Monroe Panfish: Bigger Crappie In Deeper Water
Bluegill Still Averaging 6 " and Under

By Don Jordan

posted 6/8/07

Lake Monroe is loaded with small crappie and bluegill, but panfish size has improved at Indiana's largest reservoir, especially crappie.

"With Monroe crappie, it is feast or famine. There are 13 to 15-inch crappie and bigger out there, even up to 18 inches out in some of the coves," said Southern Region Fisheries Supervisor Brian Schoenung in a recent interview.

Finding those bigger crappie at Monroe is not an easy task, and it is nearly impossible for the thousands of bank anglers that try the Salt Creek impoundment regularly. That is because one finds these larger crappie in deeper water, often well away from shore or from the docks where bank anglers often cluster.

If you watch experienced crappie anglers at Monroe, you hardly ever see them fishing anywhere close to shore. Most often, expert crappie fishermen search out submerged creek channels in 12 to 15 feet of water. Besides water depth, the other critical variable for Monroe crappie is the presence of some kind of cover.

At Monroe crappie cover most usually includes the stumps of trees along the old creek channels where trees were felled before Salt Creek was dammed. A few tributaries still have standing, flooded timber at Monroe, but these places are rare.

To find larger crappie at Monroe, you will need a boat, an electric trolling motor and a sonar unit. The sonar unit lets you watch the bottom where you look for remains of tree stumps along creek channels and the telltale icons representing fish associated with these bottom features. An electric trolling motor will allow you to follow the creek channel as you watch it display on your sonar screen.

Minnows are always the best bait for crappie, although beemoth used on the tip of a jig are also good crappie catchers. And, when conditions are just right and the fish are in the mood, small spinners and jigs without live bait attached work just fine at Monroe.

Fish on or near the bottom at those spots 12 to 15 feet deep, with bottom structure and fish associated with said structure as seen on your sonar screen.

The news for bluegill fishing at Monroe isn't nearly as encouraging.

"There are a lot of bluegill out there but few over 7.5 inches," said Schoenung.

Even finding a 7.5-inch bluegill at Monroe is an improvement over the past 20 years. Old timers probably remember that there was a great bluegill fishery there in the 1960s and 1970s. Good bluegill fishing disappeared in the 1980s with the arrival of gizzard shad, probably "midnight" stocked by largemouth bass fishermen who mistakenly thought they would improve the fishery. Instead those shad nearly destroyed Monroe as a fishing hole.

Only the massive stocking of predators like hybrid white-striped bass and walleye has staved off a complete shad take-over. The most obvious result of the gizzard shad population explosion is dramatic reduction in bluegill size. This happened quickly at Monroe and, more recently, at West Boggs Creek lake near Loogootee, which was the best public bluegill fishing hole in the state before yet another largemouth bass fishermen is thought to have dumped gizzard shad in that reservoir too.

However, Monroe bluegill can still provide great fishing action, especially for children. There are places where massive sets of nesting "beds" are visible in shallow water. Shallow water in the feeder creeks is the place to look for these beds. If you look long enough, you can probably find a place where bluegill average 6 inches or so.

Good places to look include Saddle Creek, Moore's Creek, Ramp Creek and the shallow side of Outhouse Point, in Fairfax Bay. The sides and back ends of any little cove typically host spawning bluegill, so if you are bluegill hunting, don't pass up tiny coves along the shoreline.

©Copyright 2007. Donald Lee Jordan