Now's the time for some excitement from the walleyes in Ohio, where state fisheries biologists are expecting excellent fishing for 'eyes in the 20- to 30-inch range this year.
The Buckeye State is well known for its successful saugeye stocking program, but Ohio also boasts several excellent walleye waters in a variety of venues. These various settings accommodate both shore-anglers and boat anglers.
Trumbull County's Mosquito Lake is now considered the top inland walleye lake in Ohio. Heavy stockings of walleye fry by the Ohio Division of Wildlife (over 11 million fry were stocked in the lake in 2003) have taken hold recently, resulting in outstanding fishing. Officials last spring estimated the lake's population of adult walleyes (13 inches and greater) at approximately 140,000 fish.
Covering over 6,000 surface-acres, Mosquito Lake is a significant body of water. It is shallow and turbid, and thus warms quickly after ice-out. Though good walleye fishing is enjoyed into the early-summer months, savvy anglers cash in right after ice- out, which fluctuates from year to year depending on the severity of the winter.
Walleyes will move into the shallows to spawn quickly after ice-out. Generally recognized early-season hotspots include windswept shallow humps, points and flats covered in gravel. These areas provide the necessary habitat for spawning walleyes. Current flows also collect fish. The Route 88 causeway, which bisects the lake, can be a fish magnet, particularly near the bridge opening.
A fishing pier on the causeway is popular among shore-anglers. Pay attention to water temperatures, as gizzard shad, the walleye's primary food source in this lake, gravitate to the warmer shallows this time of year.
Wading is popular at Mosquito during the early spring. Whether you're wading or fishing from a boat, late evening is often when the feeding bonanza begins. Anglers rely heavily on jig-'n'-minnow combinations and minnow baits of the Rapala style to reap the rewards of this witching-hour bite.
Boat anglers often fare well during the day -- prior to the evening action -- by drifting deeper waters adjacent to the shallows, areas where the fish stage. Several boat access areas are located around Mosquito Lake. The ODOW provides a launch south of the causeway on the eastern shore. A private launch is across Route 88 in Mecca. It has excellent loading piers, good parking and can be used for a nominal charge. Another good access can be found in the southern portion of the lake at Mosquito Lake State Park. Several other ramps are scattered around the lake.
Mosquito Lake has no horsepower limits, though cruising speeds are posted near shore.
Pymatuning Lake has evolved into more of a quality-oriented lake. While you shouldn't expect to catch big numbers of walleyes from this massive Ashtabula County lake this spring, the fish you do catch should be good ones.
For years, Pymatuning's reputation was indeed that of a numbers lake, one at which fish in the 15-inch minimum-length range were easily caught, but the past few seasons have witnessed a shift in the dynamics of the walleye population. Poor conditions during the spring have negatively affected fry stockings and natural reproduction. Another factor has been an explosion in the alewife shad population.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission plays a major role in the management of this border water. According to Craig Billingsley, area fisheries manager for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, alewives influence walleye numbers on at least two levels. First, they consume plankton, which, providing much-needed food and cover, plays an essential role in the survival of young walleyes. Second, alewives feed heavily on young-of-the-year walleyes. Billingsley reports that the PFBC stocked 21 million fry last spring.
Alewives' impact on the Pymatuning walleye fishery may persist for some years to come, but anglers willing to change their techniques can enjoy good fishing for quality-sized fish right now. Surveys conducted by the PFBC last spring showed that the lake contained good numbers of fish in the 5-year age-class and older. Last year, fish in the 20- to 23-inch range were reported.
The early-season focus at Pymatuning is on the shallow points and humps that collect spawning fish. Walleyes may still be caught in these areas during the first few weeks after ice-out, though the bite usually runs from twilight into the first few hours of darkness. Successful anglers spend more time fishing deeper areas of the lake, even during the early season. Trolling setups that incorporate leadcore line or inline sinker systems to present crankbaits take good numbers of quality-sized fish.
Excellent launch facilities on the Ohio portion of Pymatuning can be found south of the Route 85 causeway below the swimming beach. There is a 10-hp motor limit on the lake and a six-fish (minimum length: 15 inches) creel limit.
SALT FORK LAKE
Guernsey County's Salt Fork Lake was once a source of broodstock for the ODOW's saugeye stocking program, and the lake was switched over to saugeye stocking in 2001 after fisheries personnel documented a decline in the numbers of walleyes they collected for eggs. Recent netting operations recently revealed walleyes up to 30 inches in length.
Much of Salt Fork seems better suited to largemouth bass, but the main-lake basin of Salt Fork, the area near the dam in particular, features much of the rocky features favored by the marble-eyes. Walleye seekers during the early part of the season should key in on rocky points near the dam. Riprap areas such as that found along the dam breast and causeway areas should also be explored. Walleyes commonly attempt to spawn on riprap in lakes devoid of better spawning habitat.
Salt Fork also features a small but productive tailwater area. A parking area has been established to serve this discharge area.
A good boat ramp is available near the breast of the dam at Salt Fork.
Walleyes are among the many species featured in the Ohio River. The fish is most common, however, in the upper reaches of Ohio's portion of the river. When water levels aren't too high, good action can be expected all winter and into the spring.
In particular, fine fishing can be found downriver of the New Cumberland Locks and Dam, Pike Island Locks and Dam and the Hannibal Locks and Dam.
Walleyes will begin tend to congregate below the dams in late fall, staying there well into spring. The mouth of locks pool fish that are best available to boat anglers. On t
he opposite side of the river, good shoreline access is provided in the tailrace areas.
Jig-'n'-minnow combos work well for both shore and boat anglers at this time. Boat anglers would be wise to include an assortment of jigging spoons and blade baits that can be fished vertically (right under the boat) when the fish are in a less aggressive mood.
Tailrace areas are not the only places for finding early-season river walleyes. The mouths of feeder streams are also classic spots, such as Fishing Creek, which is a couple of miles downriver of the Hannibal Dam.
A wealth of information on the Ohio River can be found in the Ohio River Fishing Guide, available from the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
If you dislike fishing amid a crowd, this Ottawa County tributary of Lake Erie's not for you, because when conditions are good, it's pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder. But that's a price many are willing to pay for a shot at spawning fish entering the river from Lake Erie.
State fisheries officials expect a good run of walleyes this spring, including fish from 16 to 20 inches up to lunkers in the 22- to 26-inch range. The run typically starts in mid to late March and peaks in sometime in the first half of April.
The presentation of choice on the Maumee is a leadhead jig with a twistertail. Access is good along the first few miles of the Maumee for both shore-anglers and boat anglers.
Several special regulations apply to this river, particularly during the spring spawning seasons. Be sure to check your 2005 edition of the Ohio Fishing Regulations booklet for items that apply to legal fishing hours, legal presentations and other items.
A map of the lower Maumee River may be downloaded from the ODOW's Web site at www.dnr.state.oh.us. Maps of Mosquito Lake, Pymatuning Lake and Salt Fork Lake can also be downloaded from this site.
For additional information, contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife at (614) 265-6300.