Here's where to find some great Buckeye State muskie fishing from shore or boat. (August 2009)
All is well in the Buckeye State's muskie program. If anything, muskie fishing in Ohio's waters is better than ever.
According to Kevin Page of the Ohio Division of Wildlife's Inland Fisheries Research Unit, 2,141 muskies were reported on the state's new Muskie Angler Log last year. That's the second highest reported catch rate in the last 10 years.
There have been some changes in the state's muskie program.
The biggest difference for the ODOW from last year is that the London Fish Hatchery will be using Leesville Lake as its brood stock lake.
The Clear Fork broodfish tested positive for VHS virus last year, but there was no associated fish kill, and the virus wasn't transferred to the hatchery. The Kincaid Fish Hatchery will utilize Salt Fork muskies for broodstock as normal.
The new Muskie Angler Log launched by the ODOW last March allows anglers to examine statewide summary statistics by lake and by year, including the number of fish reported caught and how big they were. The results were outstanding! The ODOW was only about 15 fish short of a new annual reporting record.
The Minnow Fund was another big hit. Muskie clubs helped fund the purchase of minnows to feed the hatchery broodstock, plus some money so that the ODOW could purchase some new equipment, which was greatly appreciated as well.
Yet another change is that Cowan Lake will be joining Acton and Rocky Fork lakes being dropped from the stocking program. Cowan's last stocking was in 2007, so there are still muskies present. East Fork Lake received its first-ever muskie fingerlings last fall and is a fishery worth keeping an eye on in the future.
Here's a look at where Ohio's muskie insiders will be this year:
ALUM CREEK RESERVOIR
This is the preferred destination for central Ohio muskie hunters. The catch rates are now above the state average and boating a "huskie muskie" isn't as rare of an occurrence as it used to be.
One dedicated Alum Creek muskie hunter happens to be Elmer Heyob Jr., an ODOW fisheries biologist. By Heyob's estimate, the muskie fishing doesn't get much better than at Alum Creek. The population density isn't as great as in Clear Fork and Leesville lakes, but Heyob estimates there's an average-sized muskie per acre in Alum Creek -- and those are just the small ones.
Heyob stresses catch-and-release as a way to ensure good fishing for the future at Alum Creek. Even catch-and-release practices can result in mortality if anglers aren't careful.
"Handle big muskies with care," biologist Heyob advised. "Improper landing is a leading cause of muskie mortality, especially in hot weather. Getting the gills tangled in the net, letting fish flop in the boat and keeping them out of the water for more than a few seconds may leave your big catch belly-up within minutes of being released."
Catch-and-release does have one drawback. When the surface temperatures exceed 80 degrees, there is less dissolved oxygen in the water. While being fought, the bigger muskies are easily stressed. This is especially true for older fish. Even if they swim away from the boat, delayed mortality may come into play. Quick and efficient release is the key to saving those bigger fish.
Trolling is the best bet on Alum Creek. There's not a lot of submerged vegetation to concentrate the muskies, so they can be just about anywhere.
Alum Creek Lake covers 3,192 acres in Delaware County north of Columbus. The lake is accessible from Interstate Route 71 off state routes 36, 37 and 521.
For more information, contact the ODOW's District One office at (614) 644-3925 or the Alum Creek State Park near Delaware at (740) 548-4631.
CLEAR FORK RESERVOIR
Clear Fork is always near the top of the chart for good muskie angling in the Buckeye State.
Local angler Doug Johnson caught a 46-inch fish last summer at Clear Fork Reservoir on the first hump outside of the no-fishing zone at the dam. Most anglers troll rather than cast, especially when fishing the deep, uneven bottom contour on the east end of the lake.
The curly leaf pondweed beds are hotspots during the summer months. Large beds develop between the boat ramp and the island, along the south shoreline and in the shallow bays. The north banks drop off quickly on the west end. Hungry muskies herd schools of shad into the shallows and attack the roving schools of prey fish.
Submerged humps throughout the lake hold muskies when the weather is hot. Anglers troll big crankbaits, one deep and the other close to the prop wash on just 10 or 15 feet of line.
On occasion, a muskie will hit the shallow bait right behind the boat. No one knows if the fish think they're picking up a disoriented shad in the prop wash or if the vibration of the boat motor excites them, but it's worth keeping a bait close behind the boat.
Clear Fork Reservoir is in Richland and Morrow counties northwest of Lexington on state routes 97 and 314. An 8-mile-per-hour speed limit is enforced.
For more information, contact the ODOW at (419) 429-8370 or the Clear Fork Reservoir manager's office in Mansfield at (419) 884-1408.
CAESAR CREEK LAKE
"Your best chance for success in southwestern Ohio will be Caesar Creek Lake," said Doug Maloney, the ODOW's fish management supervisor for District Five. "Most Caesar Creek muskie anglers are casters, but there's some trolling going on as well."
To toss baits on the lake's hotspots for summer muskies, look for structure and forget about the location. Standing timber in the coves and along main lake shorelines are good places to start. Shorelines with fallen trees are also good. These fish are used to fishing pressure (and remember, they ignore 9,999 casts!), so stealth is the rule.
Muskie Angler Log users reported catching 151 muskies last year at Caesar Creek with the longest fish topping out at 49 inches.
Maloney compares the fishing at Caesar Creek Lake with that of Leesville Lake, which is a tough order to fill. Taking into account the number of trips anglers compiled on Leesville Lake last year and the number of trips to Caesar Creek Lake, the catch rates looked very similar. That, says Maloney, tells him that C
aesar Creek is coming on strong.
The lake's first stocking was in 1998 and already it is pushing its way to the top of the list of the Buckeye State's top muskie waters.
Fishing pressure is increasing, said Maloney, but for good reason. Catch rates are excellent, and fish in the 47- to 49-inch range are being caught. Most fish are from 30 to 38 inches long.
Gizzard shad are the primary forage. They're plentiful in the lake and the muskies can feast on as many of these high-protein snacks as they wish.
For more information, call the ODOW's District Five office at (937) 372-9261 or the Caesar Creek State Park near Waynesville at (513) 897-3055.
Leesville Lake is a perennial producer and a topnotch muskie fishery, said biologist Maloney. There were hundreds of muskies caught at Leesville last year, with 34 of them topping the 42-inch mark.
Don Weaver, retired president of the Ohio Huskie Muskie Club and a longtime fixture on the lake, has caught well over 600 muskies in his lifetime and most of them were hooked in Leesville Lake.
Weaver's standard tactic is to cast to the shoreline fallen timber or troll through weedbeds in deeper water. His favorite bait is a small crankbait on about 30 feet of line.
Weaver has slowed down over the last couple of years, which is probably good for the other anglers on the lake.
Leesville Lake is definitely a numbers lake and anglers know it. Nearly one-quarter of the angler hours on the lake are spent specifically targeting its muskies.
The weedbeds will be thick during the hot summer weather and will reach the surface. Anglers use big floating baits to bring marauding muskellunge up from the deep pockets and weed edges.
Leesville covers 1,045 acres in Carroll County about five miles south of Carrollton. Access is from state routes 39 and 212.
For more information, contact the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293 or the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District at (877) 363-8500.
Additional information is available at the ODOW's District Five office at (937) 372-9261.
Berlin Lake may not top many muskie hunters' agendas. It's true that there aren't a lot of muskies taken here, but the fish that are here are worth working for.
Target the points that taper down into deep water along the old river channel. The depth reaches 60 feet and allows fish a cool refuge from the warm surface water temperatures.
The Mill Creek area is good for trolling deep-diving baits. Another spot to try is up the river system east of state Route 14. Muskies are roamers and will often move up into the river to chase shad.
Berlin is better known for other species and can be a real hotspot for anglers who specifically target the muskies.
This is the only lake in Ohio where natural reproduction occurs to any great degree. Most of the Buckeye State's muskie populations are totally dependent on stocking.
Berlin Lake covers 3,280 acres in Mahoning, Portage and Stark counties.
Additional information is available from the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293.
Pymatuning Lake is a huge body of water that straddles the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Both state agencies stock muskies into the 14,650-acre lake, and the muskie fishing is great.
Start trolling the south end of the lake along the manmade structures in about 15 feet of water. Crankbaits and in-line spinners in natural colors are good bets.
The stumpfields, rocks and weedbeds north of the state Route 85 causeway can be muskie magnets. Depths reach 25 feet in this area and the fish have access to cover, food and cooler water.
Keep in mind when tying on a bait that the water is fairly clear. Troll big crankbaits at faster than normal speeds to trigger a strike. In this water, a slow approach gives the muskie time to decide that the bait isn't alive.
Nine of the 48 muskies reported on the Muskie Angler Log in Ohio last year were at least 42 inches long. That's not counting the fish that were not reported by Pennsylvania anglers.
Pymatuning is a trophy fishery. Muskie hunters typically expect to catch bigger fish here than in other Ohio waters.
An Ohio or Pennsylvania fishing license from either state will keep boating anglers legal. Shore-bound fishermen need to buy a license from the state they're standing in.
A 10-horsepower motor restriction is in place.
For more information, call the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293 or the Pymatuning State Park office near Andover at (440) 293-6030.
Piedmont Lake is one of Ohio's top trophy lakes, pure and simple. Fish have been taken here that weighed 50 pounds. There's little doubt that it can happen again.
Anglers looking for numbers can find what they're looking for at Leesville, Alum Creek, Caesar Creek and Clear Fork. Trophy hunters who don't want to tangle with the little guys should pack a few monster-sized baits in their tackle boxes and head for Piedmont Lake.
Over the years, the ODOW has dropped over 200 old Christmas trees and 30 tons of clay tiles to supplement the muskie habitat already in the lake. Muskies love weeds, and though they'll cruise by the additional structure, weedy bays and shallow-water stumps on the eastern end of Piedmont are where most anglers are finding them.
If a muskie is hooked during hot water periods, try to stress the fish as little as possible. Take plenty of time and avoid horsing it to the boat. Keep a tight line and allow the fish to swim around slowly, taking line when it wants to. Net the fish as quickly as possible and leave it in the water, even for photos. This is a lot easier on the muskie and chances are it will live to fight again another day.
It takes five or six years to grow a 40-inch muskie and only a couple of minutes to fatally injure one on a hot summer day.
Piedmont Lake is in Belmont, Guernsey and Harrison counties and covers 2,273 acres. A 10-horsepower motor restriction is in place.
Contact the District Four office at (740) 589-9930 or the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District at (330) 343-6647 for more information.
SALT FORK LAKE
Salt Fork Lake isn't the place to go to catch a lot of muskies, but if you're looking for a big one, you're in the right place. Fish in the 45- to 50-inch class are available.
The lake is long and narrow, typical of the hill country impoundments. Troll along the dropoffs outside of the finger-shaped bays and points. The manmade reef on the north branch of the lake is a good spot to try, as are the thousands of submerged Christmas trees that have been stacked in several locations.
A no-wake zone near the midsection of Salt Fork is enforced. Troll slowly through this section or just cast as you go. Big fish can be anywhere!
Salt Fork Lake covers nearly 2,815 acres seven miles east of Cambridge on U.S. Route 22 in Guernsey County. The state park office can provide information on the location of the Christmas trees. Pontoon boats can be rented in season.
Anglers wanting deluxe accommodations can stay in the state park lodge. This is four-star accommodation with a great restaurant on site.
For details, contact the ODOW's District Four office at (740) 589-9930 or the Salt Fork State Park near Cambridge at (740) 439-3521 for more information.
Lake Milton has produced a few fish that have hit the 50-inch mark, and there are plenty more of them coming up.
The lake has become a regular stop for the ODOW stocking truck. That they grow fast once they've been released into the lake is indisputable. Last year, 169 muskies were entered into the Muskie Angler's Log, and 14 were at least 42 inches or longer.
There aren't high numbers of muskellunge in the lake, but most anglers aren't targeting muskies, so that puts the ball right in the court of serious muskie hunters.
Lake Milton is a multi-species lake. If the muskies aren't hitting it doesn't hurt to stop and try for one of the big bass or walleyes that may be found there.
Recreational boating can be heavy, so plan on fishing early or late in the day.
Follow the muskies to the deeper water with 1/2-ounce or heavier jigs tipped with 6- or 9-inch plastic shad bodies. Or, cast along the shoreline cover with big topwater or diving plugs.
Lake Milton is in Mahoning County and covers 1,671 acres.
For additional information, contact the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293 or the Lake Milton State Park office near the village of Lake Milton at (330) 654-4989.
Anglers are encouraged to record their catches on the ODOW's Muskie Angler Log online at www.ohiodnr. com/muskielog/welcome.aspx.
For accommodations and supplies, contact the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at (800) 282-5393.
For downloadable lake maps, visit www.dnr.state.oh.us.com.