2018 Ohio Family Fishing Destinations

OH Family Fishing Feature Image

Kids and fishing are a natural fit. Here are some great get-a-ways the entire family can enjoy.


When it comes to family-style fishing opportunities (which for most families generally means fishing that involves easy access to shoreline shallows where popular warmwater species abound), Ohio is a national leader. Thanks to its abundance of small rivers, man-made lakes, ponds and reservoirs, plus the mighty Lake Erie, Buckeye State anglers of all ages can easily elbow their way up to the water's edge and reasonably expect to catch fish — in fact, many fish!

If variety is the spice of life Ohio is the angler's cupboard. Species that are within casting distance of shore include white and yellow perch, walleyes, smallmouth and largemouth bass, pickerel, king-sized bluegills, catfish, bullheads, northern pike, muskies and even trout. Some of Ohio's smallest kids catch some of the state's biggest fish every year, often using grandpa's old Zebco two-piece spin-casting outfit that he used when he was a youngster.

For the sake of this article the focus will be on Ohio's fishing destinations that are family-friendly and kid-accessible. These future experts may not be ready for a long day on a charter boat, running rapids in a canoe or wading fast-moving steelhead waters, but they will quickly master the art of dry-land fishing or standing knee-deep in sandy shallows where fast panfish action will hold their interest for hours on end.

Simplify matters by using basic tackle that is easy to use, sturdy and kid-sized.  Head for the water prepared for hook-and-bobber fishing using basic live baits such as garden worms, small shiners, maggots or mousies. Older kids should be able to handle their own standard-sized outfits with lures, plugs or spoons, and the more accomplished teenagers will have no trouble catching fish using flies or even bait-casting gear. In other words, know your child's abilities and limitations so that fishing becomes a fun, not frustrating, exercise.

Finally, check into current size and bag limits, tackle restrictions and licensing requirements (fishermen over age 16 must have a valid fishing license in their possession). The larger game species (bass, walleyes, muskies, steelhead) are tightly regulated while most panfish (perch, bluegills, catfish, etc.) have no size or bag limits, although there are exceptions. Log onto ohio.dnr or study a copy of the 2018 fishing regulations as they apply to the water you plan to fish.

With all this in mind, here's a look at some of the best places to go for a great family fishing experience in Ohio in 2018.


There are more than 190 Lake Erie public access sites. The 14 main tributaries that flow to Lake Erie in Ohio offer more than 200 additional public access sites on the rivers. Privately owned marinas, campgrounds, bed and breakfasts, hotels, restaurants, wineries and other businesses offer additional lake-related recreational activities.

Ohio's Lake Erie Public Access Guide is the resource for exploring Ohio's Great Lake coast. From tranquil nature preserves and scenic vistas to sandy swimming beaches and prime fishing spots, Ohio's Lake Erie coastline has something for everyone. Public access along the Lake Erie coast as well as rivers in the Lake Erie watershed can be viewed using an online GPS map viewer that allows you to zoom in to any area.

The current edition of Ohio's Lake Erie Public Access Guide (8.5 inches tall by 5.5 inches wide) is available by e-mailing coastal@dnr.state.oh.us or by calling (419) 626-7980.

The latest Lake Erie fishing information is recorded weekly and is available at: (888)-HOOKFISH.

Along the Way: Ohio's Lake Erie coastal fishing sites are replete with accommodations, restaurants, antique shops, fishing supplies and tourist attractions ranging from inland sight-seeing to charter boat tours of the lake and its many coves, bays and islands. Plan to travel early and late in the day because most of Lake Erie's coastal highways are packed with anglers, tourists and east-west travelers that clog the highways during typical rush-hour periods. Log onto ohio.gov/tourism for a complete list of places to go and things to do when the fishing slows down.


For some reason kids love to catch catfish. Perhaps it's because these bottom-feeders are easy to catch, or because they are so ugly, or because they make some interesting sounds when pulled up on shore. In any case, kids and catfish are a natural combination and the Buckeye State's mighty Ohio River is the best place to find these abundant, catchable fish.

The most common catfish species in the Ohio River sport fishery are channel cats, flatheads and blue catfish. These species are widely distributed and can be readily taken by shore anglers. Blue catfish are taken in the lower river but are rare in the Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia portions of the river. Channel catfish up to 15 pounds are fairly common. Flatheads are capable of reaching 100 pounds, but 20- to 30-pound fish are the norm.

[bcplayer list_id=5750999775001]

Watch The Video Gallery Above To Help you Improve Your Family Fishing Fun!

Catfish can be caught almost any time water temperatures are above 50 degrees, but night fishing during May, June, and July is best. Tailwaters produce the most fish, but warm water discharges, stream confluences and gravel flats near deep water are also proven producers of big cats. Try drifting large gizzard shad (4 to 6 inches) on a 2-ounce jig in swift water for large channels and flatheads. If larger shad are available, try cutting these into two-inch pieces (cut bait) and bottom fish with heavy tackle. It is not uncommon for channel catfish to be taken incidentally on crank baits by anglers targeting other species.

The Ohio River also contains an abundance of white bass, the most frequently caught native game fish in the river. White bass average 8 to 12 inches in length but rarely exceed 21 inches. White bass have stripes above the lateral line that are usually un-broken and only a single stripe will reach the base of the tail. White bass have only a single tooth patch on the tongue.

Hybrid striped bass have been stocked in the river by Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania fisheries personnel with fish up to 10 pounds being fairly common. Hybrids often exceed 18 inches in length and can reach well over 21 inches. Hybrid striped bass have stripes above the lateral line that are often broken and there are multiple stripes reach the base of the tail. The tooth patch on the tongue of a hybrid striped bass is split down the center, forming two patches.

Striped bass are stocked in the river by Kentucky fisheries managers and can weigh up to 20 pounds. Light tackle is acceptable for catching white bass, but the larger stripers and hybrids require much heavier gear.

April and May are the best month to fish tailwater areas for these species with good angling continuing through the summer and into the fall. White bass are attracted to highly oxygenated water below dams and typically seek quiet water adjacent to fast- moving water where they wait to ambush gizzard shad and emerald shiners. Savvy anglers catch their own shad with cast nets and use them fished from jigs large enough to get the bait down in the current, usually 1 to 2 ounces. White bass, being smaller, can be taken on much lighter jigs tipped with minnows, small spinners, crank baits and spoons. These fish often feed on the surface and can be taken on top-water baits. A common method of surface fishing calls for a jig to be trailed behind a floating, hookless agitator which pops across the surface and attracts strikes. Many anglers keep two rods handy, one rigged with a surface lure and the other with a jig. Hybrid striped bass are also taken by young anglers who rig to bottom fish with live bait, cut bait or liver chunks.

Older children who have worked on their casting and retrieving skills will want to challenge the Ohio River's largemouth bass. The best time to catch bass in the main river is June through fall.

When fishing the embayments in the spring try-shallow running crankbaits, plastic worms and spinner baits fished slowly. As the water warms, try fishing creek mouths with jigs, deep-running crank baits and jigging spoons.

Keep in mind that most largemouth bass are taken in less than 6 feet of water. When fishing the main channel target weed beds, rocky banks and woody debris.

State jurisdiction and fishing regulations vary between Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, so anglers are advised to contact the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) for current  Ohio River regulations and restrictions.

Click Here to Read More About What's Going On In Your State

Along the Way: The Ohio River corridor is one of the Buckeye State's premier summer attractions, with plenty of museums, entertainment destinations, lakes, ponds, parks and forests that appeal to a wide variety of summer vacationers. When the focus is on fishing plan to travel early or late in the day to avoid tourist tie-ups. Accommodations, meals, shopping and other attractions are available in the major towns along the Ohio River. Contact the Ohio Division of Tourism for specifics on what to do and where to stay between fishing forays along the Ohio River.


Just over 100,000 rainbow trout are released each spring into 64 Ohio public lakes and ponds. This presents some very flexible options for family vacations: Pretty much anywhere you want to vacation in the state is likely to be in "driving range" of a public trout pond.

Rainbow trout releases will take place across Ohio from March through May in areas that are ice-free and accessible to anglers. Stocking of these public lakes and ponds provide excellent opportunities for families to fish together. Fishing for catchable-sized trout from shore is a great way to introduce young people to the outdoors.

Rainbow trout are raised at state fish hatcheries and measure 10-13 inches before they are released by the ODNR's Division of Wildlife. The daily bag limit for inland lakes is five trout. Some locations will feature special angler events on the day of the scheduled trout release. Log onto ohio.dnr or contact the nearest Wildlife District office for site-specific information.

Finding a family-friendly lake can be a daunting task, but the search is made easier by using logging onto ohiodnr.gov and clicking on the "Find a Lake Site" link, which includes an interactive map of Ohio's public fishing waters.

Pins represent the locations of Ohio lakes and reservoirs on a Google map. Click on a pin for more information. For non-public areas check with the property owner for rules and boundary information.

Each pin location offers directions to the lake, current regulations, fishing tips for the lake's most abundant species and information on local contacts.

Along the Way: The vast array of trout ponds and warmwater public lakes gives you all of Ohio to choose from. If you want to trout fish and are near Franklin County, the Groveport Heritage Park contains many family-friendly things to do, including the chance to learn about an 1815 log cabin on site. On the shores of Lake Erie, 1,831-acre East Harbor State Park has unlimited opportunities for outdoor recreation. Boating, fishing, swimming, picnicking and camping are popular while nature enthusiasts will enjoy the abundance of waterfowl, shorebirds and other species of wildlife found in the park's scenic wetlands. But those are just two place among dozens and dozens. You can go to the DNR site to view the list of trout stocked ponds, pick a location where you want to vacation, and a quick internet search will give you a list of local family-friendly activities.

Click Here to Subscribe

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.