The state of Ohio will likely always be more well-known for their Hall of Fame’s than their fly fishing. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, National Aviation Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame bring thousands of tourists to the state every year. This isn’t bad news for the fly anglers in the state! It means more freedom and room on the water for us.
The rivers and creeks in Ohio are more productive than you would think. Northern Ohio’s proximity to Lake Eerie gives anglers a chance to land some impressive brown, rainbow and brook trout. With over 5,000 lakes and around 60 rivers, you have ample opportunity to land good fish. With a bit of creativity and hard work, you’ll find yourself fishing some beautiful water and landing quite a few fish.
Best Places to Fly Fish in Ohio
1. Mad River
It’s no secret that the Mad River in Ohio is the most trout friendly water in all of Ohio. It’s located in the Western part of the state and flows into the Great Miami River near Dayton. It’s head waters are near Bellefontaine. Mad River is Ohio’s largest cold water fishery in the state and is spring fed so the water stays at a solid temperature all year.
In the Mad River, you’ll actually find native Brook Trout and a nice population of Brown Trout. The fish are healthy and show a nice amount of repopulation each year. Water levels definitely fluctuate quite a bit so beware of the conditions before you make a visit. Landing these fish in low and clear conditions isn’t easy so give yourself plenty of time!
Where to Fly Fish on the Mad River
If you’re looking for a river with quality access, you’ll find it on the Mad River. The most access points in the solid trout water is going to be up north of Springfield to Bellefountaine. If you follow roads #36 and #55, you’ll find several nice access points. Make sure to visit the Pimtown and Farm Market access points.
If you find a lower water day, you can feel free to wade your way through the stream. Fish your way up or down the stream and you should find plenty of holes and fishable water. Again, it can take some extra patience on your end, but you’ll struggle to find better trout fishing in Ohio.
Recommended Flies for the Mad River
Blue-Winged Olive and Trico Nymphs are extremely popular patterns in the Mad River. Also, you can use Green Sedges, Caddis and Little Black Stoneflies. There is plenty of insect life on this river.
- Blue Winged Olive, size 16
- BH Scud, size 16
- Cinnamon Caddis, size 18
2. Clear Fork Branch of Mohican River
The Clear Fork River is another spring fed portion of water that can keep fish healthy all year long. These portions of rivers can be great yet frustrating. Since there aren’t many of them throughout Ohio, they can get pressured, but the Clear Fork Branch usually has plenty of room for all anglers.
You’ll find healthy populations of rainbow and brown trout in this river. You’ll also find a nice number of bass, crappie, bluegill, carp and saugeye. If you’re fortunate, you’ll have a chance to land a Muskie! Landing one of these on a fly rod is an experience of a lifetime. You’ll find cut banks and pocket water throughout the Clear Fork Branch. Fish will eat everything from dry flies to streamers to nymphs. Bring along your 4 or 5-weight and you should have plenty of power for the trout.
Where to Fish on the Clear Fork Branch of the Mohican River
You’ll find that there is some private water on this stretch of water, but you still have plenty of public access. If you find the bridges near Butler-Bellville, you can park near them and hop in the water here.
Also, the water near Wade & Gatton Nursery is public and if you’re bold enough, you can ask some of the private landowners for permission to fish their land. It’s not uncommon for these landowners to give you permission as long as you appear to be caring and considerate! Access to those private waters make for a phenomenal fishing excursion.
Recommended Flies for the Clear Fork Branch of the Mohican River
Similar to many of the other rivers in Ohio, you’ll have massive populations of Blue-winged Olives, Black Caddis and a variety of other Midge patterns.
- Blue-winged Olives in size 20
- Black Caddis in size 16
- Sulphur in size 12
3. Little Miami River
If you’re looking for a different type of fly fishing, then be sure to spend some time on the Little Miami River. This stream is located near Fort Thomas and is home to a very healthy Smallmouth Bass population. If you’ve never targeted these fish in moving water, then you need to give it a try! They provide a wonderful fight and always hit your flies with a massive amount of power. You can also land Largemouth Bass, Sauger, White Bass, Walleye and Rock Bass.
If you want to float or wade this water, you can. There’s going to be plenty of deep water, but Smallmouth Bass will also sit in some of the shallower water. The Little Miami water temperatures and levels often fluctuate. It is a warm water habitat so you never know what kind of fish you’ll find! Give it a try on your next trip to Ohio.
Where to Fish on the Little Miami River
If you’re looking for public access points on the Little Miami River, you won’t have to go far to locate them. The river is 111-miles long so you have plenty of areas to travel if you are looking for a full-day excursion. There are numerous access points available for anglers to choose from depending on your location.
Morgan’s Canoe Launch or the area at Morrow are both places to drop in a canoe or fish from the launch. The water can be shallow, but you’ll still find plenty of fish. State Route 725 also has several access points along it! It’s about six miles north of Waynesville.
Recommended Flies for the Little Miami River
Since the Little Miami River is a warm water habitat, your best bet for flies is anything that may resemble common prey!
- Popper in size 10
- Crayfish in size 12
- Woolly Bugger in size 8
- Clouser Minnow in size 4
4. Ashtabula River
If you’re looking for some true Great Lakes fishing, then make sure you visit the Ashtabula River. The river flows into Lake Eerie. The Little Manistee Steelhead spawn happens during the spring! Be sure to take advantage of this opportunity! There aren’t many Steelhead runs in Ohio, so it’s best to take advantage of it when you can. Bring along your 6 or 7-weight and a fair share of Egg Patterns and Hex Nymphs. These should give you a great chance to land some of these fish.
When the Steelhead are not running, you do have a chance at landing trout. Fish for these throughout the fall and spring.
Guide Recommended Tip: Gets some clues for hooking into steelhead with my article: How to Fly Fish for Steelhead in Small Streams
5. Grand River
The Grand River is another Lake Erie tributary. It’s around 50 miles long and the majority of the water is very fishable. You’ll also receive some of the Little Manistee Steelhead that run throughout the spring. It’s not uncommon for Pennsylvania Steelhead to run during the fall. Basically, from October to May you have chances to land Steelhead. People will pressure the Grand River quite a bit so keep that in mind as you’re fishing.
Bring your 6 or 7-weight for these fish! They’re fairly unpredictable and strong so you want to be as prepared as possible. Egg patterns and Woolly Buggers will give you a chance at landing some of these fish.
6. Conneaut Creek
Conneaut Creek is known as Steelhead Alley. Steelhead in this creek will run 75 miles from the mouth along Lake Erie. It’s one of the clearest streams in all of Ohio. It has a shale and gravel bottom and there’s very little sediment that can get stirred up after heavy rains. It was designated as a State Wild and Scenic River in 2005.
Some of this creek runs through urban areas, but the majority of it runs through rural landscapes and valleys. Many anglers will avoid the urban areas and choose to stay in some of the more wooded and desolate portions of the creek. It’s not a bad idea to fish in more urban areas. You’ll find that they can be equally as successful.
You wouldn’t expect this type of water in Ohio, but any water that flows in or out of the Great Lakes has a chance to produce some wonderful fishing opportunities. Give Steelhead Alley a test drive on your next trip to Ohio.
7. Chagrin River
The Chagrin River is one of five Lake Erie tributaries that are stocked by the Ohio DNR. The Chagrin River has a nice population of Little Manistee Steelhead. The Chagrin River is one of the more accessible Lake Erie tributaries. The Cleveland Metroparks’ North Chagrin Reservation is a 2000-acre park that contains around seven miles of the Chagrin River. The river is fairly wide, has riffles and quite a few gravel runs. These are ideal conditions for Steelhead.
Guide Recommended Tip: The Ohio Department of Natural Resources provides an AWESOME map of access point on the Chagrin River. Get the PDF – HERE
There are quite a few rock walls that hold fish. These rock walls have deep water along the sides so you want to be sure to not miss any of these portions of the river if at all possible. Bring along your egg patterns and fish them below an indicator so you don’t miss any stripes.
8. Rocky River
The Rocky River is one of the other five tributaries that flow out of Lake Eerie containing Steelhead. This River flows right near downtown Cleveland. It’s not a body of water that many people would consider to be ideal Steelhead water. The location alone would make people not even consider it! However, it’s far more productive than you would ever think.
There is quite a bit of deep water throughout this river that can hold a surprising amount of Steelhead. Plus, you’ll still find that the bottom of the river is shale, rock, silt and mud. Cleveland Metroparks also owns quite a bit of this water so you’re going to have ample access as you look to land Steelhead. Plus, you’ll find that it’s pretty easy to maneuver and the casting lanes are fairly open.
If you’re looking for a more manageable body of water, then visit the Rocky River. It’s a great place to learn the tendencies of Steelhead and likely hook into a couple.
9. Vermillion River
The Vermillion River is a 60-mile-long tributary out of Lake Eerie that holds a high number of Steelhead. It’s a Wild and Scenic River that continues to produce healthy fish year after year without much involvement from the DNR. The red clay surrounding the stream can muddy up the water after a rain so keep this in mind before you decide to fish it.
The nice thing about the Vermillion River is that it’s fairly remote. It’s heavily wooded and you’ll likely have to hike to get to some of the more successful water. You can swing your flies through the deeper holding water and give yourself a chance to land an impressive Steelhead. Bring egg patterns as well as Stonefly Nymphs when you’re chasing fish on Vermillion River. These will be the most successful patterns.
The Steelhead run in the fall.
10. Apple Creek
Apple Creek is a small freestone stream that is spring fed. The water stays at the right temperature year-round so you can land trout whenever you want to target them. The creek is stocked every year with about 1000 rainbow and brown trout ranging from 12-15 inches. Bring along your Adams, Pheasant Tail Nymphs, Prince Nymphs and Black Woolly Buggers when you’re targeting the fish in this creek.
About a mile section of this creek flows through Grosjean Park in Wooster. It’s a great section of creek to fish because it’s been largely undisturbed and holds quite a few fish. Bring along wading boots and you’ll have access to the entire body of water. Also, keep in mind that Apple Creek is catch and release.
11. Lower Cuyahoga River
The Lower Cuyahoga is a great tributary of Lake Eerie that continues to produce a nice amount of Steelhead each year. The water in this river actually caught fire over a dozen times and this inspired the Clean Water Act in the 1960’s. Obviously, the water quality has improved since then. Bring along your 6 or 7-weight rod and some streamers and you’ll have a nice chance at landing a fall-run Steelhead.
Recommended Gear for Fly Fishing in Ohio
If you’re targeting trout in Ohio, then you’re going to need a 4 or 5-weight rod. The trout in Ohio aren’t necessarily massive, but they do have some nice size. The majority of fish are going to be somewhere between 10 and 18 inches. A 4 or 5-weight rod is plenty for these fish. Floating line and 2 or 3x leader are going to help when you’re targeting these fish. Bring along 3 or 4x tippet if you’re using dry flies or nymphs.
Guide Recommended Tip: You’ve got to read this article – 17 Favorite Steelhead Flies. It’s packed full of flies that just flat out catch steel.
If you’re targeting bass, bring along a 5 or 6-weight rod with floating line and 0x tippet. This will give you plenty of power to land these fish. They’ll put up plenty of fight, but you definitely have the power necessary to land them.
Finally, if you’re going after Steelhead then you’ll want to use a 6 or 7-weight rod with sink tip line. Steelhead often feed near the bottom so you want to get as low as you can in the water column.
It’s also going to help if you have waders and wading boots! The weather throughout the spring and fall isn’t always ideal so waders will keep you dry both on and off the water. Bring along your Woolly Buggers, Caddis patterns and Midge patterns. There is a great amount of insect life in Ohio.
Official References for Fly Fishing in Ohio
For more information about fly fishing in Ohio, be sure to visit the Ohio fishing DNR page. It’ll provide you with stocking information, access points and tips and tricks for landing fish throughout Ohio. https://ohiodnr.gov/wps/portal/gov/odnr/go-and-do/outdoor/fishing
Some of the popular fly fishing clubs in Ohio are:
- Briarwood Sporting Club – https://www.briarwoodclub.com/
- Sunny Brook Trout Club
- The guys at BUFF, Buckeye United Fly Fishers have an amazing club. Check them out at this link – http://buckeyeflyfishers.com/buffsql/index.asp
- Rockwell Springs Trout Club
Popular Fly Shops in Ohio
Some popular fly shops in Ohio are:
- Mad River Outfitters- https://www.madriveroutfitters.com/
- Chagrin River Outfitters- https://www.chagrinriveroutfitters.com/site/homepage/index.html
- Wildwood Anglers- https://www.wildwoodanglers.com
Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels