More than 130 of Ohio's lakes and ponds offer good to excellent catfishing. Here's a look at the cream of the crop and how you can get in on the action near you this month. (June 2006)
Thanksgiving, turkey and pumpkin pie are like summer, Ohio, and catfishing -- they just go together. If you're looking for a change of pace or just a break from pounding the shoreline for bass, try the channel cat, one of Ohio's finest game fish.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife rates more than 80 percent of the state's waters as good or excellent for catfishing. That means that just about every Buckeye State angler lives close to a lake or river teeming with whiskerfish.
We've done the research and sifted through more than 132 top-rated fisheries to come up with our top picks for 2006. Here's the inside angle on where to find Ohio's best catfishing near you this month:
Central Ohio has always been a haven for great catfish waters. This powerhouse district contains five perennial favorites, plus two sleeper picks.
Alum Creek Lake
In Delaware County, Alum Creek Lake covers more than 3,000 acres. Its lively channel cat population contains many over 20 inches, with some specimens weighing up to 4 pounds.
Cut shad, shrimp and night crawlers are popular among local anglers.
Those wishing to fish near the dam may launch from a site off Africa Road, which skirts most of the eastern shoreline. Africa Road can be reached by following state Route 36/37 west toward the lake. Follow Africa Road south.
Two additional launch sites provide access to the lake's middle and upper sections. The upper section site is on the eastern side of the lake, off Howard Road. The mid-lake site is also on the eastern shore, south of state Route 36 near Cheshire.
Also in Delaware County, 1,017- acre Delaware Lake is another top- rated central Ohio channel cat fishery. Anglers can expect excellent numbers of 12- to 16-inch fish.
The upper half of the lake is the place to be. Try fishing at night with soft craws and cut bait.
A launch site off state Route 229, which crosses the lake, provides excellent access to its upper sections. The launch site is on the eastern shoreline.
Fairfield County's Buckeye Lake is not only a channel cat factory, it's also central Ohio's best flathead destination. Buckeye Lake channel cats weigh up to 20 pounds and the flatheads get much larger.
Soft craws are popular with channel cat anglers. If you are after the big flatheads, be sure to fish after dark and bring a good supply of chubs, small carp, bullheads or suckers. When fishing for flathead, change your bait often. Lively baits attract more attention.
Catfish are uniformly dispersed throughout the lake, but both Fairfield Beach and Liebs Island provide excellent shoreline access for anglers without boats. Most of the remaining lakeshore is privately owned.
Both areas provide access for boaters. Follow state Route 204 to either site. Liebs Island is at the western end of the lake. Fairfield Beach lies along the southern shore.
One of central Ohio's largest lakes, Indian Lake, covers over 500 acres of water and is one of the state's best channel cat destinations. Located in Logan County, this lake produces best at night during the summer. Look for areas with some current, especially in the upper basin.
There is a launch site in the northeastern corner of the lake, off state Route 273, that provides good access to the upper portion of the lake.
Deer Creek Lake
Our last heavy hitter for the district is Deer Creek Lake. Covering 1,287 acres in Madison, Fayette, and Pickaway counties, Deer Creek Lake is home to excellent populations of channel cats.
The upper end of the fishery should produce best results during the summer. Fish the edges of the creek channel with cut shad.
For access to the upper portion of the lake, follow state Route 207 along the southern shore to Road D-12.
Antrim Lake & Hargus Creek Lake
A stocking program fuels our sleeper picks, Antrim and Hargus Creek lakes. Antrim Lake, in Franklin County, is managed by the city of Columbus. Approximately 1,000 yearling channel catfish measuring 9 to 11 inches were released in September 2003. Those fish should be up to 20 inches this summer.
Because Antrim Lake covers just 40 acres and no boats are allowed, it's the perfect shoreline destination. It's also a great place to take kids or beginners. Antrim Lake, one mile north of Columbus, can be reached via state Route 315. Bring plenty of night crawlers or shrimp when you go.
Hargus Creek Lake covers 140 acres. In 2002, 10,000 yearling channel cats were released and an additional 2,500 yearlings were stocked in 2004. This summer, anglers can expect plenty of 12- to 22-inch channel cats.
Electric motors are permitted. There is a small launch site along the northwestern shoreline. State Route 188 and U. S. Route 22 provide access to the lake, which is located just northeast of Circleville.
For maps or more information, contact the ODOW's District One office, 1500 Dublin Road, Columbus, Ohio 43215; or call (614) 644-3925. (Continued)
Northwest Ohio features three fisheries capable of producing large channel cats. Bressler Reservoir in Allen County was built to supply water to the city of Lima. Covering just 582 acres, Bressler is not that large, but the channel cats lurking in its deep waters average 20 to 26 inches in length, with some fish up to 20 pounds. Local anglers favor balloon fishing from the shoreline.
Parking areas line most of the lake, making it easy for shoreline anglers. Boaters looking to access mid-lake regions may launch from a site on Kemp Road, which may be reached via state Route 81. Only electric motors are permitted on the lake.
Findlay Reservoir No. 1 and No. 2 are up-ground reservoirs in Hancock County, built to supply water for the city of Findlay.
Findlay Reservoir No. 1 covers 185 acres and Findlay Reservoir No. 2 covers an additional 643 acres. Both are on the same property and separated only by
Reservoir No. 1 features good numbers of channel cats measuring 18 to 24 inches. Reservoir No. 2 boasts slightly larger fish with plenty of 18- to 27-inch cats including some up to 28 pounds. State Route 15 and county Road 205 provide access to Reservoir No. 1.
Reservoir No. 2 can be very good when water is pumped into the lake. Try the northern section of the lake during these periods. The inflow sometimes attracts a lot of cats.
The northern shore of Reservoir No. 2 may be accessed via township Road 207, which is off township Road 208 and state Route 568. Township Road 207 also provides access to a boat ramp on the western shore.
For maps or more information regarding Bressler or the Findlay reservoirs, contact the ODOW's District Two office, at 952 Lima Avenue, Findlay, Ohio 45840; or call (419) 424-5000.
Northeast Ohio features three solid channel cat destinations -- Atwood, Berlin, and Charles Mill lakes.
Atwood Lake, which is in Carroll and Tuscarawas counties, covers 1,551 acres. Netting surveys conducted there in 2004 indicated good numbers of channel cats measuring 8 to 27 inches. More than 70 percent of the cats caught during the survey measuring at least 11 inches also measured 16 inches or more. Even more promising is that more than 14 percent of the fish measuring at least 11 inches were also over 24 inches, with some fish reaching 28 inches.
Boats may be rented and launched from two marinas: Atwood Marina West (off state Route 212 and county Road 93) and the Sail and Power Marina East (on state Route 542). There is one other ramp at the dam off state Route 212.
Berlin Lake spans three counties (Portage, Mahoning, and Starke) and covers 3,280 acres.
Berlin Lake was also surveyed in fall 2004, and while not many large channel cats were found, the researchers did note plenty of fish measuring 6 to 22 inches. Nearly 30 percent of the fish measuring at least 11 inches were also at least 16 inches, with some up to 22 inches.
A 2004 creel survey backed up the netting survey, with the average channel cat harvested by anglers in the creel survey measuring 14 inches.
If you have younger anglers, there is a youth fishing pond on the property that's limited to fishermen 15 years of age or younger. The pond has been stocked with channel cats on odd-numbered years since 1999. In 2001, several 15-inch-plus fish were taken, indicating excellent growth rates. This means there should be some bigger cats this summer.
Berlin Lake has several launch sites. The most central one is off Berlin Station Road along the southern shore. Follow state Route 14 east over the lake, turn south on Bedell Road, and then take Berlin Station Road west to the lake and the boat launch. There are no horsepower limitations.
Charles Mill Lake
Charles Mill Lake, our third pick for northeast Ohio, rests on the border of District Three (Northeast Ohio's Ashland County) and District Two (Northwest Ohio's Richland County). This 1,350-acre lake is teeming with 14- to 25-inch channel cats with a chance for some larger fish.
Access to the lake is provided by the launching facilities within the state park. The park entrance is off state Route 430 near Mifflin.
For maps or more information regarding any of these lakes, contact the ODOW's District Three office, 912 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron, Ohio 44319; or call (330) 644-2293.
AEP ReCreation Lakes
Catfishing in the hill country of southeastern Ohio often means taking a trip to the perennial favorites -- Salt Fork, Seneca, and Piedmont lakes or the Ohio and Muskingum rivers. While all those are still worth the trip, two smaller, lesser-known fisheries made our list.
For example, catfishing should be very good at several of the ponds scattered throughout the AEP ReCreation Lands.
The American Electric Power Re-Creation Lands are a unique property comprised of numerous ponds created when coal was removed from the area. Today, the property is open to fishing and camping by permit, which may be obtained at any AEP office or by writing to American Electric Power, P.O. Box 328, McConnelsville, OH 43756; or Publications Center, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Fountain Square, Building C, Columbus, OH 43224-1386.
The permit is free, as are maps of the area, which are available at these locations or online at www.aep.com. You'll need a valid Ohio fishing license in addition to the permit.
Active fisheries management at the area includes stocking of fish and the addition of fish structures to ponds. In 2001, the Ohio Division of Wildlife, in cooperation with AEP, added fish structures to ponds 40 and 41 and the ponds at campgrounds C and D.
Channel cats have been stocked at most of the larger, more accessible ponds since 1988. The ponds near Campground C are listed as some of the property's best waters for channel cat seekers. Campground C is east of state Route 284, which bisects the property. If you're looking for a camp-and-fish adventure this summer, this is our top pick for the entire state.
In Athens County, 153-acre Dow Lake is another lesser-known, smaller District Four destination.
Featuring multiple year-classes of channel cats up to 24 inches in length and 7 pounds in weight, Dow Lake is worth exploring this summer. In fact, Ohio Division of Wildlife reports that this fishery really turns on during the mid- to late summer months.
Try night crawlers, especially after a rain, when higher water is flowing into the lake.
There is a launch site at the northern end of the lake along the eastern shore. This section may be reached via state Route 690 or Alternate U. S. Route 50.
For maps or more information regarding the AEP ponds or Dow Lake, contact the ODOW's District Four office, 360 East State Street, Athens, OH 45701; or call (740) 589-9930.
East Fork Lake
Southwest Ohio is full of great catfishing waters. East Fork Lake covers 2,160 acres in Clermont County and features plenty of 12- to 26-inch channel cats. Expect some fish up to 10 pounds. During the summer, East Fork anglers catch more at night. Target the stream channel in the upper half of the lake.
In the upper half of the lake, there are three launch sites. Two are at the extreme tips of the lake's two upper arms. The third site, which is centrally located at the confluence of these two arms, can be reached via old state Route 32 which leads to an access road south to the lake.
Grand Lake St. Marys
Grand Lake St. Marys is one of the most diverse catfishing destinations in Ohio. Located in Mercer and Auglaize counties, this 13,500-acre lake features excellent populations of bullheads and channel cats, along with increasing numbers of flatheads.
The best bullhead fishing is usually during the spring in boat channels, but some may be caught in the summer. Expect most bullheads to measure 9 to 12 inches. Channel cats will average 11 to 18 inches, with some fish ranging up to 15 pounds. Flatheads will range from 5 to 20 pounds.
Nighttime is the best time for bullheads, channel and flatheads during the summer. Cut baits are excellent for channel cats, and live baits work best for the flatheads.
A launch site in the northeastern corner of the lake, near the junction of state Route 29 and state Route 364, provides good access to the eastern half of the lake.
Anglers looking to try the western shore may launch from a site in the northwestern corner of the lake at the intersection of state Route 29 and U.S. Route 127.
Also, campsites are available at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park at (419) 394-3611.
Rocky Fork Lake
Our last top-rated catfish destination for 2006 is Highland County's Rocky Fork Lake. Covering 2,080 acres, Rocky Fork boasts channel cats and flatheads. The channel cats will average 1 to 3 pounds, with some up to 15 pounds. Some flatheads will weigh over 30 pounds. Rocky Fork catfish bite best at night during the summer.
There are several different ramps servicing the lake. The northern shore of the lake can be accessed via U. S. Route 50. From there, follow Beechwood Road south to North Shore Road, which parallels the lake.
There are two launch sites on North Shore Road. One is east of the Beechwood Road intersection, and the other is west of the junction.
The lake's southern shore may be accessed via state Route 124. Three additional sites are off Fishermen's Wharf Lane, Blue Ribbon Road and McCoppin Mill Road.
For maps or more information regarding East Fork Lake, Grand Lake St. Marys or Rocky Fork Lake, contact the ODOW's District Five office, 1076 Old Springfield Pike, Xenia, OH 45385. Or telephone (937) 372-9261.