The weather looked bad. The early-morning television weathermen agreed that the only smart move was to stay home, hunkered down, until the current round of springtime rotten weather had passed.
That is, unless you’re a walleye angler.
That’s why we greeted the dawn on Prairie Creek Reservoir, a 1275-acre impoundment southeast of Muncie. The property, along with 750 acres of land dedicated to recreational activity, provides water to the large east-central Indiana city.
It also provides some great fishing, especially for walleye, our target of the day.
Our host and boat captain for the day was WildIndiana.com pro staffer Michael Parks. Parks is a tournament angler who has spent countless hours fishing on the impoundment. He is an expert on Prairie Creek Reservoir walleye fishing and is happy to share his ‘secrets’ with other anglers.
“A lot of guys will not tell you how they are catching fish, or they’ll give you misinformation,” Parks said, “Unless you’re fishing in a tournament, that’s wrong because everybody is out here to catch fish and have fun. I tell ‘em everything I’m doing.”
Fishermen would do well to listen because it was apparent the only thing the other boats were catching on this day was frustration.
The weather provided perfect walleye conditions: cloudy, foggy and on the ragged edge of pouring rain. In fact, we left the ramp wearing full rain gear until the sun, in utter defiance of the weather forecasters, broke through the clouds in mid-morning.
Our target was post-spawn walleye on a feeding binge after a few weeks of recovering following the early-April breeding season. “Right now is the hot bite,” Parks noted while searching his depth finder for certain underwater topography where the fish would be holding. “This is the best time for a guy to come out here and catch a limit of eating-size fish,” he said.
Prairie Creek is a small reservoir but offers great fishing for walleye, bass, catfish and crappie. Yellow perch, white bass and a host of other fish also swim in the lake and it isn’t known as a trophy walleye lake though six and eight-pound fish aren’t uncommon. However, the vast majority of the walleye hover around and above the 14-inch minimum size limit.
Near the south end of Prairie Creek is a sunken roadbed that crosses the lake. It is a well-known spot with locals and a great place to catch walleye any time of year. It is especially good in spring and early summer before water temperatures push walleye deeper. It was our targeted base of operations for the majority of the day.
The road is a defined hump rising above a mud/sand flat. It offers rocks and hard bottom along with an array of depth options for fish. As we motored across the area, Parks pointed out fish in both deeper and shallow locations. “Those that are shallow are probably feeding,” he noted, pointing to his large-screen depth finder, “while the others are deeper and not actively feeding. We’ll go after the ones that are shallow.”
Having pinpointed fish and locked in waypoints on the GPS unit, we rigged our rods. The fishing technique wasn’t especially unique: we would be dragging 1/8 ounce jigs tipped with nightcrawlers across the roadbed. It was something that many anglers on the same structure were doing though our success rate was obviously higher than those around us. I asked Parks what we were doing different.
“Color and speed are the key,” he noted. “You have to have jig heads of every color because as sunlight changes, the hot color will change. You also need to stick to the right speed, which also changes. Basically, you experiment until the fish tell you what works, then you stay with it.”
Parks favors using an electric trolling motor to strictly maintain the proper speed, which on this day was .5 miles per hour. Through experimenting, we discovered that .6 mph was too fast and would results in missed strikes while .4 mph was too slow and wouldn’t get much attention from the fish.
The color preferences also changed. Initially, when the weather was threatening, yellow was the hot bait, then lime green as clouds thinned until finally a hot pink was the go-to color as the sun broke through the clouds. “Walleye are some of the most finicky fish,” Park said, “which is one of the reasons I like chasing them. You have to figure them out every time you go.”
Determining the productive color is as easy as changing lures. Speed, on the other hand, can be challenging. “Some guys just drift, or back troll or use a drift sock,” Park says. “I think a trolling motor is critical to keeping right in that sweet spot where they’ll hit.” During our eight hours on the water, Parks’ trolling motor ran continuously unless we were moving between locations.
The fishing technique itself is simple: the jig is cast out and placed in a rod holder. As you slowly move across structure, the dancing rod tips are watched until the rod “loads” as a walleye takes the bait. It is tough for a beginner to see the strike but by the end of the day, I had learned the difference between the lure dancing across a rock, the soft take of a walleye or the shuddering hit of a nuisance yellow bass.
In that regard, Park had memorable advice: “A walleye take is like your line ran across a wet piece of toilet paper.”
Jig-trolling isn’t the only way to go. Parks said that soft plastic baits can be effective, along with crankbaits. “The fishing is a little slower but the fish tend to be bigger when you are using plastic or crankbaits,” he said.
Many anglers on the lake were using side-planer trolling boards.. The idea behind these boards is to spread an array of baits while also getting the lures away from the boat. “Walleye are very sensitive to noise and the shadow of your boat. We’re fishing shallow fish (8-10 feet of water) and it’s easy to spook them. Side-planers are good for solving that problem,” Parks said. Another trick he uses while trolling is to run in a zig-zag pattern to avoid constantly pulling your lures through an area where you might have frightened the fish into lockjaw.
Ultimately, we ended up with nine tasty keeper fish while a countless number that only tickled the 14-inch minimum size were released. Considering the unsettled weather and the lack of success most other anglers were experiencing, it made for a great day on one of Indiana’s walleye hot spots.
IF YOU GO:
There is only one ramp at the city-owned lake and there is a cost for boat launching. Bank anglers must also have a daily or yearly permit to fish the lake.
Aside from fishing, there are campgrounds, trails, playgrounds and picnic areas around Prairie Creek reservoir.
Bait and supplies can be purchased at Lighthouse Bait and Tackle approximately ½ mile north of the ramp. You can also land and walk to the shop from the lake.