Summer’s warm weather means hot catfish action and the now-legal blue catfish leads the list. Rivers and lakes throughout the state host big populations of catfish, including some real lunkers.
It will come as a surprise that the best catfishing may not be in the state’s river systems. Channel cats and flatheads are doing exceptionally well in many of our lakes. Only a few locals know about the big cats that are found in our lakes and reservoirs, but it’s time the word got out.
Here’s a look at 10 of Ohio’s top catfish waters for 2009:
Indian Lake is an old canal-feeder lake that was intended to feed water into a canal system to help float barges across the state. Freight trains appeared on the scene, and suddenly lakes like Indian were no longer needed. Recreation soon became the main focus, and now this 5,800-acre lake is one of the most popular fishing destinations in Ohio.
Channel cats are a real draw to Indian Lake. Tournaments and weekend anglers keep the ramps busy during the summer months, and a stringer-full of eating-sized cats is a common sight.
Indian Lake is only 12 feet deep at the deepest spot west of Dream Bridge. Catfish may be anywhere in the lake and are taken readily from shore or boat. Much of the lake is shallow and mucky, filled with stumps and emergent vegetation with riprap shorelines.
State park staff point bank-fishermen to Fox Island, the Chippewa area and off the campground jetties. In the evening and at night, the bigger catfish move up to feed around the lake’s shoreline, in the bays and up into the boating channels.
Launch ramps are state owned in the Chippewa, Lakeview, Blackhawk and Moundwood marinas. Access to the lake is from state routes 235 and 366 in Logan County.
For more information, contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s District One office at (614) 644-3925. Or, try the Indian Lake State Park regional office at (937) 843-2717, or LeVan’s Bait Shop in Lakeview at (937) 843-3358.
Kiser Lake is a step back in time. Not even electric motors are allowed, and the only boats on the water are propelled either by the wind or by “elbow grease.” Rowboats and canoes are a familiar sight.
Catfishing is excellent at the lake. The numbers of fish are fairly good, but it’s the size of the lake’s catfish that draws anglers from across the state. Some of the fish are real rod-benders. At times, the bite is a tough one because the catfish roam the entire lake, dig into the lily pads and weed flats and are hard to find.
The best spots to tag a big Kiser Lake catfish are on the west end along the dam and along state Route 235 between the Kiser Lake State Park office drive and the Putnam area. Shore-fishing is excellent.
Another top spot is on the north end of the lake extending from the marina east to the campground.
A stink bait or minnow will sometimes yield a surprise. Kiser’s remaining hybrid stripers top 11 and 12 pounds and readily pick up a sinking bait intended for a catfish.
Kiser Lake covers 394 acres in Champaign County on state Route 235.
Additional information is available from the ODOW’s District One office at (614) 644-3925, the Indian Lake State Park office at (937) 843-2717 or the nearby Todd’s Sport Shop at (937) 362-3473.
The two city of Findlay reservoirs in Hancock aren’t the only good catfishing hotspots in northwestern Ohio, but they’re near the top of the list.
According to Ed Lewis, an ODOW fisheries biologist, the reservoirs are loaded with catfish. In upground reservoirs like Findlay, catfish in the 24-inch range aren’t uncommon.
It’ll take a boat to reach these fish. Most shoreline anglers at Findlay take advantage of the riprap and set up shop on the bank, but from Lewis’ experience, this doesn’t allow casts long enough to reach the base of the riprap where the most, biggest catfish are. And if the bait isn’t on the bottom, these catfish will probably ignore it. The catfish are scattered across the bottom of both lakes and may be taken just about anywhere.
A map of Christmas tree structures that have been placed in the lake is available from the Hancock Park District. Catfish are often found near them, so they’re always worth checking.
The lakes are east of Findlay on county roads 205 and 207.
Contact the Hancock County Park District at (419) 425-7275 or the ODOW’s District Two office at (419) 424-5000 for more information and a map.
Anglers looking for a little peace and quiet along with some great fishing will find this little lake to their liking.
Ottawa Reservoir offers great access to good catfish angling. There’s riprap along the shoreline, but it doesn’t run very deep, which means shoreline casts can go all the way to the bottom.
The lake produces fish up to 24 inches and the population is high. Most lakes in District Two that offer good numbers of cats are stocked every couple of years to maintain the high number.
“These cats are decent-sized, there’s a lot of them and they’re good eating,” said Lewis. “Upground reservoirs like Ottawa are high in water quality because they’re city water supply systems. I wouldn’t have a problem eating a fish from one of these lakes.”
It’s a good thing the bank-fishing is so good because there’s no ramp on this 50-acre lake. Anglers who walk in at the water plant will have access to most of the shoreline.
For more information, contact the ODOW’s District Two office at (419) 424-5000 or the village of Ottawa’s Water Works Department at (419) 523-3796.
Northeastern Ohio hasn’t been left out of the mix when it comes to good catfish waters. Chris Aman, an ODOW fisheries biologist, recently stopped to talk to a couple of catfishermen who had 20 catfish apiece on their stringers.
According to Aman, the best spot for bank-fishing is off the Price Road bridge on state Route 225. This area can be explored with a boat
, but the bucket crowd does very well at this location.
During the last fisheries survey, biologists found that 35 percent of the fish were at least 16 inches long. This is a numbers lake and trophy hunters will probably want to try somewhere else. Only a few of the cats topped the 24-inch mark, but anyone looking for a mess of fish for the deep fryer won’t go home disappointed. The average size of the catfish harvested here is about 17 inches.
Berlin Lake covers 3,280 acres in Portage, Stark and Mahoning counties.
Contact the ODOW’s District Three office at (330) 644-2293 or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Berlin office at (330) 547-5445 for more information.
Mosquito Reservoir gets more attention from waterfowlers than from fishermen, and when anglers do wet a line, they’re usually trying for walleyes and panfish. The lake is overlooked as a catfish destination.
Mosquito’s channel cat prospects are excellent, said Aman. Catfish are available year ’round at Mosquito. In warm weather, anglers fishing on the bottom often catch them in the middle of the day.
Aman sends early-summer catfishermen to the creek channel areas and inflowing streams, but these spots aren’t the only places channel cats are active.
The 2006 ODOW survey showed that the average-sized channel cat being taken home by anglers measured 18 inches. They’re bigger than the cats in Berlin as a rule and 64 percent of the fish sampled in the survey reached at least 16 inches.
Flatheads are also taken with some regularity, including fish in the 30-pound range.
The lake covers 7,241 acres in Trumbull County. Access is off state Route 46. The northern section is a wildlife refuge where no fishing is allowed.
For more information, contact the ODOW’s District Three office at (330) 644-2293 or the Mosquito Lake State Park office at (330) 637-2856
Seneca Lake is another excellent choice for channel cats, according to ODOW fisheries biologist Mike Greenlee. Most fish top 23 inches and the fishing is good.
A survey last year indicated that nearly 75 percent of the fish taken were between 11 and 16 inches.
A stringer full of these catfish will be good eating, said Greenlee. He’s fished Seneca Lake for saugeyes with a worm harness and often can’t keep catfish off his line.
The lake’s thriving catfish population means only a few surplus fingerling catfish are stocked once in a while. It survives on natural reproduction and the excellent habitat means high survival and solid growth rates.
Shore-fishermen will love the lake. Good fishing is found right off the bank and access to the water is excellent. The floating fishing pier and dam areas are among the best places to fish.
Flatheads weighing in at nearly 60 pounds have been taken from the lake. These fish roam the shallow water in the northern part of Seneca, while the channel catfish prefer the old building foundation marked by buoys in the lower end.
Seneca Lake covers 3,508 acres in Noble and Guernsey counties. The lake is two miles east of Senecaville on state Route 313.
There is a 299-horsepower motor restriction in effect.
For additional information, call the ODOW’s District Four office at (740) 589-9930 or the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District at (740) 685-6013.
WOLF RUN LAKE
A close second to Seneca Lake in Greenlee’s book is Wolf Run Lake. A boat is required to fish the lake well, but once you’re on the water, the action can be excellent.
Channel cats are the name of the game. The best spot on the lake is the shallow water in the east fork at the upper end, toward the dam, where there is a shallow point marked by buoys. The channel catfish being pulled out of this spot will run up to 7 or 8 pounds.
Commercial stink baits, homemade concoctions, night crawlers, shrimp, cut fish and live minnows all work well. Drift-fishing is a good way to drag a bait across the bottom in shallow water because it will leave an odor trail. Foraging catfish will home in on the trail and intercept the bait.
Spawning catfish will be up in the rocks this month. Channel cats are cavity nesters, and exploring the deep bases of rocky shoreline cover may yield some of the larger fish in the lake.
Wolf Run covers 220 acres in Noble County east of Interstate Route 77.
The boat ramp is on the south side of the west arm of the lake off state Route 215. Bank-fishing is limited because of the steep, rocky shoreline.
For additional information, contact the ODOW’s District Four office at (740) 589-9930 or the Wolf Run State Park at (740) 732-5035.
GRAND LAKE ST. MARYS
Grand Lake St. Marys is at the top of the list as far as fisheries biologist Doug Maloney is concerned. The big lake is shallow and dominated by channel cats. But the sleeper fishery is its flatheads.
The number of flatheads being caught has been going up, Maloney said, but he’s not sure why. He is guessing the increased numbers are due to the riprap and broken-concrete shoreline being placed to cut down on erosion.
The broken concrete provides almost perfect habitat, said Maloney.
“It duplicates the cavities used by both spawning flatheads and channel cats and provides sanctuary even for the biggest flatheads in the lake,” Maloney noted.
Catfish of both species will move up into the shoreline cover to spawn. Big male channels will turn a darker color when they’re guarding the nests in late May and June. The flatheads will be up in the rocks during June and July. After the spawning is over, the cats will spread out into this shallow 13,500-acre lake.
Boat access is from seven state park ramps around the lake. The lake lies in Mercer and Auglaize counties on state routes 127 and 703.
If the flatheads aren’t biting at Grand Lake St. Marys, try Rocky Fork or Paint Creek lakes. The Paint Creek main-lake and tailwaters areas have yielded flatheads weighing up to 40 pounds.
For details, contact the ODOW’s District Five office at (937) 372-9261 or the state park office at (419) 394-2774.
OHIO RIVER BLUES
The biggest game fish in Ohio is the blue catfish. It can top 100 pounds and humble the best of fishermen. The Ohio River is the only real fishery for blues at the moment, but that may be changing.
The blue was only recently taken off the state’s endangered species list and an ODOW committee is working on the prospects of stocking blues into other Ohio waters. It’s an exciting time for catfishermen, but it’s just in the talking stages for now.
Tailwater fishing has produced some whoppers. Last June, a 57-pound blue was landed in the Mehldahl Dam tailwaters 40 miles above Cincinnati. In 1999, the Cannelton Dam tailwaters produced a 104-pound monster at Owensboro, a catch that set a new Kentucky state record.
According to fisheries biologist Doug Maloney, Ohio didn’t own any of the Ohio River up until about 20 years ago. It was nearly impossible to catch a blue outside of the Ohio River in the Buckeye State, so the species was considered endangered.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Ohio in fact owned some of the river, it immediately meant that blues were now more common in Ohio. Reports since then have indicated that the section of the river bordering Ohio has seen an increase in the number of blues. In 2007, Ohio dropped the endangered status and blue cats became fair game once more.
Buckeye State anglers have a lot to learn from blue cat experts from other states. Joe Hall guides for blues in his home state of Tennessee and has found some ways to fool big blues.
Hall approaches blues with a lot of respect. He anchors and tight-lines with heavy poles and reels spooled with 40-pound-test line. He ties on a 3-ounce flat weight with a 50-pound leader, a swivel and a No. 7 to 10 hook, puts on a cut fish (bluegill, perch, etc.), and he’s in business.
Many anglers have lost some really big blue catfish due to not having heavy enough equipment, said Hall. And the bigger the bait, the bigger the fish. Hall’s personal best is a 78-pounder!
Hall anchors along the edge of a deep channel or dropoff into deep water. The closer the dropoff is to the bank, the better. Especially productive areas are on the outside bends and the areas just downstream of them. Blue catfish aren’t current lovers and will sit outside the flow as much as possible.
At night, blues will rise up from the deeper water to feed along shelves and in the shallows.
For additional information about fishing the Ohio River, contact the ODOW’s District Four office at (740) 589-9930 or try the District Five office at (937) 372-9261
Contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife headquarters at (800) 945-3543 or try them on the Web at www.dnr. ohio.gov/wildlife.
For trip planning assistance, you can call the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at (800) 282-5393 or visit the agency’s Web site, which is located at www.discoverohio.com.