By Barbara Mudrak
Last week, Gov. Mike DeWine said he’s had “a lot of questions about fishing” since giving orders to self-isolate for COVID-19.
He said fishing is still fine, providing everyone keeps a distance of six feet, which just so happens to be the length of the average fishing pole.
“Most fishermen don’t like to be close to anyone else anyway,” joked DeWine, adding that he’s fished all his life.
That makes fishing a great “social isolation” activity, especially since kids are off school. Ohio has a wealth of lakes, ponds and streams that provide plenty of shore access.
And it’s a great time for fishing, said Curtis Wagner, fisheries management supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife District 3 office in Akron, which covers 19 counties.
“Largemouth bass, for example, start to spawn in late April and early May, but ahead of that, males move toward shore to make nests for females to lay eggs,” he said. “Their metabolism ramps up, so they’re eating more and biting more.”
Many of the Summit County Metroparks provide pond-type settings that are good starting places for younger kids, he said. Wagner noted that lakes with ample shore access include Silver Creek, Berlin Reservoir, Lake Glacier and Lake Milton, especially along the old Route 18 bridge.
The western part of Spencer Lake, along with Hinckley Lake and the Portage lakes, also provides opportunities to spread out, he said. The east shoreline of Nimisila Reservoir has more than half a dozen parking lots, each giving access to bays and inlets.
On Mosquito Lake, part of a state park in Trumbull County, there’s a causeway and many public areas on the eastern side, Wagner said. And the western shore of Pymatuning allows for plenty of elbow room.
Most bait shops are still open, though many are limiting the number of people allowed inside. It’s best to call ahead, just to be sure. Or, you can get fishing — and boating — licenses online, dig worms in the backyard and use a cast net to catch shad or minnows for bait, all without exposure to other humans.
This time of year, largemouth bass are starting to move shoreward for spawning. Crappie, the number one fish in reservoirs in the spring, “are spawning as we speak,” Wagner said.
“Once they come off spawning, they remain in the shallows and forage,” he said. “Usually they are attached to some sort of structure, like a stump or a tree.”
In LaDue, Berlin, Mosquito and Pymatuning lakes, Division of Wildlife personnel have installed porcupine cribs, Christmas trees and other structures that serve as crappie habitat. The Division’s website, wildlife.ohiodnr.gov, has fishing maps for lakes and reservoirs as well as for rivers and streams.
The site’s Ohio Lakes and Fishing Interactive Maps show “where we put the fish attractors” and can be downloaded to your phone, Wagner said. Other useful tools for finding places to fish are the forums on ohiogamefishing.com. They break up the state into five districts and let people tell where the fish are biting — or not.
Ohio Game Fishing also has a Facebook page, and there are pages for Mosquito, Pymatuning and Lake Erie Walleye, among others, that give reliable fishing reports. Another well-used page belongs to the Ohio Fishing Reports group, with 68,000 members.
Chad Harmon, of Bolivar, Ohio, who usually guides for muskie and other game fish but is currently obeying isolation orders, said he and his kids, ages 4 and 6, have great luck at Salt Fork, Piedmont, Leesville, West Branch and Lake Milton. Muskie, walleye and saugeye can be caught from shore with twitch baits, crank baits and VibE lures, he said. He also recommends Tappan, Clendening, Atwood and Nimisila as lakes with “tons of shore access.”
The Piedmont dam is especially good for saugeye, crappie and muskie. He catches the muskie with “slow-crank Rapalas, in the backs of bays where they’re chasing bait fish.”
Most of these lakes have horsepower restrictions — 9.9 — and little traffic, so they’re also excellent places to fish from a boat. Just be sure the little ones wear life jackets, including when they’re fishing on rocks or steep banks, Harmon said.
Dawson and sons
Greg Dawson, who milks 65 cows and raises grain and beef in Stark County’s Nimishillen Township, has been taking his sons fishing at every opportunity — after they finish their chores.
In March, they took their 14-foot, 1964 Starcraft (Dawson traded half a beef for it) to Mogadore and Zeppernick. These lakes seem to be the favorites of Wesley, 15, and Clayton, 12.
At Zeppernick, Clayton caught two “keeper” bluegill with worms under bobbers. They usually put out a second rig for catfish, and also pick up shad — which die after spawning — and freeze them for catfish bait.
As if homeschooling during the coronavirus quarantine is not enough, the Dawsons take books with them when they go fishing.
Sportsman’s Connection has two Fishing Map Guide Interactive eBooks — one for northern and one for southern Ohio — at scmaps.com. They can be downloaded to a phone, tablet or computer.
Logan Barnby and his friend, both tournament fishermen, spent seven hours on Mosquito Lake April 4, catching one keeper each of walleye, pike, bluegill, perch and crappie.
Barnby, who lives in western Columbiana County, said the warm spring seems to have made the walleye spawning season earlier and more “condensed” this year.
Walleye spawn when the water is between 45 and 50 degrees, he said. The temperature was 48 degrees when they launched their boat on Mosquito, but as the sun continued to shine, it rose to 59 degrees. That could mean that some walleye have finished spawning, and will begin feeding more heavily.
“Shore fishing, you’ll see pan fish moving in, and I think fishing overall will get better in the next couple of weeks,” he said.
But that means families and other fisher folk should be vigilant about social distancing. Among those on Mosquito, there was talk of fishing piers and causeways that were open but being carefully monitored, and other piers and boat ramps that may have been closed, at least temporarily, because of overcrowding.
Some knew that March 25, Washington state shut down all recreational fishing to protect residents from coronavirus.
“That’s why it’s so important for people to follow social distancing rules,” Barnby said. “If (officials) continue to observe overcrowding, they could enforce a shutdown.”
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