No large game fish is more available to Ohio anglers than catfish. Populations thrive in every county and catchable quantities are found in most waterways. Several catfish species are native to the state, including bullheads, channels, flatheads and blues, and over the eons the highly adaptable fish have found their way into every river system and most lakes, large and small, public and private. Channel catfish are the most popular of the species among recreational anglers, and are often stocked in private waters for duel purposes: both as a game fish and a food source.
Wild or stocked, channel catfish are the primary target of Buckeye State anglers who seek bewhiskered game, and those ranks swell come summer when other fish species can get lethargic with the heat and low water. Channel catfish and their kin take those conditions in stride and continue feeding and finding themselves on the lines of anglers who know how — and where — to fool them all summer long.
All five of Ohio's wildlife districts include lakes where anglers can expect to find good fishing for the most popular catfish species. In fact, using surveys of catfish catches in lakes larger than 50 acres, fisheries biologists for the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW) keep a tally of how many channel catfish and of what size each water is producing. Using that data, the ODOW ranks the lakes in each of two categories: the overall numbers of channel catfish available and the number of channel catfish present that measure at least 20 inches in length.
Those rankings offer a valuable reference foundation for any angler who wants to catch channel catfish, either in size or quantity, in a particular part of the state. The data also reveals where the best odds are statewide for hooking sizeable catfish and the nearest places to go quickly fill a stringer for a fish fry.
Let's take a look at the findings.
OHIO'S BEST THREE FOR BIG CHANNEL CATS
The rankings offered by the ODOW are derived from standardized channel catfish catch surveys conducted over the previous five years. The three lakes that have been the top producers of channel catfish measuring more than 20 inches long over that five-year period are, in order, Milton, La Due and Loramie.
Lake Milton's 1,675 acres in Mahoning County may be best known for the walleye they produce each season, but ODNR data point to a population of catfish taping 20 inches or more that offers anglers the best chance in the entire state to catch big channels. The fish are well distributed: they prowl the water around the Mahoning Road causeway, near the abutments suspending Interstate Route 76, off the beach near the boat docks, near the east end of the dam, in shallows south of the Pointview launch ramp and at the mouth of the Mahoning River on the lake's southern end.
Lake Milton is located in Wildlife District Three about 11 miles west of Youngstown along I-76, and can be accessed at the village of Lake Milton on state Highway 534.
LaDue Reservoir offers anglers the next-best bet for boating big channel catfish in Ohio. And boating is the only way to fish the 1500-acre Akron water supply lake, which offers very limited shore access. Boats are restricted to electric motors and manual power, making for a quiet angling experience at a lake that produces plenty of 10-pound-plus channel catfish each season.
A good place to try is around the state Route 422 causeway.
LaDue Reservoir is located in Wildlife District Three east of where state Highway 44 meets US route 422, 14 miles north of Ravenna.
Lake Loramie, in Auglaize and Shelby counties, ranks third in big channel cat catch numbers according to ODOW data. The 843-acre canal lake, which was created in 1844, maxes out at a dozen feet deep at the dam, but averages a mere 5 feet deep lake-wide. Residential housing along the 38-mile shoreline restricts bank fishing opportunities, which are concentrated around that dam, as well as off picnic areas and the launch ramps along Loramie's western end.
Waters off Luthman Road and Millers Slough are popular among channel cat anglers fishing from boats. There are no horsepower restrictions on the lake.
Lake Loramie is located in Wildlife District Five east of state Highway 66 south of Minster.
OHIO'S BEST FOR BIG NUMBERS OF CHANNEL CATFISH
Lakes Loramie (District Five) and Milton (District Three) are at the top of their respective wildlife districts' "big channel cat" chart rankings, and LaDue has the second-best big fish ranking in District Three. What's interesting is that the ODOW data ranks Loramie (first) and Milton (second) as the state's most productive waters for producing sheer numbers of channel cats as well as offering fish of impressive size. LaDue (No. 2 statewide in catfish of size), however, doesn't even make the top 20 in the quantity category rankings.
The third-best lake for finding numbers of channel cats turns out to be Delaware County's namesake lake. Central Ohio's Delaware Reservoir is better known as a trophy crappie lake, but the data show that it also has the potential to produce more than its share of channel catfish.
At Delaware, however, is essentially a numbers lake; the 1,330-acre reservoir isn't among the state's top 20 big-catfish waters.
Delaware Lake is surrounded by public land, and shore fishing opportunities for catfish anglers abound. Some of the more popular spots are near the state Route 229 bridge at the lake's northern end, the cement pilings that once suspended a bridge at the end of Cole Road, and off the state park picnic areas and campground on the lake's southwestern shore.
Anglers with boats can access several main-lake points and flats that are productive. There are no horsepower restrictions on the lake.
Delaware Reservoir is located in Wildlife District One four miles north of the City of Delaware on the east side of US route 23.
Best Catfish Lakes by District
In central Ohio's Wildlife District One, Delaware rates first in the numbers of channel cats available, but doesn't appear in the district's Top Five list of lakes containing catfish of 20 inches or more. Buckeye Lake, Alum Creek Lake and Deer Creek Lake take those accolades, in that order.
For lake maps and more information about catfishing opportunities in central Ohio, call the Wildlife District One office at 614-644-3925.
In northwest Ohio's Wildlife District Two, data shows that Metzger Reservoir holds the most large channel cats, followed by Findlay Reservoir No. 1 and Bressler Reservoir. For numbers, Van Wert Reservoir No. 2 tops the regional rankings, followed by Norwalk and Metzger.
Metzger Reservoir's 157 acres are often overshadowed by its adjacent Allen County neighbor, upground Ferguson Reservoir, which is roughly twice its size and separated from its catfish-filled waters by only a narrow dike. Ranked first in catfish size and third in catfish quantity according to the surveys, however, Metzger appears to be worlds away in what it offers the district's catfish anglers. Both lakes are open to fishing and boating, but boats may not be powered by gasoline engines. Shore-fishing opportunities around the man-made water-supply reservoirs are wide-open.
Metzger Reservoir is located on the east side of Lima, off Interstate 75 Exit No. 127. Take state Route 81 east to Roush Road, south to Reservoir Road and east to the reservoir. For maps and more information on Metzger Reservoir and other catfishing opportunities in northeast Ohio, call the Wildlife District Five office at 419-434-5000.
In northeast Ohio's Wildlife District Three, Milton and LaDue are followed by Mosquito Reservoir for the third most productive big-fish water. For numbers of fish, Lakes Milton, Berlin and Pymatuning get the nod, in that order.
For lake maps and more information about catfishing opportunities in northeastern Ohio, call the Wildlife District Three office at 330-644-2293.
In southeast Ohio's Wildlife District Four, Wills Creek Lake produced the most 20 inch-and-longer channel cats in the region during the five-year survey period. Dillon and Seneca lakes were second and third in that category. The same three lakes topped the catfish quantity category as well: Seneca, Wills Creek and Dillon reservoir were ranked one, two and three respectively.
For lake maps and more information about catfishing opportunities in southeastern Ohio, call the Wildlife District Four office at 740-594-2211.
In southwest Ohio's Wildlife District Five, Lake Loramie held the top spot in the size category, followed by Cowman Lake and Rocky Fork Lake. Loramie and Cowan lakes also were at the top of the catfish quantity category, with CJ Brown holding down the spot for the third most likely lake in the region to catch a boatload of channel cats this summer.
For lake maps and more information about catfishing opportunities in southwestern Ohio, call the Wildlife District Five office a 937-372-9261. To get more information about summer catfishing destinations across Ohio, and maps of those waters, visit wildohio.gov