From big water to small streams, Ohio’s got top angling for any taste. We’ve picked three of the best fisheries to try for each month of the year.
JANUARY – Ohio River Saugers
The Ohio River is a sauger factory, offering some of the best angling action for them anywhere in the nation. The action actually peaks when water temperatures are at their lowest, which occurs this time of year. The sauger are prompted to go into pre-spawn mode and to start feeding heavily. Ohio offers nine lock and dam structures that concentrate the sauger and provide access to the fishery from the shore. Greenup Dam, in Scioto County, is one of the most popular and productive. Find good access at the site located east of Portsmouth along US route 52.
OTHER OPTIONS: Ice fishing for walleye in the Western Basin of Lake Erie can be world class. The fish school-up and stage off the river mouths and around the islands and reefs from Toledo east to the Bass Islands and can be caught through the ice by anglers using jigs, spoons and live bait. Some of the larger wildlife areas include small ponds that are stocked with bass and panfish and perfect for ice fishing.
FEBRUARY – Reservoir Spillway Saugeyes
Most inland reservoirs that are stocked with saugeyes offer open-water winter action in the spillway for fish that have found their way over the dams and stage in the flow below. The walleye/sauger hybrids are drawn to current and will often move upstream until they reach a barrier, where they stage and feed. This offers fishermen who cast jigs and live baits or a combination of the two some welcome open-water action at a time of year when the impoundments above are partially frozen or otherwise unfishable.
OTHER OPTIONS: Yellow perch are found in practically all the upground reservoirs in Wildlife District 2 and the popular panfish remain active through the winter months. They can be caught through the ice or casting from shore. Findlay Reservoir #2 is a good choice for perch. If you want to catch inland walleyes, several inland lakes such as Mosquito and CJ Brown reservoirs are stocked with walleye and can offer good under-ice action.
MARCH – Maumee And Sandusky Walleyes
Depending on air and water temperatures, the annual spring spawning runs begin in the Maumee and Sandusky rivers in Northwest Ohio anytime from early to mid-March prior to their peak late in the month or in early April. A significant segment of the Western Lake Erie walleye population uses the Maumee River and, to a lesser extent, the Sandusky River as spawning destinations. The fish stack up in the lower portions of the rivers and are popular targets of wading anglers and boaters alike, who cast jig and twister tails or Carolina-rigged floating jig heads to catch the migrating walleyes. Special fishing regulations are in effect during the popular spawning run time period, details of which can be found at wildohio.gov. A popular fishing access to the Maumee River is found at Toledo’s Side Cut Metro Park in the town of Maumee. A good map of the access area can be found at metroparks.com.
OTHER OPTIONS: March is also a good time to wet a line for sauger at the locks and dams along the Ohio River, where the fish are active and accessible from the fishing platforms. White bass begin making spawning runs up tributaries that feed most inland impoundments that hold these early spawning fish.
APRIL – Sandusky River White Bass
On the heels of the famous walleye runs that peak early each April, white bass make their annual appearance in the Sandusky River, where they stage their own spawning migration — and it’s an impressive one. Vast numbers of the fish concentrate in the lower reaches of the river and are easily caught by shore anglers casting small lures into the flow. Late-to-the-game Lake Erie walleye are bonus catches from prime fishing access areas between the State Street Bridge in Fremont upstream to the Ballville Dam.
Other options: Brown trout will be active in the Mad and Clear Fork rivers, as well as in Clear Creek in Franklin County Metro Park south of Columbus. Seneca Lake in the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, and Delaware Reservoir north of Columbus, are two perennial crappie-fishing favorites, but any water with a population of crappies will provide steady action for anglers when the fish are spawning in the shallows.
MAY – Western Basin Lake Erie Walleyes
Walleyes begin their annual migration east from the shallow reefs and islands of the Western Basin, following baitfish and lower water temperatures toward the Central Basin. Anglers trolling crankbaits and crawler harnesses in waters from 15 to 50 feet deep from Toledo to Vermillion can expect to hook-up during what is usually the most productive month of the season for catching limits of Lake Erie walleyes.
OTHER OPTIONS: Bluegills and other sunfish are spawning in shallow waters, where they will devour just about any small bait, live or otherwise. Muskie action can be excellent at Clear Fork Reservoir near New Lexington.
JUNE – Lake La Su An Wildlife Area Sunfish
Lake La Su An Wildlife Area ponds in extreme northwest Ohio’s Williams County present anglers with a prime opportunity to catch big bluegill and redear sunfish in June. Managed as a trophy panfish fishery, the lakes here are only open from early May through August, and only four days a week: Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, from sunrise to sunset during the designated fishing days. The sunfish bag limit is 15 fish daily, with no more than 5 fish being 8 inches or larger. Largemouth bass have an 18-inch minimum length limit, with a five fish daily bag limit, and no minnows or other fish may be used as bait on the area. The regulations have been designed to continue the tradition of quality bluegill fishing on the area by continuing to regulate the amount of fishing pressure without the need for anglers to obtain a reservation. For more information about fishing at the Lake La Su An Wildlife Area, visit the ODNR Division of Wildlife’s webpage at wildohio.gov under the Public Hunting, Fishing & Wildlife Viewing Areas tab. Select “Lake La Su An” on the Lake and Reservoir Maps page.
OTHER OPTIONS: The AEP ReCreation Lands in southeastern Ohio offer hundreds of ponds that are full of bass, panfish and catfish. The “Ohio Power Area” as it is still popularly known, is open to those who carry a free permit available at aep.com. Miami River in southwest Ohio and the Hocking River in the southeast both give wading anglers a great shot at smallmouth bass.
JULY – Central Basin Lake Erie Walleye And Steelhead
Walleyes that have migrated east from the Western Basin set up residence in the cooler, deeper water east of Vermillion, where they feed on baitfish that school-up there. The walleyes are pushovers for trolled crankbaits and spoons, baits that fool the occasional steelhead as well. Successful anglers troll deep and slow using downriggers, snap-weights and diving planers to get baits down and fool some very large walleyes.
Other Options: Night fishing for catfish along the Muskingum River in eastern Ohio is productive — and cool — this month. Anglers catch big channel cat and flatheads near the locks and dams found from south of Zanesville all the way to Marietta. Daytime stream anglers keep cool by wading waters such as the Hocking River and catching smallmouth and rock bass on surface lures, crankbaits, small jigs and popping bugs.
AUGUST – Lake Erie Yellow Perch
Although the fishing is productive through the summer, most avid Lake Erie perch jerks don’t get serious about the sport until August. That’s when the perch start to school up and emerald shiners fished on spreaders or multi-hook vertical crappie rigs slay the popular panfish. Perch that top the 10-inch mark and are referred to as “jumbos” can be caught regularly for the first time of the season. The fishing is so productive that several party boats work out of ports from Sandusky to Cleveland to offer perch trips.
Other Options: Pursuing largemouth bass after dark is a great way to stay cool and have some exciting action in any lake or pond. Ohio River flatheads are active in any deep hole or backwater along the length of the Ohio shoreline. Use small hook-and-line-caught bluegills as bait.
SEPTEMBER – Ohio River Catfish
Ohio River catfish are active and anglers seeking them in all the pools along the Ohio shoreline can find good late-summer action. The confluences of the Scioto and Muskingum rivers with the Mighty Ohio are popular places for boat and shoreline anglers to target channel cats and flatheads. Cut baits, prepared baits, dip- or punch-baits, and balls of nightcrawlers all will catch catfish, with the nod to small live bluegills fished near woody cover at night for those after big Ohio River flatheads. Excellent maps of each pool of the river and angling access points can be found at wildohio.gov by following the catfishing or Ohio River prompts.
Other Options: Lake Erie perch are a popular target of boat anglers in the Western and Central basins. Trout are getting active in the Mad River, the Clear Fork of the Mohican River and Clear Creek, the three Ohio streams stocked with brown trout annually.
OCTOBER – Lake Erie Tributaries Steelhead
A half dozen Lake Erie tributaries in northeast Ohio are stocked with steelhead annually and these fish return to their “home” rivers each season about this time and can offer fantastic opportunities for catching the big lake-run fish. The steelhead actually trade back and forth from Lake Erie at the river-mouths to upstream areas following the spawning urge, even if the act isn’t consummated. Wading anglers drift spawn sacs, jig-and-maggot combos, and live minnows under bobbers, beads, nymphs and streamers to tempt the steelhead in popular rivers including the Chagrin, Grand and Rocky rivers and Conneaut Creek. Wildohio.gov offers an excellent steelhead fishing link showing all the state’s top steelhead streams including public access points and water flow levels.
Other Options: Steelhead are schooling-up at the mouths of the rivers they will run, and often cooperate with trollers dragging crankbaits and spoons or anglers casting same from jetties at ports such as Ashtabula Harbor. Any inland impoundment with a population of crappies will be offering good action on the fish this month.
NOVEMBER – Alum Creek Saugeyes
Central Ohio’s Alum Creek Reservoir, like most of the large inland impoundments that have been stocked with saugeyes over the years, offers an exciting and productive twilight-to-dawn fishery for the walleye/sauger hybrids. Like their walleye kin in Lake Erie, the hybrids chase baitfish up against the rocky shorelines during low-light periods. Shore anglers can catch them by casting large, minnow-imitating crankbaits. The rip-rap of dam faces and rock found along causeways are prime spots to get into this this late-autumn shore fishing action, which can result in some large saugeye coming to net.
Other Options: The Huron Pier is a popular place from which to cast crankbaits for Lake Erie walleyes at night to catch big fish migrating back west, as the gamefish follow and feed on baitfish stacked-up along the Ohio shoreline. Inland lakes like Mosquito, Buckeye, Atwood, Paint Creek and CJ Brown that hold walleyes and saugeyes offer similar after-dark action.
DECEMBER – Mad River Brown Trout
Brown trout remain active in the cold weather and offer action along the state’s most popular trout stream through the winter months along its route through Logan and Champaign counties. Being spring fed, the Mad often doesn’t ice over as often or as early in the season as other waterways its size, offering trout fishermen some un-crowded winter wading. Consider using worms, minnows, small spinners, prepared baits or flies. There is a fly-only section in the upper reaches of the river near West Liberty. A map showing those areas as well as all access points along the Mad River can be found at wildohio.gov.
Other options: The shore bite for Lake Erie walleye continues until ice-up and can be very good at Marblehead peninsula and Mazurik launch ramp as well as the Huron Pier. Saugeye fishing in spillways is also good in the below-dam areas of reservoirs that hold the hybrids, including Deer Creek, Paint Creek, Alum Creek, Atwood and Pleasant Hill lakes.