February 02, 2016
By Dan Armitage
Ohio's waters include a Great Lake, inland lakes, small streams and big rivers. Not all fish in these waters bite equally well at all times of the year, of course, but every month provides some good fishing somewhere in the state. Here, month-by-month, are some of the best fisheries.
Lake Erie Walleyes
When sufficient ice forms atop the Western Basin waters of Lake Erie, ice fishermen locate and set up over huge schools of walleye that are staging for the spring spawn. From Toledo east to South Bass Island, hard water anglers look for schools of walleyes.
These schools usually hold the largest fish of the season, as the females are ripe with eggs and fattening-up for the spring effort to come.
Other options: Inland upground reservoirs in northwest Ohio and impoundments, such as Mosquito and CJ Brown reservoirs, that are stocked with walleye can offer good action when ice conditions allow anglers to venture out. Contact the Wildlife District Two Headquarters at 419-424-5000 for maps and more information on upground reservoirs that allow ice fishing in the district, and wildohio.gov for information about CJ and Mosquito winter walleye fishing.
Meanwhile, farm ponds are often the first waters to freeze each season -- and some winters when conditions don't allow it on larger waters may offer the only option for ice fishermen who seek bass, bluegills and crappies in the smaller, shallower, sheltered ponds.
Some of the larger wildlife areas include small ponds that are stocked with bass and panfish and perfect for ice fishing; check widlohio.gov for such wildlife areas near you.
Upground Yellow Perch
Yellow perch are found in practically all the upground reservoirs in Wildlife District 2 and remain active through the winter months — and catchable through the ice when frigid conditions exist. The fish will eat any small, natural bait presented by anglers. Findlay Reservoir #2 is a popular one for perch, but several upground lakes are open to hard-water angling for the popular panfish.
Contact the Wildlife District Two Headquarters at 419-424-5000 for lake maps and more information on upgrounds that hold yellow perch and are open to ice fishing for them.
Other options: Sandusky Bay and the protected harbor area at Put-In-Bay (P-I-B) are popular places to ice fish for yellow perch when weather conditions aren't favorable for fishing the waters of Lake Erie. Using ice-fishing shanties that are blacked-out as much as possible, some island anglers even sight fish for their P-I-B perch, pulling baits away from small fish in favor of 'jumbos' that they target.
If ice fishing isn't an option, the spillways below man-made reservoirs such as Paint Creek can offer excellent fishing for saugeye and other species.
Deer Creek Spillway Saugeyes
This central Ohio reservoir is one of the tops in the state for supporting a healthy population of saugeyes and a consistent winter fishery for the hybrids in the below-dam area downstream of the spillway. The shore fishing is so productive and popular that fishing accesses had been enhanced for anglers, who cast jig and twister combos and floating jig rigs to catch fish hand over fist for days after each winter and late spring water release.
Other Options: The annual spring walleye spawning runs begin in the Maumee and Sandusky rivers in Northwest Ohio. March is also prime fishing time at the lock and dams along the Ohio River, where sauger are active and accessible from the fishing platforms found at many of the flood control facilities.
Seneca Lake Crappies
Locally famous for its spring 'slab' bite, the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy Lake is large, at 3,600 acres, and offers excellent access to its waters that straddle Noble and Guernsey counties. Because it is surrounded by MWCD land, much of its 45-mile shoreline is open to the public — including crappie anglers who find their favorite fish species showing up this month in the flooded shoreline brush.
Other options: Any reservoir that holds crappies will offer near-shore fishing opportunities for bank fishermen this month as the fish gather in brushy or woody cover in the shallows. Delaware Lake in Delaware County was managed as a trophy slab fishery for years and annually surrenders fish in the 12- to 15-inch class.
Meanwhile, white bass replace the walleye in spawning runs up the Sandusky and Maumee rivers from Lake Erie.
Western Basin Lake Erie Walleye
Walleyes end their spawning and put on the feedbags as the larger specimens begin their annual migration east from the shallow reefs and islands. Anglers trolling crankbaits and crawler harnesses in waters from 15 to 50 feet anywhere from Toledo to Vermillion are likely to tangle with willing walleyes.
Other options: Bluegills are on their beds statewide, and the Portage Lakes hold healthy populations of the popular panfish and offer some excellent opportunities to sight fish for big bull bluegills as they protect the shallow-water nests.
Channel cats are prowling the shallows feeding on eggs left by crappies and other species that spawn in the brush in the spring. The north end of Hoover Reservoir in Franklin and Delaware counties is a popular place for central Ohio catfish fanciers to test their skills on channels and the growing population of blue cats that have been stocked in the water supply lake for several years.
Clear Fork Lake Muskies
The islands, reefs and emerging weedbeds in this Mansfield water-supply reservoir hold more than their share of muskies that are willing to strike big crankbaits, large bucktail spinners and giant soft plastic baits. Cast or trolled, the lures can result in huskie-size (42 inches or longer) catches from the thousand-acre Richland County lake this month.
Other options: Miami River smallmouth bass provide fun action for wading anglers along the river's length. The lower reaches can be fished from a boat as well as by wading or from shore. The lakes and ponds on the AEP ReCreation Lands in southeastern Ohio are full of bass, panfish and catfish from populations that were stocked when the flooded strip pits were reclaimed decades ago and opened to members of the public who carry a free permit to fish. Visit aep.com to sign-up for the lifetime pass.
Muskingum River Catfish
The dog days of summer are prime time for nighttime catfish anglers along the Muskingum River in eastern Ohio. Anglers target big channels and "shovelheads" near the locks and dams found in the state's longest state parkway that flanks the flow. Boats aren't required to sample the big cat action that results in anglers bringing in flatheads topping 30 pounds each summer — and in channel catfishing that can't be topped anywhere in the state.
Other options: Central Basin walleye fishing is good for the big specimens that migrated east from the Western Basin — as well as resident walleyes that stay in the cooler, deeper water year around. Anglers troll deep and slow using diving planes and downriggers and can catch the occasional bonus steelhead when using spoons and speeding up the pace.
Stream anglers keep cool by wading waters such as the Hocking River and catching smallmouth and rock bass on surface lures, crankbaits, small jigs and popping bugs.
Lake Erie Yellow Perch
The 1812 buoy off West Sister Island is just one popular hotspot for jerking yellow perch out of Lake Erie's fertile western basin waters. Emerald shiners fished on spreaders or multi-hook vertical crappie rigs are the go-to rigs for taking late summer perch that top the 10-inch mark (which qualifies them as "jumbos" this time of the year).
Several party boats work out of ports from Sandusky to Cleveland to offer perch trips for anglers who don't own Lake Erie-size craft or prefer the camaraderie of catching a limit of perch the company of like-minded anglers.
Other Options: Maumee River flatheads are an oft-overlooked option for anglers in Northwest Ohio. Pools below shallow runs hold big shovelheads that will eat fresh cut bait but prefer live offerings such as small sunfish. White bass are schooling and active as they feed on the surface during low-light periods early and late in the day atop reservoirs that hold healthy populations of the hard-fighting fish.
Ohio River Catfish
Ohio River catfish are active and anglers seeking them in all the pools along the Ohio shoreline can find good late-summer action. The spot where the Scioto River spills into the Ohio River off Portsmouth is a popular place for boat and shoreline anglers to tempt channel cats and flatheads alike, day and night. Cut baits, prepared baits and balls of nightcrawlers all will catch catfish, with the nod to small live bluegills fished near woody cover at night for those after big Ohio River flatheads.
Other Options: As nighttime air temperatures begin to drop, farm pond largemouth bass action picks up after sundown. Surface lures cast from shore or small craft can result in dramatic topwater strikes and respectable catches this month from small ponds and lakes statewide.
Lake La Su Ann Wildlife Area in Williams County offers several ponds that hold big largemouth bass, although they are open only to fishing during the day on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays through the end of the month.
That's not the case with the ponds offered at several public wildlife areas around the state. Visit wildohio.gov for information on bass fishing Lake La Su Ann waters or to locate a pond on a Wildlife Area near you.
Wading for Steelhead
The half dozen Lake Erie tributaries in northeast Ohio that are annually stocked with steelhead are filling with the lake-run rainbow trout as the fish pass back and forth form the Great Lake to upstream areas following spawning patterns. Wading anglers drift spawn sacs, jig-and-maggot combos, and live minnows under bobbers, while fly anglers cast beads, nymphs and streamers to fool the steelhead in rivers.
These rivers include the Grand and Chagrin as well as another favorite fall steelhead fishery: Conneaut Creek. Wildohio.gov offers an excellent steelhead fishing link showing all the state's top steelhead streams, including public access points and additional links for learning water flow levels.
Other Options: Crappies move toward the shallows and feed actively around the first drop-offs adjacent to the shallows where they spawned last spring. Cowan Lake in Clinton County often offers some better-than-average autumn angling for slabs, but any lake or reservoir with crappies will be a good bet this month. October may also be the best month to fish Clear Creek in Hocking County for fall trout.
Indian Lake Saugeyes
This shallow Logan County reservoir cools quickly and puts its strong population of saugeye in feeding mode, especially near any rip-rap. The walleye/sauger hybrids move shallow at twilight to feed on forage fish and will hit shallow-running crankbaits cast from boats or from shore. During the day the saugeyes will take jig-and-minnow combos and trolled crankbaits.
Other Options: Cast for Lake Erie walleye from the Huron Pier at night, using big crankbaits to fool big fish, which are migrating west, following — and feeding on — baitfish stacked-up along the Ohio shoreline. Inland lakes like Mosquito, Alum Creek and CJ Brown that hold walleyes and saugeyes offer similar after-dark shoreline fisheries.
Mad River Brown Trout
The state's most popular — and productive — trout stream produces catches of stocked browns through the winter months along its route through Logan and Champaign counties. Because it is spring fed, the Mad often does not ice over as quickly as other waterways its size, and beginning in December the winter fishing can be excellent for anglers using worms, minnows, prepared baits or flies.
Other options: The twilight shore bite for Lake Erie walleye continues to be an option until ice-up and can be very good at Marblehead peninsula and at Mazurik launch ramp, as well as at the popular Huron Pier in Ottawa and Erie counties. Spillway action on saugeyes is also good in the below-dam areas of reservoirs that hold the hybrids, including Deer Creek, Paint Creek, Alum Creek, Atwood and Pleasant Hill lakes.