August 31, 2011
Lake Erie isn't the only place Ohio walleye anglers can find some great spring action.
By Dan Armitage
May means "prime time" among Ohio's walleye anglers each season. Headlining the post-spawn action is a world-class fishery in Lake Erie's Western Basin waters, which is complemented by excellent inland opportunities that are often overshadowed by all the 'hoopla' directed at Ohio's Great Lake and its well-publicized walleye population.
The Western Basin walleye fishing during the fifth month of each year can be incredible and deserves such attention; however, Ohio anglers making a bee-line for "The Big Lake" are driving right by waters with plenty to offer for those in pursuit of one of the nation's healthiest populations of big walleyes.
While walleye can reproduce naturally in many of the state's inland waters, the results rarely are successful enough to maintain a respectable walleye fishery. In addition to Lake Erie, significant spawning success takes place in the upper reaches of the Ohio River, where in the fertile waters along the state's easternmost border walleye appear to thrive just fine on their own.
Elsewhere in Ohio, however, some 20 million walleye fry and an additional 2.5 million walleye fingerlings are placed in lakes annually, with 15 to 20 reservoirs a year on the receiving end of the inland stocking efforts. Those efforts fuel fisheries that peak in May and in many lakes continue to please walleye anglers throughout the season. The happiest walleye fishermen this month are those who know the ways of the fish and the food they seek so voraciously this time of year.
On Lake Erie, that means mimicking the lake's primary forage, including emerald shiners, shad and mayfly larvae in places walleye know to find the food. By mid-month the majority of walleye have moved out of the rivers and off the rock reefs where they spawned and are cruising open water, covering the entire water column in search of sustenance. Successful Lake Erie anglers drift and cast or troll baits -- from mayfly rigs and crawler harnesses to minnow-imitating crankbaits and spoons -- at a variety of depths until they located feeding fish, then concentrate their efforts at that level. From Toledo east to Conneaut, come May every port supports a local walleye fishery, but it's tough to beat the fishing action that takes place in the Western Basin waters that earned the regional "Walleye Capital of the World" recognition.
Inland, cornering walleye is a bit simpler. Select waters in northwest, northeast, and southwest Ohio are stocked with walleyes while, in the southeastern corner of the state, as mentioned, the Ohio River offers a respectable self-sustaining population of fish to tempt walleye fishermen. Centrally, saugeye are the 'go-to' species for anglers after walleyes, the sauger/walleye hybrids being the only such species stocked in District One waters.
DISTRICT TWO --NORTHWEST OHIO WALLEYE WATERS
Following the fishing hysteria surrounding the runs of spawning walleye up the Maumee and Sandusky rivers, which typically begin in mid-March and end with the final days of April, Northwest Ohio walleye anglers look north to Lake Erie or south to a pair of man-made reservoirs that are stocked with their favorite gamefish and offer the best opportunities for a hook-up: Willard Reservoir and Findlay Lake.
Willard Reservoir in southwest Huron County offers nearly 200 acres of water surrounded by 2.3 miles of shoreline, most of it accessible to shore fishermen. Located along State Route 61 two miles north of New Haven, the reservoir is open to boats powered by nothing more than electric motors, which can be launched from a public ramp located on the south end of the lake just off the state route.
Findlay Lake is located in Hancock County a couple miles southeast of Findlay. Reservoir No. 1 offers 187 acres and Reservoir No. 2 has 640 acres of fishable walleye water, surrounded by a total of 7.5 miles of shoreline. Reservoir No. 1 has a concrete boat ramp off of County Road 205 and is open to craft powered manually or by electric motors only. Findlay Reservoir No. 2 has a double lane concrete ramp located on the west side, which can be reached from Township Road 207, and welcomes boats powered by outboards up to 9.9 horsepower.
For maps and more information about these two waters, visit www.wildohio.com or call the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW) District Two office at419-424-5000.
DISTRICT THREE -- NORTHEAST OHIO WALLEYE WATERS
In this area of the state, where angling for inland walleye is most popular, five reservoirs offer excellent May action: Berlin, Mosquito, Milton, LaDue and Pymatuning.
Berlin Lake, with 3,590 acres of water, is one of the state's top inland walleye fishing destinations. Located at the junction of Stark, Portage, and Mahoning counties along US Route 224 and State routes 14 and 225 are several private marinas located around the lake with boat launch, docking, maintenance, and retail facilities. There are no horsepower restrictions for boats. There is a six-fish, 15-inch minimum length limit in effect for walleye fishermen at Berlin Lake.
Mosquito Creek Lake is another prime inland walleye fishing destination in northeastern Ohio, and one of the largest, with 7,241 acres of water. Located in Trumbull County roughly a mile west of State Route 5 in Cortland, the lake has no horsepower limitations, but there is a "no wake" restriction that extends 300 feet from the shoreline. North of the State Route 88 causeway, which bisects the lake, there is a 10 mph speed limit for boaters. There are five public launch ramps anglers can use to access Mosquito Reservoir. The adjacent Mosquito Creek State Park offers seasonal dockage for 250 boats as well as camping opportunities for anglers. Walleye must measure at least 15 inches long to keep, and anglers are restricted to bagging no more than six walleyes per day from Mosquito Creek Lake.
Lake Milton is a popular walleye fishing destination located in Mahoning County, with 1,693 surface acres of water located about 10 miles west of Youngstown. Milton is bisected by busy Interstate Route 76 and flanked by State Route 534 along its eastern shoreline, and its proximity to both Youngstown and Akron can make its waters busy as well on prime spring and summer weekends. There are no restrictions on boat power, and access to Lake Milton is available via three conveniently located public launch ramps, one each in the south, central and north ends of the lake. Adjacent Lake Milton State Park offers camping and other amenities. There is a six-fish, 15-inch minimum length regulation in effect for walleye anglers at Lake Milton.
LaDue Reservoir, with 1,474 acres of surface water in southern Geauga County, is approximately 30 miles east of Cleveland at the intersection of US Route 4
22 and State Route 44. A boat ramp is located at the south end of Valley Road and another unimproved boat ramp can be found at the south end of the lake off State Route 44. Because boats may be powered by electric motors -- or man-power -- only, LaDue is a popular place for walleye anglers seeking a slower, quieter pace while enjoying fishing action that can be excellent in May.
Pymatuning Lake offers 14,650 acres of water straddling the Ohio/Pennsylvania state line and is considered one of the state's top fishing destinations, especially for walleyes. In Ashtabula County some 30 miles north of Youngstown and 50 miles east of Cleveland, State Route 85/285 bisects the lake, with State Route 322 to the south and State Route 6 to the north, offering easy access to the reservoir and associated Pymatuning State Park. Five launch ramps are available to get anglers on the water and there is a 20 hp maximum power limit enforced on boats on both sides of the border at Pymatuning, making it a more comfortable place to fish than lakes with no such restrictions on recreational boaters. Anglers at Pymatuning Reservoir are regulated by a six-fish, 15-inch minimum size length for walleye this season.
For detailed fishing maps and more information about the walleye fishing at these reservoirs, visit www.wildohio.com or contact the ODOW District Three office at 330-5644-2293.
DISTRICT FOUR -- SOUTHEASTERN OHIO WALLEYE WATERS
The top walleye fishing action in southeastern Ohio is found in the tailwaters of Ohio River pools including the New Cumberland, Pike Island and Hannibal. The naturally reproducing walleye populations co-mingle with their smaller kin, the sauger, and the fishing methods -- and locations in the river -- for taking both species are similar. In May, most of the walleyes will be found in the tailwaters; once waters warm to summer temperatures, the fish will disperse downstream, often seeking deeper, cooler water in pools below.
Some of the best fishing for Ohio River walleye and sauger this time of year is enjoyed by shore anglers who cast from rocky rip-rap or platforms put in place specifically for fishing. The most popular method of taking tailwater walleyes this time of the year is to use 1/8- to 3/8-ounce jigs tipped with white or chartreuse twister tails fished near the bottom. Adding a minnow or piece of nightcrawler to the jig-and-twister combo, or to a plain jig, can help when fishing is slow. Jigging spoons and vibrating blade lures can also be effective in getting down to the walleye when the fish are hugging the bottom. Anglers may catch several sauger for each walleye hooked, making for a mixed bag.
That makes it important to note that the Ohio River is divided into an eastern and western zone, and harvest regulations differ between the two. In the western zone, along the Ohio-Kentucky border, anglers can keep 10 walleye per day (singly or in combination with sauger and saugeye), with no minimum length limit. In the eastern zone, in Ohio waters shared with West Virginia, anglers fishing the Ohio shoreline can keep six walleyes per day (singly or in combination with sauger and saugeye), with no minimum length limit. All three pools in District Four discussed here occupy the eastern zone, where up to six walleyes and/or sauger of any length may be kept per day, with no more than six fish in total.
The Pike Island Pool off Belmont and Jefferson counties stretches for 30 miles offering 4,600 surface acres of water. Most of the walleye fishing in May, however, is concentrated in the upper pool in the New Cumberland tailwaters and near stream confluences. Some fish are also caught downstream near the Pike Island Dam, especially near the end of the month when waters begin to warm to summer temperatures.
In the Hannibal Pool, which occupies 42 miles of the mighty Ohio off Monroe and Belmont counties, much of the best walleye fishing in its 5,844 acres is located below the Pike Island dam, as well as off feeder streams.
The 36 mile-long Willow Island pool boasts 5,453 surface acres of water along Washington and Monroe counties, much of it featuring rocky shoreline along the main river channel. It is among those rocks that anglers know to find spring walleyes, as well as in the Hannibal Pool tailwaters and off the mouths of larger tributaries feeding the pool along its length.
Maps and more information on walleye fishing in Ohio River waters off the Buckeye State can be found by visiting www.wildohio.com or by calling the District Four office of the ODOW at 740-594-2211.
DISTRICT FIVE -- SOUTHWESTERN OHIO WALLEYE WATERS
CJ Brown Reservoir stands alone as a walleye fishery in the "lower left" region of The Buckeye State, both as the district's sole water stocked with walleyes and as one of the state's best fisheries for walleyes. Anglers from all over Ohio head to Clark County each May to cast and troll atop "CJ's" 2,000 acres of walleye-rich waters. Located within Buck Creek State Park, the lake is about two miles northeast of Springfield, a mile east of State Route 4 on Croft Road, and approximately 3 miles north of U.S. Route 40 on Bird Road and Buck Creek Lane.
The Division of Parks and Recreation at Buck Creek State Park operates and maintains the recreational facilities located on the east side of the reservoir, where the boat launch ramp is found, along with a large beach, bathhouse, vacation cottages, marina, campground, parking areas and restrooms.
A map and more information about the walleye fishing at CJ Brown Reservoir are found at www.wildohio.com and can also be acquired by calling the ODOW district office in Springfield at 937-372-9261.
Whether fishing inland waters, Ohio River tailwaters or atop the famous "walleye chop" of Lake Erie, May is your best bet month for hooking-up with Buckeye State walleye.