Published: Sat, March 18, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m.
While the weather continues to resemble a full-throttle race down a tunnel of terror, the fact is we’ll soon be seeing the light at the end of our Northeast Ohio winter.
The marshes will thaw, the trees will green and all the other sights, sounds and smells of spring will rejuvenate the fishing spirit in thousands of Youngstown-area anglers. Many, unfortunately, will repeat past mistakes and fail to hook up in their initial outings of 2017.
Not all lakes are created equal. For that reason, some are naturally better early-season lakes. Others tend to bloom better in the summer after six or eight weeks of warm sunshine.
For many anglers, however, the choice of early season, ice-breaker fishing venues can be perplexing. They struggle to get bites and blame their lack of success on bad luck.
In reality, they are breaking the No. 1 rule of fishing: Fish where the fish are.
Over the years, I’ve learned it’s hardly ever going to work out if I try to force feed the fish at a “summer” lake in late March or April. Certain lakes become productive earlier than others, and they are the ones where I go fishing first. Following is how my fishing seasons typically progress:
My first stop every year is Mosquito Creek Reservoir. It is shallow and aligns along a floodplain that has relatively little high ground nearby; it simply warms up quicker than just about any local reservoir.
Mosquito is a hot spot right as soon as the water temps exceed 40 degrees for walleyes, crappies, largemouth bass and northern pike. Anglers can reasonably expect to catch all four of Mosquito’s popular species on any given visit in early April.
My second stop often is Pymatuning Reservoir. Located just east of Andover on the Ohio-Pennsylvania line, Pymatuning is like Mosquito in that it is relatively shallow, particularly on the upper north end.
Pymatuning also is great for walleyes, crappies and largemouths early in the year, and smallmouth bass as well. A bonus at Pymatuning, too, is the population of muskies.
West Branch Reservoir in Portage County is where I start to focus as we head toward May. I particularly like the north shore of the lake, which runs on an east-west axis. The north shore tends to get more exposure from the sun as it crosses the southern sky, and the water warms quickly.
Bass and crappies are numerous at West Branch, but it’s the lake’s reputation as a muskie producer that generates a lot of early-season interest.
Stop No. 4 for me each year usually is at Berlin Reservoir. I’ve never had much success there in April, so I have learned to delay my Berlin excursions until well into May. For walleyes and crappies, Berlin is a good spot to be in May. I also hook up with nice catches of bass – both largemouths and smallies – and often am surprised by the strike of a husky muskie.
Regular readers know I am a fan of the Ohio River, but not in early spring. The Upper Ohio drains a massive area of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, resulting in a tendency to run high and murky when spring storms blow through. I’ve learned to wait until June for my Ohio River trips, and that’s when I enjoy pretty good smallmouth bass action.
Many area anglers like Lake Erie in the spring, but my preference is to save it for June. The harbors in Ohio and Pennsylvania warm up faster than the main lake and thus attract fish looking to spawn. The bass season is closed until mid-June, and even though catch-and-release is permitted, I like to leave the fish alone until they are gone from their nests.
Anglers looking to improve their odds for catching spring fish might take heed of my list. It provides a better than even chance you’ll be fishing where the fish are.