Our Finest Ice-Fishing Hotspots

Safe ice or not, these are the best lakes in Ohio for winter fishing -- and the time to go is now!

By Greg Keefer

January is the month that sees many of the Buckeye State's waters freeze over, allowing thousands of anglers to take to the ice for some of the year's hottest fishing action.

Cold-weather angling can be excellent even in the southern part of the state, where temperatures drop to freezing but ice may not form.

Here's where to enjoy some excellent fishing in the Buckeye State this month.

DISTRICT 1
Indian Lake
Always a favorite, Indian Lake is one of the largest and most popular hardwater destinations in the state. According to Elmer Heyob, an Ohio Division of Wildlife District 1 fisheries biologist, the lake is shallow and ices up quickly.

Hefty bluegills swim the shallow bays, and, Heyob says, saugeyes are a big draw. Also, the ODOW stocks up to 500,000 saugeyes into Indian Lake every year, and thousands are harvested. These fast-growing hybrids - a cross between a walleye and a saugeye - can easily weigh in at 7 or 8 pounds.

"The No. 1 ice-fishing location last winter was Long Island," reported Tim Harshbarger, owner of the Lakeside Pro Bass Shop. "There's a deep cut at the mouth of the North Fork of the Great Miami River where the saugeyes stack up."

In addition to being one of the best saugeye lakes in the state, Indian Lake is known for its big crappies. Harshbarger says that a number of 14-inch yellow perch have been brought into his shop as well.

Largemouth bass beneath the ice can be targeted successfully. "The best places are the dredged-out areas," said Heyob. "You're almost guaranteed a bass when fishing jigs and spoons."

Indian Lake, in Logan County 15 miles northwest of Bellefontaine on state Route 235, is easily accessible from state routes 117, 235 and 366. Plenty of parking lots surround the shallow, 5,800-acre lake. The villages of Russell's Point and Lakeview offer restaurants and motels for longer stays.

For more information and a map, contact the District 1 office at (614) 644-3925 or the Lakeside Bass Pro Shop at (937) 843-2488.

Yellow perch are among the top targets for Ohio's winter anglers, and safe ice means non-stop action on most waters this month. Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Buckeye Lake
Another of Heyob's top picks for ice-fishing in his district is this 3,600-acre lake in Fairfield and Perry counties. It's about 20 miles west of Columbus; state routes 13, 37 and 79 provide easy access.

The big bluegills, crappies and perch that Buckeye Lake boasts will be found along its narrow reefs, stumpfields and shallow embayments. It excels in crappie production, and ice-fishermen usually do well here.

Heyob notes that the lake, which averages less than 5 feet deep, is similar to Indian Lake in its physical characteristics. Panfish tactics work equally well on both.

Anglers will find the Buckeye Lake area well developed; several boat-launch areas provide public access to the ice. Locals say that the best fishing is met with, first, when the ice is forming and, second, when it's coming off. They feel that it's one of the best lakes in the state, especially for crappies.

Additional information and a map can be obtained by contacting the ODOW's District 1 office at (614) 644-3925 or the Buckeye Lake State Park office at (740) 467-2690.

DISTRICT 2
Findlay Reservoirs
If there's good ice, says Ed Lewis, a District 2 fisheries biologist, Findlay Reservoirs Nos. 1 and 2 are the places to be for yellow perch and walleyes.

Both of the Findlay Reservoirs are up-ground reservoirs that allow for easy access from nearby parking lots. Reservoir Number 1 covers 187 acres, while Reservoir Number 2, separated from the first only by a manmade wall of earth, has 640 acres - combined, a total of over 7 miles of shoreline and 827 acres of water. Findlay Reservoir Number 2 is the largest upground reservoir in the state, with a capacity of 5 billion gallons of water.

Prospects for walleyes are best in Reservoir Number 1, with perch in second place in popularity there. Reservoir Number 2 offers definite chances for 18- to 20-inch walleyes and some fish up to 10 pounds; according to local anglers, walleyes can be enticed by fishing near the bottom with a jigging spoon tipped with a minnow. Its yellow-perch fishing can be great, and reportedly, even an occasional catfish is taken through the ice.

The reservoirs are east of Findlay in Hancock County. To reach Reservoir Number 2, travel southeast on state Route 37 from Findlay two and a half miles to county Road 205 and east one mile to county Road 234; then, go north to township Road 207. To reach Reservoir Number 1, continue one mile east on county Road 205 past county Road 234.

Usually, ice forms earlier on up-ground reservoirs than on other lakes, as the water in the former type is above ground level, exposed to the wind. But if there's no safe ice, anglers may fish anywhere on the riprap bank. There is good shoreline access even when the weather isn't cooperating; if there's any snow on the ground, however, expect a slippery time getting up the steep sides of these reservoirs.

A map and more information may be obtained from the Hancock County Park District at (419) 425-7275 or from the District Two office at (419) 424-5000. Call ahead to find out about current ice conditions.

Lake La Su An WA
Hands down, the most intensely managed fishing waters in Ohio are the 14 ponds in the Lake La Su An Wildlife Area. Covering a total of 136 acres in Williams County, the ponds bring anglers in from all over northwest Ohio and lower Michigan. It's hard to beat the supersized bluegills that these ponds yield up every year. Taken together, this WA's ponds constitute the hottest bluegill hotspot in the Buckeye State.

Careful control of the ponds' largemouth bass populations is the management method that results in all those line-bending bluegills; fish averaging 8 to 9 inches are regular fare, but much large specimens do show up each winter. And despite the suppression of their numbers, largemouths are occasionally taken in the cold of winter as well.

Lake La Su An WA is on county Road R off state Route 576 about an hour from Toledo. Depending on the pond and current regulat

ions, accessing these waters either will require a reservation or is available only on a first-come, first-served basis. Contact the wildlife area office at (419) 636-6189 for reservations and access information. According to biologist Lewis, the ponds were not open much last season - a consequence of very poor ice conditions - so it pays to call ahead.

A map and general information may be obtained from the District 2 office at (419) 424-5000.

DISTRICT 3
Portage Lakes
"For panfish, the Portage Lakes are the best bet in District 3," said Matt Wolfe, the district's fisheries biologist.

The Portage Lakes consist of five separate lakes - Turkeyfoot, West Reservoir, East Reservoir, North Reservoir and Long Lake - some connected by channels. The total acreage covered by water is 1,681 acres. The largest of the lakes, Turkeyfoot, is 50 feet deep; depths in the other lakes vary.

Of particular interest to ice-anglers is the expanding redear sunfish population. According to Wolfe, the 10-inch fish that are not uncommon here can be attributed to the presence of zebra mussels in the lake system. Redears prey on various mollusks, and the usually despised zebra mussel was made to order for this popular panfish.

"There have been reported catches of 40 to 50 redears a day," said Wolfe. "It's looking even more positive for the future."

Redears, bluegills and crappies can be taken through the ice on mealworms and maggots.

The lakes, part of Portage Lake State Park, lie in Summit County; they can be reached via state Route 619 near Cottage Grove and Lockwood Corners. More information can be obtained by calling the state park office at (330) 644-2220 or the District 3 office at (330) 644-2293.

Mosquito Lake
"Mosquito Lake has probably the highest density of walleyes in the state," stated Wolfe, who recommends tapping into these winter walleyes by fishing the deeper water of this 7,850-acre lake with minnows or jigs.

One method of going after walleyes involves the use of a brightly colored jigging spoon tipped with a minnow. Fish near the bottom, fluttering the spoon on the drop.

Though walleyes and crappies are the fish of choice here, Mosquito Lake's status as the best northern pike lake in Ohio certainly adds to the attraction. Northerns here reach an impressive 18 pounds and can be taken through the ice on minnows or large jigs - a type of angling action usually associated with the northern states or Canada.

Surrounded by public land, the entire lake provides ice-fishermen with easy access. (Note that the wildlife area at the northern tip of the lake is a no-fishing zone.)

Mosquito Lake, which lies in Trumbull County, is 30 minutes from Youngstown and only an hour from Cleveland. A map and more information are available by calling the Mosquito Lake State Park office at (330) 637-2856 or the ODOW's District 3 office at (330) 644-2293.

DISTRICT 4
Ohio River
Ohio's section of the river is a multispecies fishery, reports Scott Schell, a fisheries biologist in District 4.

All of the power plants along the river use water to cool their turbines and release the warmed water back into the river, Schell says. This warm water attracts game fish of every description - largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass, channel and flathead catfish, bluegills, crappies, stripers, white bass, saugers and walleyes.

"Some of the best warmwater discharges for winter fishing are at Little Threemile Creek upstream of Cincinnati, Kyger Creek near Cheshire and the American Electric Power plant across the river from Racine," Schell noted.

The best largemouth fishing is in the embayments. The pools closer to Pennsylvania produce quality smallmouths. "Catfish can be taken throughout the year," said Schell, "but they are tougher to catch in the winter. Channel cats can be caught on almost any live or stink bait, but flatheads require live bait. Large shad, skipjack, suckers and goldfish are the best baits for flatheads."

Information on January's Ohio River fishing can be obtained by calling the District 4 office at (740) 594-2211.

AEP Recreation Lands
Nine miles northeast of McConnelsville on state routes 78 and 83, the AEP's 28,000 acres of reclaimed strip-mine lands include nearly 350 ponds ranging from a half-acre to several acres in size. Administered by the ODOW, this huge tract of land and water in Morgan, Muskingum and Noble counties is open to public fishing.

AEP Recreation Lands are a top pick for winter angling according to Tim Parrot, District 4 fisheries biologist. "There are hundreds of ponds," he observed. "They ice up quickly, and typically, they are great for panfish."

Parrot recommends the ponds that are off the beaten path for some fantastic bluegill fishing and some big winter largemouth bass.

A permit is required to fish the area; it can be obtained by calling American Electric Power at (740) 962-1205.

Maps are available from AEP as well as District Four at (740) 594-2211.

DISTRICT 5
Grand Lake St. Marys
The top ice-fishing destination in the southwest corner of the state, asserts Doug Maloney, a District 5 fisheries biologist, is any lake that has safe ice on it.

"In nine out of 10 years the only two lakes that you could count on for a few days of ice-fishing are Grand Lake St. Marys and Loramie," said Malone.

Grand Lake covers 13,500 acres in Mercer and Auglaize counties. The city of St. Marys borders the lake on the northeastern corner; Celina borders the northwestern corner.

Anglers take a lot of bluegills, crappies and yellow perch, along with an occasional northern pike, out of this big pan-shaped lake.

"Crappies are the heart of the panfishing," says Charlie Huddleston of The Outdoorsman bait shop. His best advice on locating the lake's abundant bluegills, crappies and perch is to find the deeper holes and channels that have recently been dredged. Check the lake's deeper areas and sandbars for panfish, and the sandy bottom in the northeast corner for perch.

Directly out from the west bank at Coldwater Creek is another winter hotspot, according to Huddleston. The main lake is deep there, and the creek is dredged out on a regular basis.

Contact the Grand Lake St. Marys State Park office at (419) 394-3611 for more information. Additional information and a map can be obtained by calling The Outdoorsman at (419) 394-5769 or the District 5 office at (937) 372-9261.

Lake Loramie
Lake Loramie's 1,655 acres of water hold lots of bluegills and crappies, says Doug Maloney. The ice usually cooperates and allows anglers good access to the fish - but it always pays to be careful.

"It's a good fishing lake for panfish and saugeye," Huddleston said. "Fish the shoreline and the shoreline structure."

Lake Loramie is sited in Auglaize and Shelby counties six miles west of Anna on state Route 119, two miles east of Fort Loramie on state Route 362 and 10 miles northwest of Sidney. There's plenty of public parking available along the lake's 30 miles of shoreline, much of which is within Loramie State Park.

Lake depths extend to 8 feet along state Route 362 on the west end. Hardwater anglers typically do the best in the northwestern part of the lake; the submerged fish structures outside of the bay north of this deeper area are promising spots for targeting panfish.

* * *
For more information and a map, contact the state park at (937) 295-2011 or District Five at (937) 372-9261.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife office can be reached for more information at 1-800-WILDLIFE, or access the ODOW's Web site at www. dnr.state.oh.us.

To help plan a trip or to find lodging, restaurants and local amenities, contact the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism by calling 1-800-BUCKEYE or visit them on the Web at www.ohiotourism.com.



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