Early warm weather jump-starts fishing season

Hot and humid weather has settled over the region, raising water temperatures and pushing the fish into summer behavior. Anglers who adjust to the rapidly changing conditions will continue to stay in touch with their favorite species; those who do not will go home fish-less.
The transition from spring to summer patterns has been relatively swift in northeast Ohio. Water temperatures soared this past week. A mid-week check at Lake Milton showed the surface water throughout the main lake at 80 to 81 degrees.
Two weeks ago, the temps were in the low to mid-60s. Walleyes were in their spring feeding binge and the bass spawn was just starting to peak. Crappies were hanging thick in the willows and bluegills were starting to scour the shallow sandy areas to make nests.
Now the walleyes have dropped back a bit, though fish are still being caught on the weed flats at Mosquito and in the deeper willow lines at Berlin.
Most of the largemouth bass nests' eggs have hatched. Some fry swarms are still guarded by bucks, but many are already fending for themselves as the largemouths turn their attention to the abundant shad in the area's reservoirs.
Crappies are in the bushes and brush, as well as the rocky causeways and bottom structure.
Bluegills are finishing their nesting duties and are evident in the clear-water shallows where they readily attack anything they can get their mouths around. For that reason, they make great sport for those who want to entertain children with an afternoon of fishing.
Reports from around the area's popular walleye fisheries -- Mosquito, Pymatuning and Berlin -- indicate the fish are still biting, but perhaps not with the same intensity as a few weeks ago. The most productive tactics have been drifting with jigs and bait and trolling with diving plugs on long lines.
At Berlin, walleye fishermen also are scoring around the flooded willows in the main lake areas between the U.S. 224 causeway and railroad trestle. Jigs with 3-inch chartreuse twisters and small crankbaits are the baits of choice.
Limits of keepers are reported, but a lot of anglers are catching undersized walleyes. Anglers should keep in mind that walleyes must be at least 15 inches at Pymatuning, Berlin and Lake Milton before they can go to the skillet.
Largemouths, meanwhile, are scattering from the shoreline cover where they were relatively easy pickings just a few weeks ago. The fish are roaming with the shad and more likely to be interested in lures that resemble baitfish.
Topwaters, along with small crankbaits and soft-plastic jerkbaits, are good search baits for largemouths this time of year. Bass anglers also will score with plastic tubes, worms and lizards pitched around covers located close to deeper water.
The past week of summery nights also has brought out the catfish crowd.
Big cats are biting pretty well at most of the area's reservoirs as they move up around causeways and mud flats after dark. The Ohio River also is producing channel and flathead catfish in the numerous holes and current breaks near East Liverpool and Wellsville.
Lake Erie's walleye and perch fishing also have improved thanks to the stable weather. Central Basin walleye anglers are catching nice fish from Lorain to Ashtabula on a variety of tactics ranging from trolling 40- to 50-foot depths with spoons and plugs to drifting and casting Erie Dearies and other bait rigs in shallower water.
Ohio law limits anglers to six Erie walleyes, which must measure at least 15 inches.
Good perch are still biting around the harbor walls, but the better catches are coming for those who take boats out to 40 to 50 feet of water and drop spreaders baited with minnows.
Erie's smallmouth fishing continues to heat up. Bass anglers are finding spawning fish in 8 to 15 feet of water, where they'll hit jerkbaits and tubes. Others working the deeper haunts are catching nice smallies on tubes in shades of green and brown.
Ohio's Lake Erie smallmouth season is closed until June 24. Anglers can fish for the species, but must immediately release any they catch.
And finally, if it's big game you want, it's time to bait up for carp. Huge specimens are roaming just about any shallow flat or causeway and willing to bite a tempting doughball or corn-baited hook.
Once hooked, carp fight with great power and endurance, so make sure your tackle is up to the task.

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