OHIO OUTDOOR NOTEBOOK
By Laura Jones, Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Buckeye State anglers catching fishing fever
As spring training is to baseball fans, so is spring fishing to Ohio anglers. All across the state tackle boxes are being inspected, old fishing line replaced and new lures purchased in anticipation of another great season of Buckeye State fishing.
Find out what’s biting this spring in Ohio’s waterways
Featuring many inland lakes and streams, the Ohio River and of course Lake Erie, Ohio offers some of the best fishing in the Midwest. From walleye, smallmouth bass and steelhead trout to crappie, saugeye and bluegill, there’s something for everyone who is itching to get out and cast a line.
With so many choices, what’s an antsy angler to do? To help find out what’s biting and where, I spoke to a few of Ohio’s top fish experts.
There’s probably no better time of the year for shoreline anglers than spring, according to Roger Knight, fisheries biologist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). “As the air and water temperatures begin to climb, a wide range of fish start getting active, giving anglers some tremendous fishing opportunities from the shore.”
Based out of Sandusky in Erie County, Knight naturally highlights the western basin’s popular Walleye Run. “Around the middle of March, as water temperatures rise into the 40s, walleye leave the open water and move into major tributaries to spawn. Anglers are already catching good numbers of walleyes in both of the Maumee and Sandusky Rivers, including some limits.” The catch limit is three walleye from March 1 to April 30 and six the remainder of the year, with a 15-inch minimum size limit year-round.
Spring weather not only brings good fishing, but also high, swift-moving waters. Be safe and pay attention to the rivers’ flow rates, cautions Knight. “Not only is high water dangerous, it also reduces the chances of a good catch rate.”
Other good fishing prospects include perch, which start moving closer to shore over the next couple of weeks. According to Knight, the area around Marblehead can be particularly productive for these tasty fish. He also suggests targeting crappie where warming stream waters feed into Lake Erie. White bass fishing also heats up in major rivers for shore anglers during April and May.
Moving over to Lake Erie’s central basin, anglers are finding renewed chances with another favorite fish, the steelhead trout. From September through April, steelheads migrate into northeastern-Ohio river tributaries to spawn. Now that these waters are ice-free, the fish are ready to give anglers a memorable challenge.
The ODNR Division of Wildlife actively stocks the Rocky, Chagrin, Grand and Vermilion rivers and Conneaut Creek, said Phil Hillman, a state fisheries biologist and expert steelhead angler. “Anglers should concentrated on deep pools featuring a single current or areas with gravel bottoms that are one-to-three feet deep and have multiple currents,” he said, adding anglers should find success using both spinning and fly rods. Hillman says an average steelhead weighs seven pounds and runs about 25-inches in length. The daily catch limit is two through May 15, with a minimum length of 12 inches.
But not all the action is happening up north. Our inland lakes and streams are also warming, waking a variety of fish from their winter sluggishness. Ray Petering, manager for ODNR’s inland fishery program, says anglers looking for good March fishing should target saugeye. “Despite the cold water, these fish are really active right now, especially in rivers such as the Olentangy and Scioto, where saugeye have escaped from upstream reservoirs.” In southern Ohio, he suggests fishing the streams feeding off Caesar Creek, Rocky Fork, Deer Creek, and Paint Creek lakes.
Petering says that come early April, southern Ohio smallmouth and largemouth bass start hitting in streams as well as in lakes and ponds where they move into the shallows in search of warmer water.
“From the Ohio River tributaries to those that flow into Lake Erie, it’s about a two-to-three week difference in what’s hot down south versus what’s hitting up north,” said Petering. In addition to bass, he says fishing for crappie and catfish really begins to pick up in mid-April.
Wherever you choose to cast that first line here are a couple of reminders:
Remember, as exciting as spring fishing can be, it’s not an excuse for bad manners. Each of my fishing experts stresses the importance of respecting your fellow anglers. And, they add, always seek permission before fishing a stretch of stream or pond that is on private property.
Just as baseball’s spring training sets the stage for major league action through fall, Ohio’s springtime fishing is your chance to score some pre-season ‘home runs’ of your own.