Rating Ohio’s five popular fish species

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bluegill
Colorful, spunky and widely available, bluegills offer high sport for any skill level. These little gladiators bite often and hard and never give up — and they taste fantastic. (Submitted photo)

Open water fishing season is game on. This time of year is easily the most exciting period as water temperature slowly climbs, the indicator that actually triggers an active bite for several species.

It’s also a good time to rate the most popular fish species found in catchable numbers throughout northeast Ohio. Let’s look at availability, fight and taste of five species including bluegill, crappie, bass, walleyes and muskie. Notice that yellow perch are not included simply because what was the No. 1 perch water in the northeast Ohio region, Lake Erie, is now nearly void of yellow perch.

Bluegills

The rating scale is 1-10 with 10 being the top. There is no question about bluegills, the every day, every place, and always hungry pan fish that has graced the hook of every single angler at some time or another. Bluegills may seem like they ought to be pushovers, hardly a worthy fighter at their diminutive size, but alas, it ain’t so.

In fact, a chunky bluegill, especially an angry, protective stud ‘gill, guarding his lady’s nest, will stretch a light fly rod or ultra-light rig to its limit. If a bluegill could reach 10 pounds, an angler would have better luck landing a 25-pound walleye. Taste? There’s not a better fish when it comes to a lightly fried entree. Availability? Simply everywhere. I give Bluegills a solid 10.

Crappies

Crappies too, a bit larger than bluegills, are also found in nearly every body of water. Crappies, for the most part, are early season favorites. Crappies are turning on right now as they begin to think about spawning, and as they do, they move in close to structure such as brush piles and docks.

Shaped like giant dinner plates, crappies can put up a great fight and rate very highly as table fare when caught from cooler water and filleted carefully. It seems that crappies are quickly rising as television stars as crappie tournaments nudge the more clamorous species for more on-air time. Crappies rate high, and tip the scale at an easy 9.

Walleyes

Walleyes come next, and these great eaters attract more angling attention, more specialized boats and boats and more, well more, of everything. Inland, they offer more of a challenge and some additional fishing skill.

Walleye are nearly always caught from a boat, and Lake Erie is without question the world’s tops for walleye numbers. Awesome to eat, walleyes run from 15 inches to twice that, and the fillets are representative of that kind of size. Walleyes are not the fish to chase if it’s a worthy battle you seek. Light rods make an average fight a good fight but a walleye dragged behind a big water trolling rig is hardly a challenge.

Walleyes and crappies are my favorites, but in all honesty, the lack of fight keeps the walleye rating down. I give them a solid 7.

Largemouth/smallmouth bass

Largemouth bass are next, and these always hungry, eat-anything fish are found in many area lakes and rivers. Good fighters, they are exciting to land with some jumps and splashes included. Easily the most televised fish and the source of riches for top tournament fishermen, bass have earned their popularity in leaps and bounds.

Catch them on top or the bottom, Bass need to be released, as most are, because to eat one is comparable to choking down liver with no onions. I rate largemouth bass a generous 7.

Don’t forget smallmouth bass. They are not as widespread but available in some nearby lakes like Milton and Berlin, and most notably in Lake Erie. These guys get a well-deserved rating of 9 based on fight alone.

Muskies

Muskies are nothing to sneeze at. Seldom caught without a lot of fishing effort including trolling and casting, muskies are in the big game class. Certain waters such as West Branch and Leesville are managed just for these biggies but Berlin and Milton deserve some attention as well.

No one eats these gators — more out of respect than poor taste. Sorry muskie fans, but I downplay their rating due to limited availability and the fact that their fight doesn’t match their aggressive look and their tendency to tire quickly. So it’s a 6 — alright, a 6 1/2.

When the next ratings come out, they will include catfish, the most underrated fish ever.

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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.

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