July 22 found Dad and I loaded up, camper in tow…and heading north, not to Alaska, but to Shades State Park. I had never stayed at Shades but had always heard good things and knew that it would put us within 10 minutes of Sugar Creek, which was our true destination. We found the primitive camping at Shades to be…not so primitive; true, there was no electricity or water, but there was a nice shower house close by and with the day temps in the low 80’s…it was a very comfortable stay.
You might remember that I visited Sugar Creek on Memorial Day of this year and had great success. My mind had been wandering back to this magnificent stream…over and over I could see the beauty of the water, canyons…oh, and the big smallmouth!
Our first trip was cut short and due to time constraints…Frank and I had to row our new Voyagers through some awesome looking water. That meant that I needed to get back and see just how good the water actually was…and that is exactly what I was able to do. Monday the 22 found dad dropping me off about 5 river miles due east of Deers Mill (the eastern edge of Shades State Park). I took a look at my watch and told dad that I would meet him back at Deers Mill by 2pm, which would give me over 4 hours to fish and navigate my way downstream toward Shades. I knew it had rained the night before but was a bit shocked to see the usually crystal clear water of Sugar Creek resembling a cup of coffee with creamer. I jumped in my boat and off I went…plenty of time and lots of water to fish!
I quickly decided that if my fly was to be seen it would have to be brightly colored…like a neon yellow, or black so that it would contrast with the tan colored water. I decided to tie on a black wooly bugger that had bright red eyes; I started casting below and above riffles and worked my way from spot to spot…with no strikes, nothing! I knew the fish were there and knew the water was stained; my only thought was to persevere. I had gone about an hour and spotted a boulder sitting a couple feet from the shale wall above it…I made an accurate cast and before I could retrieve my fly it had moved five feet down water. My instincts kicked in and I made a quick and powerful strip set and felt a heavy fish; a few seconds later I was taking a photo of spectacular 17” smallmouth…never give up!
By 5pm I was revived and once again floated the same 5 miles…a few hours later and the stream had cleared considerably; my 4 fish of the morning turned into a solid dozen fish and as I pulled into my pick up point I was already eager for Tuesday morning and yet another chance to land another trophy smallie. Tuesday morning found dad and me about another 5 river miles east towards Crawfordsville at a new DNR access point; the goal was to float the 5 miles back to what had been my put in point on Monday. The water had cleared so much in 24 hours that I once again felt a crayfish pattern was the odds on favorite to do the job…and by the time I traversed downstream and once again met dad I had landed another dozen smallies, one of which was a 16” bruiser that really gave me a tough time as I had to land the beast in some very swift water.
My best float came later Tuesday afternoon as I once again did the lower 5 miles; I was eager to fish this section with the ever clearing water. I knew it was going to be a good trip when I hauled in a very thick 15” smallie on my first cast! I continued to see loads of bluntnose minnows trying to escape from the hungry predators below (smallmouth bass). I made a good call, to tie on a shad pattern that I tie and had had great luck with over our Memorial Day fishing trip. At one point I hit a section of water where I could see minnows flying through the air in several directions; I hopped out of my Voyager and made a long downstream cast…a couple of strips and I caught the first of 6 smallies that would come from one pool. If you would like to see a video of me catching a few smallies and some other footage, check out my video entitled “Sugar Creek.” The next couple of hours were magic…I caught fish after fish and my 6 largest fish were all over 15 inches!
The real beauty in Sugar Creek isn’t necessarily the great fishing…but all the wildlife that it has to offer. I bumped eagles, ducks, geese, and about every kind of water bird you can imagine. Honestly, if you are looking for a place to get away and not break the bank…the combination of camping at Shades and traversing Sugar Creek is an incredible option. I can’t say enough about Shades as it was clean, quiet, beautiful and…and $12 per night, very affordable. If you don’t own a canoe or kayak…Clements is the place to contact as they have a full shuttle service and will rent any type of boat you would like to use. They are home based at Deers Mill and have a nice camp store as well.
The summer isn’t over and take my word…you will love the beauty of Sweet Sugar Creek. Pack a lunch, grab your canoe and give it a go; you will find the stress of daily life just leaving as you Enjoy the Great Outdoors.