Ohio's Top 10 Catfish Rivers

Buckeye State catfish anglers have no end of choices for great fishing this summer, but these 10 hotspots come especially highly recommended by ODOW fisheries experts.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

June always signals the beginning of summer, and with it, Ohio's catfishing season officially kicks off. Thousands of anglers will hit the waters of the Buckeye State for channel cats just the right size for the frying pan. Others will battle 30-pound-plus monster flatheads. It doesn't matter what your motivation is, fillets or sport: Great catfishing awaits anglers all across the state.

We tapped Ohio's regional fisheries biologists to find out where the action will be this summer. While many reservoirs and the Ohio River often get a lot of catfishing attention, there are several other river systems that go unheralded. Here's a closer look at the 10 best catfish rivers -- large and small -- in Ohio this year.

DISTRICT TWO

Maumee River

According to Larry Goedde, District Two fisheries supervisor, one of Ohio's most fabled walleye rivers -- the Maumee -- is also one of his district's top catfish rivers. The Maumee River is a broad, shallow waterway. The upper stretch flows through Paulding and Defiance counties and is bordered by agricultural plains. As the river makes its way to Toledo, it cuts through a wide flood plain. According to Goedde, the entire stream upriver from Toledo produces good channel and flathead catfishing.

Anglers can expect to catch good numbers of channel cats in the 16- inch range. The average Maumee flathead will run 20 to 40 inches.

Throughout most of its course the river bottom is dominated by bedrock, which is why the river is generally shallow. The best place to find high numbers of both species is near the deeper holes, which, on the Maumee, means water that is 6 to 8 feet deep.

"Most of the time catfish will be found in the deep holes during the day," noted Goedde. "At night, try the flats that immediately surround those holes. The catfish will come up out of the holes into nearby shallow water to feed."

Anglers should ask for permission to gain access to stretches of the river that roll through private lands. Bridge rights of way are another way to gain access to the river. Often there are some good, deep holes below the bridges.

Goedde recommends the tailwaters below the Providence and Independence dams. Providence Dam is in Grand Rapids off state Route 110. Independence Dam is in Defiance off state Route 424.

If you're fishing below the dams, try tightlining. Use a heavy sinker to keep the bait on the bottom with no drift.

Huron River

Goedde also recommends the Huron River, which contains channel cats and flatheads. Anglers can expect channel cats to average 16 inches and flatheads to range from 20 to 40 inches. The entire river from Monroeville to Lake Erie should produce high-quality catfishing.

Huron River anglers should also focus on deeper holes, which are not quite as deep as those found on the Maumee. A hole measuring 6 to 7 feet deep is considered a deep hole on the Huron.

Access may be obtained to stretches that flow through private lands by asking permission from the landowners. Bridge rights of way are also a possibility. Then there are three public-access sites that Goedde recommends.

The first is at the mouth of the river along Lake Erie. Anglers may access the river from the Huron Boat Basin, which is off state Route 2. The second access site is below the Monroeville Dam, which may be reached via state Route 20. The third site is the Milan Wildlife Area, which may be reached by following Lover's Lane Road east off state Route 113.

Auglaize River

Our last top-rated northwestern Ohio river is the Auglaize. The headwaters of this Maumee River tributary begin in Auglaize County. From Wapakoneta, the Auglaize winds north through Allen County into Putnam County. The Auglaize County stretch of river is characterized by a soft, marshy bottom. The river measures anywhere from 15 to 80 feet across as it winds its way north through Auglaize County. During the summer this upper section is not navigable even by canoe, owing to extremely low water and weeds.

In Putnam County the river deepens as it starts to flow through open farm country en route to Defiance, where it empties into the Maumee River. Goedde recommends both the Allen and Putnam County stretches for big catfish this month.

He also noted that the Auglaize does not feature as much bedrock as is seen in the Maumee and Huron rivers. Instead, anglers may expect more cobble substrate and a more defined riffle-pool pattern. Pools may be as deep as 10 feet. Those deeper pools are the place to fish for summertime channel cats averaging 16 inches.

A public park in Fort Jennings off state Route 190 provides shoreline access. Most of the other access sites will be the Agerter Road, Piquad Road and Ridge Road bridges. And, of course, Goedde recommends seeking landowner permission to gain access to private land along the river.

For more information regarding the Maumee, Huron, or Auglaize rivers, contact the ODOW's District Two office, 952 Lima Avenue, Findlay, Ohio 45840, or call (419) 424-5000.

DISTRICT THREE

Tappan Lake Tailwaters

Matt Wolfe, a District Three fisheries biologist, points anglers to three tailwaters for the best river catfishing in his district.

The first is the Tappan Lake tailwaters in Harrison County. Tappan Lake was created by impounding the waters of Little Stillwater Creek. Today, the lake covers 2,350 acres running from east to west. The dam is at the western edge of the lake.

The Tappan Lake tailwaters are the remnants of the Little Stillwater Creek. Access to the area is provided by U.S. Route 250-36 and county Road T-280, which cross over the dam. There is a parking area at the dam.

The land surrounding the lake, dam and tailwaters is owned by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District and is open to the public. Downstream there are signs alerting anglers to public-private property borders.

Tappan Lake's tailwater cats will be found holding in the deeper pools in summer. According to Wolfe, anglers should target pools ranging from 8 to 12 feet deep.

Wolfe also noted that high flows during spring 2004 should mean an ample supply of new fish in the tailwater sections. Expect mostly flatheads with an

occasional channel cat.

"We shocked a fish (flathead) weighing about 50 pounds at Tappan this past summer," said Wolfe.

Could that fish now be in the tailwaters? There's only one way to find out!

Clendening Lake Tailwaters

Created under the same act (Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District) as Tappan Lake, Clendening Lake is our second stop along the tailwater trail. Located in Harrison County, Clendening Lake and its 1,800 acres of water were created by impounding Brushy Fork on Big Stillwater Creek.

Brushy Fork features mostly flatheads but contains a few channel cats. Clendening Lake is particularly known for its flathead catfish populations. "We have heard of anglers catching up to 60-pound flatheads at Clendening," Wolfe noted.

Parking sites off county Road C-69, which crosses the dam, provide access to Brushy Fork or the Clendening Lake tailwaters. County Road C-69 may be reached from the south via state Route 799 and from the north via state Route 800.

Atwood Lake Tailwaters

Our final District Three tailwater flows from Atwood Lake in Carroll and Tuscarawas counties. Like Clendening and Tappan lakes, Atwood Lake was created by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District for flood control, conservation and recreation. The lake was impounded by damming the waters of Indian Fork, a branch of Conottan Creek. Covering 1,540 acres, Atwood Lake is home to some good-sized flatheads.

Many of those fish wash over the dam into the tailwaters, or Indian Fork. This was especially true last year thanks to unexpectedly high flows. Find the deeper pools this summer. Fish the holes during the day and surrounding flats at night.

A parking area at the dam off state Route 212 provides access to Indian Fork.

Northeast Lake Erie Tributaries

Wolfe also pointed out the many Lake Erie tributary streams that provide great bonus action for District Three catfishermen during the summer. He noted that channel cats will move from Lake Erie into the larger streams in summer, particularly Conneaut Creek and the Vermillion, Rocky, Grand, Chagrin, and Cuyahoga rivers. Look for deeper pools ranging from 6 to 8 feet deep. In fact, the same areas that produce steelhead in winter and spring often hold good numbers of channel cats during the summer.

A "Fishing Hotspots" map for all of these streams is now available. For a map or more information regarding any of the District Three tailwaters or tributaries, contact the District Three office of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, 912 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron Ohio 44319, or call (330) 644-2293.

DISTRICT FOUR

Muskingum River

The Muskingum River has always been a favorite with Buckeye State catfishermen. The Ohio Division of Wildlife rates all of the pools either excellent or good for both channel cats and flatheads. Anglers should be able to find great catfishing in any of the tailwaters.

Six pools on the river were rated particularly excellent. Here's a closer look at them.

At the mouth of the river the Marietta Pool (the Devola Tailwater) covers 5.8 miles in Washington County. The channel-cat fishing in this pool is excellent, with fish averaging 12 to 13 inches and ranging up to 20 inches. Try fishing the main river channel near sand and gravel bars.

This is also one of the best sections for finding flatheads. The water just below the tailwaters should be particularly good this month and next. Expect flatheads to average 12 to 18 inches with a good chance of latching onto the occasional 30-inch specimen. Live sunfish or chubs are the best flathead bait.


While many reservoirs and the Ohio River often get a lot of catfishing attention, there are several other river systems that go unheralded.
 

Upriver, the next top-rated pool is the Devola Pool (Lowell Tailwater), also in Washington County. The Devola Pool is 8.4 miles long. Use the same tactics described above (Marietta Pool) to catch fish in Devola pool. Anglers can expect channels and flatheads of the same size as those found in the Marietta pool.

The Beverly Pool (Luke Chute Tailwater) is another excellent bet for channel cats and flatheads. Flowing for nine miles in Washington and Morgan counties, the Beverly Pool features channels measuring up to 20 inches and flatheads up to 30 inches.

In Muskingum County, the Philo Pool (Y-Bridge Area) is noted for its excellent catfishing, especially flatheads. Flatheads should average 12 18 inches while channel cats will be about 13 inches. The pool is 10.9 miles long, but most anglers concentrate on the deeper pools near the Y-Bridge area.

Also in Muskingum County, the Licking River Pool (Dillon Tailwaters) features excellent flathead and channel catfishing. Concentrate on the deeper pools, especially those with wood cover, such as logjams.

The last top-rated pool is the Zanesville Pool (Ellis Tailwaters). Covering 9.1 miles, the Zanesville Pool flows through Muskingum County. The flathead fishing is particularly good here, with fish averaging 12 to 18 inches and ranging up to 30 inches. The best section within the pool is just below the tailwaters. Focus on the deeper holes downstream of moderate to fast currents.

State Route 60 follows most of the Muskingum River and provides access to the locks and dams, which provide shoreline opportunities for fishermen.

State Route 60 briefly leaves the river's edge bypassing Stockport. This section may be accessed by state Route 376, which branches off from state Route 60. Additionally, the uppermost sections of the river may be reached via state Route 666, which follows the river.

For more information, contact the ODOW's District Four office at 360 east State Street, Athens, Ohio 45701, or call (740) 594-2211.

DISTRICT FIVE

Great Miami River

The Great Miami River, a tributary of the Ohio River, begins north of Dayton and flows through Cincinnati. According to Glenn Trued, a District Five fisheries biologist, Great Miami channel cats average 18 to 24 inches, with some fish up to 32 inches. There are some flatheads, especially closer to the Ohio River. The flatheads tend to be near the 24-inch mark, with some fish topping 36 inches.

Most experienced anglers fish the river's deep holes and washouts. Trueb recommends casting live or dead bait upstream and letting the bait drift through the hole. Water depths on the Great Miami River can vary depending on where you are fishing. The important thing is to find sudden depth changes.

"It's all relative," Trueb said. "If you have 16 inches of water all around and you find a 32-inch hole -- that's a deep h

ole."

There are multiple access sites on the river between Dayton and Cincinnati. According to Trueb, wildlife officers surveyed the river and marked these locations on a topographic map. For a copy of the map or more information regarding the Great Miami River, contact the ODOW's District Five office at 1076 Old Springfield Pike, Xenia, Ohio 45385, or call (937) 372-9261.

DISTRICTS FOUR & FIVE

Ohio River

Our last stop for Ohio's June catfish hotpots is the Ohio River, without which no Buckeye State catfishing story would be complete.

ODOW reports indicate that every pool bordering Ohio shores is either good or excellent for channel cats and flatheads. But, two pools are rated as excellent for channel cats -- the Pike Island and Greenup pools.

The Pike Island Pool borders Jefferson County and runs for 30 miles. Channel cats in this pool range up to 25 inches. The best places to fish this summer are near stream confluences and the below the New Cumberland tailwaters.

Moving water is especially critical later in the month, when the weather turns hot and dry. Outside bends can also be important because the current flow is usually faster compared to straight runs or inside bends.

Pike Island anglers may tap into a good population of flatheads averaging 14 to 25 inches. The water below the tailwaters are particularly good places to find hungry June flatheads.

The New Cumberland Lock and Dam off state Route 7 provides shoreline access to the tailwater section. Multiple launch sites provide boating access to the Pike Island pool.

Greenup Pool is 62 miles long and borders Gallia, Lawrence and Scioto counties. Anglers should expect to catch channel cats anywhere from 12 to 25 inches. The best places to find channel cats in the Greenup Pool are the tailwater section below the Gallipolis Lock and Dam, old locks and dams along the main channel, and various stream inlets. The Gallipolis Lock and Dam access site off state Route 2 provides good shoreline access to the tailwater section. Multiple launch ramps provide boating access up and down the pool.

Flatheads averaging 17 to 20 inches may also be taken from the same areas.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife publishes the informative Ohio River Fishing Guide, which lists many public and private launch sites. It's highly recommended for newcomers.

For a copy of the guide or for more information, contact either the District Four or Five offices.

In truth, just about every stream, creek and river running through the state of Ohio is full of catfish, especially channel cats. If you live close to a river not mentioned here, simply call your local ODOW district office and ask where you can find good fishing in your area this month.

You may just find a great catfish hole in your own backyard!

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