Ohio Is for Anglers: Where To Fish Near Columbus

Your guide to the best fishing spots and gear for Central Ohio.

Central Ohio is an underrated fishing destination. That’s according to Bob Johnson, who’s been fishing the reservoirs, lakes, and streams of this area for six decades. 

“We’re surrounded by water,” Johnson explains. “And wherever you find water around here, you’ll find fish.”

Today, Johnson passes on that wealth of knowledge to anglers of all stripes in his role as a concierge at the Public Lands store in Polaris. He spends his workdays chatting with other anglers and comparing notes on where to fish, what equipment to use, and what bait works best. Through those exchanges, he ensures that the community has a friendly resource to tap into—and that his own knowledge of local fishing holes is always kept sharp. 

Here are a few of Johnson’s other top recommendations for the best fishing spots in Central Ohio.

Big Walnut Creek

Big Walnut Creek, a tributary of the Scioto River just south of Columbus, is one of Johnson’s favorite honey holes. The creek is wide, serene, and chock full of smallmouth bass. “You can gain access from the banks, especially around the bridges,” Johnson explains. This is a good bet for bass, which tend to love the shallows. You can cast from the banks, or paddle out into the creek. 

Antrim Park

Located in Clintonville, near the Olentangy River, Antrim Park is a 120-acre quarried lake. The current state record for saugeye (14.04 pounds) was caught here in 2004. However, while you can find saugeye in Antrim, they’re not stocked. (It’s thought that this record-breaker swam over from the Olentangy during a high-water period.) The good news? The Ohio Department of Natural Resources does stock rainbow trout here every year, from March to May.

No boats (motorized or paddle-powered) are allowed in Antrim, but there’s a large dock and plenty of spots along the banks from which to cast. 

Olentangy River

The removal of the dams located along the Ohio State University campus and downtown Columbus returned the river to its more natural state and improved the fishing. Locals can be found casting down from bridges and along the banks (where accessible). The area from Fifth Avenue north to the Dodridge Street low-head dam (just north of OSU) is a particularly good spot to cast.

There are smallmouth bass, saugeye, catfish, and carp. And you don’t have to work too hard to drop a line for them, either: Many anglers fish from atop the bridges that span the Olentangy, and there are several spots along the multi-use trail that cut through the trees and make it easy to get to the water’s edge.

Scioto River

The tree-lined Scioto River also boasts a population of smallmouth bass, saugeye, catfish, and carp. A few of the best spots are north of Columbus, in Dublin, from Scioto Park to Griggs Reservoir. The water here is shallow, and wading is an option. You’ll find another productive fishing spot just south of downtown Columbus, at the launch in the Scioto Audubon Metro Park.

Big Darby Creek 

This is one of the more scenic and peaceful fishing spots in the area. There’s a canoe-access spot at the Alkire Road parking lot of Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park. From here you can paddle off, or wade along the shallow waters and fish for smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rock bass, and channel catfish. The slow-moving, deep pools are the best places to find these fish.

Alum Creek State Park Lake

The massive, forest- and cliff-lined Alum Creek is a popular fishing destination, and for good reason. There are saugeyes here as big as 18 inches, crappies up to a foot, and plenty of channel catfish, bluegills, muskies, and smallmouth bass and white bass.

Muskies can be found in the lower basin of the lake, between the Cheshire Road causeway and the dam. The muskies here can reach 30 or more inches, so it’s best to come prepared with a rod and reel that can withstand some serious force. 

Hoover Reservoir

This is another popular spot, due in part to the size of the reservoir (2,800 acres), the abundance of fish, and the 10-horsepower outboard motor limit, which leads to a quieter and more peaceful environment for anglers.

There are also plenty of spots along the 45 miles of shoreline from which to cast for fish. And the types of quarry abound: Here, you’ll find largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappie, saugeye, catfish, white bass, and bluegill.

Fishing Tackle Essentials for Central Ohio

Collecting the proper tackle, lures, and flies can be a little overwhelming. Here are some of Johnson’s tips for gathering the right gear.


“A spinning rod is the easiest rod for a beginner to master,” Johnson says. “Next is the fly rod and last is a baitcasting rod.” (Baitcasting rods, he explains, are used mostly for larger bodies of water and tend to let the spool rotate faster than the line goes out, which can leave even experts tangled.) Choosing a fishing rod ultimately comes down to the type of fish you want to catch and where you hope to fish. Ask a local angler at a nearby fishing shop or Public Lands store for more details on what will work best for your intended destination. 

Flies and Lures

Fish are naturally attracted to insects, which means the best flies and lures are the ones that replicate the insects found in their natural habitats at a particular time of year. With thousands to choose from (lures are artificial bait that go on a hook, while flies mimic insects), Johnson says the categories basically boil down to nymphs, emergers, dries, spent wing, and spinners.

“Each one represents a different stage in the life cycle of an insect,” he says. Johnson recommends looking at the Ohio Hatch Chart for a list of the different insects found in Ohio, when they’re active, and details on size and color. Look for these popular lures and flies to up your chances when targeting Ohio’s most common species of fish.

Largemouth bass

Largemouth bass are found in the majority of Ohio’s waterways.  

Best lures: Strike King Crank, Rapala’s DT Series, or Crawfish

Best flies: Popper, Sneaky Pete, Schmidterbug

Smallmouth bass

Smallmouth bass are also extremely common, and will go for a variety of lures and flies.

Best lures: Big Joshy’s, Strike King Crank, or Rapala’s DT Series

Best flies: Clouser Minnow, Crawfish, or Mouse


These smaller-mouthed fish (members of the sunfish family, which also includes bluegill and small/largemouth bass) are plentiful and easy to catch, which makes them a good target for teaching children how to fish.  

Best lures: Mr. Twister, Crappie Magnet, or a minnow on a small hook

Best flies: streamers like Clousers and Mickey Finns (hook sizes 8-12), Prince Nymph and Pheasant Tail Nymph, or any dry fly hatching—especially mosquitoes, mayflies, and similar patterns (sizes 8-14).


This fish is a cross between a walleye and sauger, and the Division of Wildlife stocks more than 7 million annually in 70-plus reservoirs. 

Best lures: Rapala Husky Jerk or jigs tipped with minnows, leeches, or worms (especially in the early spring).

Best flies: Clouser Minnows, Black Bunny Leeches, Woolly Buggers (hook sizes 2-6) 


These bottom feeders are found in many Central Ohio spots, and are more difficult to fish with a fly.

Best lures: Cut bait, chicken liver, or “stink bait,” which you can make yourself

Best flies: Woolly Buggers, Leeches, Sculpins, and Crayfish patterns (same hook size range as saugeye) 


“Trout like terrestrials, anything that lives on the land, insects, grasshoppers, ants, wooly worms, and they love bees,” Johnson says. They’re also known to eat frogs and even mice.

Best lures: Rebel Teeny Wee-Crawfish, Lindy Quiver Spoon, or Tasmanian Devil

Best flies: Early spring to late fall, Blue Wing Olive (nymphs, emerger, dun, or spinner patterns; hook sizes 18-20). Year-round, Midges (nymphs, emerger, and dun; sizes 16-26)

More Info: Ohio Department of Natural Resources

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.