Ohio's 2009 Ice-Fishing Forecast

Safe ice means hot action for Buckeye State anglers. Here's where to go this winter for some great hardwater action near you.

Photo by Mike Gnatkowski

Ice-fishing in the Buckeye State is a combination of camaraderie, frozen fingers and the quest for fish for the fryer. There are plenty of frozen lakes in which to drill a hole or two, and it's a great time of the year to catch fish.

Pack up the rods, a hot Thermos of coffee and head for one of these proven hardwater hotspots this winter:

Indian Lake stands as one of the Buckeye State's premier hardwater fisheries. Last year was tough, due to open water and unsafe ice for most of the winter, but the lake did freeze up pretty well for a couple of weeks.

Big crappies have been taken from the lake for several years. These fish seem to disappear during hot weather, but when the ice forms, it's a different story. A small jig or minnow under a tiny float can be deadly on big slabs that can run as large as 12 inches.

It's also possible to haul in a nice mess of big bluegills. The 'gills will be thick in the Old Indian Lake area off Dream Bridge on state Route 708.

This area was the original lake prior to the present impoundment and is now bordered by emergent weedbeds. At 12 feet, it's also the deepest spot in the lake. Most of the lake is less than six feet deep.

Though not a dependable winter target, the lake's saugeyes have made Indian Lake one of the state's most popular fishing destinations.

Saugeyes -- a hybrid cross between a walleye and a sauger -- are ideal for the shallow waters in Indian Lake and can reach 16 inches in just three or four years. They tend to hang low on the submerged humps off the west bank south of Oldfield Beach and in the Old Indian Lake section.

Access to the lake is from state routes 235, 366 and 708.

For more information and current ice conditions, contact the Indian-Kiser State Parks Region office at (937) 843-2717, or call the Ohio Division of Wildlife's District One office at (614) 644-3925

Buckeye Lake covers 2,816 acres in Fairfield County. The eastern half of Buckeye Lake is bluegill territory. Many of these fish are over 8 inches long, and there are plenty of them.

Small minnows and larval baits work well, and a tiny jig-and-grub can be effective for larger fish.

Crappies are taken on the same baits and will readily bite in winter.

Catfish are a tough winter catch, but if you connect, your hole had better be a big one. This lake's flatheads and channel cats can hit the 20-pound mark.

The statewide catfish regulations implemented here a few years ago are still confusing to some anglers. There's no daily bag limit, but no more than one channel cat 28 inches or longer may be kept. The same liberal bag limit for flatheads is in effect, but no more than one 35-inch fish can be kept.

Of special interest are the lake's hybrid stripers. Though not commonly taken through the ice, these fish are a cross between a purebred striper and a white bass, and can weigh in at several pounds. Chicken livers and minnows are popular baits.

Saugeyes are also available here. These fish are aggressive biters, grow fast and thrive in shallow Ohio waters. Contact the ODOW at (614) 644-3925 for more information.

Kiser Lake lies south of Indian Lake on state Route 235 in Champaign County. The ice-fishing can be superb here, and there is plenty of access around most of the lake.

The panfish bite is steady in the middle of this 396-acre body of water. Vegetation extends throughout most of the shallow east end of the lake and borders the north and south shorelines.

In summer, this is a little-known hotspot for big largemouth bass. Last spring, a fisheries survey crew found three 8-pounders in the lake, along with good numbers of fish pushing the 3- and 4-pound marks.

In warm weather, 10-fish days aren't unheard of.

Big bass are lethargic during the winter months, but they can be taken if presented with a big minnow or a small, lively ice jig.

The bluegills are average-sized, but there are a lot of them due to the high fertility of the water. Crappies are taken occasionally through the ice and can also reach some impressive sizes.

The Grandview Heights parking lot on the lake's south side is a good push-off point to tap into the lake's panfish. Some ice-anglers jig, while others drop a small minnow and wait to see what comes along.

No one knows how anglers targeting the lake's purebred stripers will fare. The ODOW began stocking purebreds a couple of years ago. They're about 16 inches now -- well on their way.

Hybrid stripers were stocked annually for several years, and the remaining population is in the 10-pound range. The purebred stripers will become brood stock for the state's hybrid striper program.

For more information, contact the Indian-Kiser Region office at (937) 843-2717, or the ODOW at (614) 644-3925.

Alum Creek may be the Columbus area's best multi-species lake and all-around winter fishery. The lake is a popular hardwater destination for anglers, but despite its potential, it's still underutilized in cold weather.

Look for saugeyes near dropoffs, on points, along the old roadbed along the eastern shoreline and across the lower basin. Saugeyes are mobile, and you'll just find them anywhere in this lake.

Largemouth bass are not high on the list of sought-after winter targets. But if you'd like to try for one, Big Run Cove is a good spot to start. Coldwater bucketmouths aren't dependable, but they will hit a minnow or slow-moving vertical presentation such as a jig or bait. Dropoffs, old timber and other bottom structure hold bass during the winter.

Alum Creek may be the Columbus area's best multi-species lake and all-around winter fishery.

White bass in the 9- to 14-inch range can be expected above Howard Road using minnows and jigs. Find them, and the action can be non-stop.

Alum Creek crappies run up to 12 inches. Big Run Cove is the multi-species hotspot, and there are plenty of slabs to be had there. There is woody cover above the state Route 36 causeway. Another spot worth checking is the east bank above Cheshire Road. Jigs and minnows are the ticket to taking winter papermouths.

Bluegills and channel cats round out the lake's offerings and are available where crappies and bass abide. 'Gills aren't as numerous as crappies, but it's still worth probing around any green submerged vegetation.

Alum Creek Reservoir covers 3,387 acres in Delaware County north of Columbus. It's accessible from Interstate Route 71 on the east, via the state routes 36/37 exit, and from the west by state routes 36, 37 and 521 and Lewis Center, Cheshire, and Hollenback roads.

For more information, contact the Alum Creek State Park at (740) 548-4631, or the ODOW at (614) 644-3925.

The upground Findlay reservoirs are separated by only a wall of earth.

The first reservoir is known for its yellow perch. These roamers can be anywhere, and it's worthwhile using one of the new sonar fish finders to pin down their location. Most fish are 10 inches long and up and may be taken on larval baits and minnows.

The walleye population is healthy, with fish up to 21 inches. They'll be deep, but are well worth the effort it takes to reach them.

Most bluegills will be found on submerged humps and around the riprap shoreline. Submerged weedbeds that stay green will be the hotspots.

Channel cats tipping the scales at more than 20 pounds are caught here in winter. They're a little slow to take a bait. But when they do, a hole too small will mean some last-minute chopping to make it big enough to bring a big cat through the ice. Large minnows fished just off the bottom or cut bait should produce a bite.

The lake has a good population of white bass from 12 to 15 inches. Small lively minnows can put a mess of these fish in the frying pan.

Small parking lots are available around the lake. Walk-on access is uphill from the lots. Reservoir No. 2's vehicle access and boat ramp are on the southwest section of the lake.

Call ahead to find out if the ice is thick enough for the park district to allow ice-fishing.

The reservoirs lie in Hancock County southeast of the city on county roads 205 and 207. Reservoir No. 1 covers 185 acres, and Reservoir No. 2 covers 643 acres.

For a map and more information, contact the Hancock County Park District at (419) 425-7275, or the ODOW's District Two office at (419) 424-5000.

Bluegills are the name of the game during the hard-water season on this popular Columbiana County lake. In last year's ODOW fisheries survey, a whopping 22 percent of the 'gills measured from 6 to 8 inches.

Crappies aren't numerous, but they're good-sized as well. The population is lopsided on the huge side with most measuring at least 8 inches, and well over a quarter of them hitting at least the 10-inch mark.

Channel catfish are a real possibility. The population is a very healthy one. Largemouth bass are managed under a 12- to 15-inch protected slot limit that's paid off. Last year, the ODOW found that 11 percent of the bass measured at least 15 inches, and some of them were a lot bigger.

The ODOW's Web site provides the GPS coordinates for the many structures that have been placed in the lake over the last few years. The fish attractors work year 'round and are good places to start drilling a hole or two.

Highlandtown Lake covers 170 acres in the Highlandtown Wildlife Area in Columbiana County. The lake gets a lot of pressure because it is only 37 miles from Canton and 93 miles from Cleveland.

The lake lies four miles northeast of Salineville off state Route 39 and nine miles south of Lisbon off state Route 164.

Call the Highlandtown Wildlife Area office at (330) 644-2293, or the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293 for more information.

Berlin Lake is a popular northeastern Ohio ice-fishing destination that produces good numbers of panfish. Bluegills are available in good numbers, with most fish measuring at least 6 inches. About 20 percent of the crappies are in the 10-inch class, with lots of fillet-sized fish in the mix.

Walleyes are another draw at Berlin Lake. The 2003 year-class is predominating the fishery, with a majority of the fish being at least 15 inches, and a significant number being at least 20 inches. A 15-inch minimum-length limit protects the stocked walleyes until they grow to catchable size.

Channel cats here are of eating size, too -- at least!

Berlin Lake, the fifth-largest inland lake in Ohio, covers 3,321 acres in Mahoning, Portage and Stark counties in northeastern Ohio.

The lake stretches for 18 miles. Access is from state routes 14 and 225 as well as U.S. Route 224.

For additional information and a map, contact either the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers' Berlin office at (330) 547-5445, or the ODOW at (330) 644-2293.

Pleasant Hill Reservoir's saugeyes can reach up to 26 inches. If they're your fish of choice, watch out for their razor-sharp teeth and use a leader. When they're in their feeding mood, small minnows and ice jigs are the ticket.

Panfish are abundant and running in large sizes this year. In some areas of the lake, the crappies measure nearly 16 inches! Bluegills are hand-sized and may be taken in the same areas as the crappies. Protected coves, woody cover and green weeds are their preferred winter habitat.

The largemouth bass population is growing -- at least in size. Large numbers of the bass are at least 15 inches long, and specimens up to 20 inches may be found here. Minnows, small jigs and big larvae are the best bets for winter bass. Most anglers completely overlook cold-water bass in Ohio, though some are taken incidentally by panfish anglers.

Pleasant Hill is primarily a catfish lake. The channel cats approach 25 inches, with droves of them in the smaller sizes. To hook these tasty cats, fish cut baits on the bottom.

Pleasant Hill Lake covers 850 acres in Ashland and Richland counties, 12 miles southeast of Mansfield. It's a prime producer of quality largemouth bass during the summer

months -- and able to do the same when the temperatures take a nosedive.

Access is from state route 95 on Covert Road.

Call the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District Three at (419) 938-7884, or the ODOW at (330) 644-2293 for more information.

The lake is shallow, which makes it a great panfish lake. Bluegills and crappies fall for the standard under-the-ice presentations and are easy to find.

Lake Loramie's crappies average 10 inches, and bigger ones are occasionally caught. Several locations are good around the shallow lake.

Saugeyes are taken through the ice with small ice jigs and minnows. They may be found around the Luthmans Road bridge or in scattered locations throughout the lake.

They've been stocked for several years by the ODOW and easily reach the 3- to 5-pound category.

Lake Loramie was originally an old canal feeder lake that never got a chance to be used much by canal shipping barges. Railroads eventually put the canal shippers out of business. Today, the lake is a popular fishing destination set in a quiet state park.

Access is from state routes 119 and 362, about two miles east of Fort Loramie in Auglaize and Shelby counties.

Additional information and a map are available from the Lake Loramie State Park office at (937) 295-2011, or from the ODOW's District Five office at (937) 372-9261.

For more information on Buckeye State lakes, visit the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Web site at www.ohiodnr.com.

For more trip-planning assistance, call the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at 1-800-282-5393, or visit them at www.discoverohio.com.

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