But those who seek brown trout will be luckier than most, because these hard fighting fish bite all winter, assuming the streams aren't iced over, and are waiting out there right now for passing hardware, flies or live bait.
Ohio is fortunate in that it has three good trout streams, the Clear Fork River and its tributaries, the Mad River and its feeder streams and Clear Creek. Since they're well separated, any angler in the state can reach at least one with only a modest drive. The Clear Fork is closest for Norwalk area anglers. It's separated into two sections, one running from below Lexington down to Pleasant Hill Lake, then from the lake tailwaters downstream to near Loudenville.
The Mad River has fishing water from around West Liberty to Urbana and a bit south, and Clear Creek, which is east of Columbus, can be fished from the first Fairfield County Road 69 bridge to the U.S. 33 bridge in Hocking County. All three have some lunker browns, but for my money, the Clear Fork River is best. There's beautiful water, riffles, pools, and long smooth runs above Pleasant Hill, and much of the fishing is virgin or nearly so, because most fishermen don't want to use a county map and drive country roads knocking on farm doors to gain access.
A second choice is to fish just below the Pleasant Hill dam, working downstream as far as you can legally go without trespassing on private land. One of the most popular spots on the Clear Fork is in Mohican State Park from sections just upstream of the covered bridge down through the campground. This area is hard hit and fish are sophisticated, but there's plenty of parking, easy access, and some pretty water.
The Mad River is a mix of stream sections that allow public fishing and those that are private and off limits. A smart move here is to stop at a bait shop or sporting goods store near the river and ask for a map or advice. Some stretches have been channelized and good water isn't as abundant as on the Clear Fork. Take a careful look at tributaries here, since those you're allowed to fish have some nice trout.
Finally, comes Clear Creek, a stream with abundant prime water and good access along most of its length. Like the other two, it's been stocked for long years and has browns that will reach five pounds or better loafing in its pools or beneath fallen timber. If there's a question for winter weary anglers, it's "How do I catch some in ice water?"
The first thing, wherever you fish, to be sure of is the condition of the water before you go. It can be a little tedious to drive for an hour or two only to find the stream out of its banks, frozen solid, or muddy as creamed coffee. Wait for at least a few days after any storm or heavy rains to let the water settle, then go and try your luck. You might make a call first too, to such as the Mad River Outfitters (1-888-451-0363) in Columbus and see what they have to say about conditions..
You can catch winter trout on flies and very small spinners, but one offering that's likely to work better than anything else in winter is live bait. Isaac Walton would turn over in his grave to hear that statement, but it's true. Hook a fat nightcrawler a couple of times so the ends trail nicely, add enough splitshot to keep it near bottom, and just let the critter drift along the bottom of deep pools or through long, smooth runs. Do the same with a two- to three-inch lip-hooked minnow if crawlers are hard to come by. They may be cold and sluggish, but an easy meal is an easy meal.
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Hooks & bullets
• Once upon a time, bagging a Canada goose was a rare event, but not anymore. The big birds have multiplied to the nuisance stage and can cause trouble in places from golf courses to farm ponds with slick droppings along shore. So the Division of Wildlife is offering a free conflict management course on dealing with the problem on Feb. 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Wildlife District One headquarters, 1500 Dublin Rd, Columbus, OH 43215. Topics to be covered include conflict management, Canada goose biology, ecology, and population trends. To pre-register, call 614-644-3925.
• The Division of Wildlife is offering a free ice fishing workshop for readers interested in learning this "new" sport. It will be held Jan. 27 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Sportsmen's Migratory Bird Center pond on Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. The Area is located at 13229 W. Ohio 2, and those interested can pre-register by calling Kelly Schott at 419-898-0960.
• Recently, U.S.Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke released the final report outlining recommendations he made to the President on some national monument designations under the Antiquities Act. They included: Keeping federal lands federal, adding three new national monuments, modifying the boundaries and management of four monuments, and expanding access for hunting and fishing. In the latter he plans to maintain an ongoing review to ensue public access to encourage more hunting and fishing in monuments.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at [email protected] You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.