Hunting is the main activity on many Hoosier’s minds during fall but for anglers willing to put aside gun and bow, the autumn months offer some of the best fishing of the year.
After the doldrums of late summer are swept away by the shorter days and cooler nights of September, angling in Indiana takes on a whole new complexion as fish become more active. In many cases, some of the biggest trophies of the year will be taken during the time traditionally devoted to deer, ducks and small game.
The world-class salmon and trout fishing available along the southern edge of Lake Michigan is arguably the most productive fall fishing trip for Hoosier anglers. Less than two hours away from north-central Indiana, it is easy to fall in love with those brawny and abundant fish of our inland ocean.
Ten months out of the year, salmon fishing requires a stout boat, extensive tackle and excellent seamanship skills. However, when the fish make their annual spawning run up the streams emptying into the big lake, even the shore-bound angler stands a good chance of bringing home a trophy king or steelhead.
Starting in late September, large chinook (or king) salmon gather off the mouth of rivers, creeks and harbors. As September turns to October, the more abundant coho salmon arrive, along with steelhead and brown trout. The harbors and streams of Lake Michigan become watery warehouses stacked full of aggressive salmon and trout, ready to be intercepted by adventurous fisherman.
For the pedestrian angler, the plan of attack is to stake out position along a jetty or pier and begin endlessly casting into the lake. This type of fishing doesn’t require finesse so much as dogged determination. Whereas a boat angler might troll effortlessly for a half-hour to find a fish, the fixed angler must cast many, many times to cover the equivalent distance of water.
Regardless of the fishing method, heavy trolling gear or level wind reels are not required. Though a nice salmon might weigh in at 25 pounds, a stout bass fishing rod with a high-capacity reel filled with 12- to 15-pound line will land the majority of fish. If you are concerned about losing a lunker, a light saltwater spinning rod with fresh 15-pound test line will subdue virtually anything in the lake. A long-handled net is also very helpful.
Boat anglers primarily use diving crankbaits and spoons. A popular lure is the Rapala minnow but virtually any rapidly moving, medium-sized, intermediate-diving bait can be productive. Regardless of lure, bright colors are the rule. The “Firetiger” paint scheme is very popular, along with fluorescent orange, green or yellow while blue and silver are also very productive.
Shore anglers often use natural bait suspended just under the surface on a float. The most popular natural bait is a spawn sack while nightcrawlers, single salmon eggs, minnows, shrimp and even crawfish are also popular. The local bait shop is the best source for good local tips and tactics for such fishing.
Popular spots for shore and boat anglers include the Michigan City harbor and jetty, along with Burns Ditch and any of the marinas’s lining the southern edge of the lake.
Smallmouth bass don’t receive their due in the fall, which is unfortunate. For those seeking trophy bronzebacks, late September and October are prime time to hook up with a monster bass.
Stream fishing during these months can be tough as the water is usually much lower and clearer than any other time, making the fish easily spooked. Leaves floating in the water also make it challenging to use artificial baits.
The best bets for fall smallmouth are the larger rivers of our state, especially the Tippecanoe River. Lakes Shafer and Freeman along ‘the Tippe’ also offer good smallmouth fishing for those with boats. Regardless of location, anglers seeking smallmouth will typically focus on rocky areas with access to deeper water. Crawfish-imitating crankbaits, tube jigs and inline spinners are all popular baits.
Perhaps one of the best-kept secrets in the entire angling world is the excellent musky fishing of northeast Indiana, specifically the natural lake area around Kosciusko County. Lakes such as Tippecanoe, Wawasee, Webster, Dewart, Chapman and the Barbee Chain are loaded with enormous muskies that would make any Minnesota or Wisconsin angler proud!
In 2002, a 50-inch musky caught in James Lake shattered the state record. As James is actually part of Tippecanoe Lake, it is the focus of many trophy hunters, though Webster Lake is a close second with many anglers. Regardless, the lakes of the area are chock full of heavy muskies that are virtually ignored except by a small cadre of dedicated fishermen.
These natural lakes are similar to Canadian lakes, with clear water and an abundance of mid-lake structure, so a boat is necessary. Though some fishermen will target muskies during September, the fishing becomes much hotter when the weather turns cold in October and November.
Local anglers use classic fall musky techniques of targeting humps and points with large crankbaits and jerkbaits. Popular colors include classic black and silver, brown and while, perch and grey over white. Topwater action is less successful due to the abundance of boat traffic on these high-populated lakes.
For more information about Indiana fishing, hunting and everything else in the Hoosier outdoors, visit http://www.wildindiana.com
Brent T. Wheat is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer based in Indiana.
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