Dillon Reservoir in S’east ranks high for hybrid striper angling
By Mike Moore
Zanesville, Ohio — In the warmer months, a legion of the Buckeye State’s inland anglers turn their attention to saugeye and panfish.
Dillon Reservoir, about six miles northwest of Zanesville in east central Ohio, offers good opportunities for both species.
This 1,403-acre lake at Dillon State Park has been stocked with saugeyes every year since 1989.
“Our 2017 survey showed fewer adult saugeye than that in 2016,” said Mike Greenlee, fish management supervisor for the DNR Division of Wildlife in Athens. “Our size composition also changed with 24 percent of the saugeye sampled being over 15 inches, compared to 43 percent in 2016.
“Saugeye stocked in the spring at this lake grow fast due to the abundant forage with the average size of saugeye measuring 10 inches by fall of the year of stocking. However, due to the large watershed size and low retention and high flush through rates of water in this reservoir, many fish move through this reservoir downstream into the tailwater, Licking, and Muskingum rivers. This reservoir offers excellent seasonal saugeye fishing below the dam, both in the early spring and late fall.”
The best spot to target is the tailwater area below the dam. Anglers suggest using the standard saugeye setup of a jig with a twister tail in yellow, white, green, or chartreuse.
“When they put the saugeye in there, it just doesn’t take them long to get through the spillway,” said Bob Mathie of Bob’s Outdoor Supply in Newark. “Them fish just like to squirrel their way right through there.”
The Division of Wildlife for the first time several years ago stocked Dillon with hybrid stripers.
Greenlee said these hybrids are stocked at a rate of 50 fingerlings per acre on an annual basis. Stocking typically takes place in early June.
“We continue to stock this lake with hybrid striped bass each year in the spring at 50 fingerlings per acre,” said Greenlee. “Similar to saugeye, they grow fast in this reservoir. Dillon continues to rank third in numbers of fish over 18 inches. The 2017 survey showed 12 percent of the fish sampled were over 18 inches and the biggest fish in the survey was in the 19-inch size range. The forecast for hybrid striped bass in this lake should continue to be similar to what it has been in the past. Hybrids in the 18- to 19-inch range weigh in the 3- to 5-pound range at this lake.”
The statewide bag limit of 30 stripers with no more than four over 15 inches applies at this lake.
Dillon is fairly shallow at an average depth of 7 feet and maximum of 24 feet. It contains good brushy cover along much of the 14 miles of shoreline that will hold pockets of panfish. Look for drop-offs and laydowns and target depths of about 10 feet, suggests Mathie.
“Light lines and small baits seems to be popular,” Mathie said. “Four-inch worms, tubes, small crankbaits seem to work … You need to just find something that looks like a piece of wood in the water and fish it. There are a lot of laydowns there but sometimes you have to look hard to find them.”
Dillon Reservoir is a popular destination for bass anglers. The lake does not boast high numbers of trophy category bass, but consistently produces good numbers of bass in the 12- to 16-inch range.
“This lake continues to be a popular destination for bass tournament anglers with 31 percent of the anglers seeking bass, making it the most sought after fish in the lake,” Greenlee said. “This lake continues to produce good numbers of largemouth bass in the 12- to 16-inch size range. In the last electrofishing survey conducted in the spring of 2018, 29 percent of the fish surveyed were between 12 and 16 inches.”
There is a 12-inch minimum keeper requirement on bass here, the statewide regulation.
Crappies and bluegill are present in good numbers as well, with crappies in particular running bigger in the 8- to 12-inch range. In the last crappie survey conducted by the Division of Wildlife, 31% of white crappies and 14% of black crappies were 9 inches or larger. That’s important because there is a minimum keeper requirement of 9 inches in the 30-fish daily bag.
Smallmouth bass fishing above the lake in the Muskingum River can be productive in the fall, Mathie said.
The channel catfish population is also rated as excellent by the Division of Wildlife with natural reproduction maintaining a healthy fishery. Sizes will range from 8 to 25 inches, but some will go larger. In the 1990s, Mathie said a friend was bass fishing on a drop with a jigging spoon when he hauled in a catfish that went over 30 pounds. Mathie said the same friend a couple of years ago caught another at Dillon that was bigger.
“He caught one that was big enough that he couldn’t get it in the boat by himself,” Mathie said. “Them big cats like that, during the summer, they’ll get out there on some of them deeper drops.”
Greenlee said surveys indicate that there are excellent numbers of channel catfish here in the 16- to 20-inch range.
Four boat ramps provide access to Dillon and there is no horsepower limit. Since 1968, Dillon Lake has been co-located in the state park of the same name, which offers cottages, campsites, a swimming beach, and picnic facilities. Boat rentals and other amenities are available at the marina. There’s a bit of waterfowl hunting that takes place on the lake in the fall, according to Mathie.
To reach the lake from Zanesville, take State Route 146 west to the park entrance (Clay Littick Drive). From Interstate 70, look for the exit for Dillon State Park.
“Dillon Reservoir also has an excellent tailwater fishery during the cool weather months of November through March for saugeye,” Greenlee adds. “Saugeye anglers are very successful at catching limits of saugeye at this tailwater when conditions are right.”
Nearest town Zanesville
Surface area 1,403 acres
Maximum depth 24 feet
Shore length 14 miles
Fish species present:
Hybrid striped bass, saugeye, channel catfish, black crappie, white crappie, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, sunfish, carp.
Dillon State Park office: 740-453-4377; Division of Wildlife District 4: 740-589-9930.