Ohio River Bass Hotspots

Bluegrass State bass enthusiast have plenty of places to search for lunker largemouth bass in the stretch of the mighty Ohio that forms our state's longest border. (May 2009)

The mighty Ohio River provides nearly 1,000 miles of premier bass fishing for anglers throughout the Ohio Valley region. Of this overall length, a large portion borders the Bluegrass State, and Kentucky anglers have a huge, slow-moving waterway that provides plenty of largemouth opportunity.

Formed by the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Ohio River flows south and west until it reaches the Mississippi River near Cairo, Illinois. Of the estimated 159 species of fish found in the Ohio River, 25 of this number are considered sport fish, with the largemouth bass being the No. 1 most sought-after species by anglers.

Modern management of this huge mass of slow-moving water came about in 1990. This was the direct result of a Supreme Court ruling on ownership of the river and the mandated concurrent jurisdiction. The "Ohio River Fisheries Management Team," was formed with biologists representing each state bordering the river holding regular meetings to plan strategy.

The first major achievement was the standardization of fishing regulations for black bass, walleyes and saugers among the states. A second major project was the undertaking of creel surveys between Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Indiana. This was the start of a modern plan of action to help improve the bass habitat of the Ohio River main channel, as well as the backwater regions.

Pollution control has also had a tremendous impact on the largemouth population found in the Ohio River. In 1948, the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission was formed as a result of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. In 1972, the Clean Water Act gave additional help to the cleanup effort.

By 1995, all municipal wastewater discharges along the river received primary and secondary treatment, and today all industrial discharges meet acceptable standards. Overall, this is good news for both the bass and the bass anglers of the Ohio River.

Flooding is one factor that is not within the control of biologists as to the effect it has on the bass population. Depending upon the extent of the flooding from year to year, bass may or may not be affected negatively by high waters. According to most fisheries biologists, flooding doesn't usually affect the fishing population as a whole.

The worst-case scenario is when flooding occurs at the time for spawning. This means a near zero reproductive rate. Three or four years down the road, the low hatch rate during the flooding could have an influence on certain size fish.

As for the fishing itself, one recreational survey in the 1990s on the Ohio River revealed that fishermen spent more hours pursuing largemouth bass than any other species. And this same survey revealed that 70 percent of the fish were caught from the tailwater areas of the river. Even though the tailwater areas cover a large portion of water acreage, these waters are relatively small compared with the main body.

Knowing where to find these tailwater areas is the first step in finding the better largemouth holes. The primary locations are near the river's locks and dams. The dams control water levels up and down the length of the river, which results in bass habitat control as well.

The section of the Ohio River that borders Kentucky contains many excellent tailwater areas. Beginning within the vicinity of Ashland, the Greenup, Meldahl and Markland pools of the state's northern border provide superb largemouth bass fishing for those anglers who search out these highly productive tailwater regions.

GREENUP POOL
Fisheries biologists have divided the Ohio River into three segments for the purpose of conducting detailed fish studies. The upper segment covers the 300 miles from Pittsburgh to Huntington, West Virginia. The middle segment flows another 300 miles from Huntington to Louisville. And the final 400 miles go the rest of the way to the Mississippi River.

Distribution of fish is not the same within these three segments, which is a key factor in identifying the middle segment as a good location for Kentucky bass anglers. The gradient, or drop, of the upper region is greater than the middle and lower. Currents are faster. With the slower currents of the middle segments, the Kentucky sections become the backwater bass waters.

One such area is found near the Greenup Lock and Dam. Midway between the cities of Ashland, Kentucky and Portsmouth, Ohio, this Greenup Pool is well known to the anglers of this Ohio Valley region. Besides good bass fishing, saugers and catfish bring fishermen to the riverbanks in large numbers throughout the late spring and summer months.

One productive tailwater area is near the town of Greenup, just a few miles upstream from the dam. The Little Sandy launch ramp is one-quarter mile west of Greenup just off U.S. Route 23. A large parking area with the availability of shoreline fishing is located here.

Upstream, approximately 10 miles, is the Ashland public ramp. Within the city of Ashland, this boat ramp is at the north end of 16th Street behind the floodwall. Limited parking as well as limited bank-fishing are available at this location. Several motels are in Ashland for anglers traveling to this region for the first time.

Other access points on the Greenup Pool include the Catlettsburg boat ramp, which is in the city of Catlettsburg behind the floodwall. A parking area with picnic facilities is near the Greenup Lock and Dam. This is just off U.S. Route 23 near Lloyd.

Since the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, security around the locks and dams along the Ohio River has been tightened. Some of the fishing access points are now off-limits. Anglers are encouraged to contact the regulating agencies for current information.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lock & Dam office for the Greenup pool can be reached at (606) 473-7441.

MELDAHL POOL
Throughout the midsection of the Ohio River, largemouth bass head for the creeks and embayments during the early days of spring. When the temperatures exceed 50 degrees, the bass look for shallower places to spawn.

After spawning, some bass remain in the shallower waters, while others move into the main river. When the water temperatures are cooler, the fish stay in the shallower areas. Then when the water temperatures go above 80 degrees, the deeper backwater areas are likely to hold more fish than the shallows.

Fishermen are also advised that undercurrents within the main body of the Ohio River areextremely strong. Life preservers, especially for the youngeranglers, are a must whenfishing this river.

This is another reason for June bass fishermen to search out tailwater regions of the Ohio River. Keep in mind that most largemouth bass are taken in less than 6 feet of water. Even when the warm temperatures of summer entice the fish into the main body, the shallower regions off points, near launch ramps and within the vicinity of tributary steams are the better locations for fishing.

The Meldahl Pool is another of the top largemouth pools along this middle stretch of the Ohio River. The lock and dam is between the historic city of Maysville, Kentucky, and the city of Cincinnati, Ohio. The tailwaters along this section provide some premier bass action for a May or June outing.

Starting upriver at Maysville, the access points to the Meldahl Pool include the Maysville fishing pier and the city of Maysville public boat launch. The pier is near the bridge off 1st Street (through the floodwall) in Maysville. The boat ramp is in Maysville River Park off Forest Avenue at the east end of Maysville.

Whereas the pier does not provide a boat launch site, it does have handicap accessibility and a large parking area. For shoreline anglers, the pier offers good access to the river.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife provides a ramp in Dover. This ramp is on Market Street off state Route (SR) 8. Downriver is the Bracken Creek boat ramp, which is at the northeast end of Augusta, near the mouth of Bracken Creek. Restrooms and a large parking lot are available at the Bracken Creek access point.

Another good fishing spot, with adjoining parking area is found near the Meldahl Lock and Dam. Information on this dam can be obtained from the Army Corps of Engineers office for this facility at (513) 876-2921.

MARKLAND POOL
The Markland Pool of the Ohio River controls some of the most heavily populated shorelines to be found anywhere along the river. Heavier fishing pressure is to be expected; yet, the availability of sizable numbers of largemouths is good within this pool. Accessibility is also very good with numerous points of entry along the Kentucky side of the river.

In 1990, an Ohio River fisheries management team was formed in response to the United State Supreme Court ruling on ownership of the river. The state fisheries supervisors and fisheries biologists for the states bordering the river came together to work on projects of mutual benefit concerning the management of the Ohio River.

One of the first achievements of this team was the standardization of fishing regulations for black bass, walleyes and saugers among the states. Under the terms of the agreement, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois will honor each of the other states' sport licenses along their common borders on the main stem of the river. This excludes tributaries and embayments.

Major tributaries within Markland Pool include the Licking River on the Kentucky side and the Great Miami and Little Miami rivers on the Ohio side. Becoming familiar with Kentucky fishing regulations will ensure a smooth day of bass fishing when angling this particular section of the Ohio River.

The Markland Pool of the Ohio River controls some of the most heavily populated shorelines tobe found anywhere along the river. Heavier fishing pressure is to be expected; yet, the availability of sizable numbers of largemouths is good within this pool.

Most, if not all, of the following access points require a user fee.

The city of California ramp in California is at the end of Miami Street. The Harrison boat harbor is at Melbourne (Harrison does not provide a launch ramp but does have a marina). Licking River public access ramp is near Wilder off SR 9. The Ohio River is a relatively short distance down the Licking River from this ramp.

There is a launch ramp near Constance, just off SR 8. The Constance Marina is nearby. A marina is available, but it doesn't have a launch ramp. The ramp is in the town of Constance as mentioned previously.

There is a boat ramp in Petersburg. Big Bone Creek public access site is at Beaverlick, west off U.S. Route 127/42 on SR 338, then left on SR 1925. This will take you to the ramp. Big Sugar Creek public access provides a ramp in Warsaw. Along with the access ramp is plenty of parking space and a picnic area as well.

Additional information on the Markland Pool can be obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at (606) 567-7661.

IN SUMMARY
The dams along the Ohio River provide fertile waters for largemouth bass. These quiet backwaters are often overlooked, but the flooded timber, brush and extensive weedbeds have created some of the best bass habitat to be found anywhere within the region.

Even though bass usually prefer the tailwater areas, regions of the main stem contain bass as well. Bass will spawn on shallow sandbars where there is little or no current. After spawning, the largemouths often remain near any feature that deflects the current. Logs, bridge pilings and pier supports provide such deflection sections.

Undercut banks and sandbars, points, eddies and deep pools will also harbor largemouth bass. During cooler weather, bass will often congregate around warmwater discharges of power plants that are scattered along the river.

Places to look for bass include bridges where both cover and shade are provided. The bass prefer to stay along the edges of abutments near shore and just above pilings in midstream.

Riprap attracts crayfish and minnows for the bass to feed on among the rocks. Whether along the main channel or in the backwater areas, riprap provides excellent largemouth fishing opportunities.

Islands are found scattered the length of the Ohio River. Points, especially shaded areas, may hold large numbers of fish. Chutes between the islands also concentrate bass food supplies.

When fishing the backwater areas of the river, search out the stumpfields and weedy shallows. Largemouth bass are highly sensitive to water levels. If the water levels drop, the fish will head for the main body to keep from getting trapped. But if the water level doesn't drop below 2 feet, in most areas, the bass will remain in the backwaters throughout the warm weather months.

When fishing the tailwater areas in spring, try shallow-running crankbaits, spinnerbaits and plastic worms. As the water warms a bit, head for the creek mouths and try running crankbaits, jig-and-pigs and jigging spoons.

In the main channel, look for woody debris, rocky banks and weedbeds. The baits that work well in the backwater areas will also entice bass in the main channel.

Ohio River fishing is extremely popular near the dams; however, these are some of the more dangerous areas. Restricted zones exist on both the upstream and downstream sides of the dams. The primary danger here is the strong current, and the loss of one's boat power can be disastrous.

For anglers planning to travel between navigation pools, taking the time to learn proper procedure for passing through a lock is all-important. Pamphlets are available at each lock. These instructions show boaters proper approach, signaling, mooring and departure. Keep in mind the lockmaster directs all boat traffic while in this area.

Throughout the midsection of the Ohio River, largemouth bass head for the creeks andembayments during the early days of spring. When the temperatures exceed 50 degrees, the bass look for shallower places to spawn.

Anglers are also advised to keep abreast of all Ohio River fish advisories. The Ohio River is much cleaner now than in the past, and the health of the fisheries is in much improved condition as well. Still, by following the consumption advisories found in the Kentucky Sport Fishing & Boating Guide, health benefits are maximized and risks of unwanted contaminants are reduced.

Fishermen are also advised that undercurrents within the main body of the Ohio River are extremely strong. Life preservers, especially for the younger anglers, are a must when fishing this river. The slow-moving water can often be deceptive when it comes to the powerful undercurrents.

Barge traffic on the river is also to be taken into consideration. The wakes that follow the passing of a barge can give a smaller craft a hard time if the boater is unfamiliar with how to negotiate the treacherous rocking.

For additional information on the largemouth bass management and regulations for the Ohio River, contact the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, 1 Game Farm Road, Frankfort, KY 40601; or call (800) 858-1549.

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