Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Ohio Lake Profile – Wills Creek Lake, Muskingum/Coshocton Counties

Wills Creek provides some exceptional tailwater fishing


By Mike Moore


Maysville, Ohio — While it may make a lake tougher to fish, sometimes limited boat access can be a good thing.


Consider the case of Wills Creek Reservoir in Muskingum and Coshocton counties. DNR Division of Wildlife fisheries biologists owe the lake’s decent largemouth numbers in part to limited access and an underfished population.


You’ll also catch saugeyes, channel and flathead catfish, crappies, and some bluegills in this unique, river-like lake that zigs and zags across 421 acres in parts of two counties in southeast Ohio.


Yet, limited access also comes with its share of problems, said Don Swatzel, a fisheries biologist with the DNR Division of Wildlife in Athens.


“Wills Creek Lake due to extensive sedimentation is very hard to access,” he said. “The only designated ramp is owned by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District and is located in the upper most part of the lake (upstream of State Route 83) where silting is at the worst and it is becoming almost nonfunctional. There is an unimproved ‘ramp’ located off of Wills Creek Road (just downstream of State Route 83) that most of the locals use to launch watercraft.”


Recently, Swatzel said that situation hasn’t improved much. Excessive siltation has kept Division of Wildlife fisheries survey crews off the lake for the last several years and no future surveys are scheduled at this time.


This lake doesn’t get much fishing pressure, Swatzel said, because it is limited to 10 hp boat motors.


The most recent electrofishing survey in 2012 captured largemouth bass at a rate of 19 fish per hour, while the statewide average is 104 per hour. More than half (54%) of the fish that were sampled were 12 inches or larger and 25% of the catch was 15 inches or larger. The average size of bass caught was 11.4 inches with the largest fish hitting the 16.5-inch mark.


You might also catch smallmouth bass in the tailwaters here, particularly during April and May spawning when bronzebacks make their way upstream from the Muskingum River.


The main attraction at Wills Creek is likely its tailwater fishery. The area at County Road 497 is accesible by a concrete walkway and it also includes a fishing platform that is accessible for those with disabilities. The latter was the product of a cooperative agreement among the Division of Wildlife, the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, and the Coshocton County Sportsmen’s Club.


Saugeye is the only species stocked here annually, but at half the typical rate of 150 fish per acre, Swatzel said. The lake missed its stocking of saugeyes last year due to shortages in the fish hatchery. The stocking is on schedule to resume this year, Swatzel said, likely around the end of May.


Wills Creek is a flood control lake, part of the aforementioned Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. When the lake is doing its job, much of its fish population gets washed over the spillway and into the tailwaters.


It was for this reason that stocking saugeyes at Wills Creek was reduced to 50 fish per acre from 2002 through 2010.


“It was thought that since so many fish were flushed through the spillway that stocking at higher rates wasn’t prudent use of sportsmen’s dollars,” Swatzel said. “However, because of the increased popularity of the Wills Creek spillway fishery and fishermen’s desire to catch and harvest this species the rate per acre was increased in 2011.”


Today, Wills Creek is stocked annually with 150 fingerlings per acre.


“The best fishing Wills Creek has to offer is at the tailwater,” Swatzel said. “… High-water events routinely flush saugeyes into the tailwater area. The fishery is predominantly 1- and 2-year-old saugeyes that run 12 to 18 inches. We do get reports occasionally of larger fish.” 


A 10-pound, 4-ounce saugeye, which held the state record for a period, was caught here in 1989.


Wills Creek is also notable for its catfish, which are sustained through natural reproduction – fed into Wills Creek by the Muskingum River. 


“A 2009 gillnet survey produced high catches of channel catfish,” Swatzel said. “A catch rate of 2.59 fish per hour was twice the state average (1.26 fish per hr.). Nineteen percent of the sampled fish were 18 to 25 inches with the largest fish being 26 inches. Average length of channel catfish caught for the entire survey was 13.75 inches.” 


Fish sampling also indicated that this system is notable for quality flathead catfish. Fisheries personnel observed numerous flatheads in the 8- to 15-pound range throughout the lake.


“There is trophy potential for anglers targeting flatheads at Wills Creek Reservoir,” Swatzel said.


Anglers will also catch a few crappies here, mostly of the white variety. There are no special restrictions on crappies.


Wills Creek is also noted for its white bass population.


Wills Creek is extremely shallow in most places, the deepest point being about 12 feet at the dam. It is characterized primarily by large, shallow mudflats that can prove challenging for boating anglers. There is just one boat ramp – at County Road 410 just south of the Highway 83 intersection.


Nonetheless, if you do launch on Wills Creek, it’s not unusual to have the lake all to yourself. Away from the spillway, shoreline access is limited by woodlands and not very well-developed at any point on the lake.


Note that boats are limited to 10 horsepower.


Access to the tailwaters is off County Highway 497 in Coshocton County, although much of the lake lies in Muskingum and even Guernsey counties. There are no public facilities or camping at the lake. The nearby village of Wills Creek offers a country store and bait shop.

Wills Creek Lake

Nearest town Maysville

Surface area 421 acres

Maximum depth 12 feet


Fish species present:

Saugeye, channel catfish, flathead catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, bluegill.


For information:

330-343-6647; Division of Wildlife District 4: 740-589-9930.

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