[Published in the May 2006 issue
of Indiana Game and Fish Magazine, to which the writer is a regular
A lot of water has passed under a lot of bridges
since I, as a boy, snaked big bags of 10-to-13-inch rock bass (Ambloplites
rupestris, a k a goggle-eyes) from the Ol’ Muscatatuck River in Southern
Still, for those who quest for this diminutive
“bass,” there are numerous Hoosier streams that host “goggles” in both
good size and numbers.
As a kid, I often had to whip the wonderful Ol’
Muscatatuck to a rich creamy lather to come up with a string of largemouth
(there was a 10-inch minimum size limit in those days). But I could always
bank on a bag of goggles for my mother to turn into delicious dinners.
Goggle-eyes generally are considered to be a stream
fish in Indiana, but William “Bill” James, chief of the Division of Fish
and Wildlife’s Fisheries Section, points out that the species thrives in
some lakes, primarily those that have sand, gravel or rock bottoms, including
Lake Maxinkuckee, Clear Lake, and Lake Wawasee, all in the northern part
of the state.
“The best rock bass populations pretty well match
with the best populations of smallmouth bass, and to a degree, spotted
bass,” James says, adding that some of Indiana’s best goggle-eye streams
are Pigeon River, Elkhart River (Goshen to Elkhart stretch), St. Joseph
River (upstream from Elkhart), the Tippencanoe River (pretty much throughout
the length from Lake Tippecanoe to Lake Shaffer), Sugar Creek (western
Indiana), and the Little Blue River which flows south to the Ohio River
from the Fredericksburg area.
Goggle-eyes, however, are much like other species
of wild game and fish in that they may show up any place, especially in
tributaries of the larger streams that host the species.
My boyhood fishing was confined largely to the
east fork of the Muscatatuck River (a k a Graham Creek), and largemouth
bass were my target most of the time. But this fork of the river was loaded
with big goggle-eyes (lots of fish over 10 inches), and they offered unlimited
action, and great food.
My father, the late Jacob W. Scifres, had started
me fishing for bass with a South Bend No. 450 bait-casting reel and a five-foot
Gep solid steel rod. In those days _the 1920s and ‘30s _ there were not
a lot of artificial lures available. The big lure in my stable of artificial
lures was the Johnson Silver Minnow (spoon) teamed with a pork strip. When
Fred Arbogast, came out with the forerunners of his Hawaiian Wiggler line
of lures, the 20-tail rubber skirt parlayed well with the “Silver Minnow.”
The great feature of the Johnson spoon revolved
around the fact that, with its single, guarded hook, it could be cast into
tough spots and still come back . . . often in the mouth of a bass.
This lure also was made popular, in my eyes, by
the rock bass’ inherent habit of following my lures almost to the rod tip
before taking a whack at the pork strip or tails of the rubber skirt. To
compensate for missing these short strikers, I attached two or three
small, light hooks (wide-gapped No. 12 or 14s are ideal) to the single
hook of the lure with light copper wire. This would position the hooks
near the end of the pork strips or among the ends of the skirt’s tails.
Needless to say, I made Christians of the short strikers.
As the artificial lure business boomed through
the years, many other lures joined my stable, and eventually Dan Gapen’s
1/8-ounce Hairy Worm (a jig/worm combo), and his Ugly Bug, would become
my goggle-eye killers. But goggle-eyes will be taken on a great variety
of artificials, not to mention live baits ranging from small live minnows
to garden worms, night crawlers, small crayfish, tail meat of large hard
craws, and a plethora of insects and their larval stages. especially hellgrammites
(larval stage of the dobsonfly).
The strong talking point of fishing jig-type lures
for goggles revolved around the fact that they can be fishing tight line
(straight up and down with a jigging motion). This method makes it possible
to put a lure in tight places and keep it there longer.
Although my favorite goggle-eye stream is Indiana’s
southern Blue River, I fish some goggle-eye creeks that are so small that
they are not given much thought by most anglers. These little waters are
best in the spring and early part of the summer because water levels later
become low. Goggle-eye anglers are tight-lipped about these waters, but
anybody can find them by scouting.
The southern Blue River (a k a Little Blue) rises
in two forks slightly north and east of the town of Salem in Washington
County and flows some 60 miles (as the crow flies) to a confluence with
the Ohio River. Upper reaches of the river are not as productive as the
middle and lower forks for a lack of water volume. But from the point where
the forks merge upstream from Fredericksburg, the rough terrain and woodland
setting creates a wilderness illusion. My favorite stretch is from Fredericksburg
to Totten’s Ford Bridge, 17 meandering miles. Here the stream flows through
densely forested limestone hills that seem to stretch high into the sky.
And the limestone, gravel bottom of holes cut through time by the river’s
swift water offers ideal spots for goggles to lurk.
Dick Lambert’s Old Mill Canoe Rental Shop at Fredericksburg
and a similar facility at Milltown offer rental canoes on this stretch
of the Blue. But, a pair of anglers with two vehicles and small, cartop
boat, or canoe, can write their own ticket to a fabulous day on the river.
Downstream from Fredericksburg there are numerous
meandering stretches of the Blue where a fisherman can wade or scramble
the banks of deep holes to spend a day fishing for goggles in near-wilderness
surroundings, and be back within half a mile of his starting point at the
end of the day.
Fredericksburg, Milltown, and Hardinsburg quadrangles
of the U.S. Geological Survey maps will be useful in planning trips on
the Blue, but several other quads will be required to trace the river all
the way to its confluence with the Ohio River. Bridge rights-of-way, or
places where the river parallels back roads make it easy to get on the
Click on thumbnail
image for enlarged view.
hefty goggle-eye will be found in numerous rivers and some lake in Indiana.