"There are great catfishing opportunities throughout the state," noted Richard Zweifel, the acting Inland Fisheries Program Administrator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).
I had called the biologist to try to get a handle on where to send Ohio Game & Fish readers who wanted to tangle with the state's largest game fish and its catfish cousins. His reply was more along the lines of "it would be easier to point out places that don't offer catfishing here in Ohio." That said, quantity aside, the department is actively engaged in improving the quality of Ohio's catfish fisheries, as witnessed by the stocking programs underway annually.
"We are continuing to focus more effort on offering a diversity of catfishing opportunities throughout Ohio," he explained. "Channel cat opportunities can be found in just about every river/stream and lake/reservoir in the state. Our channel cat stocking program in smaller reservoirs has produced good numbers of quality fish at all of those lakes.
"We currently have three ongoing research projects that are aimed at Ohio catfishes. Projects are related to: 1) assessing catfish populations (numbers and sizes) in our reservoirs, 2) evaluating the channel catfish stocking program, and 3) studying movement of trophy-sized blues and flatheads in the Ohio River.
Here is a lake and a river (or two) in each of Ohio's five wildlife districts that Zweifel suggested might be worth a look by catfish anglers this summer.
DISTRICT ONE CATFISHING DESTINATIONS
"Lots of really big (FishOhio-sized) channel cats are caught by Hoover Reservoir anglers every year and the blue cats that were stocked into Hoover are thriving," said Zweifel. "They're growing really fast and anglers are starting to catch fish in the 25- to 30-pound range. Hoover Reservoir consistently has the most FishOhio channel catfish entries submitted annually of all the inland lakes in the state, according to the fisheries spokesman, who says the north end of the reservoir is typically the best basin for catching the larger catfish. The Division of Wildlife started stocking blue catfish in 2011, and an angler reported catching a 35-inch fish in 2016, the first official FishOhio Blue cat caught from Hoover. Hoover has a 10-horsepower/10-mph speed limit for boaters on the 2,900-acre reservoir located just north of Columbus.
Click the video link above to get great catfishing tips for your future trip.
Meanwhile, the Scioto River is the place for flathead anglers to target.
"There is good habitat for flatheads in this river system," said Zweifel, referring to the stretch of the lengthy waterway that flows through central Ohio. "Anglers will find plenty of structure (rocks and wood) to accommodate lots of big flatheads."
Upstream of Columbus, the Scioto River flows through Marion, Delaware and Franklin counties, where city parks as well as numerous bridge crossings along its length offer access to anglers. North of the capital city, the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department manages public lands along much of the Scioto River's eastern shore from Griggs Dam, through Griggs and O'Shaughnessy reservoirs, to Bellpoint, in Delaware County. Pull-offs, parking areas and launch ramps along the stretch provide ample public access for shore anglers, as well as for catfish anglers who use boats.
South of Columbus, along the Ross, Pike and Scioto county lines on its way downstream to Portsmouth, where it meets the Ohio River, the Scioto gives up catches of channel catfish and "shovelheads." Many anglers fish the Columbus-to-Portsmouth stretch of the Scioto from shore, and work upstream and downstream from dozens of bridges and pull-offs that cross and flank the river along its fluid path.
WILDLIFE DISTRICT TWO CATFISHING DESTINATIONS
"The bays and nearshore areas of Lake Erie are loaded with channel catfish and there are lots of 10-pound-plus channel cats in the lake," said Zweifel, adding: "Lake Erie has an exceptional channel catfish fishery that is often overlooked."
District Two also has some good flathead fishing in the form of the Maumee River.
"There are lots of big flatheads throughout the Maumee," according to the biologist, where much of the catfishing takes place in the downtown Defiance area and below Independence Dam as well as the Grand Rapids Dam at Mary Jane Thurston State Park
The Maumee River flows through Paulding, Defiance, Henry, Wood and Lucas counties in District Two before spilling into Lake Erie at Toledo. Public access for angling is good, especially from the dam at Defiance to Rossport. Other access sites include Side Cut Metropark at I-475 and US 23 south of Toledo and along the Miami and Erie Canal Trail in Defiance County.
WILDLIFE DISTRICT THREE CATFISHING DESTINATIONS
If you want reservoir flatheads rather than river fish, then District Three's Clendening Reservoir is worth a visit.
"This lake is known for trophy flatheads," said Zweifel. "There are lots of really big flatheads caught every year. Plenty of channel cats too. It was recently stocked with blue catfish, so this will be an up and coming blue catfish fishery over the next few years."
Both good-sized channels and flatheads are found in the Tuscarawas River.
"From Barberton to Bolivar there are big channels and big flatheads cruising the Tusk," noted Zweifel, whose field staff reports show that a productive stretch runs from Dover/New Philadelphia to the intersection of SR36 and I-77. The river flows south from its headwaters near the Wayne, Stark and Summit county junction northwest of Canton before turning west into the Muskingum River at Coshocton. The Tuscarawas offers all four popular species of catfish, but fishing access is somewhat of a problem over much of its length through the district. A popular access is located at Bolivar Dam on Sandy Creek, a tributary that meets the Tusk in Tuscarawas County at the Stark County line east of I-77. The tailwater of the Bolivar Dam on the Big Sandy, and downstream to the Tusk, which is less than a mile from the dam, can be productive for channel cats. As can Dover Dam, on SR 800 in Tuscarawas County, some 3 miles north of Dover.
WILDLIFE DISTRICT FOUR CATFISHING DESTINATIONS
In District Four, Seneca Lake is the place for anglers interested in getting on the main ingredient for a fish fry.
"Seneca Lake has excellent numbers of channel catfish. Many of the fish are the perfect 'eating size' with the possibility for the occasional lunker as well," Zweifel said. "It also has a good population of large flatheads up to 50 pounds." Sweifel added that Seneca is a blue catfish program lake, "so the trifecta of catfishing opportunities is a possibility."
Shore anglers seeking Seneca Lake cats should focus their efforts along the face of the dam and Cadillac Bay, according to Zweifel, who says that anglers with boats should be able to locate fish around the small island in the reservoir's lower end or find them by drifting the flats along the channel in the upper end of the lake, as well as in the two main coves on the north side of the lake.
The Muskingum River in this part of the state also turns out to be a great place for catfish to live.
"This system offers ideal catfish habitat where it flows through District Four," explained the fisheries biologist. "There's lots of wood and other structure throughout the river, and the dams tend to concentrate catfish, especially big flatheads."
The Muskingum River has excellent numbers of channel catfish with good numbers of large fish as well, according to Zweifel. Shore anglers will want to target any one of the 10 dams located from Zanesville down to Marietta. Flathead fishing results in catches of flatheads in the 60-pound range every season, and the Devola pool and tailwater is a favorite for those anglers seeking trophy flatheads.
Access to the Muskingum River is excellent, thanks to the Muskingum River Parkway, a system of state parks that flank nearly the entire river south of Zanesville. Shore-fishing access, boat launch ramps and parking are abundant in the park system.
Top catfishing pools along the Muskingum River include: the Zanesville Pool and Ellis tailwater in Muskingum County for channel catfishing and excellent action on flatheads; the Dillon tailwater where the Licking River enters the river for both channel cats and flatheads; the Philo Pool, in the Y bridge area in downtown Zanesville, where prospects are good for flatheads and channel cats; the Rokeby Pool in Morgan and Muskingum counties, where channel catfishing and flathead action can be excellent; the McConnelsville Pool in Muskingum and Morgan counties; and the Stockport Pool in Morgan County, for both channel cats and shovelheads.
Further downstream along the Muskingum, the Luke Chute Pool in Morgan County and the Beverly Pool have good populations of channel cats and a sizeable population of flatheads, as does the Lowell Pool in Washington County.
For information on the Muskingum River Parkway, call (740) 674-4794 or send an email inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.
WILDLIFE DISTRICT FIVE CATFISHING DESTINATIONS
"Grant Lake is absolutely loaded with big, old channel cats," according to Zweifel. "It's overlooked as a cat fishery because it's a smaller lake, but it offers the potential for big catch numbers and large fish."
Grant Lake, also popularly known as Lake Grant, offers 181 acres of excellent catfishing within the Grant Lake Wildlife area, located south of Mt. Orab in Brown County.
For those catfish anglers who prefer to fish a larger inland water in the district, C. J. Brown Reservoir offers both good numbers and size for channel catfish, according to Zweifel.
Meanwhile, anglers who want to match up against the big-game potential of blue catfish can hit the Ohio River.
"The Ohio River Pools near Cincinnati are the place in Ohio to go to target big blue cats," said Zweifel, who added: "There are good numbers and sizes of both channels and flatheads as well," pointing out that the Markland and Meldahl pools are always popular with summer anglers who can expect to catch good numbers and sizes of channel catfish, flatheads and blues.
For maps and more information on catfishing in Ohio, visit wildohio.gov.