Hunting Indiana’s Massive Fall Muskie

This Tippy muskie is actually small compared to what is lurking beneath the surface.

alan garbers

With fall comes a change. Shorter days cause fish to start packing on the weight to last through the lean months of winter. Huge muskellunge, better known as muskie, are no exception, and in fact, they are the poster child of ravenous hunger.

I can think of no fish more exciting to hook than a hungry muskie, and yet most Hoosiers are unaware that our state has one of the top muskie fisheries in the country! Lake Webster is the most widely known, but there are other lakes teeming with muskie, each with their own personality. In-Fisherman ranked the lakes around the town of North Webster in the top 10 muskie fisheries — in North America!

Lake Webster

The IDNR stocks muskies in Lake Webster at above-average levels and at last report maintains a phenomenal six muskies per acre! Compare that to other muskie lakes in Wisconsin and Minnesota that have an average of one muskie per acre.

The IDNR public launch ramp is actually on what is known locally as Backwaters Lake. To get to the main lake anglers have to traverse what is known as “The Tubes” which is a set of big culverts that pass under Backwater Road.  (Pontoon boats may not be able to access the main lake during high water conditions.)

Lake Webster is rated in the top ten in North America! (click for larger image)

As the water starts to cool the muskie are still going to be in the deep-water areas of the lake, one being the main basin which drops off to 50-feet deep in places, and the other being Echo Bay, which is located in the northeastern area of the lake and runs to 40-feet deep. The muskie can be found relating to the drop-offs from shallow to deep water or suspending over deep water. The best way to find muskie is to use modern fish finders and locate the balls of shad and other baitfish.  Where you find food, you’ll find muskie.

Two methods work well in the fall pattern. One is casting a top-water bait such as a slider, a magnum Zara Spook, or some other walk-the-dog type bait. Unlike when fishing for bass, don’t let the bait pause.  To create the walk-the-dog action, flick the rod tip enough to get the lure to dart right, left, right, left.  Keep the bait moving from side to side to elicit strikes. Be sure to use the rod tip to move the lure, not the reel.

Lake Webster is a great place to get hooked on muskie fishing.

The other method is to cast and retrieve big sinking plastic jerkbaits like the Bull Dawg or Medusa. Let it sink then jerk it, rip it, jig it, or crank it.  The big heavy plastic baits provide plenty of alluring action with the large curly tails.

When the water gets down to around fifty-five degrees the deeper part of the lake turns over and fowls the water. When turnover occurs the muskie head for the shallow areas to evade the turbid water, so try fishing in three to ten feet of water.”

By late October, the water should be back down to 48 to 50 degrees, which starts a reverse migration. The muskie move back out to open water and some muskie hunters switch to live bait, like suckers.

Lake Tippecanoe is different. Many consider Tippecanoe, Oswego, and James Lake as one fishery. At 122-feet deep “Tippy” is the deepest natural lake in the state. It’s a long, narrow lake that’s super deep, really clear with steep drop-offs and many classic fish-attracting features such as humps, points, drop-offs, flats, and pinch-points.

Tippy is Indiana’s deepest natural lake. (click for larger image)

The Grassy Creek inlet from James Lake, also known as Little Tippy, is at the eastern end of Tippy and can often be a great place to look for muskie, as well as James Lake itself. Immediately to the north and northwest of the Grassy Creek inlet are a series of underwater points and a hump that rises from 37-feet to just four-feet deep. A good side-imaging fish finder with GPS mapping is crucial gear to find features like these that most anglers don’t know exist. Work the hump and points with big swimbaits and jerkbaits.

The deep water along the north shore is home to schools of shad, and there you’ll find muskie. A few of the great features in this area is the quick transition from deep water to shoreline, an underwater hump, and a huge inside bend. The muskie push balls of shad and use these features to “corral” the shad and then bust through them in a feeding frenzy.

The Barbee Chain encompasses seven lakes that all connect, and each one is a little different. Big Barbee, Kuhn, Banning, Irish, Sawmill, Little Barbee, and Sechrist are the seven lakes and range from about 40-acres to over 300-acres. Some are quite shallow and other quite deep. Some are gin-clear and others are stained.  Because the lakes differ so much, one of them will almost always offer good fishing no matter the conditions.

The Barbee Chain is Indiana’s best-kept secret. (click for larger image)

The main launch ramp is off a canal on the eastern edge of Kuhn Lake but few muskie hunters spend much time on that lake. The water is very clear and makes fishing tough. While clear lakes are pretty, they can make fishing impossible on calm days when the waves don’t break up an angler’s outline.  Try fishing them in the morning or evening, or on cloudy days.

The next lake is Big Barbee. The north shore of Big Barbee is really the place to go, year ‘round,” The prime area runs from the channel from Kuhn Lake all the way to the channel to Little Barbee. The best way is to fish the weed lines and break lines to deeper water. Don’t be surprised if you catch a northern pike.

The predominant forage in most of the Barbee Chain is white suckers and gizzard shad, which prefer open water. Many muskie hunters prefer working a shad-colored glider. The dying-fish action can be killer on muskie.

From Big Barbee you pass into Little Barbee and perhaps one of the best-kept secrets in Indiana. From the inlet from Big Barbee to the channel into Irish, the north shore is a phenomenal all-season location to fish! Work the weed lines and break lines into the deeper water.

The last lake is Sechrist, which is very clear and has steep drop-offs. With one flick of a muskie’s tail, they can go from the shallows to the protection of deep water. Shad is the primary prey fish so keep an eye on your electronics for balls of shad in deep water. Work the edges of the break lines on both the south and north banks, and concentrate on the underwater points on the north shore.

One last word of advice; learn to do a large figure-eight with your lure at the boat. Muskies have a frustrating habit of following a bait right up to the boat without striking.  The sudden direction change often drives the muskie into hitting.  I can’t express how important this is.  A recent study shows that almost 50 percent of muskie hits happen during the figure-eight!  That makes the hassle all worthwhile.

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Alan Garbers Sponsored by the Outdoorsman Sport Shop

Alan James Garbers – Alan is passionate for the outdoors. He enjoys fishing, hunting, hiking, canoeing, photography, writing, woodworking, and more. He loves exploring the BWCAW in northern Minnesota, roaming the deserts of Arizona, or hiking the mountains of Colorado. He has lived in Minnesota, Hawaii, Mississippi, Florida, Colorado, Arizona, and Indiana. From hunting rattlesnakes to black bear and fishing for catfish to muskie, he loves it all. Since 1989 his writing credits have included Indiana Outdoor News, Indiana Game & Fish, Muzzle Blasts, Outdoor Guide Magazine, Fur-Fish-Game, Boundary Waters Journal, Boys’ Quest, Fun For Kidz, Mother Earth News, Cricket, Small Farm Today, American Careers, Arizona Hunter & Angler, Old West, and others. Fiction credits include StarTrek Strange New Worlds Anthologies IV, V, and 08.
Alan recently complied an anthology of his popular column, Behind The Badge: True Stories of Indiana’s Conservation Officers. It is available in e-reader format and found at Amazon and other on-line book retailers.
Alan is a member of AGLOW and HOW.

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