JANUARY – SAUGER: OHIO RIVER
The Ohio River is known as the most productive sauger fishery in the nation. The action continues through the winter months, peaking in late winter when low water temperatures trigger the fish to go into pre-spawn mode and start feeding heavily. There are nine lock and dam complexes connected to the Ohio shoreline that concentrate the sauger and provide access to the fishery from the shore, where anglers cast jigs and retrieve baits right along the riprap and concrete walls.
Other Options: When ice cover is adequate, the walleye fishing in the Western Basin of Lake Erie can be spectacular for ice anglers. The fish school-up off the river mouths and around the islands and reefs from Toledo east to the Bass Islands where they will spawn in early spring. In the meanwhile, the concentrated walleyes are hungry and are pushovers for jigs, spoons and live bait. Ice cover also offers vertical fishing action in inland farm ponds for panfish and bass.
FEBRUARY – BLUE CATFISH: OHIO RIVER
Big blue cats are active and on the prowl in the Ohio River during the winter months. Anglers anchor their boats near the river’s deeper holes and the pilings where grain barges pickup their loads and spill enough while doing so to attract the oversized cats. Chunks of fresh or thawed skipjack held near the bottom with a heavy sinker is the most popular method for hooking up with big blues in every river pool along Ohio’s border.
Other Options: Inland reservoirs that are stocked with saugeyes provide winter action in the spillways for the popular sauger/walleye hybrids. The fish are drawn to current and move upstream until they reach a barrier, where they feed, offering anglers who cast jigs and live baits productive open-water action. Inland ice anglers fish in the upground reservoirs in Wildlife District 2 that are stocked with yellow perch. The panfish can be caught through the ice when conditions permit or by casting from shore.
MARCH – WALLEYES: MAUMEE RIVER
The annual spring spawning runs begin in the Maumee River in Northwest Ohio in mid- to late March and peak late in the month or in early April. 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 spawning period, details of which can be found at wildohio.gov. A favorite fishing access to the Maumee River is Toledo’s Side Cut Metro Park in Maumee.
Other Options: White bass begin making spawning runs up streams that feed most inland impoundments that hold populations of the early spawning fish. March is also a good time to hook-up with sauger at the locks and dams along the Ohio River, where the fish are still active and accessible from the fishing platforms found at many of the flood control facilities.
APRIL – WHITE BASS: SANDUSKY RIVER
Following the walleye runs that peak early each April, white bass begin migrating up Lake Erie tributaries such as the Sandusky River. The bass concentrate in the lower reaches of the rivers and are easily caught by shore anglers casting small lures into the flow. Popular fishing access areas along the Sandusky include the stretch between the State Street Bridge in Fremont upstream to the Ballville Dam, which is undergoing removal and should open up additional miles of the Sandusky to migrating white bass and walleye.
Other Options: Crappies will cooperate with anglers’ efforts in any waters they frequent, as they move into shallow, brushy areas to spawn. Minnows or small jigs fished vertically a couple feet under a bobber with do the trick. Rainbow trout are stocked in urban waters statewide in March and April and provide excellent fishing action from shore. A list of the waters being stocked with trout this spring is available at wildohio.gov.
MAY – BROWN TROUT: MAD RIVER
Brown trout are active in Ohio’s most popular trout stream and offer anglers good chances to catch big fish this month on baits ranging from flies and crankbaits to spinners and live bait, including at night. The Mad River runs for some 70 miles through west-central Ohio from West Liberty through Springfield to the Great Miami River.
Other Options: Bluegills and other sunfish are spawning in shallows wherever the species are found. Muskie action can be excellent at Clear Fork Reservoir near Mansfield, Alum Creek Reservoir north of Columbus and in Ohio’s other muskie lakes, where trolling is the preferred method before weedbeds become established, after which casting becomes popular.
JUNE – SUNFISH: LAKE LA SU AN WILDLIFE AREA
Fishing for sunfish on the Lake La Su An Wildlife Area ponds in extreme northwest Ohio’s Williams County peaks each June. Managed as a trophy fishery for bluegills and redear sunfish, largemouth bass and channel cats are also caught. The lakes on the area are only open from May until August with limited hours and size regulations enforced.
Other Options: The AEP ReCreation Lands in southeastern Ohio offer hundreds of ponds that contain bass, panfish and catfish. The area is open to anglers who have a free permit available at aep.com. The Hocking River in Southeast Ohio and the Scioto River above and below Columbus are two popular waters for summer smallmouth action.
JULY – WALLEYE: CENTRAL BASIN LAKE ERIE
Big walleyes that migrated east from the Western Basin offer excellent action to trollers dragging crankbaits, spoons and crawler harnesses in the cooler, deeper water east of Vermillion to Geneva-on-the-Lake. The walleye follow migrating baitfish seeking cooler water.
Other Options: July is prime time for night fishing for catfish in the Muskingum River in eastern Ohio. Anglers catch big channel cats and flatheads near the locks and dams between Zanesville and Marietta. Yellow perch fishing in the western basin waters of Lake Erie is underway.
AUGUST – SMALLMOUTH BASS: INLAND STREAMS
Many anglers don’t realize that when water temperatures increase, so does the stream and river action on smallmouth bass. The Scioto, Maumee, Hocking, Muskingum, Grand, Kokosing and other flows famous for holding good populations of smallmouth bass should all produce this month, as will smaller streams. Don’t shy away from throwing larger crankbaits, surface plugs and hand-sized flies to fool bronzebacks that occupy most of the major flows in Ohio. Target deep pockets, pools and seam waters between fast and slower flows, especially where boulders or woody cover are present.
Other Options: Shovelhead catfish feed in the deep holes or backwaters along the length of the Ohio River, where flathead seekers fish at night using small live bluegills near the bottom as bait. At inland reservoirs, white bass feed on the surface, chasing shad during low-light periods. Spoons, jigs, bladebaits and crankbaits cast near the commotion will draw strikes.
SEPTEMBER – YELLOW PERCH: LAKE ERIE
Perch fishing can be good as early as June on Ohio’s Great Lake, but serous perch-jerkers wait for the fish to school-up so they can concentrate their attention on areas where they mark pods of perch with electronics — or join a raft of anchored anglers who have already located an active school. Live emerald shiners are the bait of choice, but when green shiners get tough to find, golden shiners will work, as will fathead minnows. Just fish the live bait vertically and drop it to the bottom and crank up a few turns of the reel handle to keep it in the strike zone.
Other Options: Muskies start feeding in Clear Fork, Caesar Creek, Leesville and Alum Creek reservoirs after a summer slump and can be caught by trolling large crankbaits at speeds of 2 mph or more. Steelhead begin to stage along the beaches and harbors off the tributaries where they will make their spawning runs starting next month. Cast off breakwalls or troll the protected harbor areas at Fairport, Ashtabula and Conneaut with crankbaits and spoons to catch them.
OCTOBER – STEELHEAD: LAKE ERIE TRIBUTARIES
Six Lake Erie tributaries in northeast Ohio are stocked with steelhead annually and the lake-run rainbow trout grow large feeding in the “Big Lake” before returning to their “home” rivers each season about this time. The fish will swim back and forth from Lake Erie at the river-mouths to upstream areas following the urge to migrate, and wading anglers drift spawn sacs, jig-and-maggot combos, and live minnows under bobbers, or cast crankbaits and spoons. Fly anglers tempt them with beads, nymphs and streamers. Popular rivers including the Chagrin, Grand, Ashtabula and Rocky and Conneaut Creek.
Other Options: Crappies return to near-shore areas and feed around the first drop-offs adjacent to the shallows where they spawned last spring. Any inland impoundment with a population of crappies will be offering good action on the fish this month. Largemouth bass put on the feedbag in the weedy harbors and bays of Lake Erie where they have been thriving in recent years.
NOVEMBER – SAUGEYES: INLAND RESERVIORS
Reservoirs such as Alum Creek, Deer Creek, Paint Creek, Attwood, Hoover, Indian, and Buckeye that receive annual saugeye stockings are popular with shore casters and trollers who know that the fish push into shallows at twilight to feed on baitfish. The night bite starts at dusk and may continue through dawn as anglers present large, minnow-imitating crankbaits to the fish.
Other Options: Using similar tactics, huge walleyes are caught off the Huron Pier each November. The walleye are migrating back west after summering in the cooler central basin and follow and feed on baitfish stacked-up along the Ohio shoreline. Steelhead are active in the tributaries in Northeast Ohio that are stocked with the lake-run rainbow trout, which will provide action all winter whenever the rivers are free of ice and allow anglers access.
DECEMBER – Brown Trout: Clear Fork River
Brown trout remain active in the cold weather and offer action along the Clear Fork of the Mohican River at a time of year when you may have the stream to yourself and can camp within steps of the water. Consider using worms, minnows, small spinners, prepared baits or flies, and target any hole, undercut bank, bend or seam water.
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.