Hybrid stripers are an added bonus at N’West’s Charles Mill
Ohio has fair to good fishing lakes from border to border, but obviously some are better than others. In north central Ohio, Charles Mill Lake is almost certainly near the top.
This 1,350 acre Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District lake is located just a few miles southeast of Mansfield, a mostly shallow, often turbid lake that draws its water from the Black Fork River on its north end.
“It’s essentially a canal lake,” said Mike Wilkerson, fish management supervisor for the ODNR Division of Wildlife in Findlay. “It wasn’t built as a canal lake, but it’s a big, flat, shallow lake.
“It’s got a lot of different species in it,”Wilkerson said. “That’s the one lake in the district that gets hybrid stripers.”
Hybrid stripers do well at Charles Mill, said Wilkerson.
“We’ve seen some 10-plus pounders come out of there,” he said. “You don’t see a ton of them because when we get a lot of water they get flushed from the system into the tailwater … We don’t see any real old fish in there for the most part.”
There’s a special regulation on white bass and hybrid stripers at Charles Mill. The daily bag limit is 30 fish but no more than four of them may be over 15 inches.
The lake is known for several species of fish among local anglers, but channel cats are probably tops. There are big ones and lots of them, along with a scattering of flatheads that might reach 40 pounds or better, and they provide top fishing all spring, summer, and well into fall.
“We see (flatheads) occasionally,” Wilkerson said. “It’s not something we particularly sample for.”
Channel cats at Charles Mill are caught on shrimp, cut bait (local gizzard shad), nightcrawlers, slightly crushed minnows, and commercial baits, usually fished on bottom, but sometimes below a bobber that holds the offering above the mud and gravel below.
And while cats might be picked up anywhere in the lake, there are some spots that are proven producers. One of the best is around the State Route 430 bridge that bisects the lake. Channel cats anywhere like to hole up for the day in the deepest water around, then come twilight move into the shallows to forage for insects, crayfish, and other food. Near dawn, they move back to deep water again. The 430 bridge pinches the fish into a narrow funnel that they traverse nightly heading north to spread out into the islands and shoals above. So, savvy anglers fish here near dusk and dawn and usually make a good catch.
Other good places to seek channels are at the main campground near the marina, along either side, but best at the end near the channel that cuts into the main lake. And those that prefer daytime fishing will have good luck in a deep area south of the marina where the lake widens from a fairly narrow pinch. You’ll need a boat here, and a bottom bumping rig, but the cats are there.
As for the hybrid stripers, this is a unique lake in that it holds a population of them.
“They don’t get super big out there, but we have seen 10-pounders before,” Wilkerson said. “The tailwater is often a good place to try as stripers and saugeyes get flushed out of the lake.”
Most of the stripers are caught on the eastern side of the lake, said Wilkerson.
“A lot of people catch them from shore, and the most popular way to catch them is on (chicken) liver,” he said. “Fish it on the bottom.”
Bass fishing is almost as good as channel cat action, good enough to see tournaments there each summer. The best spot for these is directly across from the marina, an area that drops off fairly quickly and has good shoreline cover. Fish the shoreline across the lake both left and right as you face the water, work around the curve east, then cast the shore on both sides south.
“It’s a fair bass lake,” Wilkerson said. “There’s not a lot of big bass in there, but there’s pretty good numbers of them.”
The main lake isn’t all that productive for bass, but some are taken each year north of the State Route 430 bridge in stump and fallen timber areas. Standard offerings are spinners, spinnerbaits in white and chartreuse, dark colored plastic worms, shallow diving crankbaits, and pig and jig combinations – just like anywhere else.
The lake is also known for its crappies, which are plentiful and in fair sizes. Each spring, dozens of anglers are likely to be fishing shoreline cover in all directions, and even up into the Black Fork River.
Saugeyes turn up occasionally, as do modest sized bluegills, and below the dam in the tailwaters anglers might pick up almost anything. Saugeyes and wipers are stocked here each year by the DNR Division of Wildlife.
Charles Mill offers more than just fishing, though. Some come to swim and willingly pay the modest admission charge, or stay at one of the two campgrounds, which total over 500 campsites, with or without electricity, and spend a weekend just loafing and roasting hot dogs. Visitors who don’t camp but want to spend some leisure time at Charles Mill can rent a tepee, patio cabin, or camper cabin.
Anglers can bring their own boat or rent one at the marina, launch there or at a ramp located just off State Route 430 west of the entrance of the park, and observing the 10- horsepower limit, roam the lake exploring and doing a little bird watching. Lots of choices at this versatile lake.
“(Charles Mill) is almost two separate lakes,” said Wilkerson. “There’s the eastern side, which is where the marina is at. And, then there’s the western side, which we call the main lake. The eastern side is deeper, and that’s where most of the fishing goes on. There’s good (shoreline) access on that end.”
Charles Mill Lake
Nearest town: Mifflin
Surface area: 1,350 acres
Maximum depth: 15 feet
Shore length: 34 miles
Fish species present:
Hybrid striped bass, saugeye, channel catfish, flathead catfish, black crappie, white crappie, largemouth bass, bluegill, carp.
Charles Mill Park Office: 419-368-6885; Division of Wildlife District 2: 419-424-5000.