Best Catfish Lakes In Ohio – When you think of the marquee game fish in Ohio, you probably think of a smallmouth bass that is completely airborne as it tries to break free from the hook. Or maybe it’s a whale, its dark eyes reflecting the moonlight on the riverbank.
And it makes sense. There is something charming, even charming, about these fish. They look great on the cover of a magazine or hanging on the wall of your local bait shop.
Best Catfish Lakes In Ohio
But ask a group of buckeye anglers what fish they target the most, and a surprising number will tell you, catfish. These fish live in rivers and ponds throughout Ohio and are some of the most fun fish to catch.
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At the end of the day, no fish in Ohio fights harder for deep water than a 60-pound flathead hell, and no fish tastes better than a fresh-recorded channel cat stinger on a corn farm.
If you are looking for places to fish in Ohio, look no further. Chances are, wherever you find yourself in the state, there is a catfish lake or river within a few miles.
Anglers can target three main species of fish in the Buckeye State. Many of Ohio’s best catfish lakes offer calling opportunities for three species:
Ohio also has three types of bullhead: yellow bullhead, brown bullhead, and black bullhead. Although they rarely exceed 2 or 3 pounds, they are highly sought after by many anglers, especially in the early spring.
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Bullheads are found in almost every lake and river in the state, so we won’t cover them in this article.
It’s impossible to talk about fishing in Ohio without talking about the Ohio River. This mighty artery stretches 451 miles along Ohio’s southern and eastern borders. And it almost certainly offers the best fishing waters in the state.
Channel catfish abound along the river, and there isn’t a pond near it that doesn’t produce channel cats. Flatheads are also common, often weighing 25 pounds or more.
Some of the best fishing spots are along the Eastern Ohio Border River. The 3 Mile Pike Island Basin is a particularly productive area, especially in the shallow waters below New Cumberland Lock and Dam.
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There is bank access to Oilwater off State Route 7, and several boat ramps provide access to Pike Island Pond. Late May to early July is a great time to fish this section and some of the bigger flathead are caught after dark.
The area near the Ohio River is also increasingly known for producing big blue catfish. Fish in the 50-pound class are common, and there’s always an outside shot at a big one.
Blue cats are the most common below. If you’re targeting blues in Ohio, the best spot is Markland Pool, a 95-mile stretch from the Milldale Dam tailwaters to Cincinnati and Indiana.
Cincinnati’s Schmid Boat Launch Ramp is a great place to launch at Markland Pool on the Ohio River. About four miles above the launch is the mouth of the Little Miami River, a very beautiful spot.
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Another great spot is the riverside boat launch ramp on the lower Cincinnati River, which also offers bank fishing access.
Any ledge or drop off can be useful and the best spots are the steep drops near the bank.
Blue catfish prefer to stay away from strong currents and they usually hang out below the outer edge in relatively shallow water, coming up at night to feed in shallow water.
Cut bait, including bluegill and perch, is best for big blues, and heavy fishing with at least 40-pound test line is essential.
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Flowing about 112 miles south of Ohio’s eastern hill country, the Muskingum River is central to Ohio’s flatland fisheries. Other than the Ohio, there may not be another river in the state that offers flathead catfish.
Channel catfish are also abundant, and anglers are catching plenty of 3- to 5-pound fish for the table, as well as some larger fish. Fishing begins in late March most years and lasts from May to June.
The Muskingum River is divided into basins south of Janesville by eight dam and dam structures. The shallow water below each of these dams provides the best trout drop in the river
Catfish are being caught along the Muskingum River, but Marietta Pool — 5.8 miles below the tailwaters of Davola Dam to the Muskingum confluence with the Ohio River — is probably the best route.
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Fish in the 12- to 20-inch range for channel cats near sand and gravel dams along the main rivers and in shallow water areas and occasionally on flathead in the 30-inch range.
Live chub and sunfish prefer flathead bait, but channel cats are more likely to take flour/flavor baits.
Fishing gets tough around the spawn in late June, but when fishing for trout, summer nights are a great time to hit the water.
Dawula Pond (near Marietta Pond) is probably the next best way to fish. Every dam and dam on the river provides public access for fishing, and it is common to see lanterns along the river on summer nights as anglers head up the river.
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The entire Muskingum River is navigable, and the Official Muskingum River Water Map and Guide is a great resource for anglers looking for fishing spots or boat launches.
The Sandusky River is a 133-mile tributary of Lake Erie in north-central Ohio. It flows into the lake through Sandusky Bay, and the combination of river and bay represents one of the state’s great channel cat fisheries.
The Sandusky River is best known for spring walleye and white bass runs (expect anglers to see all the best bank spots in March and April). But the river also has a very good population of resident channel catfish.
Fishing the Sandusky River for trout is best in the summer and fall, when the river is relatively shallow and easy to wade or wade.
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The deepest spots in the river are about 10 feet deep, and any hole deeper than 5 feet is deep enough to hold trout in the summer.
Channel catfish from 2 to 5 pounds are very common in the Sandusky River, and fish in the 10-pound class are a real possibility. Focus on deep pools, especially those with rocks, logs, or other cover.
There is plenty of access to both sides of the Sandusky River around downtown Fremont. Much of the river is surrounded by parkland. Try fishing around the Hayes Avenue Bridge and the North Shore Inner Trail crossing.
Sandusky Bay, the 41,000-acre area that connects the river to Lake Erie, may offer better fishing than the river itself.
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Catfish can be caught here from April to September, and about 20 pounds have been caught from the bay.
There are endless flats in 5 to 10 feet along the bay with catfish, but the best place to start is around the barrier between Bayview and Danbury.
Three bridges span the bay at this point: the Route 2 Bridge, the Railroad Bridge, and the remains of the “Old Route 2 Bridge,” which has been converted into a state-owned public fishing pier.
231 miles of the Ohio River, the Sioux River cuts its way through the heart of the Buckeye State. From its origins in the farm country of central Ohio, the Sioto flows through Columbus before finally leaving Ohio in Portsmouth.
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It is undoubtedly one of the best rivers in the state for channel catfish, which are found in almost every part of the Scioto.
There are also fair numbers of flathead below Greenlawn Dam, the last dam before the Scioto meets the Ohio.
Along the upper Sioto River, there are many trails, but most of them are informal bridges and cross-bridges. This stretch of bank in Marion and Delaware counties offers great options for anglers to get off the beaten path.
As the Scioto neared Columbus, it was dammed to form O’Shaughnessy Reservoir and Griggs Reservoir. The lower reaches of both reservoirs are accessible to the public and offer good fishing opportunities.
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The city of Columbus maintains several parks and boat ramps along the Sioux River, making it easy for anglers to find a place to hit the water. Lower Scituate Park is a great place to beach launch or fish in the middle of town.
Backwaters and other areas away from the main stream are generally beneficial in the swamps. During the summer, channel cats often come out of the deep desert to make short runs around dusk for food.
These are often placed under the fairly predictable current break zone at this time of year, but such locations are also targeted by city anglers. Go to the bank to find out-of-the-way spots and use cut bait for best results.