"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Fishing for Goggle-eyes
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

May will be greeted by roaring, muddy water in most streams and rivers, but it will also open the gate to some great fishing for rock bass (Ambloplites rupestris), known variously to Hoosiers as goggle-eyes, red-eyes, and just plain goggles. 

Call him what you will. But just as the rose of any other name still I a rose, the goggle-eye (to me) still is my all-time greatest fish in May for two reasons. 

First, goggle-eyes bite better in the month of May than any other time of year. Once the big May feeding binge is done, and the goggle-eyes go to the nest, they offer great stream-fishing opportunity right into the fall. And they are quite predictable. 

Secondly, in spite of the fact that they are sometime infested by tiny, maggot-like worms in their skins (and perhaps slightly into their flesh), their thick bodies and firm flesh make them easy to filet and excellent on the platter. 

Although the state record for rock bass is three pounds (taken, as I recall, by a northside Indianapolis youngster named David Thomas from the Shelby County Sugar Creek in 1969), this species usually runs five to nine inches in length and weighs from a quarter to three-quarters of a pound. Larger fish are taken occasionally. 

One of the neat features of goggle-eye fishing is the fact that they don't mind if you get right in the water with them. They will be taken by floating in a small boat (a flat-bottom boat is best) or a canoe. But the best way to catch goggles, as my friend Dick Lambent will tell you, is to float to the good spots, then get out and wade. 

Lambert, who as owner of Old Mill Bait Shop an Canoe Livery at Fredericksburg (on the famed southern Blue River), has caught many hundreds of thousands of them, says it doesn't make much difference what you use for bait, "the goggles will like it." 

Lambert's favorite method of fishing for goggle-eyes is to put a spincast eel on a nine-foot fly road with terminal tackle of a small hook, a small split shot two inches above the hook, and an ice-fishing bobber six inches to a foot above the hook. He baits with small, live minnows which are dropped next to driftwood or rocks close to swift water. If he doesn't find them shallow, he removes the bobber and tightlines his offerings to deeper natural cover. 

I prefer an ultra light sinning rod of five to six feet with a small, open-face reel loaded with four-pound-test monofilament line. Most of the time I fish Dan Gapen's black Hairy Worm lure (one-eighth ounce) with no added natural bait. However, I also like to fish such natural baits as hellgrammites (larval stage of the dobsonfly), small soft craws, tail meat from hard crayfish, pieces of night crawler or whole garden or red worms. 

Actually, there is no limit to the likes of goggle-eyes. They go wild over big yellow grasshoppers late in the summer. My favorite method for fishing naturals is to use a small, long-shanked wire hook (a gap of no more than a quarter of an inch) behind a singled bladed willow-leaf spinner. I just flip my offering (live, natural or artificial) to the good cover and let it sink to the fish. Allowing the bait or lure to go deep is the key to catching goggle-eyes around heavy cover. 

I hook a lot of things other than goggle eyes, but the wire hook will bend free of solid objects and can be reshaped with needle-nosed pliers. 

The southern Blue River--the one that starts near Salem (Washington County) and forms the Harrison/Crawford county line--is, without question, the state's finest goggle-eye stream, but any of the streams and rivers that are considered smallmouth water will also host this species. As water quality goes in a stream, the rock bass fades. 

Oh, yes! I must mention that goggle-eyes are notorious followers and short strikers. If there is anything (like bait) hanging from the hook, a goggle-eye will get it without getting hooked. 

As a kid fishing for bass on Graham Creek (east fork of the Musctatuck River through Jennings, Scott and Jackson counties) one of my favorite lures was the Johnson Silver Spoon with 20-tail Hawaiian Wiggler skirt reversed. It still is a killer. 

The goggle-eyes (many 10 inches or longer and two inches across the back) would follow the lure until I  was ready to lift it out of the water before grabbing the tails of the skirt. They did not get hooked. 

Exercising my country-boy ingenuity, I attached very small hooks (No. 10 or 12 light wire) to strands of light copper wire and rigged the miniature hooks to trail among the tails. 

Fried, whole goggle-eyes (minus heads, entrails and scales) made some fine dinners at our house. Two fish would fill my mother's old iron skillet. 

Never mind that trailer hooks were taboo--if not unlawful--in those days, even now, if your line has a total of more than two single hooks or multi-barbed hooks. Anyhow, I think the statute of limitations is on my side. 


All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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