Even though today's hunting and fishing opportunities are great, did you ever wonder what it would have been like to have pursued the field sports back in the golden era, when sporting camps catered to the needs of the traveling sportsman? A time when a trip to "the backcountry" invariably included hunting or fishing. When after a fulfilling day in the woods or on the water one relaxed in the comfort of an overstuffed leather chair, typically in front of a roaring fire, recounting the day's adventures with others of similar tastes?
While we can't turn back the clock, we certainly can take advantage of the many top-rate lodging options scattered around the Buckeye State. State-administered cabins provide sportsmen and women with a variety of options, many of which are located right by some of the best hunting and fishing the state offers. And you don't have to (although you certainly can if you so choose) give up the modern conveniences so many of us have come to rely on.
Read on to discover three great Ohio destinations for hunting and fishing, and how you can tap into these great lodging options during the coming year!
PYMATUNING STATE PARK
Mention Pymatuning Lake to most any informed northeast Ohio angler, and you'll likely enter a discussion about the lake's walleye fishing. Indeed, Pymatuning is one of the top walleye destinations in the state.
Shared with neighboring Pennsylvania, Pymatuning does not have a closed walleye season. As such, early spring fishing, shortly after ice-out, is a traditional activity for many. As water temperatures climb into the 40s, walleyes head for the shallows to spawn. Anglers anxiously await this early-season activity.
To be fair, last spring's early season walleye fishing on Pymatuning was slow, particularly for daytime anglers. It was not for a lack of fish. Springtime surveys by fisheries personnel revealed high numbers of both adult walleyes and muskies. The tough fishing was blamed on two consecutive mild winters, which did little to knock back the lake's population of gizzard shad and alewife — both important food sources — and particularly dismal, cold, wet spring weather. However, last year's modest harvest of walleyes may well favor this spring's anglers.
Ohio's Pymatuning State Park, located along the west side of the lake along Pymatuning Lake Road, provides an excellent home base for a spring walleye trip. Within the campground complex one will find three separate camping areas, as well as a network of cabins of various levels of luxury. The campground is located at 7514 Pymatuning Lake Road.
While the campground is split up into three zones, they lie next to each other. Restrooms and showers houses are distributed throughout the complex. There's a camp store and dump station on-sight. A limited number of full-service sites are available. Most others have electric, though there are non-electric sites as well. The campground has its own boat ramp.
Also within the campground complex is a collection of about 60 cabins. There are 34 basic cabins. As the name suggests, these simple budget-priced cottages feature a kitchen, one double bed, sofa, table and bathroom. They are ideal for a couple of serious anglers planning on spending most of their time on the water. Larger parties, or folks preferring a bit more luxury, have the option of choosing one of 24 preferred cabins. These more spacious cottages feature two bedrooms, fireplace, TV and a screened porch. For those requiring extra pampering after a cold, spring day chasing walleyes, there is also one premium cabin, which in addition to the fireplace and TV, includes a wood deck with gas grill, along with a spa and second fireplace. Boat rentals are available from Pymatuning Liveries, found a couple miles north of the campground near the Duck and Drake bait and tackle shop. There are also three boat liveries on the Pennsylvania side of the lake, ones located at Linesville, Espyville and Jamestown. The latter is most proximate to the Ohio campground/cabin complex. For those bringing their own boats, remember that Pymatuning has a 20-horsepower limit.
Even though the daytime bite can be slow, the night fishing can be productive. Wading anglers, casting small stickbaits or jig-n-minnow combos, often score well from sundown until the wee hours of the morning. The most popular wading sights are gravel shores and points close to access areas. Boat anglers also do well anchoring close to such spots.
The area directly in front of the Ohio campground features habitat that collects springtime walleyes. Check out the gravelly shallows in front of the small bay fed by Black Creek, which flows through the cabin area.
Pymatuning State Park - 6100 Pymatuning Lake Road - 440-293-6030
Accommodations: Cabins from $65 per night; $440 per week; campground from $22
On-site Amenities: Boat rentals, swimming, hiking, picnicking
Near-Site: Bait and tackle shops
MAUMEE BAY STATE PARK
Lake Erie's western basin is well-known for its world class smallmouth bass and walleye fishing, with good reason. The walleye population is excellent, and with recent strong year classes coming on, there's a good mix of 'eyes of all sizes. The smallmouth population is also stable, providing a great chance to tie into good numbers of big bronzebacks. Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center, located near the mouth of Maumee Bay, serves as an excellent headquarters for a western basin fishing adventure.
Tremendous numbers of walleyes ascend the Maumee River in the spring. But be prepared for the huge throng of anglers such a "run" inspires. The reef areas found to the northwest of Maumee Bay are also prime spots during the spawn, and can best be accessed from the Port Clinton area, located a bit to the east of the resort.
By mid to late April — less crowded conditions exist as walleyes disperse back into the lake. Walleyes can be taken by trolling the basins out from the Bass Islands. As summer unfolds walleyes make a west-to-east migration
The smallmouth bass fishing can be great from spring through fall. Brown bass can be taken all along the wealth of structure located off the Bass Islands area.
Trailer your boat east to the Port Clinton or Catawba Island area to target smallies. The western basin's largemouth population has been on the upswing and provides another great option. Consider Sandusky Bay and near-shore areas along the main lake.
The resort and Maumee Bay State Park offers rooms in the main lodge as well as luxury cabins. The lodge rooms come in a variety of sizes, including standard single and double room, ones with spacious lofts, suites as well as ADA-compliant rooms. Some rooms have private balconies or patios. Daily housekeeping service, wireless internet, mini-fridge, coffee maker, and central air conditioning are all standard.
The luxury cabins come in both two and four-bedroom configurations. Standard features of cabins include 3/4 bath (shower, but no tub), fully-equipped kitchen, heat/AC, charcoal grill, gas fireplace, satellite TV, telephone, screened porch and picnic table.
Maumee Bay Lodge is pet-friendly, so if you'd care to take your four-footed friends along, it's an option. Just be sure to indicate you'll be bringing a pet when you make your reservation. Also, packages and specials are often available that can significantly reduce the price of your lodging. Be sure to check these out, on the lodge's website, when making your travel arrangements.
Anglers traveling to the Maumee Bay area should bring along plenty of leadhead jigs and minnow-shaped stickbaits for early season walleye fishing. For smallmouth bass, tube jigs, drop shot rigs (and round goby-profile soft plastics), suspending jerkbaits and jigging spoons can all be productive, depending on the time of year you fish, and mood of the bass.
The Port Clinton area, just to the east of Maumee Bay, is fishing country, with a wealth of charter boats.
Maumee Bay Lodge and Convention Center - 1750 State Park Road #2, Oregon, OH 43616
Accommodations: Standard lodge rooms (starting at $160 per night); luxury cabins (starting at $340 per night)
On-site Amenities: Restaurants, lounge, shopping, swimming pool
Near-Site Amenities: Bait and tackle shops, boat ramps, charter boats
SHAWNEE STATE FOREST
The rugged hills that make up much of this 63,000-acre state forest will challenge the physical fitness of the deer hunter. However, such character also deters many hunters, allowing bucks to grow to maturity.
Located along the northern side of the Ohio River, Shawnee State Forest is a working forest, with much of it managed on a sustained yield basis. A regenerating forest is one that can support a wide variety of game and non-game species. Around 8,000 acres has been deemed wilderness where the timber is not managed.
Shawnee State Park features a variety of lodging options, and can serve as a base camp, one as simple as a tent located within the campground, or a luxury resort room.
Deer hunters new to area should be prepared to do some walking, particularly if you're planning o. Sixty miles of backpacking, hiking and bridle trails can serve as access routes to the interior of the forest. Motorized vehicles are not permitted off-road.
There are several grouse-hunting areas within Shawnee State Forest, places where timber management has occurred to encourage the growth of young forest beneficial to Old Ruff. Whitetails flourish in these same types of cover, something to consider when planning your trip. Maps showing the location of grouse-related timber cuts, along with additional information, can be found by visiting http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/shawnee.
Shawnee State Park takes up a bit over 1,000 acres of 6,300 acres Shawnee State Forest. Within it a hunters will find a campground, lodge and cabins.
The state park also hosts the Shawnee Lodge and Convention Center, which offers both lodge rooms and cottages. Lodge rooms feature satellite TV, refrigerator, telephone, full baths and private balconies. The cottages sleep up to six, and feature two bedrooms, bathroom with shower, complete kitchen, microwave, screened porch, fire ring and charcoal grill. Fireplaces are operational from Oct. 1 to March 31. Four of the cabins are pet-friendly, with an additional charge of $15.
Shawnee Lodge and Convention Center - 4404 State Route 125 - Portsmouth, OH 45663
888-217-2481 (lodge reservations) 866-644-6727 (campground reservations)
Accommodations: Lodge rooms (starting at $109); 25 family cottages (starting at $139.00); campsites (from $24)
On-site Amenities: Dining, hiking, fishing, indoor and outdoor pools, sauna, hot tub, game room
Near-Site Amenities: Adena State Memorial, restaurants