The Ohio Division of Wildlife’s muskie management program places a high emphasis on the species in a limited selection of lakes. Deciding which lake is “the best” is often based on angler success. A strong case can be made for Salt Fork Lake. The same can be said of Clear Fork and West Branch. Western Ohio waters like Alum Creek Lake are coming on strong.
But when considering numbers of fish, as well as the potential for a wallhanger, it would be hard to argue the muskie-producing merits of Ashtabula County’s Pymatuning Lake.
In the early 1980s, before a devastating outbreak of red spot disease, Pymatuning was not only the best muskie lake in the state, it was one of the top ‘lunge waters in the eastern portion of the United States. Its muskie numbers plummeted in the late ’80s and early ’90s because of the often-fatal bacterial infection. But during the past two decades, strong stockings of muskie fingerlings by both the Ohio Division of Wildlife and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has rebuilt a quality muskie fishery. Today, this 14,500-acre lake is a top spot for muskies, a combination few lakes can provide.
Last fall, at least 48 Pymatuning muskies were registered with the Muskie Angler Log program, and 94 percent of those fish were released. Nine of the fish were in excess of 42 inches. Keep in mind that this is a border water, with Pennsylvania anglers plying the waters along with their cohorts in the Buckeye State. It’s likely that more muskies were caught and not registered.
Pennsylvania stocks 7,000 6-inch fingerlings each fall. Most years the ODOW supplements those stockings with advanced age-class fingerlings in the 9- to 11-inch range.
A look at the physical characteristics of Pymatuning shows why it is such a productive muskie lake. The lake is shallow and fertile. Its dark waters are loaded with nutrients that support a large biomass of game fish and food fish. Because it lacks extreme depths, an angler can feel confident that his or her lure is being seen by a fair number of muskies during a day’s fishing.
The lake is bisected east to west by the Espyville-Andover causeway. The upper portion of the lake, that portion north of the causeway, is the shallowest. The average depth is in the 10- to 12-foot range, with a maximum depth of some 20 feet in the old river channel north of the causeway.
The northern basin of the lake has a lot to offer the muskie angler, especially early in the season soon after the ice comes off (which typically occurs during late March or early April, when muskies will be in shallow water). Baitfish will be drawn to the warming water of the shallows, and the muskies will be right behind them.
Though they don’t successfully spawn in Pymatuning, muskies will attempt to reproduce, which also brings them into the shallows. In the upper portion of the lake, the best early-season areas will be the many small bays that break up the shoreline from Padanaram to Linesville. Some of these bays are tucked in behind major islands such as Clarks, Harris and Whaley, as well as the smaller island clusters. Stumpfields around the larger islands can also be attractive to muskies, particularly later in the spring when the fish migrate out of the shallows.
Pymatuning’s southern basin is somewhat deeper, but certainly not “dewep” by most standards. Here, the angler will find depths that average 15 feet. Thirty-foot depths may be found in the bottom of the old Shenango River channel near the dam. Much of the lake (both north and south ends) is broad, though it does neck down considerably in the extreme lower reaches within about two miles of the dam.
As with the upper basin, early-season muskie fishing efforts should focus on protected bays along the western shoreline of the lake from the Jamestown State Park (Pennsylvania) campground north to the Ohio State Park swimming beach (south of the causeway).
Many of the larger bays contain moored sailboats by summer, but during the first month or so of open-water season, they will harbor good numbers of muskies.
Another area that warms quickly under the rays of the April sun is the large bay behind Ackerman Island, just north of the dam.
The stretch of water north and south of Stocker Island provides some of the best muskie habitat in the southern basin. To the north of Stocker, the Bay 41 area warms quickly and provides plenty of protected water. The same is true of bays to the west and south of Stocker.
The large, shallow flat that extends to the east of Stocker attracts muskies when they migrate away from the shallows as spring gives way to summer, particularly if good weed growth develops.
Pymatuning’s submergent weeds feature a combination of milfoil and curly pondweed. During years with reasonably stable springtime weather, which provides plenty of sunshine and clear water, weed growth is good. Rainy springtime weather often results in spottier weed growth.
The southern basin features several submerged humps that hold muskies. These make choice summertime casting spots during the early morning, evening twilight and on rainy days. Look to the shoreline south of Stocker Island, along the section where the wide portion of the lake begins to neck down. Beer Can Island (a submerged hump) is one of these spots. Several others exist, some of which are marked with hazard buoys. Other humps are found along the eastern shoreline, about 50 yards off shore, between the Snodgrass launch and Ackerman Island. Most of these spots aren’t marked with buoys and require a bit of searching.
Because Pymatuning is a border water, it has special regulations that differ from other inland waters. There is a 30-inch minimum length limit with a two-fish creel limit, though most ardent muskie anglers release their fish. The lake also has a 20-horsepower motor limit.
On the Ohio side of the lake boat access areas include New Bowers, Cabin Beach, Birch (South Livery), North Livery and the state campground ramp. All of the Ohio access points are on the west side of the lake. Pennsylvania also provides several ramps. Four of the best include Jamestown (southern end), Snodgrass (southeast portion), Espyville (middle portion south of the causeway) and Linesville (north end).
In addition to the two liveries on Ohio’s side, boats may be rented at Pennsylvaniaww liveries at Jamestown, Espyville and Linesville.
Tackle shops may be found near many of the access areas. Those most suited for musk
ie anglers are in and around the Andover area.
For more information, contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife at www.dnr.state.oh.us.