It's no secret that my very favorite time of the year to fish is in the cooling waters and crisp air of autumn.
Almost all freshwater species can be counted on to be more active and feed more voraciously than at any other time. Right now is not too early to start planning your own autumn angling itinerary.
Here are six of my very favorite and heartily recommended fall hotspots around Ohio to enjoy the best fishing the Buckeye State has to offer:
The Ohio River (Cumberland Pool) provides great shorelines and feeder tributaries that produce nice smallmouth bass like this one, and sauger, wipers, crappie, largemouth bass and saugeye. File photo by Larry Claypool
OHIO RIVER - One of the necessary points of preparation when planning on visiting larger waters is current conditions. When it comes to larger rivers, the primary concern is water levels and the degrees of fluctuation. In general, autumn finds almost all rivers and streams at their predictably lowest levels in any given year. This makes conditions conducive to both safer conditions, particularly for smaller watercraft, and generally more productive fishing. There are a number of different pools of the big river that offer fine fishing that regularly peaks in the fall. A personal favorite for a variety of species and easy access is the storied Cumberland Pool, which I most often access from the downtown East Liverpool Broadway Wharf ramp off state Route 11's Lou Holtz Freeway. Head downriver and you'll encounter a number of warm water discharges that become increasingly important as options the cooler temperatures get. Upriver is Beaver Creek, beautiful and bountiful, with occasional trout always a possibility. Shorelines and feeder tributaries can be productively fished for smallmouth, sauger, wipers, crappie, largemouth, and saugeye. Among the baits that will give you a shot at a variety of these species are 2" soft plastic twistertails in chartreuse or white, 1/8 oz. in-line spinners like Panther Martins, Roostertails, and Mepps, and smaller crankbaits like Rebel Crawfish and minnows, Shad Raps, and A.C. Shiners of Okeana. My favorite outfit for this trip would be a light-action spinning combo loaded with six-pound mono.
LAKE ERIE (HURON TO VERMILION) - Known to many as Ruggles Reef, this historically renowned section of the big lake was once renowned for its 100+ smallmouth bass days of the 1970s and 80s. The almost relentless tournaments and general lack of adherence to proper catch-and-release practices conspired to largely end those glory days, though some smallies are certainly still present, including some real trophies. The fundamental change in this era is its transition to a premier walleye destination. Tight-lipped locals long knew of this area's outstanding near-shore night time walleye bite that peaks as the large schools of forage species reliably migrate to this area every fall. slow-trolling plugs like Rogues, Shad Raps, Thundersticks, and Husky Jerks. Smaller boats have an advantage in this area, where the hot night bite can be within 50 yards of shore at any given time. Call Cranberry Creek's Bob Hanko at 419-433-3932 for a reliable report on current conditions.
LAKE ERIE (CONNEAUT CREEK) - One of my very favorite fall forays is up to our state's very northeast corner to what is by acclamation Ohio's premier steelhead stream. In the fall, steelheading is just as productive just outside the mouth of the stream along the east breakwall. The bonus is the big smallmouth that can be counted on to initiate congregating in the same area, beginning reliably in early September. Many times I've caught a steelie on one cast of a crankbait and a smallie on the next. Big walleye and perch linger in the deeper waters are well within view. Many great eateries and bed and breakfasts are in Conneaut. Call my buddy Jack at Snug Harbor for a pre-trip scouting report at 440-593-3755.
"Many times I've caught a steelie on one cast of a crankbait and a smallie on the next near Conneaut Creek (Lake Erie). Big walleye and perch linger in the deeper waters are well within view."
LAKE PUNDERSON - This southern Geauga gem remains one of our state's truly overlooked locales, an opinion many ODNR Division of Watercraft officers readily assert. The deep, cool waters are perfect for the regular stockings of different varieties of trout annually state-contributed here. What regulars there are are most often drawn to the lake's ample supply of nice, deep-water bluegill. Camping and other recreation facilities are available.
CUYAHOGA RIVER (HIRAM RAPIDS) - My Fox Sports radio co-host Steve Jones contends the float trip he took down this stretch with the DOW's Officer Smith and a contingent of other friends and families a few weeks ago was among his favorite outings in memory. I like to put in just above Hiram and have another vehicle waiting for me downstream in Mantua. Allowing for fishing the stream that is home to good numbers of smallmouth bass and northern pike, this trip takes about four hours. Great scenery abounds, so don't forget that camera! Camp Hi, just up from Mantua, also rents canoes and helps facilitate excursions. Spectacular scenery in the fall.
CUYAHOGA RIVER (CUYAHOGA VALLEY) - A little more rustic and primitive than the Hiram Rapids stretch in the upper river, the Cuyahoga from below the Gorge Dam to Liberty Commons can either be walked by the young and/or hearty, or be accessed for a kayak, canoe, or jon boat float trip from upriver to the Cascade Ballparks on down. Wild and remote, the good news is this stretch is packed with smallmouth and occasional bonus steelhead. Be sure to pack some in-line spinners, tubes, and small crankbaits to maximize your chances. And don't forget that camera. I've seen more than a few four-plus pound smallmouth yanked from hereabouts.
For those understandably both perplexed and saddened by the unfortunate and regrettable removals of the dams in Cuyahoga Falls on what was one of the river's most productive fishing and recreation areas, these options can provide some solace to many.
Jack Kiser is the host of " Buckeye Angler" and co-host of Fox Sports " Destination: Outdoors", aired locally every Monday evening from 5-7, and every Saturday morning from 6-8 on WARF-1350. You may reach him at the Facebook site for either program.