Hot weather brings out the best in Buckeye State
catfishing, and these proven hotspots are sure to keep anglers busy night and day.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Ohio anglers have a plethora of game fish to chase, but at this time of year, when temperatures soar to 90- plus degrees, there's one species that seems to call out to anglers across the state: catfish.
Most game fish grow lethargic in July, but the dog days of summer are just right for cats. After spawning from mid to late June, channel cats become active feeders, and the frenzy continues into early fall.
The best times to fish for July cats is at night, after a rainstorm, or during cloudy days. Their sensitivity to light keeps them at bay during bright days.
Fortunately, Ohio features several good channel cat lakes along with a selection of flathead fisheries to fuel this increasingly popular sport. Since channel cats are native to Ohio, a large number of reservoirs and rivers sustain natural populations. Those waters that don't sustain reproducing populations of channels are stocked with fish. Each year, up to 68 of Ohio's reservoirs are bolstered with approximately 25 channel cats per acre. A typical midsized Buckeye State reservoir receives 180,000 fish.
Not only the numbers but also the sizes of the fish are promising. The state-record channel cat, which was taken from La Due Reservoir, weighed more than 37 pounds. And of course, big Ohio flatheads usually surpass the 50-pound mark.
Here's a closer look at this year's best bets for July catfishing, along with several bonus lakes for each district. There's a good chance that one of these hotspots is in your own back yard.
Central Ohio's Buckeye Lake spans three counties including Licking, Fairfield, and Perry counties. Built in the 1800s as a canal feeder lake, Buckeye is characteristically shallow and devoid of structure. While a few holes are as deep as 16 feet, most of the lake is less than 10 feet deep.
During the day, the cats will hold in the deeper holes. At night, they move to adjacent flats to feed. Look for flats near the deeper water.
In the western end of the lake, a few deep holes will be found near Liebs Island. Launch facilities on Liebs Island provide access. The island may be reached via state Route 79 and Millersport Road. There are more deep holes in the central and eastern portion of the lake near Cranberry, Avondale, and Ayles landings.
Anglers can expect to find plenty of channel cats here, some up to 20 pounds, complemented by a surprising population of flatheads. Try fishing soft crayfish for channel cats and creek chubs or suckers for flatheads.
Another District One catfish hotspot is a similar canal feeder lake built in the 1800s. Indian Lake is shallow -- not counting the ski zone or causeway, most of it ranges between 3 and 8 feet deep-- and for the most part structure-free.
The main attraction is the catfishing. According to Ohio Division of Wildlife reports, the upper basin is the best water during the summer; look for areas with some current or flow.
Soft craws are a good bet at Indian Lake. Night crawlers, chicken livers, and cut bait will also yield results.
Shoreline and boating access is provided by Indian Lake State Park. The park is along the western shore and can be reached via state Route 366.
Campsites are available at Indian Lake State Park, (937) 843-2717. For maps or more information regarding Buckeye Lake or Indian Lake, contact the District One office of the ODOW, 1500 Dublin Road, Columbus, OH 43215, or call (614) 481-6300.
Bonus catfish lakes in District One include O'Shaughnessy, Hoover, and Delaware lakes. All harbor excellent populations of channels cats.
Findlay Reservoirs Nos. 1 & 2
Heading northwest to District Two, we shift our focus from canal feeder lakes to upground reservoirs, such as Findlay Reservoirs Nos. 1 and 2, created for the purpose of storing water for municipalities.
Findlay Reservoir No. 1, built in 1950 to supply the city of Findlay, features 187 acres of water and ranges between 20 and 28 feet in depth. It features good populations of channel cats measuring 18 to 26 inches. Balloon fishing is popular with Reservoir No. 1 anglers. Sometimes balloon fishing also yields big summertime walleyes.
State Route 15 and county Road 205 provide access to Reservoir No. 1.
Reservoir No. 2 was built in 1968 to supplement the supply of water at No. 1. The junior structure is the larger of the two, 640 acres in area and ranging in depth from 16 to 33 feet. The channel cat population at Reservoir No. 2 features numerous fish in the 12- to 28-inch range and some channel cats weighing up to 28 pounds.
The catfish population is evenly dispersed throughout Reservoir No. 2. However, when water is pumped into the reservoir, the northern end is especially productive because of the inflow.
The northern shore can be accessed via township Road 207, which can be reached via township Road 208 and state Route 568. Township Road 207 also provides access to a boat ramp on the western shore.
Also an upground reservoir, 610-acre Bressler Reservoir provides water to the city of Lima. Built in 1970 and filled in 1971, it has an average depth of 27 feet. Like the other District Two upground reservoirs, its angling mainstay is channel catfish.
Anglers can expect excellent populations of 16- to 25-inch fish. Some Bressler channel cats will weigh up to 20 pounds. Like Findlay Reservoir No. 1, Bressler is popular with balloon fishermen who -- another similarity -- frequently catch walleyes as well by that method.
It seems as if Bressler Reservoir was purposely made for bank-anglers. The entire shoreline is lined with parking areas, making it easy just to stop the car to fish. Boaters looking to access midlake regions can launch from the Kemp Road site, which can be reached via state Route 81 and Kemp Road. Only electric motors are permitted on the lake.
For maps or more information regarding either Findlay Reservoirs Nos. 1 and 2 or Bressler Reservoir, contact the District Two office of the ODOW, 952 Lima Avenue, Findlay, OH 45840, or call (419) 424-5000.
District Two's bonus catfish lake is Charles Mill Reservoir, off Interstate Route 71 east of Mansfield. It positively teems with channel cats.
North Reservoir (Portage Lakes)
Moving to the western side of the state, there's plenty of action for District Three anglers at North Reservoir, which is one of the nine different lakes in the Portage Lakes chain.
The Ohio Legislature created this unique region in 1825 when funds were appropriated to build a network of reservoirs and canals to supply water to the local canal system. Dams and dikes were carefully designed and built to raise the water levels of the wetlands and small potholes that were characteristic of this glaciated region in southern Summit County. The canal system being eventually abandoned, the Portage Lakes' water supply was used for increased industrial demands.
Today the Portage Lakes are favorites among local fishermen. North Reservoir features the best populations of catfish because of supplemental stockings, which occur every other even year. In 2002, just over 200 yearlings were released into the 219-acre lake. The state expects good angling this year.
There are no developed launch sites at North Reservoir, making it a perfect shoreline escape. State Route 93 skirts the western edge of the reservoir. Birdland Avenue and county Road 123 follow the southern and northern shorelines, respectively.
District Three's other hotspot is Piedmont Lake, which, at 2,310 acres, is roughly 10 times the size of North Reservoir. It was created by impounding Stillwater Creek in the early 1940s.
Set in rugged, wooded hill country, Piedmont Lake is one of Ohio's most scenic lakes. But when it comes to fishing, scenery means nothing -- it's all about the fish. And at Piedmont there are plenty of channel cats, most of which will average from 10 to 24 inches; several reports tell of cats topping 15 pounds. The upper end of the lake has long been acknowledged as a hotspot.
Shoreline anglers will find good access to the upper reaches of the lake via county Road 100 to a short access road to a parking lot. The main creek channel runs very close to shore directly in front of the parking lot. The proximity of deep water to shallow flats makes this a great place to start.
Most game fish grow lethargic in July, but the dog days of summer are just right for cats.
Boaters may access the lake from a marina at the northern end of the lake off state Route 800.
For maps or more information regarding North Reservoir or Piedmont Lake, contact the District Three office of the ODOW, 912 Portage, Lakes Drive, Akron, OH 44319, or call (330) 644-2293.
District Three anglers will find plenty of bonus channel catfish action at Berlin, Mosquito, Clendening, and Tappan lakes.
Burr Oak Lake
District Four's top bet this year is Burr Oak Lake. Covering 644 acres in Athens and Morgan counties, Burr Oak Lake was built as a multiple-use reservoir for flood control, water supply and recreation. The Tom Jenkins Dam was constructed across the valley of the east branch of Sunday Creek, which is a tributary of the larger Hocking River.
Burr Oak Lake is noted for its trophy channel cats, but it is known for numbers. If you live in southern Ohio and are looking for a lot of action and fish for the frying pan, this is the place to be in July.
The best way to access the rugged shoreline of Burr Oak Lake is with a boat. Township Road 207 provides access to a boat ramp on the western shore.
For maps or more information regarding Burr Oak Lake, contact the District Four office of the ODOW at 360 East State Street, Athens, OH 45701, or call (740) 589-9930.
Campsites are available at the Burr Oak State Park (740) 767-3570.
District Four boasts several bonus channel cat lakes, including Seneca, Tycoon, Wolf Run and Fox lakes.
Grand Lake St. Marys
District Five may be last on our list, but it would be hard to argue that its not the top catfishing district in the state, especially when it comes to variety and opportunities. Almost every District Five lake harbors channel cats. In addition to channel cat venues, there are plenty of good bullhead and flathead destinations.
Our first stop is Grand Lake St. Marys, which encompasses an amazing 13,500 acres Grand Lake Three catfish species -- channels, bullheads and flatheads -- are on tap here. Anglers can expect bullheads to measure 9 to 12 inches; channel cats average 11 to 18 inches, with some up to 15 pounds, while the flatheads, less numerous than the other two species, weigh in at 5 to 20 pounds.
Bullhead fishing is usually best in the spring, but that doesn't mean you won't catch a few while you're after the channel cats. The numerous channels along the southern shore are usually good for bullheads and channel cats.
A launch site in the northeastern corner of the lake provides good access to the canals along the southern shore. The launch is near the junction of state Route 29 and state Route 364.
Campsites are available by calling Grand Lake St. Marys State Park at (419) 394-3611.
Paint Creek Lake
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started construction on Paint Creek Lake's dam in 1967. Water was first impounded in March 1974, and the lake attained summer pool, an area of 1,190 acres, by May of that year.
Paint Creek Lake hosts both channel cats and flatheads. Anglers can expect good numbers of 12- to 16-inch channel cats scattered throughout the lake. Flatheads are rare here, but they often reach 20 pounds or more at Paint Creek.
The upper half of the lake may be accessed by boaters at a launch site south of state Route 753, which crosses the lake. The lower portion of the lake can be accessed by a launch on the southern shore near the dam. Both areas provide shoreline access from picnic areas.
In addition to the lake, anglers may want to probe the tailwater pools. However, by the end of July the tailwater fishery may start to slow down.
Campsites are available at the Paint Creek State Park at (937) 365-1401.
Rocky Fork Lake
Rocky Fork Lake is a perennial favorite with catfishermen. Constructed in 1951 by impounding Rocky Fork Creek, the lake reaches depths of up to 60 feet. However, most of the lake ranges from 10 to 25 feet deep.
A strong population of channel cats should supply an
glers with plenty of 1- to 3-pound fish and an occasional trophy topping 15 pounds. Complementing the thriving channel cat fishery is a healthy flathead population. Rocky Fork flatheads can reach 30 pounds or more.
Anglers can reach several boat launches by traveling east on U. S. Route 50 from Hillsboro. The southern shore of Rocky Fork Lake has the majority of launches. The first site can be reached by heading south on state Route 753 to McCoppin Mill and Lucas Lane.
Two other sites are off McCoppin Mill Road. The first is reached via Spruance Road and Blue Ribbon Road; the second site may be accessed by continuing on Spruance Road west to Chestnut Road and White Lane.
Campsites are available at Rocky Fork State Park (937) 393-4284). For maps or more information regarding Grand Lake, Paint Creek, or Rocky Fork, contact the District Five office of the ODOW at 1076 Old Springfield Pike, Xenia, OH 45385, or call (937) 372-9261.
Our last group of bonus lakes includes Acton, C.J. Brown, Caesar Creek, Cowan, and East Fork lakes. Channel cats are the mainstay for all of these fisheries.
An Ohio fishing guide, which provides general access site maps and useful phone numbers, is available at any ODOW district office, or by calling 1-800-WILDLIFE.