The ups-and-downs of fishing Turtle Creek

From Local Sources

A dilemma many fishermen and hunters face is the choice of visiting local familiar haunts or heading out of the area for better fish or game opportunities.

I was reminded of that when recently my son Aaron and I spent some fishing time on Turtle Creek Lake near Merom, just south of Sullivan. It’s not a hard drive, about a 90-minute trip. Drive to US 50 at Washington, then over to Hwy 41, and then north to the New Lebanon sign and head west.

This lake was one of the best bass spots in the Midwest in the 90s. The 1550-acre reservoir was built in 1980 by the damming of Turtle Creek. Hoosier Energy owns and manages the lake as a cool water supply for their Merom Generating Station. This coal plant needs 480 million gallons of water daily to cool their processing equipment, and the resulting warm water is recycled into the lake.

The April day Aaron was able to get away from his busy job as a middle school principal was bright, sunny, and windy. Turtle Creek is located in a flat area, and the lake itself is very shallow in spots. When a wind comes up, fishing becomes a battle and possibly dangerous. There are few sheltered areas. We motored over to a west side cove three other boats had found, and the wind was tolerable. But, no fish. In years past we had caught a few there, but not today. However, out in the main lake numerous fish were showing up on my graph. Bass?? Carp??

One issue is that later in the year the shallow areas in the lake are usually recognizable by weed growth or at least less wave action. The best areas to fish are the drop offs on the edges of the shallows. Earlier in the year the lack of weeds or windy conditions make discerning the shallows very difficult. One can be 100 yards out in the lake in ten feet of depth, and then suddenly mired in only a foot of water. This makes motoring challenging, especially if you’re new to the lake.

So, that April day we gave up and called it quits. Later in the summer, on a calmer day, I’ll be back to see if what I’ve heard about this lake is true, that the bass have come back from oblivion. Experts say a water quality issue had turned this super productive sport fishery into a lake in which only catfish and carp could survive. I had called the lake office the week before our trip and asked about the bass fishing. The check-in guy told me that nice bass were being caught. Actually, he said a nine-pounder and some eights had been landed. What? Nine pound bass are extremely rare in Indiana, as are eights. Was he telling me the truth?

According to DNR biologist Dave Kittaka, Hoosier Energy has its own water monitoring company that they hire. “DNR fish management is limited to overseeing the stocking permits,” he said. “Back in the mid 80s, TC had a thriving largemouth population that grew year round due to the hot water discharge. When energy production ramped up at the plant, it wasn’t long before much of the rooted aquatic vegetation disappeared. The decline in water quality corresponded with the decline in the bass population.”

In the mid 2000’s Kittaka said that power plant officials responded to the years of poor bass recruitment by stocking 100,000 fingerlings for eight years. Starting in 2015 they are stocking on average around 47,000 yearly.

“For the past five years,” Kittaka said, “anglers have reported to me that bass fishing at TC has really improved. Maybe not up to the standard of the 80s, but more anglers are making the trek there.”

One nice improvement about the lake is that any size motor may be used now, as long as idle speed is maintained. In the good old days we had to have a 9.9 horse engine. Back then Dad’s Bass Tracker had a larger motor, so we fastened the 9.9 alongside, making the back end very heavy. This got us into a dangerous jam on one trip. I’ll tell you about it in a future column.

If you go to Turtle Creek, get a topographical map showing those shallows. The west side is particularly tricky. One trip just to get the lay of the land would be a good idea. But don’t try it on any day that has more than 10-12 mph winds. On the other hand, wind can position fish and cause them to be more active. Usually the worst kind of fishing day is dead calm. Then it’s better to play golf.

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