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Getting Started: Fishing

Getting Started: Fishing

Stay Local. Stay Natural. Reel One In.

Fishing isn't just a great way to spend time with friends and family outdoors, it's also an inexpensive and ethical way to eat fresh, wild-caught fish. If you're not sure where to start, we can help! All you need are a few pieces of basic gear and a nearby pond or lake.

Basics of fishing in Ohio information is outlined below, and you can also get started learning with our interactive Introduction to Fishing online learning module. This content covers the basics, including fish ecology, rules and regulations, an overview of fishing, and places to fish … all at your own pace! A fact sheet, outdoor skills YouTube videos, and other resources are also available. After reviewing introductory information, we encourage you to attend a virtual or in-person learning opportunity with friendly and knowledgeable staff for hands-on experience.

Link: Introduction to Fishing Online Learning ModuleLink: Introduction to Fishing Fact SheetLink: YouTube Playlist - Learn Outdoor Skills
Link: Wild Ohio Harvest Community Events and Learning OpportunitiesLink: Wild Ohio Harvest CookbookLink: Where to Fish in Ohio

Basics of Fishing in Ohio

The Benefits of Learning to Fish

Harvest Your Own Natural Food
Fishing is a source of natural and inexpensive food. Not to mention the meat is lean and healthy!

The Challenge
When you fish, your senses are sharpened. Awareness of your surroundings is heightened. This is more than observing the environment – it’s active engagement. Fishing challenges the mind and the body. It demands skill, knowledge and patience (especially when the fish are not biting). 

Experiencing Nature
Fishing brings us closer to nature and understanding our natural environment.

Conservation
Fishing in the United States is highly regulated, which makes it a sustainable and popular activity. The sale of fishing licenses, permits and stamps provides much-needed funds to fisheries research and management programs. Ethical anglers care about the environment. Without proper conservation, our wild spaces could be lost.

Ecological Balance
The Division of Wildlife manages healthy fish populations by implementing regulations, which are directly related to the need to manage species’ numbers. Without anglers, the carrying capacity, or the number of animals that the habitat can support all year, may be unsustainable, which would lead to damage for the fish or the habitat.

Basic Fishing Considerations

Fishing doesn’t have to be complicated or overwhelming. There are a number of simple approaches to catch fish in ponds and lakes with basic equipment.

There are many methods of fishing, including kayak fishing, fly fishing, and fishing from a boat. This page focuses on a simple set of equipment that someone could use to fish on the bank of a small body of water. Fishing with a simple set up in small bodies of water is social, easy to learn, and only requires a few items. Plus, most people live just a short distance from a local pond, making it convenient to get out and enjoy nature. Anglers fishing in ponds, smaller lakes, and streams will often catch bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish. Visit our interactive module or fact sheet to learn more!

Introduction to Fishing Module
Introduction to Fishing Fact Sheet

Build Your Skills: Learning Opportunities

Annual Free Fishing Days
Each year the Ohio Division of Wildlife offers free fishing days during the Father's Day weekend in June. On these two days, all Ohio residents are invited to experience Ohio's fantastic public fishing opportunities without having to purchase a fishing license.

Did you know that a fishing license isn't required in most privately owned ponds and lakes? People fishing in privately owned ponds, lakes and reservoir where fish do not migrate are not required to have a license to take fish.

Buy a One-Day License
One-day fishing licenses allow new anglers to sample the experience of fishing at a reduced cost. The cost of one-day licenses may be applied as credit toward the purchase of an annual fishing license.

Learn more about fishing license options

Fishing License Finder - Not sure which fishing license to purchase? Use this handy flow chart to find out.

Participate in a Skill Session with Us!
There's no better way to learn than getting out on the water and giving it a try. If you don't know anyone who can take you out fishing, consider participating in a hands-on learning opportunity with the Division of Wildlife, with one of our Wild Ohio Harvest Community events. Division staff are committed to guiding you through the process of learning essential fishing skills in a patient and pressure-free environment. This can also be a great place to meet other new anglers!

Check out our calendar of upcoming Wild Ohio Harvest Community experiences, classes, and courses (virtual and in-person). These opportunities are provided by the ODNR Division of Wildlife and other skilled and knowledgeable conservation organizations across the state.

Wild Ohio Harvest Community Calendar of Events  

Ohio State and Metro Parks
Many Ohio State Parks also periodically offer fishing classes. You can find upcoming classes at an Ohio State Park near you listed on the ODNR calendar of events.

ODNR Calendar of Events

Below is a list of city parks, metro parks, counties, and other groups that periodically offer fishing classes. These classes are made possible through an ODNR Division of Wildlife Aquatic Education Grant. Be sure to check your own city or county recreation programs for opportunities to learn how to fish!

Metro Parks
Toledo Metro Parks
Lorain County Metro Parks
Summit County Metro Parks
Lake Metro Parks
Cleveland Metro Parks
Mill Creek Metro Parks
Five Rivers Metro Parks
Cincinnati Recreation Commission
City of North Risdgeville
City of Aurora
City of Wilmington
National Trail Parks and Recreation District
City of Streetsboro
City of Columbus
City of Dublin
City of Fairborn
City of Lancaster
Delaware County, Preservation Parks
Knox County Park District
Medina County Park District
Sandusky County Park District
Wood County Park District

Participate in a Partner Event
Many conservation organizations and conservation clubs throughout Ohio offer learning opportunities for anyone to try their hand at fishing and other outdoor activities. These organizations are dedicated to instructing new and continuing participants, opportunities can range from beginner level to advanced, and some are specifically for new participants. This is also a great way to meet other people who are passionate about sharing their knowledge with new anglers.

Search Conservation Clubs in Ohio (Google)

Other Learning Opportunities
Many businesses and organizations offer fishing related courses seasonally and year-round in Ohio. L.L. Bean, Cabela's, and Field & Stream are just a few that provide opportunities at different levels to learn how to shoot, hunt, fish and cook wild game in addition to other outdoor recreation courses.

Learning Resources: Preparing to Fish

Overview of Fishing
Important parts of getting ready for a fishing trip include purchasing your fishing license, reviewing the most current version of the fishing regulations, finding a place to fish, and making sure you have what you need. The bait and hooks that you use will depend on the species of fish you are hoping to catch. The resources listed below are great places to start.
Introduction to Fishing Module
Introduction to Fishing Fact Sheet
Seasonal Fishing Bite Chart
Wild Ohio Harvest Community – Outdoor Skills (YouTube)
Fishing Regulations
Fishing Tips by Species

Types of Fishing
All types of fishing are fun and offer a great opportunity to spend quality time with your family and friends in the outdoors. Learn more about shore fishing, fly fishing, ice fishing, paddle board fishing and more methods. Take Me Fishing also has great resources on tactics, gear, casting, how to catch fish, and more. Enjoy a new type of fishing when you take your next trip.

TakeMeFishing.org is a resource offered by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation to provide information on fishing and boating in one place.
Types of Fishing (Take Me Fishing)
How to Fish (Take Me Fishing)

Knot Tying Resources
Learn more about tying knots you will use to go fishing with a playlist on YouTube from Take Me Fishing or from Animated Knots.
How to Tie Fishing Knots (YouTube- Take Me Fishing)

Animated Knots is a site that focuses on how to tie various knots for boating, fishing, climbing, and other activities.
Improved Clinch Knot (Animated Knots)

Buy Your Fishing License
Anglers age 16 and up are required to have an Ohio fishing license to take fish from Ohio waters. Fishing licenses are available at all authorized license sales agents and online. Ohio’s license year begins March 1 and ends the last day of February.
Buy Your Fishing License Online
Fishing License Finder - Not sure which fishing license to purchase? Use this handy flow chart to find out.

Fish Identification & How to Catch Fish

Fishing Terms and Definitions
Use this helpful a-to-z fishing glossary to learn all of the important fishing terms and what they mean before you get out on the water.
Fishing Glossary

Fishing Safety
Learn how to prepare yourself to be safe and comfortable on your next fishing trip. Consider these important fishing safety guidelines before embarking on your next adventure with your family and friends. Learn more about essential fishing safety gear, basic first aid, safety tips and more.
Fishing Safety

Fish Identification
Some species might be difficult to tell apart at first, but with practice, you'll know Ohio's common fish species by name (and a lot about them!) in no time.
Sportfish of Ohio Field Guide [pdf]
Stream Fishes of Ohio Field Guide [pdf]
Aquatic Invasive Species Identification
Online Species Guide: Ohio Fish

How To Measure a Fish

When keeping fish, you must be aware of their legal length limit. The measurement of the length of a fish is taken in a straight line from the utmost end of the snout with the mouth closed to the utmost end of the caudal (tail) fin when the tail fin is compressed so that the upper and lower lobes touch or overlap.
Measure the fish with the mouth closed and tail compressed to determine total length.

Review State and Local Regulations

Ohio Fishing Regulations
It's important to be aware of Ohio's current fishing regulations. The laws can be different for fishing specific waters and catching certain fish species.

Ohio Fishing Regulations

Statewide Regulations
Ohio laws in their entirety can be found by consulting the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) or the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC). These laws are subject to change. It is your responsibility to be aware of the most current laws when shooting firearms.

Ohio Revised Code (ORC)
Ohio Administrative Code (OAC)

Local Regulations
Be aware of local regulations (e.g. city regulations) before fishing a body of water.

Find a Place to Fish

Public Fishing Locations
Many local and state parks and wildlife areas offer locations for the public to fish. Each area may have unique fishing regulations designed to help the fishery. Be sure to check Ohio's fishing regulations for the specific location you are heading to. Check out the links below to find fishing areas near you.

Places to Fish In Ohio [pdf]
Places to Fish in Cincinnati [pdf]
Places to Fish in Cleveland [pdf]
Places to Fish in Columbus [pdf]

Where to Fish (find nearby ODNR managed fishing areas)
Interactive Ohio Lake Fishing Map
Lake and Reservoir Fishing Maps (printable)
River and Stream Fishing Maps (printable)
Fishing Lake Erie
Fishing the Ohio River

Check out some of the top fishing lakes in the state! Each year the Ohio Division of Wildlife's fisheries biologists sample lakes throughout Ohio and provide anglers the latest fishing reports and forecasts. Whether your after numbers or big fish, there is something for everyone.

Fishing Reports and Forecasts

Rainbow Trout Stockings
Rainbow trout releases will take place across Ohio during March through May, as long as areas are ice-free and accessible to anglers. Stocking of these public lakes and ponds are excellent opportunities for families to fish together. Fishing for catchable-sized trout is also a great way to introduce young people to the outdoors. Rainbow trout are raised at state fish hatcheries and measure 10-13 inches before they are released by the ODNR Division of Wildlife.

Rainbow Trout Stocking Dates and Locations

Controlled Fishing Opportunities
The ODNR Division of Wildlife conducts an annual drawing for youth and adults to fish for trout in the 1/2 mile section of Cold Creek that runs through Castalia State Fish Hatchery. Participation is determined by a random drawing, which is held in early April. Applicants 16 years old and older must hold a valid fishing license to apply and to fish.

Castalia Controlled Fishing Access Lottery

Learning Resources: Fishing Equipment

Fishing Equipment

If you are thinking about heading out to try fishing, it is important to know what you need for a basic fishing set up. Learn more by visiting our interactive learning module, fact sheet, or visiting our YouTube channel.

Introduction to Fishing Learning Module
Introduction to Fishing Fact Sheet
Wild Ohio Harvest Community – Outdoor Skills (YouTube)

Fishing Equipment

Rods & Reels
The most important fishing equipment is the rod and reel. For beginners, spin-casting equipment is the easiest to operate and causes the fewest problems. A spin-casting reel spooled with 6-, 8- or 10- pound test line and mounted on a light- to medium-action 5 1/2- to 6- foot casting rod will work well for most types of Ohio fishing. Rod and reel combinations, already spooled with quality line, can be purchased pre-packaged. More experienced anglers may prefer spinning or baitcasting tackle.

*Be careful how you carry and cast your fishing pole; it's longer than you think and can easily strike someone. Give yourself plenty of open space to cast safely.


Rod & reel. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Ewen and Stephen Ewen

Bobbers
Surface floats, or bobbers, are designed to keep a bait hook suspended at a specific depth. They also help to signal when a fish has taken the bait. Use a bobber that is large enough to suspend your bait and sinker, but keep in mind that smaller bobbers tend to be better. The amount of resistance a fish feels on the line when taking a bait is directly related to the size of the bobber.


Bobber.

Hooks
Hooks come in a variety of sizes and styles. Small hooks in size 6, 8, or 10 are good for panfish. Sizes 4 through 2/0 are best for most bass and walleyes. Large hooks in sizes above 2/0 are used for catfish, large bass and muskie.

*Always handle fishing hooks with extreme caution, as they are sharp and can cause serious injury.


Hooks. Photo courtesy of Daniel Jaeger

Line
Fishing lines come in a variety of styles and strengths. For general purposes, monofilament in the 4 to 8 pound test range will work well. Anglers seeking large fish like flathead catfish and muskie may want to consider lines in the 20 to 30 pound test range.

*Throw untangled or unused line in the trash. Loose line often presents a hazard to waterfowl and other wildlife.


Fishing line. 

Sinkers
A sinker is a weight designed to keep a bait down in the water. Sinkers come in a variety of sizes and styles for different uses. Some sinkers are made to keep a bait on the bottom, while others are made to suspend a bait beneath a bobber.

*Don't use your mouth to tie a knot around a sinker or to place a piece of split shot on fishing line; you might accidentally swallow it.


Sinkers. Photo courtesy of Ra Boe.
 
Lures
More experienced anglers may enjoy trying to catch fish on artificial lures. Smaller baits are attractive to more kinds and sizes of fish, so choose lures in the 1/8- to 1/4-ounce size range. Also, choose colors that mimic what the bait is supposed to imitate. For example, if the lure is a minnow imitation, either silver or gold would be a good color choice. Finally, remember that some lures are made to catch fishermen rather than fish. If you don’t know the difference, ask a knowledgeable angler before you buy.


Lures.

PFDs
Always wear a personal flotation device (life jacket) when fishing from a boat or from shore. Do not fish in rivers or streams when they become flooded.


Personal flotation device (PFD).


Learning Resources: After the Catch

Catch & Release Guidelines
Whether you caught a fish that doesn’t meet the minimum size for the species or if you are fishing just for recreation, you may need to release a fish you’ve caught. This is called ‘catch and release’ and has some special considerations.

When practiced appropriately, catch-and-release fishing can be an important fisheries conservation tool. The Division of Wildlife often relies on regulations that require release of specific sizes or restricts the total numbers of fish that can be kept to improve fishing. The survival of released sportfish averages 82 percent, yet, under certain situations, can decrease to nearly 25 percent. Therefore, attention to detail is important.

For catch-and-release fishing to succeed, released fish must not only swim away, but be able to resume normal functions, such as swimming, feeding and growing. Both initial mortality and delayed mortality must be considered. Initial mortality typically occurs when a fish is hooked in a way that damages sensitive tissues, such as the gills or gullet, and results in severe bleeding. Even if a fish is not initially wounded, delayed mortality can occur due to the cumulative effects of numerous sub-lethal stressors. Sub-lethal stressors may include:

  • Prolonged exercise by fighting fish for long periods, depleting energy stores and creating lactic acid build-up in muscles.
  • Severe degradation of the protective mucus, or slime coat, by netting the fish with abrasive nets and failing to handle the fish with wet hands, thereby compromising the immune system.
  • Extended air exposure incurred during hook removal, measuring and taking pictures increasing the time for cardiac processes to return to a normal state.
  • Skeletal and muscular compression and extension experienced when fish are held vertically.

The following table summarizes some general considerations to promote survival of released fish:

ANGLING COMPONENT TOPIC RECOMMENDATION EXPLANATION
Hook and Bait Type Barbed vs. Barbless Hooks Use barbless hooks; crimp/file barbs on conventional hooks Hooks without barbs can decrease handling time and tissue damage while generally resulting in similar hook-up and landing rates as hooks with barbs.
Circle vs. Conventional "J" Hooks Use circle hooks when fishing with live or cut bait Circle hooks result in decreased frequencies of deep-hooking and a subsequent decrease in air exposure time due to ease of removal. However, limited evidence suggests decreased capture efficiency in some situations.
Single vs. Treble Hooks Use single hooks; consider replacing treble hooks with single hooks on artificial lures Treble hooks on artificial lures, especially when in tandem and barbed, increase air exposure time due to increased difficulty of removal.
Artificial Lures vs. Natural Bait Use artificial lures when possible and practical Natural baits are commonly ingested more deeply than artificial lures, resulting in longer hook removal time and consequently greater air exposure.
Playing and Handling Fish Playing time Reduce playing time to a minimum by using appropriately rated angling gear for the size of fish targeted The length of time a fish is played is positively correlated with the amount of physiological disturbance experienced by an angled fish as well as the time required for complete physiological recovery.
Water temperature Exercise care if angling during extreme temperatures High water temperatures is correlated with increased physiological disturbances and increased probability of post-release mortality. Air exposure during extreme cold can cause tissue damage to the gills and eyes.
Landing nets When landing a fish with wet hands is not practical, use nets made with knotless nylon or rubber net materials Coarse, abrasive and knotted net materials will remove the important slime coat that aides in protecting the fish from outside infections.
Venting deep caught fish Do not vent the swim bladder of caught fish Consensus among studies suggests that venting can actually decrease survival of fish captured from deep water. Further, angling fish from deep water can have adverse physiological effects, decreasing the likelihood of post-release survival, and should generally be avoided.
Holding a caught fish Wet hands first and hold the fish horizontally, using a jaw gripping device that can swivel 360° when handling large sport fish Wet hands minimizes the amount of slime coat removed and a horizontal hold reduces the risk of damage to internal organs and skeletal structures.
Air exposure Minimize air exposure by having release tools, fishing gear and camera organized and readily accessible The duration of air exposure is positively related to the length of time required for a fish to physiologically recover and to the likelihood of post-release mortality.
Unhooking and Release Deeply hooked fish Leave deeply embedded hooks in fish and cut line as close as possible to the hook's eyelet Removing deeply embedded hooks increases handling time, air exposure and tissue damage. Most hooks will deteriorate rapidly and pass through the fish.
Hook removal tools Have accessible and use hook removal tools including pliers, bolt cutters, hemostats, forceps, etc. Hook removal tools decrease the time required to remove a hook from the fish, and subsequently decreases the handling time and air exposure.
Reviving released fish Hold fish steady and upright or gently move in an 'S' or 'figure 8' pattern; do not move fish in a back-and-forth motion For a fish to efficiently transfer oxygen from the water to the blood stream, water must pass over the gill surfaces in a front-to-back direction. Moving a fish back-and-forth in the water does not optimize oxygen uptake and can even be detrimental to recovery. Holding a fish steady allow the fish to naturally pulse the gills inducing flow over the gill surfaces.


Note: Releasing fish can be personally rewarding and beneficial in certain situations. However, neither catch-and-release fishing nor keeping fish to eat should be considered as ethically superior. Sport fishing has a rich tradition of harvesting fish as table fare, which makes sense given that fish are excellent sources of protein and great to eat! Whatever method of fishing you choose, the Division of Wildlife is working hard to assure that you will have a healthy fishery to enjoy season after season.

Source: scientific research summarized in a technical article published in 2007 by Christine Pelletier from Carlton University in Canada.

Cooking - Make Your Culinary Experience Wild!

How to Clean and Fillet a Fish

Fishing is fun, but your angling trips can be even more enjoyable when topped off by a meal of delicious fish you have caught. By knowing a few tips on how to handle your fish from the water to the dinner table, you will be able to enjoy some tasty fish dinners. To fillet a fish, you simply cut the flesh away from the bones and skin. The end product is a boneless and skinless (or scaleless) piece of fish ready to be cooked.

When you are ready to fillet the fish, first examine it for freshness. Gills should be red or bright pink and moist, not white or dull pink and slimy. Fish odor should not be excessive; the eyes should appear fresh and clear. 

Wild Ohio Harvest Community: How to Fillet a Fish [video]

Find additional resources on home preservation of fish and health and consumption advisory information by visiting Ohio State University Extension or the Ohio Department of Health.
Ohio State University (OSU) Extension is a non-formal educational system, offering programming to address the needs of the local community and state, national, and global issues.
OSU Extension: Home Preservation of Fish

The Ohio Department of Health is a cabinet-level agency, meaning that the director reports to the governor and serves as a member of the Executive Branch of Ohio’s government.
Ohio Sport Fish Health and Consumption Advisory

Additional Preparations
Contaminants are found at higher levels in the fat of some fish. You can reduce the amount of these contaminants in a fish meal by properly trimming, skinning and cooking your catch. Remove the skin and trim all the fat from the belly flap, the line along the sides of the fish, along the back and under the skin. Cut away a V-shaped wedge to remove the dark fatty tissue along the entire length of the fillet. Cooking does not destroy contaminants in fish, but heat from cooking melts some of the fat in fish allowing some of it to drip away. Broil, grill or bake the skinned fish on a rack so the fat drips away. Do not use the drippings to prepare sauces.

How to Store Your Catch
Fish will taste best if they are cooked soon after they are caught. Fish can be stored in a refrigerator for up to two days, but if you cannot cook them within that time they should be frozen. The best freezing method is to submerge the fillets in a container of cold water. Plastic freezer bags, freezer containers and paper milk cartons are good packages. Tightly seal the container and freeze it. This method helps prevent freezer burn and preserves the fine flavor of your catch.

Wild Ohio Harvest Cookbook
And now for the most rewarding part - creating a delicious, healthy meal. We love cooking at the Division of Wildlife and have compiled many fish and wild game recipes over the years. Search for wild game recipe ideas in our online Wild Ohio Harvest Cookbook! 

Wild Ohio Harvest Cookbook: Fish Recipes
YouTube: Wild Ohio Harvest Cookbook Recipes

Other Wild Game Cooking Resources
There is a lot more information out there about cooking wild game, along with creative recipes to try. Here are a few of our favorite resources.

Hunter. Angler. Gardener. Cook.
Modern Carnivore: Recipes

Stay Informed and Support Your Wild Ohio

There's More to Come!
The Division of Wildlife works hard to keep Ohioans informed of all the latest wildlife-related happenings around the state, provide opportunities to participate in outdoor recreation and teach the importance of wildlife conservation. Don't lose touch - follow us on social media, get the Wild Ohio Magazine, and sign up for email alerts. We are planning more opportunities for beginning hunters in the very near future!

Wild Ohio Harvest Community Instagram
ODNR Division of Wildlife Facebook
Your Wild Ohio - Angler Facebook
ODNR Division of Wildlife Instagram
ODNR Division of Wildlife Twitter
ODNR Division of Wildlife LinkedIn
Wild Ohio Magazine
ODNR Division of Wildlife Weekly Email Updates

Support Ohio's Wildlife
We can't manage wildlife populations without you! The Division of Wildlife does not receive general tax dollars to manage Ohio's native wildlife, so contributions are always appreciated. Here are some ways your dollars can support wildlife conservation in your Wild Ohio:

  • Your annual fishing license or hunting license
  • An Ohio Wetlands Habitat Stamp
  • An Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp
  • Wildlife license plates
  • Make a donation, or give through the tax check-off program

Donate to Ohio's Wildlife Conservation
Purchase a Specialty Wildlife Conservation License Plate
Purchase an Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp
Make a Tax Donation
Make a Memorial Donation

Help a Biologist and Report Tagged Fish

The Division of Wildlife releases thousands of tagged fish each year to study fish behavior, survival and harvest patterns in public waters of Ohio. These areas could include Lake Erie, inland lakes or rivers, or the Ohio River. 

Report a Tagged Fish