Ohio's Top Five Spring Muskie Lakes
October 05, 2010
Here's a look at where to find some of Ohio's best spring muskie fishing.
It's well known that few states offer a muskie fishery as marvelous as Ohio's.
Ed Lewis, an Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW) fisheries biologist, says that the state's great muskie program is a joint effort between anglers and the fisheries departments.
"Some 97 percent of all fish caught in the state are returned to the water," Lewis said. "Ohio's anglers seem to take great pride in their fishery."
Every year, on average, there is one muskie stocked per surface-acre in Ohio's lakes. "We have developed an advanced muskie fingerling program that affords the fish extra time to grow before being stocked. All stocked muskies are between 8 and 12 inches long," Lewis noted. "This practice increases the survival rate by cutting down on potential predation, thus providing a better fishery for years to come."
Following: a roundup of Lewis' picks for the top five muskie lakes in the state this season.
Photo by Pete Maina
SALT FORK LAKE
Most Ohio anglers wouldn't be surprised to find that Salt Fork Lake in Guernsey County near Cambridge is on the list of Ohio's most productive muskie waters. Year after year, this lake has proved to be a sure bet for boating trophy fish in the upper ranges of the 40-inch class; you've even got a shot at fish over 50 inches here.
Salt Fork is a 2,952-acre impoundment in Wildlife District Four. It is managed by the ODOW, while the Ohio Department of Parks and Recreation manages the surrounding park.
There is no horsepower limit in effect on the lake, which may be accessed six miles east of Interstate 77 off U.S. Route 22. Bait, lures, tackle and info on lake conditions may be obtained from Salt Fork Outdoors, 72090 Old 21 Road, Kimbolton, OH 43749; (740) 439-4570.
Most successful spring muskie anglers target shallow flats associated with woody structure in four to 10 feet of water.
The "Two Fingers" area on the northwest side of the lake holds good numbers of muskies at this time of year. Small lures should either be cast or trolled slowly along the flats for optimal results.
"Little weed growth is associated with the lake," noted Lewis, "so focus your attention predominately on woody cover."
According to Lewis, the lake is more suited to trophy anglers because it produces more big muskies than numbers of fish. In fact, in 2003 Salt Fork led the state in 50-inch-plus fish and was a close second to West Branch in 2004.
WEST BRANCH LAKE
Already a known trophy fishery, and leading the state in 2004 with the most 50-inch-plus fish caught, West Branch merits some angler attention this 2005 season.
"My prediction is that West Branch will again provide Ohio anglers with great muskie fishing opportunities this year," said Lewis.
West Branch is a 2,650-acre lake in Portage County. It is in Wildlife District Three and provides boat-launching facilities five miles east of Ravenna on state Route 5. There are no restrictions on horsepower.
"Anglers should look for woody structure and changes in the bottom contour from shallow to deep," suggested Lewis. "The lake is not known for having an abundance of weed growth, but anglers should not be deterred by this. The fish will simply be found near downed trees, brush piles and similar cover instead."
Spring finds muskies basking in the warmth of shallow water on West Branch Lake, and its northern shorelines warm quickly.
Last year's angler returns show that 159 muskies were caught in West Branch, 28 of which were over 42 inches long. There were also two fish taken that measured over 50 inches.
Widely known and heavily fished, Leesville Lake is one of Ohio's premier muskie waters. Lewis reports that Leesville has historically been more of a numbers lake than a trophy fishery; however, 2004 showed both high numbers and big sizes on the returns.
Leesville is tucked into southern Carroll County in Wildlife District Three. Don't let the apparent small size of this 1,000-acre impoundment fool you -- it's loaded with awesome muskie-fishing opportunities. It can be accessed two miles southeast of Sherrodsville off state Route 212.
There is a 10-horsepower motor limit in effect on Leesville, and the pressure the lake receives is often heavy. Don't, however, let this deter you from paying the lake a visit. There are plenty of opportunities to go around at Leesville.
"Weeds are more prominent on this lake than most in Ohio," Lewis noted. "Some years, however, they are denser than others. Fish in this lake seem to relate to shallow, weed-covered flats in the spring season. I predict this year to be a very productive one for Leesville lake anglers."
The 2004 angler reports on the lake showed that 368 fish were caught, 52 of which were Ohio Huskie Muskie Club fish; one was over 50 inches. Those numbers suggest that Leesville is one of the best bets in the state for great muskie fishing. Not all fish caught are recorded with the state, so the numbers are likely to be considerably higher than the collected data indicate.
CLEAR FORK RESERVOIR
Clear Fork covers only 944 acres, but it has yielded some tremendous attention in muskie fishing circles. Consistency is a notable virtue of this reservoir, as it has been recognized for years as a terrific fishery. Clear Fork, which is in Ohio's Wildlife District Two, can be accessed on state routes 97 and 314 northwest of Lexington in Richland and Morrow counties.
"Weeds are not prolific on this lake," noted Lewis. "For the most part, all the weedy growth is submerged opposed to being emergent. The fish in Clear Fork also relate to woody cover in shallow water. Anglers often target the new bridge past the marina near the launch and the water around the islands."
Small muskie lures are the best choice, because the metabolic rate of these fish is still low. Troll or retrieve your lures slowly and experiment until you identify with what the fish are best relating to. This small lake has no horsepower restrictions.
Angler returns in 2004 indicated that 219 fish were caught at Clear Fork, 26 of which were Huskie Muskie Club contenders. These returns suggest a phenomenal fishery.
Clear Fork now has a population of zebra mussels in its waters. In an effort to eliminate the spread of the invasive mussels to other lakes, anglers are advised to check their boat after wrapping up for the day to make certain it's clear of any potential hitchhikers.
This 14,650-acre lake in Jefferson County (and partially in Pennsylvania) is a prime hotspot for muskies this season in Wildlife District Three.
"Though we do not see all the muskie returns for this lake because we only have jurisdiction over the Ohio portion of it, the potential of the lake is obvious when it comes to muskie fishing," said Lewis.
The lake, which receives moderate pressure from anglers, may be accessed off state Route 6 two miles east of Andover. A 10-horsepower motor limit is in effect.
Shallow bays with weed growth or woody structure are most productive for early season success. Anglers should troll or cast in such areas with natural looking lures. Usually, trolling is the most effective technique to cover more water and find fish. Once a good area is discovered, casting to specific targets is recommended.
NOW'S THE TIME!
Lewis says that spring is the best time of year to get on the water and catch muskies in all of these lakes. The fish will be hitting hard, and --because the water is cooler, and the fish are less susceptible to injury or disease -- may be released with little harm done.
Lewis asks anglers to send a scale sample of any muskie caught in Ohio waters to his office. Envelopes are provided for this at all muskie lakes in the state. Simply take five or six scales off the fish and put them in the envelope. No postage is necessary. This aids biologists in keeping track of the state's muskie population and helps them track stocking success.
For more information or lake maps, contact the Ohio Department of Wildlife Headquarters, 1840 Belcher Drive, Columbus, OH 43224; or call 1-800-WILDLIFE. Scale envelopes may be requested by calling biologist Ed Lewis at (419) 429-8371.