Ross loaded with channel cats; good for kids
By Mike Moore
Chillicothe, Ohio — Ross Lake does not stand out for any one particular species, according to the ODNR Division of Wildlife. It’s a small body of water at 140 acres that offers a little bit of everything from channel catfish to crappies to largemouth bass.
The only species that has been stocked at Ross, aside from a stretch when walleyes were stocked in the 1970s, is channel catfish. That stocking, however, has been put on hold for the time being, said Matt Hangsleben, a fisheries biologist for the Division of Wildlife in Athens.
“Ross Lake was stocked with channel catfish every other year but we stopped stocking in 2021 because our surveys showed an extremely high density of slow-growing fish,” he said. “Most channel catfish are under 15 inches and if we continued to stock more fish it would make the slow growth and high densities even worse. We will continue to monitor the channel catfish population at Ross to determine when stocking may be needed again.”
But, if you’re an angling generalist just looking to catch some fish, Ross wouldn’t be a bad bet.
“Ross has an extremely high density of channel catfish,” Hangsleben said. “About 60% of the population is under 15 inches, but we have sampled fish up to 22 inches. With the high density of channel catfish, Ross would be a fantastic place to go if you’re just looking to catch some fish. There are some flathead catfish in the lake, but they are low in numbers.”
Fishing for largemouth bass is a highlight of Ross Lake, said Hangsleben. The fishing for bass is pretty good, he said.
“Anglers can except to catch bass in the 14- to 17-inch range with a few topping the 20-inch mark,” he said.
Bass fishing is decent from early spring to late fall, but it peaks in April and May during the spawn. Weedless baits and other types of plastics will typically pull in their share of bass.
Fishing for panfish can be OK if you hit it at the right time of year.
Bluegills are always an option, though the fish will run small, according to Hangsleben.
“Most fish will be under 7 inches,” he said. “The easiest time of year to target them is in the spring when they are spawning. Look for saucer-shaped impressions in bays and coves protected from the wind. We always see bluegills spawning in the mouth of the spillway.”
Crappies, too, are an option, although these fish will also run in the smallish range.
For crappies, fish shoreline brush and around treetops from April through May with jig and minnow combinations. This same offering will work most any time of year for crappies, but April and May are the best times to pick off spawning crappies.
Ross Lake would be a good option to take the kids. They’ll undoubtedly run into a bucketful of small bluegills and crappies that will keep their bobber bouncing.
Shoreline accessibility for anglers is pretty good here, according to Hangsleben.
“The lake has three fishing piers, two of which are ADA accessible,” he said. “Two of the piers (1 ADA) are on the west side of the lake off West Hydell Road near the boat ramp and the other ADA pier is on the east side of the lake off East Hydell Road.”
For boating anglers, the lake allows unlimited horsepower on boat motors but the vessels must be operated at no wake speed.
Artificial spawning structure have been added to Ross Lake to encourage natural reproduction. There is a continuing effort by the Division of Wildlife to increase and improve structure in the lake. Numerous shoreline trees have been dropped into the lake to provide habitat for game fish, and hundreds of Christmas trees have been sunk in the lake as well.
The lake is mostly fished by the locals for catfish, according to outdoor writer Tom Cross’ book Fishing Ohio.
The lake was created in 1967 expressly for the purpose of recreation and fishing in particular.
Bass fishing can be tough at Ross, Cross writes, but it can be worth it. Each spring produces a 5- or 6-pound bass caught by a local angler.
Bass fishing starts in March at Ross Lake, with most anglers targeting their efforts on the lake’s northern half, according to Fishing Ohio. Most anglers simply fish the shallow shoreline structure on both banks with spinnerbaits and plastic nightcrawlers.
Later in the year, fishing moves to the stump fields scattered at the north end and along the old roadbed and fence lines.
In May and June, fish the entire lake in the evenings, working the shoreline cover, shallow stumps, rocks, and timber with spinnerbaits, creature baits, or buzzbaits, recommends Cross.
For channel catfish, focus your efforts in the morning and evening and you’ll typically catch your fill of these whiskered critters, according to Fishing Ohio. Most of the catfishing is carried out on the banks or the fishing piers. Chicken livers or shrimp used as bait will take fish.
“Channel (catfish) do not get large; most average 12 to 16 inches, but some 3- to 5-pounders are caught often enough to make the local catfishers return for more,” Cross writes.
There are no facilities or camping at the lake. There is a grocery store at the junction of Black Smith Hill and Charleston Pike west of the lake. There is also a local bait shop at the west entrance of the lake that has been in operation for more than 25 years.
Other attractions in the area include Great Seal State Park, which is three miles north of Ross Lake.
Nearest town Chillicothe
Surface area 140 acres
Boating Unlimited, no wake
Fish species present:
Largemouth bass, bluegills, crappies, channel catfish, flathead catfish, carp.
Division of Wildlife, District 4: 740-589-9930.