Spaulding Outdoors by Jack Spaulding
Prompted by concerns indicating that fishing may be declining at one of northeastern Indiana’s most popular fishing spots, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologists will study the fish and fishing activity this year at Lake Webster in Kosciusko County.
Best-known for its muskie fishing, the 774-acre lake draws anglers from throughout the Midwest and supports several guide businesses. Guides say muskie catches have dropped in recent years, although last year was reportedly better. “It’s been 10 years since we’ve taken a close look at Webster’s muskie fishery,” said Jed Pearson, DNR fisheries biologist. “It’s time to check it again.”
He has overseen the Lake Webster muskie program since the late 1970s. He and his crew will set traps in the lake and nearby backwater area in April to estimate adult muskie numbers. They also will conduct a summer-long angler survey to monitor fishing effort and catches.
In June, Pearson will survey the entire fish community. The results will be compared to previous surveys and will guide any management changes.
The DNR stocks about 3,800 muskie fingerlings in Lake Webster each year. The fish typically measure 8-10 inches long when released. The fingerlings come from eggs taken from adult muskies captured each spring at Webster. They are reared in state hatcheries.
Although the spring catch rate of muskies remains high, biologists have noted a decrease in the young fish. “The percentage of muskies less than 36 inches long has dropped in half during the past 10 years,” Pearson said. “Last year we caught only one muskie less than 30 inches.”
Reasons for the decline are unknown. It is possible adult muskies are preying on newly stocked muskies, especially if populations of other forage fish such as gizzard shad have declined. Other factors could be changes in hatchery production techniques and declines in habitat quality. “We’ll have a much better idea of what’s happening after this year and make adjustments if needed,” Pearson said.
Tailwaters offer walleye fishing
The coming of spring marks a surge in walleye fishing opportunities in river tailwaters below major dams throughout northern Indiana. River walleye begin to migrate upstream by mid-March in search of spawning habitat. Where blocked by dams, they congregate in large numbers.
“Avid walleye anglers have fished these areas for years,” DNR fisheries biologist Neil Ledet said. “We want to encourage other fishermen to give it try.”
Hot tailwater locations include the Tippecanoe River below the Oakdale Dam near Monticello, the St. Joseph River below the Elkhart Dam in Elkhart County and the Salamonie River below the Salamonie Dam in Wabash County.
Anglers should also try two hot spots in Fort Wayne: they are the Maumee River below the Hosey Dam and the St. Joseph River below the dam at Johnny Appleseed Park. Walleye fishing can be more productive when water levels drop after a period of runoff. The increased flow triggers walleye to move upstream, and the declining flow helps concentrate them. Walleye are not built to swim against a strong current for long periods, so anglers may find them on the edge of eddies, behind boulders or anything providing a break from current. Anglers should also look for areas of slow current near the bank, especially after sunset.
Ledet suggests fishing with white or chartreuse lead-head jigs, or suspended jerk baits with rattles. Walleye are most active on overcast days, the first couple of hours after sunset and before sunrise. Some walleye anglers wade, which can be treacherous during high flow. But, most tailwater areas can be fished from the bank.
Indiana Dunes Birding Festival
The inaugural Indiana Dunes Birding Festival May 7-10 will highlight some of the Midwest’s premier birding locations, and will also offer nature-related workshops, programs and hikes. The event is organized by Indiana Audubon Society and includes both Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park as site hosts. The four-day festival will appeal to general nature enthusiasts, beginning birdwatchers, advanced birders and plant and animal lovers.
Three photography workshops will introduce participants to basic camera settings, tips and techniques and ways to share their work. Another workshop will focus on spring wildflowers. For individuals wanting in-the-field wildflower identification, the festival will offer guided hikes. Another session will teach landscaping for birds and wildlife. Additional activities will include dunes geology, wildlife management and a native plant sale.
Reduced rates for children are available. Registration runs through April at http://indunesbirdingfestival.com
The festival is a partnership with the region’s major environmental groups, highlighting the dunes area’s biodiversity and bird-watching opportunities. The festival will benefit area economic and conservation efforts, and offer environmental education for area residents and visitors to the Indiana Dunes.
More information is on the festival website and at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center in Porter at 1215 N. State Road 49. Interested participants may also call the information desk at 219-926-1390 (state park) or 219-395-1882 (national lakeshore), or visit the park’s respective websites at www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2980.htm (state park) or www.nps.gov/indu (national lakeshore).
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments may contact Jack Spaulding by email at email@example.com or by writing to him in care of this publication.