For year-round trout opportunities, hit Punderson
By Mike Moore
Punderson Lake in northeast Ohio is one of those rare places in the Buckeye State.
What it lacks in size, it makes up for in appearence and some pretty decent trout fishing.
Near the small town of Newbury in Geauga County, Punderson is a natural “kettle” lake that in its deepest parts reaches depths of 60 feet. It is 82 acres of water that is stocked each year with rainbow trout by the ODNR Division of Wildlife.
The lake, which has just over 21⁄2 miles of shoreline, gets an annual spring stocking of rainbows, usually in mid-April, from the Division of Wildlife’s Castalia fish hatchery.
“It’s a beautiful lake and it’s one of the remnants of the glacial kettle lakes, so that’s unique,” said Curt Wagner, fish management supervisor for the Division of Wildlife in Akron. “In that little region, there’s a number of those lakes like you would have up north. It’s definitely deeper than most of our lakes. It fishes like a natural, bowl-shaped lake. You’ve got your weed edge margin and you come out and you have a weed line where it drops off. And, that’s just sort of how it fishes.”
Some other kettle lakes in the region are Bass Lake, Aquilla, and Twin Lakes.
The trout have a shorter life cycle than most sportfish. Still, Punderson is unique among all the lakes that natural resource officials stock with trout because some fish beat the odds.
Just how many beat the odds is the subject of a study the Division of Wildlife is conducting this summer. The agency wants to know how many trout from the spring stocking have survived, said Matt Wolfe, a fishery biologist with the Division of Wildlife.
“Historically, we’ve been told that the trout we stock in the spring will survive all year,” he said. “In most of the places where we stock trout in Ohio we know they’re going to die off. It’s strictly a stock, put, and take fishery.
“Punderson is a little bit different obviously with the deeper water, but the deeper you go the less oxygen you’re going to have,” Wolfe said. “So, we’ve planned a series of three netting events out there through the course of this summer to see if they do survive.”
The nets were set once in June, late July, and are planned to be set again in September, according to Wolfe.
“We’ve always heard the rumors that (trout) do grow and survive all summer, but we’ve never really documented it,” he said. “It would be good to know if that is indeed happening. If it does hold trout year around that might open up a different avenue as far as our management goes.”
Crappies and panfish are present, but Division of Wildlife sampling for those species goes too far back to say anything definitive about the population at this time, Wagner said.
“But, we do hear from anglers who really like to hit (Punderson) for bluegills and they say when you dial in the right depth you can find some hand-sized bluegills,” he said. “If you’re using the right kind of slip bobber and find the right depth, I’d bet you can find some big sunfish.”
During more typical winters for the region, anglers pull a fair share of trout and bluegills through the ice, Wagner said.
“Being that it’s a kettle lake and not a reservoir flow-through, guys can set up (on the ice) a little bit easier and quicker,” he said. “And, starting out at a cooler temperature certainly helps as well. And, the trout have to be a draw for that.”
Channel catfish are stocked every other year by the Division of Wildlife.
“Catfish is sort of a go-to fishery just about anyplace you go,” Wagner said.
The Division of Wildlife is next scheduled to sample the catfish population at Punderson in June 2022.
Punderson has a decent bass fishery. Angler creels in recent years show that most fishermen at Punderson are fishing for bass.
“It’s a good bet that if you’re going to Punderson, you’re either bass fishing or your poking around for trout or anything that bites,” said Wagner.
According to recent surveys, there’s plenty of bass to catch.
“On average in the state, if you get 85 fish per electrofishing hour (for bass) you’re doing pretty good,” Wolfe said. “Punderson topped out at 201 (fish per electrofishing hour). So, decent numbers of fish.”
Those bass were mostly in the 8- to 10-inch range and another slug of them was in the 11- to 14-inch range, according to Wolfe.
“The biggest (bass) in all of our (northeast Ohio) surveys this year actually came out of Punderson,” he said. “It was 211⁄4 inches. So, it has the capability of producing decent fish.”
Wolfe said he expected that 21-inch-plus fish to be “a dinosaur,” but it actually was only 13 years old.
“Once they get to a certain size, you start to wonder what are (the bass) eating in there?” he said. “Well, we stock the best bass food out there with respect to some of our trout. Once (the bass) get to a certain size, they’re going to start keying in on the trout, and that may be what that critter was doing.”
As far as season and technique for trout, fishing pressure is heaviest and best in April and May. Trout aren’t very particular about what they eat, so most any bait will work. Jig and maggot combinations work well. Suspend a jig under a bobber in 3-5 feet of water and tip the set with several maggots (or corn, or wax worms). Spinnerbaits are also productive as are spoons and crankbaits.
For bass, especially near shore, try minnows and nightcrawlers, sinking crankbaits, or jigs with curly tails. Panfish will bite on wax worms or small flies and spinnerbaits tipped with minnows or cut bait.
Punderson has an electric motor only restriction for boats. There is one launch ramp on the north end. A snowmobile trail is available during the winter months. There’s also an on-site campground, lodge, and golf course. A kayak rental is on the east side of the lake at the camp store.
The ODNR Division of Parks and Watercraft a few years ago put in a floating boardwalk system at Punderson.
“The design of it was for hiking and such,” Wagner said. “But, the Division of Wildlife partnered up and put in a pier branch on that floating walkway for anglers to use.”
The fishing pier is ADA compliant.
“There are a lot of fishing opportunities along that western shoreline for sure,” said Wolfe.
For more information about Punderson Lake, call the state park office at (440) 564-2279, or the District 3 office of the DNR Division of Wildlife at (330) 644-2293.
Nearest town: Newbury
Surface area: 82 acres
Maximum depth: 60 feet
Shore length: 2.6 miles
Fish species present:
Rainbow trout, largemouth bass, bluegills, crappies, bullheads.
Punderson Lake State Park office: 440-564-2279; Division of Wildlife District 3 office: 330-644-2293.