Ohio's Ice-Fishing Forecast

The Buckeye State's winter fishery offers target species ranging from bluegills to muskies. Wait for safe ice to form and then give these biologist-recommended winter angling hotspots a try.

By Jeff Knapp

With the major hunting seasons an ever-shrinking dot in the rearview mirror, what's an Ohio sportsman to do to ward off the post-holiday blues? Vegetate on the couch in front of overhyped football or intelligence-insulting reality shows?

Why not check out the host of ice-fishing opportunities that exist across the state. From panfish to muskies, the Buckeye State features a variety of cold-weather angling options. Here's a look at how to get your 2005 fishing season off and running!

According to Phil Hillman, an Ohio Division of Wildlife district fisheries supervisor, the wealth of available ice-fishing opportunities can be fabulous, but he cautions that hardwater action depends on the weather of the year.

"The quality of ice varies from year to year," noted Hillman. "Obviously, this impacts the length of the ice-fishing season. Generally, the northern districts tend to have the better ice-fishing conditions."

Historically, there are several bodies of water that produce good hardwater action. These waters - and the species they contain - see the most ice-fishing pressure. But, Hillman said, there is much more potential out there. In his northeastern Ohio Wildlife District Three waters, many lakes contain abundant saugeye populations yet see little in the way of fishing pressure.

The winter fishing scene isn't limited to ice-fishing action. During a mild winter, the same bodies of water produce well in open water, too. Don't be reluctant to launch your boat in the dead of winter, though you need to keep in mind that launch ramps and parking lots often don't receive any winter maintenance.

Also, tailrace areas and major rivers furnish good winter fishing, both from shore and from a boat. Anglers from the southern part of the state, where ice-fishing options are rare, should keep this in mind. The action often peaks during late winter or early spring, when species such as walleyes and saugers begin making their spring spawning runs.

Here's a district-by-district forecast for Ohio's 2005 ice-fishing season, slanted more heavily toward the northern districts, where ice cover tends to be much more consistent.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt


According to biologist Hillman, the northeastern region of Ohio is blessed with an abundance of some of the state's best water. "We have over 50,000 acres of public fishing water in District Three," he noted.

Though conditions favored ice-anglers last season, it was not a banner year for the hardwater enthusiast. This same basic story played out over much of the state. While there were pockets of good fishing here and there, the action didn't live up to what many anglers had expected, given the fact that a hard winter provided plenty of opportunities.

Generally, panfish are eager biters, and if they can be located, they can help turn a wintertime fishing foray from an on-the-ice social gathering to one featuring nonstop popped tip-ups and bent rods.

Hillman said that some of the better action in his district last season was provided by panfish such as bluegills and redear sunfish. The waters of the Portage Lakes system south of Akron provided some of the more consistent action. The Portage Lakes, which cover over 1,600 acres, will be found in Summit County. East, Turkeyfoot and North reservoirs, all part of the Portage Lakes system, stood out as the best producers.

According to Hillman, Mosquito Lake in Trumbull County, is now the best inland walleye lake in state. Though through-the-ice catch rates didn't seem to indicate the presence of a dense walleye population, Hillman insists that the fish are there. Surveys conducted by District Three fisheries management personnel have revealed strong year-classes for several consecutive years. This adds up to excellent numbers of walleyes in the 13- to 21-inch range. If conditions are favorable and the fish are in a biting mood, Mosquito Lake should provide some excellent hardwater walleye action this month.

In addition to walleyes, Hillman noted that Mosquito Lake holds good numbers of crappies and bluegills.

Nearby Pymatuning Lake hasn't enjoyed the same level of recruitment from walleye fry stockings of late. Surveys of young-of-the-year fish have shown low levels of young walleyes, although a decent population of adult fish remains in the lake.

Pymatuning Lake - known for many years as the lake of the 14 7/8-inch walleye (just under the 15-inch minimum length requirement) owing to the high numbers of fish in this size range caught during the early-spring season - is currently more a quality rather than a quantity water. Of the walleyes taken there, most are well over the legal size requirement.

Ice-anglers found this to be the case last season, and Hillman feels that the same would hold true this year. While the walleye picture has changed on Pymatuning, the lake holds excellent numbers of crappies, yellow perch and white bass. Both black and white crappies are prevalent in the lake, with good-sized fish available. White bass are common and underexploited. Pymatuning covers over 14,000 acres on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border in Ashtabula County.

Last winter, ice-anglers did reasonably well on Berlin Reservoir for walleyes. Surveys conducted by District Three personnel in 2003 revealed a fairly strong walleye population that averaged about 14 1/2 inches. Ice-anglers this year should find fish remaining from that year class.

Berlin, like Pymatuning, has a 15-inch minimum-length requirement on walleyes. Berlin also holds strong populations of white crappie and white bass. Berlin Reservoir is in Portage, Stark and Mahoning counties and covers over 3,000 acres.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife stocks some lakes with trout during the fall time frame. These waters are found in a variety of settings, some of which do not allow ice-fishing. Punderson Lake in Geauga County is one that does. This 100-acre lake receives a health stocking of trout during the late fall, and some fish remain in the lake for the ice-fishing season.

"Usually, Punderson Lake is stocked with about 600 broodstock trout on the first Tuesday following Thanksgiving," noted Hillman. "These fish will run from 1 1/2 pounds up to about 8 pounds."

In addition to trout, Punderson Lake also holds good numbers

of bluegills.

Hillman reported that the best ice- fishing in his district - and this would hold true throughout the state - occurs early in the ice-fishing season. "First ice is usually the most productive time to be on the ice," he said, noting that, at first ice, there is rarely much in the way of snow cover on the frozen surface. Light penetration is greatest at this time, although having snow cover does not impede ice formation.

Levels of oxygen generated by photosynthesis are likewise high, upping the activity level of fish species. As the season wears on, oxygen levels decrease and fish activity tails off.

While the fishing may be best early in the ice-fishing season, be sure the ice is safe before venturing onto a frozen lake. Throughout the ice-fishing belt tragedies occur annually when anglers push the envelope.

It was mentioned earlier that while some ice-fishing venues are longstanding destinations, others remain relatively untapped. Hillman cited the Muskingum Water Conservation District lakes such as Tappan, Clendening and Atwood as falling into this category, particularly for saugeyes. All three of these lakes hold good numbers of the walleye-sauger hybrid, yet few anglers take advantage of them during the ice-fishing season.

"Saugeyes provide excellent ice- fishing action in other areas of the state," noted Hillman. "Buckeye Lake in particular is known as a good water for saugeyes during the winter. The MWCD lakes have a lot of potential for saugeyes during the ice-fishing season."

Tailrace areas downstream from saugeye-stocked lakes often hold fishable populations of this mobile, migratory species, and these waters tend to remain open during the winter fishing season.


Similar to Northeastern Ohio's is last year's ice-fishing report from the west, as it told of inexplicably slow ice-fishing in general.

"Last year we had some good ice in northwestern Ohio, but for some unknown reason the fishing was generally slow," stated Larry Goedde, a District Two fisheries supervisor. "The action was slow on public lakes, and on private ponds, but we had a few bright spots. Crappie fishing at Oxbow Lake was consistent, and bluegill fishing at the Lake La Su An Wildlife Area was good."

The semiprotected island areas of the Lake Erie's western basin have long been a much-visited area of focus for ice-anglers hoping to catch a few mega-sized walleyes. Goedde's Lake Erie ice report for last year stated that Lake Erie was spotty - good some days, slow others. The Island Areas of Lake Erie were the most consistent.

"I suggest that people who fish Lake Erie in winter go out with a guide. Ice conditions on Lake Erie are unpredictable. The ice can be 10 inches thick in one place and only 2 inches thick a few feet away because undercurrents erode the ice from below," he said. "You also need to watch the winds and weather to avoid getting stranded on ice flow separations. Proper equipment is essential to be successful ice-fishing Lake Erie."

One of the better inland waters in District Two last year was Lake La Su An. This area is limited to fishing only two days a week - Thursday and Sunday. Goedde says that a reservation is required to fish the better lakes found within this area.

"We don't start fishing until the first Thursday in January, and it is tough to get a reservation to fish," noted Goedde. "A lot of people apply for the few reservations that are available."

Call or write the District Two office at 952 Lima Avenue, Findlay, OH, (419) 424-5000, for an information packet on Lake Lu Su An.

In general, Goedde says, ice-fishing in his district most years is good for bluegills, crappies, channel catfish, walleyes and yellow perch.

"Upground reservoirs are good for all of these species," stated Goedde. "The anglers who are most successful keep moving around the lake until they locate fish. Many of them use either a fishfinder or underwater cameras, which work really for well ice-fishing when the water is clear."

For the 2005 season, one of the venues Goedde suggested was the group of Findlay reservoirs. These waters, which are east of Findlay, are good for many popular winter species, he says.

Trout anglers will want to check out the ice-fishing action provided by Lima Lake. Goedde said catchable-sized trout are stocked there in the fall and are frequently taken through the ice. In addition to trout, Lima Lake offers good saugeye fishing.

Ferguson Reservoir, which is in the Lima area, features good ice-fishing for walleyes and yellow perch.

Goedde listed the following remaining reservoirs as worthy of attention from ice-anglers: McComb Reservoir No. 2 for yellow perch and bluegills; Beaver Creek Reservoir for bluegills, yellow perch and channel catfish; Bellevue 5 Reservoir for saugeyes; Paulding Reservoir for saugeyes and yellow perch; and Veteran's Memorial Reservoir for crappies, bluegills and saugeyes.

He also suggested lakes within the Oxbow and Resthaven wildlife areas fore good ice-fishing for bluegills.



Ice-fishing conditions often do not favor anglers in the southern portion of the state. However, during a hard winter some lakes do provide fishing, particularly toward the northern portion of this range. Here's a look at the better options within this portion of the state.

Grand Lake St. Marys is the top choice in southwestern Ohio's District Five, according to fisheries supervisor Doug Maloney. "Last year didn't provide much ice-fishing action," he noted. "The one lake that does hold up well is Grand Lake St. Marys."

It's unsurprising that this vast, shallow lake provides good ice-fishing. It cools rapidly, perhaps because it's in the district's northern part.

Maloney says that Grand Lake St. Marys consistently provides good sport with bluegills and crappies. Yellow perch action can be good, but fluctuates from year to year.

Steve Graham, central Ohio's District One fisheries supervisor, listed Buckeye Lake as the number one ice-fishing water in his area, with saugeyes being the premier species.

"Last season, we did have a decent period with safe ice, but it was not a particularly good season for anglers," noted Graham. "I can't explain exactly why."

If the bite is better this winter, in addition to Buckeye Lake, Graham suggested anglers try Indian, Delaware, Deer Creek and Alum Creek lakes. The last three waters are flood control lakes, waterways with changing levels that often have uncertain ice cover. Be especially diligent when checking the ice thickness on these and other flood control lakes.

Dave Bright, Ohio's District Four fisheries supervisor, says that ice-angler participation in southeastern Ohio is sporadic and limited, but noted that a few diehards wait patiently for the development of safe ice conditions in the northern part of the district. He noted that area anglers enjoyed two to three weeks of ice-angling opportunities last season.

Top choices in District Four, according to Bright, include saugeyes in Piedmont Lake, crappies in Salt Fork Lake and Seneca Lake and bass and sunfish in the AEP ReCreation Land ponds.


No discussion of ice-fishing is complete without a safety reminder.

  • Anglers should always remember to wear a personal floatation device.
  • Never fish alone. It is always best to have someone around who can help in an emergency.
  • Exercise good judgment when venturing onto the ice. Insure that its thickness will support you and all the fishermen around you. A minimum thickness of 4 inches is recommended, more if vehicles are in use.
  • Be cautious! Holes drilled in the ice during the previous day's fishing may have only thin layers of ice on top of them.
  • Be extra-cautious with small children on the ice; they can slip or fall through unused holes, and should wear a personal flotation device.
  • Be aware of current weather predictions. When going onto ice with minimal thickness on a day predicted to have temperatures above average, periodically check perimeter ice melt and thickness. Perimeter ice is usually not as thick as ice in the middle of the waterway, and can melt away during the course of a bright, warm day, leaving anglers stranded.

No seasons or creel limits are in place during the ice-fishing season. Check current regs regarding the water body you're fishing for minimum lengths, creel limits and season dates.

For more information, contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife at (614) 265-6300.

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