Now is the time for some of the best catfishing of the year in Ohio. These are just 10 of the finest July catfish waters for you to consider this month.
By Jared Meighen
Ohio offers some of the best hunting and fishing in the Midwest, including some unbeatable catfishing. No matter if you elect to sit on the bank of quiet lake near a campfire with a few good friends or move from spot to spot in a boat during daylight hours, you are likely to see some hot summertime action during the day.
Ohio reservoirs under 500 acres are stocked with 7- to 10-inch channel cats every other year at a rate of 25 fish stocked per surface acre. Reservoirs over 500 acres do well with natural reproduction of catfish, thus they are not stocked.
There are currently no stocking programs in Ohio that include flatheads, which were stocked initially after construction of some reservoirs in the state but never again since then.
The chances of boating a real monster catfish in Ohio are high. To date, the state-record flathead is a 76-pound, 8-ounce monster caught at Clendening Lake in 1979. The state record channel cat is 37 pounds, 10.4 ounces, caught at La Due in 1992.
According to Scott Schell, Ohio Division of Wildlife's District Four fisheries biologist, catfishermen can expect another exceptional year in 2003.
"Every July there are flatheads over 60 pounds reported across the state, and many channel cats that exceed 15 pounds," Schell noted. "We have caught fish in our nets that would simply boggle your mind."
With that in mind, here is a look at 10 of Ohio's best lakes for hot summertime catfishing action.
Photo by Michael Skinner
BUCKEYE LAKE Elmer Heyob, District One fisheries biologist, recommends Buckeye Lake in Licking, Fairfield and Perry counties.
Buckeye Lake is a 3,800-acre impoundment conveniently located off Interstate Route 70, approximately 20 miles east of Columbus.
"Buckeye Lake is home to both flatheads and channel cats, and good numbers of both species are prevalent in the lake," Heyob said. "Flatheads in the 40-pound class are not unheard of, and channel cats can reach sizes up to 15 pounds."
Buckeye Lake is very shallow and fertile and was created as a canal water supply reservoir. Anglers can expect to see average depths of about 5 feet. Most catfishing is done on the eastern side of the lake in an area called Cranberry Marsh and in two deeper holes nearby.
The preferred bait of most Buckeye Lake anglers is fresh-cut shad for channel cats and lively shiners for flatheads. Baits can be purchased at several of the bait shops that surround the outer perimeter of the lake.
Buckeye Lake is managed by the Ohio State Parks system, and there are no motor limitations. As a result, there is a great deal of pleasure boating throughout the day, so night fishing is popular among anglers.
ALUM CREEK This beautiful 3,400-acre lake is on the list of many avid catfishermen for July angling - and with good reason. According to biologist Heyob, Alum Creek holds channel catfish up to 10 pounds, with 2- to 5-pounders being quite common.
Alum Creek Reservoir is one mile west of I-71 on U. S. Route 36 and state Route 37 in Delaware County.
Anglers will find boat-launching facilities at the end of Hollenback Road off Shanahan Road, which intersects with U. S. Route 23 between Columbus and Delaware. There is no motor restriction on Alum Creek Reservoir.
The reservoir is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was created as a flood control and water supply reservoir for the city of Columbus. The bottom composite is predominately clay, shale and cobble. Most fishing is done on shallow flats at night by using fresh-cut shad on the bottom and plenty of patience!
Alum Creek Reservoir provides excellent habitat for channel cats to naturally reproduce and survive.
Lake maps and any other information for Buckeye Lake and Alum Creek can be obtained by writing the ODOW'S District One office, 1500 Dublin Road, Columbus, OH 43215; or by calling (614) 644-3925.
THE FINDLAY RESERVOIRS Larry Goedde, District Two fisheries biologist, rates Findlay Reservoirs 1 and 2 in Fulton County among the top producers in northwest Ohio for prime channel catfishing. Findlay reservoirs 1 and 2 cover 827 acres between them. The reservoirs can be accessed by traveling southeast of Findlay on state Route 37 to Hancock County Road 234, and then north to township Road 207. Follow this east to the boat-launching facilities on Reservoir 2, or continue on to county Road 205 to access boat-launching facilities on Reservoir 1.
"I have seen several channel catfish taken out of the reservoirs up to 10 pounds," Goedde said, but he added that the reservoirs are more noted for producing good numbers of 2- to 4-pound channel cats.
Findlay 1 and 2 were created as water supply reservoirs for the town of Findlay and are managed by the town. Expect depths over 20 feet in some areas. Newcomers should focus on the southern dike area that divides the two reservoirs. According to biologist Goedde, many locals frequent the dike and have good success there.
Each reservoir has its own motor limit. Findlay 1 has a 6-horsepower limit, while Reservoir 2 has a 10- horsepower limit.
CHARLES MILL RESERVOIR This 1,350-acre Metropolitan Water Conservancy District reservoir in Richland County offers excellent catfishing opportunities for anglers in the northwest portion of the state. It is located off state Route 603 and U. S. Route 30 near Mifflin.
According to biologist Goedde, Charles Mill Reservoir holds both flatheads and channel catfish, with channel cats being more prevalent. Expect to see channel catfish averaging 3 pounds, with the occasional 10-pounder in the mix. Flatheads can reach weights up to 40 pounds, with fish in the 20-pound class being fairly common.
Charles Mill Reservoir was created as a flood control reservoir near the town of Mansfield. According to fisheries biologist Goedde, predictions for the 2003 catfishing season are excellent. A 10 horsepower motor limit makes this an excellent lake to fish with little competition from speedboats and personal watercraft.
Goedde noted that most catfishing on Charles Mill is done on the western end of the reservoir using fresh cut bait for channel cats and large shiners or bluegills for flatheads. Most locals target the shallow flats that drop quickly to the main channel.
More information on Findlay and Charles Mill reservoirs can be obtained by writing to the District Two office, 952 Lima Avenue, Box A Findlay, OH 45840; or by calling (419) 424-5000.
CLENDENING LAKE Few conversations among catfishermen in Ohio are held without the mention of District Three's Clendening Lake - and with good reason. This long, snake-shaped lake is nestled deep in heavily wooded forestland and is home to Ohio's state-record flathead, a brute weighing 76 pounds, 8 ounces. And according to Paul Moser, District Three fisheries biologist, flatheads are not the only exciting thing happening in Clendening Lake.
"Though many people see Clendening only for its exceptional flathead fishing, plenty of channel cats that weigh up to 10 pounds come out of the lake every year. Flatheads typically weigh around 20 pounds, with 40s and 50s being caught every season. A lot of anglers elect to catch these monsters by means of bank lines and jug lines, but the real thrill is on rod and reel. Focus your efforts on the shallower flats at night in order to be most successful, Moser suggested.
Clendening Lake is a 1,800-acre MWCD reservoir in Harrison County. It was constructed for flood control, recreation and conservation off state Route 800 at Tippecanoe. Boat-launching facilities can be found at the Clendening Lake Marina off state Route 799. There is a 10 horsepower motor limit in effect on the lake.
Depths up to 40 feet can be found near the dam on the western side of the reservoir. The bottom composite is made up of rocks and clay. Fallen trees are prevalent along the edges of the lake, which at times will hold numbers of channel cats.
ATWOOD LAKE This 1,540-acre MWCD Lake was created as a flood control reservoir. It lies in Tuscarawas and Carroll counties and can be reached off state Route 212 two miles south of New Cumberland. Boat-launching facilities can be found off state Route 212 near the dam.
"This lake contains an excellent population of channel catfish," said biologist Moser. "Anglers can expect to see fish in the 10-pound class, and 3 pounders are common."
Most fishing is done on the sunken rail bed that runs the length of the lake from east to west. Focus your efforts on the shallower eastern side.
The upper portion of Atwood Lake averages 5 feet deep, however, anglers may see depths up to 30 feet in some areas near the dam.
There is a 25 horsepower motor limit on Atwood Lake, so most of the fishing is done at night in order to avoid daytime boating traffic, which can be heavy at times.
More information on Clendening and Atwood lakes can be obtained through the ODOW's District Three office, 912 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron, OH 44319; call (330) 644-2293.
PIEDMONT LAKE When the talk turns to catfishing in Wildlife District Four, there is always mention of Piedmont Lake, which lies in Belmont, Harrison and Guernsey counties. This 2,310-acre MWCD Reservoir attains depths up to 30 feet near the dam and averages 15 feet in the rest of the lake.
Piedmont Lake was created by damming Stillwater Creek and is now home to some of Ohio's finest catfishing.
"Piedmont Lake far excels beyond many other lakes in Ohio when it comes to catfishing," said Scott Schell, District Four fisheries biologist. "Every season we see flatheads up to 50 pounds and channel cats that reach 10 pounds. Not only does this give anglers a good chance of landing a real trophy but it is also a quiet and peaceful lake. Having a 10 horsepower motor limit keeps most recreational boats off the lake."
Piedmont Lake can be reached off U. S. Route 22 one mile northeast of Smyrna. Boat-launching facilities can be found off of state Route 800 on T-358 or off state Route 800 on Reynolds Road.
Local anglers often fish directly off the boat ramp at Reynolds Road using large, lively bait for flatheads and fresh-cut bait for channel cats.
Other local hotspots include areas such as Six-Mile Run and Holloway's Landing. Both locations can be found on the eastern side of the lake.
Piedmont Lake was constructed as a flood control reservoir. Natural reproduction of catfish in this lake is strong, and the numbers of large fish caught there annually are living proof that Piedmont should be on every angler's list of lakes to visit this July.
SALT FORK LAKE The largest state park in Ohio, Salt Fork State Park boasts a productive 2,952-acre catfishery nestled in the scenic, rolling hills of southeastern Ohio.
"Salt Fork is home to channel catfish and flathead catfish," said biologist Schell. "Anglers can expect channel catfish weighing 2 to 5 pounds and flatheads that can reach sizes up to 50 pounds."
Salt Fork Lake was created for recreation and water conservation purposes and has an average depth of 14 feet. Areas near the dam attain depths of 37 feet.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife, the Ohio Division of Parks and Recreation and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources manage Salt Fork Lake. Salt Fork may be accessed off U. S. 22, six miles east of I-77 near Cambridge. Boat-launching facilities can be found at one of the two marinas on D-1 (the main route through the park) off U.S. Route 22.
Salt Fork has no horsepower limit, and as a result many pleasure boaters frequent the lake in the summer months. There are no-wake zones that fishermen may use to avoid heavy traffic, but the best way to beat the pressure is nighttime fishing.
According to biologist Schell, anglers will experience the best results by targeting shallow flats near steep dropoffs. Use fresh-cut shad for channel cats and live bluegills or suckers for flatheads. Bait shops are available off U. S. Route 22 on the way into the lake or at either one of the marinas on D-1.
To obtain more information on Piedmont or Salt Fork lakes, write to the ODOW's District Four office, 360 East State Street, Athens, OH 45701; or call (740) 594-2211.
GRAND LAKE ST. MARY'S Kipp Brown, District Five fisheries biologist, suggests that Grand Lake St. Mary's is an excellent choice for both flathead and channel catfishing this July. In Mercer and Auglaize counties, Grand Lake St. Mary's is the largest of all inland lakes in Ohio, with 13,500 acres of fishable water and approximately 1,000 more acres of waterfowl management area.
Grand Lake St. Mary's is a relatively shallow lake, averaging 7 feet deep. Channel catfish average 2 to 4 pounds, with the occasional 10-pounder being caught. Flatheads are not as prevalent in Grand Lake St. Mary's as the channel cats, but some are caught weighing up to 25 pounds
Grand Lake St. Mary's is a broad, shallow lake and has fishing piers available all around its perimeter. Anglers may access the lake off state Route 29 two miles west of St. Mary's. Boat-launching facilities may be found on the northeast side of the lake on Route 364 or on the northwest side of the lake on Route 127.
ROCKY FORK LAKE Rocky Fork Lake is a 2,080-acre body of water in Highland County.
Rocky Fork Lake contains flatheads and channel catfish. Flatheads can attain weights up to 40 pounds and channel cats are caught up to 10 pounds, with larger fish being a possibility for both species.
Rocky Fork Creek was dammed to create Rocky Fork Lake. The creek channel on the western side of the lake is difficult to identify because it has been filled in by siltation. The lake attains depths of 40 feet near the dam; however, the average depth is approximately 12 feet.
Anglers may access Rocky Fork Lake off state Route 124 six miles southeast of Hillsboro. Boat launching can be found on the west side of the lake off North Shore Road or on the east side of the lake on North Beach Road.
The catfishing at Rocky Fork Lake is excellent, according to biologist Brown, and motor horsepower is unlimited.
For more information on Grand Lake St. Mary's and Rocky Fork Lake, contact the ODOW's District Five office at 1076 Old Springfield Pike Xenia, OH 45385; or call (937) 372-9261.
Other excellent Ohio catfish fisheries include Burr Oak Lake, Seneca Lake and Mosquito Lake. More information on great catfishing trips in the Buckeye State can be obtained by contacting the Ohio Division of Wildlife at (800) WILDLIFE.
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