October 05, 2010
Some of the best trophy muskie fishing of the year takes place this month in Ohio. Here's a look at some of the Buckeye State's top summer muskie waters, according to biologists who study (and fish) for these toothy predators.
By Greg Keefer
Muskie fishing in the Buckeye State has finally come of age. Muskies topping 50 inches are now routinely taken in Ohio's waters, thanks in part to the efforts of the Ohio Division of Wildlife and dedicated biologists like Elmer Heyob.
Heyob, a fisheries biologist in Wildlife District One, knows muskies both on and off the water. He currently serves as the ODOW's liaison to the media and the fishing public.
"Ohio's muskie management program is to maintain high quality muskellunge fisheries at selected water areas," Heyob said. "We accomplish this by stocking advanced fingerlings in nine program lakes that contain habitat suited for muskellunge, and the fish are distributed as fairly as possible."
"Ohio's current production goal is about 22,000 muskies to stock nine lakes at a rate of one or two fish per acre," Heyob added.
"Stocked muskies grow fast on a diet of gizzard shad, reaching 52 inches and 45 pounds, and we occasionally see some larger specimens," said Heyob. "Muskies stocked into Ohio's Alum Creek Reservoir in September 1990 ranged from 41 to 48 inches by July 1995. A 48-incher was determined by a scale sample to be 5 years old."
Heyob also credits the catch-and-release philosophy of most muskie anglers with helping to maintain the state's excellent fishing.
Photo by Pete Maina
The Ohio Huskie Muskie Club was created in part to provide the ODOW with information on both numbers and sizes of caught muskies. Scale samples and statistics are sent to ODOW biologists, who analyze the results and make recommendations for management practices. Anglers who catch muskies are encouraged to send a scale sample and the length of each fish in special envelopes to identify growth rates and ages of muskies being caught.
One of the best indicators of muskie angling success is the records of the Huskie Muskie Club. These records reflect the success of anglers on every public lake in the state containing muskies.
The most productive lake, according to these records, is Leesville Lake. Anglers caught 110 muskies in 2002, two of which were 50 inches or larger. The runner-up lake was Salt Fork Reservoir with 61 muskies. This reservoir produced four fish at least 50 inches in length.
Muskies are considered warm-water fish and action continues throughout the summer months. Even the dog days of August produce lots of muskies, and some big ones at that.
To get in on the action this month, try one of these reservoirs that are managed for muskies by the ODOW.
LEESVILLE LAKE Leesville Lake in southwestern Carroll County covers 1,000 acres of prime muskie habitat. ODOW biologists rate Leesville Lake's muskie potential as "excellent."
"Leesville Lake is usually the top lake in the state based on total numbers of muskellunge reported through the Ohio Huskie Muskie Club applications," said Phil Hillman, District Three fish management supervisor.
Paul Moser, another biologist with District 3, agrees.
"Leesville has a reputation of being a good muskie lake, a reputation that's well deserved," said Moser.
"Most anglers troll along the outside edges of weedbeds or along dropoffs. They'll use large crankbaits, spoons or spinners. Other anglers cast into weedbeds and woody cover using jerkbaits or other lures," he added.
Leesville Lake was constructed across McGuire Creek and is part of the system of lakes in the Muskingum Watershed Conversancy District. The water is clear and drops to some 30 feet deep along the old creek channel. The upper and lower arms of the lake average from 10 to 20 feet deep.
Leesville is managed by the ODOW primarily for numbers rather than size of fish, but some big muskies are caught there.
Of the 635 muskies recorded by the Huskie Muskie Club last year, two were over 50 inches. In 2001, a very impressive 112 fish over 42 inches were taken.
Hillman said that anglers should try trolling within 30 feet of the prop wash and from 10 to 12 feet deep.
August is the time anglers should concentrate on the lower portion of the lake. Many muskies will be found in the weeds that grow in a thin band along the shoreline. The dam area also attracts muskies, and anglers will do well to target this area as well.
A few manmade fish attractors in the lake concentrate baitfish, which in turn, attract muskies. Depth changes and dropoffs associated with the old creek bed are primary structures to focus on when the fish are holding deep in the late summer heat.
There are some small humps, points and breaks, but these require sonar gear to locate.
A good selection of lures is important. Florescent colors and black-and- white combinations seem to work well.
Night-fishing on the lake often pays off, especially when daytime boat traffic is heavy. Leesville's muskies seem to adjust well to nocturnal feeding, and the slow retrieve of a splashing topwater lure helps them zero in on the bait.
Leesville Lake is accessible by state routes 39 and 212. The lake is about five miles south of Carrollton.
A 10-horsepower motor limit is in effect.
For further information and a map, contact the MWCD at (877) 363-8500, or the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293.
CLEAR FORK RESERVOIR Clear Fork is in Richland and Morrow counties northwest of Lexington on state routes 97 and 314. This picturesque lake is always included in any list of top Ohio muskie lakes.
"Muskie fishing in Clear Fork Reservoir is excellent, based on just about any standard you care to use," said Larry Goedde, fish supervisor in District Two. "Muskie catch rates here are some of the best in the nation."
Clear Fork is the site of intense muskie management activity. In April, biologists remove eggs from Clear Fork female muskies and use them to produ
ce the hatchery-reared fingerlings used to stock the nine program lakes.
Biologists estimate that there are several muskies over 27 inches in length in the lake along with some trophy-class individuals.
"Female muskies frequently grow in excess of 40 inches and occasionally longer than 50 inches," said Goedde. "The longest muskie we have seen in Clear Fork Reservoir was 50 3/4 inches. The state-record angler-caught muskie was 50 1/4 inches and weighed 55 pounds, 2 ounces."
According to Huskie Muskie Club records for 2002, Clear Fork Reservoir yielded 293 muskies including two over 50 inches.
Large weedbeds, protruding points and dropoffs, many islands and depths reaching 24 feet mean excellent habitat for muskies throughout the lake. Gizzard shad are abundant and provide perfect forage for these fast-growing predators.
"Fishing success is consistent at Clear Fork," said Goedde. "Year after year, it is one of the best muskie producers in Ohio. Muskies of all sizes, including specimens from 20 to 50 inches, are caught at Clear Fork."
All shad-imitating lures produce well. Clear Fork muskies also fall for jigs tipped with 6-inch soft plastic shad bodies.
"Generally, July and August are good months," said Goedde. "Clear Fork muskies seem to like warm weather."
Clear Fork is owned and operated by the city of Mansfield. There is a strictly enforced, 8-mph boat speed limit. A small, city-owned campground is next to the marina and is usually filled with die-hard muskie anglers.
Shoreline access for anglers is restricted to the south side of the lake. From shore, anglers can cast to the edges of weedbeds, tapering points and dropoffs that normally only boaters can reach. There is no fishing on or off the water near the dam (buoys mark the area).
The water is clear with abundant submerged weed growth providing excellent habitat.
For more information and a map, contact Gary Johnson, the city's Clear Fork manager at (419) 884-1408, or the District Two office at (419) 429-8370.
ALUM CREEK RESERVOIR Many memories have been made on this 3,387-acre impoundment in Delaware County, just a stone's throw from Columbus.
Alum Creek is one mile west of Interstate Route 71 on U.S. Route 36 and state Route 37.
"This is a very good muskie lake," said Elmer Heyob and also his personal favorite.
According to Ohio Huskie Muskie Club records, 118 muskies were caught in 2002. During the summer of 2000, a 50-incher came out of the lake along with many others near that size.
The muskie population at Alum Creek depends on the ODOW stocking program because little natural reproduction takes place. In 1990, 3,200 fingerlings were released and more have been added annually. In 1997, over 7,000 fingerlings were stocked that now provide some trophy-class angling.
"My educated guess for Alum Creek would be about one muskie per acre over 27 inches," said Heyob, "but it could be higher."
Alum Creek Reservoir is a flood-control lake with plenty of good muskie habitat for anglers to probe. Depths near the east end of the lake drop to 60 feet with the average being 20 to 40 feet.
Structure is abundant, with steep banks, dropoffs, submerged timber and rocky points. Abundant shallow vegetation, both emergent and submergent, attracts summer muskies. Try casting to fallen trees or standing timber.
Riprap shoreline structure also holds muskies in August. When the saugeyes are chasing minnows near the rocks, muskies follow them in for an easy meal.
Alum Creek Reservoir contains an excellent forage base for muskies. Gizzard shad, carp, yellow perch and three species of suckers make for fast muskie growth.
The lake has the fastest growth rate for muskellunge ever recorded in Ohio. Two fish that measured 48 inches were only 5 years old.
The Ohio Huskie Muskie Club reported that Alum Creek is among the top three lakes for "honorable mention" muskies, which means fish measuring 30 to 42 inches.
Night-fishing is an option on this busy lake because unlimited horsepower boat traffic during the day sometimes drives the muskies into deep water.
Try spinnerbaits, diving plugs, jig- and-plastic combinations and large, wobbling spoons.
For boating access, five ramps are available around the lake.
Alum Creek is classified as an excellent up-and-coming muskie fishery. After all, when you see a state fisheries biologist on the lake during his off-duty time, you know you're in the right place!
For maps and more information, contact the Alum Creek State Park office at (740) 548-4631, or the District One office at (614) 644-3925.
SALT FORK RESERVOIR This sprawling 2,936-acre reservoir is in Guernsey County, eight miles northeast of Cambridge off U.S. Route 22. The lake is surrounded by some of the most rugged and beautiful country in Ohio.
According to biologist Goedde in District Two, Salt Fork is beginning to prove itself as an excellent muskie lake. For example, on July 11, 2000, Gerald Seibert of Coshocton landed a 54-inch, 44-pound lunker. In 2001, Howard Hamrick of Little Hocking caught a 53-inch muskie also weighing 44 pounds.
Salt Fork is producing bigger sizes of fish rather than numbers of muskies, and it is becoming known as a true trophy fishery.
Salt Fork muskies seem to prefer big, thumping blades and wide-wobbling crankbaits in August. In spring, anglers begin with lures in the 4- to 6-inch range with subtle action, but as the season progresses, 6-inch and larger lures with more action become standard fare.
Anglers should target the dam area and dropoffs outside of the lake's many coves and bays. There is an artificial reef on the north branch of the lake that attracts baitfish and muskies. The fishing structure map available at the state park office shows where over 2,000 Christmas trees have been placed as fish attractors.
Pinpoint casting is required around heavy cover, while trolling allows anglers to keep their baits in the strike zone along the submerged points and dropoffs.
Boaters enjoy unlimited horsepower restrictions on the lake with six ramps along the shoreline. The largest boat launch is at the Salt Fork Marina. Other ramps are at Sugartree Fork Marina, the campground beach, in the state park cabin area a
nd near the park office.
For a useful map and additional information, contact the Salt Fork State Park office at (740) 439-3521; or the District Four office at (740) 594-2211.
PIEDMONT LAKE The state-record muskie came out of Piedmont Lake in 1972. Joe Lykins boated the 50-inch, 55-pound fish that set a standard that is yet to be broken. It's possible that a muskie in this reservoir covering 2,273 acres may be the one to do it.
Piedmont lies in Harrison and Belmont counties one mile east of Smyrna on U.S. Route 22.
Stocking of muskie fingerlings has been heavy on the lake since 1994. At least 2,300 muskies have been stocked annually, including a banner year in 1997, when the number totaled over 4,600.
According to Huskie Muskie Club records, 55 muskies were taken in Piedmont Lake last year, including one that measured over 50 inches. Of those, 35 were at least 32 inches in length.
Muskies can be taken from the deeper water near the dam and throughout the lake, especially at the mouth of Marina Bay.
Over 30 tons of clay tile have been placed in five locations in the lake to create fish habitat. Some 200 shoreline trees have been felled into the water to join over 1,000 sunken Christmas trees.
Two boat ramps serve the lake, one at Manna Road off state Route 800 and the other off Reynolds Road.
A 10-horsepower motor limit is in effect.
For further information, contact the MWCD at (330) 343-6647 or District Four office at (740) 594-2211.
August is prime time for muskies in the Buckeye State. Chances are good for hooking a tackle-buster in many of the state's reservoirs, with good possibilities for fish over 50 inches. A daily bag limit of two fish with no minimum size limit is in effect.
For more information, call (800) BUCKEYE.
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