Our Finest Family Fishing Vacations

Ohio offers some of the Midwest's most diverse opportunities for family fishing vacations. Here's a sampling of the best places to go in 2004 for some great Buckeye State recreational getaways.

By Paula Keller

Ohio is a great place for family outdoor vacations. There is something for everyone to enjoy, from tent camps to lodge reservations, bass boats to pontoons, and fly-fishing to spincasting.

Families interested in nature can take pride in the Buckeye State's natural habitats, lakes and forests. The stocking programs throughout the state have been extremely successful, and each year thousands of people visit the parks with fishing gear in hand.

The latest statewide figures reveal that over 883,000 fishing licenses were sold in Ohio, and more than 416,000 boating registrations were issued.

Enjoy the wonders of Ohio - it's an excellent state to explore. The following examples are typical of its great family vacation destinations:

INDIAN LAKE STATE PARK
Logan County has bragging rights to over 5,800 acres of water and 250 acres of wildlife habitat. Fishermen can take their pick of many available species. Largemouth bass, crappies and bluegill all have good forecasts for summer angling, but channel cats and saugeyes are expected to be available in even greater numbers. Night-fishing in waters with a slight current is especially productive for catfish in the warm summer months.

The saugeye, a cross between a female walleye and a male sauger, have been stocked since 1990 with excellent June prospects in the Old Indian Lake area. Also, night-fishing near the bridges produces good catches of white bass in the 10- to 14-inch range.

This relatively shallow lake has an average depth of 5 to 6 feet.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Four marinas allow for easy launching; the absence of a horsepower limit makes water-skiing an option. Sailing, canoeing and tubing all add to the day's excitement. Rental pontoon boats and fishing boats are available. Docks can be reserved in close proximity to 443 campsites that are suitable for tents or trailers. Cabins are plentiful, and even an island can be reserved. Pets are welcome, but must be leashed.

Sandy beaches with on-duty lifeguards are provided at Old Field Beach. A paved 1.5-mile walkway is favored for rollerblading, bicycling and jogging. Hiking trails abound, as well as the chance for scenic touring among the many islands and peninsulas.

Wildlife programs are available at the nature center with scenic displays in the amphitheater. A wildlife watch program helps promote attention to nature. The lake's fireworks display on July 4 is considered one of Ohio's best.

Many restaurants are accessible by both land and water. A mile from shore is Brickham Bridge, a restored covered bridge that offers a great background for photographs. The city of Bellefontaine is 10 miles away; there, shopping opportunities, museums and caverns can be explored. For more detailed information, contact the Logan County Convention and Tourist Bureau at (937) 599-5121.

Indian Lake State Park is two miles north of Lakeview on state Route 235. The telephone number is (513) 843-2098, www.IndianLake.com the Web site.

The ODOW's Wildlife District One office at (614) 644-3925 can provide additional details.

PLEASANT HILL LAKE
No motor restriction means excellent opportunities for superb skiing on 850-acre Pleasant Hill Lake, where depths reach 54 feet. The marina offers docking, boat rentals and fuel. A swimming beach with a concession stand and restaurant adds to the amenities of this vacation hotspot in Richland and Ashland counties.

Crappies both black and white running between 7 to 11 inches are available in good numbers; some pulled in measure over 14 inches. The lake has an excellent population of saugeyes, too. June saugeyes will be found in the sandy beach areas in 10 to 15 feet of water; night-fishing seems to be most productive method. Bluegills and white bass are available in fair numbers, and channel catfish up to 25 inches are taken.

The bass seem to be segregated in the lake, with largemouths in the upper portion of the lake and smallmouths in the lower portion. The occasional 30- to 45-inch muskie is an interesting addition to the mix.

The park's 1,345 acres lie three miles southwest of Perrysville on state Route 95. Vacation cabins are available, and there are 380 campsites with electric and full hookups. Leashed pets are welcome, and picnic tables are plentiful. An activity center with daily programs and special events at the amphitheater help to make vacations successful. Handicapped-accessible facilities are available.

Great hiking and wildlife viewing are only the beginning. Within a mile's radius of the park are many state and national treasures. In the nearby city of Lucas, an educational day trip can be arranged by calling the historic Malabar Farm State Park at (419) 892-2784, the only working farm in the Ohio state park system.

The 113-foot Pleasant Hill Dam, the highest in the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD), is also the retaining wall for the Clear Fork branch of the Mohican River, where the 400-foot-deep Clear Fork Gorge can be found. Waterfalls and rock formations add to this natural national landmark.

The Mohican Tourist Association at 1-800-722-7588 in nearby Loudonville will help visitors plan a trip to the "Canoe Capital of Ohio," whose many streams and rivers provide invigorating canoe trips.

More information can be obtained by calling the park office at (419) 938-7884 or the main office in New Philadelphia at (330) 343-6647. The Wildlife District Two office at (419) 424-5000 can clarify fishing details, and the MWCD Web site, www. mwcdlakes.com, will provide facts about district properties.

FINDLEY STATE PARK
Almost 1,000 acres make up this recreation area, which is three miles south of Wellington on state Route 58. At one time a state forest, the park remains heavily wooded, with pines and hardwoods still covering much of the park. Its 10 miles of hiking paths include a portion of the statewide Buckeye Trail, giving nature lovers plenty of easy access. All trails permit mountain biking. A variety of animals, reptiles and amphibians can be found within the borders of the park, which also serves as a sanctuary for the extremely rare Duke's Skipper butterfly.

The park's 9

3-acre lake, with maximum depths of 25 feet, is home to bluegills, channel catfish and largemouth bass. Fish small hooks with garden worms near logs and brush to produce a great morning's catch of bluegills. Catfish can be caught using various live baits on a No. 4 hook fished near the bottom in shallow water (no deeper than 8 feet); night-fishing seems most productive.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife annually stocks catfish averaging 13 inches for its Young Angler Fishing Derby, held annually in June. The plentiful bass can be caught with crankbaits, spinnerbaits or plastic lures. Be aware of the protected-slot length limit of 12 to 15 inches for bass, which means that only fish less than 12 inches or more than 15 inches may be kept.

This is an excellent lake for children, because access to shoreline fishing is readily available. The Lorain County Bass Club also sponsors a national Casting Kids Competition at the lake.

There are 272 non-electric camp- sites and three rustic camper cabins with dining flies available. The camping area provides a nature center with a game room, sand volleyball, basketball and horseshoe pits. A seasonal onsite naturalist leads nature hikes and presents slide shows and fishing programs.

Only electric boat motors are permitted. The marina provides rental canoes, rowboats and paddleboats. A 435-foot beach will keep the family's sunbathers and swimmers happy.

Nearby Wellington boasts of being the "Cheese Capital of America," where more than 40 cheese factories are in operation. Museums and shopping complete a visit to the city.

More information can be gathered by calling the ODOW's Wildlife District Three office at (330) 644-2293. Details on downtown Wellington are available at (440) 647-4367. More information for youth anglers can be received from park manager Jim Tuttle at (440) 647-4490.

ATWOOD RESERVOIR
An impressive lodge sits atop the southeastern slope of this 1,540-acre reservoir in Carroll and Tuscarawas counties. This beautiful park operated by the MWCD is two miles south of New Cumberland off state Route 212, an easy drive from Akron or Cleveland.

The lake view lodge has 104 guest rooms and 17 cottages, as well as banquet and conference facilities. Resort amenities include an 18-hole regulation golf course and a 9-hole lighted course, five lighted tennis courts, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, plus a game room and fitness center.

This is an excellent lake for small-boat fishing, but it also offers easy access to 28 miles of shoreline fishing. The reservoir has three public launch ramps and two marinas offering boat sales, rentals and docking. Boat motors are limited to 25 horsepower. Sailing regattas are held throughout the summer, and the vast lake hosts many tubers, canoeists and personal-watercraft jockeys. A wide sandy beach is a popular area for the hot summer days.

The general fishing outlook for several species is ranked as excellent. Saugeyes, aggressively stocked since 1985, will measure 17 to 20 inches. They can be caught using half a night crawler or a curlytail on a jig body.

Electroshocking surveys reveal an excellent percentage of largemouth bass greater than 12 inches. Spinnerbaits and crankbaits are good lures to start with. Both black and white crappies are plentiful, and bluegill catch samples indicate that 60 percent of that population exceeds 6 inches. Bluegills are particularly aggressive during spawning in May and June. Anglers should focus their efforts in the shallow areas along the shoreline.

The park's 3,000 acres of public land include numerous hiking trails, over 500 camp lots with full hookup and primitive sites as well as vacation cabins, patio cabins and camper cabins. Other amenities include a nature center, visitor's center, handicapped-accessible facilities and special holiday events.

Antique shops, restaurants and bed and breakfast facilities are 10 miles away at the restored 1817 community of Zoar. For information, call 1-800-874-4336.

Additional information is available at the park office at (330) 343-6780. Lodge reservations can be made by calling 1-800-362-6406 or on the Web at www.atwoodlakeresort.com.

Phil Hillman, an ODOW fish management supervisor at the Wildlife District Three office, is available for questions; call him at (330) 644-2293. The MWCD may be reached at (330) 343-6647 or www.mwcdlakes.com.

SENECA LAKE PARK
An easy drive from Cambridge and Marietta, Seneca Lake in Noble and Guernsey counties is the largest of all the lakes in the MWCD program. This 3,550-acre lake features 4,060 acres of land available for vacationing families - all just one mile east of Senecaville off state Route 313.

The ODOW reports excellent prospects for three of the lake's most popular fish species: Largemouth bass, channel catfish and crappies. Electroshocking survey results for largemouths indicate numerous quality-size fish, including some greater than 20 inches and weighing more than 6 pounds. A 15-inch minimum-length limit for largemouths is in effect throughout the park.

The lake's channel catfish population is extensive, great for shoreline anglers. Some specimens over 30 inches have been recorded. Recent trap-netting efforts show that plenty of crappies are available, but a 9-inch minimum-length limit is in force.

The lake's walleye population is improving and will continue to provide sporting opportunities for fishermen; that population will, however, eventually be replaced by saugeyes, which have been stocked since 2001 and is expected to constitute a viable fishery in the near future.

Bluegills and striped bass offer good prospects for summer anglers as well. Smallmouth bass, white bass and flathead catfish occur in limited numbers but provide anglers with additional opportunities.

One public boat ramp is on the north end of the lake. The marina is a full-service operation and has boat rentals and sales. There is a 299- horsepower limit on the lake. The marina restaurant is open all year. A sandy beach's swimming area features water slides and playground.

There are over 500 campsites with electricity and some with full hookups. Vacation cabins and camper cabins are available. The log cabin nature center schedules special events throughout the summer through the park's naturalist. The hiking trails encompass a section of the Buckeye Trail, and the local vicinity provides access to two different golf courses.

The ODOW's Wildlife District Four office can provide further information; call (740) 594-2211. The park office is (740) 685-6013. The MWCD may be reached at (330) 343-6647 or online at www.mwcdlakes. com.

GRAND LAKE ST. MARYS STATE PARK
For many years, Grand Lake St. Marys was considered the largest artificial reservoir in the wor

ld. Today, its 13,500 acres of water - average depth, 8 feet - continue to provide great summer fun for anglers and families alike.

The southwest corner of the lake is an established state wildlife refuge. The park is along a major avian migration route, and birders appreciate the great number of species that can be seen here. A naturalist is frequently available at the nature center to aid with bird identification and other information.

The campground contains 210 sites with electric hookups only. Two cedar cabins, two camper cabins and two tepees are also available. A full-service camp store offers games and fishing equipment on loan to registered campers. Bike rentals, horseshoe pits, miniature golf, basketball and volleyball courts are all extra perks. Pets are permitted.

This park is in Mercer and Auglaize counties, where the fishing is great year 'round. Excellent populations of bullheads and channel catfish fill the waters. Night-fishing has produced 15-pound channel cats, and trot lining is permitted in one restricted area. The lake's numerous flathead catfish range from 5 to 20 pounds, and the lake's large population of crappies averages 8 to 9 inches.

The best catches of crappies are made near boat docks and brushy shoreline areas. June to August is the best time for largemouth bass, with plenty of fish in the 2- to 4-pound range. Anglers should try the rocky shoreline or woody areas in the channels. Park manager Craig Morton says that the walleye fishing should be great. In 1999, 50 million fry were stocked by the ODOW, and those fish are now reaching the 18-inch range. Drift-fishing with night crawler rigs or trolling silver crankbaits off the north shore have been successful techniques.

There is no motor limit. Five state and several privately operated launch ramps provide easy access to the waters. Boat and dock rentals are available. There is a 300-foot no-wake zone enforced around the entire lake.

There are five swimming beaches with lifeguard coverage limited to weekends and holidays.

For more details, call the park office at (419) 394-3611. The campground office may be reached at (419) 394-2774. The ODOW's Wildlife District Five office is at (937) 372-9261. The park is two miles west of St. Marys on state Route 29 and nine miles east of Celina on state Route 29. Both locations will add shopping and restaurants to your vacation.

For more information on the family camping-fishing opportunities in Ohio, contact: the ODOW, 1840 Belcher Drive, Columbus, OH 43224-1300; the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District or the Ohio Division of Parks and Recreation (614) 265-6561).

Additional information is available from the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at 1-800-BUCKEYE (from outside Ohio call (614) 466-8844) or log onto www.ohiotourism.com.

Maps of public fishing areas and identification guides for wildlife watchers are available at 1-800-945-3543 or www.ohiodnr.com.



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