If northwest Ohio has a best-kept-secret fishing hole, it is Sandusky Bay.
This 41,000-acre arm of western Lake Erie offers year-round fishing opportunities for virtually all species popular to sport anglers - walleye, yellow perch, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, crappie and even some steelhead trout, if you know where and when to look.
It simply is a matter of taking the time to learn this fishery, which is something many anglers simply may be overlooking.
“Other than bass tournaments, there aren't too many people who take advantage of it,” said Larry Goedde, fish management supervisor for Ohio Wildlife District 2. “If we had it as an inland lake elsewhere, it would be considered a great resource. But a lot of people don't think of it that way because it is connected to Lake Erie.”
Sandusky Bay is shallow - 10 feet is deep, and except for the Sandusky Ship Channel, which is dredged for commercial-shipping access to that city, most of the bay is considerably shallower. At its upper end at the mouth of the Sandusky River, the bay is just two to three feet deep. The lower river above the mouth, in fact, generally is deeper.
The ConRail railroad bridge and the State Rt. 2 bridge at the south shore village of Bay View mark the dividing line between what is called the inner bay and outer bay, the latter of which flows into Lake Erie between Cedar Point in the south and Bay Point in the north.
It is at the bridges where some of the best late-summer fishing is under way for channel catfish. “Channel catfish in the railroad bridge area consistently heat up through the summer,” said Jeff Tyson, supervisor of the state's Lake Erie Fisheries Research Station at Sandusky.
Anglers in small boats with trolling motors work the deeper area of the open channel around the railroad drawbridge, using slip bobbers and split shot over hooks baited with nightcrawlers, chicken livers or crawdads.
“Several people say that when trains are going over, the bite is the best,” Tyson said, theorizing that it may have something to do with the vibrations of the heavy freight cars passing overhead.
Most of the cats are in the 14- to 16-inch range and are OK to eat every month or two, according to the state fish consumption advisory.
Night fishermen using lanterns also focus on catfish much of the year, including in summer, fishing from the Old Bay Bridge Access. It lies between the new Route 2 bridge and the ConRail bridge.
The center spans of the old bridge over the nautical channel were removed years ago, but the approach causeways have been developed into fishing sites by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. They can be reached from the north or south sides of the bay, though the north access is more popular, Tyson said.
With increased water clarity in the bay and Lake Erie, in part because of the invasive pests - zebra and quagga mussels - rooted vegetation is increasing. These “weedbeds” in turn have created habitat for increasing numbers of largemouth bass.
The beds to the east of the Route 2 bridge are good places to cast for largemouth, Tyson said. Try topwater baits early and late in the day and soft plastics, such as Texas-rigged worms, during the day.
Other good bass zones in the bay are the areas just east and west of the mouth of Cold Creek. This “trout stream,” so-known because of private trout clubs upstream around Castalia, is fed by an underground river and stays at 48 degrees year-round. Its outflow into the bay in turn moderates and even cools summertime water temperatures, compared to general bay waters. The moderate temperatures draw fish.
Bass and catfish can be found off Cold Creek now, and walleye in the spring and even into June and July, Tyson said.
“A lot of the time we have a walleye fishery in the bay for the smaller fish - 2- and 3- year-olds. It can be really hot.” Tyson's favorite bay fishing of all is June walleye, drifting or trolling with worm harnesses in eight or nine feet of water in the outer bay, generally between Johnson Island and the Ship Channel.
The shallow back-bay off White's Landing will hold crappie and yellow perch in the winter. A cold spring feeds the area, however, so anglers have to watch for punky ice, Tyson said. But the action can be hot.
Crappie are spread throughout the bay, but anglers have to hunt for them. Find them “stacked” and you are in for some action, the biologist noted. He would start looking on the north side of the bay near Gypsum, a small community west of the bridges and southeast of Port Clinton.
Yellow perch can be taken now in the outer bay along the Ship Channel from boats, or possibly from the Jackson Street pier and Battery Park pier in Sandusky.
Smallmouth bass also inhabit the bay. Try the rocky shoreline around Johnson Island, or along the bay bridges or Dempsey State Access just east of the Johnson Island causeway.
Northern pike also provide a fair fishery, especially in the spring just after ice-out, around the aforementioned weedbeds.
wIf Sandusky Bay is a best-kept big secret for fishing, Cold Creek Trout Camp might be a best-kept little secret.
It offers limited seasonal fishing for steelhead trout and rainbow trout, plus spring to fall opportunities for largemouth bass, northern pike and even white bass.
Formerly a run-down fishermen's marina, the property has been restored by owners Mike Mascarenas and Lance Stehman to provide camping and fishing amenities that include a quarter-mile of access to Cold Creek, which in spring and fall experiences a fair steelhead trout run and which also has a small population of rainbow trout that escape from private trout clubs upstream toward Castalia.
The camp is on U.S. 6, or Venice Road, on the west edge of Sandusky at the little community of Venice, where the famed creek enters Sandusky Bay.
“We bought it at the end of February,” said Cindi Brody, a camp spokeswoman. “We dredged, so now it's five feet deep.''
The camp property runs from Route 6 to the ConRail tracks, which cross the creek on a small bridge at its mouth, directly opposite Johnson Island.
The creek, fed by an underground river, never freezes and stays at 48 degrees year-round. Fishermen can pay just $5 on the honor system at the camp office to fish all day, Brody said.
The camp has 24 tent and recreational vehicle spaces, 24 floating docks and campground amenities, along with sleeper cabins and a boat launch-ramp. For other details call the camp, 419-621-7900.
E-mail Steve Pollick at