If you need a bit of time away from the ‘stress’ of today or your daily grind…then I know a place, a place not too far from here; Shades State Park is located just a few miles south and west of Crawfordsville, Indiana. Shades is probably the un-known state park in the area as most people either have been to or know where Turkey Run State Park is located…well, it’s just a few water miles (on Sugar Creek) from one park to the other.
The last weekend in September found me and Vickie loaded up in our camper and headed north…and our destination was Shades. Now there is no secret that camping at Shades is a direct link to fishing the beautiful Sugar Creek, in fact Sugar Creek flows directly to and through Shades and thus makes for a quick fishing trip. I should let you know that Shades is primitive camping…no electricity. So, if you need the juice to go camping, then this isn’t the place for you. If however you are looking for a close, clean and quiet camp spot…head your RV in the direction of this west-central Indiana campground, you won’t be disappointed.
We pulled into the campground by 9am and in less than an hour were set up and ready to camp…or make that ready to fish. I had Vickie’s kayak loaded along with my Voyager float boat and we made our way a few miles down to Sugar Creek and Deer’s Mill Public Access Point. My hope was to check in with the folks at Clement’s (who run a canoe and kayak shuttle and rental) and see if they would be able to shuttle V and I upstream to Davis Bridge…about 4 water miles. The bad news was there was only one worker and no way to give us a shuttle. So…plan B was Vickie dropping me off and then picking me up about 5 hours later, once again at Deer’s Mill. We were both disappointed but within a hundred yards I knew that Vickie not coming along was a blessing for her…the black gnats were as bad as I have seen them and the water was down from when we had traveled the creek back in the summer; I knew this would equate to a bad combination of bugs and dragging her kayak; neither of which would she be up for.
Now…not only was the water down but it was gin clear. If you haven’t done much creek fishing for Smallmouth Bass, then low and clear water is about as tough as it is ever going to get. I knew that I was going to need to make longer casts and really watch the wake that I would be pushing through these shallow pools. It may sound a bit odd but the other big factor that you have to think about is the fly you are using and what kind of sound it makes as it enters the water. You can’t just chuck a big ole crayfish pattern into a low, shallow pool or it will spook the fish and put them down. As it turned out I would carefully cast a medium (size 6) silver shad pattern that has worked well for me all year long…not only were the fish eating and chasing minnows but the small pattern could be carefully placed into a pool without notifying every smallie!
I would like to say that I fished and floated back down stream toward Shades…but the truth is that there was very little floating as the water was just simply too low. As a result I ended up walking almost the entire length of this stretch; the Voyager is a neat design as it allows you to stand between the seat and the foot bar all while fishing and walking downstream. By doing this you are able to continue to walk and fish without having to park the boat, then return back upstream to gather it in…in fast or moving water you can sit down and scoot (I call it going Fred Flintstone) over the very slick rocks that all too often cause you to stumble.
I caught several fish along the way, nothing more than about 13 inches…that is until I came to the first deeper hole. I could see tons of fish loaded up at the head of the pool; many were ‘rough’ fish, shad, suckers, buffalo, etc…in fact, there were even several nice catfish at the head of the pool…but through the years I have grown better at identifying my target and there in the middle of the flock was one nice smallie. I made a long cross stream cast and allowed the fly to swim and flutter its way through the top of the hole. I carefully watch the smallie’s body language and I could tell he was on the hunt…a couple of quick, sharp twitches and the fish attacked. He was a beauty and had gorgeous green stripes…as he was fighting and pulling another larger fish gave way his location. I could tell that this big fish was the king of the hole; he was idling just under a ledge in about 3 foot of water. I quickly tied on a heavier crayfish pattern and slipped the fly off the ledge… it dropped in front of the fish and I felt a big tug. Quickly I stripped line with my left hand and the battle was on; up and out of the water came an even larger fish than the first one. I turned my 5 weight rod sideways and applied the pressure to the fish as he wanted to return to his ledge and I knew this would be the end…a little experience and a couple minutes later…I was snapping a few photos of a very nice 17 inch smallmouth.
What a great area…awesome camping to go along with one of the most spectacular rivers in Indiana…heck, anywhere as far as that goes, so grab your camping gear, point your compass north a couple hours to Shades State Park…you won’t be disappointed! Our couple of days without the distractions of daily life was just what we needed; you too will be able to relax and better Enjoy the Great Outdoors.