"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Goggle-eyes...The Other Hoosier Bass
Copyright © 2006 by Bill Scifres

[Published in the May 2006 issue of Indiana Game and Fish Magazine, to which the writer is a regular contributor.]

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 Indiana.

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 river.

Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

The hefty goggle-eye will be found in numerous rivers and some lake in Indiana.
biggoggle2.JPG (47227 bytes)

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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