From where I sit now people often ask me if I had a week to go fishing…where would it be? Believe it or not, I’d head back to the Buckeye state and there’s one favorite lake that’s never disappointed me.
By Ray Reilly for Press Pros
School’s out now. Vacation time is here for many of us.
And almost every outdoors family I personally know is planning at least some time over the next couple of months to spend fishing…myself included. I’ve learned a lot about over the years, and the first thing I consider when planning a fishing trip is to find a place where I can actually catch fish.
In Ohio a lot of people flock to Lake Erie, because it’s a commercial fishery for private anglers, and hundreds of charters make their living on guaranteeing clients that they’re going to catch fish.
But in reality, I’ve had some of my more disappointing days on Lake Erie, where weather almost always dictates success, and when success is available the competition is often discouraging. Too many people, too many boats, and from one personal, and professional experience, it’s not what I’d call a leisurely experience. Catching walleyes, or small mouth bass, on Lake Erie is a bit like running the Boston Marathon. It’s a matter of commitment.
So where to go if you want the best combination of chance for success without the backdrop of all that noise?
Well there’s no shortage of great lakes to fish in Ohio, from tiny Lake Vesuvius in southern Ohio, to Grand Lake St. Marys, to Alum Creek and the Hoover Reservoir in suburban Columbus. But my choice, if I had just one week to go, would be Salt Fork Lake, outside Cambridge, Ohio, in Guernsey County.
Salt Fork is almost 3,000 acres of water, long thin stretches of water, fed by small local streams, and what I believe to be one of the most misunderstood fisheries in Ohio. More about that in a moment.
It’s gotten a bad rap over the years because there can be a lot of traffic, especially around holiday weekends. There’s a lot of boating, skiing, swimming, and it’s been heavily promoted as a destination spot since being constituted in 1960. It is…the largest lake state park in Ohio.
But I fished there a lot back in the 90s when almost no one else did, and I can tell you that location is everything. It’s a nook and cranny body of water, once you get out from the main channel (about 35 feet deep), and over the years it’s proven to hold good numbers of a variety of species – crappie, bluegill, bass, saugeye, and even muskies…and big muskies! Frankly, a lot of the locals just fish for channel cats, and there’s some whoppers in there if that’s what you like.
And if you fish at the right time, and fish the right structures, it’s not unusual to catch four and five-pound bass, crappies that range from 12 to 15 inches, and bluegills that average 10 inches.
The misunderstood part of Salt Fork Lake is that a lot of people who come away empty-handed believe, and spread the myth, that the lake is a hard place to fish. And that’s not the case.
As recently as April, 2022, I fished the lake for three days and had great success on crappies and bass, but it took some reconnaissance. After 60 years the fish have simply found parts of the lake that people avoid. In fact, a lot of fishermen avoid some of the best spots because it takes time and patience. If you want to fish for the saugeyes and muskies you’re going to fish the deeper channels, just like other places. But fish are predictable in the sense that you find them where they have cover and food. And there’s lots of those places if you study the contours of Salt Fork Lake, and places that hold good numbers of fish that will make your trip worthwhile.
The other thing I like about Salt Fork is that it’s built in the hills of eastern Ohio and there’s not a lot of farm land around it, and farm land runoff. By comparison of many others, it’s not crystal clear, but it has a reputation for being clean. And I think there’s always been a priority to keep it that way.
Again, the place has gotten a bad rap for fishing over the years because there’s so much going on – golf, trails, horseback riding, RVs, a nature center and at times a lot of school buses and kids. But take my experience if you want to catch fish. Get away from the noise on Salt Fork Lake and you’ll find great fishing. And if you’re traveling in a camper of any kind, the amenities don’t come much better. Put it on your list.
I’ve enjoyed it. Til next time….!