Bass are among the most studied gamefish species by the biologists with the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW), who are charged with keeping our bass fishery thriving.
In addition to the biologists' efforts, local bass clubs, whose members have a vested interest in that common goal, offer detailed catch data. Their catch data covers most of the state's major bass fisheries. Between the two resource pools, we have some excellent data on where to find the Buckeye State's best bass fisheries.
Ohio offers action on all three black bass species: largemouth, smallmouth and spotted, and all three have their following. Largemouth are the most studied, followed by their bronze-backed kin; spotted bass get some attention as a fishery but for data purposes often are grouped with the largemouth information.
The data on largemouth catches compiled by the ODOW is significantly more comprehensive than that of the other two black bass species, and includes data on inland waters of at least 50 surface-acres in size. The catch information is broken down into size and numbers categories, for both the entire state and for waters in each wildlife district.
The forecast offered by the ODOW is based on fish surveys conducted during the past five years, and includes only those lakes that were studied during that timeframe and excludes Lake Erie. As with largemouth, only lakes were surveyed for smallmouth bass, and we all know that some of our best fisheries for size and numbers of bronzebacks are found in Ohio rivers and streams. Note again that these survey results exclude Lake Erie, which is in a class by itself.
That said, we'll share the rankings and information on the top smallmouth lakes of 50 acres or more.
Largemouth Bass by Numbers
For producing sheer numbers of largemouth bass of any size, Amick Reservoir in Morrow County tops the list of Ohio's inland lakes. At 53 acres and a little more than a mile of shoreline, the square-shaped, upground Amick represents the smallest of the bass waters included in the listings. It's an electric-motor-only lake that is accessed via a single boat ramp on the northeast side of the reservoir, which is located south of Galion just west of Ohio Route 309/61 about 60 miles north of Columbus and 20 miles west of Mansfield.
For a map and more information about fishing at Amick Reservoir, call Wildlife District One offices in Columbus at 614-644-3925.
Number two on the statewide bass-by-abundance ranking — and third overall in producing largemouth bass over 20 inches — is Tycoon Lake, a 204-acre reservoir in central Gallia County in Southeast Ohio. The lake has been managed by the ODOW to provide a trophy bass fishery, with an 18-inch minimum size limit. Partly because of that management there are some lunker bass to be found there. Recent surveys showed that 27 percent of the anglers at Tycoon were targeting bass, and most of them rated that fishery as "excellent."
Tycoon Lake is located on Eagle Road about 3 miles north of Rio Grande, off state Highway 325. It's surrounded by Tycoon Lake Wildlife Area, where it was formed by damming a swamp — which left lots of wood cover to harbor its abundant bass population. Tycoon is best fished by boat, for which there is an improved launch ramp located on the south/central site off Tycoon Road. Watercraft may be propelled manually or by electric power only.
Knox Lake is number three in terms of bass abundance, according to the ODOW surveys. Located in its namesake central Ohio county, Knox is managed as a trophy bass fishery with an 18-inch minimum length regulation in effect. Knox tops its home Wildlife District One ranking of lakes producing bass taping in excess of 20 inches, yet doesn't make the state's top 20 lakes for offering largemouth of that size class.
Knox Lake covers 468 rural acres, with a maximum depth of 20 feet at the dam on the lake's west end. At the opposite end is a shallow area dotted with stump fields that start filling with pre-span bass each March. Between the two are three launch ramps and a full service marina. There is a 10-horsepower restriction on boat motors at Knox, which is located northeast of Fredericktown off US route 95 and Armentrout road.
While Knox tops the bass-abundance ranking in Central Ohio, followed by Kiser and Kokosing lakes, in District Two, Amick, Clearfork and Norwalk Reservoir #3 are the top producers, in that order, for number of largemouth bass in northwest Ohio. District Three's top three are Turkeyfoot Lake, followed by North and West reservoirs. Southeast Ohio's District Four lakes that give up the most bass are Tycoon, Wolf Run and Barnesville #3.
Wildlife District Five, in southwest Ohio, is led by Acton Lake in terms of most bass produced by anglers, followed by Rocky Fork and Cowan lakes.
Largemouth Bass by Size
Of lakes at least 50 acres in size, according to the ODOW, the top water in Ohio for producing big bass is St. Joseph Lake. It's a small, out-of-the-way lake located in Perry Country southeast of Somerset between State routes 13 and 668. Also known as Lake St. Joseph, the 60-acre flood control reservoir is not listed by the ODOW and not well known, which may be why it holds so many big bass.
The best detailed directions we can locate are shared on bassfishingohio.com and read: "take State Route 13 south out of Somerset, you'll see a sign that says oldest Catholic Church in Ohio. Turn (left/west) there and follow it past a church you see on your right, before you turn at the curve going left, you'll see another gravel road to the right.
Take it down hill until you come to a culvert. The lake is at the end of the culvert if you follow it out going west." For those who want to find it by GPS, the LAT/LONG coordinates are 39.7721, -82.2839.
It may be easier to locate Lake St. Joseph by referencing Clouse Lake, which is better known and located on the same watershed just below St. Joseph, according to our source at Wildlife District Four, fisheries biologist Matt Hangsleben. He said that both lakes share shoreline within the 148-acre Clouse Lake Wilderness Area and that the ODOW was planning on producing a map of the lake in the near future.
The biologist added that Lake St. Joseph has a 20-foot maximum depth, offers an unimproved boat launch area on the east side off Township Road 122. He notes that the lake permits boats powered manually or by electric motor only.
Belmont County's Barnesville Reservoir #3 is the second-best in the state for producing big bass. The largest of four lakes that serve their namesake city, offering 98 acres of surface water, it's also known locally as Slope Creek Lake and is rumored to have surrendered an 11-pound largemouth. Its fertile waters are managed by the ODOW as a trophy bass fishery, with a slot limit that requires release of all bass measuring between 12 and 15 inches.
There are launch ramps located near the dam off Township Road 12 and at the headwaters off T-514, and boaters are limited to electric motors and manual power only. The lake can be reached by driving state Route 800 five miles south out of Barnesville, then west on Township roads 514 or 33.
For maps of Tycoon and Barnesville #3, and more information on those two and Lake St. Joseph, call wildlife district four offices in Athens at 740-594-2211 or visit wildohio.gov.
District by District, the top trophy largemouth waters are District One/Central Ohio: Kiser, Hargus and Knox lakes; District Two/Northwest Ohio: Wauseon Reservoir #2, Clear fork Reservoir, and Van Wert Reservoir #1; District Three/Northeast Ohio: Turkeyfoot Lake, Long Lake and West Reservoir; District Four/Southeast Ohio: St. Joseph Lake, Barnesville Reservoir #3 and Tycoon Lake; and District Five/Southwest Ohio: Rocky Fork, Cowan and Stonelick lakes in that order.
Smallmouth Bass by Numbers
Surveys of smallmouth populations over the past five years show that New London Reservoir has the potential for producing more smallmouth bass than any other small lake in the state. The 212-acre upground reservoir is located in northwest Ohio's Wildlife District Five southwest of New London in Huron Country, a mile east of state Route 250 on Town Line Road.
Almost the entire 2.5 miles of shoreline is accessible to anglers and features limestone rip-rap that attract and hold the smallmouth bass from March through November, as well as a half dozen reefs made of rock and stumps constructed specifically as fish-holding structure when the reservoir was built in the mid-1970s.
A launch ramp is located on the northeast side for boaters, who are limited to electric motors and must display a $15 annual permit available from the adjacent campground office. A lake map and more information about bass fishing at New London are available by calling the Wildlife District Two offices in at 419-424-500.
Piedmont Lake ranks second in bronzeback abundance. Offering 2,270 acres of water primarily in Belmont but stretching over parts of Guernsey and Harrison counties, Piedmont is one of the nine Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) flood control reservoirs in Eastern Ohio.
The sprawling, 10-mile-long waterway offers 35 miles of wooded shoreline, where the lone launch ramp is located in extreme northwest Guernsey County off State Route 800 on Marina Road. The lake itself is just southeast of State Route 22 midway between Cambridge and Cadiz about 10 miles north of Interstate route 70. For a map or more information about fishing at Piedmont Lake call the MWCD at 740-658-1029.
Lake Milton in Northeast Ohio is the third-most productive producer of smallmouth bass of the lakes surveyed in the past five years. Located in western Mahoning County 10 miles west of Youngstown, the 1,671-acre, unlimited-horsepower lake is crossed east to west by Interstate route 76 with ample access north and south of the freeway. Most of the access points are reached via State route 534, which flanks the lake along its eastern side. Maps and more information about smallmouth fishing action at Lake Milton can be netted with a call to the District Three Wildlife office at 330-644-2293.
Smallmouth by Size
For survey purposes, 15 inches is the benchmark for a big smallmouth among biologists with the ODOW, and two Van Wert reservoirs top the list for availability of qualifying bronzebacks in Ohio's inland lakes. Van Wert Reservoirs #1 and #2, in that order, were found to hold more sizeable smallmouths for their size than any other lakes in the state, followed by New London Reservoir, which ranked third and, as we've already discussed, is Ohio's best bet as a destination for smallmouth bass numbers.
The twin Van Wert waters are upground reservoirs offering 65 acres of surface water each, located side by side on state Route 127 south of their namesake town in their namesake county, which is in Wildlife District Two. Each features a limestone rip-rap shoreline that surrounds the lakes, topped by a jogging path, so shore access for smallmouth anglers is easy.
Boaters may use electric motors or manual power only and need a $20 permit from the Van Wert Parks & Recreation Department, which is valid for two years, and boaters can access the water pretty much anywhere they can lug a boat up the dike and slide it into the water. Despite the fee required to boat at either Van Wert Reservoir, there are no launch facilities at either of the upgrounds. Maps, permits and more information about fishing at Van Wert Reservoirs can be found at here or by calling 419-238-9121.
March marks the time of year when Buckeye State bass of all species start getting active — earlier than most anglers realize. From now through ice-up, based on findings made by fisheries biologists, you now have a season's-worth of Ohio's "best bet" bass fishing destinations to consider. Good luck!