creekwk004.jpg (10409 bytes)Try a "Creek Week" To Dodge Dog Days

From 14-lb. "wiper" to tiny, psychedelic "punkinseed" sunfish, a creek or river trip offers escape from high summer doldrums that you can't buy in any store.

Story & Photos By Don Jordan

 

WILLIAMS DAM—There’s nothing like the sight of someone battling and landing a 14-lb. wiper to kick off a fishing trip, and that’s exactly what happened last week as die-hards escaped the last dog days of August with a week of creeks.

The East Fork of White River is hardly a creek, unless you look at it as a great big creek. Thing is, it’s loaded with great big fish, medium fish and little fish. At times, they practically commit suicide in attacking baits and lures.

That’s what Mark Marner of Montgomery found out last Sunday morning in the boiling waters just below the dam which is the central feature of this tiny Lawrence County hamlet.

Dennis "The Human Seine" Knoy and I had just launched my Gheenoe and motored upstream in strong current to the dam. Even at 50 yards or more, we could see a bass boat bobbing in the heavy current as an angler standing amidshipscreekwk002.jpg (18832 bytes) leaned back, pitting his body weight against that of a bull-dogging fish. It had to be a big one.

We guessed catfish. Wrong. As we approached, the angler’s boat partner maneuvered one of those giant-sized landing nets to the gunwale and scooped up a huge wiper. As he yelled to us above the din of cascading water, Marner weighed his prize on board at 14 pounds.

It was about 7:30 a.m. when he hooked the fish. He caught it on a RaTLTrap "crank" bait or plug.

If seeing a guy land a 14-lb. fish doesn’t fire up your ancient predatory DNA, nothing will, and, lucky for us, it was one of the most interesting fishing trips we have had in years. A bold statement for a float trip on a muddy river where industrial chemicals (thank you, Westinghouse), human sewage and 200 years of abuse have taken the edge off it’s pristine qualities. As The Seine pointed out: "You could furnish a doublewide with the stuff along the river bank."

Yep, but just below a fine discarded clothes drier, near the poor ole delapidated covered bridge below the dam, I caught a nice smallmouth and used the

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"automatic" release at boatside. And, near the microwave oven and washing machine a little further downstream, Knoy landed a huge drum that we guessed weighed 10 to 12 pounds. In higher water, the refrigerator near where I lost my Teeny Crawdad to another huge drum probably makes excellent fish habitat. In lower water, its beauty is lost to passersby on the river.

However, osprey and bald eagles don’t share our sense of beauty. A pair of osprey patrolling below the covered bridge didn’t seem to mind, nor did the adult eagle we saw down river, below the last fishing camp until just upstream from Shoals.

Once you become desensitized to the array of trash along the banks and concentrate on fishing, it is clear that lots of fish live in this river, and the diversity of species is amazing.

The Seine and I caught several large drum. You want your line stretched? Hook a few 10-lb. drum. We also caught spotted bass and smallmouth bass, a small wiper, a pair of large and very feisty gizzard shad, a channel catfish, a flathead catfish and Knoy landed a nice walleye.

creekwk001.jpg (15166 bytes)We caught all these fish on plugs. Most of mine came on the Teeny Crawdad, an ultralight Big O and an ultralight Cordell Spot. Knoy stuck with a Shad Rap most of the day. I used only ultralight spinning tackle while The Seine used slightly heavier gear.

It took all day to float and fish from Williams to the first big shoal above the town of Shoals. It would have been possible to pass over this shoal, but it was clearly too shallow to motor back upstream over it. This trip covers a distance of about 15 miles. If you are using an outboard, beware on your trip back upstream. There are many, many rocks lurking just below the surface in some stretches. Running wide open is not recommended unless you have a spare prop and lower unit on board with you.

While I know that many of the people who fish the East Fork consume the fish they catch there, it is not recommended. Fish contaminated with PCBs are especially risky for women of breeding age and children. Numerous studies of women and children who ate PCB-contaminated fish show that the kids have behavioral problems and score low on intelligence tests. If you are older, they probably aren’t going to hurt you much although I wouldn’t eat any fish from any stream in Indiana.

My creek week ended climbing out of a wilder, cleaner stream with Tony Abrell in Greene County.

"I haven’t done this in two or three years," reported Abrell as we hiked out of a boiling noon-day sun and dropped into the shaded, watery world of Indian Creek.

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Because of where it is, flowing through sparsely populated parts of Greene and Lawrence counties, Indian Creek is still relatively untouched by pollution. The usual discarded tires lay in the stream bottom near bridges and other places where humans can easily dump their trash and garbage, but Abrell and I went only a couple of hundred yards before the stream started to look the way it probably looked 100 years ago.

Huge sycamores and other hardwoods line the high banks, and the stream bed is marked by a boulder here, a log there. But the most interesting feature of Indian Creek showed up on our first few casts.

As we dropped from the blazing sun of the highway, under a bridge and made our way upstream, smallmouth bass and spotted bass attacked. These aren’t the biggest smallmouth and spotted bass you’ll find—the largest one we saw probably weighed in a one-half a pound.

Casting another Teeny Crawdad, my luck was hot to start. The bass preferred the plug over Tony’s lure, one of those deadly Fish-N-Spins made by Mark Fish down in Bedford. However, as the bass action began to slow on our upstream trek, the spinner jumped into the lead.

Abrell caught 19 punkinseed sunfish to my two and 12 goggle eye to my two. At the end of our fishing, Abrell had caught and released a total of 49 fish to my 28. The crank bait I was using did outscore the spinner on smallmouth and spotted bass though. I had 12 smallies to Tony’s nine and six spotted bass to Tony’s one.

In about three hours, we caught and released 77 fish. Besides smallmouth and spotted bass, punkinseed and goggle eye, we also caught shiner, creek chub, rock bass and one lone bluegill.

"I never keep fish out of here," said Abrell as he released the last smallmouth caught during our afternoon wade. "They’re just part of the place, you know. They belong in here."

Respectful anglers belong in Indian Creek too, especially if you are the brand of angler who enjoys wading into the heart of the southern Indiana forest. If you don’t’ mind watching small but feisty smallmouth leap two and three feet on the end of your line and going home without a big bag of meat, Indian Creek is the place for you.

creekwk007.jpg (23203 bytes)I won’t detail where you should go on Indian Creek. It is productive along most of its length, but it cannot take a lot of heavy fishing pressure. It isn’t likely to see that, because, as Abrell and I found, a long wade on this creek will wear you down to a nubbin.

By the time we stopped fishing and worked our way back to the bridge where we started, our legs were wobbling, my shoulder was aching, and we had to crawl up a steep, slippery mud bank to reach the pickup truck. If jet skis and pleasure boats used this creek, there would probably be a multi-million dollar concrete boat ramp on Indian. Thank goodness there isn’t, and, I hope, never will be such a facility. A stone walkway would be nice though.

Yes, a wading trip on Indian Creek is a physical chore. However, if you like fishing in the dog days, there is no place better to escape the burning sun and baking heat. There are many streams in our area that hold spotted bass, smallmouth, punkinseed and goggle eye, and only by girding one’s loins and wading into nature can you experience a little part of Indiana, the way it used to be.

25 YEARS OF PCB SCANDAL

This month marks the 25th year since I wrote the first story about PCBs in Bloomington’s sewage discharges for this newspaper. The chemical, a close relative of pesticides like DDT, was discharged by Westinghouse on Curry Pike from 1958 until the late 1970s. The company’s toxic discharges are responsible for contaminating fish and wildlife throughout south central Indiana, including fish in the East Fork of White River, Richland Creek in Greene and Owen counties and Clear Creek in Monroe County.

Westinghouse has long abandoned south central Indiana, but the mess it made is still affecting the lives of fish and wildlife and humans. Cleanup efforts continue at a glacial pace, and Westinghouse, that company you can be "sure" of, is now in the media business, running television networks and controlling what you see and hear. Isn’t that just wonderful?

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posted 9/10/00...Indy

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2000. 2001.  Jordan Communications. Inverness, Florida.