Ohio's Family Fishing Vacation Getaways

From wilderness campgrounds to plush resorts, Ohio boasts some of the best destinations for fishing-oriented family vacations in the Midwest. Don't miss out on these great recreational-getaway opportunities!

By Curt Williams

Controlled environments have come to rule our lives. Most of us go from temperature-controlled homes to temperature-controlled workplaces in our temperature-controlled vehicles. This is no way for a Buckeye State sportsman to spend his time!

It's time to consider a fishing vacation this year, and with 229 public reservoirs and 451 miles of the Ohio River, as well as Lake Erie, "The Walleye Capital of the World," Ohio offers ample opportunities for a quality, family fishing vacation.

Thanks to careful monitoring by the Ohio Division of Wildlife, fish in Ohio's inland waters are thriving. Since 1990, 24 new state-record fish have been caught. In the last few years alone, five state records have been broken. This reveals a healthy population of nearly all species in clean waters across the state. Much praise goes to the biologists and district fishery supervisors within Ohio's Division of Wildlife.

The following public waters come highly recommended for a summer family outing in the Buckeye State:

Photo by Tom Berg

The 3,400-acre Alum Creek Reservoir anchors this state park, and the opportunities for fishing and all- around outdoor fun are abundant. The lake's crappie, muskie and largemouth bass fishing are excellent. And over 9 1/2 miles of trails are available for the hikers in the family.

A large beach area and 297 campsites with electrical hookups are also open to the public. Rental boats, plenty of launch ramps and good shoreline access, supply anglers with access from all directions. There's even 38 miles of bridle trails and a horseman's camp.

This Delaware County lake is about seven miles north of Columbus off Interstate Route 71. State Routes 36 and 37 provide access to the northern parts of Alum Lake, and access to the southern region is via Interstate 71.

Alum Creek Lake has a maximum depth of over 60 feet near the dam, with the remainder of the reservoir averaging 25 feet in most places. Crappies and bluegills can be taken from most areas of the lake, but the best panfish locations are near the concentration devices in the upper end of the lake.

Largemouth bass are taken from most shoreline areas, but the best fishing is in the bay areas and around standing trees. Smallmouth bass are taken in good numbers from the state Route 521 portion of the lake east of Kilbourne to the upper extremities of the lake.

This is an unlimited horsepower lake. For additional information on other facilities available at Alum Creek Lake, call the Alum Creek State Park office at (740) 548-4631.

This Pickaway County lake supplies 1,277 acres of quality fishing waters south of Columbus. Noted for its white bass and channel catfish angling, Deer Creek also has sizable numbers of largemouths and crappies.

Deer Creek State Park offers everything a vacationing family requires. A 232-site campground is available along with rental cabins and a roomy state park lodge. The park has over seven miles of hiking trails plus rental boats, docks, launch ramps, fuel, a swimming beach and 14 miles of bridal trails.

The lake and park are approximately 25 miles southwest of Columbus and four miles south of Mount Sterling on state Route 207. U.S. Route 22 and state Route 56 can reach the wildlife area from the east and west. From the north and south, the park can be reached by U.S. Route 62 and state routes 3, 104 and 207.

A launch ramp is on the west shore of the northwest arm of the lake, and another ramp is on the east shore of the northeast arm. Deer Creek is an unlimited-horsepower lake.

For additional information on camping and other facilities available at Deer Creek State Park, call (740) 869-3124. For lodge and cabin reservations, call (877) 678-3337.

For additional information on family fishing-vacation opportunities in central Ohio, contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife's District One office, 1500 Dublin Road, Columbus, OH 43215, or call (614) 644-3925.

Dillon Lake covers 1,325 acres in Muskingum County. Largemouth bass and channel cats are favored species at this reservoir, and family members have plenty to do when they are not plying the lake. Hiking and bridal trails, a beach for swimming, boat rentals, docks, fuel and a 195-site campground provide plenty of enjoyment for a lengthy vacation.

The lake and state park are six miles northwest of Zanesville off state Route 146. Access from the southeast is from Newark via state Route 16 to state Route 146. Launch ramps are on either side of Big Run inlet on the east shore, and another ramp is on the south shore at mid-lake at Pleasant Knob.

Saugeyes have been stocked in Dillon Lake since 1994. Recent surveys show survival and growth rates are better than average for this species, with fish up to 27 inches being taken. The angling outlook for saugeyes is rated excellent. This lake also contains a high-density bass population concentrated in the deeper pools during periods of low water.

While not fishing, a little sightseeing may be in order. For families interested in the historic aspect of this region, this area is famous for its petroglyph marking Flint Ridge. This Neolithic site provided flint for tools found as far away as the Atlantic seaboard and Louisiana.

For additional information on the park facilities at Dillon State Park, call (740) 453-4377.

Guernsey County is home to 2,995-acre Salt Fork Lake. This is a top quality recreational lake that is known for its good fishing opportunities. Anglers have a wide selection of sport fish to choose from - largemouth bass to crappies, bluegills, walleyes and muskies.

For family activities other than angling, outdoor fun abounds at this east-central Ohio location that includes a swimming beach, 212 campsites, 14 miles of hiking trails, 20 miles of bridal trails and offers lodges and rental cabins.

Salt Fork is near enough to urban areas to be within easy driving distance and far enough away to offer the soothing peace and quiet of a rural


Salt Fork Lake is seven miles northeast of Cambridge and is one of nine inland muskie lakes in the Buckeye State. A spring 2001 muskie survey showed a good population of muskies, with some fish measuring up to 50 inches. In addition, Salt Fork is also managed for walleyes. Fish up to 30 inches in length, weighing in at 14 pounds have been sampled.

Interstate Route 77 provides the best access to this lake with Interstate 70 running south of the region. State Route 22 provides access to the park area on the southern end of the lake.

For additional information on the park facilities available at Salt Fork, call (740) 439-3521. For lodge or cabin reservations, call (800) 282-7275.

One of the top fishing-vacation areas in the Buckeye State is on the American Electric Power Company's ReCreation Land. This 28,000-acre tract is in Morgan, Muskingum and Noble counties. With 350 lakes and ponds and nearly 380 campsites open to the public, this is a good place to plan a family fishing vacation.

For hikers, a long stretch of the Buckeye Trail is available. The Buckeye Trail is the first and only long distance hiking trail located entirely within the state of Ohio. The trail runs through 40 of Ohio's 88 counties and connects the four corners of the state with a loop of over 1,200 miles.

The Buckeye Trail runs along the eastern perimeter of AEP Land and has ponds bordering nearly every step of the way. A combination fishing, hiking and camping vacation can be planned for this area. Section maps and other information are available from the Buckeye Trail Association, P. O. Box 254, Worthington, OH 43085.

As for the fishing available on AEP ReCreation Land, angler catch rates for largemouth bass and bluegill are some of the best in the state. A number of Fish Ohio certificate catches are documented annually from the ponds in this area.

A free lifetime recreational user's permit is required for this AEP area. The permit and maps can be obtained by writing the American Electric Power Company, P. O. Box 328, McConnelsville, OH 43756; or call (740) 962-1200.

State routes 78, 83, 340, and 284 provide the best access to the AEP ReCreation Land region. Numerous picnic areas, camping areas and horse trails are also available at this popular vacation spot.

Families searching for a secluded location, with plenty of opportunities for all sorts of outdoor activities, will find that Shawnee State Park is the place to go. Tucked away in the hills of southern Ohio near the Ohio River just outside Portsmouth in Scioto County, this is the ideal vacation spot for anglers who want to get away from the rat race.

Turkey Creek Lake is a 55-acre lake surrounded by wooded hillsides. This is a deep, cold lake that is well suited to the trout that are stocked there each spring. Along with the trout, Turkey Creek is known throughout southern Ohio as an excellent bluegill hole. Largemouth bass and catfish are present as well.

The lake, which is in Shawnee State Park, provides a swimming beach as well as canoe rentals. Spacious picnic areas are also available near the lake. Overnight options include camping, rental cabins and a lodge.

Just down the road from Turkey Creek Lake is 11-acre Roosevelt Lake, where the panfishing is especially good in summer.

Surrounding the park is 63,000-acre Shawnee State Forest. This forest is a hiker's dream. Day hikes as well as extended overnight routes are available to hikers able to climb the many steep inclines found in this southern Ohio wilderness area. Water is available at key locations along the way.

Shawnee Forest boasts an 8,000-acre wilderness region that is strictly off limits to motorized vehicles. The remote quality of this scenic wilderness area attracts hikers from around the country. A designated backcountry area of 8,000 acres is also off limits to motorized vehicles.

Other options available to families include a golf course, amphitheater, bridle trail, volleyball courts, playground and shuffleboard.

The forestry headquarters is approximately six miles west of Portsmouth on U.S. Route 52. To reach the park and lake area, take state Route 125 north off U.S. 52 for approximately five miles.

For information on the park facilities, call (740) 858-6652. For information on the forest, write the Shawnee State Forest office, 13291 U.S. Highway 52, West Portsmouth, OH 45663, or call (740) 858-6685.

For additional information on other fishing vacation possibilities in southeastern Ohio, contact the ODOW's District Four office, 360 East State Street, Athens OH 45701, or call (740) 594-2211.

An hour's drive east of Cincinnati, in the southwestern region of the state, lays 2,080-acre Rocky Fork Lake, one of many inland lakes managed for walleyes. The current population of walleyes averages 16- to 22-inch fish.

This Highland County lake and state park is outside Hillsboro. Limestone gorges and caves line the surrounding hills, and there are hiking trails, picnic areas and campsites in plentiful supply. Swimming beaches, marinas, boat rentals and other amenities are available to vacationing anglers.

There are 16 launch ramp lanes available, so access is easy for pleasure boaters as well as anglers. This is an unlimited-horsepower lake, which means better fishing is usually found in the quieter hours of early morning and late evening.

Largemouth and smallmouth bass are available, and the lake's catfish angling is rated as excellent, with channel cats as well as flatheads in good sizes and numbers.

The lake and park area southeast of Hillsboro are best accessed from state Route 124 on the south side and from U.S. Route 50 on the north. Over 230 campsites are available as well as a handicapped-accessible fishing pier.

For additional information on facilities available at Rocky Fork, call the park office at (937) 393-4284. For additional information on the lake's fisheries management plan, contact the ODOW's District Five office, 1076 Old Springfield Pike, Xenia OH 45385, or call (937) 372-9261.

East Fork Lake in Clermont County provides 2,160 acres of bass fishing with plenty of additional activities in the nearby park. East Fork is one of four lakes in the state managed for striped bass, and good numbers of these hybrid fish are present. The average catch is about 19 inches long.

Largemouth bass are also found here, and a good population of crappie with sizes ranging 10 to 12 inches supply panfish anglers with plenty of incentive t

o wet a line. Channel cats are also found in East Fork.

With an average depth of 35 feet and a maximum of 90, this is a relatively deep lake that is ideal for boaters.

Park accommodations include picnic areas, a swimming beach, RV hookups, a 406-site camp area (all with electricity) and a handicapped- accessible boat launch. Launch ramps are on the northwest shore off Slade Road, on the north shore off Cabin Run Road, and on the southeast shore off Reisinger Road.

For additional information on other park facilities, phone the park office at (513) 734-4323.

For additional information on the fishing opportunities at East Fork Lake as well as other lakes in the southwestern region of the state, contact the Wildlife District Five office.

These are just a few of the numerous locations for a quality family fishing vacation in the Buckeye State. Life is short, as the saying goes, and kids grow up fast. Now is the time to take advantage of Ohio's recreational areas for an enjoyable family fishing vacation that no one will forget.

For additional information on vacation opportunities around the state, contact the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at (800) BUCKEYE. For information on Lake Erie vacation areas, contact the Convention and Visitor's Bureau of Greater Cleveland at (800) 321-1001.

Internet Web sites containing useful information include Ohio State parks information on the Web at: www.ohiostateparks.org; Ohio camping information on the Web at: www.ohiocamper.com; and Ohio tourist information on the Web at www.ohiotourism.com.

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