Indiana Winter Paradise for Fishing???
Do you have the winter blues? This is the time of year in Indiana when most fishermen sit around dreaming of warmer weather fishing for bass and bluegill on the nest in the springtime. Some desperate fishermen travel south hundreds of miles to warmer states to spend time fishing. Normally, this time of year, Indiana fishing involves chopping a hole through the ice. Those little holes in the ice are awfully hard to hit when casting a fly rod! This is the time of year to tie flies, maybe build a rod, read a good fly fishing book, maintain your equipment, fix up your boat and motor. One thing to look forward to in the winter is the annual Boat Sport and Travel show where you can walk around and look at a wide variety of booths advertising, fishing resorts, guides, equipment, boats, and everything you wanted to know about fishing. If you get hard up, you can pay $5.00 and fish in a swimming pool full of trout with the kiddies. That is about as close to fishing as many people get this time of year. As soon as you leave the show and walk across the parking lot to your car, cold reality hits and you realize it will be at least a couple more months before you get to fish here in Indiana again. Of course, you can go north and fish for steelhead for salmon, but even that is not the same as good old Indiana bass and bluegill fishing.
While working with the Boy Scouts on their Environmental Science Merit Badge, one of their requirements is to study the effects of thermal pollution. I decided to take the boys and check out a place called Turtle Creek Reservoir. Built in 1982, Turtle Creek Reservoir was built by the Hoosier Energy Corporation for the purpose of cooling down a 1000 megawatt coal-fired power generating plant. Located about 27 miles south of Terre Haute near Sullivan Indiana, the place is about a 90-minute drive from Indianapolis.
After doing some research on the Internet, I found out from their web page http://www.hepn.com/turtle.htm and read that they have a boat ramp there. I could take my boat if I could find a motor that was less than their 10 HP limit. It just happened that I was in the process of fixing up an old 1963 Evinrude 3 HP Lightwin that a friend gave me for my winter project and this would be a good place to test it out. (check out http://outboard-boat-motor-repair.com to see my tune-up project)
I took 18 Boy Scouts there on Saturday, February 20 to do their environmental studies and use the Education Center that they have available for that type of activity. The weather was around 38 degrees, light wind, and sunny with snow in the forecast for that night. The Boy Scouts had a great time exploring the lake, fishing, touring the power plant, and learning from the local power company environmental specialist. As the boys explored the lake, I launched my boat and fired up the old Evinrude. To my delight, the motor ran well, and I was able to run the 3.8-mile length of the lake without any problem. It was a great trip and both the boys and I learned a lot. I did fish some but it was not the kind of fishing we like to brag about when around our buddies at the Indianapolis Fly Casters meetings. The boys did catch some bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish. It was great just to get out on the water. While I was there I got to know the local guard, Bob Banta who said he got a new fly rod for Christmas. I promised to return and show him how to cast his new rod. I figured that getting to know the guard who works at a place like this has to be beneficial. I intend to keep that promise.
After returning from the trip with the Boy Scouts, I immediately called my father and told him that we had to go back out there and investigate further. My father is usually willing to go along on such adventures, even when they sound crazy, so we planned to take my son, and one if his friends and head out there for a day of fishing on Sunday, February 27.
February 27, 2009, Spring Bass and Bluegill Fishing in Indiana
As many of our fishing trips go, we finally got on the road at around 10:00 A.M. and arrived at the boat ramp at around noon. The weather was 42 degrees, calm, and overcast and again, snow was in the forecast for that evening. We launched the boat at the ramp at the southern end of the reservoir and farthest away from the warm water. The water temperature at the ramp was around 40 degrees. This was considerably warmer than other lakes in the area but still pretty cold. We were all dressed for cold weather, and it was a good thing because being out on a boat can seem a lot colder than on land.
The 3 HP motor pushed our fishing boat along at around 4 MPH according to my GPS. We stopped every so often and took a temperature reading. Sure enough, the water temperature got progressively warmer and reached 76 degrees at the north end of the lake. The water entering the lake from the power plant was 81 degrees and reaches 122 degrees in the summer!
I started out fishing croppy style with, I hate to admit, with minnows and wax worms purchased from the bait shop. After no luck and not being proud of fishing that way, Pete and Tommy got out Tommy’s new fly rod that he got for Christmas and assembled the night before. The fly rod was a six weight matching rod, reel, WF line, backing and tapered leader from Scientific Angler that Pete gave Tommy for Christmas. They assembled it the night before the trip. The outfit cost $70. This trip is a good initiation for a young boy and a new rod!
Pete tied on one of our favorite white #8 poppers that serve us so well in the summer so that Tommy could practice casting and going through the motions. As I headed toward the firing line (the line of buoys near the hot water outlet on the north end of the lake) and over to the east shore, we started to drift southward along the bank. The next thing I knew, Tommy caught a bluegill. Thinking this was an accident, I continued to fish with my spinning rod. Tommy caught another and then the next boy, Chris took a turn casting with Pete and caught another. That was all I could stand, so I put away the spinning rod and had my fly rod out in no time at all. The spinning rod was owned by Indiana DNR and loaned to me for use with the Boy Scouts. Otherwise, I would have simply thrown it overboard.
We spent the next couple hours working the bank and having some success. Tommy caught a nice bass, and both boys caught several bluegills. Unfortunately, I forgot to load the electric trolling motor, so we had to resort to the ancient art of skulling with a boat paddle to keep the boat in position as we drifted along the bank. There is a slight current there that moved us along at about the right speed. The fact that we were catching fish with our fly rods and poppers on the surface in the middle of Indiana winter was amazing to us. Seagulls were all around, and steam was coming off the water. There were even a few insects in the air. It turns out that the fish grow rapidly and spawn there year round. The reservoir is known for its large bass population, and you only allowed to keep one bass over 20 inches per day.
At around 4:00 it was time to head back and get the boys home in time to get ready for school the next day. All in all, it was a great trip and a wonderful discovery that there is a place in Indiana to fly fish for bass and bluegill in the winter within 100 miles of Indianapolis.
Some things to know about Turtle Creek Reservoir:
- You need a boat and small outboard to fish this lake. The motor limit is 10 HP. A 9.9 HP is perfect for this lake.
- The lake can get quite choppy when it is windy. They will not allow you on the lake if wind gusts reach 30 MPH and will order you in if the wind picks up.
- This reservoir is owned and controlled by the Hoosier Energy Corporation. They are friendly to fishermen. However, you need to be sure to have your fishing license and obey all their rules. You can only launch boats from their ramp at the south end which is gated and locked every night. They do have 24-hour fishing starting in May.
- It costs $3.00 for an adult and $1 per kid to access the lake. You check in when you get there to pay the fee and pick up a map. The guards are friendly and are happy to mark your map with all the good fishing spots. It is also interesting to look at their record of fish caught.
- When you leave, you have to check out and let them know the number and type of fish you caught so they can keep a record and better manage the lake.
- The reservoir is closed to duck hunting during duck season only from November 27 to around January 15. It is also closed if the boat ramp is iced in which I don’t believe happened this year.
- Turtle Creek Reservoir is about 27 miles south of Terre Haute just west of Hwy 41 on old SR 58. You drive, south of Terre Haute on Hwy 41 and look for the big smoke stack from the power plant between Hwy 41 and the Wabash River.
Turtle Creek Reservoir is worth checking out. The best time of year there is late fall, winter, or early spring. The water may get too warm in the summer and I am sure allege will grow rapidly.