Whether you are planning a family fishing vacation or a short weekend getaway to add some variety to your angling this season, there’s no reason to look beyond Buckeye State borders to do so.
Ohio offers everything from big water fishing action for bass, steelhead and walleye atop the most productive Great Lake for recreational fishing, to remote, shaded creeks to wade in search of brown and rainbow trout – and everything in between. So, whether your road trip wish list includes hooking up to a monster flathead, netting a cooler full of fillets or landing a walleye for the wall to be deemed a success, you can find in right here in Ohio.
To assist in your search, we’ve selected a “Lucky 7” list of destinations that offer better-than-average odds at success on a variety of Ohio’s popular gamefish species.
Premier Panfish Action at Lake La Su Ann Wildlife Area
If panfish are your passion, the fertile waters of an out-of-the-way wildlife area managed for producing super-sized sunfish should be on your angling itinerary this season. Tucked into extreme northwest Ohio, Williams County’s Lake La Su Ann Wildlife Area arguably boasts the best public water, big-fish bluegill fishing in the state, as well as opportunities for trophy sized redear and pumpkinseed sunfish.
The sunfish angling opportunities overshadow the largemouth bass and yellow perch fisheries found at the wildlife area, which are very good as well. On what used to be a reservation-only opportunity, the ponds and lakes on the wildlife area are now open for fishing from early May through Labor Day on Monday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from sunrise to sunset.
While anglers do not need a reservation to fish the lakes on the Lake La Su An Wildlife Area, all vehicles must park in a limited number of designated parking spaces around the area.
The sunfish bag limit is 15 fish daily, with no more than five fish being eight inches or larger. Largemouth bass have an 18-inch minimum length limit, with a five fish daily bag limit and channel catfish have a two fish daily bag limit.
Daily bag limits will be posted and are in effect area wide, and only one bag limit is allowed each day regardless of how many lakes an angler fishes. All statewide fishing regulations apply to the area lakes, except when superseded by the special regulations, including a restriction on using fish as bait on the area.
The regulations are designed by Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW) fisheries biologists to continue the tradition of quality bluegill fishing on the La Su An area lakes by continuing to regulate the amount of fishing pressure without the need for anglers to obtain a reservation, limiting the number of days the lakes are open to fishing, limiting the number of bluegill that anglers can take home each day, and limiting the number of anglers that fish the area at one time via a limited number of parking spaces fishermen may use.
For more information about fishing at Lake La Su An, visit wildohio.gov; under the Fishing Regulations select Lake La Su An on the Site-Specific Waters drop-down option.
Lake Erie’s World Class Bass and Walleye Fishing
Ohio’s Great Lake has won acclaim over the years as a world class smallmouth bass fishery and the “Walleye Capital of the World.” You can hook up with both species, and net a great island vacation getaway this summer, by visiting Lake Erie’s South Bass Island.
The island is accessible by air and water only, the latter via private boats, charter fishing craft or ferry services from the mainland. Boaters have their choice of making the four mile crossing over South Passage or ferrying their trailered boat and tow vehicle over to the island.
There are plenty of accommodations on South Bass, home to the popular summer port of Put-in-Bay, from bed & breakfast establishments to full-service,family-friendly resorts. However, I recommend a camp-and-fish vacation taking advantage of 33-acre South Bass Island State Park.
Located on the waterfront of the island’s west side, the park maintains its own boat launch and offers 128 campsites from full-service to primitive – some of the latter situated on a bluff among trees overlooking the lake and swimming beach. Four ‘cabents’ and a cabin are also available to overnight guests. From the park, boaters have a short cruise up to Middle Bass and North Bass islands and the bass and walleye fishing in the famous Western Basin waters that surrounds them.
Both the walleye and bass fishing peak in May, and the fast fishing continues in the Bass Islands for resident smallmouth throughout the summer. Many of the walleye begin to migrate east in June, following cooler water and baitfish, but enough fish remain in the Western Basin to offer a productive walleye fishery throughout the season.
Yellow perch serve as bonus backup species that gets attention from local anglers about when the walleye fishing starts to wane around the islands in July, peaking in September. Visit parks.ohiodnr.gov/southbassisland to get more information about the state park, and shoresandislands.com for general visitor information for the Bass Island area.
Catching Muskellunge at Clear Fork Lake
Ohio has several large impoundments that offer super muskie fishing action including Leesville and Alum Creek reservoirs. But for a relaxing weekend of angling for “The Fish of Ten Thousand Casts” without fighting pleasure boat traffic, Clear Fork Lake is a clear choice. The 1000-acre water supply for Mansfield straddles Richland and Morrow counties in a rural setting that includes a waterfront campground, launch ramp, dockage and marina.
While there are no horsepower restrictions for boaters on the reservoir, an 8 mph speed limit imposed by the city keeps high-powered pleasure craft and jet-skis at bay, leaving the lake open to anglers and others who enjoy a quiet day on the water.
The state stocks Clear Fork with muskies annually, which thrive, and anglers who cast or troll oversized plugs, spoons and spinner find success, especially around the islands and over the weed beds that emerge each summer. For detailed lake maps and more information about the muskie fishing at Clear Fork Reservoir, visit wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/clearforkreservoir.
Bass and Panfish Bonanza on AEP ReCreation Lands
Believe it or not, there are populations of bass and bluegills on public lands in Ohio that have never seen a hook – let alone an angler. The majority of these of-the-beaten-path ponds are located – note I didn’t say ‘found’ – in the wild backcountry of the AEP Recreation Lands, formerly known, and still referred to by many, as the Ohio Power Lands.
The rugged 60,000 acre landscape located south of Zanesville was surface-mined for coal and was reclaimed decades ago, a process that included stocking some 300-plus ponds and lakes with bass, panfish and catfish. Many of these waters are small, extremely remote ponds that take a hardy hike to get to, and once there, may only be accessible by belly boat, which must be packed in by bass anglers who know the effort is worth it.
The AEP ReCreation Lands cover parts of Morgan, Muskingum, Guernsey and Noble counties, located along state routes 83 and 78 south of Cumberland and east of McConnelsville. Anglers willing to hike in to some of the more remote ponds away from the main roads have a chance to catch bass that may rarely see an angler, and camping is allowed in designated areas on the property. You need a free permit to fish on AEP lands, which are available from the AEP offices in Athens and McConnelsville, from several bait shops and smaller groceries in the area or online at aep.com/environment/conservation/recland/permit.aspx. Maps showing the lakes and access points are also available there or at wildohio.gov.
Mad River Trout for the Taking
Ohio’s isn’t known for its inland trout fisheries, but a few streams are stocked annually and one’s a standout: The Mad River. It’s also a pretty stream to wade and fish, as the spring-fed flow meanders across Logan County early on its 70-mile journey near West Liberty to eventually join the Great Miami River near Springfield in west central Ohio.
The upper reaches of the Mad River offer best fishing for brown trout, which are stocked annually and provide a good put-and-take fishery throughout the season. Savvy summer trout anglers realize the Mad’s opportunities for hooking big browns after dark, and bruiser fish are caught – and voluntarily released – every season.
A section of the river near West Liberty is designated for single hook artificials only, and the balance gives up trout to anglers using natural baits as well as small spinners and spoons. To learn more about fishing the Mad River for trout, as well as netting a river map showing public access points, visit wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/fishing/fishing-tips-by-species/rainbow-brown-trout.
Muskingum River’s Amazing Summer Catfishery
The Muskingum River between Zanesville and where it meets the Ohio River in Marietta is a catfishing Mecca for shore anglers and boaters alike. Anglers targeting any one of the ten dams along that route can expect to catch channel cats, bull heads and flatheads, with enough blues on the prowl to mix up the bag.
Flathead fishing results in catches of ‘shovelheads’ in the 60-pound range every season, and the Devola pool and tailwater is a favorite for those anglers seeking trophy flatheads. Access to the Muskingum River is excellent, thanks to the Muskingum River Parkway, a system of state parks that flank nearly the entire river south of Zanesville. Shore-fishing access, boat launch ramps and parking are abundant in the park system.
Top catfishing pools along the Muskingum River include the Zanesville Pool and Ellis tailwater in Muskingum County, the Dillon tailwater where the Licking River enters the river, the Philo Pool in the Y bridge area in downtown Zanesville, the Rokeby Pool in Morgan and Muskingum counties; the McConnelsville Pool in Muskingum and Morgan counties, and the Stockport Pool in Morgan County. The Luke Chute Pool in Morgan County and the Beverly Pool have good populations of channel cats and a sizeable population of flatheads, as does the Lowell Pool in Washington County.
For information on the Muskingum River Parkway, call (740) 674-4794 or send an email inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org. For maps and more information about the Muskingum River visit wildohio.gov.
Geneva-on-the-Lake’s Great Steelhead and Walleye
When some of the Lake Erie walleye exit the Western Basin waters each summer, they swim east following baitfish to find cooler water off the lake’s deeper Central Basin, east of Cleveland.
There, they join resident steelhead, lake-run rainbow trout that find their way to the Big Lake from the half dozen tributaries into which they are annually stocked and put on the feedbag for a couple years before returning to their home streams as broad-shouldered steelhead.
Meanwhile, the walleye and steelhead are there for the picking by anglers trolling crankbaits and spoons in waters from Mentor east to Ashtabula and Conneaut. Smack in the middle of this fish-rich section of Lake Erie is the old-school resort town of Geneva-on-the-Lake and adjacent Geneva State Park and marina, which makes an excellent base from which to fish. The state park lodge and cabins are perfect for a family fishing get-away and the marina is full service. For more information on Geneva State Park and marina visit parks.ohiodnr.gov/Geneva; for area travel information, go to visitgenevaonthelake.com.
There you have it, seven great fishing road trip destinations across Ohio this season. We hope we have inspired you to hit the road and sample some of the Buckeye State’s abundant angling opps this summer.