Ohio's Akron-Area Largemouths

Ohio's District Three fisheries biologists are working hard to create trophy-class bass waters for northeast-region anglers -- and their program seems to be working. Is this your year for an 8-pound largemouth?

By Greg Keefer

Early spring is conventionally regarded as the best time of the year to target big northeastern Ohio bass, and the situation is no different this year. The area's lakes are warming up, and the bass' 2004 spawning activity is well under way.

There are a number of exceptional bass lakes in the Akron area. Anglers can choose among several viable options for lakes that offer anglers not only solid numbers of bass but some big fish as well.

Andy Burt, a fisheries biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife's District Three office in Akron, explained that bass management activities are in full swing and on target.

The ODOW's newly developed Inland Management System (IMS) features a new fish-sampling process for all of Ohio's public reservoirs. Biologists will check each lake at least once every six years to standardize the length of time between ODOW fish samplings and to help biologists analyze each lake's specific needs.

According to Burt, bass populations in the best lakes will be checked two or three times every six years, so that biologists can keep up with the shifting population trends and make sure that habitat improvement, minimum-length and slot limits, and other management measures keep up with what's going on in the lake. Electroshocking and netting surveys are used by biologists to capture bass to be checked for size, weight and general health.

The IMS program will provide up-to-date information on bass numbers and sizes in a given body of water, as well as make management decisions more effective. Tappan and Berlin reservoirs will be the new reference lakes and will be surveyed every year. Burt expects that the results of the samplings will be on the division's Web site within the next year or so.

Here's a look at five of the best spring bass destinations in the Akron area for this season.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Clendening may be one of the best largemouth bass lakes in the Akron area and is one of biologist Burt's top picks. "It's a fun lake to fish because, chances are, you're going to catch a decent-size fish," he said.

Clendening is a part of the Muskingum Conservancy Watershed District. Its 1,800 acres regularly yield up bass weighing 5 pounds and measuring 24 inches. Long and narrow, with most of its 44 miles of shoreline wooded and scenic, this quiet lake is ideal for anglers with small boats.

"Spring 2000 electroshocking surveys again confirmed that Clendening Lake has one of the better bass populations within District Three," said Phil Hillman, District Three fisheries supervisor. "This is one of the region's best bass-fishing lakes, with excellent numbers of fish ranging from 12 to 23 inches. Of 326 bass captured that measured at least 8 inches, 63 percent of those fish exceeded 12 inches. Another positive note for bass anglers was the fact that 33 percent of the 326 fish measured were at least 15 inches."

Hillman says that the bass prospects in Clendening are excellent. Big bass move into the coves in April or May to spawn. The shallow, brushy areas in the eastern section of the lake are usually productive. Casting along the shoreline from a boat or by wading using weighted plastic worms, jig-and-pigs and deep-diving crankbaits will produce pleasing catches in the northern half of the lake.

There is a bag limit of five bass with a minimum length of 12 inches.

The marina is on the southern shore about mid-lake off township Road 92 and offers boat docks, boat rentals and launch ramps. There is a 10-hp motor limit on the lake. The boat rental area is off township Road 92, north of state Route 799 on the southern side of the lake.

Clendening lies off state Route 800; state Route 799 bisects the lake five miles south of Tippecanoe. The lake is 12 miles south of Uhrichsville, 90 miles east of Columbus and 90 miles southeast of Cleveland.

For additional information, contact the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District at (330) 343-6647. Lodging information is available from the Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce, 300 Lincoln Avenue, Cadiz, OH 43907.

This 811-acre lake is six miles south of Akron off state Route 93 in Summit County. Biologist Burt tags Nimisila as another largemouth destination worth trying this spring.

"I'd rank Nimisila as the best," he said. "We continue to see a lot of fish there, including a lot of big fish."

Nimisila is relatively shallow, with depths to 30 feet. Extensive weedbeds, islands, bays and coves, rocky areas in the shallows; deep breaklines and underwater points all contribute to making Nimisila a favorite of local bass fishermen.

Only electric motors are allowed here - and Rory Franks of Frank's Bass Fishing Promotions considers that an important point when he recommends Nimisila to trophy anglers. In his view, limiting the lake to electric motors reduces fishing pressure and increases the chances of hooking a really big bass.

"Most of this region's electric-motor-only lakes offer the best shot at a serious trophy of 5 to 8 pounds," Franks asserted.

According to biologist Hillman, Nimisila contains a high percentage of lunker largemouth bass. In a 1995 electroshocking survey, 7 percent of the lake's sampled bass measured greater than 15 inches. The bass fishing has continued to be outstanding, and this year's prospects are considered to be excellent.

1997's angler surveys reported that in total, 13,202 bass were taken that year, the vast majority of them released unharmed.

Bass must be 12 inches in length before they are harvested; the daily bag limit is five fish. Shoreline angling is limited, with no access allowed on the north half of the west bank or on the northern edge of the lake.

Fish-attracting devices have been placed near the Christman Road causeway, north of the island in the main lake section and in the northern part of the lake.

There are four ramps to serve boaters: one at the dead end of Killinger road, one off Christman Road, another on Nimisila Road and yet another where Nimisila Road dead-ends into the lake on the wes

tern shoreline.

For more information and a map, contact the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293, or the Akron Regional Development Board at 1-800-621-8001 for information on where to stay.

The Portage Lakes system is composed of five major lakes and some smaller bodies of water that cover a total of 1,681 acres. Channels connect many of these lakes, and the quality of the fishing varies from lake to lake.

The largest of these, and a favorite of local anglers, is Turkeyfoot Lake, which covers 664 acres to depths that extend to 50 feet. A reef of submerged Christmas trees has been placed in the lake to serve as a fish attractor. This reef is about 120 feet out from the shoreline of a small island facing the main lake.

At 379 acres, East Reservoir is the next largest, followed by North Reservoir (219 acres). Long Lake covers 225 acres and is one of the best bass lakes of the group, according to Burt, who added that District Three biologists have always seen a lot of big bass come out of Long Lake.

Matt Wolfe, another District Three fisheries biologist, agrees. "Long Lake is probably one of the better lakes in our district," he observed. "There is a lot of vegetation and a large amount of forage that supports big bass. A majority of the north end is covered with lily pads, and that is where I would focus my efforts in the early spring.

"Throw anything weedless on top of the pads and see what you draw out. If you fish the thick vegetation, you had better be prepared with some heavier tackle to get the fish out - no ultralight stuff here. A lot of anglers use topwater baits during dusk and dawn, when bass are feeding, to trigger strikes."

North Reservoir, another hotspot, may actually contain the greatest number of bass in the system. Weedbeds surround the perimeter of this bowl-shaped lake that reaches depths of 40 feet; vegetation runs down to about 7 feet.

A 10-mph speed limit and a 400 hp motor restriction are in effect. The entire waterway is a no-wake zone with the exception of portions of Turkeyfoot Lake and East Reservoir. A public boat ramp is on the north side of the lake off state Route 93; seven other ramps are available in various locations. A handicapped fishing pier on North Reservoir serves physically challenged anglers.

The Portage Lakes system is situated in a highly developed area, so cottages, restaurants and all the comforts of home are present. Boat rentals and fuel can be had at area marinas. As the surrounding area is highly commercialized, anglers bent on a "wilderness experience" shouldn't come here, but some of the surrounding land and all of the water make up the popular Portage Lakes State Park.

Just a few miles from metropolitan Akron, the lakes are accessible by state routes 93, 224 and 619; Interstate 277 lies to their north, I-77 to their east. The state park is along the southwestern section of the lakes and borders the west beach on Turkeyfoot Lake. The park offers 74 non-electric camping sites along with a boat launch and day-use facilities.

Lake maps and other information can be obtained by contacting the Portage Lake State Park office at (330) 644-2220. Information on local amenities and lodging can be obtained by contacting the Akron Regional Development Board at 1-800-621-8001.

Known for having a huge number of smaller bass, Highlandtown Lake also gives up a lunker largemouth tipping the scales at 7 or 8 pounds now and then. So, points out biologist Burt, you may catch a lot of bass, but their average size won't be especially large.

Depths in 170-acre Highlandtown Lake reach a maximum of 26 feet. Largemouths are taken regularly from the lake's 6.5 miles of shoreline structure, particularly in the western end of the lake. Only electric motors under 4 hp are allowed, so the lake is quiet. A real hotspot for early-spring bass is the area of flooded brush and trees along the southwest shoreline. Fish-attracting devices have been placed along the north and south shorelines in the western half of the lake and near the dam at the eastern end.

The impoundment was created in 1966 to enhance recreational and conservation activities in the Highlandtown Wildlife Area. A marina is off Entrance Road on the north end of the lake, and a boat launch is off Osbourne Road.

Highlandtown Lake, set amid a scenic and relaxing setting, offers lots of bass action to anglers who don't mind catching smaller fish. After all, the opportunity is always there to hook one of the trophy-size lunkers that the lake's also known for - and that's one of the reasons that serious anglers keep coming back to these tranquil waters.

Fish the shoreline structure with plastic worms and plugs at dusk and dawn. Some anglers switch to deep-running crankbaits and spinnerbaits to target deeper-holding bass during the daylight hours.

Biologists hope to increase the size of bass caught by anglers here, and so plan to elevate Highlandtown Lake's bass fishing to trophy-quality level by means of the 12- to 15-inch-slot limit currently in effect.

The lake, part of the Highlandtown Wildlife Area in Columbiana County, is four miles northeast of Salineville off state Route 39 and nine miles south of Lisbon off state Route 164.

For a lake map and more information on the fishing conditions and hot baits for spring fishing, contact the Highlandtown Wildlife Area at (330) 644-2293. For lodging information, write the Columbiana Area Chamber of Commerce at 104 South Main, Columbiana, OH 44408.

Guilford Lake is a big-bass lake. At one time nearly half of its largemouths were 17 inches long or longer, and anglers are still able from time to time to land a bucketmouth weighing up to 8 pounds.

"A total of 198 bass greater than 8 inches were sampled during our spring 2001 electroshocking survey," said Phil Hillman, the District Three fisheries supervisor. "Sixty-eight percent of those bass were greater than 12 inches, and a substantial 41 percent of the total fish numbers were at least 15 inches long."

It's no wonder that District Three biologists consider the bass-angling prospects at this 396-acre lake in Columbiana County to be extremely promising.

The deepest part of the lake, 25 feet, is near township Road 745. But it's anglers targeting shoreline cover around the lake who take some of the biggest bass. Campground Bay, north of the Guilford State Park campground, is another highly productive area. Several artificial reefs have been placed in the lake; they're marked on the map available at the state park office.

Lily pads, submerged Christmas trees, blowdowns, stumps and a sunken island contribute to the excellence of the Guilford bass fishery. Boat docks and piers are smart bets when

you're casting along the shoreline. Artificial fish-attracting devices have been placed in the north and west sections of the lake. Spinnerbaits are popular with local anglers targeting structure along the lake's six miles of shoreline.

Guilford Lake is off state Route 172 just four miles northwest of Lisbon; it's between state Route 172 and county Road 411 west of county Road 410. Four boat launch ramps serve boaters: one off township Road 745, a second south of county Road 411, and two north of state Route 172 on the lake's south shoreline. A handicapped-accessible fishing pier is available off Hannah Drive. A 10-hp motor limit helps to protect the serenity of the lake and the surrounding area.

For a map and additional information, contact the Guilford State Park office at (330) 222-1712. For lodging information, write the Columbiana Area Chamber of Commerce at 104 South Main Street, Columbiana, OH 44408.

Akron-area bass lakes are managed by the Ohio Division of Wildlife with a view to fostering both quality fish and fish in quantity. The implementation of the IMS, along with other innovative bass management strategies such as slot limits, minimum lengths and reduced bag limits, allows biologists to continue supplying the high-grade fishing prospects that the angling public has come to expect, even in metropolitan areas like Akron and Cleveland.

For additional information on fishing conditions, to request lake maps or to talk to a fisheries biologist, contact the ODOW's District Three office in Akron at (330) 644-2293, or visit the agency's Web site, the address for which is www.dnr.state.oh.us/odnr/wildlife.

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