By Don Mulligan
September 16, 2001
Brian Waldman is serious about catching fish in Eagle Creek Reservoir. Known to outdoor Internet surfers as Team9nine, Waldman fishes the reservoir at least 50 days per year and has done so for the past 21 years. "I think the bass fishing here is as good as anywhere in the state for legal-size fish," he said. "Weekly tournaments are always won with limits, and I have seen seven-pound bass released more than once."
Eagle Creek is owned and operated by Indy Parks and Recreation. At 1,350 acres of water, it offers several different types of structure for anglers to fish. Waldman said south of the 56th Street bridge, the water is deep and mostly open. On nice days, fishermen compete for space with sailboats. "Sailboats hold their races on Wednesdays and Sundays, so it can get crowded south of 56th Street," said park manager Chuck Beard. Even on race days, sailboats cannot get under the 56th Street bridge without taking their masts down. Consequently, the entire northern half of the lake is left to fishermen year round.
Fishermen don't have to compete with jet skis or water skiers anywhere on the lake. Eagle Creek has a 10-horsepower limit on motors, as well as a 26-foot maximum length restriction for watercraft.
The 10-horsepower limit is strictly monitored. "You wouldn't believe the trouble some guys go through to make their 15-horse look like a 10-horse just to fish here with their bigger boats," Beard said. Waldman likes the 10-horse limit, citing the restriction as one of the reasons for productive fishing. "The rigs we run are nicknamed Eagle Creek Specials. They are aluminum, flat bottomed bass boats with 9.9's rigged into the steering wheel with all the amenities," Waldman said. "With these little rigs, we can run all the way up into the river and everywhere in between. It is all part of the atmosphere which makes Eagle Creek special compared to the larger bodies of water in the state," he said.
THE SOUTH END
The southern half of the lake is dominated by the dam and deeper water. Deep water is precisely where to find the last of the wiper population, Waldman said. Wipers are a hybrid cross between white bass and the larger striped bass. The Department of Natural Resources stocked the lake with wipers for several years, but stopped the practice in 1999. The plan was to build up the walleye fishery. But it is still controversial among local fishermen. "For years our surveys never turned up any wipers over two years old, despite aggressive stockings," said Doug Keller, managing fisheries biologist from the DNR. "Consequently, angler interest was low since they could catch similar sized white bass in greater numbers."
More important, and despite common belief by fishermen, hybrid wipers are not sterile. Surveys reveal that wipers can, and do back cross (spawn) with both striped bass or white bass if either species is present. In Eagle Creek Reservoir, the wipers were spawning with the abundant white bass population, affecting the purity of the white bass. This created a dilemma for Keller, who thought an "unpure white bass population was not as nature intended."
But as Waldman and other fishermen can attest, large schools of 6- to 9-pound wipers still roam the deeper flats and can often be seen slamming into baitfish on the surface en masse. On a recent rainy Sunday afternoon, he caught and released five wipers in a two-hour period, all weighing between 6 and 8 pounds. "Once a person feels the fight of one of these oversized wipers, it is difficult to convince him he should be fishing for walleyes instead," Waldman said. Though some spawning continues to take place, Keller said once all the current wipers are removed, they will be gone forever from Eagle Creek. For that reason, Waldman encourages fishermen to release all wipers to fight another day.
To catch wipers, Waldman trolls either a shad colored Shad Rap or gold Hot N Tot at about 3 mph. He also has caught them around dusk on surface lures such as the Pop R. Schools can turn up almost anywhere south of 56th Street, but sometimes it helps to watch where seagulls are taking advantage of baitfish being corralled against the surface by the feeding wipers. The DNR has put a lot of energy and resources into promoting the walleye fishery in Eagle Creek for the past few years. Around four million fry are stocked annually. Surveys consistently show low mortality and good growth rates. Consistent catches of legal-sized fish should be commonplace as early as this spring. Presently, legal-sized fish are available up to about the 5-pound range for anglers who target them specifically.
A popular spot for walleyes is Hobie beach, a large flat located just north of the 42nd Street public boat launch. It is surrounded on three sides by a deep drop off. Walleyes move up out of the deep water to patrol the 15-foot water for baitfish from dusk until dawn typically.
THE NORTH END
Largemouth bass can be found anywhere there is cover, but Waldman prefers to start with the 56th Street bridge area and head north. "Most of the lake up here is less than 15 feet deep with lots of submergent as well as emergent structure," Waldman said. In open water he runs deeper diving crankbaits over submerged rock piles and points. The bulk of his largemouth catches however, come from some classic bank fishing. Working slowly in and out of cuts and tributaries, Waldman methodically covers bank vegetation and boat docks.
Unique to Eagle Creek is the expanding stands of willow grass in some of the protected coves. Waldman said bass love the cover it provides. He scours it thoroughly before moving on. Waldman said he has pulled countless bass out of the seemingly impenetrable wall of grass by flipping a jig right up against it. He prefers an eighth-ounce Mango jig tipped with a 3-inch Berkley Power Craw. Green pumpkin with orange claw color works best.