Berlin’s reason for being
As a fisherman, I get plenty of splash time on our local reservoirs. But it is as a commuter that I really get cozy with one of our nearby lakes.
My daily round trip to Canton may sometimes be tedious, but it does deliver a big plus for the angler within me. I get to see Berlin Reservoir twice a day all throughout the year.
And what I’ve seen this summer is a direct reflection of the dry season that has settled over Northeast Ohio. The popular boating and fishing lake has been at low ebb for much of the summer.
The shortage of rain means precious little water has drained from the creeks that sustain the Mahoning River basin, and Berlin today is a good 10 feet lower than what would be considered summer pool.
It will recede another quarter inch or so this weekend, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the flow of water to maintain the Ohio River at a level that enables commercial traffic throughout the more than 900 miles of its length.
Berlin’s reason for being was and continues to be flood control and water management. The Mahoning Valley’s longtime man in Congress, U.S. Rep. Mike Kirwan, fought for federal dollars to build Berlin and Mosquito for the benefit of Youngstown and Warren steelmakers during World War II.
With the money appropriated and the war effort ramping up, the reservoirs were fast-tracked. The Mahoning River and Mosquito Creek were dammed in the early 1940s and the two lakes outflows have been closely managed for more than 70 years.
Berlin’s water level, in particular, is subject to wide fluctuations. Summers like 2016, with unusually low water, are to be expected. But that doesn’t mean anglers and boaters have to like them. Most of the people with docks at Berlin haven’t been able to use them for weeks.
Low water actually can be a positive for fishers.
Many years ago, a fisheries biologist told me that Berlin’s annual up-and-down cycle has been a good thing for the lake’s fish populations. The reason is that the lower water during the cold-weather months allows rain and snowmelt to rinse the silt and sediment off the exposed lake bottom, creating sandy and rocky substrate that is better fish habitat than mud.
The hard bottom, when it floods again in the early spring, is perfect for spawning beds for species like largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappies, bluegills, walleyes and other popular game and pan fish.
Years ago, before sophisticated sonar and GPS mapping was readily available, anglers trekked the expanded shoreline created by receding waters during drawdown periods. They mapped places they figured might attract fish once the water returned to normal levels.
While today we have much more capability to “see” below the waves thanks to technology, there is nothing quite as reassuring for structure fishermen than to establish real visual contact.
A trip to Berlin now, whether on foot or by boat, will provide literal looks at the contours of points, the location of stumps and rock piles, the edges of shale outcroppings, old road beds, bridges and other fish-holding structure and cover.
A Berlin visitor with a good memory, accurate map and sharp pencil can do a lot of excellent homework that will come in handy in the spring and summer of 2017.
As I traversed Berlin’s U.S. 224 and Ohio 225 causeways this summer, I’ve seen attractive new opportunities for my next full-pool visits. Here’s hoping the fish also are attracted to them.