Hotspots For Ohio's Spring Muskies

Our muskie population is growing annually. Record-book catches of fish over 40 inches are increasing. Here's where you can go this season to find your Huskie Muskie Club entry. (April 2008)

Photo by Pete Maina.

"All of our muskie program lakes provide excellent fishing," said Elmer Heyob Jr., fisheries administrator for the Ohio Division of Wildlife's fish hatchery program and the division's muskie expert.

Heyob supervises the stocking of thousands of 10-inch muskie fingerlings in the state's nine muskie waters -- with amazing results. The ODOW utilizes a tiered system, with some of our best muskie lakes such as West Branch and Leesville, receiving one muskie fingerling per acre of water.

In years of good production in the hatcheries, these surplus fish will be stocked into lakes such as Milton and Pymatuning. The top lakes in the tier are spread across the state so the wealth is shared in every district.

By Sept. 30 of last year, the Ohio Huskie Muskie Club had recorded 1,333 muskies caught across the state. These muskies included five trophy-class fish at least 50 inches long.

(An Ohio Huskie Muskie must be at least 42 inches, and an Honorable Mention Muskie is any fish from 30 to 42 inches.)

Obviously, the lunkers are out there! Here's where to find great muskie fishing near you this spring:

ALUM CREEK LAKE
According to Fisheries Biologist Rich Carter, the muskie fishing at Alum Creek Lake is excellent.

As of Sept. 30, 2007, a total of 138 muskies had been caught and registered with the OHMC, and that number doesn't include several fish that weren't reported.

But it isn't any surprise. Alum Creek Lake has the fastest growth rate for muskellunge ever recorded in Ohio. Two 48-inch fish were found to be only five years old!

May anglers won't find muskies near submerged cover, said Calvin Pyle, a muskie seminar leader with hundreds of Ohio muskies under his belt and a hunting and fishing talk show host on Country Classic Radio.

The fish will be focused on schools of shad, carp and suckers, though it'll be shad 99 percent of the time.

"The muskie's lifestyle is really pretty simple," said Pyle. "They breed for two weeks a year and then eat the rest of the time. Find the food and you'll find the muskies."

Alum Creek Lake covers 3,192 acres in Delaware County. The lake is accessible off Interstate Route 71 north of the Columbus city limits. State routes 36 and 37 provide access from the east, and state routes 36, 37, 521 from the west.

For more information, contact the ODOW's District One office at (614) 644-3925, or the Alum Creek State Park office at (740) 548-4631.

CAESAR CREEK LAKE
"The Ohio Division of Wildlife first stocked muskies in Caesar's Creek Lake in 1998, and it has really come on strong in the last two or three years," said Doug Maloney, an ODOW fisheries supervisor. "In 2007, we heard about lots of 30- to 38-inch fish being caught, along with a few in the 45- to 48-inch range."

Anglers are advised to troll through the flooded timber, dropoffs, rocky shorelines, points and submerged humps on the upper end of the lake.

According to Pyle, Grandmas, Ernies and 10-inch Believers are productive lures.

Pyle runs his baits a lot closer to the boat than most other muskie hunters would think of doing. At least one line should be in the prop wash, and the others may be just a few feet out. When it comes to trolling speed, his rule of thumb is to troll as fast as possible and still keep the baits performing. The faster the speed, he said, the tighter the wobble.

"The idea is to trigger a strike by trolling fast," said Pyle. "A muskie may be right next to a school of shad, and when he sees your bait heading into his school, he'll do something about it."

This 2,723-acre lake lies four miles east of Waynesfield on state Route 73. For more information, contact the ODOW's District Five office at (937) 372-9261, or the Caesar Creek State Park office at (513) 897-3055.

COWAN LAKE
Some anglers won't give Cowan Lake very high marks, but there are muskies to be had here.

"In recent years, moderate but reasonable numbers of 30- to 36-inch muskies have been caught, with an occasional fish topping 40 inches," said Maloney.

The numbers of Cowan Lake muskies aren't impressive, he said. But then, anglers at Cowan tend not to report their catches to the OHMC.

Even so, last year seven Honorable Mention Muskies and two less-than-30-inch fish were reported by Sept. 30.

The best spring fishing will be around the boat docks, the lily pad beds in the upper end of the lake and next to the blowdowns along the shoreline. Troll lures about two or three feet deep.

Pyle's spring baits include a large, lightweight spinnerbait or the AC Shiner. As the water gets warms up to about 52 or 53 degrees, he'll progress to a big Rat-L-Trap.

Cowan Lake covers 681 acres southwest of Wilmington, off U.S. routes 350 and 730 in Clinton County. For more information, contact the ODOW's District Five office at (937) 372-9261, or the Cowan Lake State Park at (937) 382-1096.

LEESVILLE LAKE
Leesville Lake is the numbers lake in Ohio and one place where catching a muskie is a definite possibility.

Don Weaver, past president of the Ohio Huskie Muskie Club, has caught some 743 muskies. All but seven of them were taken on his home water.

"In spring, I do three things, the first of which is listen to the bass and crappie fishermen," said Weaver. "They'll see more muskies than anyone else and will let you know where the muskies are."

The next thing Weaver does is to look for trees and brushpiles in the water where Leesville's muskies are likely to be. He'll throw a small bait that he can twitch, just to get a reaction. Weaver has found that in cold water, a muskie won't follow a bait very far. But a bait that acts like a dying fish is dynamite.

Before Sept. 30 last year, Leesville Lake anglers took one 50-inch muskie, and an additional 71

Huskie Muskies measuring at least 42 inches. The numbers of Honorable Mention muskies were almost off the chart at 235 fish and led the way statewide.

Leesville Lake covers 1,045 acres in Carroll County and lies about five miles south of Carrollton. Access is from state routes 39 and 212.

For more information, contact the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293, or the MWCD at 1-877-363-8500.

CLEAR FORK RESERVOIR
The clear, weedy waters of Clear Fork Reservoir outside of New Lexington are loaded with muskies. At one time, biologists found a fish here that would set a new hook-and-line state record.

"I fish Clear Fork about the same way I fish Leesville," said Weaver, "though the muskies seem to move into the weeds earlier than in Leesville."

Trolling is a good way to catch Clear Fork muskies early in May. The weed beds are thick, and a boat will push the weeds down as it passes over them. If you've judged your speed right, a big spinnerbait can follow close behind before the weeds rise back up. Big muskies that are otherwise unreachable may be taken in this way.

Last year, Weaver took about 20 muskies and caught all of those fish on only four baits. His hot baits were Sissons, Sledges, Mepps Giant Killers and the Bagley EZ.

Shore-bound anglers on the south side of Clear Fork have almost as much of a chance at hooking one of these big predators as anglers in boats.

The 2007 records show that 30 Huskie Muskies were caught, with one 50-inch fish included. Honorable Mention fish totaled 146.

Clear Fork is in Richland and Morrow counties, northwest of Lexington on state routes 97 and 314. An 8 miles per hour speed limit is enforced.

For more information, contact the ODOW's District Two office at (419) 429-8370.

LAKE MILTON
Things were looking good at Lake Milton last fall. The OHMC recorded 12 Huskie Muskies that were 42 inches or larger and one 50-inch lunker -- along with 99 Honorable Mention fish and 38 specimens that were less than 30 inches long.

That's good action in any muskie hunter's book.

"When it comes to a muskie, one thing to watch is that sometimes he'll just nip at a bait," said Pyle. "When he does that, remember that when he swims away, he's not leaving. He's just going far enough away to get turned around to come back to nip at it again.

"Don't give up and pull your bait out. When he comes back, he may be deeper or he may come in fast."

If hookups are a problem, try using a metal Dardevle spoon or a spinnerbait. Muskies won't be able to sink their teeth into a metal bait and fool anglers into thinking they're hooked when they're not.

Pyle said that lure colors are the last thing an angler needs to worry about. Muskies key in on vibration rather than color, and the tighter the wobble, the better. Pyle prefers baits in orange, chrome and green because he can see them in the water. Black comes in handy to let fish see lures outlined against a dark sky.

Lake Milton lies in Mahoning County and covers 1,684 acres. According to Matt Wolfe, an ODOW District Three fisheries biologist, the lake produces good catches, though it's stocked only sporadically.

For more information, contact the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293, or the Lake Milton State Park at (330) 654-4989.

PIEDMONT LAKE
"Piedmont Lake produces a really big muskie now and then," said Pyle.

The OHMC records back up his claim. By last fall, Piedmont anglers reported catching two Huskie Muskies and 189 Honorable Mention muskies, with 19 smaller fish.

Alum Creek Lake has the fastest growth rate for muskellunge ever recorded in Ohio.

Two 48-inch fish were found to be only five years old!

Piedmont Lake yielded a total of 210 catches, with only two fish not being released. In numbers of muskies caught, it rated second only to Leesville.

The state-record muskie came out of Piedmont Lake in 1972. That 50-inch, 55-pound lunker made Ohio muskie fishing history, but it's a record that may yet be broken.

Narrowing down the possibilities of where muskies are feeding increases the odds of hooking one a hundredfold.

"Look for a school of shad on the fish finder," said Pyle. "If the school looks like a Christmas tree on the fish finder, it's a school of shad that's feeling secure. When muskies are hitting the school and feeding on them, the shad will scatter, and the fish finder will make them look like a flat disc. As the muskies back off, the shad will regroup into a Christmas-tree formation again."

Over 30 tons of clay tile have been placed in five locations in the lake to create fish habitat, in addition to the lake's naturally rocky cover. More than 200 shoreline trees have been dropped into the water, along with hundreds of old Christmas trees. The bays provide weedy shoreline areas, and the shallow stumps are on the eastern end of the lake.

Piedmont Lake is in Belmont, Guernsey and Harrison counties and covers 2,273 acres. For more information, contact the ODOW's District Four office at (740) 589-9930, or the MWCD at (330) 343-6647.

SALT FORK LAKE
"Salt Fork Lake is a good place to catch a muskie, but the boat traffic is fairly heavy," Pyle advised. "Even though a lot of muskies go over the dam, there's a good knob to try, just inside of the bay by the state park cabins."

Salt Fork is a typical ridge-country impoundment with long, thin bays and a deep main basin. Due to the lack of submerged cover, muskies aren't particularly numerous in the lake, but they can reach some monstrous sizes. It's a big-fish lake rather than a numbers lake, and when a Salt Fork muskie is on the end of your line, it's liable to be a monster.

With 15 Huskie Muskies, Salt Fork fell to third place last fall behind Leesville and Clear Fork, but led the way in the state with two fish topping the 50-inch mark.

All told, 107 muskies were reported caught by last September.

If the water has warmed up, target the dam area and dropoffs outside of the lake's many coves and bays. A manmade reef on the north branch of the lake attracts prey species, which in turn brings in the muskies.

The state park will provide a map of the fishing structure, which includes the location of over 2,000 Christmas trees that have been placed as fish attractors.

Luxury accommodations are available in the state park lodge.

Salt Fork Lake covers nearly 3,000 acres. The lake is seven miles east of Cambridge on U.S. Route 22 in Guernsey County.

For more information, contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife's District Four office at (740) 589-9930, or the park office at (740) 439-3521.

WEST BRANCH RESERVOIR
During most of 2007, West Branch muskie hunters fared well with a total of 134 fish reported to the OHMC. Nine muskies measuring at least 42 inches were taken, and 114 fish measuring at least 30 inches were caught, only one of which was kept.

Carefully plan your approach to West Branch. Some muskie anglers employ the slipshod method that Pyle refers to as "blunder fishing." You just fish any old way and sooner or later, you blunder onto a muskie.

The "classic big tackle" method is far more effective and utilizes heavy poles, big reels and large lures. But another way may be even more effective. Bass equipment with only 12- to 14-pound line can provide good sensitivity and control, said Pyle, as long as the reel is a level-wind bait-casting reel with an anti-reverse.

Don't be afraid to use big baits. A 40-inch muskie can eat a 20-inch carp!

West Branch covers 2,616 acres in Portage County east of Ravenna on state Route 14. For additional information, contact the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293, or the West Branch State Park at (330) 296-3239.

The ODOW's Muskie Angler Log is new and will be available online this year. The scale requirement to register fish is being dropped, and the on-line reporting system will replace it. Anglers can summarize their catches, record and manage information about fish they've caught, share photos and view catch totals from across the state. Two muskies may be taken daily, with no minimum-size limit -- although most anglers prefer to release their fish after taking photos and recording the size and weight of the muskies.

For more, visit the ODOW's Web site at www.dnr.state.oh.us/wildlife.

For tourism information, contact the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at 1-800-282-5393.

For downloadable maps of lakes, visit the ODOW's Web site at www.dnr.state.oh.us.

The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District's Web site is at www.mwcdlakes.com.

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