While Lake Erie and the Ohio River provide a myriad of opportunities to find and catch bass, they deserve their own ink. Using the expertise of the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s top fisheries administrators, what follows is a sampling of Ohio’s best spring lakes, reservoirs and inland ponds.
OHIO’S INLAND BASS WEALTH
Ohio is blessed with an abundance of locations where largemouth, smallmouth and spotted black bass roam in catchable numbers. Although all three species feed year-round and can readily be caught through the ice, nothing beats cabin fever like being able to cast lures and catch the first open water bass of the spring.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is a bass fishermen’s best friend, supplying maps for all of the popular lakes at wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/. Click on “Fishing” then “Fishing Maps” then under “Choose A Lake” scroll down on “Select A Lake.” To locate bass in the earliest open water months, use these fishing maps to target primary and secondary offshore structure, such as rock piles adjacent to deep water flats.
As spring progresses, the upper reaches of reservoirs, feeder stream mouths and coves will warm more quickly than the deep end with the dam, particularly around shoreline structures.
Said structures that absorb heat and offer slightly warmer water than the main body of water after a day of sunshine include underwater rocky points, shallow clay shelves, tree stumps, dock pilings, bridge structures, trees or dark vegetation.
Rich Carter, the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s (DOW) Top Fish Administrator is an avid bass fisherman. By alternating his Ohio Division of Wildlife and tournament bass angler hats, he shared some of the state’s top picks for spring bass. His favorite lakes all offer a combination of good water quality, rocky/gravelly shorelines, aquatic vegetation and a strong forage base.
With respect to his choice of baits, he says, “In Ohio, spring often means stained water, which requires a slow presentation, with ‘how slow’ dictated by water clarity.” No matter where anglers fish for early spring bass, the lure choices mentioned by Carter and others follow these general guidelines for what to throw in clear or stained water regardless of specific location.
In cold, clear water, use 1/4- to 3/4-ounce mushroom or football head jigs or Texas rigs matched to depth and cover and tipped with soft bait trailers, such as a 3-inch Berkley Chigger Craw, TriggerX Flappin’ Craw or mini-tube baits in mudpuppy, watermelon or green pumpkin. Favored crankbaits include the (shallow) Bandit 100 or Footloose, Rebel Wee-R, Sexy Shad or Rackit Squarebill in spring craw or honeydew blue or a Live Target BaitBall in natural shad colors.
Spinnerbaits and bladed jigs are effective using a slow-rolled retrieve in shallow embayments, with Carter testifying to the effectiveness of white heads with white, chartreuse or natural colored trailers when it is sunny with a slight chop on the water.
In cold, stained water, some of these same lures work in darker colors while fished slower with pauses, wiggles and hops to give bass extra time to find them. Terminator Shudder bait bladed jigs in dark heads and black & blue, purple or green pumpkin trailers such as a DBomb Split Beavertail are solid choices.
Carter also recommends two-tone creature tails with orange or chartreuse tails to enhance their visibility and appeal. Scented baits, such as the Berkley Power Bait Max Scent Creature Hawg or Gulp! Black shad and frequently re-dipping it into the fish attractant juice container can help fish locate the lure by engaging their sense of smell. Slowly working chartreuse or dark-colored suspending crankbaits may also work during muddy conditions such as a Smithwick Rattlin’ Suspended Rogue or Countdown Rapala.
PRIME SPRING LOCATIONS
In Ohio Wildlife District 1 (614-644-3925), which covers Central Ohio, Carter names Kaiser Lake as his top pick for bass. This 394-acre body of water in Champaign County allows only paddle craft and shore fishing but has good numbers of bass along the edges of heavy weed bed points and pockets, especially in the shallow eastern end.
Knox Lake is a 476-acre trophy bass fishery with an 18-inch minimum size limit and supports more 12-plus-inch fish than most. Carter says that the extensive stump field on the extreme upper end warms first, quickly followed by areas around the north boat ramp off Old Mansfield Road. Then, lower basin water temperatures can catch up and downed trees typically hold quality bass.
Carter revealed that Alum Creek Lake, at 3,330 acres in Delaware County, turned up many.
Largemouth bass in the 11-inch range in the 2018 fish surveys, which will provide “plenty of 12-inch keeper size fish and is always good spot to have a chance at a 5-pound largemouth bass.” It is also one of the few Ohio inland lakes that is rated excellent for smallmouth bass, with 2 reported over 7 pounds caught in the spring of 2018. Try in the lower basin, especially off the points. Carter points out that small coves with hard clay and gravelly bottoms, especially those above Howard Road and near Big Run warm first.
Buckeye Lake, which was drawn down for dam repairs, is expected to be at full pool by the spring and Carter noted that bass populations were lightly pressured and had great survival rates during construction. Anglers do best early in the canals, then in areas with gravel and rocky shorelines, especially on the south side of the lake, particularly in Snug Harbor and Heron Bay.
In Ohio Wildlife District 2 (419-424-5000) in northwest Ohio, Carter mentions Clear Fork Reservoir as his first pick. With 1,033 acres in Morrow and Richland Counties, it is one of the best bass lakes in Ohio, according to Carter in terms of both size and numbers. Bass are caught along the points and pockets of the vast, dense weed beds and along the islands and submerged humps.
The 118-acre Upper Sandusky Reservoir #2 ranks second to Clear Fork for inland lakes in District 2 for the size of the bass present. The shoreline and the standing timber in the northwest corner of the water body attracts the largest numbers of bass in the spring.
Pleasant Hill, a 783-acre reservoir in Richland and Ashland Counties supports high populations of both Largemouth in the wider shallower upper end and smallmouth bass in the narrower and deeper lower end respectively.
In northeast Ohio’s Wildlife District 3 (330-644-2293), numerous bodies of water support bass, with Tappan Lake, with 2,272 acres of water in Harrison County rated excellent for numbers and size of both largemouth and smallmouth bass, according to Carter. Numerous feeder creeks surround the lake, providing many shallow water coves.
He credits ample aquatic vegetation and a great forage base for making Trumbull County’s 7,199-acre Mosquito Creek Lake an exceptional Largemouth bass lake. In the spring, most bass are caught along the rip-rap shorelines.
Carter considers most of the water within the 1,190 acres of the Portage Lakes in Summit County good largemouth bass fisheries, especially Long Lake, Turkeyfoot Lake, East and West Reservoirs with clear water and good aquatic vegetation production.
The weedy portions of the eastern end of Clendening Lake, with 1,732 acres in Harrison County is also a solid spring time producer, including largemouth bass in excess of 5 pounds.
In southeast Ohio’s Wildlife District 4, (740/589-9930) Carter recommends 687-acre Burr Oak in Athens and Morgan Counties which has good numbers of bass due to ideal natural vegetated habitat, fish attraction pallet structures, nutrients and rich forage base.
District 4 Fish Management Supervisor Mike Greenlee boasts that this lake provides a constant size distribution year after year, with 24 percent of the largemouth bass measuring 15 to 20 inches last spring. He recommends fishing the vegetated upper end, before it gets too thick. There is a 12- to 15-inch protected slot-length rule in place to produce populations of higher quality fish.
Lake Logan is a 333-acre bass hotspot in Hocking County where sampling shows that 14 percent of the bass are 15 to 20 inches long. In the spring, Greenlee recommends fishing along the rip-rap by the dam or the northwestern side shallows that have weeds, tree stumps and other structure.
Piedmont Lake in Guernsey, Harrison and Belmont Counties host both largemouth and smallmouth bass within its 2,368 acres. Artificial fish-attraction structures hold largemouth bass and other sunfish, while smallmouth bass can be caught along the shale points and rocky shoreline from mid-lake to the dam.
Seneca Lake in Guernsey and Noble Counties is an excellent largemouth bass lake, with a few smallmouth bass present. There are numerous shallow coves present in this 3,385-acre body of water.
Tycoon Lake, with 183 acres of water in Gallia County has excellent trophy spring bass fishing in its shallow water stump field on the north side of the lake, along the rip-rap on both dams and in coves nearby the South dam. An impressive 44 percent of the bass caught in sampling gear last spring were 15 to 20 inches long.
The AEP ReCreation properties have 433 ponds that warm up quickly. Public access is allowed in the ReCreation lands with their free permit (aep.com/environment/conservation/recland/permit.aspx), which is not required in the 5,720-acre ODNR-owned portion now designated as Jesse Owens State Park.
According to Greenlee, the most isolated ponds have higher densities of bass, with some reaching 8 pounds. Special bag limits apply so check the regulations. Many have roads that allow access with kayaks, but the use of belly boats in ponds too far from the roads to carry a boat into is popular.
He says that the smaller ponds in the southern portion of the properties are the first to provide good catches of fish in the spring. They are surrounded by high walls and forest cover and produce lots of submersed vegetation which results in clearer water, but with spookier fish.
In southwest Ohio’s District 5 (937-372-9261), Carter describes the 1,954-acre Rocky Fork State Park Lake in Highland County as “a very healthy bass fishery with a balance of high quality submerged aquatic vegetation and bait fish.” Many 2- to 4-pound largemouth bass and some 3- to 4-pound smallmouth bass are present.
Carter also highlighted Acton Lake, a 592-acre body of water in Butler and Preble counties which fisheries surveys pegged as Ohio’s 9th best bass lake for 2018 spring numbers. Debra Walters, District 5 Fish Management Supervisor suggests the rocky shorelines near the dam, fallen trees from the north side of the dam to the State Park lodge, the pier near the Sugar Camp on the southwest shore and around the islands in the upper end.
Walters likes Cowan Lake in the spring too, particularly the north side, which has three wooded bays, including Camp Ground Bay with downed trees and lily pads. The island in the middle of the east half of the lake holds bass too. It was ranked number 5 in Ohio for bass numbers and size.
Caesar Creek Lake, with 2,806 acres in Warren and Clinton Counties may have fewer bass, but the largemouth are typically large. Fishing in the shallow bays in the lower end in the spring is the best bet. Each of the islands have old stumps and freshly toppled trees that provide good bass habitat.
The north bank of 2,107-acre East Fork Lake in Clermont County Lake has numerous creek mouths, stump fields, rock slab drop-offs and an island that hold bass. Be sure to check the Louisville Corp of Engineer District Office under its official name, William H. Harsha Lake for water levels as this flood control lake fluctuates widely in the spring.