Best Places to Fly Fish in Ohio

Mad River

The Mad River, a spring creek, flows from north of West Liberty down through Springfield in eastern Ohio. It has provided excellent trout fishing for many years.

mad river ohio
mad river ohio

It received its first stocking of brook trout in the late-1800s and was stocked with rainbows beginning in 1884. The Division of Wildlife started its own program in 1931 and continued adding rainbows until 1984, when it turned to stocking only brown trout. The Division annually stocks 10,000 to 15,000 browns in the 6- to 8-inch range. Some of the Mad River browns have grown huge. Such fish don’t come easy, though.

Like the Clear Fork, the Mad starts as a shallow, brawling stream. Its beginning north of the town of West Liberty, is a fine place to fish. Fly shops carry maps of the river and can pinpoint places to drift a fly. As usual, gaining landowner permission is the best way to access the water. The fishing can be good in this stretch of winding, swirling, pool-and-riffle broken water.

The Mad River has sustained trout for 100 years, but the Clear Fork of the Mohican River (above) is one of Ohio’s newest trout waters with healthy populations of stocked brown and rainbow trout and predictable hatches.

During one visit to this northern section of the Mad, I landed nearly 30 brown trout in an afternoon. Most of them were 6- to 8-inch fish that chased a Hare’s Ear like half-starved puppies, but a streamer produced several 10- to 11-inch trout, which made for a good day by Ohio standards.

Below West Liberty, the Mad runs straight in many areas, often with high banks and some evidence of channelization. Those banks are often brushy, with farm fields reaching almost to the shoreline brush. The stream there averages about 30 to 40 feet in width and has a modest number of pools and riffles, but many more of the long, smooth runs that browns favor for feeding. Like the Clear Fork, there’s plenty for the trout to eat.

Farm runoff also makes the Mad fertile. Veteran anglers like Ron Thompson of Shelby, who’s fished the river since the late 1960s, favors caddis imitations over other offerings. “The Mad is full of caddisflies,” he says, “so many that I seldom use anything else. Anything that matches a caddis, or for that matter, any small brown nondescript fly, will take fish.”

The river’s primary mayfly hatches include Hendricksons and Blue-winged Olives in early spring (BWOs reappear in September and continue into November); Sulphurs, Light Cahills, March Browns, Little Dark Olives, and Brown Drakes in summer; and Tricos starting in July and continuing into winter. There are also terrestrials, minnows, and a few crayfish. Streamers work well, especially for large browns.

Some of the best places to try this river are along Pimtown Road south of West Liberty and where Route 29 crosses the river near Urbana. Both areas have public access. Otherwise, choose any road that crosses the river and ask the landowners for permission to fish.

Fishing at night provides an opportunity to catch trophy browns. As in other places, the large fish tend to feed after dark, and any pool that’s deep and has a little brush or a downed log for a hiding place could hold a lunker. Night fishing is tough and tricky. Work the water during the day until you become familiar with it before trying an after-dark venture. A large (#10 to #12) surface offering or a #10 or #12 streamer worked in the gloaming can produce serious browns. It’s worth trying.

Brian Flechsig of Mad River Outfitters has written a book, Fly Fisher’s Guide to the Mad River, that incudes stream information, maps, hatch charts, and more. His shop is located between the Clear Fork and the Mad in Columbus, and he can help you get started on both rivers.

Clear Fork

Ohio has always been a trout-poor state, and Buckeye fly fishers have traditionally gone to Michigan and Pennsylvania or devoted their efforts to bass and panfish. Recently, however, that has changed. Now Ohio has two good trout streams and several Lake Erie tributaries that hold steelhead from fall through spring.

clear fork river
clear fork river

The most recent addition to Ohio’s trout waters came in 1992 when the Division of Wildlife stocked brown trout in the Clear Fork Branch of the Mohican River and two of its tributaries, Cedar Fork and Pine Run. The Clear Fork has long been suspected capable of holding trout. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, private fly-fishing clubs put rainbows into the stream more than once. The trout survived for several years, and their success was reported to the Division of Wildlife, which began serious studies of the Clear Fork’s temperature, habitat, prey availability, and accessibility to anglers.

In the fall of 1992 the Division of Wildlife stocked 19,200 brown trout measuring 6 to 8 inches and 2,850 browns measuring 31/2 to 71/2 inches. In the fall of 1994 another 10,000 young trout were added to the river and its tributaries. Those fish continue to thrive. Studies show excellent growth rates, and some browns now measure more than 15 inches. Angler catch rates continue to be good to excellent.

The stockings were made from the town of Lexington–south of Mansfield (a city with lodging and restaurants)–downstream to where the Clear Fork enters the main branch of the Mohican River, and every section of stream now has a resident population of browns.

The Clear Fork is divided into two sections. Both offer good fishing. The upper section starts at the eastern end of Clear Fork Reservoir above Lexington and meanders east through Bellville and Butler until it enters Pleasant Hill Lake. The lower section, a tailwater, leaves the lake and makes its way through Mohican State Park before entering the Mohican River in Loudonville.


Anglers who like small-stream fishing should concentrate their efforts in the upper section near Lexington where the river flows through farmland, pastures, woodlots, and overhanging shoreline timber. It’s small water with plenty of pools and riffles to supplement long, smooth runs. While some holes are deep, nearly all of this long section can be waded with hip boots.

The browns in this stretch spend most of their time in the deep pools, coming out to feed early and late in the day along pool fringes, and at the base of riffles where waters roil and where they can lie behind stones to await whatever the current brings. During the day the quiet runs can be productive, especially when a hatch occurs, so this segment adds up to a challenge as intriguing as working the waters of Pennsylvania’s Broken Straw or Michigan’s upper Oscoda.

Another productive stretch is just downstream from Bellville to the town of Butler in Richland County. This area is designated artificials-only with a creel limit of one trout, 10-inch minimum. Along this upper section, anglers can gain access by parking at bridge crossings (a county map can help you find them) and asking landowners for permission to fish. The Cedar Fork tributary enters just above Bellville.

Father downstream on the Clear Fork, the water is wider, though rarely more than 40 feet across, and riffles and stretches of broken water become less common.

Richard Martin Photo The Mad River and the Clear Fork (above) have excellent mayfly and caddisfly populations as well as an abundance of terrestrials and baitfish. Streamers and nymphs work well during colder months.


Below Pleasant Hill Lake, the river is a tailwater and mostly smooth water. It could benefit from the addition of gabions, though a few stretches have pools and riffles with excellent fishing.

This section winds through Mohican State Park, and the stretch starting at the covered bridge at the park’s Class B Campground downstream to the main Class A Campground just south of Loudonville is an excellent place for visitors to start. Pine Run, a tributary worth exploring, enters the Clear Fork in the park.

Most of the Clear Fork and its two tributaries are under general state regulations–no minimum size limit and a creel limit of five fish. Check with local fly shops or the Division of Wildlife for up-to-date regulations.


Since the Clear Fork flows over mostly sedimentary rock bottom, the stream should be relatively sterile, but it’s not. The stream winds through farmland and forest, and runoff from farm fertilizers produce a rich stream life. Chubs, small suckers, and minnow species contribute to rapid trout growth.

Caddisflies and small mayflies are plentiful as are ants, grasshoppers, and other terrestrials, but most fly fishers favor caddis imitations above all others. Good choices range from Hare’s Ears to Zug Bugs and various nondescript #16 patterns in olive, black, and green.

Streamer flies are sure producers, too. I favor small (#10 to #12) white marabou patterns with a neck wrapping of red thread, or small brown squirrel-tail patterns. Streamers can produce trout after trout when no obvious hatches are coming off. They work especially well in early spring, late fall, and early winter.


The Clear Fork and the Mad are Ohio’s two major trout streams, but it’s worth mentioning that a few Lake Erie tributaries produce dandy steelhead from late fall to mid-March. Big trout of six to over ten pounds turn up in the Chagrin River, Rocky Fork, Conneaut Creek, Vermilion River, and other streams on both sides of Cleveland. Fly fishers do well with yarn flies and other standard steelhead patterns.

Overview of Ohio Steelhead Fishing in Ohio Tributaries

Ohio tributaries offer excellent opportunities to tangle with steelhead averaging six to eight pounds, and topping out close to twenty. Ohio steelhead begin to show up in numbers in the tributary streams in late October, and fish can continue to run well into May, weather being the deciding factor. Lake Erie tributaries depend upon precipitation to maintain flows, with periods of high-water triggering fish movements. These streams are mainly slate and shale bottomed with limited gravel areas, and lack cold water feeders to maintain temperatures and flows through the summer.

Natural reproduction is virtually nonexistent, so the Ohio Division of Wildlife obtains Little Manistee (Michigan) fertilized eggs and raises them to smolts. These wild-strain fish have adapted well to Ohio waters, and exhibit high growth and return rates. Approximately 250,000 smolts are stocked each spring, with four major tributaries receiving fish. The Chagrin and Rocky Rivers are true urban fisheries, with many fish caught within a half-hour of downtown Cleveland. The Grand River and Conneaut Creek are in less-developed areas, with portions being quite remote and requiring a bit of walking to access.

Although only the four major tributaries receive stockings, steelhead may be found in any waters entering Lake Erie east of Cleveland. Other streams worth exploring are Arcola Creek, Wheeler and Cowles Creeks, the Ashtabula River, and Turkey Creek. These waters are worth a look when the larger tributaries are unfishable in high water. The tributaries of the Grand River, including Big Creek, Kellogg Creek, and Paineland Mill Creek, also draw fish, especially in the spring.

Ohio steelhead will respond to the flies and techniques used elsewhere throughout the Great Lakes. I usually let time of year and water conditions determine my method of attack. Early-run fish will be aggressive in the higher water temperatures, and have a much greater tendency to respond to moving flies. Swinging or actively retrieving baitfish imitations or attractor patterns will produce many strikes. Floating lines and sink-tips may both be utilized.

After the leaf fall and a good rain to flush out organic matter, the streams change character. The water will “green up,” signaling the start of the prime winter steelheading which lasts until ice-up. The trick is to fish while the streams are dropping and clearing after high water. If a heavy freeze does not occur, fishing can be had throughout the winter.

When stream temperatures are dropping, dead-drifting flies becomes the most effective method of producing fish. I have found that a tandem rig, with an egg pattern and nymph, is deadly. This rig can be suspended under a large indicator, or tight-lined depending upon depth and water flow, and split shot is used to gain depth. This technique will produce at any time, but it’s best as water temperatures drop through the 40s and into the 30s.

Small glo-bugs, and a Pennsylvania creation called the sucker spawn fly, are favorite egg patterns. The sucker spawn pattern has been used in central Pennsylvania for years to catch early-season trout feeding on the roe from spawning suckers-and steelhead love it. Cream is the best color in clear conditions, with chartreuse, orange and pink getting the nod in stained water.

Generic nymph patterns are fine, as there is little natural insect life, and a variety of “buggy looking” patterns should be carried in sizes 10 to 16. Have a selection of colors, as the fish can become very color conscious. Bead-head versions of the Prince or Teeny nymph are effective, and simple black or brown stoneflies are consistent producers. With both eggs and nymphs, change color schemes frequently. Also, decrease fly size as the water clears.

In the warmer water following ice out, a number of fly patterns may produce on a given day. Wooly buggers and egg sucking leeches, both in black, are standard patterns, but purple is my favorite color. Egg patterns and nymphs also continue to work well-I’ve had good success with a variety of large nymphs like the Bitch Creek and girdle bug.

A long, mid-weight rod is ideal for both line control and fighting fish. A ten-footer for 7-weight is a good all-around choice. A weight-forward floating line will cover most situations, but a sink-tip will have occasional applications. Leaders tapering to 3X are a good place to start, but in high, colored waters, 2X may be needed. For dead-drifting and clearer water, leaders up to 10 or 12 feet may be needed, with tippet diameters down to 5X.

A steelhead reel should have a smooth drag to cushion light tippets and prevent small flies from pulling out, and should hold 50 to 100 yards of backing. I have become fond of large-arbor designs for quick line pick-up on active fish.

There is no closed season on Ohio’s Lake Erie tributaries, and peak times are generally the month of December, and from mid-March through April. Two fish can be killed, but most serious steelheaders practice catch and release.

Access to productive water is excellent as miles of rivers are under the control of both the Cleveland (440-234-9597) and Lake County (800-227-7275 ) Metroparks Systems, and maps showing fishing areas are available from both. The Ohio Central Basin Steelheaders has put together a detailed map of Rocky River, and it’s available by calling (440) 572-0400. The Ohio Gazetteer is also helpful for access.

The Ohio steelhead fishery allows anglers to hook large, lake-run fish on flies. Lake Erie tributaries may lack the scenic grandeur of the Northwest , but the fish are there and they are close to home. They are not stream-bred fish, but they do have wild blood. Best of all, they love to eat flies!

Productive Ohio Steelhead Flies

Recently we have been overwhelmed with numerous questions and requests for some of Northeast Ohio’s “Hot Fly Patterns” for Lake Erie Steelhead. So we thought about it long and hard, and we have decided to share the secrets of our success with you all. We have to say that these are the most effective for Lake Erie Steelhead and are proven to also be the most popular among most Steelheader’s as well. Some guy’s have their own secret version of these flies, and others we’ve never even seen before. The first Fly is one of our Favorite’s for Early Fall.

  • Black Bead Head Wooly Bugger: Fished in the Fall, this is a deadly Fly that will produce a strike or two. size’s 10,12, 14, 16
  • Clouser Minnow/Bleeding Minnow: Fished all year this is a Fly that will catch all species of fish, in fresh and salt water. Awesome smallmouth as well!
  • Bead Head Olive Wooly Bugger: Fished mainly in the early Fall, I’ve found myself using it in the winter as well, tipped w/maggots it’s irresistible!
  • White/Pink Sucker Spawn: This is perhaps one of the most productive of all Great Lakes flies for early Spring Steelhead period!
  • Gold Bead Hare’s Ear: This Fly I have used in Fl, Mo, Or, Ca, Wa, and even in Canada for spectacular results with Trout and Bass!


Ohio Fly Fishing Articles
About the Brookville Tailwaters
Several years ago I started fishing the Brookville tailwaters.
Akron-Area Largemouths
Ohio’s District Three fisheries biologists are working hard to create trophy-class bass waters for northeast-region anglers — and their program seems to be working.
Brookville Tailwaters overview
Buckeye Sportsman
Dan Armitage is the state’s best-known outdoor writer…
Buckeye United Fly Fishers Cininnati, Ohio
fly fishing resource for, fly tying, fly fishing trips, fly fishing news, warm water fishing, trout fishing, for Cincinnati Ohio and the midwest.
Central Ohio Fly Fishers
Chagrin River Access Points
Chagrin River Salmon Assoc.
Chagrin River’s dams are best for metalheads
Conneaut Creek
Conneaut Creek is a quality steelhead fishery flowing through Pennsylvania and eventually into Lake Erie in Conneaut, Ohio.
Conneaut Creek Access Points
Creating Steelhead Alley
By Rick Kustich
Early Season Bronzebacks
By Steven Flint
East Fork of the Miami River
Erie Bay Bassers
Fall steelhead in Erie’s Tribs
Septembers cool rains start to trigger the biological clocks of the thousands of steelhead stacked up at the mouths of our rivers.
Federation of Fly Fishers Ohio Sub-Council
At their quarterly meeting on October 18, 2003, the Federation of Fly Fishers Great Lakes Council (FFF/GLC) established the Ohio Sub Council (OSC) to represent the FFF/GLC Clubs in Ohio and FFF clubs
Fly Fishing for Ohio Steelhead
Fly Fishing for Small Mouth Bass
By Jeff Aufdencamp
Fly Fishing for Small Mouth Bass
Fly Fishing For Smallies
By Jeff Aufdencamp
Flyin’ for Ohio Smallmouth
by Gerald Darkes
Sport fishing in Ohio
Goodyear Hunting Fishing Club
Great lakes Steelhead
Great Miami River
by Jeff Clark
Great Miami River overview
Hook, Line and Steelhead
It was twilight on Elk Creek and in dusky shadows you could see dim shapes of the two anglers a few dozen yards upstream.
Hybrid Striped Bass: Ohio’s Other Bass
If the Water is Cloudy, it’s Clearly Time to Fish
In Search of Silver Bullets: Steelhead trout in Ohio
One of The Midwest’s largest sites dedicated to fishing – providing fishing reports, topographical maps, a lake database, message boards, articles, fishing tips and tactics, moon charts, etc
Little Beaver Creek smallies top 15 inches
Mad Men Chapter of Trout Unlimited
Mad River
Jorge Villares
Mad River Flies
from Mad River TU
Mad River overview
Mad River reports
from Mad River TU
Mad River TU newsletter
May best month for Rocky Fork Lake bassin’
Miami Valley FlyFishers
Dedicated to the improvement and preservation of fly fishing in Ohio
Mohican Fly Fishers Club
Mysis Shrimp – For Great Lakes Steelhead
North Coast Fly Fishers
North Coast Fly Fishers (NCFF) Premier Fly Fishing & Fly Tying Club in Northern Ohio
ODNR-Ohio Division of Wildlife
Ohio Division of Wildlife
Ohio Bank Fishing
Ohio Bank Fishing
Ohio Central Basin Steelheaders
Fishing Clubs raise many of our walleye and salmon for release throughout the Great Lakes come from ponds maintained by fishing clubs boasting better returns than state hatcheries can!
Ohio Fishermen
Ohio offers a wealth of information with emphasis on Ohio Muskie, Steelhead, and walleye fishing. Pages include photos, tips, editorial, a forum, and much more.
Ohio Smallmouth Alliance
ohio chapter of the Smallmouth Alliance
Ohio Steelhead Fishing
Ohio Steelhead on a Fly
by Gerald Darkes
Ohio’s 2004 Lake Erie Forecast
Ohio’s top fisheries biologists are optimistic about the opportunities for anglers on Lake Erie in 2004.
Ohios Hottest August Muskie Lakes
If you
Our States Best Bass Fishing
Here’s a look at what’s coming up in 2004 for Buckeye State bass anglers.
Reflections From The Rivers Edge
by: Les Ober, NCFF
Southern Ohio Muskie Hunters
Southern Ohio Muskie Hunters
Steelhead guide
Steelhead Trout Fishing in Ohio
Steelhead trout’s eating habits baffling to fisheries biologists
Stillwater River overview
The Ohio Outdoor Experience
formerly Wolf Creek Trout Club
The Steelhead Site
Good forum for fishing the Lake Eerie tribs in Ohio
Two Ohio Trout Streams article about the Clear Fork and Mad River
Western Waterways Offer Good Fishing
We welcome the trout releases in the Vermilion River…
Where and how to fish for Great Lakes steelhead
I prefer the larger of the Steelhead Alley drainages.
Winter Steelhead in Erie’s Tribs
It’s not easy to have constant success while winter steelheading in Ohio and Pennsylvania…
Young fish found frequenting the Flats
The five-mile industrial section of the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland is supporting young fish, much to the surprise of researchers.

Ohio Fly Fishing Boat ramps
River Acess Ohio
FishConneaut Discussion Board

Ohio Fly Fishing Guides
Dfishinfool’s Guide Service
Come experience the thrills of steelhead fishing on the world famous “Steelhead Alley”

Ohio Hatch Charts
Guide To Midwest USA Hatches
Mad River hatches

Ohio Fly Fishing Maps
Arcola, Wheeler, & Cowles
Steelhead Trout Fishing Map
Ashtabula River map
Steelhead Trout Fishing Map
Brookville Tailwaters map
Chagrin River Fishing Maps
Chagrin River map
Chagrin River map
Clear Fork Branch of the Mohican
steelhead map
Conneaut Creek
Conneaut Creek Fishing Maps
Conneaut Creek Map in PA
by Fish Erie
Euclid Creek
Mad River maps
from Mad River TU
North Chagrin Map
Ohio lake maps
from Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Ohio lake maps
Ohio lake maps
Rocky River
South Chagrin Map
Vermillion River map
Erie and Lorain Counties steelhead

Ohio Fly Fishing Reports
Brookville Tail Waters
David French is B.U.F.F. s Brookville Tail Waters coordinator.
Conneaut reports
Lake Erie Fishing Report
from Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Lake Erie Steelhead River Reports
Mad River Report
Ohio Fishing Reports
Ohio reports – includes Mad River and Northeast
from Central Ohio Fly Fishers
Ohio steelhead reports
by Don Dfishinfool Mathews
Ohio steelhead reports
Ohio Stream Conditions
from Adrien Fly Fishing Outfitters
Ohio Stream Reports
The Steelhead Site fly fishing reports for Ohio tributaries to Lake Erie from anglers, guides and DNR sources
Stream Conditions
Mad River and Little Miami Stream Conditions

Ohio Stream Flows
Brookville Tail Waters streamflows
Mad River Water Level
Real-time data for USGS 03267900 Mad River at St Paris Pike at Eagle City OH

Ohio Fly Fishing Forums

Lake Erie Western Basin
Lake Erie Central Basin – Ohio forum
Mad River Fly Fishers Message Board
Ohio Game Fishing forums

Ohio Fly Fishing Shops

Adrien Fly-Fishing Outfitters
7829 Cooper Rd, Cincinnati Ohio 45252; 513 794 1100
Delamere & Hopkins ( )
2708 Erie Avenue Cincinnati, OH 45208; 1-800-BARBOUR
Mad River Outfitters Home
813 Bethel Rd., Columbus, Ohio 43214; 888-451-0363

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