"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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High Water Sets Stage For Good Fishing
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Scifres

High water, floods, bring hardships in many ways, but these departures from normal also set the stage for good fishing opportunity--even in the dead of winter.

As this column is being written the state’s eight flood control reservoirs are about to burst at the seams. This means that outflow at the reservoirs is going to be considerably greater than normal because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must bring water levels (stages) of the reservoirs down to winter pool to make room for more water which always comes in the spring.

As stages of the reservoirs are lowered, downstream rivers and streams literally boil with activity and it isn’t all water. In some cases (perhaps all cases) the raging water that is allowed to escape the reservoirs teems with fish, fish of many species.

Where do all of these fish come from?

They come from both directions. At this time of year the time clocks of fish tell them it is time to start thinking of reproducing and it is natural for them to point their noses upstream and swim. In the absence of fish ladders, they congregate below dams. But as the floodgates of large dams are opened, the experts tell us that fish of the reservoirs can be “blown out” into the rivers or streams below and they, too, tend to congregate below the dams. 

My first experience with the high water/dam scenario came when I was a teenage angling apprentice at Crothersville in good ‘ol Jackson County. We were fortunate enough to be surrounded by the two forks of the Muscatatuck River.

In what must have been one of the first opportunistic seizures of public waters by industry, a food canning factory decided to put a crude (but effective) dam in the east fork of the river two miles south of town. This part of the river had never been especially good for fishing, and in those days angling potential was the big draw for any water. Although the project raised many eyebrows, objections were light.

In the following spring I was fishing the east fork with my dad and two other men of the town by walking the banks to cast artificial lures to likely-looking spots. The fishing was very slow--actually we had caught nothing--so we decided to take a look at the aberration of huge boulders that blocked the natural flow of the river.

As we stood near the edge of the river, I wondered aloud if there would be fish in the raging water below the dam. Almost in unison, my three peers scoffed at my notion. But in true boy fashion, I edged onto a big flat rock at the edge of the rushing water, and flipped a Hawaiian Wiggler (a great lure of that day) into the tumultuous water.

As I cranked the lure back to my rod tip I thought I saw the swirl of a fish just before I lifted it out of the water. Saying nothing, I cast the lure back into the swirling water and this time was fast to a flouncing bass.

This brought the rest of the fishless contingent to water’s edge. In the next hour or so we each had a limit of six bass in the mesh live bag my dad carried, and we were sorting newcomers for size.

In true angling fashion, we vowed (in something short of a blood-brother ceremony) to keep our discovery secret, but I returned to the dam many times for what I still believe was the best bass fishing I have ever had--at least until the Monroe Reservoir bass bonanza hit in the late 1960s.

In the meantime, due to my vocation I have been privy to many similar angling scenarios associated with dams and high water.

In the last few years, the raceway below Monroe Reservoir has offered very good late-winter, early-spring fishing for big fish of several species, including walleye, hybrid striped bass (wipers), and largemouth bass. Farther back (after the Division of Fish and Wildlife had lunched its walleye stocking program) fishing for big walleyes was very good in the Salamonie River immediately below the dam of the reservoir of the same name. Fisheries biologists presumed the fish were coming upstream from the Wabash River. 

In the early years of the DFW’s wiper-stocking program, the raceway below the Oakdale Dam (Lake Freeman at Monticello) the state record for this species was often shattered. For several years Jones’ Pond on Mill Creek (northwest of Rochester) produced huge northern pike after periods of high water in the Tippecanoe River. Presumably, they came up the creek from the Tippe and congregated in the deep water of the pond.

It may be that none of the aforementioned spots will offer hot fishing now, but it also could be that they all will produce, not to mention the raceways below many other dams, large and small.

As of Monday [January 17, 2005] stages of the state’s major reservoirs were as follows: Huntington, 798 feet above sea level, 28.2 feet above pool stage; Salamonie, 784, up 54 feet; Mississinewa, 762.7, up 50.7 feet; Raccoon, 677, up 37.6; Cataract Lake, 683.3, up 47.3; Monroe, 551.3, up 13.3; Patoka, 540.3, up 8.3, and Brookville, 765.7, up 25.7.


All columns, essays, and photos 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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