Ohio Catfish Best Bets 2019
From channel and blues to flatheads and bullheads, catfish are a prime summer target for Ohio anglers.
Most Ohioanglers reside within a long cast, or at least a short drive, of waters that hold keeper catfish.
While those “keepers” may be hand-size bullheads, the fact is that the Buckeye State is blessed with an abundance of places for anglers to hook up with everything from foot-long “yellow bellies” to blue cats that are measured by the foot. Channel cats and flatheads prowl Ohio’s lakes and rivers as well, the latter “shovelheads” reaching weights approaching the century mark.
In addition to wild catfish, the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW) has an aggressive, semi-annual catfish stocking program that places channel cats in upwards of one hundred lakes across the state. Targeting waters less than 500 acres in size, where channel catfish have trouble reproducing naturally, the ODOW stocking program is so popular that it takes two years to complete its statewide rounds. Lakes that receive the yearling cats, which average 7- to 10-inches when stocked, get the fish at a rate of 25 per surface acre. The stocking usually takes place in late summer when up to 50,000 channel catfish are taken from hatchery ponds and divided up among the lake’s that have been selected to receive fish that year.
Summertime is prime time for wetting a line for Ohio’s whiskered species, which are often active when more ‘glamorous’ gamefish are less cooperative, offering a fishery both day and night from boat and shore. In any season, catfish prefer deeper habitats during the day and shallower water while feeding at night. Productive after-dark areas include points and shallow flats near holes. In the heat of summer, the after-dark angling for catfish can be especially good at popular public beaches on weekend evenings after a busy day of swimming action by bathers has stirred up the bottom, exposing food for baitfish and catfish alike.
Come fall, catfish of all types tend to eat the most available foods, primarily baitfish. That’s when which gizzard shad, chubs, crayfish and bluegills are good baits — and in larger sizes ideal for tempting larger fish.
That big bait equals big fish rule actually extends throughout the catfish season, which in Ohio only ends with the cover of ice. And even then, ice anglers chumming their holes with cut bait catch bullheads and channel cats.
And because the Ohio River rarely freezes and holds a healthy population of blue catfish that remain active through the coldest months, there are usually open water opportunities for avid winter catfish fanciers when the balance of the state is iced-in.
Here are some of the best places in the state to cast a line for catfish this season, starting with the Mighty Ohio.
The Ohio River
Some of the fastest catfish action in the nation, let alone the Buckeye State, is offered each season along its southern “shore” where the Ohio River and its tributaries have been giving up giant flatheads, big blues and countless channel cats for centuries. Early southern Ohio settlers counted on catfish as a primary food source as they farmed their way into the state’s interior, following river systems like the Muskingum, Scioto and Miami that continue to offer excellent catfishing to this day.
Catfish are the number one finned attraction among southern Ohio anglers in counties bordering the Ohio River, according to the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW), and second only to largemouth bass on inland waters in the entire southern half of the Buckeye State.
Catfish guide Dale Broughton doesn’t stray far from the Ohio River for catfish action, whether he’s fun fishing or guiding. A favorite is the 95-mile long Markland Pool, stretching from the Meldahl Dam tailwaters west into Indiana, one of the most productive catfishing pools on the entire Ohio River, according to both Broughton and the ODOW. He claims the fast fishing is due to less commercial catfishing pressure than takes place in other Ohio River pools, combined with the presence of more catfish-attracting structure and tributaries.
Broughton usually launches at the Schmidt Field Launch Ramp at the end of St. Peter’s Street, off state Route 52, about five miles east of downtown Cincinnati. From there, he says anglers can head upstream or down to seek the catfish of their dreams. Fresh-caught cut skipjack is Broughton’s “go-to” bait in the Ohio, as well as live sunfish when he’s targeting flatheads.
The guide advises that the summer catfishing can be fast off any of the marinas along the Ohio, where channel cats can be caught off the deeper, dredged entrances. By going up the Ohio River four miles from the Schmidt Field Ramp, says Broughton, catfishing is also productive at the mouth of the Little Miami River. Boat anglers can also cruise up the Little Miami about four miles before hitting water too shallow to pass over, he said, and fish their way back catching catfish in holes along the way.
A couple of miles farther up the Ohio, anglers fish off the Coney Island Amusement Park and under the Interstate Route 275 outer belt, where they catch flatheads and channel cats. Three miles further upstream from the bridge, one of Broughton’s favorite catfishing areas is around the barge tie-ups, which are located adjacent to huge grain bins on the Kentucky side of the river. Broughton explains that especially late in the season a lot of grain is spilled when it’s being loaded from the bins onto the barges, and the catfish hang around downstream of the area devouring it — and cut skipjack that is pegged to the bottom in the area by anglers armed with stout tackle.
For more information about catfishing on the Ohio River, call Broughton at (513) 533-4856 or visit wildohio.gov for maps of the river and tips for taking catfish there.
The Sandusky River
Famous for its walleye and white bass spawning runs in March and April, when the fishing can be elbow-to-elbow, the Sandusky River is an overlooked catfish destination in northern Ohio where summer and fall anglers can enjoy stretches of the river to themselves.
“Any stream with access to Lake Erie is going to have a healthy channel catfish population,” said former state fisheries biologist Elmer Heyob, who calls the Sandusky as his favorite northern Ohio catfish river. “The Sandusky is one of the best.”
Flowing through the city of Fremont inland, the “Sandy” nurtures some big cats, especially channel catfish. Angler access is available in downtown Fremont, and there are public fishing access points along its flow deep into Sandusky County. “The Portage River flowing through Wood and Ottawa counties is good for catfishing too,” said Heyob. “Especially in the area of Oak Harbor and Port Clinton.”
Anglers access the Portage in downtown Port Clinton, where there is a good shore fishery from the docks and parking lots where the river enters Lake Erie.
For fishing tips, maps and access information for the Sandusky and Portage rivers, and other area streams that hold catfish, contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s District Two office at (419) 424-5000. For area information and maps for the Sandusky River region, contact the Sandusky County/Fremont Visitors Bureau at (800) 255-8070 or visit their web site at shoresandislands.com.
The Scioto River
From its headwaters north of Marion, the Scioto drains a massive farmland floodplain across Ohio’s midsection, and is dammed to create O’Shaughnessy and Griggs reservoirs northwest of Columbus. A major tributary of the Ohio, the Scioto River offers a high volume of water, natural reproduction of all four catfish species sought by Ohio anglers, plenty of baitfish, excellent cover and abundant for anglers, making the it one of the state’s most popular and productive river systems for catching catfish.
Upstream of the Capital City, the Scioto River flows through Marion, Delaware and Franklin counties, where city parks as well as numerous bridge crossings along its length offer access to anglers. North of the Capital City, the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department manages public lands along much of the Scioto River’s eastern shore from Griggs Dam, through Griggs and O’Shaughnessy reservoirs, to Bellpoint, in Delaware County. Pull-offs, parking areas and launch ramps along the stretch provide ample public access for shore anglers, as well as for catfish anglers who use boats.
An improved launch ramp at Home Road in southern Delaware County on the Scioto’s east side along SR 257 is a popular place to launch boats for fishing the Scioto’s upper reaches. Shore anglers use the spot too, fishing along the bank south of the parking lot and dock complex and catching their fair share of channel cats and large bullhead catfish.
The catfishing action can be excellent in those reservoirs, especially for flatheads and channel catfish, it’s not until the Scioto settles down for its downhill run due south where the most productive angling for trophy-size catfish is found.
South of Columbus, public boat launch access to the Scioto River can be a bit tough to locate. Most catfish anglers fish the Columbus-to-Portsmouth stretch of the Scioto from shore, and work upstream and downstream from dozens of bridges and pull-offs that cross and flank the river along its route. Canoers and small-boaters that can launch can access deep holes near sharp turns or log jams in the lower Scioto, putting them in range of some big flatheads, especially between Columbus and Circleville.
A popular place for anglers with boats to fish the Scioto for big cats is upstream from where it enters the Ohio River. There, the mouth of the Scioto is shallow with silt, but anglers can motor up the Scioto River about two miles from the Ohio, fishing deep holes along the way that hold shovelheads and channel catfish that have worked their way up-current from the larger river. The Portsmouth Public Boat Ramp at Front and Court streets, a mile upstream from the mouth of the Scioto River in downtown Portsmouth, is the best place to launch a boat for accessing the lower section of the Scioto. Another good place to launch a boat to fish the lower Scioto is located in Lucasville, off Robert-Lucas Road at Scioto Street, which dead-ends into the river.
An excellent resource for Ohio River anglers is found at here.
On any given summer night catfishermen can be found gathered around lanterns at the base of any of the eight lock-and-dam structures along the Muskingum River south of Zanesville, where they soak live baits for super-sized flatheads and channel cats. State Route 60 south out of Zanesville follows the Muskingum’s eastern shore all the way to Marietta and offers access to each of the lock and dam sites along the scenic,winding river route.
Some of the more productive dams for catfishing include Lock and Dam #7 at McConnelsville, near where state Route 78 intersects state Route 60; Lock and Dam #4 at Beverly, south of state Route 83 and state Route 60; and Lock and Dam #3 at Lowell, along state Route 60 between Beverly and Marietta.
The Ohio State Parks Division of ODNR manages the Muskingum River corridor from Zanesville to Marietta, and offers a free map detailing each lock, dam and pool area, as well as showing access sites for anglers. Call (614) 265-7000 to order a map of the Muskingum River Parkway. The ODOW offers an excellent resource for Muskingum River anglers.
Click here for stocking information as well as other Ohio catfishing information.