Saugers and saugeyes are also hot prospects on these proven Buckeye State rivers and reservoirs. Here's the run-down on where to find the best fishing near you this month.
By Brian Ruzzo
Few fishermen would argue that Lake Erie isn't one of the top walleye fisheries worldwide. Nicknamed the "Walleye Capital of the World," Lake Erie boasts 262 miles of shoreline for Buckeye State walleye anglers to explore.
However, walleye fishing in Ohio isn't limited to Lake Erie. Several inland lakes - including C.J. Brown Reservoir, in the Ohio Division of Wildlife's Management District Five, and Mosquito and Berlin lakes, in District Three - also rank near the top among Buckeye State anglers. In fact, these three fisheries are sources of female walleyes for the Ohio Division of Wildlife's saugeye rearing program.
Each March, Ohio Division of Wildlife biologists collect female walleyes from the above-mentioned reservoirs, along with male saugers from the Ohio River, to produce saugeyes for stocking statewide.
In central Ohio, Buckeye, Alum Creek and Indian lakes, along with Hoover Reservoir, are stocked with saugeyes. In northwest Ohio (District Two), saugeyes are stocked at Pleasant Hill Reservoir. Southeastern-region anglers are included, too, with Piedmont Lake also receiving saugeye stockings.
Rounding out Ohio's walleye, saugeye and sauger bonanza is the Ohio River and its sauger population. Here's a closer look these top-rated summertime angling destinations:
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
LAKE ERIE WALLEYES
Covering 2.25 million acres, Lake Erie is as massive as it is impressive. Walleye anglers just seem to keep pulling big fish out of the lake year after year, and this summer is poised to be another great season.
Hatches from 1999 and 2001 will dominate the 2004 fishery. Both are strong year-classes, with the 1999 class ranging from 18 to 22 inches and the 2001 class coming in at 15 to 18 inches this season. Biologists also expect solid numbers of larger fish.
The 1996 and 1998 classes should fuel the fishery with 22- to 28-inch walleyes, while trophy-class "Fish Ohio" catches (walleyes over 28 inches) will come from pre-1996 classes.
Additionally, anglers should be on the lookout for 2003-class fish, which will only reach 12 to 13 inches this fall, well under the new 15-inch size limit. Biologists believe that the 2003 year-class of walleyes was one of the best in decades, and some think it will rival the 1982 and 1986 classes, which are two of the largest hatches on record. Those walleyes are expected to surpass the 15-inch mark in 2005.
The new regulations in place for the 2004 season include a 15-inch size limit for the entire season. The bag limit of six fish remains in place from May through February.
Western basin anglers should find plenty of action on Kellys Island, north of Marblehead Peninsula. Kellys Island borders some of the deeper waters in the western basin. The eastern edge of the island quickly drops off into 36 to 42 feet of water. The northern edge of the island also drops off sharply into depths over 50 feet.
Approximately two miles north of the island, anglers will find three reefs - Gulf Island Shoal, Middle Passage Reef and Kellys Island Shoal. The deeper water separates these reefs from the island. Anglers can fish the open water, such as the deepwater passage, by trolling crankbaits.
Suspended schools of walleyes will usually hover near the thermocline, usually in water between 20 and 25 feet, but this can change from day to day. Planer boards are used to keep baits out and away from the boat because walleyes in clear water are easily spooked by prop wash and the presence of the boat.
During summer, walleye fishing is a popular sport, so newcomers should look for rafts of boats on the open water. Schools of walleyes are sure to be close by.
Trolling isn't the only way to take summertime 'eyes from Lake Erie. You can also drift bottom bouncers and mayfly rigs or cast weight-forward spinners near the reefs. Low-light periods, such as early morning or overcast skies, are usually best when working the reefs. Start fishing shallow in 8 to 10 feet of water and then work your way deeper until you find fish.
Several access sites along Marblehead Peninsula provide access to the Kellys Island region. The Ohio Division of Wildlife has published a Lake Erie fishing guide that shows most of these access sites. The Catawba Island State Park site off West Catawba Road is another good choice. Take state Route 2 to state Route 53 to access the park.
For more information regarding Lake Erie's western basin, or for a copy of the Lake Erie Fishing Guide, contact the Sandusky Fisheries and Enforcement Units at 305 East Shoreline Drive, Sandusky, OH 44870; or call (419) 625-8062.
In the central basin, ODOW biologists point anglers toward the region's offshore sandbars and humps. Unlike the western basin, the central basin lacks reef complexes and shallow-water habitat. Therefore, the slightest change in depth, such as a sandbar, will attract fish.
One of the more popular central basin destinations is the sandbar near Loraine. Just offshore, the sandbar continues north to the International Line. The surrounding waters range from 55 to 65 feet deep, with the sandbar rising approximately 6 feet from these depths. Most anglers troll spoons with downrigger equipment.
There are three launch sites at Loraine - the Lakeside launch, off Lakeside Avenue; Spitzer Riverside Marina, off Colorado Avenue; and the Miller Road boat launch, off Miller Road, which can be reached via U.S. Route 6.
For more information regarding the central basin, contact the Fairport Fisheries Unit at 1190 High St., Fairport Harbor, OH 44077; or call (440) 352-6100.
BERLIN LAKE WALLEYES
Berlin Lake lies at the junction of Starke, Mahoning and Portage counties. This 3,650-acre water was constructed in 1942 for flood control and as a water supply. Like most other lakes of this type, Berlin has become an important recreational destination in the region.
Most of the walleye action at Berlin Lake can be found in the lower basin. Biologists recommend probing 6- to 10-foot flats that break into 20 feet of water. Night-trolling is best for light-shy July walleyes.
Access to the lower basin of Berlin Lake is via the Berlin Station Road launch, whic
h is on the eastern shore. Berlin Station Road runs parallel to state Route 224 and state Route 14. Bedell Road intersects both roadways.
There is a 15-inch size limit, and six walleyes may be harvested daily.
For more information, write to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, District Three Office, 912 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron, OH 44319; or call (330) 644-2293.
MOSQUITO LAKE WALLEYES
Mosquito Lake, in Trumbull County, boasts 6,550 acres of walleye water in northeastern Ohio. Created in 1944 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impounded Mosquito Creek for water supply and flood control, the lake now harbors walleyes ranging up to 12 pounds.
Two sections of the lake tend to produce the best results for walleye anglers. The first section worth probing is the submerged roadbed in the southern end of the lake.
The southern end of the lake is serviced by several launches. Two of these sites are within the boundaries of Mosquito Lake State Park, which can be reached via state Route 305 west from state Route 11.
The second hotspot, which is easier to locate, is north of the state Route 88 causeway. The bays on the western shore and the islands opposite the bays in this region have produced good catches of fish in recent years.
Anglers can access this portion of the lake by following state Route 88 west from state Route 11. There are two boat ramps on either side of state Route 88 along the eastern shore of the lake.
There are no size limits on walleyes taken from Mosquito Lake, but only six walleyes may be harvested daily. For more information, contact the District Three office.
C.J. BROWN WALLEYES
C.J. Brown Reservoir is the place to be for walleye fishing in southwestern Ohio. This 2,120-acre Clark County reservoir was created between 1966 and 1973 for flood control and recreation. It has served both purposes well.
Today, anglers routinely catch 15- to 17-inch walleyes during the summer. Biologists have seen fish as large as 13 pounds taken! Currently, there is a 15-inch size limit at C.J. Brown.
At this time of year, anglers can avoid the dam area, because during the summer months the thermocline usually sets up in 16 to 17 feet of water. Most of the structure near the dam is in deeper water, where dissolved oxygen is limited. Therefore, walleye seekers should concentrate on the northern section of the lake where several submerged roadbeds crisscross the lake.
Trolling with diving plugs is popular. Vertical-jigging using sonar to locate the humps where baitfish and walleye schools suspend is also productive.
The best access site is near the dam off Buck Creek Lane. From there you'll have to head uplake. There is a 15-inch size limit, and six walleyes may be harvested.
For maps or more information, write to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, District Five Office, 1076 Old Springfield Pike, Xenia, OH 45385; or call (937) 372-9261.
CENTRAL OHIO SAUGEYES
Four lakes - Hoover Reservoir, Buckeye, Alum Creek and Indian Lakes - dominate the central Ohio saugeye fishery.
Seven miles north of Columbus in Delaware County, Alum Creek Reservoir is accessed from Interstate 71 and state routes 36 and 37. The multi-purpose 3,387-acre lake was filled from 1974 to 1976 for three purposes: to provide water to Columbus, for recreation, and for flood control. Today, it's one of the best saugeye fisheries found anywhere in the state.
In fact, the state-record saugeye hails from Alum Creek. Weighing in at 12.84 pounds, the state-record saugeye measured over 28 inches!
Biologists recommend the lower basin of the lake for saugeye fishermen because there are more emerald shiners in this part of the lake, which helps to attract the saugeyes and other predators. The western bank south of Big Run Cove has been a hotspot over the last few years.
Look for fish to hover near structure above the thermocline, which tends to form in 18 to 20 feet of water each summer.
The lower section of the lake can be accessed from two different launch sites - one off Africa Road and a second site across the lake off Old State Road and Hollenback Road.
Southeast of Alum Creek, the 3,300-acre Hoover Reservoir is close to downtown Columbus. Saugeye seekers should concentrate on the east bank near the Lake of Woods Cove.
A launch site on Red Bank Road provides good access to this area of the lake. Red Bank Road can be reached via Sunbury Road and state Route 161.
Vertical-jigging with traditional jigs or mayfly rigs is the most common method used by Hoover Lake saugeye anglers. As is the case at Alum Creek, the thermocline can usually be found in 18 to 20 feet of water. Don't waste your time fishing below the thermocline.
There is a 6-horsepower-motor limit at Hoover Reservoir.
Buckeye Lake completes our trio of Columbus-area saugeye fisheries. Built in the 1800s as a canal feeder lake, Buckeye Lake is unique among Ohio's inland lakes. Because it was built before modern machinery was available, it's very shallow and uniform, covering 3,800 acres. Additionally, much of the surrounding property is privately owned.
Fortunately, boat ramps provide good public access. The hotspot on the lake is the submerged towpath once used by mules to pull barges on the canal. The water is only 3 feet deep over the towpath, while the surrounding water ranges up to 8 feet deep. The depth change attracts saugeyes in the summer. Try trolling crankbaits along the towpath, which is near the spillway at the west end of the lake.
Alexander's Landing and North's Landing provide access to the west end of the lake. Both can be reached via state Route 204.
Looking west, we round out our central-Ohio destinations at 5,800- acre Indian Lake, one of a few remaining old canal lakes that are shallow and uniform.
The best place in which to find summer saugeyes at Indian Lake is in the northeast corner of the lake. Stumpfields in this sector attract baitfish and predators, particularly saugeyes. Try vertical-jigging around the stumps for more action.
A ramp between Seminole and Shawnee islands provides the best access to the northeast section of the lake. State Route 368 accesses the islands and the ramp.
There are no size limits for saugeyes at any of the central Ohio saugeye lakes; however, the creel limit for walleyes, saugeyes and saugers is six singly or in combination.
For maps or more information, write to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, District One Office, 1500 Dublin Road, Columbus, OH 43215; or call (614) 644-3925.
PLEASANT HILL RESERVOIR SAUGEYES
More than 7.6 million saugeyes are stocked annually in 57 different lakes statewide. Here's a look at two good bets for the summer of 2004.
In northwestern Ohio, anglers should find good action at 850-acre Pleasant Hill Reservoir, which is stocked with saugeyes. As with other saugeye hotspots, anglers who identify the thermocline and look for structure just above that level will find the hottest action.
State Route 95 provides access to the lake. A launch site is available mid-lake along the northern shore.
For more information, write to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, District Two Office, 952 Lima Ave., Box A, Findlay, OH 45840; or call (419) 424-5000.
PIEDMONT LAKE SAUGEYES
Southeastern Ohio anglers will find good saugeye fishing at Piedmont Lake. Covering 2,310 acres, this narrow lake can be accessed via U.S. Route 22. Boat launching facilities, food, gasoline, and boats and motors are available for rent at the marina at the northern end of the lake off state Route 800. The lake has a 6-horsepower limit.
For maps or more information, wrote to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, District Four Office, East State St., Athens, OH 45701; or call (740) 594-2211.
OHIO RIVER SAUGERS
The Ohio River supports a thriving sauger population, along with regional walleye schools. However, anglers should focus on the sections above the Hannibal Lock and Dam and the Willow Island Lock and Dam. Walleyes, saugers and smallmouth bass all seem to thrive in these sections. Biologists point out that this stretch of river is narrower and more "river-like."
Walleyes and saugeyes will be found hugging the river bottom; however, most of the time anglers find schools close to the main-channel dropoff rather than at midstream. The river's gravel-lined banks are especially productive.
Trolling Erie Dearies or shad-colored crankbaits is a favorite technique.
Four different ramps provide access to the Willow Island and Hannibal pools: the St. Marys public access site, the Paden City site, the New Martinsville site, and the Fish Creek site. All of these can be reached via state Route 2.
Local saugeye anglers troll downstream of the Willow Island Lock near the Muskingum River confluence, where a sandbar has been formed by a buildup of dredge material.
The Williamstown public access site is downstream of the Willow Island Lock, providing a convenient launch site for those planning to fish the mouth of the Muskingum River. This site can be reached via U.S. Route 14.
There are no size limits for Ohio River walleyes and saugers. However, the daily bag limit is 10 walleyes, saugeyes and saugers singly or in the aggregate.
For maps or more information regarding the Ohio River, request a copy of the Ohio River Fishing Guide from the District Four or District Five offices noted above.
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