11 Best Catfish Fishing Rivers & Lakes in Indiana

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The best catfish holes in Indiana tend to be closely guarded secrets. Sure, plenty of Hoosier catfish anglers will happily tell you which lakes and rivers hold catfish (spoiler alert: it’s almost all of them), but ask for specifics, and you’ll quickly discover that you’re on your own. 

Maybe there’s a lesson in that. If you want a honey hole, you have to work for it. But it doesn’t hurt to get a head start, and this list will certainly point you in the right direction. Catfish may be virtually everywhere in Indiana, but all lakes and rivers are not created equal. 

Excluding teensy madtoms and various bullheads, you can catch three main species of catfish in Indiana: channel catfish, flathead catfish, and blue catfish. 

Channel catfish are the most common species, inhabiting lakes, reservoirs, and slow-moving rivers in every corner of the state. Anglers prize channel cats as table fare. Most weigh 2 to 5 pounds, which is the perfect eating size, though individuals over 30 pounds are possible. 

Flathead catfish are less abundant than channel cats in Indiana but are nearly as widespread throughout the Ohio River and Lake Michigan drainages. Flatheads over 50 pounds are caught in Indiana waters every year.

Blue catfish are true giants, capable of surpassing 100 pounds. They’re also caught in Indiana, though they’re rare here outside the Ohio River, its immediate tributaries, and a handful of stocked reservoirs. 

Some of the waters listed below contain all three species. All of them offer outstanding opportunities for catfish fishing in Indiana. 

Indiana Catfish Rivers

Ohio River

Forming Indiana’s entire southern border, the Ohio River is the ultimate big river destination for big cats. There’s no place in Indiana where you’re likelier to hook a trophy catfish. 

Channel, flathead, and blue catfish are all abundant in the Ohio River. Blues, in particular, reach truly gargantuan sizes. The angler who caught the current 104-pound state record blue cat was fishing here in 1999, and the next time someone breaks that record, it will almost certainly be in the Ohio River. 

While blues are the biggest, channel catfish are the most numerous species, and the easiest to catch. From spring through fall, anglers catch channel cats beyond counting. Anglers fish the big river both from boats and banks using baits ranging from chicken livers and nightcrawlers to stink baits and blood baits.

Flatheads and blue catfish often require a little more effort. Flatheads are loners that like to hole up in the deepest, snaggiest cover they can find—rocky ledges, undercut banks, logjams, root balls—and emerge from their ‘dens’ to feet at night. 

Blues, on the other hand, are more likely to school together. They usually do so in deep water, such as along a channel break or near a dam.

The sheer size of the Ohio River can be intimidating, and the easiest way to approach the river is to break it down into sections. The ‘pools’ between each of the river’s lock-and-dam configurations provide an easy way to do that. 

Many Indiana anglers would consider the pool below the Newburgh Lock and Dam the best part of the Ohio River for catfish. Catfishers have landed at least one 90-pound blue cat, and plenty of flatheads caught weighing 20 to 30 pounds.

The tailwater below the Newburgh Lock and Dam is accessible through Indian Hill Overlook Park and the Newburgh Boat Ramp.

It’s also worth noting that there are great fishing spots below each of the five locks and dams along Indiana’s section of the river. 

Tailwaters below these locks and dams offer ideal current, great bottom structure, and an abundance of dead shad that get washed through the dams and into the hungry mouths of waiting catfish. Anglers fishing with cut bait typically use shad, carp, or buffalo fish, which are common in the river.

Wabash River

From its headwaters in western Ohio, the Wabash River flows 503 miles to its eventual confluence with the Ohio River. Almost all of it is in Indiana, and the Wabash provides some of the state’s best catfish angling opportunities.

This river is secondary to the Ohio when it comes to trophy catfish, but in many ways, the Wabash River is even better. Anglers have much more access on the Wabash, and while it’s still a big river, its relatively smaller size makes it much easier to fish than the giant Ohio River.

The Wabash River supports an incredible abundance of catfish. Flatheads and channel cats are both very common, with the flatheads occasionally reaching 60 pounds. Up to a certain point, the size and abundance of these two species increase the farther upriver you go.

Blue catfish are also available but rare in the upper portions of the Wabash River. This species gravitates toward the deepest water available. Most blues inhabit the Wabash between the Ohio River confluence and the mouth of the White River, which is right across from Mt. Carmel, Illinois.

Catfish surveys by the Indiana DNR have found the greatest abundance of flathead and channel catfish in the Williamsport area. Channel cats and flatheads in this area average about 17 and 23 inches, respectively, but some are much, much bigger.

This stretch of the river is relatively shallow and narrow, but there are still plenty of deeper holes that harbor catfish. And there’s excellent structure and cover in this area, too, from sand and gravel bars to log jams and exposed tree roots. 

There is only one dam on the Wabash River, in Huntington. The 411 miles from the dam to the Ohio River is the longest free-flowing river section east of the Mississippi. But that hasn’t always been true.

There used to be multiple dams farther down along the Wabash, and the remnants of those dams provide excellent catfish structure to this day. Former dam sites adjacent to Mt. Carmel and New Haven, IL, are outstanding areas to catch all three catfish species.

White River

Though smaller than the Ohio or Wabash rivers, the White River holds its own as a catfish fishing destination. Some might argue it’s an even more enjoyable river to fish, especially if your target is giant flathead catfish. 

Including its East and West Forks, the White River traverses 362 miles, all within the state of Indiana. Blue catfish, channel catfish, and flathead catfish are common, with each species dominating various parts of the river. 

Blues, unsurprisingly, are most abundant in the lowermost sections of the White River. Find the holes and channels up to 20 feet deep just above the White’s confluence with the Wabash River. These are just the types of areas where blue cats thrive. 

Channel catfish are common throughout, but DNR surveys have found that they are the biggest and most abundant in the Petersburg area. This section is right below where West Fork and East Fork meet.

A public access site right below the State Route 61 Bridge is a perennial favorite among local catfish anglers. Expect to catch a lot of channel cats up to 10 pounds in this area.

If it’s flatheads you’re after, head to the forks. DNR surveys suggest that flatheads are more abundant than channel cats in both the East Fork and the West Fork White River, including a lot of fish over 20 pounds.

The East Fork is especially known for big flatheads. The state record flathead weighing 79 pounds. 8 ounces was caught in the East Fork White River in 1966. If that long-standing record ever falls, its successor will likely hail from the same area. 

The public fishing area right below the Williams Dam on the East Fork might just be the best fishing spot on the whole river for flatheads. Flatheads are most likely to strike live prey, and the bait of choice is a live bluegill, with a hefty 1-ounce weight to keep your bait just off the bottom.

The East Fork White River is also an ideal river for paddling. The stretch from Lawrenceport to Williams is a great half-day trip by canoe or kayak, and there are tons of sand bars, fallen trees, and bridge abutments that provide cover for catfish.

Indiana Catfish Fishing Lakes

Patoka Lake

Indiana’s second-largest reservoir at 8,800 acres, Patoka Lake, is widely regarded as one of the state’s best bass and crappie lakes. But this sprawling Southern Indiana reservoir also offers an outstanding catfish fishery. 

With so much attention directed at other species, catfish populations here are relatively unpressured. Electrofishing surveys by the Indiana DNR have routinely produced tremendous numbers of channel cats, including lots of fish measuring 24 to 30 inches.

Flathead catfish tend not to appear very much in electrofishing reports, but they’re out there too. While not as common as channel cats, flatheads in Patoka Lake are known to exceed 40 pounds. A 50-pound behemoth made local headlines in 2017.

Patoka Lake is a sprawling reservoir with numerous long, finger-like bays, coves, and creek arms. These backwater areas essentially serve as catfish magnets, and pretty much all of them can put fish in the boat. 

Catfish follow many typical patterns in Patoka Lake, spending most of their days in relatively deep water before moving into the shallows at night to feed. Look for them along creek channels, points, and submerged road beds during daylight hours.

A great tactic is to intercept catfish right at the mouth of a bay or cove as they enter the shallows at sundown. Then, after dark, focus on shallow flats in the bays and coves. 

Patoka Lake has a huge gizzard shad population, and shad make excellent cut bait for channel cats. However, flatheads are more apt to strike live shad or sunfish, which many locals catch using cast nets or hook and line.

Almost the entire shoreline of Patoka Lake consists of public land, including multiple state recreation areas and wildlife management areas. In addition, there are 11 boat ramps around the lake. 

While bank fishing is widely permitted, many of the best spots are tough to reach without a boat.

The South Lick Fork Ramp is the ideal spot to launch on its namesake fork of the reservoir. The Walls Lake Ramp is a great launch site toward the upper end.

More: Complete Guide to Patoka Lake Fishing

Brookville Lake

Brookville Lake is located a stone’s throw from the Ohio state line in East-Central Indiana. A long, narrow reservoir spanning 5,260 acres, this lake offers an abundance of channel catfish and modest flathead and blue catfish populations. 

Generally considered more of a numbers lake than a trophy catfish hunting ground, Brookville Lake produces lots of feisty channel cats weighing 1 to 3 pounds, which are perfect for the table.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t bigger fish out there. Anglers have caught channel catfish surpassing 20 pounds and flatheads topping 50 in Brookville Lake. In addition, at least one 70-pound blue has been dredged up from this reservoir’s depths.

Whether fishing from a boat or the bank, anglers have plenty of options. The Fairfield Causeway is a popular shore fishing spot, with riprap banks and easy access to deep water where the causeway spans a narrow bottleneck mid-lake.

Farther toward the upper end of Brookville Lake, the W. Dunlapsville Road bridge is another good spot adjacent to Quakertown State Recreation Area. Shallow flats throughout the upper end of the lake are excellent in spring.

There are also productive humps and flats throughout the lower half of the lake that are great for drifting and slow-trolling. Try live nightcrawlers on a bottom-bouncer rig, or drift chunked shad or bluegill filets along flats just above the drop-off. 

But as great as the main lake can be, the coves and creek arms are often even better. The adjoining Gar Hill and Templeton Creek Coves, located on the lower eastern side of the lake, are perennial favorites. 

These twin coves are loaded with structure, including flooded timber, old roadbeds, and submerged bridges along the creek channel. Both coves are accessible through Mounds State Recreation Area, which has boat ramps and bank access.

Various Brookville Lake state recreation areas offer camping, boat ramps, and bank access.

The better flathead action usually begins a little later than channel and blue catfish in spring, but many are caught among the standing timber all summer long.

Brookville Lake also ranks among Indiana’s best walleye fishing lakes.

More: Complete Guide to Brookville Lake Fishing

Monroe Lake

Surrounded by the rolling woodlands of South-Central Indiana, 10,750-acre Monroe Lake was created in the 1960s with the construction of a dam on Salt Creek. It’s the largest lake in Indiana, and a great fishing destination for a variety of species. 

Monroe Lake (a.k.a. Lake Monroe) has long been known more for largemouth bass, crappie and hybrid stripers than catfish. But that perception has shifted since the start of the new millennium, and Lake Monroe has earned a spot on any ranking of Indiana’s best catfish lakes. 

All three prized species of catfish in Indiana can be found in Monroe Lake. Channel cats are most common, but there’s a healthy population of flatheads too, and some giant blue cats roam Monroe Lake’s deep haunts. 

Monroe Lake also grows bigger cats than most Indiana reservoirs. The lake commonly produces 10-pound-plus channel cats, and flatheads over 25 pounds are a real possibility. Multiple flatheads over 50 pounds have been caught here over the years.

If you’re after flatheads, your best bet is to head to Lake Monroe’s timber-filled coves. The Pine Grove Boat Ramp at the upper end of the lake offers access to a lot of great timber, which ranges in depth down to about 20 feet.

The Ramp Creek Arm is another excellent area for both flatheads and channel cats. There are several submerged bridges along an old road bed in this cove.

Monroe Lake has abundant access for both boat and shore anglers, although the aforementioned areas are easier to fish if you have a boat. Fishing the bank at Pine Grove can be good after dark. 

For shore-bound anglers, one of the best options is the fishing pier at Cutright Recreation Area, near the midsection of the reservoir.

Cutright is one of multiple state recreation areas around the lake, and the pier provides access to 20-plus foot depths where the creek channel swings close to the bank.

Honorable Mentions

Anglers can catch catfish in lakes and rivers all over Indiana. In addition to the outstanding lakes listed above, be sure also to consider these other excellent options.

Eagle Creek Reservoir

Just a 10-minute drive from downtown Indianapolis, Eagle Creek Reservoir is one of the great fishing resources for residents of the capitol area. This 1,400-acre reservoir supports an abundant population of channel catfish and a few hefty flatheads. 

Channel cats are distributed throughout Eagle Creek Reservoir but are most common in the upper half of the lake. Structure is abundant here, including lots of wood, riprap banks, and a well-defined creek channel. 

Many anglers fish from the 56th street causeway that spans the lake from east to west, and there’s also a very productive flat just north of the boat ramps on the east side of the lake. Anglers can catch channel catfish from the bank virtually year-round.

Flatheads tend to favor deeper water, especially along the creek channel.

Eagle Creek Reservoir stratifies in summer. Once the thermocline sets up, you are unlikely to find catfish deeper than 15 or 20 feet. 

Eagle Creek Park encompasses the entire upper half of the reservoir above the 56th Street causeway. The park provides excellent bank access and boat launch facilities but closes between sunset and sunrise, which limits night fishing opportunities. 

St. Joseph River

The St. Joseph River—or the St. Joe, as many locals call it—is a 206-mile tributary of Lake Michigan. It begins in Michigan before swinging through Northern Indiana and eventually crossing back into its home state. 

Anglers looking for some of the best catfish action in Northern Indiana will find it in the St. Joseph River, including a substantial flathead population. An angler landed a new Michigan state record flathead catfish weighing 53.35 pounds in that state’s portion of the river in 2022.

There’s a ton of great river access in the Mishawaka area, including the Riverwalk Trail, which parallels the river. In addition, Monkey Island offers a popular small boat launch on a productive stretch of river below Twin Branch Dam.

The best fishing for flatheads tends to be in summer when the river is low. Catfish stack up on the deepest available holes and then emerge at night to hunt on shallow flats immediately upriver. Cut and live bluegills and suckers are good baits.

Indiana is actually home to two St. Joseph Rivers. This river is not to be confused with its doppelgänger, an 86-mile tributary of the Maumee River in the state’s northeast corner, which ultimately drains into Lake Erie. It contains channel cats, but no flatheads. 

Indian Chain of Lakes

One of Northern Indiana’s best-kept catfish secrets, the Indian Chain of Lakes is a string of natural lakes in LaGrange County. The lakes that make up the chain—Dallas, Hackenberg, Messick, Westler and Witmer lakes—support a substantial channel catfish population.

The Indiana DNR has been stocking channel catfish in these lakes for over 30 years. Anglers routinely catch catfish over 10 pounds, and smaller fish weighing a pound or two are incredibly common. 

While some fish forage during daylight hours, the best catfish bite is almost always at night here. Fishing close to the banks in depths ranging from 3 to 15 feet is effective once the sun goes down.

Many local anglers favor fishing with stink baits, including many homemade baits. However, nightcrawlers and chicken livers are also effective. Focus on shallow flats adjacent to drop-offs into deeper water.

The five lakes total 685 acres, and although bank access is limited, these lakes are ideal for fishing via small craft.

You’ll find boat ramps on Messick and Witmer lakes, and navigable channels make all the lakes accessible to one another from there.

Patoka River

The Patoka River is a 167-mile tributary of the Wabash River that meanders through the rolling farmlands and rich bottomlands of rural Southwestern Indiana. It’s an excellent and often underrated catfish river, with abundant channel cats and a modest flathead population.

The best-known feature of the Patoka River is Patoka Lake, one of Indiana’s largest reservoirs and the best catfish fishing lakes already covered in this article. That said, you can find excellent catfish angling opportunities in the river above and below the reservoir.

Spring offers some of the best fishing in the portion of the river above Patoka Lake. Many catfish make their way up into the river this time of year, and anglers can launch or fish the banks at the Kings Bridge Boat Ramp, at the uppermost end of the reservoir.

There is often an excellent catfish bite in the river just below the dam spillway. This river section is loaded with timber and log jams, which provide excellent catfish cover.

Farther downriver, the Patoka and the South Fork Patoka meet in Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge. This area offers excellent fishing in the rivers themselves and dozens of connected sloughs, backwaters, and oxbows. 

Salamonie Reservoir

Spanning 2,855 acres at full pool, Salamonie Reservoir is an excellent catfish option in North-Central Indiana. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control reservoir lies on the Salamonie River just a few miles above its confluence with the Wabash.

Channel catfish are abundant throughout Salamonie Reservoir. The most common size class is between 16 and 20 inches. These channel cats typically weigh about 2 pounds and are perfect for the table. 

But plenty of bigger fish are caught here too. Channel cats up to 15 pounds are relatively common, and there’s also a limited population of flatheads in a similar size range, with occasional fish up to 40 pounds. 

The Corps draws down the reservoir significantly every year. The winter pool is typically 25 feet lower than the summer pool, and water levels tend to fluctuate widely from February through April. Catfish fishing tends to pick up in April, and the area just below the State Route 9 bridge is a prime spring spot.

There’s good fishing in most of the reservoir’s coves in summer. Shoreline areas near Pirates Cove Marina and the Lost Bridge West Boat Ramp are popular, with cut shad being an effective bait option.

Catch More Catfish

Follow the suggestions for each of Indiana’s best catfish fishing spots and you’ll catch these whiskery game fish. But if you want to improve your odds, take a read through our complete guide to simple catfish fishing techniques, tackle and baits.