Ohio’s lakes, rivers and streams are full of surprises. Perhaps most surprising of all is that many of them are full of trout.
That goes somewhat against the Buckeye state’s reputation among fly-fishers. Chances are, if you live in Ohio and own a fly rod, you most often use it to cast streamers for river smallmouths, or toss poppers for bluegill in a local farm pond.
But trout abound in a select handful of Ohio rivers and streams. Stocked rainbows and brown trout are most common, but there are even wild brook trout if you know where to look.
And, of course, rainbow trout are also stocked annually in a wide range of lakes and ponds, many of which function as put-and-take fisheries. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (DNR) stocks around 100,000 catchable rainbows in state waters most years.
These hatchery fish might not exactly offer a “wild” trout fishing experience, but can still be a heck of a lot of fun. They’re tasty on the grill, too.
There isn’t a designated trout season in Ohio.
Generally, most of the best trout fishing lakes and rivers start to become productive in March and continue to fish well through the end of May. There are great options for fall trout fishing in Ohio too, especially in rivers where they reside year-round.
Ohio Trout Rivers and Streams
Ohio offers some truly great fishing in creeks and rivers, though most are warm-water fisheries dominated by smallmouth bass, walleye and catfish.
Only a handful of streams in Ohio are able to sustain trout year-round, but the following waters provide excellent trout fishing.
The Mad River is easily the first river that comes to mind when considering Ohio trout streams. Its reputation as the state’s best fly fishing stream is fairly secure.
The Mad River begins in Logan County in West-Central Ohio, and is created by the confluence of several smaller spring creeks. Those cold, spring-fed waters are one of the major factors that allow the Mad River to support healthy trout populations year-round.
Ultimately, the Mad River flows 66 miles toward Dayton, where it empties into the Great Miami River. Fingerling and yearling brown trout have been stocked extensively by the state, and catchable browns are occasionally stocked as well.
The Mad River is also one of very few waterways in Ohio that still harbor wild brook trout. Brookies are most common in the uppermost reaches of the river, but even here, they are only occasionally caught.
Water levels fluctuate quite a lot on the Mad River. Anglers in early spring may be forced to deal with heavy siltation and high water levels, while summertime usually finds the Mad River crystal-clear and quite low.
Still, it can be a lot of fun to fish. There are a lot of nice riffles and pools, as well as ample shoreline cover. The biggest brown trout are found beneath undercut banks and among log jams and deadfalls.
Any current break is worth a cast, and it’s not uncommon to pick off a couple of 14- to 16-inch browns below a bridge piling or boulder. Streamers are often effective, but there are also several major insect hatches to take advantage of.
Little black stoneflies hatch from late February into March, followed by Green Sedges and Cinnamon Caddis in April. Brown Drakes are the major May hatch (along with smaller hatches of March Browns and Sulphurs), and Tricos hatch off and on all summer long.
Dozens of access sites are located along the length of the Mad River, and the Mad River Water Trail is a great resource for finding fishing spots. Most of the river is navigable by kayak during all but the most extreme summer lows.
The best fishing is generally in the upper section from Zanesfield down to around Tremont City.
The Ohio DNR maintains several public access sites throughout this area, including a great stretch of river below the Pimtown Road Bridge in West Liberty, plus another at the mouth of Kings Creek.
Clear Fork Mohican River
The Clear Fork Mohican River—most local anglers simply call it the Clear Fork River—is the best place for fly-fishing in North-Central Ohio.
A little over 36 miles long, it’s one of two principal tributaries (along with the Black Fork) that form the main stem of the Mohican River.
The Clear Fork is generally thought of as having two main sections: the Upper Clear Fork (above Pleasant Hill Reservoir) and the Lower Clear Fork (from the Pleasant Hill Dam down to the confluence with the Black Fork).
Brown trout and rainbow trout are each stocked in different parts of the river.
The DNR stocks catchable rainbow trout in the Lower Clear Fork every spring. Occasionally, a giant brown trout will snap up a dry fly here, but this section mostly operates as a put-and take fishery for hatchery rainbows.
That said, it can be a great place to fish from April into May. These hatchery-raised fish usually aren’t too picky, and pools within the tailwater section often yield a mixed catch of rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, panfish and saugeye.
It’s a beautiful piece of river, too. Abundant access is provided as the river flows through Mohican State Park, and the section around the Mohican Covered Bridge is especially picturesque.
Up above the lake in the Upper Clear Fork, several thousand fingerlings and yearling brown trout are stocked every fall. Plenty of these fish overwinter, making it one of the best bets in Ohio to hook into a 20-inch trout or bigger. This stretch is also less pressured by anglers.
However, public access is spotty on the Upper Clear Fork. A lot of the best parts of the river lie on private property, though local landowners are known to sometimes grant permission to anglers. It never hurts to ask.
There are also quite a few informal access sites at bridge crossings, particularly in and around the communities of Butler and Bellville. There are some lovely pools and undercut banks in this area.
Various mayflies hatch on the Clear Fork, with the Light Cahill hatches from late May into July being some of the most significant. Midges are available year-round, and nymphing is usually the best tactic unless you can see insects actively hatching.
A tributary of Southeast Ohio’s Hocking River, Clear Creek flows from the Central Ohio flatlands into the hilly, wooded landscape of Fairfield and Hocking counties.
Clear Creek is about 40 minutes southeast of Columbus, making it one of the best trout fishing options near the capital city.
For many years, the DNR stocked yearling brown trout into Clear Creek every fall. But due to high mortality rates, they switched tactics in 2018, and currently stock catchable rainbow trout.
These days, it would be very surprising to find anything other than rainbow trout in Clear Creek. Most years, rainbows are stocked in the fall, and many of them hold over until late spring/early summer the following year. It’s essentially a put-and-take stream.
These hatchery-raised trout aren’t generally as discerning as their wild counterparts. You can usually count on catching a few on Rooster Tail spinners and small soft plastic baits like crappie-size tubes and jerkbaits.
Fly fishers, too, can do just fine without extreme hatch-matching precision. Most standard mayfly and caddis imitations work if there’s a hatch going on; otherwise wooly buggers and nymphs work like a charm.
You can expect to catch mostly rainbows that measure right around 12 inches (the daily limit is two fish, with a 12-inch minimum size). Big holdover rainbows over 18 inches are occasionally reported.
Clear Creek flows through Clear Creek MetroPark, which provides excellent access. In addition to several roadside pull-offs within the park, many additional stream miles are accessible by wading, or on foot via hiking trails that run alongside the creek.
Macochee Creek (sometimes written out as Mac-O-Chee Creek) is a small tributary of the Mad River in Western Ohio. While it might not be quite the legendary trout stream its parent river is, there are still some solid opportunities here.
The DNR stocks a few hundred yearling brown trout in Macochee Creek every year, and the stream stays cool enough to permit some of those fish to live long enough to reach impressive sizes.
Don’t expect a trophy, but plenty of browns in the 12- to 16-inch range are brought to the Macochee’s banks. Major restoration efforts in 2010 helped reduce siltation and improve the stream habitat in a big way, and the fishing has certainly benefited.
Macochee Creek offers an intimate fly-fishing experience.
At no point is the stream too wide to cast across, and there’s also a significant amount of brush, trees, and tall grass along the banks. A smaller outfit, like a 7-foot, 4-weight rod, is ideal for this setting.
A lot of the same insects that hatch on the Mad River also hatch here, albeit in smaller quantities. Bring an assortment of mayfly and caddis patterns, as well as nymphs and midges. Terrestrials are often great too, especially in summer.
Access is quite limited on Macochee Creek. The only designated access site is located on T-47 just east of West Liberty. It’s also possible to wade upstream from the Macochee’s confluence with the Mad River; just stay off the banks to avoid trespassing on private property.
Cold Creek, a small Lake Erie tributary in the Sandusky area, is one of Ohio’s most unique trout streams. Castalia State Fish Hatchery is located near the creek’s headwaters, and the rainbow trout that are reared here are stocked all over the state.
True to its name, the spring-fed upper reaches of Cold Creek stay cool enough to support trout year-round. The hatchery releases several thousand catchable rainbow trout in the creek every year, resulting in some remarkable fishing opportunities.
Late fall and early spring offer the best fishing. The problem, at least for the average angler, is lack of access. All of the land alongside Cold Creek is privately owned, and there is no designated public fishing along the stream.
Still, there are options. Fishing in the half-mile stretch of Cold Creek adjacent to the fish hatchery is permitted every year to a select group of people between May and November.
The only way to fish this section is to enter into the annual random lottery and cross your fingers in hopes that your name is drawn (entries are accepted throughout the month of March).
Fishing here is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, but it’s a lot of fun, and certainly unlike anything else in Ohio.
Other areas farther down Cold Creek are under the ownership of private fishing clubs, primarily the Sunnybrook Trout Club and Cold Creek Trout Camp. The latter allows the public to fish from their property for a modest fee.
Not much about Cold Creek feels like a wild trout stream, but it can be a fun place to introduce kids to trout fishing, or simply enjoy catching some trout that often bite on just about anything you can throw at them.
Stocked Trout Lakes
The Ohio DNR stocks trout in approximately 70 lakes and ponds all over the state.
Most of these waters are stocked with catchable rainbow trout measuring 10 to 13 inches every spring between March and May. Some receive additional fall plants, when available.
A complete list of Ohio stocked trout lakes and stocking dates is available through the Ohio DNR website. Some of the best trout lakes in Ohio include:
Located a little east of Springfield in Western Ohio, 102-acre Clark Lake receives around 2,500 rainbow trout every spring. This shallow reservoir is very much a put-and-take lake, and the best trout fishing is in the weeks immediately after stocking, which usually happens in late March.
Wax worms and canned corn fished close to the bottom are favorite baits among local anglers. Fish bite close to the bank early in the season, and move toward the deepest part of the lake (about 6 feet, near the dam) once the water warms up in May.
Clark Lake and its immediate surroundings are managed as Clark Lake Wildlife Area, which includes several bank access sites around the shoreline. Boats up to 10 hp are allowed.
A reservoir of 107 acres in Southeastern Ohio, Belmont Lake is stocked every spring with between 1,600 and 2,900 catchable rainbow trout. It’s also a popular summer fishing lake for channel catfish, bluegill and largemouth bass.
A boat launch with a wheelchair-accessible fishing platform is located at the upper end of the lake within Barkcamp State Park. Boats are limited to electric motors only.
With its wooded and mostly-undeveloped shoreline, Belmont Lake is a beautiful lake that feels very much of another time.
The 80-acre Punderson Lake is located just under an hour east of Cleveland in Northeast Ohio. It’s one of the best trout options in this part of the state, and anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 trout have been stocked here annually in recent years.
The lake is accessible through Punderson State Park, which offers a boat ramp and fishing pier. Only electric motors and non-powered craft are permitted; kayak rentals are available in the park.
Punderson Lake is one of the only Ohio trout lakes that has the distinction of being deep and cool enough to support trout year-round. A few big trout are known to survive multiple seasons and attain much bigger sizes than in most lakes.
Just a few miles from the Kentucky state line in West Union, Adams Lake is one of the first trout lakes to be stocked by the DNR every spring. This 37-acre reservoir gets around 2,000 rainbows most years, and they bite readily on ice jigs tipped with wax worms.
Bank access is available through Adams Lake State Park, which also provides a small launch ramp. Boats are limited to electric trolling motors and non-powered craft only, and this small lake is a great place to fish from a kayak.
Turkey Creek Lake
Another great option in Southern Ohio, 49-acre Turkey Creek Lake is a popular fishing destination in Scioto County.
The lake is accessible through Shawnee State Park, which provides a boat launch (gas motors are allowed at idle speed), bank access, and a campground.
Around 2,500 trout are stocked here every spring, and the lake hosts a trout derby on the 4th Saturday in April, which has been occurring annually for more than 50 years.
The lake is often muddy in early spring, so bring some flashy lures like Rooster Tails and Mepps spinners.
Abundantly stocked every spring, Stonelick lake spans 161 acres in Southwestern Ohio. It’s just a short drive from Cincinnati, making it a popular spot on April weekends.
Canned corn and PowerBait Trout Nuggets are favored by local anglers. Try suspending your bait under a bobber, just off bottom. Small soft plastic jigs work well too, but often yield a mixed bag of trout, crappie and small largemouth bass.
Stonelick State Park surrounds the lake and provides a boat launch (electric motors only) and a fishing pier at the lower end of the lake.
Most of Stonelick Lake is less than 6 feet deep, but some areas near the dam are up to 15 feet deep.