Indiana Fly Fishing
While the Hoosier State is definitely known primarily for its racing, farmland, and college sports, there is certainly no shortage of water activities to enjoy. The landscape is generously laced with rivers and streams, and dotted with dozens of lakes and ponds. From the White River which runs through the center of Indiana, to the Maumee which barely peeks into the eastern edge, to the Blue all the way to the south, you’d be hard pressed to drive any significant distance without running into some water. This is great news for anglers, of course!
Indiana boasts a wide range of fish species, including largemouth bass (the state fish), bluegill, musky, northern pike, brook, brown, and rainbow trout, walleye, sturgeon, and many more. The state offers year-round fishing of most species, although there are some restrictions on stream trout, so make sure you’re fully aware of all rules and regulations before setting out on your trip. For example, all trout streams are catch and release from January 1 through April 14. Inland trout bag limit is five per day, with a 7-inch minimum, and no more than one brown trout. Other limits apply for various individual lakes throughout the state, so read the rules carefully.
Where to Go?
Depending upon where you’re traveling (or where you live), you have a number of fly fishing options in various areas of the state.
East Fork Whitewater River
It’s true that Indiana is not known for its extensive trout fishing opportunities, but if you go about an hour and a half southeast of Indianapolis you’ll find a pleasant surprise. In Brookville, IN, the East Fork Whitewater River feeds into a reservoir. The waters released through the Brookville Lake Dam create a two-mile tailrace that is stocked with browns and rainbow. The chill waters at the bottom of the reservoir allow for a population that normally wouldn’t survive in that area to flourish.
As with any tailwater fishery, you need to keep an eye on water flow rates. Also, unlike with some dam-created fisheries, Brookville does not have a warning siren when they’re going to release water, so if you notice the levels rising you need to move to the banks quickly.
Overall, Brookville at the East Fork Whitewater River is a great opportunity for the true trout fly fisherman – populations are hefty, and it’s easy to find; simply follow State Road 52 (Brookville Road) into Brookville. Don’t forget to check conditions before you head out, as you don’t want to waste a trip if water levels are unfavorable.
Those looking for some angling action on the western side of the state won’t be disappointed. This charming, scenic, winding little creek runs from about Kempton, IN, lazily meandering in little curves and bends all the way – approximately 93 miles – to just north of Montezuma. The creek is home to 71 fish species, although for fly fishermen the smallmouth bass is the most common target – and they’re rumored to run big, with 20+ inchers not uncommon. That’s good news because you can’t keep them unless they’re at least that length, and you’re allowed to keep one per day.
There are a couple of things to remember when you visit Sugar Creek – much of the bank area is actually private property, so be considerate if you need to move to the side for any reason. One of those reasons that may arise is that there is quite a bit of canoe traffic in the warmer months, so keep an eye out.
Access to the creek is no problem if you go a bit southwest of Crawfordsville to the Sugar Creek Public Fishing Area. This 12.5 acre reserve features parking, lots of trees, and an improved path to the creek. The site is not intended for boat access, but for wading anglers. Alternatively you could travel a bit northwest of Crawfordsville to the Darlington covered bridge.
The thought of fly fishing in the southwestern portion of this Great Lake is a bit unorthodox, but with your own boat or a guide who provides the boat, you can land some truly remarkable specimens. Coho salmon, steelhead, and lake trout are all a possibility out on the big waters, and we’re not talking itty bitty ones, either. Don’t discount this unique fly fishing challenge. There’s nothing quite like being smack dab in the middle of the beauty of the lake, and being able to engage in your favorite hobby at the same time is icing on the cake. There is angling to be done all year round on Lake Michigan, with different fish biting at different times of the year.
When to Go?
There’s year-round fishing permitted in Indiana, so you’ll want to pay attention to the hatches. For Brookville and other central Indiana locations, hatches are as follows:
- Blue-winged olive – April through September
- Caddis – April through September
- Trico – June through August
- Terrestrials – July through September
- Sulphurs – May to June
- Sow bugs – April through October
Sugar Creek fish are biting best from March through mid-November, and mid-morning to late afternoon will yield the most plentiful results.
If you’re planning on some Lake Michigan fly fishing action, November through March will yield Coho salmon, brown trout, and steelhead. For smallmouth bass and carp, April and early May, and then July through September are your best bet. June through August bring the freshwater drum, and November to early December offer sizable lake trout. These spawning fish are most easily caught when the water is clear and conditions are normal, and respond well to a slow and steady presentation.
What You Will Need When You Get There
Standard gear is a must – waders, a hat that protects your face from the hot summer sun, rain jacket, a wide variety of flies and a couple different weights of rigs depending upon your prey, sunblock, bug spray, and basic accessories like nippers and forceps.
If you’re going to venture out in the wintertime, add gloves, wool socks, and a protective hat to your list. Don’t go overboard on the socks, as a bit of wiggle room inside your boots actually increases warmth via ample circulation.
For Sugar Creek you’ll want about a 9-foot leader on a 9-foot 6 weight rod with a 3X tippet. Use freshwater bass fly line for your floating line, sink tip fly line for your sinking, and streamers (slow and deep is the technique you want when the temperature is on the lower side). If you’re bringing a watercraft, drift boats are the recommendation for higher flows.
For the East Fork Whitewater River you’ll want a 9-foot leader with a 6X tippet, and a 9-foot 4 weight rod equipped with trout line. Flies should include scud, egg, caddis, and woolly bugger. Midges may also be desirable depending upon the time of year.
At the Brookville tailwaters, nymphs and wet flies bring effective results. During midge and mayfly hatches the fish will sometimes come to the surface, making it lucrative to drift a nymph or a midge dry to bring them up. Woolly buggers or clousers can attract larger specimens, as can a smaller streamer.
Out on Lake Michigan you’ll need some heft, as the fish are much larger than in the rivers and streams. Take a 9-foot 8 weight rod with a 9-foot leader and 0X tippet, with striper fly line for floating and cool water full sink fly line for your sinking line. Streamers are a must out here and will help you land the steelhead and salmon. You’ll definitely want a boat with a motor – rowboats, canoes, etc. are highly discouraged because of the lake’s sometimes volatile tendencies. A lake of this size should really be treated like an ocean.
Of course you will also need a fishing license from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The resident cost is $17, and non-resident $35. Both residents and non-residents will pay $11 per year for trout/salmon stamp privilege, while seniors over the age of 64 can purchase a fish for life license for $17. Disabled American veterans can get a combination hunting/fishing license for $2.75 per year. Minors under the age of 18 do not need a license or a trout/salmon stamp in order to fish Indiana waters.
Indiana is full of natural wonder, with its abundant rivers and streams, and access to Lake Michigan. Although the trout options are limited, the state gives you the opportunity to hone your skills catching bass, carp, bluegill, and other non-traditional species on the fly. Whether you’re going for a day or a week, you’ll find an ample range of public fishing locations that you can navigate on your own, or take along a guide who knows every single hole, riffle, and pool.
Don’t forget to check out some of the other waters, like the White River, Blue River, and Kankakee to the far northwest. Most importantly, have fun exploring the beautiful landscapes and waterways of this beautiful Midwestern state!