Fly Fishing in Columbus, Ohio
Fly fishing in Columbus, Ohio is a thing? Oh yes, it very much is. In fact, if you do not like having to drive an hour or more to access public waters, if you want to be able to fish for multiple species year-round, if you want multiple options to fish everything from large lakes to streams, and you also enjoy urban fishing then Columbus will surely surprise you. Below is a guide to help get you started and will to point you in the right direction to fly fish this midwest city.
I hope that you will find this guide useful and that it will help you to journey around and fish these exciting urban waters. If you decide to fish these waters please consider bringing a small trash bag with you and filling it up with any garbage you find after you are done fishing for the day. These are urban waters and need every bit of our help to maintain.
Species You can Fly Fish for in Columbus-
First off, the species list is quite extensive in Columbus and there is really something for everyone and for all skill levels. Rivers will hold smallmouth and largemouth bass, panfish, rock bass, common carp, channel catfish and saugeyes. The lakes will also hold many of those same species as well as greater numbers of largemouth bass, white crappie, black crappie, and white bass. Finally, many of the ponds are great spots to quickly access water that holds largemouth bass, grass carp, common carp, and even one large pond that has rainbow trout.
A lot of people ask what set up they need to get started fly fishing in Columbus. Here's the answer: any freshwater fly fishing set up you already have, or are thinking of getting, will work. Now, depending on what set up you have will work better for one fish species or another. Below is a list and discussion on the gear, equipment, clothing, and all other things that I have been using to fly fish the waters around the city.
Gear, Equipment, and Clothing to Fly Fish Columbus-
If you are gunning to hit up the ponds for quick fishing after work, want to take the kids with you, or want to just have fun catching numbers of fish then a 3 or 4 weight fly rod is a great option. Fighting panfish and crappie with a 3 weight is an absolute riot and some of the larger panfish can put a real bend into the rod. I have even landed largemouth on the 3 weight that made my heart race. The 3 weight is also fun to take out to the tributary streams to go after rock bass, panfish, and smallmouth bass. Most often, I will have the 3 weight stashed in my car so I can hit up a pond or stream for an hour or two while driving around the city. Also, a floating line is all you need for the 3 weight so all in all it is an inexpensive set up.
If you really want to get into wading the rivers for smallmouth bass, saugeye, and channel catfish then a 5 or 6 weight rod is a better choice. The 5 and 6 weights are more all-round rods that can toss poppers, crawfish, nymphs, and streamer patterns. Having this versatility is key when going for any of those species listed above since water conditions can change dramatically day to day within the city (and river to river). I lean more in favor for the 5 weight because the smallmouth and saugeye that are caught within the city limits are typically smaller, and fighting them on a 5 weight is more of a thrill.
Now, one of my favorite pursuits in Columbus is hunting and trying to catch carp. There are some really good urban rivers in Columbus for doing this (more on that further down). Having a 7 weight is my favorite fly rod to use for these fish. It is enough of a fly rod to try and put the breaks on a running carp yet light enough so you can finesse your casts and delicately place the fly where you need it. The 7 weight is also a good rod for targeting largemouth bass in lakes. However, if lake fishing for largemouth is your thing then an 8 weight might be a better option so you can throw larger poppers, streamers, and crawfish patterns. There are also a few ponds in the city that have monstrously large common and grass carp and an 8 weight is perfect for wrangling those beasts in.
For all the fish species in Columbus an inexpensive fly reel is really all that is necessary. Click and pawl reels are a cheap option and I love them. Why? They have far fewer pieces (since most only have one drag setting) which makes them sturdy and robust. I have bashed mine into rocks, neglected to wash them, and have done very little up keep or maintenance on them. Yet, they keep working! What do you lose? Well, these reels typically only have one drag setting, but that is fine because most of the fish species in Columbus are not charging down the river or lakes. I also use these reels for trout fishing and will just "palm" the reel to add more drag; it takes a little practice but it is easy, you can still dial in the resistance, and not to mention it is a ton of fun. Two quick options/examples are the Orvis Battenkill and the Ross Colorado LT.
If you are using a heavier rod, basically 6-8 weights, then click and pawl reels might not go up to those weights. So a normal fly reel with standard drag is needed (you do not need a reel with a closed drag system, so that will at least save you some money). I have gotten away with less expensive reels (think around $100) for chasing carp but I have lost some of these fish due to these cheaper reels not having smooth drag. A good work-around is to just dial the drag down and be ready to palm the reel. So rather than dropping $250+ on a more expensive reel with better drag I will just palm my cheaper reel.
Side note- I can get away with palming the reel for carp because they really do not bolt down the river at lightning speeds, rather they are more like chugging freight trains. So just by palming the reel while really bending the fly rod works to slow and turn these lunkers.
Most of my fly fishing in Columbus is done with a floating line. Ponds, streams, and when the rivers run lower a floating line is all that I use. A sink tip or intermediate line is useful in the spring when the rivers run higher and helps to get the flies further down into the water column. A full sinking line is also a line to consider when lake fishing for largemouth bass, especially in the height of summer when they are deeper in the lakes at mid-day.
When purchasing your fly fishing set up I would recommend not going cheap on the fly line. Spend the money ($70-100) on a quality line that will cast better, shoot more easily, and will hold up against the abuse you could put it through. I put my fly fishing gear through the ringer and am kind of lazy when it comes to cleaning and maintenance. However, I look after my fly lines and it helps them to last for years. The best thing you can do is to clean the line after every other fishing jaunt in the city (the waters can be pretty dirty). It takes 5 minutes: fill a sink with warm water, add a little dish detergent, strip the line and soak it in the water for a couple minutes, then run the line through a damp paper towel and reel it back up...simple and it will extend the life of your fly line.
This is another big fly fishing gear/tackle discussion to unpack. So rather than give an extensive list of all the flies I use for every fish species in Columbus I will give an 'all-around' package of flies that you can carry throughout the city's rivers, ponds, and lakes. One of my small fly boxes has most of these fly patterns in it and is my go-to box when I just want to hit the water and am not sure what fish I might run into:
Clouser Minnows- sizes 2-8, great colors are white, pink chartreuse, red, and any combination of those.
Wooly Buggers- sizes 6-10, both weighted and unweighted, great colors are black, white, olive, chartreuse, rusty orange, and yellow.
Foam Poppers (with rubber legs)- sizes 2-12, any variety of color but chartreuse, white, black, and yellow work for me. These poppers can bring panfish, smallmouth, and largemouth to the surface.
Crayfish- sizes 2-8, variety of colors but rusty orange, olive, and brown/black work well. Useful for smallmouth, channel catfish and carp (use the smaller sizes for carp). (the Near Nuff Crayfish fly is a good pattern to use in a range of weights, sizes, and colors).
Muddler Minnows- sizes 6-10, both weight and unweighted, works for everything from trout to rock bass. I will even smother these in gink, float them like dry flies, and then swing them through the river's current on the retrieve.
Bangtails and Mini Bangtails- size 1/0 and size 2 (for the mini), a Kelly Galloup pattern that I like to use in a range of colors for smallmouth and largemouth.
Carp Bitters- sizes 6-8, killer pattern for carp, and I have caught rock bass, smallmouth, channel catfish, and saugeye with it. Black, rusty orange, olive for the colors.
Nymphs- sizes 10-18, weighted and unweighted. Really any nymph patterns work, the urban fish are not picky. I like to have a couple different nymphs patterns in my box and will gravitate towards the patterns that have some soft hackle fibers (they have great movement in the water). You can also suspend them beneath the poppers and catch smallmouth, carp, and panfish using the popper essentially as a bobber.
Deer Hair Poppers- size 2, great colors are yellow/black, white/chartreuse, black/red, and green. These poppers are for largemouth bass and I typically will at least need my 7 weight to cast them.
Again, not an extensive list for all fish species but having a box with an assortment of those flies can get you out onto the water with plenty of options at your disposal. Put some into a small fly box, stuff it in your pocket, then hit the water.
If you plan on wading the rivers, streams, or lakes in Columbus it is a good idea to have a closed-toe wet wading shoe. There can be broken glass and other sharp objects in the water which would not be enjoyable to step on while wearing sandals. I usually wet wade (i.e. not wearing waders) and will use a pair of pants that are mostly made out of nylon or polyester which dry quickly. When the temps are cooler, I will wear a cheap pair of waders and wading boots just to keep me dry and warmer.
A long sleeve sun hoody (like ones that Simms, Patagonia, or Orvis sell) is my favorite piece of clothing. It helps me from getting sunburned, it dries quickly, keeps the bugs from biting too much, and cools me down. Hands-down a clutch piece of clothing.
Polarized sunglasses are a piece of clothing/gear that I will also not skimp spending some money on. Smith sunglasses make some incredible polarized sunglasses that cut through the water's glare and can help you spot fish beneath the surface. These sunglasses are invaluable when carp fishing. Amber lenses are an all-around color option and my go-to choice.
Canoes, Kayaks, and Paddle Boards
To unlock even more fishable water throughout the city, canoes, kayaks and paddle boards are a blast to fly fish from (or you can really go all out and get a fly fishing raft). Especially in the rivers, it is such an adventure floating and discovering new stretches of water that can be full of fish. Personally, I like my inflatable stand-up paddle board for a number of reasons:
I can stand while casting, which helps with distance and accuracy.
While standing, I have a higher vantage point to spot fish.
It can be used on ponds, lakes, rivers and sometimes I will have a small anchor to keep the board in place.
Since it is inflatable I can roll it up and store it in my closet.
One last thing about boating/paddling, please be careful while floating some stretches of river as there are some low-head dams. Do not try to go over the dam as the undercurrent/swell could trap you under the water. Instead, get out of the water and move your vessel downstream before continuing your float.
Places in Columbus to Fly Fish
Below is a list of public access to rivers, lakes and ponds to fish within the city along with a couple insights. There is far more public access than what is listed below but this list contains some tried and true spots. As with any fishing spots, it can get crowded so either floating or wading up/downstream or having a back-up location can be necessary to avoid other anglers and to find un-fished waters.
I will also include the USGS water level gauges for the rivers. Checking these gauges before you head out to fish could save from wasting your time when the water levels are blown out.
Scioto River (More details on fly fishing the Scioto can be read in this article)
Public Access Locations-
Below O'Shaughnessy Dam
Donegal Cliffs Park
Kiwanis Riverside Park
Below Griggs Dam- There is parking below the dam on the east bank and more parking at Hoover Park. Floating the river from here down to 5th Ave (there is a take-out on river right at 5th Ave under the bridge) is a nice float for smallmouth bass and carp.
Scioto Audubon Park
Olentangy River (More details on fly fishing the Olentangy can be read in this article)
Public Access Locations-
Bike Path- There is a bike path that runs the length of the river within city limits, great access to walk or ride a bike and fish tons of water.
Park of Roses
King Ave and Olentangy crossroad- There is a gravel parking lot under the highway here. From here, fish the river northwards to Lane Ave, the flats fishing in this section can be terrific.
The Boat House- This is a restaurant (with public parking) at the confluence with the Scioto River.
Public Access Locations-
Below Alum Creek Dam- Can be a place to check out if you want to catch some saugeye on the fly.
Big Walnut Creek
Public Access Locations-
Above Hoover Reservoir- In the spring, the white bass will head upstream from the lake and can your best chance to land some of these fish on the fly.
Below Hoover Reservoir Dam
Woodside Green Park
Big Walnut Park
Three Creeks Metro Park
This place is unique as it contains the confluence of three rivers (Big Walnut, Alum and Blacklick). It is a large natural area preserved within the city of Columbus and can transport you out of the city and into a 'wilderness' adventure. Being only a 10-15min drive from downtown Columbus it is worth checking out.
When the rivers run high there are numerous creeks and tributaries to explore that feed into the main rivers. They can be interesting places to go after panfish, rock bass, and smallmouth and using a 3 weight rod is an enjoyable way to fish these streams. Just check Google Maps for any creeks/tributaries that feed into the main rivers, look for a place to park, grab your fly rod and then go exploring.
O'Shaughnessy Reservoir- One spot for decent public access is the O'Shaughnessy Reservoir Park.
Griggs Reservoir- Griggs Reservoir Park is an access point to launch your paddle board or kayak.
Alum Creek Lake- Alum Creek State Park is a good spot to wade the beach (when it is not a busy weekend) or to launch a paddle board.
Hoover Reservoir- One the lake's boat launches is available at the Walnut Boat Ramp. Or you can try wading the north end of the lake (where the Big Walnut Creek enters the reservoir) in the spring for white bass.
Park of Roses- There is a casting pond with panfish and largemouth bass (some big grass carp are in the pond but are tough to fool).
Chadwick Arboretum- Panfish, largemouth bass, and again some large carp.
Antrim Lake- It is a large pond and it gets stocked with rainbow trout (usually in the spring).
Three Creeks Metro Park- There are numerous ponds within the park.
This is a general guide to fly fishing Columbus, Ohio but I hope it inspires you to grab you fly rod and tour the city on the fly. There is a ton of water to check out within the city along with many fish species to pursue. Some days it can be a struggle to fish certain waters when the conditions are just not right, but luckily there is always some other water in the city that you can retreat to, cast your fly line, and have a better chance of catching something. Lastly, beyond the urban waters of Columbus if you drive just thirty minutes west there is the whole other experience of fly fishing a National Scenic River: the Big Darby Creek.