Anglers who are bass fishing in Ohio are lucky to have several resources to reference when seeking places to pursue largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass here in the Buckeye State. The Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW) fisheries personnel have worked with local bass clubs for several years to maintain a count of how many bass their members are catching and the size of the bass to get an estimate on the state’s bass numbers. Those figures allow both biologists and bass anglers to get a handle on local bass populations and where larger fish might be found.
Another resource worth studying, at least when targeting large bass, is the FishOhio program, which awards anglers catching fish in Ohio waters — including largemouth and smallmouth bass — that exceed a certain length. Fishermen who catch a largemouth bass of 21 inches longer, or a smallmouth bass 20 inches or more, qualify for FishOhio recognition.
In the 2012 fishing season, there were 879 largemouth and 280 smallmouth that qualified as FishOhio catches.
I noted that all the 21-inch-and-longer largemouth bass came from lakes, reservoirs and ponds — but Three of the five most productive FishOhio-qualifying smallmouth waters last year were rivers.
Both species shared the same top-producing water: Lake Erie. But beyond Ohio’s Great Lake, the best eight places to find bronzeback and bucketmouths differed. Here’s a closer look at each, starting with Erie, and some comments from the state’s fish management and research administrator.
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LAKE ERIE’S LEGENDARY BLACK BASS
Lake Erie is world famous for its walleye and smallmouth bass fishing, yet the Big Lake was also the state’s most prolific producer of big largemouth bass among those who submitted catches for recognition in 2012. Not surprisingly, Lake Erie also led all Ohio waters in the number of FishOhio certificates sent to anglers who netted smallmouth bass taping 20 inches or longer that season.
That the rocky shorelines and offshore reefs and islands of Lake Erie produce big smallmouth bass is no secret; the lake has been known for being one of the nation’s top bronzeback producers for decades. Only since the arrival of the zebra mussel and the mollusk’s water-cleansing ways have largemouth bass thrived. The increased clarity over the past ten years allows more sunlight to reach the depths and allow weeds to grow, which offer bucketmouths the habitat they require to swim forth and multiply.
“Lake Erie will continue to be an exceptional smallmouth and largemouth bass fishery in 2014 and beyond,” said Rich Carter, the executive administrator for fish management and research for the Ohio division of Wildlife (ODOW).
“Our Lake Erie smallmouth fishery is world class. For example, the BASS Open on Lake Erie last September was won by Mike Iacanelli, who weighed a 10-fish stringer averaging almost 5 pounds per fish. The top 20 anglers had a 4-pound-per-fish average. That’s remarkable.”
As for the Great Lake’s other black bass, “the largemouth fishing in the Lake Erie harbor areas is outstanding,” according to the fisheries administrator. “The clear water and abundance of weeds coupled with the general warming trend we’ve experienced the past several years has allowed the lake’s largemouth population to thrive.”
Last season, as I shared the ODOW-prepared statewide fishing report with listeners of my weekly radio show “Buckeye Sportsman” (buckeyesportsman.net), I noticed how often the largemouth bass action in Lake Erie harbors was highlighted. Specifically harbor areas off Catawba, Marblehead, Cleveland, Fairport Harbor, Geneva, Ashtabula and Conneaut were mentioned for the quality of the largemouth bass fishing. That was a first in nearly two decades of hosting the show and sharing the reports — and the productiveness of the fledgling Lake Erie largemouth bass fishery is reflected in the number of FishOhio entries submitted for the species.
If you want to get in on the bass action, the Division of Wildlife’s Lake Erie Fishing Guide lists access points, including launch ramps and marinas for bass anglers fishing out of their own boats. The ODNR Office of Coastal Management also has completed a Lake Erie Public Access Guide, providing information about visiting Ohio waters of Lake Erie. Charter boats are another great way to take advantage of Lake Erie bass fishing opportunities if you don’t own a larger boat or are unfamiliar with Lake Erie fishing.
Call 1-800-WILDLIFE or visit wildohio.com to order the Fishing and Access guidebooks or charter boat resources. You may also want to contact one of the two ODNR Fish Research Units to get bass angling fishing information on the lake basin you intend to fish. For Central Basin information, the Fairport Harbor Fish Research Unit is located at 1190 High St. in Fairport Harbor, 44077; 440-352-4199; Western Basin bass fishing information is available from the Sandusky Fish Research Unit at 305 E. Shoreline Dr. in Sandusky, 44870; 419-625-8062.
AEP RECREATION LANDS LARGEMOUTH BASS
Second only to Lake Erie, the ponds on the lands owned by AEP and open to public fishing (with a free permit) produced the most FishOhio-size largemouth bass in 2012. Scattered across 125,000 acres of rural and rugged Morgan, Muskingum, Guernsey and Noble counties along state routes 83 and 78 south of Cumberland and east of McConnelsville, the “Ohio Power Lands” as they were once known, now called AEP ReCreation Lands, include more than 300 ponds and lakes of fishable size.
That these waters offer some of the best, most remote fishing for big largemouth bass in Ohio is no wonder. Most of the AEP ReCreation Land’s waters are reclaimed mining lands and are fairly easy to access. However, some of the ponds are flooded high-wall mines, or have steep cliffs or banks, making shore access limited. Serious AEP bass anglers carry-in float tubes to fish these remote ponds, where they find big bass that feel very little fishing pressure.
The lakes and ponds on the AEP ReCreation Lands can be very clear, making the bass resident bass wary, and delicate presentations are required for success. Some of the ponds get thick with aquatic vegetation later in the season, which makes spring a great time to wet a line for bass before they become unfishable.
You need a permit to fish or camp on AEP lands, which are available for free online at aep.com/go/recland, at the District Four Wildlife Office in Athens (740-594-2211) or at bait shops and some local groceries in the area.
LARGEMOUTH BASS OF THE PORTAGE LAKES
Third in the number of FishOhio largemouth entries in 2012, the Portage Lakes chain offers nearly 2,000 acres of bass-filled waters with 6 miles of shoreline shared by six lakes located in southern Portage County south of Akron.
“The Portage Lakes are very healthy,” claims Carter. “They offer a lot of great bass habitat, lots of vegetation that promotes good growth, so they continue to be consistent producers of quality size largemouth every year.”
Created in 1825 to supply water for the canal system, the plan included the formation of the Portage Lakes, which are at three topographical levels. The lowest, Long Lake, was created by flooding a swamp area which started with a small pothole at its south end and now covers 231 acres. Mid-level North Reservoir was created by flooding a man-made dike and now offers 165 surface acres. Three lakes occupy the highest elevation of the chain: East Lake, 108 acres; West Lake at 105 acres; and Turkeyfoot Lake at 483 acres.
All the lakes that form the Portage Lakes system host a population of bass that the ODOW rates as “Excellent.”
The fourth most-productive water in the entire state for offering anglers 21-inch and longer largemouth bass in 2012, according to FishOhio records, is Mogadore Reservoir.
“Mogadore is one of the lakes owned by the City of Akron,” explained Carter. “It has great water quality and good habitat to promote the growth of large fish — especially largemouth bass.”
For maps and more bass fishing information for the Portage Lakes and Mogadore Reservoir, contact the Wildlife District Three Offices in Akron at 330-644-2293 or visit wildohio.com.
CLEAR FORK’S BIG LARGEMOUTH
“Clear Fork Reservoir for years has been a very good lake for catches of large largemouth bass,” said Carter of the 971-acre north-central Ohio reservoir. “There was a winning tournament stringer caught there last April with five bass that totaled over 27 pounds. The big bass that day was 6.48 pounds. Those are big bass anywhere you find ‘em.”
Clear Fork is located in Richland and Morrow counties about 8 miles southwest of Mansfield. For a fishing map and more bass angling information, contact Wildlife District Two offices in Findlay at 419-424-5000 or visit wildohio.com. For more information on Clear Fork Lake facilities, including boating access and regulations, contact the city of Mansfield at 419-884-1408.
OHIO RIVER SMALLMOUTH
Water along Ohio’s opposite shore from Lake Erie — the Ohio River — offered the second greatest number of FishOhio entries for smallmouth bass caught in 2012.
“The Ohio River’s smallmouth fishing has been exceptional, along with largemouth and spotted bass in recent years,” said Carter. “What’s interesting is that a lot of the best bass fishing recently has been in the main river, not the embayments and backwaters.”
He said that the pools from Meldahl on down to Markland, and from the Greenup pool and north, have produced some excellent catches of all three black bass species, and “especially (in) the Willow Island, Hannibal and Pike Island pools, the smallmouth fishing has been super.”
For Ohio River boat and shore fishing access information and fishing maps, visit wildohio.com or contact the Wildlife District Four offices at 740-594-2211 for the eastern section or District Five offices at 937-372-9261 for the western section of the river.
SMALLMOUTH FISHING BOTH GREAT AND GRAND
Two waters flowing across the landscape at opposite ends of the state — the Great Miami and the Grand rivers — rounded out the third and fourth most productive FishOhio smallmouth producers in 2012. The Great Miami is in southwestern Ohio; the Grand is located in the northeast.
“The Great Miami has been a consistent smallmouth producer over time,” said Carter, adding: “and it should continue to do so in 2014.”
The stretch of the Great Miami River in the West Carrollton area in Montgomery County south of Dayton is especially well known for its smallmouth fishery. For maps and more information about smallmouth fishing and where to find access to the angling along the Great Miami River, contact the ODOW District Five Office in Xenia at 937-372-9261 or visit wildohio.com.
“The Grand River, especially down near the mouth near the confluence with Lake Erie at Fairport Harbor, is known to be an excellent producer of big smallmouth bass,” said Carter of the Lake County flow.
Contact Wildlife District Three offices at 330-644-2293 or wildohio.com for maps, public access sites and more information about smallmouth fishing on the Grand River.
HOOVER RESERVOIR: BRONZEBACK CENTRAL
“Hoover has always been one of the best inland lakes for smallmouth bass,” said Carter of the primary water supply reservoir for Columbus. Located in Delaware County northeast of the Capital City, the 2800-acre impoundment enforces a 10-horsepower motor restriction on boats, but still sees its fair share of bass anglers over the course of a season — and these anglers net a bunch of big bronzebacks. A recent survey conducted by the ODOW showed that 11 percent of the angler hours at Hoover were directed toward bass, both smallmouth and largemouth.
“Hoover has the right habitat,” explains Carter of the lake’s ability to offer excellent smallmouth size and numbers. “The shore is mostly rock, and which benefits smallmouth survival, and it has an abundance of bait in the form of shad and crawfish.”
Hoover Reservoir maps and information are available from the District One Wildlife Office at 614-644-3925 and, as is information about all the featured big bass waters and more, at wildohio.com.
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