Buckeye Lake Fishing Report
BUCKEYE LAKE, Ohio - It seems unlikely that one of Ohio's most popular fishing spots for more than three generations would become one of the state's best-kept secrets. But that appears to be the case with Buckeye Lake this summer.Eric Lyttle, The Columbus Dispatch
BUCKEYE LAKE, Ohio It seems unlikely that one of Ohios most popular fishing spots for more than three generations would become one of the states best-kept secrets.
But that appears to be the case with Buckeye Lake this summer.
Its not that the fish arent biting. The fishing is good. Its just that nobodys out here wetting a line, said Jim McKittrick, owner of Millersport Deli and Bait.
Granted, its hardly paradise since the state decided in March to lower the already shallow lake after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a report saying that the lakes 4.1-mile earthen dam posed a significant risk to the public.
> Buckeye Lake Dam: Complete coverage
The decision to drop the lake by 3 feet made it all but unusable to powerboat operators and water-skiers. But small fishing boats can still access the lake at a number of sites, including the Liebs Island and North Shore public boat ramps. But few do.
People think the lake is drained, McKittrick said. Theres nobody putting in. But you can run small flat-bottoms with a 91/2-horse motor and fish all day. Those who do come out say theyre surprised at how much water we have.
This summer, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources put together a fish-management plan specifically for Buckeye Lake, detailing the effect the lakes draw-down might have on the fish and how to plan for the future so that Buckeye Lake remains one of the states top sport fisheries.
Buckeye Lake is one of the top-five inland fishing lakes in the state, said Rich Carter, who oversees fish management for the department. But lowering the lake to an average depth of less than 3 feet has presented unique challenges and opportunities, Carter said.
Were constantly monitoring the fish populations at Buckeye Lake, watching to see how they respond and whether or not we have fish kills as a result of the conditions. At this point, were encouraged by the way the lake is functioning and continuing to provide great angling opportunities.
Carter acknowledged that there were some concerns that dropping the lakes water level could lead to a fish kill, often caused when long periods of hot, windless, dry weather leads to the increased production of algae and lowers the waters ability to hold oxygen. When the oxygen level drops below the point that fish need to survive, they die quickly and en masse.
Not coincidentally, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency also began a study this year of Buckeye Lakes water quality, monitoring the levels of phosphorous and nitrogen resulting from fertilizer runoff from the surrounding farm fields, as well as the waters temperature and oxygen levels.
This summer, however, provided almost perfect conditions to help the fish adapt to Buckeye Lakes shallow conditions, with sufficient rain and few long, hot, dry spells.
Stocking also was curtailed. Buckeye Lake is among the states top spots for saugeye and hybrid striped bass, but because of the reduced volume of water, the usual stocking practices would likely crowd fish and promote fish kills, the management plan said. Striped bass will not be stocked at all until construction is completed and the reservoir returns to full pool, while saugeye stocking will be reduced by two-thirds.
Consideration also was given to eliminating the states size and bag limits for fish caught at Buckeye Lake, but that wasnt necessary, Carter said. The fish population appears healthy.
Even with the stocking reductions, Carter said the fishing has been outstanding and should remain so. By lowering the lake, the same number of fish are concentrated in a smaller area, Carter said. The lakes surface area dropped from 2, 873 acres at normal summer pool to 2, 363 acres, with only 900 acres that are 3 feet or deeper.
In addition, by dropping the lakes water volume by more than half, the shoreline areas that typically provide weedy cover where fish feed and hide was reduced from more than 50 miles to just over 36 miles.
With the same number of fish now gathered in a smaller pool, with fewer places to hide, a fishermans chances of encountering a sport fish will be greater, he said.
Whats more, Carter said that the weeds that are now choking out the lakes many canals and now-dry acres of shoreline act as kidneys, drawing and using the harmful nutrients from the former lake bed. Once the new dam is completed and the lake is again allowed to rise to full pool, the water will be cleaner and, because of increased dredging, deeper.
And the weeds now growing will be flooded, providing both increased cover for fish, while encouraging the growth of zooplankton, which young fish feed on, increasing their survival rate.
I would expect the great fishing at Buckeye Lake to only improve, Carter said.
So why isnt anybody fishing?
The 80 to 100 fishing tournaments that normally take place at Buckeye Lake every year were canceled for 2015 because of the lower water levels. But the state has determined that bank fishing has also dropped by 80 percent this year.
Those who are fishing, however, are reaping the rewards.
Thus far this year, Buckeye Lake has yielded 46 Fish Ohio awards, presented for catches of significant size. In the previous six years, Buckeye Lake fishermen have averaged 117 Fish Ohio awards from January through August.
The fish are still here, said McKittrick. I had a guy in here recently who said hed caught about 60 largemouth (bass) in three or four weeks. And now, with these cooler nights, the fishing is about to get even better.