The fishing opportunities in the Buckeye State aren’t over when the snow flies. In fact, for Ohio anglers whose tactic of choice is fishing through the ice, the best season of the year is just beginning.
Many lakes in Ohio offer a wealth of ice fishing opportunities for species ranging from bluegill and crappie to walleye and perch. One of the joys of ice fishing is that you never quite know what you’ll find on the end of your line.
The timing of the ice fishing season varies from year to year (and from one part of the state to another) but most Ohio lakes offer safe ice in January. Waters in the northern part of the state freeze up earliest and offer the longest ice fishing season.
So fill a thermos with coffee, stop at the bait shop for a pail of minnows, and get ready to drill a hole or two. If you’re prepared to brave frozen fingers and arctic winds, these are the best lakes to ice fish in Ohio this season!
Where to Go Ice Fishing in Ohio
Always a contender for the title of Ohio’s best ice-fishing lake, Indian Lake is a 5,100-acre reservoir in West-Central Ohio’s Logan County. The lake was created in the 1850s by inundating a network of small natural lakes and wetlands fed by the Great Miami River.
Indian Lake is broad and shallow. The maximum depth is just shy of 25 feet, but most of the lake is 10 feet deep or less. It’s a fertile lake that produces an abundance of big panfish, especially bluegill and crappie.
The Ohio DNR has also developed Indian Lake into a great saugeye fishery thanks to abundant stocking. These sterile walleye-sauger hybrids thrive here, and anglers often catch their limit of 16- to 20-inch saugeye through the ice.
The area between Long Island and the mouth of the North Fork of the Great Miami River is a perennial saugeye haunt. In general, these fish tend to gather around drop-offs in winter, and there’s a steep hole here around 9 feet deep that is reliably productive.
The best saugeye bite is often from late afternoon into the evening as the sun sinks. These fish have sensitive eyes, even under ice cover, and tend to bite best at twilight.
Live shiners on tip-ups are favored by many. Dead-sticking a minnow or gently jigging a minnow on a light jig head can also be highly effective, but avoid jigging too actively. Long pauses with the occasional twitch often do the trick.
There are a lot of largemouth bass around, too, though few anglers intentionally target them through the ice.
Indian Lake freezes quickly because it’s so shallow and has one of the longest ice fishing seasons in this part of the state.
Indian Lake State Park provides ample access.
Mosquito Creek Lake
A large, oblong lake in Trumbull County, Mosquito Lake is a prime ice fishing destination in Northeast Ohio. The lake spans 7,850 acres and is among the best inland walleye lakes in the state.
Ice anglers catch impressive numbers of walleye here, with most fish measuring between 12 and 20 inches. In addition, anglers catch a few real giants every winter, including some up to 10 pounds.
Mosquito Creek Lake usually has safe ice by late December and often fishes well into late February. Thanks to public land surrounding its entire shoreline, ice anglers have no shortage of opportunities to get out on the water.
At the reservoir’s south end, Mosquito Lake State Park and State Route 305 are a couple of the more popular places to start. There’s a lot of structure at various depths in this part of the lake, including shallow flats, rocky ledges, and old submerged road beds and culverts.
A brightly colored jigging spoon tipped with a minnow is the presentation of choice for most walleye anglers on Mosquito Creek Lake. Keep the bait close to the bottom, and work the lure by picking it up and letting it flutter back down.
Another very popular fishing area is along the State Route 88 Causeway, which crosses from east to west a little over halfway up the lake. Anglers catch some walleye here, but this is an even better spot for crappie.
Lots of 10- to 13-inch crappies are caught in various spots along the causeway, especially in the stump fields toward its western end.
Small minnows are the best bait, and anglers often catch a rogue northern pike or two while targeting crappies or walleye.
Findlay Reservoirs No. 1 and 2
Two neighboring upground reservoirs in the Northwest Ohio city of Findlay, Findlay Reservoirs No. 1 and No. 2 offer some great multi-species ice fishing options.
Typical of upground reservoirs, pumps bring water from the nearby Blanchard River instead of a more traditional dam.
At one time or another, the DNR has stocked both lakes with just about everything that swims—walleye and yellow perch, largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill, crappie, and white bass—and anglers commonly catch a mixed bag.
The main attraction for many ice anglers is perch and these reservoirs are among Ohio’s top yellow perch fishing lakes. Anglers often jig yellow perch over 15 inches up through the ice. While most perch run up to about 10 inches, some true giants have been pulled out of the Findlay Reservoirs.
Schools of perch roam freely throughout 187-acre Findlay Reservoir No. 1. You’ll find some of the best fishing along the western bank and on rocky structure near the boat ramp on the lake’s south shore.
Walleye are also popular, and anglers have caught some weighing 10 pounds in 640-acre Findlay Reservoir No. 2. The southwestern portion of this larger lake offers a mix of rocks and vegetation. It’s a great area to target walleye.
At this writing, walleye numbers have been down in recent years, but quality fish are still caught on jigging spoons tipped with minnows. Dead-sticking a minnow may also produce channel catfish, which are slow to bite in winter but occasionally top 20 pounds.
The entire shorelines of Findlay Reservoir No. 1 and No. 2 are accessible to anglers as a public park, managed cooperatively by the city of Findlay and the Ohio DNR.
Buckeye Lake is just a short drive from Columbus, offering some of the best ice fishing in the central part of Ohio. Though it covers over 3,100 acres, the lake is surprisingly shallow, allowing it to freeze quickly.
Broad flats make up most of the lake and average just 5 feet deep. These flats are the domain of big bluegills, which congregate throughout the stump fields on the eastern side of Buckeye Lake.
Anglers load up on 8-inch bluegills throughout the winter, but the best fishing tends to be shortly after the first safe ice forms. Classic larvae baits like jig-and-grub combos make it easy to fill a pail with chunky ‘gills, along with a few good-sized crappies.
Saugeye are the other main target in Buckeye Lake. The lake supports tremendous numbers of 15- to 20-inch saugeye, which often strike blade baits and spoons. VibE blade baits are locally popular.
The saugeye bite can come and go as packs of fish roam the flats chasing shad. There’s often a flurry of activity right around sundown, followed by a couple of slow hours before the bite picks back up around 9 p.m.
Buckeye Lake State Park includes several units around the lakeshore that provide access. Many anglers park on the south shore at Fairfield Beach and walk past Elm and Beach Islands to find some of the deepest waters in the lake.
The bottom drops off gradually to a maximum depth of about 14 feet here. It’s a great area to set tip-ups at various depths to pinpoint where the best bite may be on any given day. Most fish are often caught surprisingly shallow, right around 4 feet.
Offering some of the best year-round fishing opportunities in the Akron area of Northeast Ohio, the Portage Lakes are a chain of five lakes totaling over 1,600 acres. Hard-water anglers catch a variety of species here.
Panfish are the most abundant fish in the Portage Lakes, particularly bluegill and redear sunfish. It’s common to catch dozens of 7- to 8-inch bluegills through the ice in an afternoon, along with redears that often push 10 inches.
Dainty ice jigs tipped with mealworms and maggots are the baits of choice and commonly yield full pails of panfish. There are some good-sized crappies in the Portage Lakes, too, so don’t be surprised to find a few mixed in among your catch.
Of the five lakes that make up the Portage Lakes chain—Turkeyfoot Lake, West Reservoir, East Reservoir, North Reservoir, and Long Lake—the largest and deepest is Turkeyfoot Lake. It’s considered by many to be the best for fishing, but each lake offers plenty of opportunities.
Anglers find much of the best fishing is in less than 10 feet of water, especially early in the ice fishing season. Locating living vegetation beneath the ice is often a sign that you’re in a productive area.
Portage Lakes State Park provides access to the lakes connected to one another by channels. Use extreme caution on these lakes, as the ice thickness can vary wildly. This variation is especially true near the channels, where current often keeps the ice thin.
Another excellent option in Northeast Ohio, Berlin Lake lies between Akron and Youngstown and offers some of the best crappie fishing in the state. White and black crappies are abundant, and many anglers also target walleye and bluegill.
Berlin Lake encompasses 3,590 acres at full pool, but the lake looks very different in wintertime. This practice is because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers draws down the water level as much as 20 feet during the colder months for flood control.
Ultimately, this is a boon for ice anglers, who often find fish stacked up in predictable areas along the main river channel. The only downside is that some spots require a bit of a hike along the exposed, frozen lake bed.
One of the best and most easily accessible areas is right around the US 224 causeway, where deep water is easy to access once safe ice forms. Many anglers also access the lake’s northern end through the Corps of Engineers boat launch and campgrounds near the dam.
Anglers catch walleye and crappie along the ledges and drop-offs, with walleye usually hugging the bottom while crappie suspend above. Try a small spoon or teardrop jig tipped with a minnow.
Small ice jigs typically bring in bluegill as well as crappies. Tip your jig with a spike or wax worm for a little extra attraction. Crappie populations tend to be cyclical, but most years you can catch great numbers of 10- and 11-inch fish.
Alum Creek Lake
Anglers in Central Ohio regularly find excellent multi-species action in Alum Creek Lake, a 3,270-acre reservoir just north of Columbus. Bluegill and crappie are common, and the DNR often stocks plenty of saugeye.
Many anglers connect with channel catfish, white bass, and largemouth bass, although few specifically target them. Even muskellunge are occasionally hauled through the ice, which is no easy feat.
Alum Creek Lake is broad and deep, so it’s slow to freeze. As a result, much of the main lake may never see safe ice. Therefore, anglers often focus the bulk of their ice fishing attention on the lake’s many coves, especially in the southern basin.
Some of the best coves are along the eastern shore of the lake. Big Run Cove is a reliable winter hot spot with lots of woody cover that attracts panfish. There’s also a very productive stump field just north of the east end of the Cheshire Road Causeway.
While panfish are comfy in the shallows, saugeye tend to favor slightly deeper water, congregating along drop-offs, points, and old road beds. Alum Creek Lake has produced some truly impressive saugeye, including a former state record weighing over 12 pounds.
Most saugeye run from 14 to 20 inches and tend to be highly mobile, cruising up and down the east side of the lake. A couple of the best access sites are the Cheshire Road and Galena boat ramps, which are part of Alum Creek State Park.
It’s no secret that Lake Erie offers Ohio’s best fishing for monster walleye and jumbo yellow perch. But ice fishing on the big lake—the only one of the Great Lakes to reliably freeze over—can be intimidating.
It takes a while for safe ice to form on Lake Erie, but once it does, the ice fishing opportunities are unmatched. Walleye typically run 20 to 28 inches, and plenty of 10-inch-plus perch are available.
Nearshore reefs and rocky structures all along the lakeshore can be productive, but perch and walleye populations migrate seasonally in Lake Erie. During the winter, the western portion of the lake is the place to be.
In particular, the complex of islands in the Port Clinton area is truly spectacular. It’s common to see the surface of the ice dotted with shanties around South Bass Island and Kelleys Island.
Walleye often bite as deep as 40 feet during daylight hours in Lake Erie but move toward shallower haunts as the sun goes down.
Perch are more likely to be shallow all day long, especially early in the ice fishing season, when there’s still a lot of green vegetation.
Many of Lake Erie’s sheltered bays and backwaters offer ice fishing for panfish and northern pike. For example, the waters within East Harbor State Park produce a lot of good-sized bluegills.
Nearby Sandusky Bay offers some great opportunities too. Anglers catch perch, bullhead, and crappie around White’s Landing, the state fishing pier, and causeway. Underwater springs often create isolated areas of thin ice, so use extra caution and bring a spud bar to test the ice thickness.
Grand Lake St. Marys
Located a stone’s throw from the Indiana state line, Grand Lake St. Marys is one of the best and most consistent ice fishing destinations in the western part of Ohio. It was constructed in the 1830s to store water for the Miami-Erie Canal.
Several species are available to ice anglers, but the fishing mainly revolves around crappies. An annual crappie ice fishing derby is held here every winter, and anglers pull loads of 10- to 14-inch crappies from the lake.
Ample bluegill and some good-sized northern pike are available as well. Walleye stocking was discontinued several years back, but the DNR continues to stock yellow perch fry and fingerlings, which supports a fair perch fishery.
At 13,500 acres, Grand Lake St. Marys is the largest lake entirely within the state of Ohio. But it’s also one of the shallowest, with a maximum depth of just 12 feet.
Most years, the lake freezes over early, and ice anglers catch a lot of fish in surprisingly shallow water.
Protected marinas and harbors are some of the best places to target crappies and perch. The many residential channels that connect to the lake also produce plenty of these fish.
Silt is a constant presence, so the best channels during any winter are the ones that have been recently dredged.
These channels are typically 5 to 7 feet deep and offer perfect places for panfish to congregate under the ice.
Grand Lake St. Marys State Park is an excellent place to get out on the lake, and several privately owned marinas and landings also offer angler parking and access for a small fee.
Catch More Fish
Are you inspired to get out on the ice this winter and catch lots of fish? We’d also suggest you take a few more minutes to ready through our favorite ice fishing techniques and tips, including safety advice.