Ohio'™s Oberlin Reservoir Spring Crappies

Imagine it: a public fishing lake, full of crappies -- and there aren't enough fishermen available to clean them out! That's Oberlin Reservoir in a nutshell, and it's waiting for you right now!

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Last stocked with white crappies in 1969 and shortly thereafter dropped from direct management by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife, Oberlin Reservoir has year after year yielded up its harvest to those who take time to know it.

Throughout the 1960s and '70s, Oberlin Reservoir was stocked with walleyes, yellow perch, white bass, largemouth bass, catfish, bluegill, trout and, of course, white crappies.

Andy Burt, an Ohio Division of Wildlife aquatic biologist, noted that few people except locals fish the reservoir, which is largely unknown to anglers outside the area. In fact, Oberlin Reservoir doesn't even appear on Ohio's fisheries list, which may be why the fishing there is so good!


Oberlin Reservoir is an upground impoundment covering 65 acres to an average depth of 25 feet with only minor level fluctuations. This habitat stability makes Oberlin an ideal place for largemouth bass, bluegills and crappies.

The current structure was built by the city of Oberlin in 1960 and a co-operative management agreement was reached with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in 1961.

As part of the agreement, the city must allow public access to fishing and conduct all grounds maintenance including mowing and keeping the banks clear of overgrowth and rubbish. The DNR built and maintains a public parking lot and provides restroom facilities on the site, giving the reservoir presents a neat parklike appearance.

"It's a favorite place for walkers and runners," said Gary Roberts, who runs the water treatment plant at the reservoir. The walkers and runners usually outnumber the few fishermen at the reservoir.

Only a handful of fishermen regularly fish Oberlin. "It's the same guys fishing all the time," observed Jon Love, also from plant operations, with a laugh. "I watch them fish even when it's pouring rain."


There is no motorboat launch site at Oberlin Reservoir and gasoline engines are banned. Swimming is also banned; also, keep in mind that the reservoir is closed from dusk till dawn. Anglers may carry small boats with electric motors to a spot near the public parking lot that has a sandbank to allow better access.

The public restroom facility is at the public parking lot as well.


Spring crappies at Oberlin Reservoir may be taken using a variety of methods. A common theme among local veteran fishermen is: The lighter the line, the better. Keep this in mind when choosing your tackle.

The tried-and-true float-and-minnow rig is the most widely used method. It's important to keep minnows alive with an aerator or other means. Crappies can be finicky, and a lively minnow can be the difference between an occasional bite and filling up a stringer.

Local fishermen swear by emerald shiners and believe no other minnow provides faster action.

When fishing minnows, use 2- to 6-pound-test line with a small split shot about 10 inches above a No. 4 gold Aberdeen hook. Some fishermen insist that 2-pound test line is the only line to use for this kind of fishing.

The float is positioned between 4 and 8 feet up the line. Adjust the depth until you find the level at which the crappie have suspended. Slip bobbers are a definite advantage in both castability and adjustability, allowing the fisherman to add more action and movement to the bait. Many fishermen also use maggots or waxworms with this rig.

Cast as far out as possible and slowly bring the bait back in with light twitches of the rod tip. If the wind, which is common at Oberlin, is toward or across you, very little movement on your part will be required. Just allow the wind to move the bait around with the waves causing the bait to jiggle up and down.

Work the bait until it's very close to shore, because crappies can often be found at the edge of the bank just where the visibility line in the water ends. This can be no more than 3 or 4 feet off shore.

When you get a strike, pause for a second and then set the hook with a smooth sweep of the pole. Setting your hook too fast or hard can often jerk the hook out of a crappie's mouth. The fish's nickname, "paper-mouth," is well deserved.

Some fishermen jig for crappies using light 1- to 2-pound-test line and 1/32- through 1/64-ounce jigs and flies. Soft-plastic minnow bodies, grubs and even live maggots, waxworms or mealworms are used to tip the jigs with good success. This method's advantage is that it mostly catches just the larger crappies, some in the 11- to 12-inch range.

The best colors for the soft plastics seem to be natural shad or minnow colorations -- white, green, or chartreuse. The most common feather or hair colors used on the flies also seem to follow this pattern, with like orange and pink also being popular.

Retrieve jigs and flies slowly. Cast and count the lure down from 4 to 10 feet. Start retrieving by turning the handle of your reel about once every second. Slight, constant twitching of the rod tip will help excite the fish into striking quicker. A sensitive rod and attention to your line are important with this method. Often a crappie will bite a jig lightly and then spit the lure out once it feels it. Many fishermen won't even know that it happened.

Once you've determined how deep the fish are, concentrate your efforts there, but be adaptable, as the crappies at Oberlin often change their suspension depth several times through out the day.

Small inline spinners may also be used to catch crappies in the spring. Chartreuse, green or white are the most commonly used colors. Cast and count down these lures, too, retrieving them just fast enough to make the spinner work.


Throughout May and June, all of the shoreline at Oberlin Reservoir will hold crappies. Certain areas in particular seem to draw fish better and in greater numbers.

Most spring fishermen will start by concentrating their efforts at the southern end of the reservoir. Because Oberlin is an upground reservoir, it catches a fairly constant breeze that seems to push the upper, warmer water

and baitfish to the southern shore, which is where the crappies begin biting first. The area of the southern shore that has a distinct bend in an otherwise straight shoreline is productive most of the time.

Often a crappie will bite a jig lightly and then spit the lure out once it feels it. Many fishermen won't even know that it happened.

The eastern side of the bend has a large number of submerged weedbeds that hold crappies year 'round.

A common tactic is casting and moving around the shoreline looking for concentrations of hungry crappies. Cover the water thoroughly, because a couple of feet can make the difference between finding an active school and missing it. Once you find a school, stick with the spot for a while, even if it seems to turn off suddenly. Often, a school of crappies will move away from a spot but will return in a few moments. Also, as mentioned earlier, changing your line depth may reveal that the school has only moved up or down a few feet.

There are no size or creel limits for crappie at Oberlin Reservoir. Most of the crappies caught are from 8 1/2 to 11 inches long.

Local fishermen claim the reservoir is hitting a peak this year, a phenomenon that happens every four to five years. "It sounds like the crappies' normal reproductive cycle," said biologist Burt.


To get to Oberlin Reservoir from the Cleveland area, follow Route 2 West to Route 58 south toward Oberlin. In Oberlin, turn left onto East College Street to Oberlin Road. Turn right on Oberlin Road and follow it to Parsons Road. Take a left onto Parsons Road and the reservoir will be one mile ahead on the right after you pass West Road.

The public parking lot is beside Oberlin Water Treatment Plant. West Road runs parallel to the west side of the reservoir with Parsons road running along the northern side.

From Mansfield, take U. S. Route 30 east to Route 58 north toward Oberlin.

For more information, contact the Oberlin Chamber of Commerce at

www.oberlin.org or write them at 7 North Main Street, Suite 117, Oberlin, Ohio 44074. You may also call them at (440) 774-6262.

For more information on fishing in the region, call the ODOW's Wildlife District Three office at (330) 644-2293, or write them at 912 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron, OH 44319. You may also visit the Ohio DNR Division of Wildlife's Web site at


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