Shallow Madison decent for catfish, good for crappies
By Mike Moore
London, Ohio — Madison Lake is a small pocket of water in the county of the same name that doesn’t get much notice outside of the small central Ohio town of London.
“We still call it Ohio’s best kept secret,” said Rick “Pappy” Bierbaugh of Pappy’s Anglers tackle shop, a number of years ago in an interview with Ohio Outdoor News. “We kind of like that name.”
It’s “secret,” according to Bierbaugh, because it doesn’t get a lot of fishing pressure aside from the locals and there is a good number of large white crappies in the lake.
“We’re going to get the state record white crappie out of here, I can tell you,” Bierbaugh said back then.
A new state record crappie hasn’t happened at Madison yet, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still hold that potential. It is unlikely, however, given the current state of the crappies fishery.
Bierbaugh said crappies in the 13-14 1⁄2-inch range have been harvested from Madison Lake. Come fall, the small, 108-acre impoundment might be a good place to drop a line for some good size panfish.
The lake endures a lot of water moving through it as its fed by Deer Creek, which eventually leads to Deer Creek Lake outside of Mount Sterling, Ohio. As a result of the siltation, Madison’s average depth is between 3-5 feet.
“It’s in a fairly agricultural watershed,” said Ethan Simmons, a Division of Wildlife fishery biologist in Columbus. “It gets a lot of sediment and it’s pretty muddy.”
The Division of Wildlife stocks 2,500 fingerling channel catfish in Madison every other year. It was stocked in 2020. Channel catfish range from 12 to 18 inches. For those anglers lucky enough to hook a trophy cat at Madison, keep in mind that only one catfish of 28 inches or more may be kept in accordance with Ohio’s trophy catfish regulation.
“We haven’t done a catfish survey there,” said Simmons. “I’d say folks catch them, not a lot of big ones, but people do catch them.”
Nightcrawlers or shrimp fished on the bottom will produce the catfish bite and much of the angling is done at night. The bite is typically best on chicken liver, golden shiners and small chubs. .
Madison holds a fair population of largemouth bass with the stock maintained by natural reproduction. The biggest bass at Madison can measure up to 18 inches, according to Division of Wildlife surveys.
“It’s kind of just average for largemouth bass of the lakes in our district,” Simmons said. “The fish run a little bit small. There’s probably tons of them right in that 13-inch range and a handful that are bigger. There’s just not a lot of habitat for them there. It’s just sort of like a shallow stream almost.”
Fishing in the tailwaters in Deer Creek can be productive for wading anglers or those who can get a canoe in the waterway. The creek is tough to access, due to expanses of farmland all around it, much of which pastures cattle.
“There’s not a lot of diversity in terms of species of fish to fish for,” said Simmons. “It’s basically largemouths, sunfish, crappies, and channel cats, and common carp.”
In the past, muskie could be found in the tailwaters of Deer Creek from the state’s fish hatchery in London. Today, however, a retention pond at London prevents muskie from entering the stream.
On the lake itself, there was previously a 9-inch keeper limit on crappies that was instituted in 2010. That regulation, though, was removed in 2018 and there is no keeper limitation currently.
“We sampled it for several years afterward and the (crappie) growth turned to non-existent,” Simmons said. “The numbers went through the roof of 8-inch crappies. So, basically we just stunted the population (with the regulation).”
There are both white and black crappies in the system, a load of smaller blacks in fact, said Simmons.
“I think the average in District 1 is something like 15 crappies per net night and we were at 60 (fish) per net night,” Simmons said. “It was way above the district average for crappies.
“The lake could benefit from some harvest,” said Simmons.
The lake is located within Madison Lake State Park about five miles west of London between State Routes 665 and 56. Shoreline residential development is heavy and there are no campgrounds within the state park. Boats with electric motors is the only permissible use on the lake. There’s one boat ramp on the southeast side of the lake.
The Division of Wildlife recently conducted a study to allow boats with unlimited horsepower motors but operated at idle only speeds. That three-year study is now over and the lake now is back to an electric only restriction.Simmons.
Madison Lake was created in 1946 by the damming of Deer Creek. It lies in an area called “Darby Plains,” which marks one of the eastern-most extensions of the prairie ecosystem in the U.S.
From State Route 665, turn south on Spring Valley Road, then east on Cheseldine Road to reach the park entrance on the east shore. From State Route 56, travel east on Big Plain-Circleville Road, turn north on Spring Valley Road and then west on Cheseldine Road.quented by visitors on the lake’s north side.
To reach Fox Lake, drive six miles west of Athens on U.S. Highway 32, turn onto Enlow Road north, which leads to Fox Lake Road.
Nearest town: London
Surface area: 108 acres
Maximum depth: 9 feet
Shore length: 4 miles
Fish species present:
Channel catfish, crappies, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill.
Park office: 740-869-3124; Division of Wildlife District 1: 614-644-3925.