The best of pre-spawn bass fishing in Ohio this month are located at these waters.
Bass anglers begin to get the urge to fish about this time each spring, but scratching a few fish can be tough unless you’re smart about where you wet a line this month.
Bass are transitioning from winter mode to spring pre-spawn mode. Fish are ectoderms, meaning they are cold blooded, and water temperature influences their metabolic and subsequent activity rates. Water temperatures have a big influence on what fish are doing throughout the year and March is no different.
In early March, fish are usually still sluggish and associated with structure in deeper water. Their movements are typically minimal or limited. As water temperatures warm through March, bass will become more active. They will start to transition into shallower waters and will start feeding more actively.
“Depending on the weather and day, fish will generally be near deep-water points or actively searching for food in shallow waters,” said Richard Zweifel, the Inland Fisheries Program Administrator for the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW). “Fish move shallow as the weather gets stable and warm.”
He said that bass anglers need to be flexible and adaptable to be successful in March, and the fishing depends on water temperatures.
“The water temperatures of in-flowing creeks or streams are often warmer than the reservoirs into which they’re flowing, particularly after a warm spring rain,” he added. “So these are also good areas to target this time of year.
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“As far as the stream/river fisheries go,” said Zweifel, “the major tributaries would likely be the best areas to target for both smallmouth and largemouth, particularly in mid-late March as things start to warm up. The Scioto, Maumee, Tuscarawas, Muskingum, and Great Miami rivers are all popular bass-fishing streams.”
Here are the rivers and lakes in each of Ohio’s five Wildlife Districts that Zweifel recommends anglers consider when testing the waters for active largemouth and smallmouth bass this month.
CENTRAL OHIO SPRING BASS DESTINATIONS
For smallmouth bass, central Ohio anglers should give Griggs Reservoir, an impoundment on the Scioto River on Columbus’ northwest side, a hard look, according to Zweifel.
“The Scioto River system is pretty much the ‘bell cow’ for central Ohio smallmouth bass fishing,” said Zweifel. “The reservoir, as is the river itself along most of its length, is loaded with (smallmouth) bass. The reservoir’s got decent water quality and really good habitat with lots of rocks.”
Griggs Reservoir offer 387 acres of water. State Route 33 parallels the lake on the east side and there is a public boat launch just south of the Fishinger Rd. intersection.
Big Walnut Creek on the Capital City’s northeast side would be another of the bass biologist’s “best bets” for D-1 smallmouth anglers to consider.
Another spot to consider is the Big Darby, referring to the “creek” that flows across west central Ohio and into the Scioto south of Columbus.
“The (smallmouth) bass fishing there can be exceptional, and the access is excellent. It’s a good river to wade or float and fish, and the water quality in the Big Darby is high.”
One of the best early spring destinations for largemouth bass anglers in mid-Ohio is Kiser Lake, according to the bass biologist. The 394-acre lake is in Champaign County, in west-central Ohio, approximately four miles northwest of St. Paris and 34 miles north of Dayton on State Route 235. Kiser is one of 11 lakes in Ohio that have a three-fish split limit on bass, a regulation that allows anglers to keep only two fish less than 14 inches, and 1 fish greater than or equal to 20.
The three-bass split limit is imposed on 11 lakes and the waters on the American Electric Power Company lands and St Joseph Wildlife Area. Kiser is also a no-motor lake, which includes no electric motors, so its bass population benefits from a relative lack of fishing pressure, and offers an abundance of submerged aquatic vegetation and forage for the bass to eat, according to the biologist.
Call the ODOW District One Wildlife Office at 614-644-3925 or visit wildohio.org for maps and more information about bass fishing at Griggs Reservoir, Big Walnut and Darby creeks.
NORTHWEST OHIO SPRING BASS DESTINATIONS
Pleasant Hill Lake in southern Richland and Ashland counties is a top pick by Zweifel for spring smallmouth bass action in District Two. The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) lake offers 782 acres of water flanked by 1350 acres of public parkland — including a new campground. Visit pleasanthillpark.mwcd.org for maps and more information.
Clear Fork Reservoir is Zweifel’s top pick for catching early spring largemouth in District Two. The 1,033-acre reservoir is located in Richland and Morrow counties, approximately 8 miles southwest of Mansfield along State Route 97.
Best known as one of Ohio’s top muskie lakes, anglers at Clear Fork are often rewarded with catches of good-size largemouth bass on their oversized muskie lures. Good weeds and excellent water quality contribute to the health of the largemouth population, according to the biologist.
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As for rivers offering good bass fishing in the Northwest Wildlife District this time of year, Zweifel says the Maumee “is about as good as it gets” in terms of quality smallmouth opportunities. “Lots of rocky habitat and a decent amount of vegetation make the Maumee a great place for smallmouth bass to thrive.”
Other best bets for spring bass action are the Sandusky River and the upper reaches of the Portage River. For maps and more information on all these locations, visit wildohio.gov or contact the District Two wildlife offices at 419-424-5000.
NORTHEAST OHIO SPRING BASS DESTINATIONS
For the best spring smallmouth action in northeast Ohio, Lake Milton is where Zweifel would send bass anglers looking to hook-up. The 1,700-acre reservoir lies within Lake Milton State Park in Mahoning County, with the dam itself about a half mile from the Mahoning-Trumbull County line.
Interstate Route 76 bisects the reservoir, and State Route 534 runs parallel to the lake on the east side. Recent angler surveys show excellent catch rates of smallmouth bass exceeding 20 inches in length.
Largemouth bass anglers would do well to head to the Portage Lakes this month, according to Zweifel, who said that popular five-lake chain is famous for its bass numbers and size. Offering 1,200 acres of water in Summit Country, the Portage Lakes consist of East, Long, North, Turkey Foot and West and are located a few miles south of Akron.
Surveys reflect good-to-excellent numbers with regard to largemouth bass populations, size and catch rates in each of the lakes, and that fishing typically gets underway about now each spring, according to Zweifel.
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River fishing for bass begins to heat up in Northeast Ohio about now, too.
“Any of the Lake Erie tributaries are going to offer good opportunities, for smallmouth especially,” said Zweifel. The Vermilion, Grand, Conneaut Creek and Cuyahoga all produce bass in early spring to anglers who know how to fish the rivers. The Cuyahoga especially, he said, “is making a comeback after serving as the postcard for improved water quality” 50 years after its famous fire incidents. The biologist added that the urban Cleveland river that was the impetus for the Clean Water Act is becoming a better fishery each season — for bass and other species.
For maps of the best bass reservoirs and rivers for spring fishing in northeast Ohio, visit wildohio.gov or call the wildlife District Three offices in Akron at 330-644-2293.
SOUTHEAST OHIO SPRING BASS DESTINATIONS
Piedmont Lake, at 2,368 acres in Belmont and Harrison counties, is the best place in the region to find spring smallmouth according to Zweifel. He said the habitat is excellent for bronzebacks, as are the food sources, in the popular MWCD reservoir that is famous for its big flathead catch and muskie populations.
Smallmouth numbers earned an “excellent” rating in recent fish surveys and the bass can exceed 19 inches. Smallmouths are caught mainly from mid-lake to the dam, when good early spring fishing action is concentrated around the rocky shoreline and shale points.
Most of Piedmont’s bass-filled waters are in Kirkwood and Flushing Townships of Belmont County, with a small segment in Moorefield Township of Harrison County.
Big largemouth bass can be caught in early spring at several impoundments in southeast Ohio, but the biologist says that Tycoon Lake tops his list for places for serious bass anglers. At only 183 acres, the lake is rated excellent by the ODOW in bass size and numbers, based on recent surveys conducted by the agency. Tycoon Lake lies approximately 5 miles northeast of Rio Grande.
For springtime stream fishing action in District Four, Zweifel recommends the 112-mile-long Muskingum River and its tributaries.
“The Muskingum is an exceptional river for fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass, especially in the spring,” he said. “The diversity of habitat is amazing; there are lots of side channels and creeks that come in, and spillways below the dams, and woody cover and rocks for smallmouth and largemouth alike to thrive.”
The Muskingum is the longest river lying wholly in Ohio, offering 10 dams that create pools of consistent depth to aid in boat navigation. The tailwaters below any of the dams offer great places to target bass all season.
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Smallmouth bass anglers should focus efforts around rocky shorelines in the main channel, gravel bars and bridge abutments. Largemouth bass fishermen should consider slower water near the main channels, backwaters, shallow creeks and channels and canals, as well as any woody cover or early emerging weeds.
For lock and dam locations, boat accesses, and shore fishing opportunities refer to the Muskingum River Water Trail Guide link at wildohio.gov.
The Walhonding River, a primary tributary of the Muskingum, is another good waterway to target when seeking smallmouth bass in the spring, according to Zweifel, as is the Hocking River.
SOUTHWEST OHIO SPRING BASS DESTINATIONS
Clark County’s CJ Brown Reservoir is known for its walleye fishery, but Zweifel claims it can offer a bronzeback fishing bonanza in the spring for anglers who target the 1969-acre lake.
“Habitat and forage base” combine to make the lake in Buck Creek State Park a prime producer of smallmouth, and few fishermen target them. In fact, the state wildlife agency doesn’t even include smallmouth bass in its survey reports from the lake, but that doesn’t sway Zweifel, who recommended it as a top destination for anglers who want to target the species in Southwest Ohio in early spring.
C.J. Brown Reservoir is located at Buck Creek State Park, two miles northeast of Springfield, approximately a mile east of State Route 4 on Croft Road, and about three miles north of U.S. Route 40 on Bird Road and Buck Creek Lane.
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Another state park lake in the district that serves as the bass biologist’s pick for largemouth fishing action is Acton. The lake’s 592 acres straddle Butler and Preble counties in Hueston Woods State Park. Largemouth bass — that surveys show to exceed 20 inches — are the most popular fish that anglers target there.
Acton Lake lies in Preble and Butler counties on the southwestern edge of Ohio, approximately 7 miles north of Oxford, 40 miles northwest of Cincinnati, and 35 miles southwest of Dayton.
You can get maps and more information on those lakes and the two rivers below by calling the District Five wildlife offices at 937-372-9261 or by visiting wildohio.com.
For spring anglers seeking stream bass fishing destinations in Southwest Ohio, Zweifel recommends the Great Miami and the Stillwater rivers. “Both offer good forage and bass habitat and should provide decent bass fishing opportunities this month.”
Which is all that Ohio’s eager early spring anglers ask.