Tap into Indiana’s Coastal Smallmouth Bass

Most Indiana anglers know that Lake Michigan is famous for its world-class salmon fishing. The fishing can be spectacular relatively close to shore, especially early and late in the season. But by this time of year, the salmon action is taking place far offshore. Unless you have a boat large enough to safely head out to the fishing grounds several miles from port, you are pretty much out of luck.

Bass fishermen, however, can experience some fantastic fishing much closer to shore. Lake Michigan may be best known for salmon, but it is also well known for the outstanding smallmouth bass fishing available along most of the Indiana shoreline. Smallies measuring 12 to 14 inches are commonplace. Bass in the 2- to 4-pound range are caught regularly, and 5-pounders are not unheard-of.

Smallmouth bass appear in the shallows here during the springtime then stay all summer. They love rocks and structure, and the southern coast of Lake Michigan has plenty of both. It wasn’t always that way, though. Originally (more than 100 years ago), the southern shoreline of Lake Michigan was sandy and shallow.

Over the years, Indiana’s coastline was transformed by industry and local municipalities. The cities of Hammond, Whiting, East Chicago and Michigan City built large breakwalls to battle shoreline erosion and wave action. Large companies from the steel industry, the oil industry, power generation plants, cement factories and others also got into the act.

Stone breakwalls and breakwaters were constructed to provide shelter from the waves and minimize erosion. Large blocks of cut stone, boulders and smaller rocks were used to build some of the breakwalls, while concrete and steel were used for others. The harbors became well-protected.

During the construction of these protective walls, many large stones and countless smaller rocks tumbled out onto the sandy lake bottom just beyond the base of the breakwalls. Violent storms and heavy wave action also dislodged some of the rocks. The gravel, riprap and miscellaneous boulders began providing excellent habitat for bass and their prey.

Today, much of Indiana’s Lake Michigan coastline teems with smallmouth bass of all sizes. Wherever there are stone breakwalls and rocky breakwaters protecting harbors, there will be good numbers of bronzebacks. Since these spunky fish hit hard and fight even harder, they are quickly becoming one of the favorite species of local fishermen!

Where to fish for smallmouth
The majority of the Hoosier bass anglers pursuing Lake Michigan smallmouth bass do so from a boat. Boaters can reach more spots and cover much more water than their shore-bound counterparts. However, shore fishermen can get in on the action, too. Two of the most popular shorefishing sites can be found at the Hammond Marina and Pastrick Marina.

The Hammond Marina, just off of Indianapolis Blvd and Casino Center Dr. in Hammond, provides ample opportunities for shore anglers. A long breakwall nearly encircles the marina, and fishermen can walk out onto it and try their luck amongst the lakeside rocks. Along the entire northeast end of the wall there is a rocky breakwater that lies submerged just beneath the waves, within casting distance of the wall. Smallmouths can be caught all around it by warm weather anglers.

Patrick Marina in East Chicago, just off of Cline Avenue is home to another shorefishing site. The best smallmouth fishing here is usually found along the rocky breakwall located near the yacht club. This breakwall guards the entrance to the harbor, so keep in mind boats will be coming and going through the area.

Boaters will find quite a few more options for wetting a line. Two ports along the western side of the Indiana coastline which have good boat launching facilities include the same two marinas that shore fishermen use: the Hammond Marina and Patrick Marina.

Both marinas have access to excellent smallmouth habitat, but Pastrick Marina is probably the most popular. One of the reasons for its popularity is there is a tremendous amount of fishable water right outside the marina. There is even good smallmouth water inside the outer harbor, all along the inside of the rocky breakwall.

Once outside the harbor breakwalls, boaters can continue fishing along the breakwall or they can move northeast along the rocky shoreline. This shoreline marks the eastern property line for the Arcelor-Mittal steel plant, and the entire length of the shoreline is made up of rock and cut stone and can hold plenty of bass.

Another option for boaters from Pastrick Marina is to make the short run east to the Buffington Harbor breakwall. This rocky breakwall also holds good numbers of smallmouth bass and can take quite a while to work thoroughly. Just on the other side of Buffington is the boulder-strewn shoreline of the shuttered NIPSCO Dean Mitchell power plant. The rocks, gravel and boulders along the shoreline here extend quite far out into the lake, so this can be a real smallmouth mecca.

Like Pastrick Marina, the Hammond Marina offers great access to boaters pursuing smallmouth bass. Once outside the harbor, boaters can fish the other side of the submerged outer breakwater which cannot be reached by the shore anglers. This spot has produced some extra-large smallmouths.

As you head farther to the east, anglers can launch their boats at the Portage Marina just off of Indiana 249. Once the boat is in the water, head north along Burns Waterway until you reach the lake. There is a small rocky breakwall here that protects the creek mouth, and smallies may be caught there.

A better bet is to make the short run east to the long breakwall guarding the Port of Indiana. Boaters cannot enter the Port and fish the inside of the breakwall, but the entire outer wall is open for fishing. Keep in mind that the outer breakwall has a secondary (submerged) breakwater just like the one at the Hammond Marina, but this one is submerged a bit deeper. It can be a real smallmouth magnet, and the deeper water often means bigger fish.

Lake Michigan has a tremendous nearshore smallmouth bass fishery, and it is within reach for just about any angler who can get to the lakefront. Whether you fish from shore or from a boat, this is the perfect time to get in on the action.