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Spring turns musky on at Leesville Lake

5/4/2006
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    CARROLLTON, Ohio — It may be a while before the more northern musky environs in Michigan and Wisconsin turn on and start producing fish for this season. Until then, the "lower" states of the region — Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana — where the water's warming fastest, will be the first fisheries of the new summer season to turn on.

    For the musky faithful who can't wait, and for those who are already in the state, Ohio's Leesville Lake deserves a visit from any anglers who consider themselves to be musky fanatics.

    Number 1 in the state? Leesville has long been known for its quality musky fishery. But just how good is it?

    "Leesville Lake is the No. 1 musky lake in the state," claims Don Weaver, president of the Ohio Huskie Muskie Club, Inc. That's quite a claim, but it's coming from someone who ought to know.

    In fact, OHMC statistics over the last several years back up the claim, showing that anglers consistently boat more musky here than from any other water in Ohio.

    Over the last 10 years, Leesville has consistently ranked as one of the top two musky lakes statewide, and most years it's at the top of the list.

    History lesson

    Boated behemoths: In 2001 a whopping 599 Leesville musky were boated. In 2002 the number rose to 635 musky. Last year the total number brought to hand was 585 fish.

    These numbers only reflect the fish from which scale samples were removed and submitted to the DOW by anglers, as encouraged and recommended by the OHMC.

    Musky caught with no scale samples taken and submitted aren't even counted in these catch numbers.

    How it's fished

    On Leesville, musky location is not so much determined by specific areas of the lake as it is by the cover they're relating to. Unlike other lakes in Ohio, musky can be just about anywhere on Leesville, because the population density is so high.

    On any given day, any angler can catch one just about anywhere.

    One good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that warming water in the early spring draws both shad and the musky that feed on them up into the shallows.

    Areas with green vegetation, woody cover or sun-warmed bays are good bets early on.

    Anglers looking for a start-up spot typically target warming bays with good cover in the far upper or far lower sections of the lake. The musky might be tight to shoreline cover if depths are close at hand, or holding in water up to 10 to 15 feet deep just offshore.

    Even veteran anglers on the lake, however, have to play the guessing game about where and how deep to fish on occasion, and many times the musky seem to defy logic, historical patterns and formulas that worked previously. This is, after all, what musky fishing is famous for.

    Still, once water temperatures begin hitting the 55-degree range, musky almost always become more active and aggressive.

    Bites can be aggressive as fish sometimes follow a lure right up to the boat before smashing it.

    For some anglers, on some days, the fishing can be incredible. For other anglers, on other days, it can be incredibly frustrating.

    "A friend of mine named Lou Walsh and I made our first trip to Leesville and we fished for four days trying to figure the fish out," said Mike Whitley, an avid musky angler.

    "Some of the locals gave us some pointers and in the next two days we boated nine musky, with five of those being over 44 inches."

    Size matters

    Local musky guru Don Weaver has found that Lee Sisson balsa crankbaits have been tremendous producers on Leesville.

    A study on musky behavior conducted by the Ohio DNR found that musky prefer to tackle baits that are approximately 20 percent of their own body length (a 5-foot fish would, theoretically, prefer a 12-inch bait). This means baits traditionally used by musky hunters in the 10-inch range are actually on the small side for trophy-class fishing.

    Even so, many anglers still do well on large musky by using lures
    like Suicks, minnow-imitating crankbaits and brightly-colored inline and spinnerbait lures, some of which can be pretty small.

    Large-bodied soft plastics have never produced a lot of fish on Leesville, said Weaver, but some anglers do well on the newer Bulldawgs that combine soft and hard plastics.

    Leesville logistics

    Leesville Lake is one of the DNR's musky management lakes and has been stocked with thousands of fingerling musky over the last several years. There is a 10-horsepower limit on this quiet 1,000-acre lake.

    Two launch areas are located near the lake's two marinas.

    Leesville Lake is part of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, which can be reached toll free at (877) 363-8500.

    To reach the lake from New Philadelphia, travel 15 miles east on SR 39 and then 4 miles southeast on SR 212. Contact the Ohio DNR Wildlife District Three office (330-644-2293) for more information.

    For additional information on fishing Leesville Lake and for boat rentals, contact the Petersburg Marina (2126 Azalea Road SW, Carrollton, Ohio; 330-627-4270) or Clow's Marina (4131 Deer Road SW, Bowerston, Ohio; 740-269-5371).

    Camping and a cabin are available from April 15 through Oct. 15 at the Petersburg Marina.

    Weaver: 692 musky and counting

    Not too many musky hunters can compete with Don Weaver when he's on his home water at Leesville Lake.

    "I've caught 692 musky now, all in Ohio," said Weaver. All but seven of these were caught at Leesville.

    This past March Weaver gave up the president's chair of the Ohio Huskie Muskie Club, where he held the reins for the last 8 years. In that role, he worked closely with the Ohio DOW to promote musky angling throughout the Buckeye State, keeping catch records and assisting in other musky angling and club activities.

    "Its time for some new ideas," said Weaver.

    "And I'm going to do a lot more musky fishing after March."

    Advice from a master

    "If the water warms up in the spring you can cast for musky along the shoreline where there are lay-downs, stumps and, if you can find any this time of the year, weeds," Weaver said.

    "Cast up into the shallows as well. Do some trolling close to the shorelines and use smaller crankbaits and twitch baits. If the water is still cold, I troll in about 10 feet of water with smaller baits and when the water gets hot I start trolling a lot more."

    Lure selection revolves around what works. Recently Weaver's been using Lee Sisson crankbaits.

    "I've used No. 41 Sissons ("Deep Diving Ticker") for over 70 percent of the musky I've caught," Weaver said.

    "I use the Tennessee shad, fire tiger and the blue shad colors."

    Trolling the No. 41 Sisson with 50 to 55 feet of line out will get the lure down to about 10 feet deep.


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