Southeast Ohio is the place to be for lunker largemouths this season. Our short list of five proven hotspots will keep you going all summer! (May 2009)
May is when the action on southeastern Ohio's bass lakes really picks up. Big bass begin actively feeding after the lean winter months, and the annual spawn is underway. The lunkers may be found in shallow water and catching them is a real possibility.
Mike Greenlee, an Ohio Division of Wildlife fisheries biologist who covers the southeastern region of the Buckeye State, manages a lot of top waters, but has settled on a list of what he considers to be the top five in his management area.
Greenlee's top-rated lakes are the result of the ODOW's hard work and number crunching.
There are admittedly a couple of surprises in the list, but the data doesn't lie.
Greenlee explained that information obtained over the last few years was combined to form an overall picture. Catch rates and the density of 15-inch bass are the two top criteria that go into his formula. Catch rates indicate how many bass are counted using the division's electro-shocking equipment, and density rates are the comparison between how many of those bass are at least 15 inches long.
"In this case, the lakes that made the list have higher-than-average catch rates and higher-than-average numbers of big bass compared to smaller ones in the same waters," said Greenlee. "Our top lakes are the ones with the right combination of quality and quantity."
For most of us, the definition of a good bass lake always boils down to a place we can go to catch a few nice-sized bass and occasionally tangle with a 5-pound-plus lunker.
Here's a look at Greenlee's picks for the top-rated lakes in the southeastern region in 2009:
BURR OAK RESERVOIR
Burr Oak Lake is no stranger to the "best-bet" list of largemouth lakes in southeastern Ohio. The lake has been producing good numbers of bucketmouths for a long time.
Fisheries surveys are conducted only two or three times in a six-year period on most other Ohio lakes, but Burr Oak is the only lake of our "top five" that is sampled annually.
Sarah Drake of Burr Oak Outfitters hears a lot about the lake's good bassin' from her customers.
"White baits are popular in spring and then the bass's preference seems to change to green pumpkin as the water warms up in the summer," Drake said. "One angler we know who catches a lot of bass prefers jigs in either white or black."
The lake has numerous year-classes of bass and a wide variety of sizes, including a few 6-pounders. A recent ODOW survey showed that a very impressive 70 percent of the bass caught were at least 12 inches in length, and an even more impressive 43 percent of them measured at least 15 inches.
Spring spots to try are near fallen trees, submerged stumps, shallow bays and dropoffs.
Big bass are taken up in the coves and off the Dock 4 Marina. There is a point extending out from Dock 4 and an early-warming channel lies along the roadway in the same area. The shallow sections of the bays and the rocky banks keep springtime bass hugging the shoreline.
Target weed edges next to deeper water as the lake warms up. When the bass are deep, try jigging around the lake's seven submerged covered bridges and woody cover. One of Drake's customers has reported doing very well with either black or white jigs.
The water clarity in Burr Oak Lake is excellent and calls for a slow finesse approach with soft plastics and realistic crankbaits. Trophy bass are experienced and won't be easily fooled. Natural bait colors should be the rule.
Boats may be rented from the state park, where the luxury lodge is the perfect place for a base of operations. The nearby campground offers affordable camping sites as well.
State ramps are available at the marina on county Road 63, the marina on county Road 15 and south of the park lodge off state Route 78. A 10-horsepower motor limit is in effect.
Access to Burr Oak Lake is off state routes 13 and 78 in Athens County three miles north of Glouster.
A lake map will show where fish attractors have been placed along the shoreline in the lower sections of the lake.
For additional information, contact the state park office at (740) 767-3570, or call the Burr Oak Outfitters in Glouster at (740) 767-4099.
For tourism information, contact the Athens County Visitors Bureau at (800) 878-9767, or try them online at www.athensohio.com.
Tycoon Lake has long been known as one of Ohio's big-bass waters. An 18-inch minimum length limit ensures that anglers have a chance for trophy-class bass.
The latest ODOW survey showed that a whopping 19 percent of the bass measured at least 15 inches. Growth rates were good. Several year-classes are present with fish pushing the 5- and 6-pound marks.
Tycoon Lake is more like a big farm pond than a lake. Typical of other good bass lakes, the water is fertile with a tremendous forage base from the bottom of the food chain all the way up to the top. Thanks to the eutrophic nature of this shallow, fertile water, the lake produces many more pounds of forage per acre than do less fertile waters. This provides a base that supports good growth rates and high numbers of bass.
Anglers score big bass from shoreline trees lying in the water along the central part of the west and north banks. More big bass are taken on the concrete blocks about 20 feet out from the floating fishing pier in 9-foot depths on the east side of the lake, south of the boat ramp.
Other hotspots include the old fencerows and stumpfields, fallen shoreline trees along the north and central part of the west bank that have been left for fish habitat. On the northwest shoreline at the inlet, there is good structure northwest of the south dam and near the parking lot.
The southern shoreline at the east end of the dam is also a productive spot.
Smaller Rapalas and dark-colored plastic worms are all you'll need for the smaller bass on Tycoon. The older fish require some experimenting and creative bait selection to fool them.
A handicapped-accessible fishing pier
The lake lies between state routes 325 and 554 five miles northeast of Rio Grande. A ramp for smaller boats is off township Road 21 west of the dam and where county Road 17 runs north to the lake. Access is from state Route 325 by Eagle Road. Access off state Route 554 is from township Road 20 (Vaughn Road) and County Road 17 (Tycoon Road).
The lake covers 204 acres in Gallia County five miles northeast of Rio Grande. Only electric motors are allowed.
For more information, call the District Four office at (740) 589-9930.
For tourism information, e-mail the Gallia County Convention and Visitors Bureau at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All of the lakes on Greenlee's list have been fairly consistent producers of both high numbers and quality-sized bass over the years. The exception is Lake Logan, based on the way the ODOW calculates catch rates and size structure.
"Lake Logan has always had pretty good quality bass fishing, but the overall catch rates were well below the average," said Greenlee. "Until the 2007 survey, that is. Now the catch rates, according to our survey, are above the district average."
That's good news for Lake Logan anglers. Big bass are showing up more and the spike in the population level makes it the perfect time to find out what's there. Some anglers are reporting plenty of 17-inchers and the lake is just getting fired up.
Charlie Hopkins of Down Bait and Guns said the best spot for spring fishing is right across from the boat launch in the connected pond on the other side of the road from the main lake.
"There's been a few 4- and 5-pounders come out of the lake and I've heard of a few bigger ones," said Hopkins
According to Greenlee, some southeastern Ohio lakes have extremely high catch rates for bass, even higher than the top five lakes for 2009. Lake Alma has the highest catch rate for any lake sampled over the last six years, but it has one of the lowest rates of big-bass catches. In other words, anglers can catch bass on some of these lakes all day long, but they'll be little ones. Logan has a much better proportion of big bass to smaller ones and is the surprise sleeper for this year.
There are still the remnants of the 150 Christmas trees that were dropped into the lake as fish cover. Shoreline trees were felled to provide more fish structure.
Lake Logan covers 317 acres in Hocking County. There is a 10-horsepower limit in effect.
For additional information on Lake Logan, contact the Hocking Hills State Park office at (740) 385-6842 or the Downs Bait and Guns in Logan at (740) 385-7722.
Call the Hocking Hills Tourism Association at (740) 385-2750, or visit online at www.1800hocking. com.
Belmont is another small lake that packs a powerful punch. The lack of consistent fishing pressure has helped Belmont Lake slip under the radar for a long time. Most anglers aren't aware that the lake offers some nice fish exceeding the 12- to 15-inch protected slot limit. A lot of the bass grow beyond the slot and remain in the lake because of the catch-and-release ethics of local anglers.
"The fishing is good due to the protected slot limit and it seems to be working well," said Mike Stewart, park manager.
The better spots for spring bass are on the manmade fish attractors. The park office will provide a map of their locations, or anglers can look for paint markings on nearby trees.
The long, narrow finger that extends north from the main lake basin past the overlook picnic area is where the ODOW has found good numbers of bass during fisheries surveys. There are steep banks with a lot of downed trees along the shoreline and in the water. The bigger bass found during the most recent survey came from this bay.
Belmont Lake is extremely shallow northwest of the boat ramp on Natural Resources Road 1. The ramp is at the northeast end of the lake, and the water gets steadily deeper to the southeast. The dam is at the far southeastern end of the lake in 39-foot depths.
Biologists encourage anglers to harvest "slot" bass smaller than 12 inches, explaining that a slot limit is designed to remove smaller bass from the lake. This removes competition for food and will allow the remaining bass to reach some hefty sizes. Statewide, slot limits are being reviewed on a lake-by-lake basis because bass anglers tend to toss even the smallest fish back and so the slot limit has negligible effect.
Belmont Lake is also known as Barkcamp Lake, and anyone asking for directions will find the locals only know it by that name. It's part of the scenic Barkcamp State Park in Belmont County. The lake covers 117 acres and the park offers a family campground on the lake.
An electric only-motor restriction is in place.
For more information, contact the Barkcamp State Park office at (740) 484-4064 or the Hidden Valley Outdoors bait shop in St. Clairsville at (740) 526-0550.
For lodging information, call the Belmont County Tourism Council at (800) 356-5082, or visit them online at www.belmontcountytourism.org.
Ross is another of the ODOW's blue-ribbon lunker largemouth lakes. The 7-pounders that have been taken out of this little lake are real eye-catchers!
The lake covers 143 acres. The submerged Hydell Road is between two small peninsulas that are across the lake from each other. Jig-and-pig combos are successful in this deeper water.
"Ross Lake is a good spring bass lake and it's good again in the fall," said Don Elkins, the owner of D&K Bait and Tackle. "There have been fish taken here that weighed over the 7-pound mark."
There aren't any secret baits, said Elkins. Crankbaits and plastics all work well.
About a decade ago, 400 Christmas trees were submerged for fish habitat and another 300 Christmas trees were dropped into the lake in 2003. Over 50 shoreline trees have been felled into the water to provide shallow shoreline habitat.
Weed growth is heavy in the upper part of the lake and many bass will spend their time in the submerged vegetation chasing small bluegills. Weed edges and holes in the beds are excellent places to jig.
Weedy shorelines are ideal for spinnerbaits and topwaters. As the weather warms, the weed cover will get thick in places. Mornings and evenings are best for the larger fish, but the little guys will stay up in this cover throughout the day. Weedless spoons, plastic worms and plastic topwater baits will be needed to penetrate the tangle.
A good midday spot is the submerged culvert that is midway between the fishing piers that are on either side of the lake where Hydell Road dead-ends. The part of Hydell between these points is under water and provides good bass action.
Once summer arrives, the bass retreat into the 30-foot depths near the dam. Deep-diving crankbaits, Carolina-rigged worms and jigs are the ticket.
A small ramp is at the end of Hydell Road on the west side of the lake, where the old road drops into the water. A handicapped-accessible fishing pier is on the east side of the lake.
Shoreline access is near the boat ramp at the end of township Road 238 (Hydell Road).
Ross Lake is not a numbers lake, though catching a few bass in a day's time is a reasonable expectation. The draw is the possibility of hooking a few lunker-sized largemouth bass.
The lake is in the Ross Lake Wildlife Area. Access is from U.S. Route 35 at the East Main Street exit, and from county Road 238 (Blacksmith Hill Road).
The lake is two miles east of Chillicothe in Ross County. Only electric motors are allowed.
For details, call the Ross Lake Wildlife Area office at 740-589-9930 or the D&K Bait and Tackle in Chillicothe at (740) 772-1836
For tourism information, contact the Ross-Chillicothe Visitors Bureau at (740) 702-7677 or online at www.visit chillicotheohio.com.
For more information on fishing southeastern Ohio's top-rated bass lakes, contact the ODOW's District Four office at (740) 589-9930.