Clear Fork Reservoir tabbed as top Buckeye bass lake
Lexington, Ohio — If you’re looking to catch some good size largemouth bass, anglers would be well suited to focus their efforts on Clear Fork Reservoir in north central Ohio.
Mike Wilkerson, fish management supervisor for the DNR Division of Wildlife in the region, calls Clear Fork one of the top bass destinations in the state.
“That’s a fantastic bass lake,” said Wilkerson. “It’s one of the best bass lakes in the state … It’s definitely in the top five for both size and numbers.”
Wilkerson said as recently as 2010 there was nothing except very large bass in Clear Fork.
“They’ve dropped back a little bit in numbers and then also size a little bit,” he said. “But, we see a large number of 20-inch-plus (bass) come out of there when we sample.”
Bryan Kinter, a fisheries biologist for the Division of Wildlife in Findlay, said it’s not too uncommon to see 5-pound-plus bass come out of Clear Fork.
“It’s a great largemouth lake,” Kinter said. “Especially for size … There’s good numbers of 20-plus-inch fish out there, particularly in the springtime. In the spring, you’ll get those big females with eggs in them for spawning, which really pushes up the weight.”
The lake is a frequent host to summertime bass tournaments, particularly on the weekends.
Muskies are the only species that are stocked at Clear Fork today, but that wasn’t always the case.
“We tried (stocking walleyes) back in the 1950s and 1960s and they didn’t perform very well, so we stopped stocking them,” Wilkerson said. “With the muskies there and the largemouth bass, there are a lot of predators in that lake.”
Muskies are stocked at a rate of one per acre, which means that Clear Fork gets about 1,000 new muskies per year. Some of those specimens are large, too, said Wilkerson.
“We’ve seen 50-inchers come out of there,” Wilkerson said. “It used to be a brood stock lake for muskies, but here about 12 years ago we had (viral hemorrhagic septicemia) in there, so we haven’t used it for (brood stock) since then.
“We’ve sampled it for the last five years for VHS and haven’t seen any evidence of it,” Wilkerson said.
White bass is also a species that anglers chase here.
“We’ve never had a lot of luck sampling them, but there’s a spring run on them up into the tributaries,” said Wilkerson. “(Anglers) do fairly well on them at that time of year, but you don’t hear much about them outside of that.”
There’s also a decent population of both black and white crappies. There was formerly a 9-inch minimum keeper requirement for crappies and a 30-fish daily bag limit, but that regulation has been removed, said Kinter.
“With the crappies there, there are decent numbers but generally a large number of those are 7- or 8-inchers,” he said. ”So, the regulation that we put on wasn’t having the desired effect, so we took it off.”
Kinter said angler surveys at Clear Fork show that a good number of fishermen target crappies.
Channel catfish are not stocked, but the population is self-sustaining.
“There are a lot of 15- to 20-inch (catfish) in there, nothing huge,” Kinter said. “The numbers are just OK, not great.”
There are several areas on the south side of the lake that offer good shoreline access, said Wilkerson.
The lake allows boats of unlimited horsepower with the caveat that there’s an 8 mph speed limit, which is enforced by the city of Mansfield.
Boaters need to be clear-headed at Clear Fork, said Kinter.
“There’s a lot of sunken islands that you can hit out there,” he said. “There’s a lot of structure out there, so if you’re boating too fast there’s a lot you can crash into.”
Wilkerson sums up Clear Fork in this manner:
“It’s got a lot of vegetation in it. There’s a lot of downed trees along the shoreline also,” he said. “Probably the best spot to catch a bass is down by the dam.”
Clear Fork Reservoir was created in 1950 by damming the Clear Fork River and several smaller streams. It is owned by the city of Mansfield and serves as its municipal water supply.
It may not be one of the largest lakes in Ohio, but it fishes like one of its best, those in the know say of this impoundment in Richland and Morrow counties.
It has one main boat launch, a marina, a campground, four picnic areas, and seasonal docking facilities.
Clear Fork is a popular lake on the tournament circuit with both muskie and bass clubs. But, you won’t be run off the water by recreational users due to the limited mph restriction.
According to Tom Cross’ “Fishing Ohio,” Clear Fork Creek below the dam offers some small stream fishing for bass, bluegills, and the occasional muskie.
— Mike Moore
Clear Fork Reservoir
Nearest town Lexington
Surface area 971 acres
Maximum depth 25 feet
Shore length 15.5 miles
Fish species present:
Muskie, largemouth bass, white bass, black crappie, white crappie, channel catfish, bluegill, carp.
419-884-2877; Division of Wildlife District 2: 419-424-5000.