By Mike Moore
Greenfield, Ohio — Paint Creek Lake in Highland and Ross counties in southwest Ohio is unique in that it drains a huge watershed.
The 1,148-acre lake, just outside of Hillsboro near Greenfield, was created in the late 1960s and early 1970s by the damming of Paint Creek, which drains an area of 753 square miles.
“It’s one of my favorite (lakes),” said Kipp Brown, a fisheries biologist with the ODNR Division of Wildlife who lives not far from the lake. “It’s about halfway between Chillicothe and Hillsboro, right along the Highland and Ross county border.”
At more than 1,100 acres, Paint Creek Lake is decent size and it gets even bigger in the spring, said Brown.
“One of the defining characteristics of it is that it is a flood-control Army Corps of Engineers lake,” he said. “This one will experience, especially in the spring, very significant water rises. It’s always a good idea if you’re heading there to always check the Corps’ (website) to see where the lake elevation is because there might not be a parking lot when you get there.”
That’s especially true in the spring, said Brown.
“We’ve seen it 20 feet above summer pool,” he said. “It can put a lot of water into it.”
Another important point about Paint Creek Lake is that it has one of the premier spillway fisheries in the state, according to Brown.
“It’ll change species-wise, but like right now you could be down there and catching saugeyes fairly decent,” he said. “And, it’s not just (the fish) coming out of Paint Creek but also ones that have come out of Rocky Fork will end up coming to the Paint Creek spillway.”
Boats are allowed unlimited horsepower motors on Paint Creek with the stipulation of a 10 mph speed limit from sunset to sunrise. As such, it gets a little recreational pressure.
“It’s nothing like a Rocky (Fork) or Caesar Creek, though,” said Brown of the recreational crowd. “It’s a long, narrow lake. Beautiful scenery, high rocky cliffs and trees. Nice beach and marina and one of the nicer campgrounds.”
The lake is served by three boat launches, the only one that would be useable right now is the main marina ramp, said Brown.
For regulations, it has a special, split black bass reg that stipulates an angler may keep two fish under 15 inches and two over 15 inches in a day.
Crappies must be at least 9 inches to keep and there is a 30-fish daily bag limit.
For saugeyes, there is no minimum length limit for keepers, but an angler may only keep six fish per day.
“The reason for the (no minimum length requirement) for saugeyes is because they do not hang long in that lake,” Brown said. “Once in a great while you’ll catch a nice one, but for the most part they’re hanging in there for one or two years and then moving on downstream, which is why the spillway is such a good fishery.”
Fish attractors were placed in the lake last year and will again be constructed this year in conjunction with a local bass club and Boy Scout troop, said Brown.
A Division of Wildlife’s electrofishing survey for bass in the spring of 2020 showed the mean length at 11.7 inches. The largest in the sample was 20 inches and 4.5 pounds. About 16% of the sample were fish over 15 inches.
“It’s a nice lake to fish for bass,” Brown said. “A lot of structure in the lake, anything from drop offs to sandy bars.”
Paint Creek has been a good lake for crappies for the past decade, said Brown. A survey in 2016 showed the largest fish at 13 inches and almost 20% of the sample were over 9 inches.
The division performed a gill net survey for saugeyes in 2020 and found that almost all of the fish sampled were either young-of-the-year or 1-year-old fish, said Brown. The big fish was 20 inches at 2 years old.
“So, growth is excellent,” he said. “There’s just so much water that moves through that lake and saugeyes – like the sauger parent – really like flow. So, they tend to gravitate out of the dam.”
White bass average about 10 inches in Paint Creek Lake.
The channel catfish population is excellent in both numbers and size, said Brown, and you might even run into an occasional flathead.
“There’s a lot of good structure for breeding and for catfish to hunt,” he said. “There’s some big boulder fields, and just some rocky outcroppings that make for good flathead habitat.”
Shoreline fishing can be challenging with such water fluctuations, but there are setill some productive spots to hit.
“It’s just a pretty lake,” Brown said. “It’s one that if you want to be a little more laid back, it’s one I’d recommend because you also have good fishing.”
State Route 50 separates Paint Creek Lake from Rocky Fork Lake with Paint Creek on the north side of the road, and Rocky Fork Lake on the south side of the road.
Rocky Fork’s actual name is the Rocky Fork of Paint Creek Lake, so the former gets a lot of the fish – saugeyes and otherwise – that wash down through the spillway from the latter.