By Louie Stout
Steelhead, crappies and coho are providing Michiana anglers with the best action this week as area waters start to slowly warm up.
The St. Joseph River trout and salmon run is pushing record portions. Indiana Lake Michigan Biologist Brian Breidert said this week that the 2017-18 river migration is the second greatest since stocking efforts began some 20 years ago.
From June through April 5, more than 20,000 trout and salmon have passed through the South Bend fish ladder. That includes more than 6,000 coho that came and left last fall.
The steelhead numbers are what counts right now. Since June of last year, nearly 8,000 steelhead have moved up river. As good as that is, this season still trails last year when nearly 15,000 passed.
“We still have a month to go, and if river temps remain cool, we will continue to see steelhead moving up,” said Breidert. “From April 5 through the morning of April 11, we counted 736 steelhead going thru the ladder, so they’re still coming.”
Breidert said he wouldn’t be surprised if the steelhead begin spawning over gravel bottoms any day. That usually activates when the river temperature gets above 45 degrees and it was 44 Wednesday morning.
“We’re really pleased with what we’ve been seeing in the summer/fall/winter runs the past couple of years,” Breidert said. “We’ve made some changes in fish production that appears to be producing bigger fish and more returns to the river.”
Mike McNulty said steelhead are biting pretty well. Anglers report good catches of trout from Leeper Park to the Twin Branch dam, with spawn bags producing the bulk of the catch. Some fish are being taken on inline spinners.
Lake Michigan fishing has been pretty good, too. Cohos continue to bite when the weather cooperates and anglers can get out. Limit catches have been reported from East Chicago to St. Joseph, Mich. and some kings up to 21 pounds have been mixed in with the catches.
The inland scene is moving slower, although crappies seem to be in the mood to keep anglers busy. Jim Housman at the Tackle Box in North Webster, Ind. said a lot of crappies are being caught shallow on several lakes in his area while Bonnie Kelley of Kelley’s Tackle in Lakeville said she’s getting good reports from Potato Creek State Park.
“The people at Potato Creek are catching them shallow, but the ones fishing here on Riddles Lake are catching them deep,” she said.
McNulty said crappie fishing has picked up in the river channels and Brian Hensley of Clear H2o Tackle said his shop is selling a ton of minnows to crappie anglers, always an indication they are biting in Southwest Michigan as well.
Bluegill fishing has been good for those who can find them. Although reports of limit catches have been rare, anglers are reporting catching big ones in deeper water. A lot of the fish are suspended in the upper layer of the water column over deep water.
“Most of the success I’m hearing is coming from people are fishing ice jigs, flies, black ants or rocker jigs tipped with a wax worm or spike,” Hensley said. “I think some gills are being caught around shallow weeds, too.”
Mike Boisseau of South Bend said Lake of the Woods near Bremen is giving up some nice walleyes on clown-colored jerkbaits and 1/8-ounce jigs with paddle tail grubs in 3 to 5 feet of water. McNulty said walleyes also are biting below the Elkhart dam on jigs with minnows or grubs.
Bass fishing has been spotty. A few bass are starting to appear in shallows but most haven’t made the move from wintering holes. Jigs, jerkbaits, lipless crankbaits and blade baits are accounting for most of the bass being caught.