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Mahoning River is thriving

Saturday, July 2, 2016

It’s rarely a good idea to spill the beans publicly about a productive fishing hole unless one is willing to endure criticism from those who wish no fanfare about their hot spots.

But “rare” isn’t “never,” so I’m willing to risk a few glares and hushes. The facts are out there for those who care to investigate, and those facts point to the region’s best little-known fishery.

Our Mahoning River.

For sure, several generations of fishers have worked jigs for spring-run walleyes and white bass on the Mahoning River below the dams at Berlin and Milton. For many years, it was almost impossible to find elbowroom in the tailrace waters when the walleyes and white bass were running.

But once the spring fling was finished, most of us migrated out to the main lake waters at Berlin, Mosquito, Milton and West Branch. We were content to let the Mahoning meander unfished through Newton Falls, Warren, Niles, Girard, Youngstown, Struthers, Campbell and Lowellville.

Most, but not all, ignored the Mahoning. We had good reasons. A century of abuse from municipal and industrial waste fouled the water. Access was difficult. And because the water was filthy and nobody fished there, the Mahoning cowered from 100 years of anglers’ neglect.

Today, however, the society of Mahoning River fishers is once again growing.

As the flowage cleared thanks to enforcement of clean-water standards, a few people started to notice there were fish to be caught. They were not the carp and catfish we might expect, but rather smallmouth bass, walleyes and muskies.

As the number of anglers grew, good access locations started to develop. And so the cycle has spun forward. Better access means more people are trying the Mahoning River and liking what they discover.

The water is cleaner, access is improving and fish populations are thriving. More good news is developing. Plans are advancing to remove old dams and dredge the still-tainted sediment that forms much of the river bottom from Warren and Youngstown to downstream locations.

Local anglers are canoeing, kayaking and bank fishing throughout the Mahoning’s run. Reports abound of great catches. Walleye and muskie stories are increasingly common, and the smallmouth bass fishery is pretty stout, too.

Anglers also encounter crappies and big channel catfish. Listen carefully and you’ll even hear accounts about catching trout, almost certainly leftovers from stockings by Ohio Division of Wildlife fisheries crews during cold-water seasons.

The stories aren’t tall tales. They are fact. Check certain Internet conversations and you’ll see photos of great Mahoning River catches.

I’ve enjoyed the Mahoning myself. Walleyes up to 24 inches? I’ve caught them there. A dozen smallmouth bass in an hour? It’s happened to me. A 44-inch muskie tail-dancing with a spinnerbait dangling from its jaw? That’s a real-life image I’ll never forget.

In an era when many Americans are inclined to believe things were better in the days of yore, it’s good to point to the great improvement of our Mahoning River. The “good ol’ days” are the here and now.

Some of my river-fishing friends may wish I’d keep mum about their hot spot, but that ship has sailed. Today we can say something our grandparents would never have uttered: “I’m going fishing on the Mahoning River.”