Don’t let anyone tell you there aren’t good options for fly fishing in Indiana. The truth is, when you wet a fly in the Hoosier State, you never know just what you’ll find at the end of your line.
While trout are the target species for some, it’s common for Indiana’s browns and rainbows to share a habitat with warm water fish like smallmouth bass, which are often more than eager to gobble up a wet fly or terrestrial.
Many fly anglers also go after smallmouths specifically. Some beautiful Indiana rivers and streams harbor fat smallies as well as toothy northern pike, walleye, and other species. Steelhead and salmon are also on the menu in some of Northern Indiana’s Lake Michigan tributaries.
Ultimately, Indiana provides year-round fly fishing opportunities for anglers willing to adapt their technique and target species as the calendar changes.
Best Fly Fishing Streams in Indiana
Whether your species of choice is rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, or something else entirely, you’ll find ample opportunity in these excellent Indiana fly fishing streams.
St. Joseph River
The St. Joseph River is the largest Lake Michigan tributary that flows through Indiana. Thanks to many years of intensive stocking, the river hosts multiple impressive steelhead runs every year in winter, spring, and summer.
Though its headwaters are in Michigan, the St. Joseph River swings through Indiana, passing through the cities of Elkhart and South Bend before re-entering Michigan, where it eventually empties into Lake Michigan.
That being the case, each seasonal steelhead run peaks first in the Michigan portion of the river before eventually making its way up to Indiana. The spring run is one of the most popular, typically beginning in late March and peaking around mid-April.
The river is often high and muddy with snowmelt in spring, making fly fishing challenging.
Most spring steelhead anglers fish from boats, using salmon roe and crankbaits like Flatfish and Wiggle Warts on spinning tackle.
For fly fishermen, the summer run typically offers easier fishing and safer wading conditions in June, July, and August.
St. Patrick’s County Park, immediately upstream of the Michigan state line, provides ample access.
Many anglers also fish in the section of the river below the dam and fish ladder in South Bend, which is accessible through a series of riverside parks and greenway trails. Farther upriver, the Mishawaka area offers similar opportunities.
Large, bold fly patterns get the call more often than not. Streamers, spey flies, and large marabou flies are all great choices, with black and purple being among the most popular colors.
Nymphing with a strike indicator is also an effective tactic, and some use sinking line and slinkies to get their presentation down deeper.
St. Joseph River steelhead average 5 or 6 pounds, but anglers occasionally put 20-pound fish on the bank.
Meandering across 182 miles of Northern Indiana, the Tippecanoe River is one of the great destinations in the state for warm-water fly fishing. Anglers target a wide range of species here, but smallmouth bass are typically the main quarry.
The “Tippi,” as anglers often call it, has a gentle current that makes it ideal for wading and paddling throughout the warmer months. May through September offer prime conditions, but fishing is available year-round.
Fly anglers target smallies throughout the year by casting streamers and crawfish imitations. Poppers and terrestrials are also effective, especially in summer.
It’s a good idea to bring a rod spooled with a floating line and another with a sinking line so that you can target fish at various depths.
Work methodically, focusing on seams, deep pools, undercut banks and any structure that provides a break in the current. The river has an abundance of rocks and boulders that hold fish.
The Tippecanoe River is relatively unpressured.
Smallmouths weighing a pound or two are very common, with plenty of fish tipping the scales at 4 pounds and up. Expect to catch the occasional walleye, sauger, rock bass, sheepshead, or carp as well.
Northern pike are also abundant in the Tippecanoe. Some anglers target these toothy fish by casting large streamers to the banks, especially around fallen trees and weed beds.
The lower 18 miles of the Tippecanoe River below Oakdale Dam is widely considered to offer some of the best fly fishing. However, you’ll find ample opportunities and abundant access all along the river.
If you’re launching a boat, use the ramps on County Road 725 N and the State Route 18 bridge.
If you head farther upstream on the upper Tippecanoe River, you’ll find great wading, canoe access, and camping at Tippecanoe River State Park.
Brookville Tailwater (East Fork Whitewater River)
For Indiana fly fishers in search of trout in a wild river setting, there’s no better option than the tailwater section of the East Fork Whitewater River below Brookville Dam.
Although the trout here are not truly wild, the setting is unique in the state of Indiana.
State officials have stocked rainbow and brown trout here in great abundance for many years. The Brookville Tailwater has proven to be one of the few waterways that can support holdover trout for multiple seasons.
Anglers often catch trophy-size browns over 20 inches, and DNR surveys have revealed as many as 625 brown trout per mile in a 2013 report. That’s the highest concentration of brown trout in the state.
Rainbow trout are common, too, including many over 12 inches.
Located a stone’s throw from the Ohio state line in Eastern Indiana, the Brookville Tailwater fishes best from April through early June. The river flows just two miles from the dam before the East Fork merges with the West Fork.
Matching the hatch with great precision isn’t usually necessary here. Though occasional hatches of caddis and mayflies bring trout to the surface, nymphs and smaller wet flies are effective more often than not.
Classic patterns like Pheasant Tails, Copper Johns, and Midge Nymphs are all great choices. Scuds and sowbugs are on the menu, too, and some anglers throw Wooly Buggers and smaller Clouser Minnows.
There isn’t a lot of overhanging brush or trees along the banks in most places, so long rods work well in this setting.
You’ll have plenty of access immediately below the spillway and at Brookville Park.
Though anglers can catch trout here all summer, it’s best to give them a break on days in July and August when the water temperature crosses the 70-degree mark.
Fortunately, warm water species like smallmouth bass, white bass, and sauger are also available this season.
Above the dam, Brookville Lake is one of the best all-around warm-water fisheries in Indiana, including for bass fishing.
A stream that flows just 7.3 miles (not counting its East and West Branch), Trail Creek courses through LaPorte County before spilling into Lake Michigan at Michigan City, Indiana.
It’s a great place to target Lake Michigan steelhead, which the DNR has stocked in various seasons for decades, to the point that some steelhead are in the stream virtually year-round.
The summer run of Skamania steelhead is the strongest of the year, usually getting underway in July and lasting through August. Plenty of 10-pound steelhead are available this time of year.
There’s a great winter run too, and anglers willing to brave the cold often catch some of the biggest steelhead of the year from November through February.
For fly anglers targeting steelhead, some of the most effective patterns on Trail Creek are Hex mayfly nymphs and stonefly nymphs.
Egg patterns and streamers are also great options. For the most part, anglers use 8- or 9-weight fly rods in the 9- to 10-foot range. Those who favor spey rods might choose a 9-weight, 14-foot rod.
Trail Creek also hosts a solid spring coho salmon run, along with chinook salmon in September. Chinooks over 12 pounds are a possibility. Anglers may also hook a few big lake-run brown trout in the fall.
Variations in water level and clarity can throw off the quality of the fishing fall through spring, which is one of the reasons why the summer steelhead run is the most popular. Be prepared for adverse conditions during the colder months, but don’t write them off entirely.
Trail Creek has an abundance of excellent fishing access for a relatively small stream. Friendship Gardens, Route 35, and the DNR access site on Route 20 are all great spots, and the Johnson Road access is especially productive in summer.
Sugar Creek is one of Indiana’s premier smallmouth bass streams, and there are few better places in the state to target smallies in moving water. The creek flows across 93 miles of Northwest Indiana farms and forests before feeding the Wabash River.
Almost every section of Sugar Creek offers great smallmouth habitat and an abundance of fish. However, fishing generally improves as one moves downstream, leaving farmland behind and entering wilder countryside.
Large boulders, rocky banks, ledges, and fallen timber abound throughout much of Sugar Creek, offering ample cover for bass and the crayfish, minnows, and aquatic insects on which they feed.
Target the upper and lower ends of deep pools and any structure that breaks the current.
Streamers like Clouser Minnows and Deceivers are ideal smallmouth flies, and it’s always a good idea to have a crawfish pattern handy. Poppers like Sneaky Petes and Umpqua Bass Poppers are great in late summer.
The bass action usually gets going as early as April. Though conditions can be challenging this time of year, some of the biggest bass are caught during pre-spawn. Plenty of trophy smallmouths over 20 inches swim in Sugar Creek.
Once bass finish spawning in June, there’s reliably good fishing throughout summer, when the water is low and conditions are conducive to wading. There’s usually a great fall bite in September and October too.
Sugar Creek certainly does not suffer any shortage of public access. Shades State Park and Turkey Run State Park are both great places to reach the water, and there are numerous informal access points at bridge crossings.
Several other Indiana rivers offer fly fishing opportunities for a wide range of species. Anglers searching for trout, bass and pike shouldn’t overlook these honorable mention streams.
Little Elkhart River
A tributary of the St. Joseph River, the Little Elkhart River is an excellent trout stream in Northern Indiana’s LaGrange and Elkhart counties.
The Indiana DNR stocks several thousand rainbow trout here every spring, and the agency also periodically stocks brown trout.
The Little Elkhart River is, for the most part, a put-and-take fishery. While a handful of trout may overwinter and reach lengths over 16 inches, anglers catch the vast majority of the trout within the first few months of spring stocking, which takes place between March 1 and mid-April.
Still, there’s excellent fishing while it lasts for scrappy 9- to 12-inch rainbow trout throughout the Little Elkhart River between Middlebury and Bonneyville Mill. Anglers may crowd the banks on prime spring weekends, so try to visit mid-week if you can.
For fly anglers, the catch-and-release, artificial lures-only section from County Road 43 downstream to County Road 16 (excluding waters along Riverbend Park) is arguably the best place to fish.
A wide range of classic nymph and wet fly patterns are effective.
The Little Elkhart also made our rundown of the best overall trout fishing spots in Indiana.
The Yellow River is a tributary of the Kankakee River that flows southwestward across just over 63 miles of Northern Indiana. It’s a gently meandering river that offers a unique fishing opportunity: catching massive northern pike on the fly.
Along with the Tippecanoe, the Yellow River offers one of the best pike populations in Indiana, with fish averaging around 30 inches. Of course, there are also much bigger fish in the river, but even a small pike can put up quite a fight on a fly rod.
Pike fishing can be excellent from March through October, but summer is an especially great time to float the river, casting streamers and poppers into the 4- to 6-foot pools that harbor big, toothy northerns. Look for pools that have slack water and weeds or woody cover.
The Yellow River is quite deeply stained, so choose big, bold patterns. White and yellow are great colors, and streamers measuring 4 to 9 inches are par for the course.
There’s good access around the city of Plymouth, including a greenway trail and public kayak launch.
The Blue River offers some of Southern Indiana’s best fly fishing.
Not to be confused with the similarly-named Big Blue River of East-Central Indiana, the Blue River is a direct tributary of the Ohio River. It flows 57 miles through Harrison, Crawford, and Washington counties.
Smallmouth bass are the main game fish in the Blue River.
The stream zigs and zags through mostly wooded countryside and much of it is slow-moving. However, the best fishing tends to be in the faster sections, where rocks and boulders offer tempting breaks in the current for bass.
It’s a great river to fly-fish from a float tube, and wading is generally easy from late spring to fall.
Bring an assortment of bass flies to cover various depths. Surface poppers may work some days, but deeper flies like Holschlag Hares and Ghost Minnows are also good to have on deck.
Most smallmouths are in the 10- to 14-inch range, but 20-inchers lurk in some holes.