Here's a look at what's in store for Buckeye State bass anglers in 2009. (March 2009)
Bass fishing in the Buckeye State is as good as it's ever been, due in part to the capable hands of Ohio Division of Wildlife fisheries biologists. Lakes throughout the state are loaded with bass, and many of them include those elusive 5- and 6-pounders.
The ODOW is moving forward with a study to revamp its bass regulations in the hopes of making opportunities even better. Their goal is to manage lakes with similar characteristics and potential in a consistent manner statewide, focusing more attention on waters where bass populations need a boost.
Here's what fisheries managers are saying about bass management in Ohio -- and where to get in on the state's best bass action this year:
Bass management in Ohio centers on establishing regulations that benefit anglers and fish, according to Nick Radabaugh, an ODOW fisheries biologist. Minimum-length, bag and slot limits pretty much sum up what fisheries managers determine.
"We're taking a look at the current regulations on a statewide basis to see if they're still working," Radabaugh said. "We'd like to make regulations more consistent from place to place. And we're finding that on some waters slot limits, for instance, aren't really accomplishing what they're supposed to."
ODOW officials are discovering that bass anglers have so completely adopted the catch-and-release ethic that they are releasing, rather than harvesting, even fish that do fit within slot limits!
Doing away with some of the slot limits is under consideration.
Habitat is another focus for bass managers, said Radabaugh. The old adage that "If you build it, they will come," certainly holds true for bass.
Habitat-enhancement projects are generally accomplished in cooperation with local bass clubs.
Bass-spawning containers have been placed into Lake Loramie and Buckeye Lake. Each one consists of the bottom half of a 55-gallon drum that's been filled with gravel. These artificial beds also protect newly hatched fry.
For consistent bass fishing, the best lake in the district is Knox Lake, said Radabaugh. He cited ODOW creel surveys that show good numbers and sizes of bass in this quiet, 495-acre lake in Knox County. Fallen shoreline trees and areas of stumps in shallow water have been left intact. The lake has a 10-horsepower limit.
This year, 364-acre Griggs Reservoir in Franklin County is another good choice for central Ohio anglers.
Both largemouth and smallmouth bass are available, with the smallies dominating the northern half of the lake. Central Ohio's tournament anglers have some of their best catch rates on this lake.
Spawning areas are off Hayden Road with nearby, deeper water holding post-spawn bass. Cover consists of scattered patches of water willows, rocky shoreline, a few downed trees, breaks and boat docks.
Deer Creek Reservoir, covering 1,290 acres in Stark County, also rates a thumbs-up from Radabaugh, who says there's a solid bass population with good-sized fish.
Last year, the ODOW surveyed the lake and found that well over 10 percent of the largemouths measured at least 15 inches.
Indian Lake in Logan County is a perennial favorite of the tournament crowd. Most of the bass aren't huge in this shallow, turbid lake, but a real lunker is taken on occasion.
Local angler Barry Clayton landed an 8-pound, 24-inch female largemouth just a week after he took a 5-pounder in the same spot.
Over the last 20 years, catch-and-release has become so ingrained in bass anglers' minds that usually, even harvestable fish are sent back into the depths.
For big bucketmouths, try the weedy channels in the northeastern section of the lake.
Contact the Indian Lake State Park office at (937) 843-2717 for more information, or try the ODOW's District One office at (614) 644-3925.
"We know that stocking doesn't improve existing bass populations in Ohio," said Larry Goedde, an ODOW fisheries biologist, "though we often wish it were that simple.
"Currently, we're fine-tuning the regulations by looking at data from 1981 through the present."
Catch-and-release regulations are the way to go, said Goedde, because they "recycle" bass and increase the number of times a fish may be caught.
Other bass-management strategies are far-reaching and difficult to accomplish. Habitat is important, and what happens up in a watershed can be just as important as what happens in the lake itself.
Identifying manmade causes of bass mortality is equally tough. Catch-and-release does cause some mortality, but not enough to be a problem, said Goedde.
Tournament anglers have been a cooperative lot and are doing their part to preserve caught fish through improved handling and weigh-in techniques, including release boats.
In the northwestern corner of the state, most of the smallmouth bass fishing is found in upground reservoirs. These deep, steep-sided municipal reservoirs make fishing in District Two unique in the state.
Two of Goedde's top smallmouth choices are Ferguson Reservoir in Allen County and London Reservoir in Madison County. Their shorelines are steep and fall off into 20- to 30-foot depths within just a few feet.
Look for bass up to 4 pounds here.
Goedde said that the Veterans Memorial Reservoir in Hancock County -- also known as Fostoria Reservoir No. 6 -- has some nice largemouth bass habitat.
This lake covers 160 acres and produces good number of 15-inch fish. A 9.9 horsepower limit is in effect.
Some reservoirs don't fit the mold and provide good opportunities for both smallmouths and largemouths. One example is Upper Sandusky Reservoir No. 2 in Wyandot County, with standing timber and good submerged weedbeds in shallow water, along with traditional smallmouth structure and de
In northwest Ohio, Charles Mill Reservoir may be the sleeper for big largemouth bass even though it doesn't get a lot of bass-fishing pressure. The eastern basin is the most productive spot and is somewhat turbid -- a fact to keep in mind when you're tying on baits.
A 10-horsepower limit is in effect.
In Williams County, the Lake La Su An Wildlife Area's ponds are the destination for numbers. These ponds have the state's highest densities of largemouth bass, and in a day it's not unusual for anglers to catch 80 to 100 bass, most of them from 11 to 15 inches long.
To fish the ponds, a free permit and reservations are required. To make reservations and get a permit, call the ODOW at (419) 636-6189.
For more information, call the ODOW's District Two office at (419) 424-5000.
Chris Aman, an ODOW fisheries biologist, samples his district's lakes in more ways than one. He not only manages bass fisheries in northeastern Ohio, but also spends a lot of his off-duty time on these same waters.
Aman has found that in his neck of the woods, the bass regulations are working -- with a few exceptions.
The minimum-length restrictions on some of the lakes in his region may be dropped, due to a lack of harvest of bass in the legal size range.
Over the last 20 years, catch-and-release has become so ingrained in bass anglers' minds that usually, even harvestable fish get sent back into the depths.
When it comes to managing lakes in the densely populated areas of northeastern Ohio, Aman said that catch-and-release is an important component in the overall management strategy. Most bass anglers aren't fishing to fill their freezers, and as a result, large numbers of fish remain in the lake.
All in all, bass waters in District Three are jumping with opportunities.
"The really hot lake this year," said Aman, "is Mogadore Reservoir. The bass fishing in this lake has been outstanding."
Mogadore covers 1,076 acres in Portage County. Only electric motors are allowed.
The Portage lakes and Nimisila Lake in Summit County are among Aman's personal favorites.
An ODOW survey revealed that well over 25 percent of Nimisila's bass topped the 15-inch mark.
The Portage Lakes system is composed of five major lakes connected to smaller bodies of water.
The largest of the lakes, at 664 acres, is Turkeyfoot Lake. A reef of submerged Christmas trees has been constructed about 120 feet out from the shoreline of a small island facing the main lake, and it should hold largemouths this spring.
East Reservoir is the next largest at 379 acres, followed by Long Lake at 225 acres and North Reservoir at 219 acres. Long Lake is fairly easy to fish, and the North Reservoir is another hotspot that may actually hold the greater numbers of bass.
There is a 10 miles-per-hour speed limit in effect, with a 400-horsepower motor restriction. The entire waterway is a no-wake zone, with the exception of portions of Turkeyfoot and East Reservoir.
For more information, call the Portage Lakes State Park office at (330) 644-2220.
Biologist Aman's sleeper lake is Mosquito Lake, where largemouths and smallmouths make a good showing in local tournaments.
Most anglers pitch jigs and tiny crayfish tails into submerged weedbeds, willow bushes and woody cover along the shoreline.
To target 3- and 4-pounders, they switch to an 8-inch lizard.
Mosquito Lake covers 7,241 acres in Trumbull County. The Walnut Creek area and Pikie Bay are the hotspots. For more information, contact the Mosquito Lake State Park office at (330) 637-2856.
For maps and more information about the region's bass-management program, contact the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293.
Mike Greenlee, an ODOW District Four fisheries biologist, keeps his finger on the pulse of several fisheries in his district -- and is pleased with what's going on.
"Our best all-around lakes are Tycoon and Burr Oak," said Greenlee.
Tycoon Lake is known for its big bass. Its 18-inch minimum-length limit keeps more bucketmouths in the lake, and the results have been outstanding. Fish from 15 to 20 inches are available, along with some that are pushing the trophy category. This Gallia County lake has plenty of stumps and submerged fencerows.
Burr Oak Lake boasts fishing that's just as good, but has a 12- to 15-inch protected slot limit. Burr Oak Lake has both quality and quantity of bass, said Greenlee. Fish up to 20 inches are available.
Some big largemouth bass cruise the depths in this scenic body of water, which hosts Burr Oak State Park lodge. Anglers may enjoy luxury accommodations along with a great day on the water.
For details, contact the Burr Oak State Park office in Athens and Morgan counties at (740) 767-3570.
Another of Greenlee's personal favorites is Piedmont Lake in Belmont, Guernsey and Harrison counties. A great fishing hole that most anglers overlook, Piedmont boasts both largemouths and smallmouths, with the most recent survey showing a whopping 32 percent of its bass being 15 inches or better.
Greenlee knows of 5- and 6-pound fish that have come out of Piedmont Lake and is sure that there larger fish are present.
He fishes for smallies at night with slow-rolled, short-arm spinnerbaits in water from six to nine feet deep.
"Hit the shoreline rocks with a cast and retrieve out to the boulders," he suggested. "The entire shoreline is rocky, and this technique can be used anywhere. Most of the bass will be from 10 to 14 inches, but plenty of 3- to 5-pounders are taken every year."
On the eastern end of the lake, the shallow stumps and weedy bays can be hotspots for largemouth bass.
Start in Essox Bay, Indian Run, on the point off the 4H camp and in the water to the right of the dam in the lower basin.
A 10-horsepower restriction is in place on this 2,273-acre lake. For more information, call the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District at (330) 343-6647.
Another top bass lake is Belmont Lake in Belmont County. An electric- motor-only restriction
keeps the pressure down on this little 117-acre lake, and its 12- to 15-inch slot limit keeps the bass big and healthy. A full 25 percent of surveyed largemouth bass reach the magic 15-inch mark.
Look for the biggest bass in the timber in the thin bay on the main lake's northern section.
Dow Lake is another good largemouth lake, said Greenlee. Local tournament anglers have had some impressive weigh-ins here, with numbers of 5- and 6-pound fish. One lunker almost reached 7 pounds.
There is a 12- to 15-inch slot limit.
Dow Lake covers 153 acres in Strouds Run State Park. A 10-horsepower restriction is in place.
For more information, call the park office at (740) 592-2302, or contact the ODOW's District Four office at (740) 589-9930.
The ODOW and local bass clubs partner well in southwestern Ohio, according to fisheries biologist Doug Maloney. At this point, future habitat-enhancement plans aren't set in concrete, but they've worked well in the past, with new structure being placed in various waters throughout the years.
"We don't have to tell today's bass anglers what to do about bass management because they're already doing it," said Maloney. "The vast majority of bass fishermen are releasing their catches and putting the fish back into the system."
One of the better lakes in Maloney's region is Rocky Fork Lake in Highland County. The lake produces a lot of smaller largemouth bass, but also pumps out quite a few fish in the 4-pound range.
The smallmouths are reaching similar sizes and have been providing an exciting fishery for several years.
Rocky Fork covers 2,088 acres in the Rocky Fork State Park. Contact the park office at (937) 393-4284.
Paint Creek Lake is Maloney's second choice for good bass fishing this spring. Largemouth bass up to 17 inches dominate, with a few smallmouth and spotted bass thrown.
For details, contact the Rocky Fork State Park office at (937) 393-4284.
Acton Lake covers 642 acres in Preble County and has a 10-horsepower motor restriction.
There are good numbers of bass in the 3- to 5-pound range -- chunky fish that are the result of a 15-inch minimum-length limit. Find them throughout the lake near fallen trees, under boat docks and along shoreline structure during low-light hours.
When the water warms up in late summer, the bass move to the steeper shorelines on the eastern side of the lake and into the deeper water near the dam. For more details, contact the Hueston Woods State Park office at (513) 523-6347.
Caesar Creek Lake is a mixed bag. During spring, largemouths may be taken in the wooded coves and standing timber in the Walker Island area.
The lake has a 15-inch minimum-size limit and boasts good numbers of 10- to 14-inch largemouth bass. Occasionally a 4-pounder is landed.
Smallmouths and spotted bass may be found in the rockier, deeper parts of the lake.
The lake covers 2,830 acres and lies within Caesar Creek State Park. Call the park office at (513) 897-3055 for more information.
For additional information, contact the ODOW's District Five office at (937) 372-9261.
Contour maps of Ohio's public lakes are available on the Ohio Division of Wildlife's Web site at www.ohiodnr.com.
Information on local lodging is available by contacting the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at 1-800-282-5393, or you can go online to www.ohio tourism.com.
Find more about Ohio fishing and hunting at OhioGameandFish.com