By Brian Ruzzo
About this time of year I hear anglers fret about the coming hot summer months and how the steamy weather will affect their fishing prospects. Bass will become lethargic. Crappies and walleyes will seek deeper waters. But the dog days of summer never seem to bother catfish. On the contrary, the hot weather ushers in the catfishing season, with June as the unofficial opener.
Ohio boasts a multitude of catfish species to tempt your curiosity: channel cats, flatheads, blue cats, and several varieties of bullheads. Since blue cats are only rarely found in the lower stretches of the Ohio River and bullheads tend to be small, it’s the channel cats and flatheads that rightfully garner most of the attention.
Ohio’s channel cats average 12 to 14 inches and are marked by a forked tail and a silver-blue flank that is sometimes spotted. Found in most farm ponds, lakes, streams and rivers the channel cat is the most widely dispersed catfish in the state.
Flatheads, or “shovelheads,” look like what their name suggests. A prominent, flattened face and a square tail will help you identify these bulls, which can reach 60 or more pounds in Ohio. Several larger lakes and most rivers associated with the Ohio River system harbor flatheads.
This year should be another great year for both flatheads and channel cats in Ohio. We polled biologists from each district and found 10 hotspots that will be well worth the trip this month and next.
“The two that come to mind immediately are Buckeye and Indian Lakes – our canal lakes,” Graham said.
According to Graham, the ODOW biologists noted that the canal lakes seem to have consistent spawning success. While it’s tough to categorically state the reason for the successful reproduction characteristics of canal lakes, many biologists believe stable water conditions and levels are key factors. In contrast, water levels and conditions at flood-control lakes vary greatly during the spawning season.
Buckeye Lake is primarily populated with channel cats; however, there is a population of flatheads that is not targeted. The channels average 14 to 16 inches with bigger fish commonly caught – up to 20 pounds.
There have been no recent creel surveys conducted at the lake, so pinpointing specific hotspots is difficult. Additionally, the 3,800-acre lake is very uniform. Therefore, anglers can expect channel cats to be evenly dispersed throughout the lake.
Fairfield Beach and Liebs Island are both popular with shore-anglers. Much of the lake is privately owned.
Access to Liebs Island, which is at the western end of the lake, is provided by state Route 204 through Millersport. Fairfield Beach, which is at midlake on the southern shore, can also be reached via state Route 204. Additionally, there are several launch facilities between these two access points.
Prepared baits, chicken livers and soft craws all work well.
Indian Lake is very similar to Buckeye Lake because it is uniform, large (5,800 acres) and full of channel cats, which are evenly dispersed. There are a few flatheads, but it’s a small population and doesn’t warrant much effort. Instead, focus on channel cats, which should mirror the Buckeye Lake population numbers.
Good access points for shore anglers include any of the multiple state park holdings that surround the lake.
Interested anglers may log onto the ODOW’s Internet Web site (www.dnr.state.oh.us/wildlife/fishing/lakemaps/lmaps.htm) and download updated versions of many lake maps.
The new map shows several access points that are not listed on the old version. There are three main launch sites at the lake. In the northwestern corner, anglers may access Indian Lake from the launch near Blackhawk Island. It can be reached via state routes 235 and 365. In the central part of the lake, between Seminole and Shawnee islands, there is a launch off state Route 368. The last site is near the state park, which is also off state Route 368.
For maps or more information regarding either fishery, contact the District One office of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, 1500 Dublin Road, Columbus, Ohio 43215, or call (614) 644-3925.
In Allen County, Bressler Reservoir covers 610 acres. The reservoir is surrounded by public land. However, according to angler reports over the last two years, the hotspot has been the western bank.
Another area worth exploring is the underwater island southwest of the boat ramp. The submerged island, or hump, is about 12 feet deep, while the surrounding water ranges from 20 to 32 feet deep. This means that any shallow water you do find should also be attractive to catfish. You can easily find this hump by studying a lake map that’s available from the district office.
According to Mike Wilkerson, an ODOW fisheries biologist, stocking is done on an annual basis to bolster catfish numbers at Bressler, and the agency stocked more than 2,400 8- inch catfish there last year. Thanks to fast growth rates, Bressler channel cats average 16 to 28 inches, and catches of 20-pound fish are possible.
Boaters may access a launch site off Kemp Road, which can be reached via state Route 117. Shoreline anglers may access the western bank from Grudd Road, which can be reached by following Kemp Road to Agerter Road west. There are plenty of parking areas on Grudd and Agerter roads.
Findlay Reservoir No. 2 is part of a Hancock County complex that includes Findlay reservoirs No. 1 and No. 2. At 629 acres, Findlay No. 2 is the larger of the two reservoirs. A dike separates the two reservoirs.
As a result of successful natural reproduc
tion, the ODOW no longer stocks Findlay No. 2. However, reports of excellent catches of channel cats continue to surface. Anglers can expect plenty of 12- to 26-inch fish, with some specimens up to 28 pounds.
Like Bressler, Findlay No. 2 is uniform and deep. Biologists note that the catfish population is well dispersed, but it’s when water is pumped into the holding reservoir that the best catches usually occur along the northern shore. Catfish are drawn to the area by arrival of food in the resulting current flow.
The northern shore can be accessed via township Road 207, which can be reached via township Road 208 and state Route 568. Township Road 207 also provides access to a boat ramp on the western shore.
For maps or more information regarding either fishery, contact the District Two office of the ODOW, 952 Lima Avenue, Findlay, OH 45840, or call (419) 424-5000.
According to Matt Wolfe, the District Three fish management supervisor, Mosquito Reservoir is loaded with flathead and channel catfish, but the flatheads claim most of the attention.
Last year, a Mosquito Reservoir angler caught a 60-pound-plus flathead during late summer. Wolfe argues that if that fish has been caught earlier in the year, when it was full of eggs, it could have easily weighed an extra 10 pounds or more, and could have challenged the state record, which now stands at 76 pounds.
“I would not be surprised if the next state-record flathead comes out of Mosquito Reservoir,” Wolfe said.
Much of the lake south of the state Route 88 causeway features deep water. Therefore, Wolfe points flathead anglers to all of the water north of the causeway, but south of the refuge area, which is off limits to anglers. This area offers approximately 1,000 acres of prime flathead and channel-cat water, and is flooded a former wetland that now provides excellent habitat for spawning and feeding catfish.
Shoreline anglers should focus their attentions on the north side of the causeway. Boaters may launch from three sites north of the causeway including Blackstub Road, which intersects with the causeway and runs along the western edge of the lake, providing access to two sites. The third site, which is on the eastern side of the lake, can be reached directly from the causeway.
District Three channel catfish anglers should consider North Reservoir, which is part of the Portage Lakes chain. Wolfe noted that reports of 10- to 15-pound channel cat catches routinely filter into the District Three headquarters, which is on the same property. The average North Reservoir channel catfish will measure 14 to 20 inches.
Shore-fishing from any point around the 219-acre lake should yield great results.
Birdland Avenue and county Road 123 provide access to the lake. Both roads can be reached via state Route 93, which skirts the lake’s western edge.
For maps or more information regarding either fishery, contact the District Three office of the ODOW, 912 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron, OH 44319, or call (330) 644-2293.
“The Muskingum River is especially noted for its big flatheads,” said Tim Parrett, an ODOW fisheries biologist. “Its excellent catfishing has been noticed throughout the Midwest.”
Fortunately, the best flathead fishing areas are easily accessed. A series of nine low-head dams built to tame the river will perennially attract flatheads like magnets. The tailwater sections downstream from each dam provide access for shoreline anglers.
According to Parrett, most veteran flathead anglers use live skipjack or suckers for bait. They rig the baits below a heavy sinker (1 ounce or more) and then cast the rig up against the low-head dams. The best places to target are pockets of water near clustered debris or rocks.
All nine dams can be reached via state Route 60 as it follows the river from Zanesville south to the Ohio River. While all of these tailwaters are good flathead destinations, a few are considered hotspots.
The Ellis tailwater, which includes the 9.1 miles of water from Ellis Dam to the Zanesville Lock, features plenty of 12- to 18-inch flatheads with an occasional 30-inch-plus fish. Access for boaters and shore-anglers is provided by the Ellis Dam access off state Route 60.
Referred to as “the Y-Bridge area,” the Zanesville tailwaters include another 9.1 miles of river. Like the Ellis tailwaters, the Y-Bridge area boasts plenty of 12- to 18-inch flatheads. The best action is in the deeper holes near the Y-Bridge area.
The Zanesville Lock access site on state Route 60 in Zanesville provides shoreline access to the Y-Bridge Area. There are no boat ramps at this site, but small johnboats and canoes can easily be launched from shore.
Several smaller lakes fill the bill for the top District Four channel catfish lakes. Fox, Tycoon, and Burr Oak Lakes were all recommended. However, Burr Oak Lake was Parrett’s top pick based on numbers of fish caught.
Parrett noted that the 664-acre Burr Oak was once stocked with channel cats, but subsequent surveys showed that naturally reproducing fish were doing well, and that the stocked fish were not having a great impact on the fishery’s production. Therefore, the state no longer stocks Burr Oak Lake.
Anglers can expect to catch plenty of 12- to 14-inch fish. Some fish will top the 5-pound mark.
Burr Oak Lake is almost surrounded by state park lands. The lake is fairly remote, and the surrounding terrain can be difficult to access by foot. However, there are a few hiking trails leading to different sections of the lake that provide access for adventurous anglers.
Boaters have the best access to the lake. There are two launch sites on opposite sides of the lake. The site on the eastern shore can be reached via state Route 278. The site on the western shore can be reached via state Route 13 and county Road 63.
For maps or more information regarding either fishery, contact the District Four office of the ODOW, 360 East State Street, Athens, OH 45701, or call (740) 589-9930.
“Historically, Grand Lake St. Marys has been
one of the best lakes in all of southwest Ohio,” says Maloney. “Fishermen had a good year last year.”
Recent reports from the 13,500- acre lake suggested that anglers caught plenty of skillet-size channel cats (11 to 18 inches) with a good number of fish weighing 5 pounds. More of the same is expected this summer.
Because Grand Lake St. Marys is extremely shallow and uniform in depth, it is difficult to pinpoint specific hotspots on the lake. But, Maloney believes that the channel cats are evenly dispersed, which means good fishing can be found just about anywhere. However, for easy access he suggests Windy Point and the eastern bank to shoreline anglers. The shoreline here is lined with riprap, which can attract cats.
Boaters should have no problem finding a place to catch catfish. East bank boaters should take time to explore the fish-attracting devices set out to provide crappie habitat. These structures attract baitfish, a prime food source for channel cats. A map of the lake is available; it shows where the fish attractors have been placed.
Several canals along the southern shoreline have also proven productive for catfish anglers. Boaters can quickly explore these canals until they find fish.
There is a launch site in the northeastern corner of the lake near the junction of state Route 29 and state Route 364. This launch provides access to the rocky eastern shore and the canals of the southern shore.
Meanwhile, in the hill country of Highland County, Rocky Fork Lake adds an additional 2,080 acres of catfish waters to District Five’s arsenal of best bets for June. Not only is Rocky Fork a productive channel cat fishery, but it is also a top flathead destination, and reports from last year were very good.
The average channel cat will run 1 to 5 pounds, but 10- to 15-pounders are not uncommon. Flatheads range from 20 to 40 pounds.
Shoreline anglers can get in on the action at several state park access sites including the shorelines near the campground entrance, South Beach, North Beach and the fishermen’s wharf. All of these areas have boat ramps, which are clearly shown on the lake map provided by the ODOW. State routes 50, 753, and 124 provide access to the lake.
For maps or more information, contact the District Five office of the ODOW, 1076 Old Springfield Pike, Xenia, OH 45385, or call (937) 372-9261.
Discover even more in our monthly magazine,
and have it delivered to your door!
Subscribe to North Carolina Game & Fish