February, Fish and Crutches

February has been a very odd month for me. I usually looking forward to the late winter/early spring flooding, it always makes for a new and challenging environment to figure out. But this year I was bested by the season. To my dismay at the end of January I got very sick and stopped fishing. At the same time I strained my leg really badly. Because of being so sick my leg didn’t heal like it should. Once the doctors figured out how to treat what was wrong with me, we addressed the issues with my leg. When I started physical therapy I was missing 77 degrees of extension. I was totally dependent on crutches and was still weak from being sick. It took the whole month of February before getting back to feeling like myself again. I have worked really hard and regained my full range of motion and no longer need crutches.

With all that being said, I really didn’t manage to fish much until the last half of the month when I started regaining my strength. I started small. I would stop at a small creek and fish for Creek Chubs for a half hour (a fish that no matter the conditions is always willing to bite). And then would retreat back to the house to rest.

Creek Chub

As I got more confident walking around on my crutches I started parking my SUV close to lakes and walking short distances to try for bigger fish. I would rarely get further than 100 feet from my car, but that was usually far enough to catch a few fish. I would settle down in a chair or lean against something and fish until my leg started hurting too much. I was fortunate and would usually catch a fish or two before getting to that point. This helped me fight the cabin fever.

Largemouth Bass

I kept working on building my strength and got to the point where I could make one lap around a small pond on my crutches without getting too tired. This let me start fishing more moving baits and get a few White Crappie. A fish that I usually devote a large part of my February to, and I was starting to miss them.

White Crappie

A week later and I was able to start putting some weight on my hurt leg. This opened up some new possibilities, though I was still limited to walking very short distances. The temperature had risen temptingly high and I just couldn’t stay inside anymore. I really wanted to catch something different, I was reaching my limit of catching the same bass and crappie over and over again. This led me to going on the search for a Warmouth!

Warmouth

By the end of the month I was finally free of my crutches and was ecstatic to be walking around (even if it was with a limp). This opened up the possibility to walk to different habitats and target different species of fish. I started with trying to target Black Crappie, and somehow instead managed to catch some gorgeous hybrid sunfish.

Hybrid Sunfish

But with a little persistence I was able to get the Black Crappie to play a long too!

Black Crappie

Having successfully caught the fish I was after I tied on a microfishing hook and decided to explore around and see if I could find anything new. To my surprise I ended up finding a new population of Blackspotted Topminnows! *Correction: After doing more research and sampling a larger size of this population it was determined that these were simply Blackstripe Topminnows that had more pigmentation above their lateral line.*

Blackspotted Topminnow

Along with the topminnows, I also found a number of juvenile sunfish. The coolest being this small Green Sunfish.

Green Sunfish

Seeing the little sunfish starting to move shallow I knew it was time to start shifting my focus more towards panfish. This seemed like a good excuse to tie on a jig and just explore around. I ended up settling on a new favorite ultralight jig that perfectly imitates a small crayfish. It even outperformed my usual minnow imitation jigs!

Bluegill

The final goal for the month was to catch a respectable Redear Sunfish. Luckily I know a few ponds that have strong populations of them. As a reward for making so much progress in physical therapy I reward myself with making a trip up to one of these ponds after work one day. There I was greeted with a good number of Largemouth Bass, Bluegill and most importantly some big Redear Sunfish.

Redear Sunfish

As February ends I can’t help but be incredibly thankful for all the people who have supported me through the last few months. I am incredibly lucky to have so many people willing to drop everything and help me. I have a new found appreciation for my health and am so grateful to be able to spend time outside again.

Tight lines,

-Isaac

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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

Creek and River Hopping

Watching the water levels change in the Ohio River is my favorite part of driving to school every day. When I see it rising high enough to start entering the flood plains, I never fail to get excited. This always means two things: Any eddies you can find on the main stem of the Ohio River should be full of fish, and all of the creeks should also be teaming with fish escaping the high current.

The river was starting to reach that magical height when I decided to play a risky game. One of my favorite challenges in fishing is using an ultralight setup in the most difficult conditions possible, and the Ohio River never ceases to offer opportunities to test your abilities. On a lovely Sunday afternoon, I found myself beside the boat launch at Angel Mounds armed with a couple of my lightest rods. I rigged them with a simple, tight line setup with nightcrawlers and cast them into the current break downstream of the launch. It didn’t take long before my first rod bounced and I set the hook into a lovely little Channel Catfish.

It seemed like every ten minutes or so, a rod would bounce and I would reel up a small Channel Catfish or Freshwater Drum. I played with these fish until some large logs got washed downstream into this eddy and made fishing impossible.

The water stayed high throughout most of this month, so I spent a lot of time creek hopping. [Location name redacted] is one of my favorite places to fish when the river levels are high. This backwater creek is always full of species that many people don’t target. I usually target the deeper sections of the creek early in the year, but with the temperatures starting to creep higher the fish have been moving to the shallower sections of the creek. These fish are always easily spooked, but that makes the challenge of catching them all the more fun. On my first hike back to a shallow stretch here, I thought I spotted something I hadn’t seen in two years: a Grass Pickerel. But before I could investigate, the fish vanished across the creek. I managed to scare this fish off during my next three ventures, but on a lucky hike, I managed to catch it off-guard and landed a small jig right in front of his face. To my surprise, the fish made a quick dash and my jig vanished. I set the hook and was delighted to see a small Grass Pickerel.

After documenting its size and location, I released this little fish back into the creek and moved on to my next spot. The lily pads have started to grow here and a decent number of predatory fish are taking advantage of them as ambush points. Like this little Largemouth Bass.

Another stretch of this creek held a fish I hadn’t seen inhabit this waterway before: a little Redear Sunfish. It turns out that this section of the creek now houses a large number of these fish! I’ve fished this creek for years and this is the first time I’ve ever seen them, so that is a pretty interesting new change.

I couldn’t give up on this spot until I caught one of all time favorite fish, the Flier Sunfish. This one had to be tempted with Bee Moths put on the smallest jig I could find.

This little stretch of the creek housed some amazing panfish diversity. Tossing my jig toward a branch that was partially submerged, something darted out and attacked my jig but managed to miss the hook. I tossed back into that spot, and this time the fish didn’t get as lucky. After a quick fight on light tackle, I was greeted with a feisty little Warmouth. These guys start getting abundant in this creek come May.

That same branch seemed to be home to another similar species: the Green Sunfish. My favorite comparison I’ve heard is that they are the “micro version” of a grouper, and I couldn’t agree more. They put up a great fight on light tackle and are very willing to hit most baits.

As the month continued, the weather kept getting nicer and more people have been deciding to get out and go fishing. I’m always excited to see people out fishing and enjoying nature, but this is usually when I start going to some of my more remote places where I know less people will be at. This led me to one of my favorite little creeks in Evansville: Locust Creek. This creek is always filled to the brim with Creek Chubs, and this is the time of year when they are all getting ready to spawn. My main goal of the day was to catch some small ones for bait on Pigeon Creek, but I was also hoping to hook into a spawning male. After filling my bait bucket with enough small creek chubs to last the day, I turned my attention to trying to catch a larger male. Before long, I set the hook into what I suspected to be a small Largemouth Bass, but turned out to be a large Creek Chub in full spawning attire. During spawning season, the males grow tubercles and in this case also took on the rusty orange color that adult creek chubs can have.

After happily catching my fair share of Creek Chubs, I packed up and drove to my favorite section of Pigeon Creek. After a long hike with a very heavy bait bucket, I set up my three rods in hopes of finding my first Flathead Catfish of the year. The bite was incredibly slow and the fish seemed to be remarkably skilled in hitting my bait and then instantly snagging my line around the debris on the bottom of the creek. But after an hour of frustration, one of my poles doubled over and the battle was on. I carefully worked the fish out of the log jam it tried to wrap itself in and was thrilled to see a Flathead Catfish finally break surface.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try to catch one of the Gar that I kept seeing surfacing around me. I finally found one that was cruising right below the surface, and I quickly put a minnow on a treble hook and cast out in front of it. The Gar dashed forward at the minnow and then dived, and my instincts said to set the hook (but I’ve made that mistake enough times to know better). So, I let the gar swim with the minnow for about 45 seconds before setting the hook, hard. The hook set perfectly in the lower jaw and I was able to easily reel in the Gar. I was even more excited when I realized that this was actually a Spotted Gar, a species that I didn’t have on my list yet.

Toward the end of the month, I returned to [location name redacted again] to see if any new species had moved into it yet. I was happy to see some Gar spawning in the backwater creek and even a few Bowfin cruising around. Sadly, my ultralight setup was not ready for the challenge of one of these toothy critters. I switched my attention back to the panfish- hoping to find a Redspotted Sunfish in Evansville. Unfortunately, the closest population I have found is still in Winslow, Indiana. However, the creek still has a stable population of Bluegill, Warmouth, Green Sunfish, Redear Sunfish, Black Crappie, and Flier Sunfish.

I still hadn’t caught a decent Spotted Bass this year, so I headed to the river to try to change that. The boat launch at Angel Mounds has a fantastic current seam that always holds a few bass when the river is rising. I set up two catfish rods like usual, and then started tossing around a small white curl tail grub on my ultralight rod. It didn’t take long before I felt a bump and I set the hook into the first species of the day: a little Striped Bass.

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The next fish to fall victim to the lure was a Skipjack Herring, the first one I’ve found this year. I ended up catching two of them and keeping both as catfish bait for a later trip.

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After catching a handful of Striped Bass and White Bass, I finally had a hit that felt distinctive from the others. I set the hook and this one fought differently. A short fight later, I was holding my first half-decent Spotted Bass of the year.

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The bait rods started getting hits, but they kept managing to miss the hook. After multiple failed hook sets, I connected with one of the small Channel Catfish that were crowding this spot.

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This was a rare occasion where the Freshwater Drum were slower to find the bait than the catfish. But eventually, I stumbled across a small one.

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Because I was getting so many small bites, I decided to downsize my hook size. This quickly resulted in what most people around here refer to as a “river minnow”- or if you are into identifying fish (like I am) a Silver Chub. This was another exciting catch since it was a first for my species list!

Edited

The White Bass were getting active, so I couldn’t resist trying to mark off another item off my bucket list: catching a temperate bass on a fly rod. I tied on my last Clouser Minnow and got to work. It took a while, but finally my line twitched and I set the hook into the first of many White Bass.

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My success at fly fishing left me feeling accomplished, so I decided to explore some of the water upstream of the boat launch. I decided not to tempt my luck too far and only took my ultralight rod and a container of nightcrawlers. The real highlight of exploring this new stretch of water was hooking into a lovely little Longnose Gar.

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While I’ve enjoyed fishing the river, this has really been one of my best years fishing backwater creeks. I would highly suggest that any of you with access to places like this try exploring them. A lot of very cool, overlooked species are living here, and better yet, you usually know you are the only person who is fishing these spots. I will always pick these hidden backwater creeks over a trophy Largemouth Bass lake any day, and I hope you will consider giving it a try, too.

Tight lines,

-Isaac