Fine Days on Ohio’s Winter Trout Waters

Picture this: A warmly clad angler wading in a crystal-clear stream; there’s snow on the banks, icicles lancing down from a tiny tributary and a splash in midstream as a trout takes the carefully presented fly.

Michigan? Pennsylvania? No—that scene is repeated all winter right here in Ohio.

Ohio has three good trout streams, and I mean good ones, holding brown trout that might be in excess of 5 pounds. These hard fighters are beautiful fish that bite as well in winter as they do in other seasons.

The oldest stream is the Mad River, which lies in central Ohio. Its holding water begins in West Liberty extending down to south of Urbana. The Mad has been partly channelized, but still has plenty of pools, riffles and long, smooth runs, especially around West Liberty. There’s public access too, at many bridges—though some sections are “no trespassing”—and it might be wise to stop at a bait shop and get a map or ask questions first.

Then there’s the Clear Fork River, which begins south of Lexington in north-central Ohio, and extends down to the Mohican outside Loudenville. The Clear Fork has been stocked with brown trout for many years, and has some beautiful water throughout its length—prime trout country. Some of the best fishing is on private land north of Pleasant Hill Lake, so would-be trout anglers should buy a book of county maps at the local bookstore then travel small roads and knock on farm doors. Many of the trout along these private stretches have seldom seen a fly or other bait.

Another good choice is territory just below the Pleasant Hill dam. Anglers fish here often for saugeyes and routinely pick up brown trout on their spinners or jig and minnow combinations. A third choice is at the covered bridge in Mohican State Park. These fish are hitting hard since there’s plenty of parking and a nice road through the campground. Some “nice” trout and more small ones are taken here each winter.

The third stream is Clear Creek in the Columbus Metropark system south and east of the city. Fishing runs from the Fairfield County Road 69 Bridge (downstream of Revenge) to the U.S. 33 Bridge in Hocking County. Stocking in Clear Creek is done yearly, so there are at least a few really nice browns and many average-sized ones. I’ve only visited Clear Creek once, but the water looked good—classic trout.

How do you catch these browns in winter? For fly fishermen, the choices are simple: Experts like Ron Thompson, who lives near Mansfield, says, “Start small. A Hare’s ear is a good opener, and winter trout will hit such things as olive caddis, light cahills, and bead head flies. Number 16’s down to No. 12 should be your initial offerings.”

If the small flies don’t work, go far in the opposite direction. Try big Wooly Boogers in Black or Purple, and Shiner, imitating streamers.

For those who don’t fly fish, a fat garden worm, small nightcrawler or waxworm fished below a split shot in the pools and smooth runs can be a killer. Brown trout love worms and find a juicy morsel tumbling along the bottom hard to resist.

So far this winter, very small spinners have worked too. If live bait isn’t available, try these. It looks like ice is going to be long in coming this year, so expect slack times for weeks, even months waiting for hard water. But if you switch to winter trout, the time will pass quickly and you can have some very good days in the process.