Pigeon Creek: Southern Indiana’s Most Misunderstood Creek

Pigeon Creek is a fairly large creek that runs through a small section of southern Indiana before flowing into the Ohio River. For a lot of its history it has been known for being a heavily polluted waterway, and that view of the creek really hasn’t wavered in the area. There have been some improvements in the water quality of the creek, but I’ll be the first to admit this creek still has a long way to go before I’d ever consider consuming fish from it. That being said, the improvements made on this creek have made it one of the hidden gems of southern Indiana. This creek is often overlooked by anglers because of the stigma that this creek is terribly polluted, but I’m writing this article to try to get you to reconsider this waterway.

Pigeon Creek
Pigeon Creek during low water conditions

This creek has always offered good fishing year round, it just takes a little bit of searching to finding the places worth investing the time in. My favorite time of the year to fish it is in the late fall when the water levels have dropped very low and the pools are very obvious. The deeper pools always seem to hold fish, but the more interesting features to me have always been the runs between riffles, or the eddies formed by fallen logs in the current. These places tend to be overlooked by any of the few other anglers that venture along the creek. If you ever see me at the creek it will often be waded out in the riffles exploring spots like this to find new species.

Wading the creek is not only relaxing, but gives you access to some species that most conventional anglers won’t catch. As you all should expect by now, this does mean I will be doing some microfishing in this shallow water and any good eddies I can find. You can’t seem to fish any body of water in Indiana without first coming across the humble Bluegill.

After catching a few small Bluegill, a new species found my bait! To my surprise this was a species I didn’t have on my list yet: the Emerald Shiner. While these are an incredibly common fish, I hadn’t ever put the time into finding a place to catch them. So that was an excellent surprise!

Soon after that little fish I found a familiar face, a little Mimic Shiner! This has always been the main base forage species I’ve observed in the creek.

At this point I had lost count of how many Mimic Shiners and Emerald Shiners I had caught from the creek and was starting to give up on finding any other cool species in the eddies. On one of my last casts into the eddy something different found my bait. I was elated to find a Bluntnose Minnow (a species I had embarrassingly misidentified on my list previously)!

With this boost of confidence I fished that spot a little more and found another familiar face: the Spotfin Shiner. For some reason I forgot to take a picture of it in by the water, but I do have an image from my photography tank.

I figured for the sake of having an accurate sampling of the minnows I should also spend a little bit of time checking out the local topminnows/livebearers. I was secretly hoping I would find something new, but I think I knew better. As expected the local populations were Western Mosquitofish and Blackstripe Topminnows.

Knowing my luck with the minnows was starting to run out I switched over to a size 16 fly hook and baited it with a small piece of worm and explored around in hopes of finding the sunfish that I knew had to be around. I was astonished that one of my first finds was actually an Orangespotted Sunfish! I had never sampled one from moving water before!

After this happy surprise I went on the search for a Green Sunfish. This stretch of creek has some rock formations that provide some excellent hiding places. And it is no secret that Green Sunfish like to hide in places they feel hidden so they can ambush anything that passes by. It only took dropping my bait by a few rocks before I had a bite.

After catching a few more of his friends, I started the search for the bigger and more colorful species of sunfish. I already knew Bluegill lived in this creek, but I wanted a mature specimen for a picture so I waded for a while and found a good population of them. Eventually luck was on my side and I hook into a solid Bluegill, surprisingly the big ones were more willing to hit small cutbaits than worms.

While searching for the Bluegill I had another less common catch, a Redear Sunfish. While it isn’t really a surprise that they would be here, I had never heard of one being sampled here before.

This brings us to the main reason I love creek fishing, this creek has a very strong population of Longear Sunfish. One of the prettiest sunfish in my humble opinion. It was hard to pick just one image to include in this post, but this smaller fish did the best justice to the colors that these fish have.

This creek has always been known to hold great numbers of Channel Catfish, and I can assure you that is still true. On my wading trips I’ve lost count of the number of juvenile catfish I have caught. The bigger ones tend to show themselves typically when it is least convenient. In my case after having two of my micro fishing hooks stolen! I rigged up a stronger setup and put a bait back in the same place. Before you knew it I was battling a decent Channel Catfish.

Along with the Channel Catfish this creek will also hold Flathead Catfish this time of year. I was lucky enough to cross paths with a micro version of this species while drifting worms in a deep pocket right before some riffles. I can assure you there are much larger specimens in this creek, but this was by far the coolest one I’ve come across yet.

The final species that you expect to catch this time of year is the Freshwater Drum. I have a true appreciation for this fish, and am always happy to catch one (they force you into learning to detect very subtle bites, or you risk gut hooking these fish often). Along with the typical small Freshwater Drum you’d expect to find, I did manage to hunt down a few of the larger specimen (large being relative to this creek).

This creek holds many different species depending on the time of year, we haven’t even touched on the Blue Catfish that you’ll find in the spring or the amazing gar fishing that can be had in the summer. There are so many amazing species in this creek, and so few people are even willing to explore it. Hopefully this post will help change a few of your minds about this wonderful place.

I want to leave you with one final image, because sometimes a picture is worth more than words. If this creek was really so bad, why would a fool like me be this excited to be standing in the middle of it? I think the smile on my face every time I’m here would make a solid case in defense of the creek alone.

Longear Sunfish
Even on a very chilly late October day this creek still manages to bring a smile to my face

Tight lines,

-Isaac

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Exploring Ferdinand State Forest

I’ve fished Ferdinand State Forest a few times when I was younger with my father, but these trips have always focused on catching Largemouth Bass and I’ve always wanted to know what else lives out in this park. So Friday after work I started packing up all of my fishing and camping gear so that I could leave first thing Saturday morning. When I go on trips like this I always like to set myself a goal to help keep me motivated, this trip I decided that my goal would be to catch 10 different species. Saturday morning I got up with the sun, packed the last of my food and jumped in my suv to start the drive. I got to the park before the ranger at the station did and was able to secure the best camping location in the whole park. After struggling with the tent for a half hour my campsite was set up and I unloaded the rods to do a little fishing.

I started by exploring the overflow creek from the lake and tried to target some of the gar that kept surfacing. After many failed hook sets I gave up on that quest and put on my rubber boots and started microfishing my way down the creek (well as close to microfishing as you can get with a size 22 hook). My efforts were quickly rewarded with a lovely Blackstripe Topminnow.

Blackstripe Top Minnow

At the next pool I was happy to find a large number of creek chubs.

After working through a good number of chubs I found what I think is a Striped Shiner

At this point I switched over to the top lake and took the canoe out to target a few evening largemouth. It didn’t take long to find a Largemouth Bass willing to hit a top water lure.

As sunset approached I set out to find some firewood and get dinner ready. I had hoped to fish for catfish once the sun had set, but after making supper I was surprisingly tired so I went ahead and settled down in my tent for the night.

Once again I woke up as the sun was just starting to come up, I decided to go back to the over flow creek and see if I could find a few more fish species before it got too hot. I started by jigging around the rocks and as I was hoping was able to tempt quite a few Warmouth.

I then started tossing the jig into some shallower water that was at the back end of the pool I was fishing was able to find a few very colorful Green Sunfish

But I had heard rumors of that this overflow was home to some crappie and I just couldn’t seem to tempt them. Then I had the idea to start casting as far up the inflow pipe as I could. Surprisingly I started catching a lot of bluegill from this spot.

After working through a lot of bluegill I was incredibly excited to hook into a small Black Crappie (I may or may not have cheered when I landed this fish).

I tossed out a rod with some cutbait with hopes of a gar again, but this time I was lucky enough to hook into what I think is a Yellow Bullhead (I honestly have the hardest time telling the bullheads apart)

After this fish I returned to jigging, I found a small submerged tree branch and tossed my jig into it. I was incredibly excited to see this little Redear Sunfish come out of it.

The last thing I wanted to include were a few of the strange catches I had as I was exploring the forest. The first is the very oddly colored Warmouth, at first I thought it was a rock bass but it appears to have the wrong number of spines on the anal fin.

And while I was micro fishing I was very surprised to catch a frog in between the tadpole and the froglet stage!

Micro Fishing Bluegrass FWA

To start this out, I know this is going to be a post that really only relates to a very small number of anglers and that this kind of fishing goes against the typical fishing mentality. The first thing you need to know is what micro fishing is: basically micro fishing is where you try to catch the smallest fish possible on a hook.

My go to setup for micro fishing is my 5 wt Redington fly rod and Mustad size 22 hooks. I tie the hook onto my fly line and tip the tiny hook with a very small piece of white soft plastic from old lures. This gives the fish a specific place on the hook to strike and increases the hook up ratio significantly.FOT9603

The easiest place to target micro fish on lakes seems to be at boat launches, since it provides safety from predatory fish in the deeper water. However, it seems that you have to work through a lot of average size panfish before you can start targeting the actual micro fish. The first fish you tend to catch in these spots are more aggressive, in my case Green Sunfish.

After the Green Sunfish got spooked from my spot the next aggressive fish started hitting my fly: Redear Sunfish.

The last species you have to worry about is the occasional Largemouth Bass that will come up into the shallower water.

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Now the fish actually start to become micro, the easiest small fish to start catching is the bluegill. The fry tend to stay in the shallows and are fairly aggressive and will fight each other over which gets to eat the fly first.

If you start fishing in the very shallowest part of the water you can catch some of the truly small species. I focused my attention on trying to catch my first Blackstripe Topminnow. Turns out they are very easy to catch once you have downsized your hook to a 22.
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The last species that I was able to find was the Western Mosquitofish. This is a very common fish to find in the shallows, however due to their very small mouth they are one of the more challenging micro fish that I have caught so far.WP_20160702_18_29_41_Pro

I know this post will seem strange to a lot of anglers since this goes completely against the “catch the biggest fish possible” mentality. But I find that micro fishing is incredibly relaxing and very intriguing when you are trying to figure out how to identify the fish that you catch.

So give it a try, I’d love to know what you think about this very different form of fishing.

Tight lines,

-Isaac