SAM’S TACKLE BOX – By Sam Dillon


With the onset of summer and all the attention on the lakes and ponds for bluegill and bass in the area, anglers forget that the state’s largest spring-fed trout stream is just a county away and is bustling with Brown and Rainbow Trout.
Trout in Ohio? I know, it’s kind of hard to realize that this state has trout-fishable streams in it.
The normal river that comes to mind when someone thinks of Ohio is a lazy, muddy river meandering through the trees on its way to the Ohio River or Lake Erie. Well, there are actually several rivers in Ohio that support a trout population. The largest of those just happens to be the Mad River.
Its headwaters reach just north of Bellefontaine and it whines its way southwesterly for nearly 70 miles on the way to Dayton. The river itself is a large spring-fed river and this cold water seeping out of the ground is just what the trout like. In the upper reaches of the stream the river is narrow, but the water is closest to its source. That means cold, clear and well-oxygenated water.
This allows for the species to have a fighting chance of reproduction. As the water flows south, the more common “big muddies” of Ohio converge with the stream and warm the water. The water remains clear due to the cobble stone bottom that helps filter the stream as it flows.
The middle section of the river is considered ‘cool water’ by the ODNR and starts near Urbana. This section of the river widens significantly due to all of the confluence and holds brown trout that are stocked annually by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The fish, if not caught, can survive in the stream, but have little chance of reproduction. The water is most likely too warm and the sediment from streams converging with the “Mad” will kill any eggs that have been laid.
Once south of Urbana heading towards Springfield, the stream continues to widen. However, it becomes categorized as a warm-water river. It can still hold trout and does all the way down to Dayton. The fish, though, is only there because of the stocking efforts of the ODNR. The temperatures of the stream are too high for trout to survive on a permanent basis.
The real jewel of this stream is that because it is spring-fed that means the water stays at a relatively constant temperature of 54 degrees. When the air temperature is warm the water stays cool and vice versa during the winter months. This means when most bodies of water are iced over and unfishable, the Mad River keeps on producing fish.
This leads to the obvious question… how do you catch these trout? When most people think of trout fishing they think of standing in a stream flinging some line back and fourth over your head.
That is what I thought when I started fly fishing nearly 10 years ago. In fact. That’s exactly what it is. Unlike conventional fishing where you are heaving a weighted lure, in fly fishing you are throwing a weighted line with a nearly weightless lure or fly tied to the end of that line.
Fly fishing is all about matching the hatch. A hatch is where certain types of insects become active and will be in abundance. These insects are what trout will be eating, so in order to get one on a hook we have to match the hatch. This time of year that comes in the form of Tricos.
A Trico is a species of mayfly that starts hatching around the beginning of July and will continue to hatch until late September. They are a small, yellowish insect with large wings and normally hatch in the late morning or late evening. Throwing a parachute style Trico or Trico with soft hackle can produce some good results throughout the summer.
Another approach would be terrestrials. A terrestrial is anything that does not inhabit the water, such as a grasshopper, ants, bees or beetles. Trout will eat any of these insects that happen to find themselves on the water.
As the summer wears on, another approach to try would be streamers. Streamers are larger baits that imitate baitfish. They come in a variety of colors and shapes and you just have to try to figure out what works.
The last thing to try is nymphing. A nymph is the underwater version of a fly insect like the Trico. A good choice on the Mad River is either a Pheasants Tail Nymph or a Hair’s Ear Guides Choice Nymph. Tie on some soft hackle with a nymph drop and float down the stream with a cross-stream cast up river to try and get a bite.
If fly fishing isn’t your forte, you could always try throwing a rooster tail with some ultra-lite tackle or swing to a slower presentation of a kernel of corn on a hook floated under a cork. Pitch the corn across and up stream and let it drift as naturally as possible. Work some riffles, which are areas of shallow, fast water flowing over rocks that flow into a pool. When the bobber goes under, set the hook.
The Mad River is a hidden gem in central Ohio for the trout angler. For those who want to get away from the heat and try for a new species of fish or a new type of fishing, give the Mad River a try.
For those who have questions or want to talk about fishing, feel free to contact me at


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