Photo by Ron Sinfelt
The arrival of February promises another great fishing season. Relatively balmy days with warmer breezes, above-freezing temperatures and the scent of spring hint of great walleye fishing opportunities to come!
Ohio’s saugeye program dominates in many impounded inland waters, but there are solid walleye strongholds in the northeastern part of the state, along with a smattering of hotspots in the southwestern region.
At this time of year, perhaps the greatest walleye opportunity is provided by the many miles of the Ohio River, which is where we’ll begin our profile of Ohio’s top inland walleye waters.
The big-river walleye fishing begins in late fall and continues into early spring, particularly in the upper portions of our state’s share of the Ohio River.
In general, the best walleye fishing is in the Ohio’s upper pools. The term “pool” refers to the river sections between any two navigational dams.
For example, the Hannibal Pool is a 42-mile section of river flowing from the Pike Island Lock and Dam downstream to the Hannibal Lock and Dam near New Martinsville, W.Va.
Anglers can expect good to excellent walleye fishing on the New Cumberland, Pike Island, Hannibal and Willow Island pools of the river. Some walleyes may be found in the river below the Willow Island Lock and Dam, but changes in habitat make this stretch better suited to saugers.
The reason why big-river walleye fishing tends to be best from late fall into early spring relates mostly to water temperatures. Once water temperatures drop below the mid-40 degree range, the fish stack up in areas with little current.
Find slack-water areas, which are commonly formed below current-deflecting structures such as gravel bars, islands, pilings and bridge piers, and you’ll likely have good fishing for coldwater walleyes.
The mouths of large feeder creeks are also prime walleye-holding spots, as the impounding influence of the river extends well into such streams. The mouths of these feeder streams are often rich with baitfish, which help attract big walleyes.
The Ohio River boasts plenty of industrial discharge pipes that enter the river. Warmwater discharges, common below power plants, pull in baitfish that in turn attract game fish, including walleyes.
The structure most associated with river walleyes is the tailrace area of dams. Dams block the upstream migration of walleyes, and fish become concentrated. This becomes even more evident as waters begin to warm in early spring and the spawning run begins.
The U.S. Corps of Engineers has taken strides to improve angler access below the navigation dams. Good shoreline access tends to be the rule rather than the exception.
For example, fishing piers have been built below the Hannibal Lock and Dam, along with plenty of parking. Boat anglers should be aware that restricted areas are established below each of the dams.
During the day, boat anglers will fare best drifting jig-and-minnow combos through slack water pools, but concentrating on the shallow edges of such holes during the evening hours.
Also focus on places like gravel bars, which form the slack-water holes, the downstream edge of a hole (where it lifts up to the shallow flat formed below) and the still water in a creek mouth. Shift to a more aggressive presentation, such as a slowly retrieved suspending jerkbait. Often, the bigger walleyes will respond to a lure like this.
Shore-anglers will do their best by focusing their efforts during the latter part of the day — or by picking cloudy, rainy days and fishing the same shallow areas described for late-day boat anglers. Higher water flows tend to push fish closer to the bank, which equates into better fishing for anglers on shore.
An agreement between Ohio and West Virginia allows resident anglers from either state to fish the Ohio River with the appropriate resident’s fishing license. This applies to boat-fishermen on the river, as well as bank-fishing from either shore.
There is no closed season or minimum-length limit on walleyes. The creel limit is 10 fish — walleyes and/or saugers.
There is good access to this portion of the Ohio River on both the Ohio and West Virginia sides, such as the area below the Hannibal dam.
A good launch is up Fishing Creek in New Martinsville, W.Va. It’s a short boat ride up to the dam.
The Fishing Creek mouth is a good spot to start, and there are other productive areas downriver from this location.
A great aid to fishing the Ohio River is the U.S. Corps of Engineers’ navigation charts. A book of the river’s upper pools may be ordered online at the Government Bookstore’s Web site at www.bookstore.gpo.gov.
Trumbull County’s 7,000-odd acre Mosquito Lake continues to boast a reputation as the state’s best inland walleye lake. It’s often at its best early in the season, soon after ice-out.
An agreement between Ohio
and West Virginia allows resident anglers from either state to fish the Ohio River with the appropriate resident’s fishing license.
Once the ice leaves, expect an early movement of walleyes into the wave-washed shallows. The area’s prevailing winds are westerly. Some of the best early-season shallow-water action occurs along the eastern shore’s gravel shallows, which are the recipient of warmer surface water pushed by the prevailing breezes.
The area near the cemetery, on the southern basin of the lake, is a well-known early-season hotspot.
The Route 88 causeway bisects the lake into northern and southern basins. The northern basin is shallower and darker, and generally warms up faster. In the northern basin, there are some extensive stumpfields that hold walleyes, too.
As good as the shallow-water bite can be early on, if things aren’t happening there, consider trolling deeper zones of the lake. I’ve had some excellent early-season fishing by pulling crankbaits on le
ad-core line. Firetiger is often a productive color pattern.
Jig-and-minnow combos, as well as leadhead jigs dressed with 3-inch twistertail bodies, are good offerings when working the shallows.
Wading anglers score best in the first hour or two after dark and again late in the evening.
On Mosquito Lake, two of the better public-access areas are south of the causeway on the eastern side of the lake, and also at the state park on the southwestern end of the lake.
There’s no horsepower limit on the lake, though there is a 15-mph speed limit north of the causeway. On the causeway is a fishing pier.
At the extreme north end of the lake is a propagation area, which is closed to fishing.
Bait and tackle can be found at Mecca, as well as near the state park.
There is no closed season for walleyes on Mosquito Lake. General inland walleye regulations apply.
C.J. BROWN RESERVOIR
Clark County’s 2,000-acre C.J. Brown Reservoir is likely the best walleye lake in the southwestern portion of the state. It receives extensive stockings of fingerling stage walleyes by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
While the bulk of the adult walleye population is dominated by fish from 13 to 20 inches, ODOW sampling has revealed fish up to 12 pounds.
Perhaps the best option for late-winter walleye angling at C.J. Brown is at its tailwater area, which can be particularly productive following periods of higher discharge through the dam, which moves fish from the lake into the tailwater area.
In the lake, early-season walleye fishing is often best along riprap shorelines, such as the face of the dam. Because it’s located in the southern part of the state, C.J. Brown Reservoir may possibly be ice-free at this time.
This lake lies within Buck Creek State Park, and facilities are excellent. There is a marina in addition to numerous boat launches.
Other waters worth your attention this spring include Pymatuning Lake on the Pennsylvania border in northeast Ohio, and Grand Lake St. Marys in northwestern Ohio. A good tailrace fishery exists there as well.
Maps of both C.J. Brown and Mosquito lakes may be copied off of www.dnr.state.oh.us the ODOW’s Web site at. Click on “Fishing,” and then “Find a place to fish.” There’s a link there for state lake maps.