March 18, 2019
There’s always a hot bite taking place somewhere in the Buckeye State. This is the time of year you may need to be ready to break out the ice fishing gear while summer anglers know they can beat the Dog Days heat by wading or trying their luck at night. Here are some options to consider the next time — anytime — you get the urge to wet a line this season.
Images by Vic Dunaway
Saugers: Ohio River
The Ohio River waters off the Buckeye State are one of the best places in the world the catch sauger. The action peaks for them when water temperatures are at their lowest this time of year, as the sauger are prompted to go into pre-spawn mode and start feeding heavily.
Nine lock and dam structures that concentrate the sauger and provide access to the fishery from the shore are located on Ohio’s river “coast.” Greenup Dam, in Scioto County, is one of the most popular and productive. Find good access at the site located east of Portsmouth along US route 52.
OTHER OPTIONS Ice fishing for walleye in the Western Basin of Lake Erie can be exceptional as the fish stage off the river mouths and around the islands and reefs from Toledo east to the Bass Islands prior to the spawn. Ice action for panfish at farm ponds can be fast when frigid enough. Several state wildlife areas offer small ponds that are stocked with bass and panfish and perfect for ice fishing; check wildohio.gov for such wildlife areas near you.
Saugeyes: RESERVOIR SPILLWAYS
Reservoirs that are stocked with saugeyes provide fishing opportunities in the spillway for fish that have found their way over the dams and stage in the flow below. The walleye/sauger hybrids are drawn to current and move upstream until they reach a dam or similar barrier, where they remain and feed. Jigs, live baits and combinations of the two cast into the below-dam flow can net saugeyes even when the impoundments above are unfishable.
OTHER OPTIONS Yellow perch are found in practically all the upground reservoirs in Wildlife District 2 and the popular panfish remain active through the winter months. They can be caught through the ice or casting from shore. Findlay Reservoir #2 is a good choice for perch and all the upgrounds contain panfish and several offer walleyes. Contact the Wildlife District Two Headquarters at (419) 424-5000 or visit wildohio.gov for lake maps and more information on fishing area upground reservoirs through the ice or in open water. If you want to catch walleyes but don’t want to have to travel to Lake Erie, several inland lakes such as Berlin, Mosquito and CJ Brown reservoirs are stocked with walleye and can offer good ice fishing action.
Walleyes: LAKE ERIE TRIBUTARIES
The famous spring spawning runs begin in the Maumee and Sandusky rivers in Northwest Ohio anytime from early to mid-March and peak in early April. A sizeable portion of the walleye population in the Western Basin uses the Maumee River and Sandusky rivers as spawning destinations, and the fish stack up in the lower portions of the rivers where they are popular targets of anglers who use jig and twister tails or Carolina-rigged floating jig heads to catch the migrating walleyes from boats and while wading.
Special fishing regulations are in effect during the popular spawning period, details of which can be found at wildohio.gov. A popular fishing access to the Maumee River is found at Toledo’s Side Cut Metro Park in the town of Maumee and a good map of the access areas can be found at metroparks.com.
OTHER OPTIONS White bass begin making spawning runs up tributaries that feed most inland impoundments that hold populations of the early spawning fish. Crappies can be found gathering along the first drop-off adjacent to the brushy shallows where they will be spawning next month.
White Bass: SANDUSKY RIVER
The white bass runs peak early each April in the Sandusky River, hot on the heels of the waning walleye migrations. Vast numbers of the fish concentrate in the lower reaches of the river and are caught by shore anglers casting small lures and jigs. Good fishing access areas are found between the State Street Bridge in Fremont upstream to the site of the recently removed Ballville Dam, an effort which is hoped to open additional miles river upstream for spawning bass and walleyes.
OTHER OPTIONS Lakes and reservoirs that contain crappie will provide shoreline fishing opportunities this month as the fish gather in brushy or woody cover in the shallows. Brown trout in Clear Creek south of Columbus and the Mad River near West Liberty, where trout are stocked annually, offer early spring action.
Walleyes: Western Basin Lake Erie
Walleyes feed heavily after the spawn and many begin an annual migration east from the shallow reefs and islands of the Western Basin, seeking baitfish and lower water temperatures in the Central Basin. Slow-trolled crankbaits and crawler harnesses intercept them in waters from six to 40 feet deep anywhere from Toledo to Huron – and points east.
OTHER OPTIONS Channel catfish head for the shallows feeding on eggs deposited by carp and crappies that spawn in the brush. Sunfish are spawning in shallow waters statewide, and will attack any small live bait or fake. Clear Fork Reservoir’s muskie action can be top-shelf, as can any inland lake where ‘lunge thrive.
Mixed Bag:AEP ReCreation Area Ponds
The AEP ReCreation Lands in southeastern Ohio offer hundreds of ponds that are full of bass, panfish and catfish and June can be the best month of all to catch them. The trio of species were stocked when the flooded strip pits were reclaimed decades ago. The “Ohio Power Area” as it is still popularly known, is open to those who carry a free permit available at aep.com.
OTHER OPTIONS Smallmouth bass are active in most Ohio rivers and streams. Try the Great Miami, Hocking, Kokosing, Scioto and Maumee and expect good catches of rock bass as well. Channel cats move onto the shallow gravel bars and beach areas at night in the reservoirs and are suckers for cut bait.
Walleyes: Central Basin Lake Erie
Walleyes that moved east from the Western Basin hole-up and put on the feedbag in the deeper, cooler water east of Vermillion all the way to Geneva. Trolled spoons often get the nod over crankbaits, and most anglers use downriggers, snap-weights and diving planers to get baits deep.
OTHER OPTIONS Stream anglers keep cool by wading and catching smallmouth and rock bass on surface lures, crankbaits, small jigs and popping bugs. Frog season is open, offering a fun after-dark activity for those who own a gig and a headlamp and don’t mind getting wet and muddy.
Catfish: Muskingum River
Night fishing for catfish is prime along the Muskingum River in eastern Ohio. Anglers catch big channel cats and flatheads near the locks and dams found along Ohio’s longest state parkway that flanks the river south of Zanesville all the way to Marietta.
OTHER OPTIONS Farm pond largemouth bass feed on the surface after dark. Dark colored topwater lures that produce a good deal of wake and noise like a Jitterbug work well when cast parallel to banks and worked on a straight, steady retrieve. The dark color helps the bass see the bait in the darkness highlighted by the sky above. White bass in larger inland reservoirs begin to school-up and feed on the surface chasing shad during low-light periods early and late in the day.
Yellow Perch: LAKE ERIE
The jerking can be decent throughout the summer, but most avid Lake Erie perch anglers wait until late August or September when the popular food fish start to school up and are easy to locate and catch. Emerald or golden shiners fished on spreaders or multi-hook dropper rigs result in multi-fish catches, including perch that top the ten inch mark and are referred to as “jumbos.” Consider joining a party boat out of ports from Sandusky to Cleveland that offer perch trips that can be very productive.
OTHER OPTIONS Ohio River catfish are active in all the pools along the Ohio shoreline. The confluences of the Scioto and Muskingum rivers are popular places for boat and shoreline anglers using cut baits, prepared baits, and live baits to catch their limits of late summer flatheads and channel cats. Maps of each major pool and angling access points can be found at wildohio.gov by following the catfishing or Ohio River prompts. Lake Erie perch continue to offer action in the Western and Central basins.
Steelhead: NORTHEAST OHIO
Six Lake Erie tributaries in northeast Ohio are stocked with steelhead annually and the trout return to their ‘home’ rivers each season about this time and can offer fantastic opportunities for catching the big lake-run rainbows.
The fish will move back and forth from Lake Erie at the river-mouths to upstream areas; wading anglers drift spawn sacs, jig-and-maggot combos, and live minnows under bobbers, beads, nymphs and streamers to fool steelhead in rivers including the Chagrin, Grand and Rocky rivers and Conneaut Creek.
Wildohio.gov offers a helpful 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 Trout get active in the Mad River, the Clear Fork of the Mohican River and Clear Creek, the three Ohio streams stocked with brown trout annually. Visit wildohio.gov and follow the trout fishing links for maps and more information. Crappies return to near-shore areas and feed around the first drop-offs adjacent to the shallows where they spawned last spring.
Walleyes: Huron Pier
Lake Erie’s Huron Pier is famous as the fall go-to place to hook up on after-dark walleyes this time of year, but any rocky shoreline can be productive. Shore anglers cast minnow-imitating crankbaits to fool the fish migrating back west as they feed on baitfish concentrated tight along the shoreline. Inland lakes like Alum Creek, Mosquito, Buckeye, Paint Creek and CJ Brown that hold walleyes and saugeyes offer similar late-autumn, after-dark action.
OTHER OPTIONS Steelhead are active in the tributaries in Northeast Ohio that are stocked with the lake-run rainbows. So are trout in inland streams like the Mad, Clear Fork and Clear Creek.
Brown Trout: MAD RIVER
Mad River offers action for anglers along its flow through Logan and Champaign counties. The spring-fed river usually doesn’t ice-over, providing fishermen some productive winter wading. Anglers use worms, minnows, small spinners, prepared baits or flies. The latter are required and catch plenty of fish in the fly-only section in the upper reaches of the river near West Liberty. A map showing those areas as well as all access points along the Mad River can be found at wildohio.gov.
OTHER OPTIONS Lake Erie’s shoreline walleye bite continues until ice-up and can be very good at Marblehead peninsula and Mazurik launch ramp as well as the Huron Pier. Saugeye fishing in spillways is also good in the below-dam areas of reservoirs with populations of the hybrids, including Deer Creek, Paint Creek, Alum Creek, Atwood and Pleasant Hill lakes.
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