As is the case nationally, Ohio's black bass, both largemouth and smallmouth, are among the most popular game fish pursued by anglers. Because of that interest, bronzeback and bucketmouths are also among the most studied by Ohio fisheries biologists, who use netting, electroshocking and creel surveys to try to keep a tab on populations in terms of health and numbers and stand ready to step in to help through management programs when and where they can.
The studies done on Ohio's bass result in data that can be a gold mine for anglers willing to crunch some numbers, hitch up their boat or waders, and head for waters that are shown to be more productive than others in either the size or the numbers of smallmouth and largemouth available.
Actually, much of the accounting work has been done by the agency responsible for maintaining our fisheries; using that data, the following is a region-by-region forecast for what bass fishermen can expect to find this season in every area of the Buckeye state, including Ohio waters of Lake Erie and its namesake river.
Rich Carter, executive administrator of the Fish Management Group for the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW), oversees the data that is compiled and shared. As such, Carter has a better handle than most on Ohio bass fisheries.
"The forecast for black bass fishing in 2016 is very good," Carter said. "Last spring was good for bass angling until June, at which time we had extensive flooding and high rains which really hampered the bite for many of our inland bass anglers — and such flooding has a potential to disrupt spawning success; we won't know the impact until we do our survey (this) spring."
Carter explained that the bulk of bass spawning in Ohio takes place in late Aril and May, so the wet weather that hit in June may not have affected the hatch as much as it might have had the rains come a month or two earlier.
"What affects our bass fishing success here in Ohio is the habitat in each lake," he explained, "with habitat defined as the substrate, the submerged aquatic vegetation, water quality and forage base.
"Factors such as flooding reduce amount of submerged aquatic vegetation in a reservoir and can affect the ability of young of the year fish to forage, to find the plankton they need to feed on."
On the other hand, he said, the algal blooms that have plagued many inland waters as well as portions of Lake Erie and the Ohio River in recent summers have not appeared to be harmful to the resident bass populations.
"Blooms are naturally occurring events in our waters and are part of a healthy water system," Carter said, adding that bass and other game fish are accustomed to them and he sees no adverse effects as a result of them in this state.
When asked if there are any Ohio waters that hold good bass populations and fishing potential, yet are overlooked or under-utilized by anglers, Carter pointed didn't even have to consult his data.
"Kiser Lake is always high in the rankings for both numbers and size of (largemouth) bass," said Carter of the Champaign County reservoir, adding, "It has an absolutely outstanding largemouth bass population."
The reason it is so often overlooked, says the fisheries administrator, is that it's a rare "row only" lake, to use his term. Not only are gas engines not permitted to power fishing boats on Kiser, but even electric motors are forbidden on the nearly 400 acres of water in the west central region of the state, thanks to the terms of the donation agreement that allowed the state to assume ownership of the lake.
"It doesn't get a lot of angling pressure," explained Carter, "simply because it takes some effort to fish it."
Kiser Lake and the 531-acre state park of the same name that surrounds it are located approximately four miles northwest of St. Paris and 34 miles north of Dayton on State Route 235. The park has a marina, boat rentals, seasonal dock rentals, two boat launches, hiking trails, picnic areas, shelters, a beach, and campground. There are plenty of shoreline fishing access points along its 5.5-mile shoreline, including two gravel fishing piers on opposite sides of the lake. For maps and more information on the park and the lake, call the Kiser Lake State Park office at 937-362-3822.
As for an Ohio smallmouth bass fishing destination offering under-utilized potential, Carter suggested anglers consider one of the most popular — and busiest — recreational boating lakes in the state: central Ohio's Alum Creek Reservoir.
"Anglers only recently have become aware Alum Creek is fishing particularly well for smallmouth bass right now," Carter said. "We observed a similar upswing in the smallmouth fishing in the early 1990s at Alum, but it tapered off until recently. Now, many of the winning bags of local bass tournaments held at the lake include smallmouth, and fishermen have caught on that Alum Creek is a really good lake for catching big smallmouth bass, and in good numbers."
Alum Creek Lake is in Delaware County about 7 miles north of Columbus, and surrounded by Alum Creek State Park. The lake is paralleled by I-71 on the east, with the SR 36/37 exit providing access. State Routes 521, 36/37, Cheshire Road, Hollenback Road, and Lewis Center Road provide access from SR 23 on the west side of the 3,269-acre lake.
Alum Creek Lake and state park offices are located at 3615 S. Old State Road, Delaware, 43015. You can reach the park office at 740-548-4631, and get lake fishing maps and more information at wildohio.gov.
Lake Erie is famously "world famous" for its smallmouth bass and walleye fisheries. Carter pointed out that the largemouth bass fishing opportunities on Ohio's Great Lake are also notable, and getting better each season. Even if they are not yet "world class," they are certainly worthy of significant attention these days.
"Lake Erie black bass fishing has never been better," claimed Carter, "with respect to the opportunities to catch both big smallmouth bass and big numbers of largemouth bass.
"As most everyone knows, the lake has always been a high quality smallmouth bass fishing destination," said the biologist. "In the past five years, the largemouth bass fishery in the near shore areas has become exceptional."
Carter credits better submerged weed growth, warmer waters conditions and a strong forage base in the Ohio waters of Lake Erie with creating "largemouth bass populations that are good in any near-shore habitat, across the board."
And the better-known smallmouth bass fishing in Ohio's Great Lake is "so good because it offers excellent smallmouth bass habitat: rock shoals that offer an abundance of food, which include crayfish, emerald shiners, gizzard shad and the invasive gobies."
Carter pointed out that in some places the smallmouth bass "appear to be focusing on gobies as a primary food source" but that "largemouth (bass) do not appear to be foraging on gobies with the frequency that smallmouth bass do."
The ODOW offers detailed Lake Erie fishing and access maps, and bass fishing tips, at wildohio.gov.
BEST INLAND BASS LAKES BY DISTRICT
In Central Ohio's Wildlife District One, we've already noted that Alum Creek Lake is a "best bet" for smallmouth bass angling.
"What's more, what we notice at Alum," Carter added, "is that there are a lot of young fish in the system that should contribute the excellent smallmouth fishing there in the next several years."
A close second in terms of a central Ohio bass lake deserving of a long, hard look is located just a few miles to the east — Hoover Reservoir. It's the water supply reservoir for the City of Columbus, and it's close enough to Alum Creek that it can actually tap water from Alum Creek Lake via a pipeline when needed.
"Hoover Reservoir is a close second in the district for offering good smallmouth bass opportunities," said Carter. "Both lakes share an abundance of rocky and gravelly substrate and clear water that favor survival of smallmouth bass."
So do the waters of the Scioto River, both above and below Griggs Dam on the west side of Columbus, according to Carter.
In addition to Kiser, which leads central Ohio waters in both largemouth bass size and numbers, the catch data collected by Carter's team show that Kokosing and Knox lakes are the district's top reservoirs for largemouth bass numbers, and Hargus Lake is ranked second in the number of bass measuring over 20 inches that are available to fishermen this season.
Maps and more bass fishing information on these central Ohio waters are available at wildohio.gov or by calling the District One Wildlife offices at 614-644-3925.
In northwest Ohio, according to the bass biologist, the upground reservoirs that dot the flat landscape offer good bass fishing opportunities in District Two.
"There are actually a number of upgrounds that support good populations of smallmouth bass. Findlay Reservoir, Bresler and Ferguson all have good smallmouth bass populations. You can pretty much take your pick and expect decent action this season," Carter said.
He notes that the same is true for the Maumee River from its mouth near Toledo upstream as far as you can wade in waters at least knee deep.
"The Maumee River, with its rocky habitat, supports a consistent smallmouth bass bite," he said, adding that the Sandusky River is another northwest Ohio waterway that offers the right conditions to enable it to support a good population of smallmouth bass.
Amick Clearfork and Norwalk Reservoir #3 are the top three lakes to visit to catch good numbers of largemouth bass in northwest Ohio, based on the data. Clearfork Reservoir, Lima Lake and Nettle Lake hold the greatest potential for producing bucketmouths of size, those measuring 20 inches or longer, for District Two anglers.
Anglers can get lake maps and more information on northwest Ohio's bass fishing options by visiting wildohio.gov or calling the District Two Wildlife offices at 419-424-5000.
Wildlife District Three's Berlin Reservoir has supported a "very good smallmouth bass population over time," said Carter of the popular Northeast Ohio lake.
"And any of the rivers that support steelhead runs are actually good smallmouth bass rivers," he added. "Each has an abundance of rocky substrate that favors survival of smallmouth bass and provides good fishing."
As for local bigmouth action, the survey results point to North Reservoir and Turkeyfoot and Long lakes in terms of numbers of resident bass. Long Lake and West Reservoir are the places in Northeast Ohio to visit if you want the best odds of hooking a big largemouth, based on Carter's data.
Lake maps and additional bass fishing information for northeast Ohio is available at wildohio.gov or by calling the Wildlife District Three offices.
In Southeast Ohio "the Muskingum River supports an excellent smallmouth bass fishery, as well as an excellent spotted bass fishery," said Carter.
He says that every pool along the Mighty Muskingum's length should offer good bronzeback action this season, and that spotted bass opportunities increase the closer you get to the Ohio River.
"The habitat in each pool varies from riverine in the in the upper stretches of pools and more flowing water to more slow-moving water as you near the locks and dams," he said, explaining that the mix of habitat improved the fishery because smallmouth utilize each as needed through the course of the season.
Big largemouth bass are offered at St Joseph Lake and Barnesville Reservoir #3, according to the survey, while the best potential for catching quantities of largemouth bass in the district this season can be found at Barnesville #3 and Tycoon Lake. The latter, by the way, is ranked tops in the state for numbers of largemouth, based on five years' of bass data. Going by those numbers, District Three's St. Joseph Lake offered the most potential in the state for producing bass over 20 inches.
Find out more bass fishing information and get lake maps by visiting wildohio.gov or calling the offices of Wildlife District Four at 740-589-9930.
Wildlife District Five smallmouth fanciers will find their best opportunities at Caesar Creek Reservoir, according to Carter.
"Caesar Creek (lake) has a decent population of smallmouth bass and an abundance of rocky habitat that the bass favor," he explained, adding that the Great Miami River offers the best stream smallmouth bass fishing potential in the area.
"The Miami is a high-flow river with good gravel and rocky habitat that smallmouth bass need to thrive."
Local largemouth bass thrive in Acton, Rocky Fork and Cowan lakes, which are ranked 1-2-3 in terms of the numbers of bass they hold. The latter two are tops for populations of big bass in southwest Ohio, followed by Stonelick Lake, based on the ongoing bass surveys.
For fishing maps of each, call the Wildlife District Five offices at 937-372-9261 or visit wildohio.gov.
Meanwhile, keep your fingers crossed for spring rains and any resulting flooding to come late — and gear-up for what sounds like a super season of bass fishing here in the Buckeye State.