Ohio’s Lake Erie tributary rivers and streams offer some of the
best steelhead fishing in the United States, and one of the best
times to take advantage of this opportunity is now, according to
David Kelch, extension specialist with the Ohio Sea Grant
During the fall, steelhead begin entering streams from the
Vermilion River to Conneaut Creek. Fish have continued to enter
streams all winter in preparation for the spring spawn, Kelch said.
Most steelhead spawn during February and March, and return to Lake
Erie by early May. This fishery offers great opportunities for
shore-bound anglers to catch trophy-sized fish during the fall,
winter, and spring along Ohio’s North Coast. The bag limit is two
fish per day, 12 inches or greater in length.
Steelhead are stocked annually by the DNR Division of Wildlife
into the Vermilion River, Rocky River, Chagrin River, Grand River,
and Conneaut Creek. In addition to the stocked rivers, steelhead
can be found in most any tributary stream or creek entering Lake
Erie east of Huron.
Kelch said conditions on the rivers will vary with rain and snow
events. He advises to avoid fishing when rivers are dark brown in
color, which typically occurs after a rain or snow-melt. Water
which appears to be greenish in color, but not crystal clear,
provides good fishing conditions.
Smaller creeks and rivers will be fishable first. If you are
just beginning in steelhead fishing, start with spinning gear and
bait. Spawn sacs, minnows, and nightcrawlers are effective baits
for steelhead. Cast upriver and let the bait, which should be
bouncing off the bottom, drift downstream with the current. If you
prefer fly fishing, use sucker spawn egg patterns, clouser minnows,
woolly buggers, and single egg patterns. As with spin fishing, cast
upstream and drift your fly down, making sure the fly is on the
bottom. If you are doing things right, you will lose a lot of bait,
hooks, and flies which get snagged on the bottom.
Deer Creek Lake (Madison, Fayette, and Pickaway counties) —
Water levels are very low in the spillway area but there has been
some action on saugeye in the past week, reports Jack McKirgan of
Mary’s Bait Shop in Washington Court House. The saugeye catches
have been in the 18-19-inch range, coming on jigs tipped with live
bait. Some incidental catches of channel catfish from 2-4 pounds
have also been reported by anglers fishing for saugeye. White bass
fishing should pick up by the end of March, McKirgan said. White
bass fishing, he said, is best when the lake is drawn to summer
pool, which typically occurs in late March.
Mary’s Bait Shop, 740-869-3597
Buckeye Lake (Fairfield, Licking and Perry counties) — A few
savvy boat anglers have been catching crappie from 8-11 inches in
Heron Bay, Fairfield and a few other shallow channels, reports Bob
Mathie of Bob’s Outdoor Supply. “It’s really shallow so you have to
know where you’re going or you’ll get in trouble in a hurry,”
Mathie said. Successful baits have been tiny jigs (1/64-1/80-ounce)
with minnows fished under bobbers. Mathie said the boat anglers
“are just killing crappies around the docks” in those channels. The
channel catfish bite should pick up soon as well. Mathie recommends
using fresh cut shad for cats.
Bob’s Outdoor Supply, 740-349-0992
Clendening Lake (Harrison County) — Anglers are fishing off
bridges for saugeye but are not having much luck, reports Tom
Sikora of Pitstop/Star Fire Express in Martins Ferry. Low water
levels are the prime culprit for the slow bite, he said. A skim ice
cover is on much of Clendening as well as nearby Piedmont, which
has kept boating anglers off the lakes. Sikora expects the saugeye
bite to pick up at Clendening as soon as the weather breaks. “It’s
getting close to prime time if we get some water back in these
lakes,” he said. “I know guys are getting their boats ready
Pitstop/Star Fire Express, 740-633-3170
Leesville Lake (Carroll County) — The local muskie club has
reported seven muskies caught out of Leesville and Piedmont since
Jan. 1 with most of the catches between 30 to 31 inches, Sikora
said. The biggest muskie, a 40-incher, was hauled in by Tom Troski
of Toronto, Ohio.
Pitstop/Star Fire Express, 740-633-3170
Grand Lake St. Marys (Mercer and Auglaize counties) — Crappies
between 8 to 11 inches are being taken in brushy cover primarily on
the north side of the lake in depths up to 5 feet. The successful
combo has been jigs tipped with either small minnows or wax worms.
The yellow perch and walleye bite has been slow. Good numbers of
catfish are also being taken primarily by anglers gearing up for
the lake’s first catfish tournament on March 18, reports Jeff Toben
of the Outdoorsman. Most of the catfish anglers are targetting the
east bank with shad and chubs. The lake’s first crappie tournament
on March 4 made winners out of Jim Freeman and Brian Bollenbacher.
The team weighed in at 8.45 pounds for eight fish. The Outdoorsman
is running a big fish contest through the end of the year for fish
caught in public waters anywhere in Auglaize or Mercer counties.
Anyone who hauls in a big fish of any species can check it in at
the store, 172 E. Bank Road, St. Marys.
Outdoorsman, 419-394-5769, www.eastbankmarina.com and click on
Mike’s Bait & Tackle, 419-394-4478
Indian Lake (Logan County) —
Todd Gates of Indian Lake has the catch of the year so far with
a 8-pound, 6-ounce saugeye he caught on March 2. The bite for both
saugeye and crappie has been hit and miss, reports Louise Williams
of Lakeside Pro Bass Shop. It’s been good at times but the same
areas a day later haven’t produced many fish. When the crappie bite
is on, catches have been in the jumbo 12- to 14-inch range with
anglers employing jig and minnow combinations fished on the bottom.
Saugeye catches are coming on blade baits, Smithwick Rogues and
Lakeside Pro Bass Shop, 937-843-2488
Maumee River (Wood County) — Reports are of scattered walleye
catches, some of decent size, according to Gary Lowry of Maumee
Bait & Tackle. On Feb. 26, 13-year-old John Spurlock of Maumee
hauled in a 27-inch female walleye fishing near Jerome Road that
weighed in at 9 pounds, 11 ounces. He was using a Carolina-rigged
floating jighead with a crystal/sparkle plastic tail. A day
earlier, 12-year-old Seth Hymore of Oregon landed a 7-pound,
15-ounce female at the Buttonwood public access in Wood County.
That catch came on a floating jighead with a pink tail. The early
success is typical of most years, said Lowry, who added that he
usually sees the first runs in early March. Water temperature was
at 37.8 degrees on March 3 with between 5 to 6 inches of
visibility. Peak spawning temperature is between 42-52 degrees,
Lowry said. Fishing pressure was expected to pick up the week of
March 6 with temperatures expected to climb into the 40s.
Maumee Bait & Tackle, 419-893, 3474, www.maumeetackle.net
Lake Erie tributaries — Darryl Smith of Toledo landed his
largest steelhead to date on Feb. 26 on the Vermillion River. Smith
brought in a 32-inch, 13-pound steelie on 2-pound test line.
Slightly stained waters in the Vermillion, Chagrin, and Grand
rivers has been good for the steelhead bite in the deeper pools.
Good numbers of steelhead are well distributed throughout the
rivers and small tributaries. Anglers were having good success with
eggs, minnows, or jig and maggot combinations.
Snug Harbor Bait and Tackle (Conneaut), 440-593-3755
Mosquito Creek Lake (Trumbull County) — Skim ice in the 1/4- to
1/2-inch range had covered Mosquito in early March, which flipped
the switch on a few anglers who were fishing some of the open water
areas prior to the lock up, reports Oscar Kachencko of Causeway
Sporting Goods. A warming trend during the week of March 6 should
help get things going the other way, he said.
Causeway Sporting Goods, 330-637-7076
LaDue Reservoir (Geauga County) — There was a 1-inch cover of
ice on LaDue in early March, which follows the trend for much of
the winter, reports Jim Punder of One Stop Fishing Shop in Burton.
LaDue has experienced on and off again open water fishing for much
of the winter as temperatures climb during daylight hours only to
fall back to freezing levels in the evenings. Punder holds out hope
that thermometer readings in the 40s and 50s during the week of
March 6 will turn on the crappie bite.
One Stop Fishing Shop, 440-834-2248
East Fork Lake (Clermont County) — Anglers are picking up a few
crappies in 20-25 feet of water using jig and minnow combinations.
Some bluegills are also being caught on the same baits. A new
crappie tournament season sponsored by Boars Head Bait & Carry
Out begins on Sunday, March 26.
Boars Head Bait & Carry Out, 513-724-1211.
Paint Creek Lake (Highland and Ross counties — Anglers are
looking for the crappie bite at both Paint Creek and nearby Rocky
Fork, reports Debbie Walters, a fisheries biologist with District 5
of the Division of Wildlife. Walters said she has not heard of many
Hirns Corner Bait, 740-634-3286
Salt Fork Lake (Guernsey County) — Anglers targetting crappies
and saugeyes near the spillway are reporting decent numbers but
limited size. A warm stretch during the last weekend of February
brought out boat anglers in good numbers, said Dave Bedlion of Salt
Fork Outdoors. Crappie anglers are having some success with jigs
and small minnows while saugeye fishermen are using a variety of
Division of Wildlife, District 4, 740-589-9946.
Salt Fork Outdoors, 740-439-4570, www.saltforkoutdoors.com
Seneca Lake (Guernsey and Noble counties) — The crappie bite had
been decent at Seneca with anglers pulling in lots of 12- to
15-inch fish but a cold weather front in early March chilled that
effort. Anglers have also been using spoons to pick up some walleye
and saugeye but in few numbers. The saugeye and walleye bite is
expected to pick up and be at its best between mid-March and
T&L General Merchandise, 740-685-2060
Division of Wildlife, District 4, 740-439-1427
LAKE ERIE REGION
The walleye daily bag limit will be four fish from March 1
through April 30. A 15-inch minimum size limit for walleye remains
in effect for the entire season. Starting March 1, the Lake Erie
daily bag limit for yellow perch increased to 40 fish, up from 30
last year. Lake Erie smallmouth and largemouth bass are closed to
possession May 1 through June 23. The daily bag limit for
smallmouth and largemouth on Lake Erie is five before May 1 and
after June 23. The minimum size limit on Lake Erie is 14
The weather has remained cold and fishing activity has been
minimal on the main lake. Spring walleye, yellow perch and
smallmouth bass fishing will improve as the water temperatures
warm. Lake Erie reef walleye spawning usually gets started in mid
to late March and peaks in mid April. Large female walleye can be
caught in the island area and around the Camp Perry reefs before
and after they spawn. Numbers of male walleye can be caught during
spawning on and around the reefs.
Jigging with jigheads, jigging spoons, or vibrating blade baits
are popular methods for catching walleye on the reefs. Troll
crankbaits or worm harnesses to catch the larger fish staging off
of the reefs and around the islands.
Fairport Harbor: The area still had a couple of inches of snow
on the ground in early March so there was no lake fishing to
report, according to Tim Bader at the DNR Division of Wildlife’s
Fairport Harbor fish research unit.There were good reports of
anglers catching steelhead on the Chagrin River using small
spinners and spawn sacs.
Sandusky: Skim ice that is getting push around by the wind has
locked up much of the main lake in the western basin and there are
no recent reports of pressure or catches, reports Jeff Tyson at the
Sandusky fish research unit.
Fairport Harbor Fish Research Unit, 440-352-4199.
Sandusky Fish Research Unit, 419-625-8062.
OHIO RIVER REGION
Fishermen have been hitting the Pike Island dam area near
Martins Ferry fairly hard with some pulling in sauger, walleye and
hybrid stripers, reports Tom Sikora of Pitstop/Star Fire Express.
The water is turbid, however, so the numbers have not been great,
In the Belpre area, sauger fishing has been good primarily at
dusk and dawn in the Willow Island tailwaters. Anglers are using
stinger hooks tipped with cut shad, 8 to 10 feet from shore and
moving in toward the banks.
In the Ironton area, anglers are picking up a few walleye,
sauger and the occasional hybrid striper below the dam areas at
both Greenup and Gallipolis, reports Greg Drown of the Tackle Box
in Ironton. Boat anglers are using blade baits while shore
fishermen are picking up a few fish on curly tails.
Tackle Box (Ironton), 740-533-1187
Hornbecks Bait & Tackle (Belpre), 740-423-1949.
Pitstop/Star Fire Express (Martins Ferry), 740-633-3170.