"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Recent Rambles
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Scifres

March can be an extension of winter or a promise of sunny days to come. But either way, this third month of the year offers a wide variety of outdoor activities that provide food or drink.

Although all of the hunting seasons that opened last fall are now closed, and trappers may take only beaver, the spring wild turkey hunt will open next month and the time to start thinking of that popular activity  (scouting the bird you hope to kill) is now.

Beyond that season  (April 27 through May 15), fishing for numerous species from Indiana’s Lake Michigan shore to the Ohio River awaken from a winter doze to offer a great variety of angling methods . . . not to mention   a great selection of dishes for dinner tables.

March offer great fishing for such a variety of species because all species--at least in the Midwest--are coming off three or four months of cooler air and water temperatures which slowed their metabolism. As the sun creeps northward, most species of freshwater fish start thinking of nesting and this requires strong, healthy bodies, brought about by voracious feeding.

Throw in the awakening of the food chains in lakes, streams and other standing waters, and the stage is set for a feeding bonanza by fish.

Although Hoosier angling runs the gamut from salmon (especially coho) and trout on Indiana’s southernmost Lake Michigan waters and tributary streams, to sauger, walleye and saugeye along the state’s Ohio River border, three members of the sunfish family enjoy far greater opportunity and popularity.

These species, in order of their popularity in March, are crappies, largemouth bass and bluegills. The importance and popularity of the sunfish species will juggle as warmer days come, but for now the crappie is the best bet although largemouth bass, bluegills, and some of the other sunfish species will be taken.

As noted above, the sunfish species are more important in the Hoosier angling scenario in March than the sauger fishing on the Ohio and tributaries, trout /salmon fish of Lake Michigan and its tributaries. There simply are more Hoosiers in the central part of the state than at either end.

But sauger and trout/salmon sport fisheries provide a lot of action and great food.

Although sauger fishing is best below the five navigational dams on the Indiana shores of the Ohio River, this species may be taken from tributaries of both the Ohio and Wabash rivers. The mouths of tributaries are best for sauger, but after periods of high water (especially in late-winter and spring) this species may be found far up the smaller streams and rivers.

Sauger fishing on the Ohio River proper is best in the swift water below the five navigational dams (Markland, McAlpine, Cannelton, Newburgh, and Uniontown--east to west). Although sauger may be taken by bank fishing, the best fishing will require a boat.

The turbid water below the dams is treacherous, but this is where the sauger are. Regulations below the dams may restrict fishing activities, but they are designed for safety of the anglers and should be honored. Anglers, of course, should wear Coast Guard approved life jackets at all times.

Sauger may be taken on a great variety of jigging spoons, but artificial grubs or jigs dressed with live minnows or worms probably take most of the fish. Whole live night crawlers fished on a two-hook or three-hook harness is another good bet, and garden worms gobbed on a hook are good.

Most of the action will occur on the bottom and this can require an ounce or more of weight.

Although Indiana regulations place a 14-inch minimum size limit on walleyes (15 inches on the St. Joseph River), there is no size limit on sauger, walleyes and sugeye (a cross of the walleye and sauger) on the Ohio River. On the Ohio River there are cumulative daily and possession limits of 10-20 on walleye-sauger-saugeye. 

The Ohio River, proper, also hosts many other species of sport fish and any of them may be taken while fishing for sauger.

Indiana fishing licenses will be honored bank-to-bank on the Ohio River, but a Kentucky license is required for those fishing tributaries on the Kentucky side.

As February closed Indiana’s southern shores of Lake Michigan were free of ice, but there was a lot of ice out on the lake. A north wind could bring it back in.

Still, small coho salmon were being taken from breakwaters and piers, not to mention occasional brown trout and steelheads (both winter run and skamania, summer run).

If the fishing for small cohos runs true to form, this in-close fishing could pick up any day as water and air temperatures rise.

The fishing for small cohos starts in March each year on Indiana’s part of lake Michigan because these southern waters lure alewives and the cohos are hot on their trail.

Brian Breidert, Lake Michigan fisheries biologist for the Division of Fish and Wildlife, reports that most of the fishing in late February and the first days of March was in the Michigan City harbor and the Port of Indiana.

Breidert says the fishing is not fast now, but adds that it will pick up soon.

For many years the fishing in late winter and early spring was done with night crawlers, and squid, but the hottest bait this year for steelhead is frozen shrimp fished five to six feet below a bobber. For the cohos, K O Wobblers, a spoon-type artificial lure, are best. However any jigging spoon could take fish.

Orange is the best color, and Breidert says it probably is the orange color of pre-cooked, frozen shrimp that makes this bait so popular with the steelhead. He adds that orange is a good color for artificials like the K O Wobbler.

At this time of year boat fishing can be risky, but Breidert says shore fishing is available at the Port of Indiana, the Michigan City Pier and harbor, Patrick Marina at East Chicago, and the Hammond Marina.

As water temperatures rise good fishing will also be available in Trail Creek, which offers three public access sites.

Now, about those crappies.

Crappies, black and white, will be found in most of Indiana’s larger bodies of standing water, but some smaller waters may host Old Papermouth in good numbers. Streams and rivers may also offer good crappie fishing, especially those that move slowly and have mud-bottoms.

Small minnows suspended below bobbers probably account for more crappies than any other live bait or lure, but a crappie may take anything that moves, including a great variety of artificials.

Because crappies are school fish and move along shorelines, finding the fish probably is more difficult than catching them. 

My favorite rig for finding crappies involves a long pole with fairly light line, and a casting bobber. With the casting bobber tied to the tag end of a spinning line and four or five feet of lighter line between the bobber and the lure, I can cast a very light jig great distances as I search for fish. This can be accomplished by wading or floating in a small boat.

This fish-finding method can take a lot of crappies. However, when I find a crappie school, I often go after the fish with other poles rigged for fishing small minnows.

The fortunes of crappie anglers often rise and fall on the success of spawning in previous years. A year class of many fish can translate into smaller fish, but a lot of them. Less spawning success can mean larger fish, but fewer of them, two or three years down the road.

March also wraps up the pleasant task of digging sassafras roots for making tea. There still is plenty of time for digging sassafras roots, but as warmer weather comes sap of the trees rises and the quality of roots diminishes. 

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All columns, stories, 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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