David Johnson, age 7, with a rainbow trout he caught on Cold Creek at the Castalia State Fish Hatchery property. Handout. Not Blade photo.
If the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, then in the angler’s world, the fish are always bigger in somebody else’s fishing hole — the place where you don’t have permission to fish.
For the Ohio angler in pursuit of local trout fishing opportunities, that picture changes a few times each year when the state allows a limited number of parties to fish its half-mile stretch of Cold Creek, which is loaded with rainbows and a few very wary browns.
The fishing rights are awarded by a lottery, and when Patrick Johnson of Toledo had his name drawn, that meant 7-year-old David Johnson was going trout fishing.
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On Tuesday morning, the second-grader-to-be at OLPH was introduced to the adrenaline rush produced when a five-pound rainbow decides to do gymnastics across the surface of one of the pools on the crystal clear stream.
His dad attempted to give David a quick tutorial on the nuances of catching stout rainbows in current and clear water but, like most budding alpha males, David wanted little to do with that. Once the first rainbow was on the line, he preferred to work his own stretch of the waterway.
“I saw him kind of monkeying around, like he was being picky and trying to get to one particular fish,” Patrick said, “and then there’s all this commotion and I see this big rainbow tail-walking across the stream.
He managed to keep his bait away from the little ones, and hook up with a really nice fish.”
That was one of three rainbows the kid caught that morning that cleared five pounds. The rules for the rare fishing outings on the hatchery section of the stream limit each angler to five fish — the first five you catch — and then you are done. The Johnsons were very judicious about which five they wanted to take home.
The fish in the stream are hatchery-raised rainbows, with most of them coming from annual stockings by the state, with a few escapees and a few migrants from other sections of Cold Creek mixed in. These fish are acclimated to surface feeding on pellets, so the rainbows, especially the younger ones, tend to aggressively attack anything that dimples the surface.
“They don’t even wait until your bait hits the water, they see it coming through the air and they are on the move,” Patrick Johnson said. “You can catch a limit in a few minutes if you want smaller fish, but it takes some time to figure out how to get your bait to the big fish.”
The Johnsons used light-action spinning gear and worms, and David’s trio of bragging-size rainbows were not the only trophies in their catch. There are a few large, wily brown trout in this stretch of Cold Creek, brought here from the state’s facility in London. Patrick, who owns the Ohio record for a 53.65 carp he took bowfishing in June of 2013, targeted one of these browns.
“I knew there were a few big browns in there, but nobody seemed to be able to catch them,” he said. “They kind of hang back under the trees, so it’s tough to get the bait to them without the younger rainbows smacking it.”
Johnson said he saw only four brown trout in the half-mile piece of the creek, but he eventually coaxed a robust 4-pound, 8-ounce brown into biting, and landed the beauty.
“You can see every fish in the stream, but getting the bait to a particular fish is the real challenge,” he said. “We wanted to take our time and be selective. If you get the chance to fish someplace like that, you want to make the most of it, and I think we did.”
The Division of Wildlife holds several drawings each year for a limited number of opportunities to fish Cold Creek, which runs through the hatchery property on its way to Sandusky Bay. The lottery winners are chosen randomly by a computer program, and only the drawing winners are notified. It costs $3 to enter the drawing, and you are allowed to enter only once.
The Castalia hatchery is one of six such facilities operated by the Division of Wildlife. It produces rainbow trout and steelhead. The Castalia hatchery is fed by part of the network of blue holes in the area that send millions of gallons of near-50-degree water out of the earth each day. The water needs to be oxygen enriched before it can be used in the hatchery.
HATCHERY OPEN HOUSE: The public can view the operation at the Castalia State Fish Hatchery during an open house scheduled for Aug. 16 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is free. There will be fish feeding demonstrations, archery activities, an educational session on Ohio’s bald eagles, and an electrofishing boat on display.
The hatchery, which two years ago had a $7 million upgrade and renovation, produces 400,000 yearling steelhead and 90,000 catchable-size rainbow trout annually.
The Castalia facility is at 7018 Homegardner Road, just north of Castalia. More information on the open house is available by calling 419-684-7499. More information on Ohio’s six fish hatcheries is available online at the wildohio.com.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.