Tom Todd has fished for three decades, reveled in the excitement of the state’s top fishing tournaments, and pulled in champion bass more than once. But there’s still nothing like a quiet day out fishing the East Fork of White River, says Todd, a fishing guide who makes his living running Tom’s Guide Service in the southern Indiana town of Bedford.
“About all you hear are a few birds, maybe a squirrel barking, every once in a while a tractor in the bottoms.... It’s peaceful,” Todd says.
The fishing on the East Fork is good enough to attract customers from as far away as New York and Hawaii and to keep Todd busy throughout the season. Three or four times a week through the spring and fall, Todd is out in his johnboat on the East Fork, or sometimes Patoka Lake or Monroe Reservoir, guiding fishermen young and old to crappie, perch and bass. He customizes the trip for each customer. Some are more laid back, so he catches them some live bait like minnow or crawfish “and basically relax and catch a few fish,” Todd says. “Others want to really get after it,” he says, and he uses jigs and spinners to go after crappie and bass.
Todd knows the meandering stretch of river he works, a 64-mile stretch between Lawrenceport and Hindostan Falls, and he usually knows what to expect from the fish. The people are always interesting, too. A seven-year-old first-time fisherman who caught a five-pound perch, dropped the rod and got as far away from the fish as he could. Another time a ten-year-old caught an eight-pound white perch, his first fish ever. “He had a smile from ear to ear,” Todd says.
Even in his down-time, Todd enjoys the river, much as he did growing up in Bedford. “My grandpa and dad got me into fishing on the river when I was just a bitty fellow,” he says. They would head out to their cabin in tiny Rivervale almost every week and fish or hunt for a weekend, or sometimes just a couple of hours. Now Todd takes his seven grandkids, who range from four to nineteen, out to hunt quail and deer in the bottom ground, just like he did when he was young. “I still do the hunting, but the grandkids do the shooting,” he says with a laugh.
Todd’s business depends on good water quality, and he says the East Fork is cleaner today than it’s been in the past. Years back, pollution from Bloomington businesses such as RCA and General Electric would dirty the river, and Todd would sometimes catch fish that had sores. Today the East Fork faces other threats as it winds 162 miles from Columbus, where it’s formed from the confluence of the Driftwood and Flatrock rivers, to the confluence with the West Fork of White River in Petersburg. Those threats include excess sediment from nearby land, which is highly erodible, runoff from development, and invasive Asian carp, says Debra King of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ District Five office in Avoca.
But the fish Todd catches are still healthy, with no sores, and safe to eat within limits. And wildlife abounds, including blue herons, wood ducks, muskrat and mink. In one 12-mile stretch, Todd sees three different pairs of bald eagles nest and raise eaglets each year. Says Todd: “You’re apt to see anything out there on the river.”