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Fishing Tips by Species
Fishing Tips by Species

Select a fish for fishing tips, information, and more.

Carp Fishing Tips

From the shores of Lake Erie through Columbus and down to the Ohio River, common carp are in a majority of Ohio’s waters. Originally found in China and Europe, carp were stocked nationwide in the 1900s; thus, they are considered to be an exotic species. However, despite numerous attempts to eliminate them, carp have survived due to their tolerance for a variety of environmental conditions. Despite their appearance, size and shape, these large fish are related to the minnows in your bait bucket and are, in fact, the world’s largest minnow.

Tips

There are two simple tips to remember when fishing for carp:

First, carp are easily spooked, so take care not to cause too many disruptions while fishing.
Also, carp “hit” by taking the bait and swimming away quickly. To make sure you hook the fish without losing your rod, try keeping the bail of your reel open or in “free spool”. This will let the carp run with your bait and not feel any drag resistance so you can get a good hookset.

Tackle

Carp are very hardy fighters, so your gear must be able to withstand their fury. Make sure you have longer, medium-weight rods (6 feet plus) spooled with plenty of 8- to 12-pound line.

Where to Fish

Lake Erie:
Maumee Bay
Sandusky Bay

Northeast Ohio:
North Reservoir (Portage Lakes)
Pymatuning Lake
Rocky River
West Branch Reservoir

Southwest Ohio:
Ohio River
Paint Creek Lake

Southeast Ohio:
Ohio River
Muskingum River

Seasonal Fishing Approaches

SEASON PEAK ACTIVITY PRESENTATION LOCATION
Spring (March-April) Fair Carp move somewhat in the spring, but your best bet would be to find the fish before you start fishing. Bottom rigs are preferred, with traditional baits (doughballs, crayfish, etc.) being preferred. Deeper areas associated with shallow feeding areas work well this time of year. Carp, especially larger individuals, do not go shallow full time until the waters warm up toward the end of April, so unless they are feeding heavily, they are going to be concentrated in deeper waters.
Pre-Summer (May) Good-Excellent Baits on bottom work well during the spring,. The best bet is to cast bait (bread, corn, cornmeal doughballs, etc.) in areas where carp are frequently seen, and then patiently wait. Boilies (a hardened ball of eggs, protein powder and flavors) start to work well. Carp start to spawn as soon as water temperatures get above 60°F. They are prevalent in shallows, where splashing makes their presence obvious. Anglers should look for these areas to have successful trips.
Summer (June-mid-September) Excellent Carp can be caught on traditional bottom rigs using popular baits such as dough balls, cornmeal or boilies. For a switch, carp can be caught on the surface using baits that float such as dog food, floating bread pieces or goldfish crackers. Because of temperatures, carp mainly feed during the cooler times of day (dusk, dawn). Focus on areas adjacent to cooler, deeper waters such as weed beds, flooded timber or cattails pads.
Fall (mid-September-November) Good Use larger baits this time of year. Carp want to eat, but not spend too much energy, so larger doughballs or boilies work well in a bottom presentation. Carp are going to eat a lot, but not exert a lot of energy to do so. Focus on pre-wintering areas (drop-offs, weed beds, etc) where carp frequent. They should be in similar locations to summer, but areas exposed to colder winds are avoided.
Winter (December-February) Below Average Single hooks with minimal bait are preferred. Carp do not feed or move extensively during winter, so focus on finding the fish instead of counting on the fish to find the bait. Carp look for warmer waters throughout the winter. Look for deeper waters adjacent to shelves or weed beds. Carp will frequent the deeper areas, but move shallow as waters warm.

 

Catfish Fishing Tips

Catfish can be found across the Buckeye State, but they vary in types and sizes. Whether it is bullheads in farm ponds, channel catfish and flathead catfish in reservoirs and rivers, or blue catfish in the Ohio River, many anglers seek catfish not only for their fight but for their table fare as well. Catfish sustain populations by natural reproduction in many habitats but is not true in all of Ohio’s smaller reservoirs, many of which are stocked with channel catfish by the Division of Wildlife. From the shores of Lake Erie through Columbus and down to the Ohio River, common carp are in a majority of Ohio’s waters. Originally found in China and Europe, carp were stocked nationwide in the 1900s; thus, they are considered to be an exotic species. However, despite numerous attempts to eliminate them, carp have survived due to their tolerance for a variety of environmental conditions. Despite their appearance, size and shape, these large fish are related to the minnows in your bait bucket and are, in fact, the world’s largest minnow.

Tips

Anglers use a variety of scented baits since a catfish’s sense of smell and taste is excellent. The most effective baits include cut shad, prepared blood bait, chicken livers, shrimp and nightcrawlers. Keep tackle simple. When fishing on the bottom, use a fixed or slip sinker and when fishing the surface or suspended, try either a slip or fixed float. Hook sizes range from size 4 to 6/0 depending upon the size of fish you are seeking and the size of bait that you are using. Having a strike indicator is a good idea for catching catfish. Catfish do not “hit and run” like other fish, instead, they move very slowly away with baits.

Tackle

Rods and reels should be matched for the sizes of catfish that you anticipate catching. Standard tackle for channel catfish or bullheads includes medium spinning or baitcasting outfits with 10-12 pound line, whereas for flathead catfish or blue catfish, heavy rods and reels with 20- or 30-pound line may be required. Reels used for catfish should have a good drag system.

Seasonal Fishing Approaches

SEASON PEAK ACTIVITY PRESENTATION LOCATION
Spring (March-April) Fair Early spring catfish feed on fish that have died or been stressed throughout the winter. As water warms, catfish start to take live baits, especially if live fish are available. Early spring anglers should focus on warm water discharges, stream inflow areas of reservoirs, or areas where baitfish are schooling since catfish will start to feed more often.
Pre-Summer (May) Good Live baits (nightcrawlers, crayfish, etc.) work well during spawning since they entice a bite from spawning catfish. Instead of fishing larger flats, anglers should focus on areas with heavy structure or cavities (downed logs or rip-rap) since most Ohio catfish are cavity spawners.
Summer (June-mid-September) Excellent, especially at night Prepared baits start to work well this time of year, as do chicken liver, shrimp, crayfish or live fish. In general, the larger the bait, the larger the catfish. Catfish prefer deeper habitats during the day and shallower habitats while feeding at night. Productive night areas include shallow flats next to deeper holes and next to swimming beaches, particularly where the bottom is stirred up during the day.
Fall (mid-September-November) Good Catfish tend to eat the most available foods. Schools of open water gizzard shad and bluegills are ideal bait for larger fish because they are common items in catfish diets. Catfish school tightly this time of year in preparation for winter. Fish areas next to deeper waters, especially areas near flats that cool down rapidly at night, or are located near feeder streams.
Winter (December-February) Fair Catfish are scavengers during winter, so dead minnow or other fish are ideal bait. For a natural presentation, do not move dead baits, particularly since catfish are sluggish this time of year. Catfish prefer deeper water during winter. As waters warm, fish shoreline areas where the wind is blowing against and causing dead baitfish to windrow or accumulate.

 

Crappie Fishing Tips

Crappies are one of Ohio’s easiest fish to catch and are great for trips intended to get kids hooked on fishing. Common in many of Ohio’s lakes, black and white crappies naturally reproduce in most of these waters. Count on crappies for fast action using basic techniques and equipment, particularly during spring. They are also as good to eat as they can be to catch and are a long-standing favorite for the table.

Tips

  • Crappies are usually situated around structure-including points, drop-offs, creek beds and covers such as brush piles, fallen trees and stumps.
  • During summer, most of Ohio’s lakes develop a thermocline at 15 – 20 feet, so fish near or above these depths when fishing deeper water.
  • In smaller lakes, crappie may be very close to woody structure all year long.
  • If fishing deeper than four feet a slip bobber is very helpful.
  • If crappies are in the area and the bite is slow, a change in jig color may increase the bite rate.

Tackle

A fishing rod with moderate-to-fast tip action and rated for lure weights of 1/16 to 1/4 ounce is good year-round for crappies. Attach to this a light to moderate-sized reel spooled with 4- to 8-pound test fishing line. Minnows are frequently used to catch crappies. All you need for this technique are small hooks (sizes 4, 6, or 8), small split shot weights and a bobber. Other baits that work well are 1/16 to 1/8 ounce jigs with feathers, synthetic hair, plastic curly tails, or tube bodies. Jigs come in a multitude of colors. Some people use long crappie poles or cane poles (9-14 feet) to place jigs and minnows between submerged tree limbs.

Seasonal Fishing Approaches

SEASON PEAK ACTIVITY PRESENTATION LOCATION
Spring (March-April) Good-Excellent Use baitfish imitating tackle. Small crankbaits, plastics and marabou jigs. Minnows suspended by bobbers. Fish around woody cover. Crappies move from deep water to spawning areas using creek beds and deep channels to get there. As spawning nears, fish suspend over deep water close to spawning sites.
Pre-Summer (May) Good Use baitfish imitating tackle. Small crankbaits, plastics and marabou jigs. Minnows suspended by bobbers. Fish bait around woody cover. Fish have spawned and are moving back to main lake points and deeper water. Some fish can be found around fallen trees and other woody structure.
Summer (June-mid-September) Good Trolling small crankbaits and twistertails are effective. Early morning and evening are best times. Most fish are suspended over main lake points and deep water. Will move up to shallower water at night to feed. Some fish can be found around fallen trees and other woody structure.
Fall (mid-September-November) Excellent Marabou jigs and minnows suspended by a bobber is effective. Present jigs and minnows around woody cover by casting or vertical jigging. Crappies are moving back into shallow water to feed. Cover and baitfish are key to locating schools of crappie.
Winter (December-February) Fair Fish minnows or light colored jigs very slowly. May need to let bait sit still with occasional movement. In deep creek beds or other deep water associated with a drop off that contains woody cover or rock.

 

Hybrid Striped Bass Fishing Tips

Hybrid striped bass is a cross between white bass and striped bass, and pound-for-pound, one of the hardest fighting fish swimming in Ohio’s waters today. Currently, the Ohio Division of Wildlife is stocking Buckeye, Charles Mill, Dillon, East Fork, Griggs, Kiser and O'Shaughnessy lakes and the Ohio River. Hybrid striped bass can grow considerably larger than a white bass and are more tolerant of Ohio’s warm water than striped bass.

Tips

  • Use cast nets to catch gizzard shad for bait.
  • Hybrid striped bass hooking mortality increases greatly when water temperatures exceed 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Increase survival on released fish by landing fish quickly, reducing handling time, keeping fish in the water as hook is removed and cutting the line on deeply-hooked fish. Try using a circle hook if using live bait.
  • If you plan on keeping some hybrid stripers, place them on ice to maintain flavor and firmness of their flesh. Remove all the dark reddish meat from the centerline of the fillets to reduce the strong, fishy taste of larger fish.

Tackle

A long bait-casting or spinning rod (6 to 8 feet) outfit with some flex (medium to medium-heavy action) helps absorb the shock of a hybrid’s hard, initial strike and keeps the hooks from pulling out of the fish’s mouth. Reels should be spooled with 10- to 14-pound abrasion-resistant monofilament. The heavier lines should be used for river hybrid striped bass. Be sure to have your fishing rod firmly in your hand or hooked into the boat.

Seasonal Fishing Approaches

SEASON PEAK ACTIVITY PRESENTATION LOCATION
Spring (March-April) Good In faster water (Ohio River tailwaters) use heavy spoons and jigs. In less current use imitation minnow baits and other crankbaits. As water warms, fish may undergo spawning movement into upstream areas, try creek mouths up to headwaters or lowhead dams, and below dams in tailwaters of lakes and rivers.
Pre-Summer (May) Fair Fish are hungry as they move back to lake or downstream areas. Try fishing baits at a variety of depths to locate fish. As fish return to lake or move downstream try creek mouths, deep points and shallow flats.
Summer (June-mid-September) Good Live shad can be drift fished, trolled, fished below a balloon or float, or hung straight down on tightline. Other live or cut baits can be fished on bottom. Best fishing is dawn and dusk and overcast days. Deep lakes are now stratified and fish stay above the warm/cold water interface (thermocline) where there is oxygen. Watch for fish breaking the surface chasing shad and try fishing the “jumps.” Fish points at creek mouths, underwater roadbeds and humps in 10-15 feet near deeper water.
Fall (mid-September-November) Good Cast spoons into schools of bait fish, troll shad-type crankbaits, cast flashy metal lures onto flats, or bottom fish cut bait or chicken livers. As water cools, fish will move shallower. Similar to spring, but watch for fish breaking the surface chasing shad.
Winter (December-February) Fair (in lakes)
Good (in rivers near warm water discharges)
Fish are in deeper water near river channels, humps and tips of points. Vertical jig spoons and tail spinners. Use heavier baits based on current in Ohio River. In lakes try deep points, creek mouths and below dams in tailwaters.
In the Ohio River, try warm-water discharges and tailwaters.

 

Largemouth Bass Fishing Tips

Largemouth bass is one of Ohio’s most popular fish and can be caught in ponds, streams, rivers and nearly all inland lakes and reservoirs. Fishing methods in ponds and reservoirs are fairly similar, whereas those in rivers and streams are not unlike methods for catching smallmouth bass in such areas. These hardy, self-sustaining fish are plentiful among a variety of anglers and particularly popular among tournament fishermen.

Tips

  • Fish close to cover in muddy and heavily stained water.
  • Retrieve perpendicular to cover.
  • Dark-colored baits work well in the spring and lighter colors are best in the fall.
  • Largemouth bass are often located close to or immediately next to cover after a strong cold front.

Tackle

Medium-to-heavy baitcasting, spinning or spin cast rods with 8- to 17-pound test line. Rod and reel selection will depend on the type of lures or baits being used.

Seasonal Fishing Approaches

SEASON PEAK ACTIVITY PRESENTATION LOCATION
Spring (March-April)

Excellent

Slo-to-medium fast pumping action to imitate crawfish movement. Use Jig & Pig, creature baits, lizard or tube baits in blue-black or green pumpkin. Secondary points, brushy areas and stumps.
Pre-Summer (May) Excellent Baitcast gear- Medium diving crankbaits in firetiger and chartreuse. Spinnerbaits in chartreuse and white. Spinning- drop shot or cast small worms. Secondary and main lake points with rip rap or hard bottom.
Summer (June-mid-September) Good Baitcast gear- Medium diving crankbaits in firetiger and chartreuse. Spinnerbaits in chartreuse and white. Spinning- drop shot or cast small worms. Look for baitfish. Secondary and main lake points with rip rap or hard bottom.
Fall (mid-September-November) Excellent Jig & Pig, creature baits, lizard or tube baits in shad or silver hues. White spinnerbaits or silver-colored shallow diving crankbaits. Fish location strongly tied to presence of baitfish. Backs of coves and secondary points best.
Winter (December-February) Fair Vertical jigging spoons and slow retrieve of Jig & Pig. Deep points and drops with concentrations of baitfish.

 

Muskellunge Fishing Tips

Muskellunge, typically referred to as “muskie,” are stocked in 10 reservoirs in Ohio. Nine of these are stocked by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and one (Pymatuning Lake) is stocked by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. Ohio stocks approximately 20,000 8- to 12-inch muskies each fall in the nine program reservoirs to maintain these fisheries. Muskie is native to Ohio and naturally reproduce in a limited number of streams and rivers in Ohio.

State Record:
55.13 pounds, 50 1/4 inches, Piedmont Lake
Joe D. Lykins
April 12, 1972

Fish Ohio Length:
36 inches

Tips

  • Number one tip: have an experienced muskie fisherman take you fishing, or attend a local muskie club meeting and shorten your learning curve.
  • Visit the muskie information section of this website for detailed information on Ohio’s muskie program and 9 program lakes.
  • Mid-May until mid-July is the best period to be on any of Ohio’s muskie lakes.
  • Be sure to try casting bucktails and jerkbaits around any available weed-beds the last two weeks of May before the gizzard shad finish spawning and move out into the open lake.
  • Quality needlenose pliers and mini-boltcutters are a must-have in a muskie boat. Big hooks and muskie teeth can both cause nasty angler injuries. The bolt cutters can be used to free a muskie from a landing net when hooks tangle.

Tackle

6.6 to 8-foot medium to heavy casting rods matched with wide-spool casting reels with line-out alarms. A separate rod for trolling purposes is a plus and should have slightly more flex than the casting rod and be equipped with a line counter reel for determining accurate trolling depths. New “super-lines” in 60 to 90-pound test make great multi-purpose lines for casting and trolling but require modern muskie rods with more length and flex since these lines have low stretch characteristics. A short ten-inch wire leader is recommended for casting and longer 12- to 24-inch leader for trolling to protect your line from zebra mussels and muskie teeth. Typical lures include large crankbaits, jerkbaits, bucktails, plastic swimbaits, buzzbaits and “walk-the-dog” style topwater baits. These specialized lures generally range in size from 4 to 12 inches long!

Where to Fish

Central Ohio:
Alum Creek Lake

Northwest Ohio:
Clear Fork Reservoir

Northeast Ohio:
Pymatuning Lake
West Branch Reservoir
Lake Milton
Leesville Lake

Southwest Ohio:
Caesar Creek Lake
East Fork Lake

Southeast Ohio:
Piedmont Lake
Salt Fork Reservoir

Seasonal Fishing Approaches

SEASON PEAK ACTIVITY PRESENTATION LOCATION
Spring (March-April) Variable March, cast & troll suspending minnow crankbaits on dams, causeways and rock covered bars close to spawning areas. Late March is a good time to try finesse glide baits (jerkbaits) for big pre-spawn females. April, troll and cast spawning areas in 3 to 7-feet of water with small crankbaits especially over areas with emerging weed beds. Feeder streams if the water is low and clear, South facing bays protected from the wind especially ones that had aquatic vegetation the year before, rip-rap (rock) covered banks on causeways and dams, especially at night.
Pre-Summer (May) Excellent Casting jerkbaits, bucktails and plastics around weed beds and submerged timber. Trolling shallow coves and flats out in front of known spawning areas with smaller muskie crankbaits from 3 to 6-inches. The larger shallow spawning coves and weed or wood covered flats adjacent to these areas can all be good but the best have new green weeds on the bottom. Be sure to run some very shallow crankbaits across the middle of these coves when the fish are done spawning. Big females like to “sun” just under the surface for about a week.
Summer (June-mid-September) Good-Fair Spend more time trolling open water with crankbaits just above the thermocline level. Be sure to use line counter reels for accurate trolling depths and talk to local muskie fishermen and fish biologist for information on how deep to fish. Muskies can still be caught casting off the ends of deep bars, humps and standing timber with lures that will retrieve in the 6 to 10-feet deep range. By now a muskies main food source, gizzard shad, have moved out into the open lake. Muskies will still use the ends of main lake bars if they are above the thermocline but many will suspend off the ends of these bars or out over the open water. If standing timber is available in deep water, muskies will suspend in it. Concentrate on the lower 1/3 of the lake near the dam in most cases but cold water from summer storms can sometimes move fish into the backs of coves and into flooded feeder stream areas.
Fall (mid-September-November) Good Presentation patterns mimic the pre-summer patterns. However, many muskie fishermen begin to use larger lures. Casting any available green weeds can be very exciting this time of year. When water levels are dropping fast, concentrate off the ends of main lake points instead of in coves. When water finally begins to cool below the 70-degree range, look for muskies in many of the same places as pre-summer. Casting any available green weeds or submerged wood located on good structure can be very exciting. Trolling back up on top of structure in 4- to 10-feet of water can also produce fish.
Winter (December-February) Poor Muskies can be caught all winter long if open water is available. Be sure to have all your safety gear on board and don’t fish alone. Many muskies can be caught accidentally while fish for saugeye, meaning they also prefer a very slow presentation at this time of year. During open water periods the area near the dam is best. Fish hold in the deeper water during the day, depth depends on water color and stable weather patterns. When active, the fish can move surprisingly shallow at sunset, especially on rip-rap areas.

 

Northern Pike Fishing Tips

Ohio is at the southern extent of the northern pike native range so populations are localized and mostly restricted to Lake Erie and northern rivers. Historically, the Division of Wildlife stocked northern pike into lakes across Ohio, but in 1991, the northern pike stocking program ended so all northern pike fisheries are now maintained by natural reproduction.

Tips

  • Northern pike reproduce over aquatic vegetation so concentrate fishing efforts in these areas.
  • Use a heavy monofilament or braided fishing line or steel leader to prevent pike from breaking the line.
  • Use bright, flashy and noisy lures to attract the attention of northern pike.
  • Pike have a slime coat over their scales and removal of the slime coat make the fish more susceptible to bacterial infections. To remove hooks, place your fingers under the gill cover and slide them toward the mouth till you feel the jaw bone, and then lift the fish slightly, opening the mouth revealing the hooks. If necessary for smaller fish, a wet cloth can be used to wrap around the fish to improve a body grip.

Tackle

Medium weight spinning or baitcasting tackle with 10-pound test line for fishing live bait and a 6- to 70-feet long medium/heavy rod with 12- to 16-pound test line for fishing crankbaits or trolling.

Where to Fish

Lake Erie:
East Harbor
West Harbor
Sandusky Bay

Northwest Ohio:
Maumee River

Northeast Ohio:
West Branch Reservoir
Mosquito Creek Lake
Cuyahoga River (upstream of Cuyahoga Falls)
Tuscarawas River (upstream of New Philadelphia)

Seasonal Fishing Approaches

SEASON PEAK ACTIVITY PRESENTATION LOCATION
Spring (March-April) Fair Live or dead bait; spinnerbaits with Colorado blades; suspending stickbaits like Husky Jerks; muskie lures such as Bull Dawgs. After ice-out, fish are looking for spawning areas. Target the marshes, flooded areas, or shallow bays, especially the north and east shorelines where the water warms fastest.
Pre-Summer (May) Good Soft plastics like Slug-Go or Berkley Gulps; buzzbaits; spinnerbaits and smaller Muskie lures. Noisy, bright, crankbaits with a medium-fast retrieve near vegetation and rock points; occasionally “pump” the lure on the retrieve. Fish deeper/cooler water, near weed lines, downed trees and stump fields.
Summer (June-mid-September) Poor The summer bite is very slow. Try Mepps spinners or large wiggling crankbaits with rattles. Fish the thermocline or springs entering water in the mornings. Look for springs and cool feeder creeks. Lakes are stratified and fish will stay in colder water near the thermocline but will rise up to feed.
Fall (mid-September-November) Good Spinnerbaits; buzzbaits; large, brightly-colored, deep-diving crankbaits bouncing off the bottom. Skim the top of vegetation and deepwater structures. In cooler temperatures pike cruise weed beds looking for their next meal.
Winter (December-February) Fair Large minnows and suckers through ice; Dardevle, Bluefox and other small wobbling spoons and spinnerbaits. Dead bait fished near the bottom under a bobber. Cast with a slow retrieve. Pike are cruising the shorelines, bays and shallow bars looking for suitable spawning areas with aquatic vegetation.

Sauger Fishing Tips

Naturally reproducing populations of sauger are most abundant in the Ohio River, but they also occur in Lake Erie drainages. Sauger are considered one of the most popular sportfish in the Ohio River and represent a large portion of the fish caught by anglers at lock and dam “tailwaters.” Fishing techniques and tips will focus solely on fishing the Ohio River and its tributaries.

Tips

  • Needle-nose fisherman’s pliers will be helpful to remove hooks from a mouth full of teeth.
  • During high flows, sauger tends to stay out of strong current. During high flows at lock and dam tailwaters, sauger move out of strong current behind the lock walls and on the slack water shoreline behind the lock. They will also concentrate near shore along rip rap, trees and other woody debris.
  • During low flows, sauger tend to move offshore to deeper flats. Deeper water along lock walls also holds fish at low flow.
  • Remember, as water temperature increases by May, sauger disperse away from the tailwaters and move “down pool” to confluences, tributary streams and islands.
  • Lower water temperatures in the fall, winter and early spring concentrate sauger at the tailwaters and near shore (<12 feet).
  • Check for near shore movement to shallower water at dawn, dusk and after dark. Daytime angling, especially in clear water, should be in deeper water. Sauger will move in shallow during the day in muddy conditions; however, the best fishing near shore is at night and 30 minutes after sunrise and 30  minutes before sunset.

Tackle

Medium-to-lightweight open face spinning rod and reel equipped with 8-12 pound test “high abrasion” resistant line.

Where to Fish

The Ohio River and the lower portions of its tributaries.

Seasonal Fishing Approaches

SEASON PEAK ACTIVITY PRESENTATION LOCATION
Spring (March-April) Excellent White, chartreuse, bubble-gum and orange twister grubs are preferred in muddy conditions. Black, green and salt/pepper jigs will also work in clear water. Plastic body shad baits and bucktail jigs also can be worked along rip-rap next to the shore. Use a slow retrieve keeping jig bumping across the bottom. Confluences, tailwaters, tributaries, shallow water and close to woody cover and large rock. During spawning, sauger use and concentrate on sand and gravel bars directly downstream of locks and dams. Fish instream structure such as woody debris and rocks that provide current breaks.
Pre-Summer (May) Good Try trolling or casting on deep gravel bars, scour holes and drop-offs adjacent to heads of islands and confluences. Cast jigging spoons and blade baits into steep drop-offs next to these habitats. Use deep diving minnow and shad crank baits when trolling. Deep water far away from shore. Deep water on outside bends and near confluences.
Summer (June-mid-September) Fair Try trolling or casting on deep gravel bars, scour holes and drop-offs adjacent to heads of islands and confluences. Cast jigging spoons and blade baits into steep drop-offs next to these habitats. Use deep diving-minnow and shad crank baits when trolling. Deep water downstream of tailwaters. Lower portion of Ohio River pools. Deep water in larger tributaries of the Ohio River. Drop-offs and deep holes at confluences, islands and outside bends of the river.
Fall (mid-September-November) Excellent Bottom bouncing weights or pencil weights (1/4 – 1/2 ounce) can be used below jigs (jig and hook only) to keep them just off the bottom. Use a three-way swivel and attach a 6- to 12-inch section of line from the swivel to the jig. This will keep the jig close to the bottom yet reduce snagging on rip-rap. This set-up will help keep your jig down in strong current. Shallow water at confluences and tributaries near woody cover. Tailwaters of Ohio River locks and dams. Fish gravel bars at head and toe of Ohio River Islands.
Winter (December-February) Excellent Use 1/8 to 1/2 ounce lead head jigs with 3-inch twister body. Add “stinger hooks” to help catch sluggish or “short striking” fish. Jigs can also be tipped with minnows. Adjust jig weight according to current strength. Jig should be heavy enough to stay in contact with bottom during retrieve in strong current. Make casts quartering upstream across current. Fish confluences, tailwaters, tributaries, shallow water and close to woody cover and large rock or rip rap. Slack water and eddies on the lock side of the dam hold good numbers of fish at high flow. Fish shallow along the shore in the protected area immediately downstream of the lock.

 

Saugeye Fishing Tips

Saugeye are a hatchery-produced hybrid made from a cross between a female walleye and a male sauger that are particularly well-suited for Ohio reservoirs. Each year, the Division of Wildlife stocks more than 7 million saugeye in more than 70 reservoirs. Saugeye grows rapidly in Ohio reservoirs and most fish caught by anglers are 12 to 18 inches.

Tips

  • Although saugeye is a cross between walleye and sauger, they often behave differently than walleye, so methods can vary. Saugeye are not likely to suspend off the bottom, unlike walleye, so present lures close to the bottom.
  • Consider water color when determining how deep to fish. In clear water, fish deeper. In darker or muddy water, fish shallower. It is not uncommon to catch saugeye in less than six to eight feet of water. It’s never too muddy for a saugeye, but in dark-water conditions, try black jigs and twister tails.
  • Checking good overhead cover in shallow lakes may be important, too. Saugeye have even been known to hide underbrush or lily pads like bass.
  • From “ice-out” until water temperature reaches about 55 degrees, try a stop-go method when casting and retrieving crankbaits and don’t be surprised if saugeye inhale the lure on the pause.

Tackle

Medium spinning tackle with 6-8 pound test line for fishing jigs and baitcasting tackle with 10-12 pound test line for fishing crankbaits. Minimize the use of terminal tackle.

Seasonal Fishing Approaches

SEASON PEAK ACTIVITY PRESENTATION LOCATION
Spring (March-April) Excellent Jigs tipped with minnows. Below dams (especially high “flow-through” lakes) the rip-rap on dams and causeways in lakes, large structures (bars, points, underwater roadbeds, etc.) that reach all the way to the old stream channel in a lake.
Pre-Summer (May) Excellent In late May, switch to nightcrawlers on jigs or troll crawler harnesses or “mayfly rigs” tipped with a piece of nightcrawler, troll crankbaits on rip-rap and shallow bars at night or cast small (1 to 3 inches long) shad imitating crankbaits. Some fish use the same locations as spring; however, fish are scattered using all available structure, especially if it has cover like weed beds, stump fields or downed trees.
Summer (June-mid-September) Fair Troll or cast larger crankbaits (3 to 6 inches) and use crawler harnesses and jigs tipped with worms. Most lakes are now stratified and fish are forced to remain above the warm/coldwater interface (thermocline) so they can obtain enough oxygen from the water.
Fall (mid-September-November) Good Cast Rat-L-Trap style lures, diving crankbaits and jigs with minnows. Fish can move extremely shallow at sunset & sunrise, so try rip-rap areas and large points with a gravel silt make-up.
Winter (December-February) Variable Jigs tipped with minnows, minnows below bobbers or with tip-ups, blade baits & Rat-L-Traps style lures. Below dams and on shallow bars (points and reefs) at twilight in reservoirs without ice or in nearby deep water during the day.

 

Smallmouth Bass Fishing Tips

Few experiences are more thrilling than watching a smallmouth bass leap through the air at the end for your fishing line. Wading or floating an Ohio stream is a great way to experience nature and an opportunity to catch this exciting fish. Naturally reproducing smallmouth bass populations are found in reservoirs and streams in Ohio. Catch rates are often higher in streams because smallmouth bass are more common in streams than reservoirs and the stream fish are often concentrated in specific areas.

Tips

  • Smallmouth bass use pools to rest and feed and will move to runs and riffles below pools when most actively feeding.
  • Wearing old shoes will protect your feet when wading or portaging canoes or kayaks.
  • Stream bottoms are owned by the landowner; get permission to wade through private property.
  • When a bass strikes, raise the tip of the pole to prevent the fish getting to cover.
  • In summer bass avoid direct sunlight when they can. Fish deep pools, cover and shaded areas of the stream.
  • Cast past your target and retrieve bait to intended area.

Tackle

Light-to-medium spin-casting outfit with 4- to 10-pound test fishing line or a 5 or 6 weight fly rod.

Seasonal Fishing Approaches

SEASON PEAK ACTIVITY PRESENTATION LOCATION
Spring (March-April) Good Use baits that imitate baitfish. White and silvery tubes, twister tail jigs and spinners. Deep pools with cover of wood, large boulders or undercut banks.
Pre-Summer (May) Good Use baits that imitate baitfish. White and silvery tubes, twister tail jigs and spinners. Look for areas with rocky bottoms and slow moving water. Males may be guarding nests if water temperature is low to mid 60s.
Summer (June-mid-September) Good Use crankbaits and plastics that imitate crayfish. Retrieve with a motion that will allow the bait to hit the bottom to simulate a swimming crayfish. Chartreuse jigs with spinners are also good. Active fish are in runs and where riffles and pools meet. Work jigs in runs and riffles around rocks and eddies. Shady areas can be good.
Fall (mid-September-November) Excellent Crayfish imitating baits still work but fish are switching back to fish. Use inline spinners, tubes and jigs in lighter colors. Cast baits across pools and runs retrieve at medium rate with twitching action. Fish pools and runs around cover. As water temperatures drop fish will spend more time in pools. Use jigs and other baitfish like tackle in pools to catch these fish.
Winter (December-February) Fair Fish imitating baits will work best. Retrieve baits slowly. Fish in deeper pools around any cover available.

 

Basic Steelhead Fishing Tips

The Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Lake Erie steelhead trout fishery is maintained by stocking approximately 400,000 6- to 9-inch Little Manistee River strain steelhead trout in five tributaries (west to east): Vermilion River, Rocky River, Chagrin River, Grand River and Conneaut Creek. This strain of steelhead trout average 25” and 7 pounds after two summers of growth in Lake Erie. This world-class fishery provides terrific opportunities for shore or wading anglers to catch large lake-run fish relatively inexpensively.

See the Advanced Steelhead Fishing Tips for information about fly fishing, noodle rod fishing and float fishing for steelhead.

Tips

  • Fish close to the bottom in creeks and rivers.
  • Always use a fluorocarbon leader of 5- to 7-pound strength.
  • Use an 8- to 10-pound mainline.
  • Sharpen your hooks.
  • Check your line frequently for abrasion, kinks, etc.
  • Wear a ball cap and use polarized sunglasses for stream fishing.
  • When handling fish:
  1. Always wet your hands.
  2. Gently unhook and release fish
  3. Cut the line of deeply-hooked fish off at the mouth prior to release.

Tackle

A variety of rods and reels can be used effectively. Depending upon conditions, try an 8- to 12-feet limber spinning rod (noodle rod), 6-8 weight fly rod, or 12- to 13-feet long center pin rod.

Where to Fish

Northern Ohio tributaries of Lake Erie between the Vermilion River and the Ohio/Pennsylvania state line. Fish in harbors and lower rivers early and late in the October-May season and everywhere during the middle of the season. Move to small streams when the main rivers are high and muddy or frozen. Steelhead can be found seasonally in the following primary areas:

  • Vermilion River: Fish from the river mouth to Wakeman Dam.
  • Rocky River: Fish from the Metropark's marina up to the Lagoon Dam.
  • Cuyahoga River: Fish from the harbor and Cuyahoga Valley Park up to Edison Dam.
  • Chagrin River: Fish from the river mouth to the South Chagrin Reservation Park.
  • Grand River: Fish from the river mouth to the Harpersfield Dam.
  • Arcola Creek: Fish the beach and estuary pond area.
  • Ashtabula River: Fish from the harbor to the Smolen-Gulf (SR 84) covered bridge.
  • Conneaut Creek: Fish the west break wall and harbor up to the OH-PA state line.

Seasonal Fishing Approaches

SEASON PEAK ACTIVITY PRESENTATION LOCATION
Spring (March-April) Excellent when streams have 8” to 12” of visibility. Spawn bags, jigs with maggots, spinners (up to ¼ ounce), small crank baits fished in pools;
Flies, including stone-fly nymphs, Clouser minnows, Bleeding Shiner patterns fished in shallow, steelhead nesting (redd) areas;
Can be fished in pools or redds.
Any of the rivers listed under the "Where to Fish" tab.
Pre-Summer (May) Good to Excellent Jig with maggots;
Spinners and spoons (up to 1/3 ounce) and small crank baits.

Lake Erie breakwalls and piers. 

Summer (June-mid-September) Fair Trolling spoons and crank baits Lake Erie offshore areas/thermocline (usually around 55').
Fall (mid-September-November) Good to excellent when streams have 8” to 12” of visibility. Jig with maggots, minnows, spawn bags, or flies fished underneath bobber, as well as spinners and spoons;
Various flies such as emerald shiner, yarn flies, egg-sucking leech, sucker spawn;
Any of the baits, lures, or flies listed and fished under a center pin type bobber.
Lake Erie break walls and rivers listed under the "Where to Fish" tab.
Winter (December-February) Good to excellent when streams have 8”-12” of visibility. Spawn (trout or salmon eggs) bags, 1/32 ounce jig with maggots, or flies fished under a pencil or lead-pin Styrofoam bobber;
Various flies, such as sucker spawn, pheasant tail, dark hare-eared nymph;
Any of the baits, lures, or flies listed and fished under a center pin type bobber.
Pools within any of the rivers under the "Where to Fish" tab.

Advanced Steelhead Fishing Tips

The Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Lake Erie steelhead trout fishery is maintained by stocking approximately 400,000 6- to 9-inch Little Manistee River strain steelhead trout in five tributaries (west to east): Vermilion River, Rocky River, Chagrin River, Grand River and Conneaut Creek. This strain of steelhead trout average 25 inches and 7 pounds after two summers of growth in Lake Erie. This world-class fishery provides terrific opportunities for shore or wading anglers to catch large lake-run fish relatively inexpensively

See the Basic Steelhead Fishing Tips for additional information.

Fly Fishing for Ohio Steelhead

Fly Fishing for Ohio Steelhead
By Vince LaConte, Former District Fish Management Supervisor

Fly fishing has become a very popular and effective way to catch Ohio steelhead trout. Over the last 30 years, Buckeye fly fishers have come to know the excitement of hooking and landing one of these large and beautiful fish on gaudy bits of steel, fur and feather.

The typical Ohio steelhead fly fisherman uses a 6-9 weight, medium to fast action fly rod of 8-10 feet in length. A rod with an extended fighting butt will help fight and land these headstrong fish. The longer the rod, the better the line control. The fly reel should have a good adjustable drag and an exposed rim. The angler can use the exposed rim as a secondary drag by palming it. One of the new large arbor reels would be an excellent choice. Steelheads are large and strong fighters so it is a good rule of thumb to get the best rod and reel you can afford. “Fish Ohio” class steelhead (28 inches or larger) have the ability to simply destroy lightweight equipment. A weight-forward floating fly line is the most versatile and therefore the most generally used fly line. It should be backed up with an appropriate amount of 20-pound test dacron backing, as sooner or later a good steelhead will take out all of your fly line along with a great deal of your backing. Fluorocarbon leaders, flies and terminal set-up all depend upon the fishing technique that the angler chooses to use.

The two most commonly used fly fishing techniques for steelhead are dead drift nymphing and the wet fly swing. Each has its advocates and detractors; its advantages and disadvantages.

Dead-drift nymphing is without question the most productive method used to catch steelhead in Ohio while fly fishing. This method can be used under the greatest variety of river conditions on both large and small rivers, and at all seasons while the fish are in stream. The technique allows the fly fisher to methodically cover all the water and place the fly to within inches of any fish there. It will catch aggressive fish in warm water conditions and it will catch sedentary fish in frigid water conditions. It is, however, an active fishing technique that does require a lot of casting with constant attention to line control. With this method, strikes from the fish are often difficult to detect and fish are often lost due to inattention. The set-up consists of a floating fly line and a long (8-12 feet) leader with a relatively light fluorocarbon tippet (4-8 pound test). Attached to the leader is a strike indicator (a small lightweight bobber), split shot, and one or two flies. The strike indicator is set such that the bottom fly will be suspended within a whisker of the river bottom. It is preferable that the distance between the strike indicator and the bottom fly be too great rather than too short. The split shot is added just above the fly or flies and should only be heavy enough to sink the flies but not so heavy as to sink the strike indicator. Some favorite flies used with this method are size 6-10 glo bugs, egg flies and sucker spawn in a wide variety of bright colors including, but not limited to, orange, yellow, red, pink, chartreuse, cream and white. Also productive are a variety of traditional nymph patterns such as the gold-ribbed hare’s ear, prince nymph, black stonefly nymph, pheasant tail nymph, caddis larvae and small wooly buggers in sizes 8-14.

Dead-drift nymphing is a short-line technique that starts with a short upstream cast. The strike indicator shot and flies are pushed back toward the angler by the flow of the current and at the same speed as the current. It is key at this point that the angler follows the strike indicator with the rod tip while keeping as much of the fly line as possible off the surface of the water by slowly raising the tip of the fly rod. As the strike indicator approaches and passes downstream of the angler, he or she should continue to follow the strike indicator while lowering the rod tip in order to extend line to the strike indicator and thereby extending the length of the drift. Failure to do this will result in a current-induced pull on the fly line and the strike indicator which speeds up the drift of the flies and pulls them up and away from the bottom. This will result in considerably fewer strikes. It is an advantage to have a long fly rod in this situation. The optimal fishing pattern is to cast to all potential fish-holding locations shore to shore while slowly moving upstream.

The strike, when it comes, can be difficult to detect. It most often manifests itself as a subtle stop in the downstream movement of the strike indicator. It may begin to slowly sink under the surface. This can also happen if the flies become snagged on the bottom of the river. These actions are indistinguishable, therefore the angler must strike at every stoppage of movement (or any other unusual movement) of the strike indicator. Most of the time it will be nothing more than a hangup on the bottom, but every so often..........!! This technique is the most effective method of catching steelhead, regardless of the conditions, with a fly rod in Ohio. It does, however, require constant attention to detail.

The wet fly swing is a technique that allows the fly fisher to cover a great deal of water in a short period of time. This is an ideal method to use when exploring new or unfamiliar water. It is the most relaxed method of fishing. The terminal set-up is designed to get a large fly to the river bottom as fast as possible while allowing it to swing in the current in an arc downstream of the angler. The intention is to aggravate a fish into a strike. This is akin to slowly dragging a toy mouse in front of a cat – hopefully with the same result. To accomplish this, the fly fisher must add weight to either the floating fly line or to the leader. This can be done in one of two ways: add a section of a sinking fly line to the main floating portion of the fly line, or just add split shot to the leader several inches above the fly.

Some fly lines are sold with a sink-tip already built into them but these lack the versatility one would need to fish in Ohio’s steelhead streams. It is better to either purchase or build detachable sink-tips of various weights and lengths. In this way, the angler will be prepared for whatever river conditions he or she may find at any particular time. These sink-tips come with (or should be built with) braided loops on both ends to facilitate quick and easy attachment to and removal from the main fly line via a loop to loop connection. The exact length and weight of each tip and which one is best suited to use under specific river conditions is something that each angler must discover for himself through the process of trial and error. Leaders used with these sink-tips are usually short (3-4 feet long), relatively heavy (8-10 pound test), and made of fluorocarbon tippet material. The second set up method is the simplest and most cost-effective. The angler need only add an appropriate number of split shot to the leader about 12-18 inches above the fly. The angler would add just enough weight to get the fly to the river bottom but not so much that it is constantly snagging on the bottom. The leader in this case must be longer (8-12 feet long) and is attached directly to the main fly line. This set-up is often referred to as a “poor man’s sink-tip.” The wet fly swing technique allows for use of large colorful flies, like the wooly bugger, egg-sucking leech, marabou streamer, rabbit strip zonker, rabbit strip leech and clouser minnow in black, white, olive, brown, purple, yellow and orange in sizes 4 to 8.

The wet fly swing starts with a cast directly across the river. The fly line is held tight as the fly is carried to the bottom and begins to swing downstream in the current in an arc. At the end of the swing the fly will be hanging in the current directly downstream of the angler. A steelhead may strike at the fly at any point during the swing but most strikes occur in the last half of the swing and are often quite violent. At the completion of the swing, the angler should take one step downstream and repeat the cast and swing, methodically covering all potential fish-holding water. This action will be repeated while moving downstream one step and one cast at a time. Since this technique is designed to draw strikes from aggressive fish, it is the most successful when used during the early fall and late spring when water temperatures are warmer and the steelhead are more aggressive. The appeal of this technique is its relaxed nature, the ability to cover large areas of water, and the savage strikes it induces.

Noodle Rod Fishing for Ohio Steelhead

Noodle Rod Fishing and Fishing Tips for Ohio Steelhead
By Phil Hillman, District Fish Management Supervisor

“Noodle” rods have been the mainstay of steelhead trout fishing in Ohio for almost 30 years. A noodle rod is basically an elongated spinning rod that comes in different actions, such as light, medium, or heavy action. Light action rods allow for better sensitivity and a better fight. A heavier action rod allows for better hook-setting ability. The choice of rod actions is an individual matter. The length of these rods generally ranges from 7- 12 feet. Noodle rods can be purchased at many tackle stores that supply steelhead trout tackle or they can be custom made. Young anglers will likely be able to perform better using shorter, rather than longer rods. Long rods are more sensitive and certainly more flexible to use in a variety of fishing scenarios. The fish really “plays” the rod rather than the fishing line, which would more be the case with an ultra-light spinning rod that might only be 5.5 or 6 feet long. Thus, the longer rod allows the angler to use a much lighter line, which is a key to effective steelhead fishing. A 3-5 foot section of fluorocarbon leader (4-7 pound test) increases success since it is virtually invisible to steelhead trout.

It is important not only to have a quality noodle rod but also a very sturdy and dependable spinning reel for steelhead trout fishing. Spinning reels are “taxed” to the maximum with the normal scorching runs of the steelhead trout. It is worth the extra money to purchase a mid-range to high-end priced spinning reel with a dependable reputation and a good drag system. The typical spinning reel is loaded with approximately 150 yards of 7-8 pound high-quality monofilament fishing line. Other important stream accessories are a pair of polarized sunglasses and a ball cap. A good landing net is also helpful but not an absolute necessity.

Noodle rods are most often used for steelhead trout in stream fishing settings. However, noodle rods can also be used for pier or breakwall fishing. Noodle rods can be used to fish bait, lures or flies. The normal casting technique on streams is to make an upstream cast of about 45 degrees. The line is reeled enough so that it “telescopes” down to the water from the rod tip resulting in the line having a slight “belly,” rather than laying flat on the water. It is important that once the cast has been made the rod tip moves with the line downstream so that there is no line drag. Also, this allows a quick strike to be made, which can be indicated by the line twitching, bobber submersing, etc. The line is retrieved once the rod reaches a point about 45 degrees downstream of a “dead” center position.

The most important aspect of stream steelhead trout fishing is staying in contact with the stream bottom, where these fish generally reside. It is oftentimes necessary, when using flies or bait, to use some minimum amount of weight (e.g. split shot or micro split shot) to keep the bait or fly close to the stream bottom. Always assume that a steelhead trout is on the end of the hook when the line twitches or the bobber starts to submerge. It is important to make a quick wrist strike and hold the noodle rod arched high while fighting the steelhead trout. There are only a few instances where the rod tip should be dropped while fighting a fish. One example is when a steelhead trout or other fish clears the water. Drop the rod tip only until the fish hits the water’s surface, so that the fish doesn’t fall on a tight line, potentially risking a broken line. The second instance is when the fish swims under a log, into debris, etc. and there is no other way to control the fish.

It is actually a valuable technique to allow the fish to have a slack line under these circumstances. The fish thinks that it is free of any resistance and oftentimes swims back in the same manner that it entered. Another trick is when a steelhead trout is holding in fast water and won’t budge. Hold the noodle rod steady and gently start taking small steps backward until the fish is no longer in fast water. At this point, it will be much easier to fight the fish.

Whether the angler uses a noodle rod or fly rod, there are certain areas to search for steelhead trout. When the trout start making upstream migrations in the fall, it is important to realize that these fish have spent the summer in deep, poorly illuminated water. So, the first thing that the steelhead trout searches for as it enters a stream is the deepest areas that it can find, where there is usually a single current moving through, which ensures a satisfactory flow of oxygenated water. These lake-run rainbow trout can be found in the streams from September to mid-May and these deep pools should never be overlooked, since pre-spawn and post-spawn fish will utilize these sites. From December through May it is also important to search out gravelly shallow areas where there are oftentimes multiple water currents evident. These are potential spawning areas. Once a few fish have been spotted in these reaches, it becomes relatively easy to spot spawning steelhead trout if polarized sunglasses and a ball cap are used. Flies or lures are the most effective choices for catching spawning fish. These fish will react positively in one of two ways or not at all. Instinctively, certain flies (e.g. stone flies) may be sucked in since trout are accustomed to seeing them. The second response is attacking a large fly, streamer or lure, which the fish view as a threat or annoyance to their spawning activities. These spawning fish are not actively feeding and will not do so until they have completed their spawning activities.

Regardless of what fishing gear is used, the success of a stream steelhead trout trip is strongly associated with existing stream conditions. The best stream conditions are when the water is greenish in color, with 8-12 feet of visibility, and is close to normal or slightly above normal. If the water is high, fast and muddy, there are two choices to consider. Find a smaller stream or tributary that has cleared sooner. A muddy stream can also be fished but it is important to find slower moving water along the bank or inside channels. Expect that the time between bites will be much greater than under normal conditions.

Float Fishing for Ohio Steelhead

Advanced Float Fishing for Steelhead
By Mike Durkalec, Biologist, Cleveland MetroParks

Float fishing with specialty gear is nothing new; this technique has been practiced in Europe for over a century. The method was imported from Europe to the Canadian steelhead trout waters of the Great Lakes (Ontario) and Pacific Northwest (British Columbia) as early as the late 1960s. Yet, only within the past 10 years has this method exploded on the Ohio steelhead scene.

At the heart of this technique is the center pin reel. As the name implies, the reel is seated on a central spindle. The reel itself essentially looks like a giant fly reel between four and a half and six inches in diameter, consisting of a spool and a backplate (to which the spindle is attached). The spool spins effortlessly on the spindle, assisted by high-quality bearings or bushings. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of Great Lakes anglers tend to prefer bearing over bushing models. This smoothly spinning spool is essential to the function of the reel; even the slightest flows will cause line to evenly peel from the reel, affording an exceptionally natural drift. This effortless and smooth free spooling function is the primary advantage of using a center pin reel for drifting over a spinning reel. Most center pin models have no functional drag, but most have a clicker style drag for use when transporting the rig. The angler’s own hand serves as the drag when a fish is hooked. Although this may sound a bit intimidating to anglers new to the method, this method of fighting a fish is quickly learned and, in fact, affords more fine-tuned control in spool tension as needed. Reels were historically manufactured in Europe and Canada, but a growing number of manufacturers in the U.S. now are realizing the interest in this type of gear and are producing some high-quality domestic offerings also. It is not the purpose of this introduction to outline specific models of available reels, but a simple web search or call to the local tackle shop that caters to steelhead trout anglers will lead to all the necessary information.

The rod used for this center pinning technique is also a specialized tool. The hallmark of a good float rod is that it is very long, even more so than the whippy noodle rods that many steelhead anglers use. The standard rod tends to be in the 13-foot range, although models from 11-15 feet are also common (11-13 foot is well-suited for Ohio tributaries). In addition to the extra length, these rods also have a bit more backbone than a noodle rod, yet have more of a light action than ultra-light rods. There are several benefits of the extra length and a bit more stiffness. First, the length allows the angler to keep the line off the water more effectively, giving a more direct connection to the float instead of dragging in the water. The extra length also assists with quick hook sets, especially from a distance, as well as giving more leverage for fighting large, strong fish while still protecting lighter leaders. As with specifics on rods and reels, information is available with a quick web search or a visit to the steelhead trout specialty tackle shop.

Part of the allure of center pinning is watching the tip of a well-balanced float sink beneath the river surface when a steelhead trout takes the offering. So, what about the floats? One can keep it simple or complex, but specialized floats definitely have merits under varying conditions. Many anglers started out fishing simple Carlisle-style floats with spinning gear, and this method still accounts for plenty of steelhead trout each year in Ohio. For those who want to take it a step further, float design is a very specialized part of this technique. First off, we’ll start with a bit of float terminology. The “body” of the float refers to the buoyant central section; typically comprised of balsa, cork, foam, or other such buoyant materials. The “stem” is essentially the rudder of the float and can extend from about one to five inches below the bottom. The “antennae” is the top portion and is generally very short to avoid causing the float to blow off-track excessively in the wind. The top and bottom of the float (and many anglers also prefer in the middle) are affixed to the line via rubble or silicone tubing called “float caps." This allows the float to be held in place sufficiently with friction, but does not damage the line and allows the float to be easily moved up or down the line as needed.

Float shape and design can make a big difference under varying conditions. As a general rule, a slimmer bodied float is used in slower or slack water, such as deep pools or river mouth areas, and a round-bodied float is used in more turbulent water during elevated flow conditions. The trade-off is sensitivity versus stability. As most anglers want to maximize their time fishing rather than changing floats, and since they can fish varying water types as they wade a stretch of river, there is a happy medium between the two float types: a float with an elongated oval or teardrop-shaped body. This float type is generally stable enough for faster flows of riffle areas but is still sensitive enough for use in slow pools with soft-hitting winter fish. This float type works perfectly fine for at least 90 percent of the situations that an Ohio tributary angler will encounter. In very slow, calm flows with light-biting fish, anglers often find a slim body stick-style float, which is very sensitive, to be favorable.

As for terminal tackle, any high-quality monofilament will serve sufficiently as a mainline on the reel, with different anglers having varying brand preferences. Qualities to look for are low memory, fairly hard, abrasion-resistant lines. Do not use fluorocarbon as the mainline on the reel! This line is denser than standard mono and will sink more quickly if it hits the water between your rod tip and float, defeating the purpose of float fishing. Some anglers favor use of the coated floating monofilaments now available or may add a silicone dry fly float lubricant to the first 100 feet or so of their mainline, as well. I should note that fluorocarbon is a favored leader material, though, due to its’ low visibility properties, density and abrasion resistance. A leader of one to three feet is typical, and should be at least two pounds breaking strength less than the mainline to minimize loss of the float when snagged. Leaders can be attached with a very small swivel, or simply with a blood knot or surgeon’s knot.

Another aspect to consider for center pinning (also known as float fishing) is the “shotting” pattern. This is the manner in which split shot are placed on the line. Most practitioners of this technique prefer hard-cut round lead shot as opposed to softer molded shot with “wings” to pinch on/off since the hard-cut variety stays in place much better on the line. A variety of shot from sizes of BB and 1 down to tiny sizes 6 and 8 are used commonly on the Ohio tributaries. The most useful shot pattern is the tapering staggered (or “shirt button”) configuration; essentially spacing outshot equidistant between the float and offering with the larger shot near the float and smaller ones near the offering. This offers a very direct connection between float and offering and therefore gets the offering down quickly, keeps it there, and telegraphs strikes effectively to the float. The larger shot balance out the float well, and the smaller shot near the offering are less visible to the fish and, are less likely to snag and offer a more natural drift. This is the one method that will be used in most situations. One special shot pattern is the bulk-shot configuration, which is basically clustering heavier shot about a foot from the offering. This works great to punch down a larger offering and keeping it down during heavier, deeper flows and can also work wonders in getting the offering through ice flows on those tough winter mornings. The opposite technique is to bulk shot near the float, with little or none near the offering. This can work great under low, clear conditions with spooky fish and/or in slow water conditions. Favored areas for this technique are estuary areas or when fishing a heavier jig under the float. Variations of these three shot patterns will cover almost any situation the Great Lakes float angler will come across.

Anglers new to specialized float fishing commonly ask, “What offering should I use with this technique?” To make a long story short, anything that can be drifted for steelhead trout with other gear will also work with this method. For a long time, it seemed the center pin method was stereotyped as a “bait” method. It does work great for drifting bait, ranging from large gobs of skein or nightcrawlers, all the way down to a single salmon egg or wax worm. But, it also works great for drifting artificial lures ranging from fly patterns to rubber baits and jigs. In fact, it seems that the largest growing contingent of center pin anglers is fly anglers who want to round out their skills with new fun and effective method.

The technique of drifting your offering in a natural manner in flowing water is called “trotting” by the Europeans. Essentially, it is a way of offering a drag-free drift at the point of the offering. This is an important distinction to make as the visible currents on the surface of a river are often not representative of what’s going on down below, with surface currents usually being faster than the bottom currents. The main reason for this is due to drag and turbulence as the water moves over varying obstructions and substrate on the river bottom. As a rule, the slower the currents and more uniform the stream bottom the more the current through the water column will be uniform. In this situation, drifting your float at approximately the speed of the surface currents is fine, and set at the exact vertical depth below the flow at which the fish are believed to be holding. In faster water, especially with a broken bottom structure (rocks) and some depth, the angler will want to often “check” the float as the Europeans call it; or slow the feed of line off the spool to keep the float moving a bit slower than the surface currents and keep the offering moving at a speed more equal to the slower bottom currents. In this situation, the angler will also want to overset the depth of the float to be about approximately an extra 25 percent or so the actual water depth as the offering will sweep out downstream of the float if done properly. This all may sound complicated, but with some practice, one gets a feel for it and it can pay huge dividends in terms of presenting a natural offering that the fish approve of!

Another question that may come to mind is, “When is this particular technique most effective?” Float fishing can have advantages in any flowing water situation but is especially productive in slow to moderate flows of three to six-foot depths with a relatively even stream bottom. This situation describes most Lake Erie tributaries and therefore the technique is exceptionally well-suited for Ohio steelheaders. The level of control over the drift that this method affords also makes it “shine” during winter conditions when fish are lethargic or just biting light.

Anglers who already own spinning or even fly fishing gear can simply continue using their current equipment and implement or adapt some of the facets of advanced float fishing previously described. However, a rapidly growing contingent of local steelheaders is discovering and adding specialized float rods and center pin reels to their arsenal. Savvy anglers realize that this method is yet one more tool that can be fun and extremely productive on the Ohio tributary streams.

Sunfish Fishing Tips

Sunfish are found in almost any water area in the state. They provide fishing opportunities to anglers of all skill levels and are considered one of the best eating fishes in Ohio.

Tips

  • Keep moving. Fish different areas and different depths until you find a school of sunfish. Use a slip bobber to easily fish different depths and to consistently fish the same depth once the fish are located.
  • Fish near structure (cover). Sunfish like to hold near any type of structure including vegetation, submerged trees or brush, rock piles and drop-offs or old roadbeds.
  • Look for spawning beds in spring.
  • Fly fishing during mid-summer, especially in the evenings, is very effective.

Tackle

Use a light spinning rod and reel with 4-8 pound test during most of the year and ice fishing rod gear during winter. Fly rods are very effective for sunfish. Fishing for sunfish is a good way to learn to fish with a fly rod.

Seasonal Fishing Approaches

SEASON PEAK ACTIVITY PRESENTATION LOCATION
Spring (March-April) Excellent Use a single hook with light line. Bait the hook with wax worms (better than mealworms), earthworms, red worms, crickets or wigglers. Slip bobbers allow you to easily fish at different depths. Once you locate the depth fish are holding the slip bobber allows you to fish consistently at the same depth. This time of the year is pre-spawn. Fish are generally in deeper water offshore and suspended. Water temps are beginning to warm and sunfish are actively feeding. Find fish using a depth finder or aqua viewer, or by fishing at different depths until you locate them by catching one.
Pre-Summer (May) Excellent Use a single hook with light line. Bait the hook with wax worms (better than mealworms), earthworms, red worms, crickets or wigglers. Move around until you locate a school of sunfish. By May, the sunfish move in the shallows on spawning beds. Look for the beds in clear water. Fish in water as shallow as 1-2 feet. Be cautious not to scare the fish in shallow water. Try fishing on the edges of vegetation beds or trees.
Summer (June-mid-September) Excellent Most reservoirs are stratified with no oxygen in deep water at this time of the year. You must locate the fish. They may be suspended in deep water areas or in shallower areas near the bottom. Use the same presentation as spring. Try fishing shallow water in evenings with topwater poppers or dry flies. The majority of sunfish spawn in May. However, some sunfish may spawn all summer long. After May, sunfish might be nearshore or suspended in deeper water. Keep moving around until you locate them.
Fall (mid-September-November) Excellent The reservoir usually turns over in the fall with uniform temperature and oxygen from top to bottom. On sunny fall days the fish may stay near shore close to structure. Use the same presentation as spring. Fish mid-water depths above the thermocline. On sunny fall days, the shallow shoreline may be warmer than the rest of the lake. Try fishing close to shore around structure. If you are not successful, look for them suspended in deeper water.
Winter (December-February) Excellent Ice fishing for sunfish can be very effective. Jigging with small ice jigs tipped with a wax worm, wiggler, spike or mousie. Fish may be near the bottom, around structure (trees or vegetation) or suspended. Find fish using a depth finder or aqua viewer, or by fishing at different depths until you catch one. You may have to drill many holes to locate them. Sometimes you may catch many sunfish out of one hole and not catch any out of a hole right next to it.

 

Rainbow/Brown Trout Fishing Tips

The Ohio Division of Wildlife stocks “catchable” rainbow trout (10-14 inches) during spring and fall in various lakes and ponds and brown trout (6-9 inches) during October in Clear Creek, Clear Fork River and the Mad River. Catchable rainbow trout are stocked to provide immediate fishing opportunities for a short period of time and these fish are expected to remain the size they were when they were stocked. Habitat in Ohio waters generally prevents rainbow trout from surviving through the summer in these waters. Brown trout are stocked to provide longer-term fishing opportunities since they are stocked at smaller sizes and expected to survive a number of years after stocking. Most anglers do not consider brown trout to be a harvestable size until they measure at least 12 inches. Trout fishing in Ohio is maintained solely through annual stockings since rainbow and brown trout are not native to Ohio and our habitats do not promote natural reproduction.

Tips

Rainbow Trout:

  • Cast jig with maggots using a stop-and-retrieve approach.

Brown Trout:

  • Stay close to the stream bottom.

Use fluorocarbon leaders for both species.

Tackle

For rainbow trout, use light-weight spinning or spin-casting gear and for brown trout use similar gear or a 4-6 weight fly rod.

Where to Fish

Rainbow Trout:
See stocking dates and locations

Brown Trout:
Mad River
Clear Fork River
Clear Creek

Seasonal Fishing Approaches

SEASON PEAK ACTIVITY PRESENTATION LOCATION
Spring (March-April)

Rainbow trout: Good to excellent in spring-stocked systems;

Brown trout: Good to excellent when stream visibility ranges from 8”-12”.

Rainbow trout: Spinners, spoons (1/8 ounce), 1/32 ounce jig with maggots under a bobber, worms, cheese, minnows (if allowed);

Brown trout: Flies, such as pheasant tail, dark hare-eared nymphs. Fish in pools and runs.

Brown trout: Fish in pools.
Pre-Summer (May) Brown trout: Fair to good if water temperatures are below 65° and water is fairly clear. Brown trout: Same as for spring conditions, but concentrate in pools with current. Brown trout: Fish in pools and runs.
Summer (June-mid-September) Brown trout: Poor, except where water temperature is below 65° and oxygen levels are suitable. Brown trout: Flies, such as pheasant tail and dark hare-eared nymphs. Fish in pools and runs. Brown trout: Concentrate in pools with current.
Fall (mid-September-November)

Rainbow trout: Good to excellent in fall-stocked systems.

Brown trout: Good to excellent when stream visibility ranges from 8”-12”.

Rainbow trout: Spinners, spoons (1/8 ounce), 1/32 ounce jig with maggots under a bobber, worms, cheese, minnows (if allowed);

Brown trout: Flies, such as pheasant tail and dark hare-eared nymphs. Fish in pools and runs.

Brown trout: Fish in pools and runs.
Winter (December-February) Brown trout: Good to excellent when stream visibility ranges from 8”-12”. Brown trout: Flies, such as stone-fly nymphs, pheasant tail dark hare-eared nymphs and egg-patterns. Fish in pools. Brown trout: Fish in pools and runs.

 

Walleye Fishing Tips

Each year the Division of Wildlife stocks more than 20 million walleye fry and 2.5 million walleye fingerlings in 15-20 reservoirs to maintain high-quality fishing. Although walleye can naturally reproduce in Ohio reservoirs, natural reproduction is rarely sufficient to maintain a fishery; therefore, walleye produced naturally are typically considered a “bonus” in these waters. Natural reproduction of walleye does, however, sustain fisheries in the eastern portion of the Ohio River. Although walleye are not as common as sauger in Ohio River tailwaters, they are not uncommon and are typically caught using the same methods in those locations.

Tips

  • Fish slow on the bottom in spring before the gizzard shad hatch starts in about mid-May. When selecting crankbaits, try suspending models this time of year.
  • Starting about late May, many walleye will suspend to feed on gizzard shad. Try trolling small gizzard shad imitating crankbaits, such as Wee Warts and small Shad Raps, near the surface.
  • Spring is the best time to target walleye if you don’t have access to a boat. Fish the tailwaters, faces of dams and any available causeway openings from shore at walleye lakes, especially at first and last light.

Ohio River Tips:

  • Needle-nose fisherman’s pliers will be helpful to remove hooks from a mouth full of teeth.
  • During high flows, walleye tend to stay out of strong current. During high flows at lock and dam tailwaters, walleye move out of strong current behind the lock walls and on the slack water shoreline behind the lock. They will also concentrate near shore along rip rap, trees and other woody debris.
  • During low flows, walleye tend to move offshore to deeper flats. Deeper water along lock walls also holds fish at low flow.
  • Remember, as water temperature increases by May, walleye disperse away from the tailwaters and move “down pool” to confluences, tributary streams and islands.
  • Lower water temperatures in the fall, winter and early spring concentrate walleye at the tailwaters and near shore (shallower than 12 feet).
  • Check for near shore movement to shallower water at dawn, dusk and after dark. Daytime angling, especially in clear water, should be in deeper water. Walleye will move in shallow during the day in muddy conditions; however, the best fishing near shore is at night and ½ hour after sunrise and ½ hour before sunset.

Tackle

Medium spinning tackle with 6-10 pound test line for fishing jigs and baitcasting tackle with 10-12 pound test line for fishing crankbaits. Minimize the use of terminal tackle.

Seasonal Fishing Approaches

SEASON PEAK ACTIVITY PRESENTATION LOCATION
Spring (March-April) Good Jigs tipped with twister tails & minnows. Below dams in tailwaters, off the faces of dams in stocked lakes, in causeway openings with water current present and large, main-lake bars or points, especially ones with gravel or rip-rap present on their tops.
Pre-Summer (May) Excellent Troll crawler harnesses or “mayfly rigs” tipped with a piece of nightcrawler, troll or cast small shad imitating crankbaits (1”- 3”) and casting jigs tipped with worms; in late May try jigging “blade” baits off the end of bars. Troll or drift large points and bars, sunken roadbeds, railroad tracks or rises along old stream channels. Large bays or shelves with aquatic vegetation or stump fields can be productive also.
Summer (June-mid-September) Fair Troll or cast larger crankbaits (3”-6”) and use crawler harnesses and jigs tipped with worms. Fish most of the same types of fish-holding structures as pre-summer but concentrate on the ones closer to the dam and be sure they are situated above the thermocline if present. Now is also the time of year to try trolling for suspended walleye in the open water of the lake above the thermocline.
Fall (mid-September-November) Good Cast Rat-L-Trap style lures, diving crankbaits and jigs with minnows, vertical jig blade bits off the tips of bars. Fish will begin to move back into shallower water as it cools into the 60-degree range and use many of the same areas as the pre-summer peak. In late Fall, however, walleye start to congregate deeper off the ends of main lake points.
Winter (December-February) Variable Icefish with jigs or jigging spoons tipped with minnows. In open water cast suspending minnow crankbaits at night in waters less than ten feet deep. Below dams and on shallow bars (points & reefs) at twilight in reservoirs without ice or in nearby deep water especially off the ends of bars during the day. Narrow openings with the current like the ones in causeway should also be checked if the water is open.

 

White Bass Fishing Tips

White bass can be caught in many of Ohio’s larger reservoirs and their tributaries. Some of the best white bass fishing in the state is in Lake Erie tributaries in the spring.

Tips

  • Fish tributary streams in the spring from late April through May.
  • Fish at night under submerged lights during late spring through fall.
  • On calm days watch for schools of white bass feeding on the surface.

Tackle

A variety of fishing rods and reels can be used to catch white bass.

Seasonal Fishing Approaches

SEASON PEAK ACTIVITY PRESENTATION LOCATION
Spring (March-April) Fair Fish with small jigs tipped with plastic tails or minnows. Small flashy spoons or spinners are also effective. Some anglers fish minnows under bobbers as well. Fish around the mouths of tributary streams. Try locating fish in deep water associated with structure such as humps, drop-offs, points or submerged roadbeds.
Pre-Summer (May) Excellent Fishing in tributaries during a white bass spawning run is undoubtedly the best time to catch them. They will hit just about anything flashy including jigs tipped with plastic tails, spoons, spinners and live minnows. White bass can be caught in tributary streams as they migrate up the streams to spawn. This may be the best time of the year to catch white bass.
Summer (June-mid-September) Excellent Night fishing can be effective at this time of the year. Fish on calm days and watch for schools of white bass feeding on shad near the surface. Sea Gulls flying overhead may point to white bass feeding near the surface. Use small, flashy spoons or spinners. You may also try trolling with small, medium-running crank baits. Most fish are back in the reservoirs at this time of the year. They are generally found in the open water feeding on schools of shad.
Fall (mid-September-November) Excellent

Try night fishing with floating or submerged lights. The lights attract bait fish and the white bass will feed on the bait fish. Use live minnows fished below the schooling bait fish.

In upground reservoirs, fish near the pump house as water is pumped into the reservoir. Cast into the pump plum.

White bass is in the open waters of the reservoirs feeding on schools of shad or minnows.
Winter (December-February) Good Vertical jigging with small spoons or minnows. White bass is generally in the open water areas. They may be near shore when pumping into upground reservoirs.

 

Yellow Perch Fishing Tips

If you want to catch some yellow perch, you don’t have to drive to Lake Erie to fill a cooler. Upground reservoirs, a type of artificial inland lake, offer excellent yellow perch fishing if you know where to go and how to catch them. Yellow perch can be caught in upground reservoirs using techniques similar to those proven effective in Lake Erie. Upground reservoirs with the best yellow perch fishing are primarily located in Northwestern Ohio.

Tips

  • The key to catching yellow perch is finding the right location. You must find where the fish are holding and feeding at each time of the year to be successful.
  • Some anglers use fish finders (sonar) to locate yellow perch. However, they can be difficult to see on a fish finder when they are lying on or close to the bottom. A popular technique to locating them is drifting or slow trolling until you catch one, then anchor immediately and fish straight down.
  • Yellow perch also like to associate close to structure. Most upground reservoirs do not have much vegetation, but if you find some rooted vegetation, try fishing along its edge. If you find submerged trees near shore, they may be worth trying as well.
  • Choosing a rod that can provide good feel is important. Yellow perch bites can be expected to be light, so tackle should be light.
  • Remember, if you are not catching these fish, be flexible and try changing locations, using other baits, or choosing a different time of day to fish. You may find that yellow perch have developed a pattern of feeding at a particular time in a particular reservoir.

Tackle

Use a light spinning rod and reel with 6-8 pound test during most of the year and ice fishing rods and gear during winter.

Seasonal Fishing Approaches

SEASON PEAK ACTIVITY PRESENTATION LOCATION
Spring (March-April) Excellent Slip bobber or tight line from shore. Fish with small minnows and crappie rig near the bottom. Yellow perch move in shore to spawn in mid-April and they can be caught from shore. In mid-April fish near shore just off the bottom.
Pre-Summer (May) Good Slow drift or slow troll in a boat. After you catch one, anchor at that location. Fish straight down just off the bottom using small minnows fished with a spreader or crappie rig. Fish near the bottom.
Summer (June-mid-September) Fair Most reservoirs are stratified with no oxygen in deep water at this time of the year. You must locate the fish suspended higher in deep water areas or in shallower areas near bottom. Try using small minnows fished with a spreader or crappie rig. Fish mid water depths above the thermocline.
Fall (mid-September-November) Excellent Slow drift or slow troll from boat. After you catch one anchor at that location. Fish straight down just off the bottom using small minnows fished with a spreader or crappie rig. Fish near the bottom.
Winter (December-February) Excellent Jigging with small jigs tipped with minnows or wax worms. Deep water near the bottom.