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May 2007

Hueston Woods is a great destination with a few nice surprises

By Richard Martin

Ohio is blessed with many fine lakes, some small and rural, others popular and bustling, some good for this and others ideal for that, but boaters who like both luxury and plenty to do with find it hard to go wrong at Acton Lake, which lies in Hueston Woods State Park. Everything you might want is likely to be here, including some activities that will surprise you.

Hueston Woods is 3,596 acres of park surrounding 625 acres of water, a fairly vast area of pretty country lying in southwestern Ohio about five miles northwest of Oxford. It's within an easy drive of both Dayton and Cincinnati, and is popular enough to draw up to 2 million visitors annually. Why so popular? One good reason is that it offers luxury accommodations in a nicely rural setting.

Those accommodations include the 96-room Hueston Woods Lodge, which sits on a bluff overlooking the lake. Its site was originally a council place for western Ohio Indian tribes, and continues to draw meetings and conferences from all over Ohio. Visitors can enjoy a 100-foot tall sandstone fireplace, two pools, an indoor and out, game rooms, tennis, courtesy docks, and an 18-hole, 7,005 yard, par 72 golf course.
For those with families who like to do at least some of their own cooking, the park has 25 Family Cottages that can sleep six people, with bath, kitchen, living room and screened porch, and ten Efficiency Cottages that sleep four. All cabins are equipped with cooking and eating utensils, towels and bedding. Boaters who like their living even more rustic might try the 25-site campground with its electrical hookups, showers, flush toilets, and a laundry and trailer waste station. Pets are permitted in a number of sites, so Rover or Fifi are welcome to come.

Boating is a popular sport at Hueston Woods, though boats are restricted to 10 hp. There are convenient launch ramps and public docks, and the lake with its 8 miles of shoreline has plenty of roaming room. Fishing at the lake on a scale of 1-10 is about a five, but that doesn't mean fish aren't waiting to be caught. There's a huge population of shad here, prime forage for bass and crappie, so not only do fish grow quickly, but they're often too stuffed on natural food to bite readily.

Still, the lake offers sunken Christmas trees for structure, along with fallen timber in the coves, and submerged barn foundations and stumps to hold bass and panfish. Working such structure with plastic worms and pig and jig combinations can produce strikes, and crankbaits tossed at shoreline structure can draw ambush-oriented bass, too. Crappie action is best along the northeastern and west shore, and catfish will bite in inlets after brisk rains.

One of the fine attributes of Hueston Woods is its near primeval forest, many acres of majestic beech and maple trees, some 200 years old. Matthew Hueston bought the parkland in 1797, after serving with General "Mad" Anthony Wayne in the Indian wars, and while most of his land went to crops, he saved a remnant of forest, which was held in trust and became a state forest. These days you can enjoy over 12 miles of trails in the park, and some, like the Big Woods Trail will take hiking boaters through 1.8 miles of majestic timber.

Other trails like the Cedar Falls Trail take hikers through a lush flood plain with mature black walnut and oak, across a bubbling little creek, and past a small waterfall. Visitors will see many wild flowers here and hike past outcrops of 450 million year old bedrock.

Other things to do at this fine park? You might try your luck on a large paintball field and target range. Bring your own equipment or rent some, and enjoy a lively afternoon. Take time to see the Hueston Woods Raptor Rehabilitation Center too, rent a bike and pedal rural roads, and visit the Pioneer Farm Museum. Lots to do at this pretty park.

For lodge information, you can call the front desk at (513) 664-3500. For the park office, call (513) 523-6347, and for words on the golf course

West Branch Reservoir is a lively lake

By Richard Martin

Some boaters like their lakes small, peaceful, and quiet, while others prefer lively and busy with an option for peace and quiet when lively becomes too much. Folk who favor the latter should enjoy West Branch Reservoir, a lake that seems to offer something for everyone. West Branch is located in Portage County about six miles from Ravenna and 40 miles from Cleveland. It's a big lake, 2,350 acres with a whopping 40 miles of shoreline, one that draws LOTS of boaters during the season, partly because it offers big water boating with unlimited horsepower.

Boaters also like this lake because of its many bays and backwaters that often fork and fork again offering plenty of opportunity to spend lazy hours exploring with new sights around every corner. There are boat rentals, gasoline, and supplies at the marina, and four launch ramps to provide plenty of access though the ramps can be busy on fine summer weekends. Docks can be rented on a seasonal basis, and while boaters can race as they like along the main lake, a no-wake zone extends 300 feet from all shorelines, and the area west of Rock Spring causeway is also a no-wake zone.

Fishing can be good at West Branch, not great, but good, and in spring months boaters can find fair action on largemouth bass up the various branches on fish that average a pound or so, but reach four pounds and more. Top water baits around weed beds, plastic worms and pig and jig combinations along the shoreline, and spinnerbaits in white or chartreuse are good choices for bass.

There are walleye here too, and fair fishing for crappie and bluegill. The crappie, as always, can be found near shoreline brush piles and fallen trees in spring, and while they'll average only eight inches or so, some of 12 inches, even more turn up to anglers working the wood with bobbers and minnows. Fishing for channel cats can be excellent at night for those who tight line the bottom with nightcrawlers, cutbait, and fishy smelling commercial offerings.

There are muskie here too, not many, but trophy class, and in fact, the state record tiger muskie came from these waters in 1984, a fish that lost its crown to a later catch at Turkeyfoot Lake. One point for boating anglers to remember is that action for walleye, bass, and muskies is often best at night. The lake can become very roiled with powerboats crisscrossing its length, but at night the waters calm and fish come out to feed, often very near the shoreline.

There are other things to do at West Branch, and camping is just one of them. The campground, usually a busy place, offers 29 full service sites, 155 sites with electrical hookups, and 14 non-electric sites. There are also heated showers, flush toilets, laundry facilities, and a trailer dump station, all (nearly) of the comforts of home, and some campsites at lakeside offer boating access.

Hiking boaters will love this lake, especially those who like to escape busy once in a while and find quiet. There are more than 12 miles of hiking trails in the park along with a portion of the Buckeye Trail that passes through its acreage and is linked to the campground by a two-mile spur. One good walk is along the south side of the reservoir. There's little traffic here, but pretty woodlands of beech, maple, and pine, and nice vistas of the lake.

In spring, hikers will find myriads of lovely flowers along the trails, from trilliums to Dutchman's breeches and bloodroot. They might also catch glimpses of red fox, squirrel, rabbits, wild turkey and deer, as well as woodland birds and shoreline waterfowl. A good place for those with a naturalist bent.

Those that like to branch out will find that the West Branch area was once scoured with glaciers, and as huge blocks of ice broke free and melted, kettle lakes were formed. Eventually, these little lakes filled with sediment leaving boggy wetlands with unique assemblages of plants like buttonbush, alder, skunk cabbage, and swamp white oak.

Boaters who like an occasional session of mountain biking will enjoy this lively spot, too. Mountain biking is permitted on trails in the snowmobile area, and after leaving the parking area and riding up to cable line road, there are six loops that provide about eight miles of single and double track. As one biker said, "It's good biking here, hilly with some mud and obstacles. I like it fine."

A lot of material for Ohio history books came from this area, much of it associated with Indians and early settlers. Indians named the Mahoning River here, calling it mahonick, which means "at the salt lick", and at the west end of the park is a crossroads known as Campbellsport, named for Captain John Campbell who mustered militia for the War of 1812.

There's more to do around this rich area too, like making a visit to Tinker's Creek State Park and state nature preserve northwest of Streetsboro. During the spring migration, the marsh provides food and shelter for thousands of waterfowl. And don't forget Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park northeast of Ravenna where winding foot trails meander around, under, and between spectacular rock formations.

It's a good place for boaters who like plenty to do, and information is waiting at the ODNR website, at the park office (330-296-3239), and at the campground for camping reservations (1-866-644-6727). The next months will be

Hot Commodity: Waterside Real Estate

By Jill Jentes Banicki,
Ohio Sea Grant Communications

You may not think water clarity could be something to list as a home asset, but if you’re a Lake Erie shoreline property owner, you may want to think again. New Ohio Sea Grant research by Drs. Elena Irwin and Tim Haab of Ohio State University finds that cleaner shoreline water can bring higher re- turns when selling a waterfront property on Lake Erie.

Like much of the waterfront property around the country, the demand for shoreline property bordering Lake Erie’s eight Ohio counties has skyrocketed over the past 20 years. Residential development across the 27-mile stretch of shoreline has grown considerably, with amenity-packed counties like the Port Clinton area’s Ottawa County increasing its urban shoreline areas even more.
As with most things, a growing demand sparks higher prices, and waterfront properties around Lake Erie are no exception, with average home prices in many areas starting at $500,000.

But could environmental amenities like clear lake water and nearby beaches have contributed to those housing prices being higher? Irwin’s research finds they do.
“We knew from previous work that lake amenities like clean beaches, recreational amenities, and clear water are valued by individuals, however, we wanted to see if such amenities could actually influence housing prices around the Lake and if so, by how much,” states Irwin.

To do this, Irwin and Haab worked with graduate student Shihomi Ara to collect historical housing information from four predominantly-residential Lake counties, as well as data on the water quality associated with Lake Erie beaches.

“People view houses not as one good, but as a bundle of goods—house size, number of bathrooms, school district, and proximity to retail are a few of the factors that potential buyers evaluate when purchasing a home,” explains Irwin. “We wanted to add an environmental variable like water quality as one of those goods and compare it with the more traditional home amenities.”

Using two variables to define water quality, Irwin, Haab and Ara examined (1) fecal coliform bacteria data to average water quality over time and (2) secchi disk depth readings to average water clarity. They compared the bacteria and water clarity averages associated with the closest beach for each house and tested whether changes in these environmental variables had any impact on property values.

What they found was when water clarity and quality increased, so did property values. But the amount changed drastically depending on which—water quality or water clarity—you were evaluating.

“When bacterial counts in the water decreased to below beach advisory levels (200 bacteria counts per 100 milliliters) in one of our hypothetical scenarios, the price of an average home increased by 0.1 percent,” explains Irwin.

“However, when water clarity (how far you can see into the water) increased to two meters, the price of that home increased considerably more, to between four to five percent.”

These increases in property values, Irwin points out, tell us that homeowners value both clear and clean Lake Erie water. “But that five percent gain shows us that water clarity matters more,” says Irwin.

Just how much more? Irwin compared increased water clarity to other home amenities such as home square footage, number of bathrooms, and school district ranking. What she discovered was that increasing the water clarity to two meters was the dollar equivalent to having that house in a better school district.

Proximity to a beach also added value to waterfront property. A house that is 10 miles closer to a beach would sell for an average of $11,880 more than the identical house located farther away. That $11,000+ gain is equivalent to the resale value of adding a fireplace.

“It’s important to remember that these numbers are higher-end estimates because they assume no market changes. Nonetheless, this research shows that there is a direct link to environmental amenities and increased economic value—if we increase the Lake’s water quality or if a house is close to a beach, property owners can profit by a specific dollar amount,” says Irwin.

The hope is for policy makers and elected officials to try to strike a balance between economic growth and conservation management. “Cleaner, clearer water is a long-term managerial goal but we hope this data will show policymakers that there is a large dollar benefit (to their waterfront property owners) to make it a priority,” concludes Irwin.

Irwin, Haab, and Ara plan to expand on their research later this year by establishing exact benefits to water quality changes and estimating how other variables like beach advisories may affect housing values.

For more information about this Ohio Sea Grant funded project, contact Dr. Elena Irwin at 614.292.6449 or irwin.78@osu.edu.

Reprinted with permission from Summer/Fall 2006 issue (vol 28, no 3/4) of Twine Line, Ohio Sea Grant's newsletter.

Springtime is a great time for perch

By Richard Martin

Big boats are great recreation vehicles. They're fine for long, leisurely cruises along Lake Erie, to visit islands and swim where few have swam before, and equally good for small, friendly parties, for water skiing, and similar sports. But they're prime vehicles for a little occasional fishing too, and a few hours with a rod can mean a substantial pile of golden brown perch fillets, perhaps washed down with a light Merlot or Chablis. All you have to do is catch the makings.

Veteran boaters who have plied the waters of Lake Erie for long years and know the feel of a rod in their hand need little advice on how to catch yellow perch. But too many make a spot decision, head out of the marina and drop their anchor anywhere on the theory that "One place is as good as another." It isn't. Perch are a schooling species, and while you might have literally hundreds here, bottom just 50 yards away may be barren of more than a few gobies. So, your first job is to fire up the fish finder and go looking for them.

In the Western Basin there are innumerable places to look. Around Cedar Point, off the Huron Pier, near the Marblehead shore, on the deep side of Starve Island, near almost any shore on Kelleys Island, and plenty of other spots around South, Middle, and North Bass Islands. The Central Basin is more featureless and lacks islands or much shore structure, but I've made some great catches off Lorain, which is more or less Central Basin, and in waters off Lake County and elsewhere. The schools are more scattered here and deeper, but fish often run larger in average size.

One simple way to find good perching without much looking is to check with local bait shops and ask the usual "Where are they hitting?" That can narrow down the possibilities. Another choice is to head out and look for clusters of boats. Check them with binoculars and make sure rods are bent here and there and perch coming aboard, then anchor and fish near the pod. But remember that perch move. The school (s) down there are feeding on anything from insect larvae to minnows and crayfish, and once the food is gone, they go elsewhere.

So, staying in one spot long after the fish have quit biting is no way to fill a cooler. Give any spot 15 minutes maximum, and if little happens, try elsewhere. Most larger boats have a fish finder as a matter of course, but if yours doesn't and winds are light, try wind drifting with a colorful float, 50 feet of line, and a several ounce sinker close at hand. Drift until you catch a perch or two, toss the marker over, then circle and anchor. If you start pullingin fish, fine. f not, move again.

There are little tricks that can improve fishing when perch are definitely down there, but temperamental and slow to bite. I fished with an old timer and several friends in Lake County a couple of years ago, and while the screen showed a nice school, we were catching little. "Get the dead minnows out of the bucket", our captain said. "Put about 6-8 on each hook, let them down to bottom and jerk hard. Let's see if a lot of free food won't get them on the feed." It did.

I suspect that 80 percent or better of all boaters do their perch fishing with spreaders, two wire arms with hooks hanging from each and a sinker in the middle on a short line. When perch are biting hard and with enthusiasm, spreaders work fine, but when they're being delicate and picky, a fish will often gently tug a minnow off the hook and the wire spreaders give no indication of a bite.

I far prefer using a "crappie rig", which is two No. 6 snelled hooks about a foot apart above a one ounce sinker with the lower hook just a few inches off bottom. The lines hang almost straight down, so the slightest nibble registers instantly, and with the weight on lines end, an occasional short up and down rod movement will keep you tapping bottom occasionally, making sure the baits are down there where they're supposed to be.
The bottom hook will take the near bottom feeders while the one above will catch those suspended a little. A spreader won't do that since both hooks are at the same depth, and if you're drift fishing and the bottom is uneven, it's easy for a spreader to be dragging mud first, then fishing several feet too high second. Still, whatever your choice of gear, perch aren't too choosy and if you're in the right place, at least a fair number should hit the cooler before long. Then it's time to make a few phone calls, invite some friends over, and have a great dinner and evening.


COMMON NAMES: Yellow perch, Lake perch, Ringed perch

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Perca flavescens

IDENTIFICATION: Sides are golden yellow to brassy green with six to eight dark vertical saddles with a white to yellow belly. Yellow perch have many small teeth, but no large canines.

RANGE AND HABITAT: The yellow perch is native to Ohio and is found in lakes, impoundments, ponds, and slow moving rivers. It prefers clear water with moderate vegetation and lots of sand or gravel bottoms.

LIFE HISTORY: Yellow perch spawn from mid-April to early May by depositing their eggs over vegetation or the water bottom, with no care given. The eggs are laid in large gelatinous adhesive masses. Adults feed on aquatic insects, larger invertebrates, and fishes.

ADULT SIZE: Yellow perch range from 1 ounce to 1 pound with some fish known to exceed 2 pounds. Rarely are they longer than 12 inches in length.

FISHING METHODS: Yellow perch can be caught with minnows, shiners, worms or cut bait fished near the bottom. Good angling occurs in spring near shore and during fall. Ice fishing often produces the best catches.

Summertime Great For Smallmouths

By Richard Martin
It's a little amazing sometimes that fertile Lake Erie has so many species of fish waiting for boating anglers. There are plenty of walleye, much smaller numbers of yellow perch this year, and a fine mixed bag of steelhead, channel cats, white bass, white perch, sheepshead, and did I forget? Very good numbers of smallmouth bass. That's great, because the golden brown, red-eyed bronzebacks are vicious fighters, high leapers, and bulldog specialists that will test an anglers skill and tackle to the limit. They’re a fish worth going after.
Smallmouth bass are found literally coast-to-coast along Lake Erie, and they're extremely plentiful around the Bass Islands who drew their name from these game fish. But while you can catch some at Conneaut, Ashtabula, Cleveland, and elsewhere, it's in the Western Basin that the colorful fish is king. And while they'll bite all summer and fall, the next month or two is prime time to catch some.
It's important to remember that these bass have a closed season from May 1 through June 25 because they're spawning then, and they have a 14-inch and five fish limit at other times. So, while you can fish for bass during the closed season, all of those caught must be returned to the lake. Many boating anglers love to seek spawning smallmouths because catches of 15 to 30 or more are easy to come by and it's exciting fishing. Others refuse to fish for them when they're on the spawning beds and wait impatiently for June 26. It's a suit yourself choice.
Those who like to cast for early June smallies will find them in shallow water at this time. These fish love rocky shores and sometimes move into only 3-4 feet of water to fan out a nest. Once nest activities are finished, they'll wait for a female who deposits 2,000-15,000 eggs, fertilize them, and stand guard against marauding carp, suckers, gobies, and other egg lovers. To catch such fish, many boaters like to work shorelines along Marblehead, in Sandusky Bay, Huron, Vermillion, and Catawba Island, floating along quietly and casting nearly to dry land.
Tube jigs are always good, especially in chartreuse, for nesting bass, and some like to work black or brown quarter to half-ounce jigs with twister tails in the same areas. Very small spinnerbaits can produce, again in white or chartreuse, and miniature crankbaits, especially those that are brown, wiggle madly, and imitate crayfish, can produce.
It isn't even necessary to launch your boat to connect to some fighting bass. Many an angler will walk along the riprap shorelines of marinas and rocky shorelines where they have access and cast the same lures, working the shores with parallel casts, starting deeper and working shallow. But remember, it's vitally important that landed fish be released as close to their nest as possible, kept in the water as much as possible, and not fought to exhaustion.
Once the open season begins, boaters can keep some bass or not as they wish. They're not bad eating, though substandard to walleye and perch, and if kept on ice are fairly palatable. But personally, the only bass I keep on the big lake are those that are throat hooked, bleeding, and likely to die. Such fine game fish, in my opinion, should be released to fight again.
Anglers need to remember that these later season fish are usually well off the spawning beds and in deeper water now. Again, tube jigs fished around small reefs and upcrops are going to produce, especially if your fish finder shows blips over and around its margins. If you're on the water at first light, bass are likely to be right in against shoreline rocks foraging for leeches, minnows, and crayfish.
Many a time I've worked the Kelleys Island shoreline near the state park and caught a dozen to fifteen fish of up to four pounds. Or cast around the inside curve of Put-in-Bay harbor and done the same. Or worked the Marblehead shoreline for a few fun hours. But as a morning progresses, most bass move into deeper water and, again, stage around reefs and in deeper holes.
You can still do well on jigs, but if they're being temperamental, a better choice can be a bottom bumping Lindy rig with a lip hooked minnow. I once fished a hole off Ruggles Beach and caught over 50 nice bass on emerald shiners. That was a good day. Leeches are a wonderful smallmouth bait too, when you can find them, and a soft craw or even a hard shelled crayfish fished along the bottom can produce.
Come evening, the pattern reverses itself with many bass swimming back to shallow water for a late evening or after dark snack. So, switch back to jigs, spinners and crankbaits again and ring the evening dinner bell. It isn't rocket science, but smallmouth fishing is lots of fun. Give it a try this summer.


COMMON NAMES: Smallmouth bass, Brown bass, Brownie, Smallie

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Micropterus dolomieu

IDENTIFICATION: Smallmouth bass look very similar to largemouth bass and spotted bass. The distinguishing characteristic is the mouth. When closed, the mouth does not extend beyond the rear border of the eye. Color varies from yellow-green to olive-green with a bronze reflection. The sides are faintly barred.

RANGE AND HABITAT: Smallmouth bass are native to Ohio and are found in every county of the state. This species thrives in streams with gravel or rock bottoms with a visible current. Smallmouth also do well in the reef areas and rocky shorelines of Lake Erie, especially in the islands area near Sandusky Bay.

LIFE HISTORY: Smallmouth bass spawn in May and early June when water temperatures range from 55 to 65 ° F. Nests are built in gravel or hard bottom substrates in 2 to 20 feet of water. The female lays between 2,000 to 15,000 eggs. The male guards the nest and the fry for a short time. Young smallmouth feed on zooplankton and midge larvae. Adults feed on aquatic insects, crayfish, and suitable sized fish.

ADULT SIZE: Average smallmouth bass are between 1 to 2 pounds, and range from 12 to 15 inches in length. The state record smallmouth bass weighed 9 pounds and 8 ounces.

FISHING METHODS: Fly fishing, baitcasting, and spincasting are popular means of catching smallmouth bass. Live-bait anglers have good success in streams using hellgrammites, soft craws and minnows. During May, many smallmouth bass are caught in small tributary streams. The Bass Islands area of Lake Erie is one of the best smallmouth bass fishing spots in the Midwest. The best time to fish there is late spring and late summer. Emerald shiners, small crayfish, and a variety of artificial lures produce good results when fished over reefs, sandbars or gravel bars in 2 to 10 feet of water.

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