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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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!

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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

Winter Catfish: Flooded Creek Adventure

Winter fishing has always been a little bit of a mystery to me. But as an angler, there is one thing that no matter what time of year it is tells me that I should be fishing: Flood conditions. The NOAA chart had the Ohio River just dropping below flood today. Ideally you would fish as the water rises or when the water reaches its maximum level, but this trip proves that fish will still bite even as the water levels start to drop.

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I set up in between two sharp bends on Pigeon Creek, this sudden change in flow creates a deep bowl in the creek bed. When the creek floods, this results in a roughly 30 foot deep pocket that has a slightly buffered current. This creates a safe place for bait fish to school up, in turn bringing actively feeding catfish. The map below shows the location that I fished.

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It was too cold for me to comfortably try to cast net bait fish, so I settled for some nightcrawlers. I tied 2 ounces of lead on my line and then created a dropper loop a 1 and 1/2 foot above that. I attached a circle hook to the loop and cast the bait 10 feet out into the creek. The bite was very slow,  having a nibble once every 30 minutes or so. Luckily my patience paid of with 2 small catfish.

Fishing flooded pigeon for cats

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I missed a large number of bites, but for a short and very cold trip I was happy to have landed 2 fish.Fishing this creek only gets hard and harder as the water drops and cools down further, so soon I will back trying to figure out how to catch fish in the Ohio River during the winter. But until then, I will stay grateful for every little catfish that I get lucky enough to catch from this creek.

A Rainy Days Fishing

A large storm front was moving through today, leading to 7 hours of rain. Seeing this forecast I though the fishing would be incredible (like any good fisherman any excuse to go fishing is a valid excuse). The rain was supposed to start about noon, so I quickly found a spot to fish at and not be miserable. I ended up at Pigeon Creek for many reasons: Setting up under the Diamond Avenue bridge would give me cover from the rain, the creek is surrounded by woods so there would be a little bit of a wind break and there storm drain outlet there so I thought the fish would be feeding on everything that was getting washed out of it.

I’ve spent a lot of time on this creek and have found 2 lures that tend to catch fish pretty consistently: bucktail jigs and inline spinners. This spot is littered with snags, so I choose to work a little higher in the water column working a small rooster tail. On the third cast I caught a small bass. Shortly after this the rain started and the bite totally stopped. I saw a few small schools of shad swimming in the shallows, but there was not a single sign of any other fish. I didn’t have a single bite on lures, minnows or nightcrawlers so I decided it was time to move on.

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By the time I got to Burdette Park it was raining fairly hard so I bundled up in rain gear and set up my rods on the lower lake. The lake’s water level was significantly lower than I had expected, so I only worked the areas by the lily pads. This was probably the smartest thing I did today, I caught quite a few nice sized bluegill and rock bass. After a while the fish started getting smart and stopped biting, so I relocated the creek that feeds into the pond. I started working this area with minnows and had no interest so I switched to the last of the worms I had with me. I hooked a bluegill, warmouth or rock bass on each cast. The true spectacle that I caught from the creek the bluegill below

1024151535     I was amazed that with a scar that deep that his spine hadn’t been severed. This crane attack survivor was thriving and was the biggest bluegill I caught in the creek. All the fish after him were too small to even warrant a picture. Hopefully this storm front means that the temperatures will drop back down and the big fish start feeding again.