Exotic locations with gorgeous sunrises, crystal clear waters, and abundant game fish are the dreams of many anglers.
The three big outdoor magazines of my youth—Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, and Sports Afield—raised articles about the Florida Keys, Alaskan Rivers, Canadian Northwoods, and Siberian Rivers teaming up with Char and Temin.
They were beyond the reach of a Youngstown boy who needed permission from his parents to ride his bicycle on any street but his own. Even the great musky waters of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New York seemed to be a million miles from home.
Many young men have dreams like mine of great expeditions and great catches and have actually made them come true. I have friends who have traveled to Central and South America, Siberia, Alaska, the Northwest Territories, and Quebec, and have battled trophy fish across a range of species.
For many, fishing trips to distant waters are simply beyond their reach. Fortunately, we have near-fish-of-a-lifetime destinations that almost every local angler can enjoy without draining savings or gobbling up family vacation time.
Do you dream of losing 10 pounds? Is a 40-inch musky on your wish list? Will a 25-pound flathead catfish run your watch? How about a 5-pound Smallmouth Bass? Or perhaps a day of tying and releasing hard-shell trout to which anglers in the Pacific Northwest are accustomed?
All accessible to any Youngstown-Warren hunter who can afford a hunting license and vehicle. The truth is, you probably won’t even need a boat.
With careful planning and a bit of luck, in fact, we can check off all of the above catches in one calendar year. We have blue collar hunting at its best.
Here are some tips to get you started on what we might call a Northeast Ohio slam—walleye, musk, catfish, smallmouth bass, and trout.
March-April Hardwood: Begin your slam quest on a gentle winter or early spring day on a stream that flows into Lake Erie. You need not go further than the Route 11 stop in Ashtabula. Ashtabula River is a good option. Attach a long, agile spinning rod with an eight-pound fluorocarbon line, a sixteen-ounce jig, a tub of mealworms, and a feather float. Set the float so that the jig can barely knock on the bottom, cast downstream, and let the setup drift naturally with the current.
May - June for youngsters: Ports of Lake Erie attract smallmouth bass love-making in the spring. Rock piles, breakwaters and sandy flats sheltered from the rolling waves of the large lake are excellent breeding habitats. A spinning rod equipped with a tube jig or a weightless stick worm will fool an aggressive white. Bass season will be closed, so harvesting is prohibited. Handle them gently and then release them immediately.
June and July for Musk: Musk music abounds in Milton, West Branch, and Pematonning. You can’t go wrong with any of them. But for the inshore angler, Milton provides the best access to waters that may contain muskrat. Spot the water near the Ellsworth Road Bridge at Carson Landing or Mahoning Avenue Road. Access areas along Grandview Road and Craig Beach are also good.
July and August for flat cats: Hot summer nights are prime times for flat cat fishing at Mosquito Lake. The state park’s breakwater, dam, and Ohio 88 Bridge are good spots, as are the many shoreline access points. After the sun goes down, equip a stout rod and reel with 17 or 20-pound test line and attach chicken livers or a piece of cut bait, then sit back to enjoy the lantern light and a bag of Cheetos.
November for Watercolor: Autumn storms cool Lake Erie, which attracts dazzling clusters of brilliant and fragrant emeralds to ports east and west of Cleveland. Giant walleyes follow the baitfish as they congregate after dark around lights on docks, jetties, boat ramps, and other port infrastructure. Beach anglers associate trophy-sized fish with lipless cranks, wobbly spoons, and Magnum Rapalas.
I don’t know of any trophy for Northeast Ohio Slam winners, but it’s definitely bragging rights and a great way to make big game dreams come true on blue collar budgets.
Jack Wollitz’s book “The Common Angler” seeks to answer the “why” behind our passion for hunting. Appreciates emails from readers. Send a note to [email protected].