Most anglers like constant action. Maybe we have short attention spans, or maybe we’ve been led to believe that good fishing requires non-stop activity. But fishermen who go out after muskellunge are just wired differently.
Fishing for muskies is a lifelong pursuit that often borders on obsession. It takes years to get really good at it. Even experienced anglers go hours—even days—without a bite.
But when a 30-pound muskie grabs your lure and high-tails it for deep water, there’s simply nothing like it.
Where to Catch Muskies in Ohio
Ohio is home to several truly exceptional muskellunge fishing lakes. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been stocking muskies diligently in several of the state’s man-made reservoirs for decades, and the results speak for themselves.
Muskellunge in the 40-inch class are quite common in most of these lakes, and some of the Ohio locations we tell you about offer opportunities to target true giants measuring 50 inches and tipping the scales close to 40 pounds.
A muskie that size is literally the fish of a lifetime, but you’ll find them swimming in each of Ohio’s best muskie lakes.
Leesville Lake’s reputation as Ohio’s best muskie lake is fairly secure. This 1,011-acre reservoir produces more 40-plus inch muskies than just about anywhere in the state and hosts the long-running Lungefest muskie tournament every June.
Located within the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) in Eastern Ohio, Leesville Lake is also a good numbers lake for muskellunge and has a reputation for being the best place in the state to start if you’re new to muskie fishing.
Generally speaking, muskellunge are fairly evenly distributed throughout the lake’s north and south forks, which is one of the main reasons they’re less difficult to catch here than elsewhere. In spring, anglers catch most muskies in 4 to 10 feet of water.
Focus on the northern shorelines in April—they warm fastest this time of year—and work the coves and creek mouths with bucktails and crankbaits. Muskies feed heavily on shad in spring, following schools of these baitfish into the shallows.
In summer, ample weed growth develops in shallow parts of Leesville Lake, and a thermocline usually sets up at around 12 feet. Baitfish and muskies alike hover right around the thermocline on summer days.
Fishermen often consider Leesville Lake more of a casting lake than a trolling lake. But some local anglers switch to trolling during the dog days of summer, often casting to weed lines during the evening hours and then trolling just above the thermocline from sunset to well after dark.
Another great thing about Leesville Lake is that it offers a decent shot at catching a muskie right from the bank. Bass anglers commonly find themselves tangling with small- to medium-sized muskies that snatch up their lure.
The stretch of shoreline between the dam and the South Fork Campground within Leesville Lake Park is a great area for bank fishing. The park also provides boat launch facilities, and boats are limited to 10 hp.
Clear Fork Reservoir
Located in Richland and Morrow counties in North-Central Ohio, Clear Fork Reservoir spans 1,033 acres and has long ranked among Ohio’s best muskie fisheries. It’s also the Ohio DNR’s muskie broodstock lake.
In recent years, Clear Fork Reservoir hasn’t been putting up the musky numbers that Leesville Lake has. But a significant proportion of the muskies caught here are over 40 inches, making it one of the best places to target trophy fish in Ohio.
The Clear Fork Mohican River feeds the reservoir, and where the river enters the lake is an excellent place to start looking for muskellunge in springtime. The shallow upper end of the lake warms up first, and anglers usually target stumps, laydowns, and developing weed beds in this area.
As Clear Fork Reservoir warms up in summer, North Bay is a great area to target. The bay lies between the lake islands and the northern shore and has 10-foot depths and shallow, weedy humps that almost break the surface.
Several spring holes also feed cold water into Clear Fork Lake along its northern shore, and these are great places to target during the warmer months. The cool waters attract baitfish, and muskies usually follow.
Much like Leesville Lake, Clear Fork is a lake on which anglers rely more on casting than trolling. Focusing on specific pieces of cover and bottom structure is usually effective, and trolling is seen as a backup option if all else fails.
The DNR operates the Clear Fork Fishing Area along the lake’s southern shore, with picnic areas and bank access. In addition, boat launch facilities are available at Clear Fork Marina. No horsepower restrictions are in place, but an 8 mph speed limit is enforced.
While you’re in the area, the Clear Fork Mohican River farther upstream is on our list of the best trout fishing streams in Ohio.
Eastern Ohio’s Piedmont Lake is a long, meandering reservoir that offers 2,386 acres of water and about 37 miles of shoreline. It’s one of the best numbers lakes in Ohio for muskellunge.
Piedmont Lake has one of the highest muskellunge catch rates in the state. Anglers pull trophy-sized fish over 40 inches from this lake, but muskies that measure in the low-to-mid 30s are much more common.
That being said, Ohio’s 55.13-pound state record muskie was caught here in 1972. That fish has been unsurpassed for 50 years now, but who’s to say it can’t happen again?
When the muskie season gets going in April, focus your efforts on water less than 15 feet deep. Muskies seldom venture deeper than that this time of year. Targeting woody cover within casting distance of the bank is a good bet.
There are several small coves along the north shore of the lake, most of which have a scattering of boat docks that provide cover for muskies early and late in the day. Essex Bay is a good area to cover down on the south shore.
The cove that shelters Piedmont Marina is also an excellent area to try for muskellunge. If you launch at the marina, make a few casts around the slips and houseboat docks before heading out into the main lake.
Once summer sets in, anglers catch most muskies trolling near the dam or in the weed and stump-filled bays toward the eastern end of the lake.
Try casting oversized topwater lures around shallow cover at dawn, then troll deeper water for suspended muskies as the sun climbs.