Ohio River Fishing: The Complete Guide for 2024

Apr 23, 2024 | 9 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 9 minutes

“The Ohio is the most beautiful river on earth. Its current gentle, waters clear, and bosom smooth and unbroken by rocks and rapids, a single instance only excepted.”

Thomas Jefferson

While the Ohio River might not be the longest or the deepest waterway, it’s full of wonders. Among the Iroquois, its name means “Good River,” and that shows. It’s not only the water source for over five million people, but is also home to various exciting freshwater fish species. Fishing the Ohio River is an experience many angling enthusiasts are eager to have.

An aerial view of the Ohio River between Jeffersonville, Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky surrounded by thick and lush greenery on a bright spring day

The river flows through six states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. It’s formed by the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers at the Golden Triangle near Pittsburgh, flowing south and west before meeting the Mississippi in Cairo, Illinois. 

Ohio River fishing isn’t about large trophies that can’t wait to take your bait and jump on the boat. It has a mercurial personality, allowing each angler to fall in love with the art of fishing. When you think you’ve got the river all figured out, you’ll find out you’re wrong. 

An infographic featuring the Ohio River Map showing the Ohio River flowing through the six states and numbers indicating each state such as Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and West Virginia

The mighty Ohio runs for 981 miles, giving you the chance to test your angling skills whenever and wherever you decide to see what’s biting. It’s a waterway without too much pressure, but with miles and miles of spots that are yet to be discovered. 

So, what are the most interesting Ohio River fish out there? What are the best spots in each state? Are there any closed seasons? Let’s dive in.

Best Fish to Catch in the Ohio River

As we mentioned above, the Ohio River is home to some interesting fish species. In fact, there are good numbers of each of them – if you know where to look. While there’s plenty on offer, it’s never a bad idea to hire a local guide to show you the “honey holes!”

Bass

The success of your Bass fishing trip in the Ohio River will depend on which Bass you’re after. That’s right, there are quite a few of them! 

A photo of two anglers standing on a charter fishing boat and holding Smallmouth Bass each while proudly posing for the camera

Largemouth Bass spawn in creeks and embayments in the early spring months, just when the water temperature rises above 50 degrees. Come summer, they move to deeper backwaters. When fishing the shallows, anglers prefer to slowly run spinnerbaits, along with plastic worms and crankbaits. During the summer season, you can try fishing for Largemouth in the creek mouths with jigging spoons and pigs. 

Then, there’s Smallmouth Bass. Just like their Largemouth brothers, Smallies can be found throughout the Ohio River. If they’re your target, head to rocky tailwaters and look for crayfish that Smallies usually prey on. Jigs, crankbaits, and light-colored spinnerbaits, as well as classic minnows, work well for Smallmouth. 

The summer and fall months are usually the best time to fish for both Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass. 

A photo of an angler bundled up in warm jacket wearing a cap and a hoodie while standing on a charter fishing boat and posing with Bass caught while fishing the Ohio River

The Ohio River also offers great opportunities for White, Striped, and Hybrid Bass fishing. White Bass is the only native of the three, and you can catch them on light tackle. For the other two, you might need to pack heavier gear. 

April and May are the best time to fish for this Bass group. Hit tailwater areas below dams or look for quiet areas near fast-moving water. Fish the bottoms with live or cut bait, or stick to the surface with jigs.

Walleye & Sauger 

Bass aside, Sauger are among the most popular fish in the Ohio River. Both Sauger and their brothers Walleye hang out in tailwater areas during the spring, moving to deeper areas come summer. In the fall and winter months, they move to streams and back to tailwaters, making a full circle. 

A closeup of a Sauger lying on the ice on a sunny day caught while ice fishing

Walleye and Sauger aren’t among summer catches, though. A lot of local anglers prefer fishing for Walleye and Sauger during the cooler months, especially at later hours. As the sun goes down, the fish move into shallow waters. That’s when you can try jigging spoons through the night. 

Catfish

The Ohio River fish menu isn’t complete without Catfish. There are a few varieties you can find here: Channel, Flathead, and Blue. While the first two are widely available throughout the river, Blue Catfish are much rarer. Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia anglers don’t normally catch these on their trips. 

A photo of a man standing in the water while holding a Catfish in front of his boat in the shallows during a cloudy spring day

The best chance to find Catfish is during the warmer months, especially May through July. Locals prefer heading out at night, armed with heavy tackle. You can find cats around tailwaters, stream condolences, and warm water discharges.

Crappie

Finally, our list of the top catches in the Ohio River won’t be complete without Crappie. Some even say that the “Good River” is one of the best and most underrated Crappie fisheries of the Midwest! 

A photo of three anglers all wearing sunglasses while posing for the camera and standing on the dock with freshly caught Crappie in each hand

Fishing opportunities for Crappie in the Ohio River are indeed overlooked. There are countless creeks, small slews, and inflows that are home to these fish. All you need to do is grab a simple rod-and-reel combo, a bobber, a hook, and some line. Some also pack jigs and small minnows for better results.

While Crappie might not be the biggest fish in the Ohio River, they’re surely fun to catch!

Ohio River Fishing Spots

As the Ohio River touches six states, there are plenty of spots to fish. However, not every state shares an equal portion of the river. In this section, we’ll talk about the best places to fish throughout the Ohio Valley region.

West Virginia

Wide steps lead down to the river walk along the Ohio River in Wheeling, West Virginia

The West Virginia portion of the Ohio River includes a few productive spots along its uppermost 300 miles. According to locals, the most bountiful spots to fish are the Cluster Islands, the mouths of the Muskingum River, Fishing Creek, Dam #21, the New Cumberland Dam, and the Byrd Dam.

Almost all Ohio River favorites can be found in WV’s waters. If you’re after Smallmouth Bass, consider fishing the upper ends of deep pools or rocky shorelines. For Largemouth Bass, West Virginia anglers can concentrate on weed beds. Deep holes with debris are the best places to look for Catfish, while areas below dams are great Walleye fishing spots. 

Pennsylvania

A view of the Ohio River, its bridge, town, and surrounding greenery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from a hill during the sunset

PA’s share of the Ohio River is only about 50 miles, but it’s where the majority of the local Catfishing scene is concentrated. The river here is broad and deep enough for Channel and Flathead fishing, although they might not be that easy to find. 

The best way to locate Catfish here is to look for deep holes on bends and creek mouths. Some spots to keep in mind are the mouth of Sewickley Creek by the Dashields Dam, along with the Beaver River in Rochester, Chartiers Creek, and Bridgewater Crossing County Park

Pittsburgh is also a great place to enjoy what each Ohio River season has to offer. If you’re a dock angler, consider paying attention to the shallow waters of Point State Park.

Ohio

The Ohio River south of Henderson, West Virginia above a road bridge and a view of the surrounding greenery and town’s buildings

Ohio River fishing in OH can be divided into four regions, each with its own angling opportunities. Here’s our breakdown of each of them:

  • Central Region. The most productive spot in the Central Region for a good selection of Bass and Catfish is the Meldahl Dam, especially alongside and behind the locks. Sauger is also on the menu here. 
  • West Region. The west region is more generous when it comes to fishing the Ohio River. You can check out Aberdeen and Ripley landings, along with New Richmond and various creeks feeding into the Ohio. 
  • East Region. Hannibal Pool is arguably the best spot to fish right from shore for Striped Bass and Sauger in East Region. 
  • Southeast Region. If you’re interested in shoreline fishing, head to the Leith Run Recreational Area in the Wayne National Forest or the Belleville Pool at Willow Island.
  • Cincinnati. You can enjoy some of the best Bass and Catfish opportunities in the lower end of the Markland Pool in the general area of Cincinnati. 

Ohio anglers can also enjoy the Ohio River Scenic Byway with its breathtaking river views, gorgeous hills, and forest valleys. The byway encompasses 452 miles of the river, spanning 14 counties in Southern Ohio.

Kentucky

The Ohio River from a hill in Kentucky with blue sky and clouds and surrounding thick and lush greenery

The Bluegrass State shares a large portion of the Ohio River, with a slow-moving waterway and good Bass fishing opportunities. 

A lot of Kentucky anglers would argue that the Falls is the best place to fish in the Ohio River. There are some pretty unique spots and a richer variety of potential targets. Apart from the usual Catfish and Bass, you can also target Bluegill, Sunfish, and even Aligator Garr. 

Apart from the Falls, you can explore the East Ohio River in Allegany or the central portion in Brandenburg. The Bayous near Paducah is another good spot to explore the lower end of the river, along with Yellow Bank Island in Owensboro and downstream at mile 762 at Little Hurricane Island. 

Indiana

The Abraham Lincoln Bridge for motor vehicles crosses the Ohio River that connects Kentucky and Indiana

Southern Indiana offers the best Ohio River fishing opportunities in the state, especially if you’re a Crappie fisherman. There are a couple of spots to explore, but a lot of locals consider the Falls of the Ohio State Park to be a prime location. Here, you can fish right on the shoreline or from a small boat at the ramp. 

Duffy’s Landing in Jeffersonville and Jaycees Boat Ramp in New Albany are good access points if you’re planning to fish from a boat. 

During the cooler months, you can enjoy the annual Sauger run on the Ohio River. Local anglers often target Sauger right below the dams in February.

Illinois 

A photo of submerged grass in the placid water somewhere on the Ohio River in Illinois at sunset

Illinois’s portion of the Ohio River consists of two pools and an open river area. The Smithland Pool is 27,000 acres in size and is shared by both Illinois and Kentucky. There are various embayments with many opportunities for Crappie, Catfish, and Largemouth Bass. You can check out one of the many creeks, including Barren, Big Grand Pierre, Bay, Dog, Alcorn, and Lusk

If you want to add more variety to your list of potential targets, fish the upper portion of Smithland Pool above Old Shawneetown. Anglers sometimes catch Bighead, Silver, and Grass Carp in this area. 

The Olmsted Pool is smaller, but its open river areas offer good opportunities for Catfish and Bass. 

Ohio River Fishing FAQs

Fishing the Ohio River – Good River, Good Fishing

An aerial view of two bridges on the Ohio River and nearby settlements with roads, houses, and buildings

Even if you think you know the Ohio River, there’s almost always something new to discover. There are so many creeks and river mouths you haven’t discovered yet. A lot of fish species move through the river and call it home, and most of them deserve to be discovered. An Ohio River fishing trip is something you need to try at least once in your life!

Have you ever fished in the Ohio River What did you catch? What is your favorite state to fish the Ohio River? Let us know in the comments below!

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Lisa traded the lecture hall for the vast expanse of the world's waters, transforming her love of teaching into an insatiable passion for angling and storytelling. She would sail through oceans, lakes, and rivers, reeling in the world’s fish stories one catch at a time.

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Jim Fugitt

Feb 25, 2024

I’ve fished many of the dams on the Ohio River and they tend to be the best places to fish year round. Most species can be found below the dams and around the tributaries immediately down river of the dams and provide good fishing.

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  • Brian Bucek,Sr

    Jul 16, 2024

    On the upper Ohio River,around Pittsburgh,you cannot access any dam by land only by boat.This is due to the railways which run along the length will not allow you to cross the tracks.Since 9/11 it is considered a Federal offense if your caught.Meaning fines and/or imprisonment.I was told this by the Norfolk Southern police.

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