Here's a look at what's in store for Buckeye State bass anglers in 2006. (March 2006)
This year, Ohio's bass anglers have a number of good places to wet a line in. Many of these waters offer excellent numbers of fish from 12 to 15 inches, while others harbor lunkers in the 4- to 5-pound range.
A lot of credit goes to biologists with the Ohio Division of Wildlife for our bass-angling opportunities. District by district, they keep a watchful eye on local fisheries, accumulate data on catch rates and conduct electro-shocking and trap-netting surveys to find out what's actually lurking under the water's surface. Their work results in recommendations for slot limits, minimum size and bag limits designed to provide the quality bass angling that anglers have come to expect.
"We started a new standardized sampling program about three years ago that has allowed us to gather good data statewide," said Ken Cunningham, the ODOW's District One fish management supervisor in Columbus. "We'll be able to rate lakes on that basis and be able to predict how good they'll be."
The state's Inland Management System gives biologists the information they need to assess the fish population in a given lake. Trends, problems and successes can be identified, and scheduled surveys are conducted on a regular basis. Long-term results of today's management decisions will become much more apparent, due to a better system of keeping track of what's happening in our waters.
According to Andy Burt, a District Three fisheries biologist, the new system will be beneficial to his lakes. The system requires that biologists check their lakes at least once every six years to standardize the length of time between fish samplings. The best lakes will be checked two or three times during that time period.
At present, the IMS statistics are available to the public with a phone call to any district office. There are plans to link the information to the ODOW's Internet Web site at www.ohiodnr.com.
The ODOW enjoys an amiable relationship with bass anglers and makes it a priority to keep it that way.
According to Elmer Heyob Jr., a fisheries biologist with District One, there's often a testy relationship between our state's natural-resource agencies and anglers in other states.
"I don't know if it's because of agency management or what the problem is," said Heyob. "However, we have a good relationship with anglers. We listen to what they're saying and in return they cooperate with us and comply with rules about minimum size and bag limits."
But on occasion, there are disagreements between the ODOW and bass anglers. One such debate actually concerns the saugeye.
This hybrid, a cross between a walleye and a sauger, has been a feather in the ODOW's cap for the last several years. Lakes such as Indian Lake in Logan County have received hundreds of thousands of these hybrids that, within four or five years, are pushing lunker-class proportions. Many anglers love them, but bass anglers aren't so sure.
The tension biologists sometimes experience between competing interests means that compromises need to be made. Some lakes are managed for trophy-class largemouths, while at other waters -- again, like Indian Lake -- saugeyes are given priority. Bass anglers have learned to fish for bass in a changing fish population, or look elsewhere.
Despite some minor changes, there are bass waters in every corner of the Buckeye State that offer excellent bass-fishing opportunities.
Here's a look at our best bass lakes for 2006 and what our district biologists are doing to improve the situation:
District One encompasses the central part of the state. The city of Columbus and surrounding communities provide a real challenge to biologists, since many local waters are hard hit by bass fishermen.
Management activities are sometimes linked to the enforcement of fishing regulations by wildlife officers. At other times, the ODOW assists the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency in determining the sources of one-time chemical spills that affect our waterways and other ongoing sources of pollution.
Lakes like Knox Lake offer some great fishing as a result.
"Knox Lake is one of the better bass lakes in District One," said Cunningham. "It's right up there at the top. Usually we see some fairly good-sized bass in our electro-shocking surveys."
According to Cunningham, Knox Lake produces outstanding largemouth bass opportunities every year. Standing timber and stumps in shallow water hold good numbers of smaller fish, along with bass up to 18 inches.
The lake is one of only two 18-inch minimum-size limit lakes in Ohio for largemouth bass.
Stump fields in shallow water and fallen shoreline trees have been left to enhance the bass habitat.
The lake covers 495 acres and has a 10 horsepower motor limit in place. Three boat-launching ramps are available.
Knox Lake is in Knox County, off U. S. Route 95, two miles east of Fredricktown.
Another District One hotspot is Griggs Reservoir in Franklin County.
"Griggs Reservoir is one of the lakes in District One that I would rate as excellent for largemouth bass based on our 2005 electro-shocking results. It also has a good population of smallmouth bass," said Cunningham.
The upper end is where you'll find most of the largemouth bass. Cast crankbaits and jig-and-pigs north of the island or along steep shorelines where bass are holding.
Griggs Reservoir covers 361 acres. The reservoir is on U. S. 33 between Dublin and Columbus in Franklin County. Access is off state Route 33 near Columbus. Boaters need to watch for the restricted area between buoy number 5 and the dam.
For more information and maps on these and other central Ohio lakes, contact the ODOW's District One office at (614) 644-3925.
Biologists in northwestern Ohio, with less fishing pressure to contend with, have enjoyed success in making many of their district's waters real hotspots.
"Pleasant Hill Reservoir always rates up near the top for both numbers and sizes of largemouths," said Mike Wilkerson, a fi
sheries biologist in District Two.
Tucked into the rolling hills of Richland and Ashland counties, Pleasant Hill covers 850 acres. Largemouths dominate the upper end of the lake, while a good population of smallmouths exists in the lower end. The largemouth bass run up to 20 inches.
This is another lake where the fishing remains consistent from one year to the next. Plastic worms and spinnerbaits are a mainstay.
Smallmouths are caught less frequently, according to Wilkerson, but good numbers are present in 15-inch sizes and above. Small crankbaits take bass off rocky shoreline cover and points.
"We had a phenomenal spawn in 2004 and they survived the winter. The next couple of years should be pretty good."
A boat ramp is on the north shore on Covert Road off state Route 95. Pleasant Hill is two miles southwest of Perrysville.
The Veteran's Memorial Lake outside of Fostoria is an example of a smaller body of water that has responded well to ODOW regulations.
"Anglers can expect to catch some nice largemouth bass in there," said Wilkerson. This overlooked 150-acre lake is on U.S. Route 12 just outside of Fostoria.
When the city-owned reservoir was constructed, fish habitat was high on the list of additions.
"There is some standing timber in one end of the lake, and there are spawning shelves all over the lake," Wilkerson noted.
Crankbaits fished along bottom contour changes and steep banks can produce nice bass.
The shelves and riprap shoreline are the best spots to target lunker largemouths.
Little vegetation grows in the lake, due to the deep water. Clarity is good, something for anglers to keep in mind when selecting their lures.
There is a 9.9 horsepower motor limit in force. A ramp is available for launching smaller boats.
Additional information on these and other District Two waters may be found by contacting the ODOW's district office at (419) 424-5000.
Berlin Lake and LaDue Reservoir are Phil Hillman's top picks for this year. Hillman is the fish management supervisor for District Three's 19 counties in northeastern Ohio.
Berlin Lake sprawls across Portage, Mahoning and Stark counties. The big lake covers 3,650 acres and is one of the district's top-producing largemouth lakes.
"Nighttime electro-shocking surveys were conducted during the spring of 2004," said Hillman. "Fifty-nine percent of the bass sampled that exceeded 8 inches also exceeded 12 inches, and 25 percent of these fish were larger than 15 inches."
Hillman pointed out that harvested bass averaged more than 15 inches.
Smallmouths in the lake rated high marks as well. Many fish exceeded 17 inches.
Hotspots on Berlin Lake include the deeper areas from the dam up into the midportions of the river system east of state Route 14. When bass are moving into this area after the spawn and into the summer, try a 1/2- to 1-ounce Carolina-rigged plastic worm or crayfish. Weed edges and points near the channels are also good spots to try.
Smallmouths move into the rocky structure in the main lake basin where anglers can score on jigs and small spoons.
Berlin Lake is accessible from state routes 14 and 225 and from U. S. Route 224. Boat ramps are available.
How about the chance to catch an 8-pound largemouth or 5-pound smallmouth? If you're interested, LaDue is a real jewel. It gets hit hard by bass anglers, but never seems to run out of big bass.
LaDue Reservoir is located outside Akron in Geauga County, just thirty miles southeast of Cleveland.
Largemouths congregate in the shallower southern section of the lake's 1,475 acres. Here, anglers will find sharp dropoffs, underwater weed beds and clear water. Smallmouths prefer the deeper, rockier northern half of the lake.
"Electro-shocking surveys were conducted during spring 2000. Of the bass sampled that exceeded 8 inches, an impressive 65 percent of those fish exceeded 12 inches. A very high percentage -- 40 percent of the bass -- exceeded 15 inches," said Hillman.
Three boat ramps are available on this electric-motors-only lake.
For a map and more information, contact the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293.
The least populated part of Ohio also has the fewest lakes. Rolling timbered hills and deep ravines have allowed few natural lakes to develop. Many of the bass waters are long, winding flood-control reservoirs, with sharp dropoffs and bays that snake back up into the hills.
Other lakes, such as Tycoon Lake, look like more traditional Ohio impoundments.
"Our best lake is Tycoon Lake in Gallia County," said Tim Parrot, a fisheries biologist with the ODOW's District Four office.
"The lake has an 18-inch minimum size limit, and there's a lot of big bass in there. Sometimes while we're electro-shocking, we see 4- and 5-pound fish. The bass fishing prospects for 2006 are excellent."
The lake is managed by the ODOW as a trophy-class largemouth lake. Bass typically are in the 10- to 15-inch range. A 2004 electro-shocking survey revealed many larger fish.
Tycoon Lake has plenty of stumps and submerged fencerows. Largemouths relating to cover can be found in these locations, along with other hotspots near the dams.
Tycoon Lake offers a nice boat ramp that can accommodate most fishing boats. A handicapped-access fishing pier is available as well.
Salt Fork Reservoir in Guernsey County is one of those hill-country impoundments that seems to go on forever. Its shoreline follows the old creek bed and the hills that surround it.
"Salt Fork has a great bass population," said Parrot. "In 2004 we electro-shocked that lake and saw a lot of nice bass in the 12- to 15-inch range. It's an excellent lake."
Parrot pointed out that last summer, the water level was lowered about five feet to work on a drain at the dam. By this spring, the lake should be at full pool again.
During the lower water, adventurous bass anglers who had been fishing the lake for years discovered visible structure that they never knew existed.
Largemouth and smallmouth bass are both present. Larg
emouths are more abundant in areas of vegetation and off points adjacent to deeper water. Smallmouths cruise the rocks and rubble along the shoreline, and many specimens go over 20 inches.
For additional cover, the ODOW placed 625 Christmas trees into the lake in 1997 and another 600 trees in 2003.
A 15-inch minimum length limit on black bass is in effect.
There are no horsepower restrictions on this 2,815-acre lake; however, boaters should watch the mid-lake buoys for the no-wake zone.
The District Four office can be reached at (740) 589-9930.
Biologists in southwestern Ohio manage their bass waters by monitoring conditions and conducting fish population surveys as they develop recommendations on size and bag limits. The goal, of course, is to provide some great bass angling.
"My first choice for bass would be Acton Lake in the Hueston Lake State Park," said Debbie Walters, a fisheries biologist with the ODOW's District Five office in southwest Ohio.
"For bass anglers, the only downside is that there's a 10-horsepower motor restriction. However, that restriction probably helps keep the fishing pressure down a bit," she noted.
"For the last three years, we've been doing electro-shocking surveys in the spring, and when you compare catch rates during the surveys, Acton Lake has the highest catch rate in the state," said Walters. "We've seen quite a few 3- to 5-pound bass. If you want bass action, this would be the place to go."
Target the largemouths where the submerged weeds have become established. In hot weather, anglers may find lunker-sized bass off the steepest shoreline.
The lake lies in Butler and Preble counties and covers 625 acres of good bass habitat.
"If someone wanted to go to a lake to catch smallmouths, Caesar Creek is where I'd send them," said Walters.
There is a lot of tournament pressure on the lake. It has a 15-inch minimum-size limit, and good numbers of 10- to 14-inch largemouth bass may be found there. Occasionally, a 4-pounder is landed.
In the spring of the year, the wooded coves and standing timber are hotspots. The brush, timber and riprap shoreline on the main lake are also good spots for bass. Don't overlook the timbered part of Walkers Island and the nearby dropoffs and bottom contour changes.
A local tip after the spawning period is to keep an eye out for anglers with marker buoys or who are trolling. They're probably fishing for saugeyes, but occasionally these anglers take a nice bass.
Smallmouths will be found in the rockier, deeper parts of the lake. Tube jigs, small crankbaits and soft plastics are used to hook these fighters.
Caesar Creek also has more spotted bass than anywhere else in the district. These bass seem to relate to the same type of structure as do the smallies. Caesar Creek has four boat ramps and the designation of being the deepest lake in Ohio. The dam area reaches down to 115 feet.
The 2,607-acre lake is four miles east of Waynesfield and two miles west of Interstate Route 71 along state Route 73 about 15 miles southeast of Dayton.
For more information on District Five's top bass lakes, contact the ODOW at (937) 372-9261.
Bass-angling opportunities abound throughout Ohio, thanks to the hard work of the bass managers with the ODOW -- and it's only getting better. You can't ask for any more than that!