Small Water Angler: Harrison County’s Blue River

A typical blue River smallmouth bass with great color
The Author with a hook-set on a chilly wade in the Blue River.
The Author with a hook-set on a chilly wade in the Blue River.

Hello and welcome to the first installment of the Small Water Angler column.

I can’t begin to tell you how exciting it is to be a part of the wonderful adventure of starting a new magazine. This column will strive to bring you a variety of interesting human-powered angling stories from everything that this great state has to offer.

Here in the Small Water Angler column we will explore the backwaters, streams, rivers, and lakes that are best experienced on foot and by paddle.  Statistics tell us there are about 800,000 anglers who fish this great state and the majority explore our waters without benefit of internal-combustion engine, seeking the more intimate and remote places. Whether it is stalking small mouth bass in limestone bottom creeks, trout in several of our rivers or panfish from the bank of a pond or lake, that is our focus.

I fell in love with fly fishing many years ago, particularly small mouth bass fishing. Any time spent flinging feathers and fur from a 5wt. rod in pursuit of “just one more” is heaven to me, but not always possible. I often carry spinning gear on my outings for those unforeseen times when you simply can’t fly fish. In this column we will cover everything possible from bass to bluegills, trout to carp, with an emphasis on the fly side. In my ventures around the state I probably average about an 80/20 ratio of fly fishing to tackle fishing and will approach this column in much the same manner.

We’ll talk about tactics and tips for fishing with a fly rod, and where to do so, with added information for when nature and the fishing gods conspire against us and we must break out the spinning gear.

Fun comes in all sizes as witnessed by Hunter Mann
Fun comes in all sizes as witnessed by Hunter Mann

HUNTER MANN WITH THE BASS TRIFECTA ON THE BLUE RIVER-FINISHED-WEBJust such an instance happened to me this last fall on what has probably become my favorite river for small mouth bass fishing, the Blue River in Harrison County. My good friend and frequent fishing partner, Hunter, and I had gone down for one last fall trip before the chills of winter set in using his kayak and my inflatable pontoon. I always string up a spinning rod and put it in the spare rod holder for those times when you just have to get in one more cast before floating by. A Gumball Head jig head with a white twist tail grub is a suitable set up for just such instances. It can quickly be unleashed and re-stowed while you mind the oars and is quite effective day in and day out on the Blue.

After stowing the spinner in its holder I reached for my fly rod tube only to realize it was still in my Jeep at the take-out. Here I was downstream with all my fly gear and no fly rod, very little tackle, and a single spinning rod. The fishing gods were definitely conspiring. While this could have ruined the day, I made do with the tools at hand and we had a grand time catching many fish that first day.

The Blue is teeming with several species; smallmouth bass from 10-16 inches were the order of the day along with an occasional largemouth or Kentucky spotted Bass in the 12-15 inch range thrown in for good measure. There were a few bluegills that fell for our flies and jigs but there were more rock bass than you could count sprinkled throughout our day.

On day two, a front had moved through overnight and conditions were not as good but now I had my fly rod! Hoppers and poppers are a load of fun in the warmer months but in the chilly waters of fall, streamers give the best results with bass.  As they are ambush hunters, all black bass hit hard and on a dead run, making for a jarring strike.

The Green Meeny was a huge producer on the Blue
The Green Meeny was a huge producer on the Blue

I tend to stay with streamers of slightly negative buoyancy this time of year, something that holds its place in the water column with only a slight sinking action between strips. Just like with the jigs, whites, yellows, and light greens are the colors to key on in the Blue River. As the winter weather takes hold in earnest, I switch to a 6-7 wt. sinking tip line to get right down on the bottom. According to Bob Sawtelle, property manager at nearby O’Bannon Woods State Park, “In winter months (the) smallies caught are usually few, but the largest of the season. Fish the spring holes on a sunny day. Also, sauger and walleye are known to bunch up at the mouth and lower third of the river in February.”

Such as it was, we had a successful trip with eagle, osprey, and several species of duck sighted.  Even better, we had the pleasure of floating with two very curious river otters for about ten minutes the first day. The lower Blue River has several floatable sections with access at regular intervals while there are also numerous park and wade sites also along the entire course. There are canoe/kayak rentals in the area and camping is available at nearby O’Bannon Woods State Park.

The Blue River, in Harrison County, is one of my favorite streams.  If you make the drive to Harrison County, I’ll bet it will be a new favorite of yours, too!

Don Cranfill
A native Hoosier, and son of a tournament fisherman, Don literally grew up on the water. Early in life he developed a passion for two things, paddling and fly fishing. Don can often be found stalking the limestone creeks of southern Indiana for Smallmouth Bass, while the off seasons are spent crafting custom hardwood canoe and kayak paddles, making figured-wood fly tying bases and developing the ultimate fly. Contact: or at


  1. Don,
    Hunter forwarded to me and I read with great interest. Well done!

    We will look forward to the lakes opening up and you and Hunter getting over to the Mann lakes to fish again. Last blast of winter? currently but given the warm up last week I think the ice lost it’s integrity and would not be safe for ice fishing.

    Take care,

    • Thank you so much for the kind words. Mann Lake has become a very special place to me. Visiting is a real treat!
      I was nervous about the release of the magazine, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for WildIndiana!

  2. Nice starter article on the Blue River of Harrison County. Well done. Starter in the sense that after fishing this river with a fly rod for 25 years I am still its student. Bring Hunter back and I’ll float & fish the river with you. Bet we learn something new together. Might see if I can trade you out of one of those custom paddles and I am eager to try “the ultimate fly” See you in April, May and no later than June!

    Paddle on,
    Ranger Bob

  3. Don,

    Thank you for stopping for a minute to point me to this website the other day ….Well written piece here! I am now officially curious about dropping a line into the Blue River.Been craving some “smally” action for several years ,but having known few (in fact,almost no) places to fish for them without having to leave the state, Wild Indiana and your article here are like a first ray of sunlight!
    I’m already looking forward to seeing this site ,along with it’s offering of helpful facts,tips,and shared outdoor experiences continue to grow.

    Good fishin’ and best wishes!

    – Jon Norris


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