Gone Fishing: Finding Fresh Fish in the Springtime Waters of Central Ohio
You’re no stranger to eating local, so how about taking things one step further and catching your dinner? You’d know exactly where it came from and you’d have a fish story to go with it. Fishing is relaxing; feeling a warm spring sun on your back as you stare out over the water will liken you to a cat on a sunny windowsill. And then there are the exciting times. Reeling in the big one can have everyone on their toes. Ohio’s public fishing lakes and reservoirs (fisheries) are managed as sustainable public resources using best practices for conservation. Round out that sense of Ohio pride with the thought that you can provide locally sourced protein for your family, and you can see why nearly one million anglers statewide have become hooked.
With so many bodies of water scattered throughout Central Ohio, a trip to a fishing destination is closer than you think. All it takes is a little bit of know-how, some basic inexpensive gear, and an Ohio fishing license (see sidebar). Fishing can be the perfect way to check out from the daily grind and tune in to the natural world, and it makes a great outing for the entire family.
The fish you reel in will depend on the time of year you’re fishing, the water temperatures, and location. Consider starting with pan fish, a group of fish whose fillets most often fit in a frying pan. Bluegill and Crappie are common pan fish and can be caught year round in most bodies of water. The best time to catch them is in the spring, during pre-spawning; that is when fish are moving into shallow water.
Crappies start moving to shallow waters in March or April when water temperatures near 65°. Bluegills move from April to June, when water temperatures near 68° or 69°. Both Crappie and Bluegill like structure in water. Try fishing in weed beds or near fallen trees. Both fish move to deeper waters after spawning and will stay in deeper, cooler waters until fall.
There are two types of Crappie in Ohio, white and black. White crappies are easily distinguished by the appearance of dark spots arranged in vertical bars on their sides. Black crappies are typically darker with spots lacking any pattern. Both average eight to 12 inches in length. Bluegills average seven to 10 inches in length, but they can be smaller when populations are high. Anglers most often identify Bluegill by counting five to nine vertical stripes on their sides along with a black earflap. They can also have a blue cheek and chin. Fishing regulations guide the number and length of fish caught in Ohio waters. Make sure to read and understand the law before heading out.
Both Crappies and Bluegills are very mild-tasting. Crappies are more delicate in texture while the fillet of a Bluegill is more firm. Both can be filleted, lightly dusted with your favorite breading and pan fried. You can cook both fish whole and many find grilled Crappie or Bluegill delicious.
Both Bluegill and Crappie exist in almost all Ohio waters. Alum Creek, Deer Creek, Delaware, and Hoover reservoirs all provide a big-water feel with chances of catching many fish species including largemouth bass, sauger, and catfish, along with Bluegill and Crappie. Local ponds are often stocked with these fish, too. Just check with your local park district for its rules and regulations. Detailed maps of Ohio’s large reservoirs can also be found online. Marinas or bait and tackle shops are often found around major bodies of water and can be great resources. Most sell equipment and snacks, but they can also tell you where fish are biting. If you’re really adventurous, you can pick up some live bait, too.
Fishing has a way of slowing a person down and allowing the typical daily stresses to roll away. Fishing allows you to be in the moment, not fretting the future or past. Feeling the tug on the line and reeling in a fish is equal to tearing wrapping paper off an anticipated gift. At the end of a long day of fishing or even after a one-hour trip, you’ll feel connected with a different cadence in life, one that is natural and overwhelmingly uplifting.