We know that most people refer to Ohio as the Buckeye state, but the fishing here can be so good and the Ohio fishing charters so plentiful that we think it should really be called the walleye state… and also maybe the trout state, the smallmouth bass state, and the perch state. However, fishing in Ohio is unique because it can take many forms. One day you can take a charter or rent a fishing boat in Ohio and go walleye fishing on the open waters of Lake Erie, and the next, you can try your luck at catching steelhead along a secluded bend in a river.
Since Lake Erie is so large — the surface area is almost 10,000 square miles — and major population centers like Cleveland and Toledo sit along its banks, fishing its waters does steal a good amount of the angling limelight. In fact, Port Clinton lays claim to the title "Walleye Capitol of the World." But fishing on the Great Lakes is just one of the many fishing options found in Ohio. There are significant inland waterways from Grand Lake out west, to the Columbus area reservoirs in the heart of the state, to the Ohio River running along the state's southern and eastern borders.
Lake Erie ports have a huge charter fishing presence with large vessels, including some ocean-worthy boats. Most will be "six-pack" charters (which take up to six passengers per trip) on boats in the 25- to 35-foot range. Walleye is the king when it comes to the targeted species, but many charters will also fish for salmon, perch, and other species depending on the season.Browse Ohio fishing charters
Some charter boats will target smallmouth bass, but since many anglers enjoy going after this species with tactics that require a bit of finesse, some guides specialize in taking smaller parties out for more personalized, instructional fishing trips. These charters are usually on smaller boats and often will be limited to two to four anglers.Browse Ohio fishing charters
When fishing Ohio's inland lakes, reservoirs, and rivers, most guides operate smaller, more specialized boats. Many are limited to just two or three anglers, and some niche outfitters offer float trips or excursions with just one or two anglers. However, some unique opportunities are available with these sorts of trips, like targeting muskellunge or gaining some fly-fishing instruction.Browse Ohio fishing charters
When it comes to prime fishing destinations, Lake Erie certainly gets top billing. And the lake is a bit unusual in that its average depth of 62 feet is significantly shallower than the other Great Lakes. As a result, it warms up and cools down faster than the others. This phenomenon helps produce strong spring and fall runs, especially for walleye and perch, which are targeted by hundreds of charter fishing operations.Browse Ohio fishing charters
Sandusky Bay gets a leg up on many other ports along the Lake Erie coast because there's sheltered water where you can fish, even on days when it's too rough to go out on the main lake. Catfish are often the main quarry here, and there are charter operations that target catfish in specific, but everything from walleye to bass lives in the bay as well and may or may not be available depending on the season.Browse Ohio fishing charters
The Ohio River bends, twists, and turns down the state's eastern and southern borders and through Cincinnati. Since it covers such a broad expanse, Ohio offers many different opportunities depending on where you'll be fishing. Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and catfish are major targets just about everywhere, but in some areas, slightly more unusual species like sauger or hybrid striped bass are on the menu.Browse Ohio fishing charters
All anglers above the age of 16 need to purchase an Ohio fishing license, including when fishing from a charter boat or renting a fishing boat. There are many options ranging from one-day licenses for residents and non-residents to resident lifetime licenses. Some exceptions are also made for active-duty military and those assisting the mobility- or sight-impaired.
Remember, if you're booking a professional charter, you won't have to worry about bringing bait or tackle since it's provided for the day. Otherwise, the appropriate gear you'll need will depend on the specific fishery you intend to target. If you're not sure what to try, it's always wise to ask around at a local tackle shop — the people working behind the counter are usually dedicated anglers who know the area.
Many charter boats, especially the fleets in larger ports, will offer to clean the catch for you (though sometimes there will be an additional fee). Few offer services beyond that, but you can always ship your fillets home. If you plan to pack and ship fish yourself, see the Fedex webpage on How to Ship Perishables.
Walleyeise is the top target of many Lake Erie charters and is one of the best-tasting fish ever to swim in. They tend to bite best in low-light conditions, particularly at daybreak and dusk, and can be caught with a wide variety of techniques ranging from jigging to live-baiting to trolling. They have a set of razor-sharp teeth, so be sure to keep your fingers and hands away from their jaws.
Pound for pound, many anglers would argue that smallmouth bass fight even harder than the ever-popular largemouth bass. "Bronzebacks," as they're called, like cool, clear waters, so they thrive in northern climates like Ohio's. They grow big here, too, and in November of 2022, a new Great Lakes record was set when an Ohio angler reeled up a 10.15-pounder in Lake Erie.
Yellow perch may not get very large — fish over a foot long are considered whoppers — but what they lack in size they make up for in numbers and taste. They can also be found throughout the state in numerous lakes, reservoirs, and rivers, as well as being quite prolific in Lake Erie. Thanks to these traits, even though they certainly aren't as impressive as some other species swimming in Ohio's waters, they rank near the top in popularity.
Jigging refers to a class of lures called jigs, including bucktails and hair jigs, soft plastic jigs, and other small lures. These lures all share that they can be cast out and worked back to the boat with relatively light sporting gear, while the angler jiggles their rod tip to impart lifelike motion to the lure. It's a very hands-on fishing method, effective on many different species.
A top tactic applied by walleye anglers, in particular, is fishing spinner rigs. These consist of a head or weight with a spinner and beads behind it and then a hook or hooks that get dressed with a night crawler for added appeal. Spinner rigs can be drifted or slow-trolled, depending on whether there's a breeze.
Naturally, bait fishing encompasses a wide range of tactics and species, and what sort of bait and rigs you'll want to use varies by the waterway and the particular type of fish you're hoping to catch. But whether you aim to tempt a catfish into eating a chunk of cut fish, get the yellow perch biting with a live minnow, or fool jumbo smallmouth with jumbo shiners, there's no denying the effectiveness of bait fishing.
No matter what time of year it is, it's fishing season in Ohio. True, you may not be able to fish from a boat when the lakes are frozen over, but those fish will bite even through the ice — if you can take the cold, that is.
It's ice fishing season!
It's ice fishing season!
The ice will begin to disappear at some point this month, but since it may still be problematic in many areas, this is a great time to opt for fishing in the rivers. Saugers, in particular, tend to bite well this early in the season, particularly in tailwater areas.
This is prime time for chasing walleye, which migrate into the western basin of Lake Erie to spawn. They can be found in waters less than 20 feet deep and targeted with light lures and casting gear, so this is a fishery that finesse anglers enjoy.
The walleye bite is still hot during May in Lake Erie, but the fish begin to shift towards deeper waters and many charter guides will switch over to trolling at some point during the month. Think spinner rigs and night crawlers.
Late spring and early summer are great timeframes to go on the hunt for bass, both largemouth and smallmouth. Depending on the weather, bass will spawn during May and possibly into early June, and shortly after that, they'll be in the mood to feed hard around underwater points and drop-offs as they try to fatten back up.
Early to mid-summer generally posts the highest catch rate (and best weather) for walleye in the big lake. Meanwhile, in the rivers and bays, catfish are in prime form, readily taking just about any cut bait fished on the bottom.
In the heat of August, the fishing for many species slows down, but yellow perch pick up the slack. They'll often be suspended rather deep in the water column looking for cool temperatures with good oxygen levels, so spotting them with sonar may be necessary. If you rent a boat, you'll want to ensure it has a fishfinder.
Fishing in the western basin of Lake Erie starts picking up a bit again as the temperatures return from the summer highs. You can usually find walleye moving up on the reefs and yellow perch schooling in larger numbers. If you're not getting bites stay on the move because once you find one fish, you should find many.
As the thermometer drops, it's a great time to head for Ohio's inland lakes. Bass and crappie will be feeding hard in preparation for the winter, often staging near shoreline structures adjacent to deep water.
Fishing will get tougher by the beginning of this month, but you can still reliably bend a rod. This is a good time to stick with the inland waterways and target species like walleye, sauger, and bass since the weather can make open water fishing difficult.
Dust off that ice fishing gear once again.