Eagle Creek Reservoir- A fishing hotspot in the back yard of one million people

Flyrod fishing for white bass is exceptional on Eagle Creek Reservoir
Flyrod fishing for white bass is exceptional on Eagle Creek Reservoir

Eagle Creek Reservoir in Indianapolis in perhaps one of the best-known bodies of water in central Indiana yet is an enigma and mystery to many anglers. As the centerpiece of one of the largest city-owned parks in the country, the reservoir and surrounding parkland are a crown jewel of the capital city. With large tracts of forest, ponds, grassland, a nature center and an extensive network of trails, the park is often crowded even on weekdays.

Considering that the 1300 acres of water are within a 45 minute drive of a million people, it seems unlikely that there would be any fish left swimming in the lake. Surprisingly, the urban reservoir receives considerably less fishing pressure than seems logical.  The end result is that fishing for many species is great!

A big factor in keeping the lake relatively tranquil is the ten-horsepower limit on outboard motors. Large boats are allowed on the water but must use either an electric trolling or gasoline “kicker” motor for propulsion. Considering the reservoir is approximately four miles long and often windswept, getting anywhere with a small motor can be a slow process.

There is considerable amount of boat traffic on weekends, though it is not the usual beer-soaked ski boat crowd that anglers typically dodge on other Indiana reservoirs. Instead, Eagle Creek is filled with slow-moving sailboats and rowing shells along with usual gathering of weekend anglers. There is also a significant contingent of shoreline fishermen. However, during evenings and weekdays, it is not uncommon to only see one or two other other anglers out on the entire lake. The fertile waters, abundant structure and relatively light fishing pressure combine to make for great fishing in the shadow of a world-class city.

Karla Larouche has worked at the Eagle Creek bait shop, located next to the only public ramp near 46th street, for several years and says that the reservoir doesn’t get the credit it deserves. “People are surprised at the fishing,” she says, though also noting that it seems that the number of fishermen seems to be increasing.

A weekday "Traffic Jam" on Eagle Creek Reservoir- 2 boats!
A weekday “Traffic Jam” on Eagle Creek Reservoir- 2 boats!

The “glamour” species in the lake is walleye. After several years of stocking millions of tiny fry by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, few adult walleyes were turning up in creek and electrofishing surveys.  A few years ago the DNR changed strategy and stocked 120,000 walleye fingerlings in the spring with hopes that the larger fish would exhibit better survival rates. Based upon surveys and angler experiences, the stockings were a huge success.

An electrofishing survey held in the fall of 2007 found that the fingerlings, by then 10-inches in length, turned up at a rate of 32 per hour of electofishing. Considering that the DNR considers seven young-of-year fish as the threshold for a successful walleye fishery, it appears that Eagle Creek Reservoir could be headed towards becoming a major hotspot for the marbleyed fish.

According to Larouche, it is not uncommon for anglers to bag a few six or seven pound walleye in the lake during spring and fall, remnants from the previous stockings though some of the current batch are likely reaching trophy size. During the day, most anglers targeting the species troll the deep channels with artificial lures or drift minnows in the same areas. Large flats, especially the “Hobie Beach” area north of the boat ramp, are the top spot during darkness hours when the fish come up from deep water to feed. During early spring spring (1st two weeks of April), rip-rap areas near the dam are also productive as the fish attempt to spawn.

Big Eagle Creek upstream from the reservoir offers prime habitat for spawning walleyes but so far, few anglers have reported finding the fish above the lake though fisherman are seldom seen in this area.  The creek downstream from the dam does offer good to excellent walleye fishing but the challenge is finding a place to reach the water as there is no public access or parking places. The majority of successful stream anglers suspend live bait such as minnows under a float and drift the rig through deeper holes in the creek.

Channel catfish offer another great fishing opportunity. Larouche says that to catch cats, a fisherman simply has to “go anywhere and use anything,” because the fish are abundant in the lake and readily take just about any bait. It is difficult to pick catfish hotspots since the fishing is so good throughout the impoundment but the old gravel pit at the north end of the reservoir and below the 56th street causeway are often mentioned as prime locations. During the spring and early summer, the narrow channel around the old gravel pit in the upper end of the lake is also especially good.

The reservoir offers good largemouth bass fishing though some feel that the twice-weekly tournaments during the summer months have lowered the quality of the fishery. According to DNR creel surveys, approximately 25 percent of fishermen on the lake are targeting bass but fortunately, 95 percent of the legal fish are released. This means there are still many chances to catch nice fish and the Eagle Creek Bait Shop always sees several seven and eight pound largemouth brought in every year. Most avid bass fisherman spend their days casting the shorelines with traditional crankbaits, spinners and plastic baits. Average water clarity is less than three feet, usually much less along windward shorelines, so noise-making and high-visibility baits are often more productive.

White bass are so common in the Eagle Creek above the reservoir that they are often seen
White bass are so common in the Eagle Creek above the reservoir that they are often seen

Depending on who you ask, hybrid striped bass or “wiper” fishing is either outstanding or non-existent. Many wipers were put in the lake by the DNR during the last decade but stockings were discontinued when surveys revealed that few adult fish were turning up. However, there is a small, secretive society of wiper anglers who fish the lake and claim that, for those who know how to catch the brutish fighters, that there are significant numbers of six to nine pound fish that roam the open areas of the lake, feeding on the abundant shad.

As wipers, unlike other hybrid fish, are capable of natural reproduction, there is a good possibility of these rumors being true.

Fishing for white bass on Eagle Creek has been both up and down.  The runs in Big Eagle Creek in the reservoir contained unbelievable numbers of large white bass or “silvers” ten years ago but yellow bass began turning up in the lake about the time the white bass population seemed to crash.  However, in the last two years, the runs have come back strong and the average size of fish seems much increased while the yellow bass are less abundant but seemingly larger.   One current theory is treatment for blue-green algae several years ago accidentally resulted in a white bass fish kill, at least according to several anglers.  Regardless, white bass are on the rebound.

Other panfishing is considered decent. Bluegill are abundant but not especially large. Fishing for white crappie is fairly good, though the lake isn’t know for big “slab” fish. Eagle Creek has significant amount of wood and timber in the water, making it fairly easy to find a good spot to pick up specks during the springtime bite.

Because of limited access and horsepower limits, fishing at Eagle Creek isn’t the easiest adventure in town. In fact, many fishermen literally drive past the reservoir to reach other lakes. That’s fine with avid Eagle Creek anglers because they are enjoying a secret hotspot hidden right under the noses of a million of their neighbors.


See also- Finding Silver in Indiana Streams