lakes
Although the Hoosier state’s claim to Lake Michigan stretches for a meager forty miles or so, the northern tier of Indiana is a fishing bonanza. Despite its lack of ambiance when compared to the upper Great Lakes northern woodland streams, its quantity and quality of cold and warm water fisheries make up for the visual eye sores of steel mills, smoke-bellowing tire plants and power plants.
Introduction of SkamaniaThe Indiana Department of Natural Resources has been committed to the Lake Michigan fishery since the early 1970’s. It was the first state to introduce the designer Skamania steelhead from the Washougal River in Washington State. These summer-run steelhead quickly raised the eyebrows of anglers who experienced tackle breaking battles with these super-sonic, silver, twenty-pound bullets.
Besides its world renowned summer steelhead fishery, the Indiana DNR focused on a quality coho salmon fishery off its harbors. Together with chinook salmon, lake and brown trout, charter fleets and pier anglers enjoyed record catches of fish only an hour away from Chicago. But despite all of Indiana’s efforts, the fishing crowds never materialized. Many blame the lack of public access and the not so favorable surroundings of the fishery for the lack of popularity.
Michigan’s hallowed rivers and lakes always attracted the Mid-West crowds. But for the budget conscious angler, Indiana can give a better bang for the buck in quantity and size of fish than most legendary rivers.
Except for the massive St. Joseph river system, Indiana’s streams look like muddy Louisiana catfish ditches. Siltation is a constant problem throughout the agricultural prairie of Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. Loss of spawning gravel also lessens the potential for wild fish in these areas, thus making the fisheries totally dependent on hatchery stocks. Indiana stocks approximately 1.2 million coldwater salmonids into Lake Michigan and its tributaries.
Can one fly fish these waters with any degree of success? Absolutely! Double hauling streamers off piers for migrating steelhead and salmon is a new frontier on the Great Lakes. Long mastered by the striper fisherman of the east coast, the same technique and tackle can be used when the coho and brown trout are on the beach in spring chasing alewives and smelt.
Skamania summer steelhead cruise the beachheads in July and August during their upstream migration. By watching for southwest winds that create an upswelling effect on the shoreline-the warm shoreline waters are pushed out and the deeper, colder water moves inshore-anglers can hit the beaches and piers with fire-orange and hot pink streamers and do battle with chrome-silver leaping steelhead. Float tubes can be used when weather permits.
When the salmonids enter the small streams, tactics used on small trout streams-like strike indicator nymphing, and probing the wooded debris and undercut banks with streamers-really pay-off. Short, stiff 8-weight rods (custom built if possible to seven foot lengths) are the sticks of choice here.
Patterns for Indiana Salmonids
When fishing pier heads in the spring, many of the popular translucent baitfish patterns imitating alewife and smelt work well. Use optic eyes, mylar piping bodies and all the latest tinsel/flashabou products currently available. Saltwater fly fishers are the innovators in this area, so follow their lead.
Stream fishing is best done with egg patterns and nymphs. Patterns popular for Michigan steelheading, such as the Nuke-Bug, stoneflies, Hex nymph, green caddis and Gartside Sparrows, all work well.
Numerous lakes and rivers abound in northern Indiana providing great opportunities for northern pike, bass, perch, walleye, muskellunge, and bluegill. A fly angler armed with Clousser Minnows, white and black wooly buggers, and Whitlock’s sculpin (and Dave’s other innovative warmwater flies), can have a field day all year long.
Guide to Indiana’s Gold Coast
The St. Joseph River
Settlers in the early 1800’s were attracted to the St Joseph river valley for its bounty of fish and wildlife. With growing populations and the increased demand for electricity, the river was dammed heavily for hydroelectricity.
Six dams halted the upstream migration of Lake Michigan fish species. With an unprecedented agreement by Indiana and Michigan in the 1970’s to allow migration of salmonids and other fish species throughout the entire watershed, all fish species can now migrate throughout the entire river system. This agreement is known as the St. Joseph River Interstate Cooperative Salmonid Management Plan. The eleven million dollar project was funded by the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act, state natural resources agencies, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Indiana-Michigan power companies. Unique to four of the five fish ladders at the dams are underground fish surveillance and electronic counting devices to study fish passage. This year, as we go to press, the St. Joseph is witnessing the largest steelhead run in its history.
The St. Joseph River is perhaps the best steelhead river in the continental United States, producing some of the heaviest runs of Skamania and Great Lakes strain steelhead. It is virtually a twelve-month a year fishery. Angler success surveys have shown as many as 2.8 fish per man angling hour. After decades of Indiana fish stockings of the St. Joseph, salmonids now swim into downtown South Bend, Indiana, where river access is easily available along with holding pools.
While good wading is available in and around South Bend, most fly fishing on the big river is best done by boat. Tributaries such as the Dowagiac, Paw Paw and Pipestone are more readily wadable. The traditional Great Lakes steelheading techniques of streamer fishing and nymphing with egg patterns are equally productive here.
Runs of Lake Michigan brown trout, lake trout and Pacific salmon also occur seasonally. The warmwater fishing opportunities are also magnificent on the St. Joseph. Walleye, bass, pike and muskellunge abound throughout the river, creating a mixed bag bonanza on the St. Joe. The upper St. Joseph River is perhaps one of the Mid-West’s best smallmouth bass destinations-and it’s grossly underfished!
Emptying into Michigan City, Indiana, Trail Creek is heavily stocked and has a twelve month fishery for steelhead and migrating Pacific salmon. Fishing off the pier in the downtown harbor is productive in the spring for coho and brown trout, and in the summer for Skamanias.
Friendship Gardens, Route 35 and the new Indiana DNR access at Route 20 are excellent locations to start your big fish stalking. The Johnson road access is also excellent in the summer due to cool spring flows. Native brown trout are also caught by fly fishers chasing large lake-run salmonids.
It is important to emphasize that though the little creeks of Indiana’s Gold Coast looks muddy, it is in fact due to their high alkalinity from the limestone-rich ground water. Some of the tiny rivulets are ice cold even in the heat of summer.
Little Calumet and Salt Creek Systems
This large creek and tributary system has more woody, wild sections with less development. Although it empties into Burns Harbor Ditch alongside the unattractive steel mills, it has massive runs of steelhead.
The Main Gate, Route 20 and Heron Rookery access sites are most popular with steelhead anglers. Imagination Glen Park in Chesterton is a popular spot, with spawning gravel having been added by the Northwest Indiana Steelheaders.
Native brown trout are also found in this system, particularly in the Heron Rookery. Dry fly fishing to white Cahill hatches can occur in June on these creeks.
Other Gold Coast Hotspots
Winter is an excellent time to fish the creeks since most remain ice-free in normal winters. Indiana steelhead are particularly fond of Peachy King and Baby Pink Nuke-Bugs, tied with an Oregon Cheese sheath.
In addition to the Lake Michigan salmonid program, Indiana stocks catchable rainbow trout in the Little Kankakee and Little Elkart rivers.
Excellent bluegill, bass and pike fishing can be had on the fly rod on Pine Lake, Fish Lake, Hudson Lake and the Big Kankakee River.
Smallmouth bass fishing is heating up along Lake Michigan’s breakwall and harbor piers. This is a new fishery only because fly fishermen are finally now targeting the species-they’ve always been there!
In the dead of winter, if all else fails (or even if it doesn’t), the shoreline in the area of Indiana’s Lake Michigan power plants remains ice-free. These areas attract heavy populations of baitfish due to the warmwater discharges from the power plants, which in turn attract predatory brown trout, salmon and steelhead. Fishing the warm-water outflow plume with egg patterns and black and purple string leeches, produces excellent winter angling. Since the discharges produce sand bars and channels which reach out into the lake, wading and float tubing is possible on wave-free days. But beware of hypothermia! It is a sudden killer. Always fish with a friend in winter.
Welcome to the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife Web Site
Fishing Directory of Indiana – Fishing, fishing, fly, tackle, equipment, rods, hunting, fish, bass, reels, gear, rod, camping, tying, flyfishing, ammunition, water, reel, outdoor, guns, boat, wildlife
Fly Fishing Indiana, United States – Indiana Fishing Trips and Charters
These pages provINe information on the Indiana Becoming An Outdoors Woman program, including a workshop schedule,classes offered during the 3-day workshop, and a registration form
Indiana – Fishing Top Links
Easy to search resort directory featuring Indiana Resorts, Lodges, and Vacation Rentals that offer Fly-fishing. Plan your next Indiana vacation featuring Fly-fishing at ResortsandLodges.com and browse
Minnetrista – East Central Indiana’s Center for Natural and Cultural Heritage
MINwest Fly Fishing-GuINes
The Star Press Online Service is the website of The Star Press newspaper, which is located in Muncie, Indiana.
The Steelhead Site fly fishing reports for Indiana tributaries to Lake Michigan from anglers, guINes and DNR sources steelheadsite.com/reports/indiana/
Indiana fly fishing locations in the tributaries of Lake Michigan for steelhead, salmon and trout.
Lake Michigan tributary reports
One of the Midwest’s largest site dedicated to fishing – provides fishing reports, topographical maps, a lake database, message boards, articles, fishing tips and tactics, moon charts, etc
These time-tested patterns will put you into fish more often than not — and save you valuable time from searching for that just-so-perfect fly.
109 North College Ave. Bloomington, IN 47404 812-334-1845
8232 Allisonville Road, Indianapolis, IN 46250 317-570-9811