Catch a mixed bag below the dam at Lake Monroe

Column by Brandon Butler

No matter how close you are to any given city, I have found there are always pockets of secluded opportunity to experience the outdoors away from a crowd. Bloomington, Indiana is a good example. One my favorite escapes from the masses of outdoor enthusiasts around Bloomington has always been below the dam of Lake Monroe on Salt Creek.

In the turbid tailwater below the dam, anglers will find a mixed bag of fish. Here, Salt Creek begins its southern journey to its confluence with the East Fork of the White River between Bedford and the tiny town of Williams. The water level below the dam fluctuates depending on the release from the lake, but it’s always fishable and has plenty of water for paddling. Public access is available on both sides of the creek just below the dam.

Fishing at the dam is interesting because it almost always produces some sort of a catch, but you never know what you might hook into. Walleye, catfish, largemouth bass, spotted bass and crappie all thrive there. Along with those species of fish native to the creek, every sort of fish in Lake Monroe has at one point slipped through the spillway into Salt Creek. So no matter what you might be targeting, hold your rod tight, because there are a number of big fish hanging below the dam waiting on the next easy meal to show up from the lake above.

This spot is far from a secret, yet it’s hardly ever crowded. Fishermen spread out on the rocks along the shore, and the crowd is generally one of easy going anglers looking to put a few fish in the freezer. It’s a far different crowd from those blowing and going around the lake only in search of largemouth bass. The dam fishermen remind me of the old timers my grandpa used to hang out with — true opportunists. Just hoping for a bite with no real concern over what might end up on their line.

Bait fish pour through the dam, and fish stack up below the spillway for an easy meal. Minnows are probably the most popular bait amongst the regular fisherman, but night crawlers and plastic grubs are also common. With the water moving rather fast just below the spillway, minnows may be fished dead or alive. Spinnerbaits and shallow running crankbaits will also produce on a consistent basis. My favorite below the dam bait, and just one of my all time favorite baits for anywhere, is a Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap. I prefer the silver with a black dot and I like to throw the heavier three-quarter ounce version to contest with the fast water.

Nearly all the fishing taking place below the dam happens from the shore. If you are a little more adventurous, Salt Creek is a beautiful water to float, and you will almost always have it all to yourself. The only problem is access. There are a few bridges in the Guthrie Bottoms, but I’m unaware of any true public access points before Bedford. I have taken out at the Guthrie Bridge before, but the banks are steep and there is no place to park without prior permission.

What I often do is launch my canoe from the tailwater and head down stream about a half-mile to the confluence of Clear Creek. This stretch of water is full of natural fall downs and plenty of stick-ups. It’s really good bass fishing. There is absolutely no pressure on these fish. When I’m done, I simply turn my canoe around and head back up stream. The current is not exactly light, but it’s manageable for one guy and relatively easy for two. If you have access to a kayak, it is even easier. If you have a flat back canoe with a trolling motor, well, then you’re spoiled.

See you down the trail…




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