Today’s pick for review is the Westbranch Marina. This area offers a unique opportunity to fish deeper waters without the use of boats with a permanent concrete pier which gives you a great deal of choice on how deep you want to fish and the kinds of fish you can pull out of the water.
Officially called Michael J. Kirwan Lake, it is still locally known by the state park name of Westbranch. Regardless of what you call it, this pier offers some of the most consistent fishing in the area with catches ranging from crappie to various breeds of bass and catfish.
The primary thing to remember while fishing here is that there is no shade or direct access to the water, so take your sunscreen, wear a hat and keep hydrated if you are going during the daylight hours. Heat injuries and sun burns are a good way to ruin an otherwise enjoyable day of fishing.
With that out of the way let’s get down to business. The way you are going to fish here is all in what breed of fish you are trying to catch. With such a diversity in choice I am going to break this article up by species to make it a little easier for you to navigate.
Bluegill are generally used as bait fish because of their comparative small size in reference to game fish but they can also serve as a meal if enough of them are caught.
The first thing you need to decide is if you are going to use them for bait, food or just release them. The only real impact this decision will have is if you are keeping to eat in which case it’s ill advised to keep anything under six inches because the amount of meat on them is not worth the work it would take to remove it.
If you’re intending to use these fish for bait then the size really doesn’t matter. In this case the amount of time you are planning to fish really dictates how many of these fish you need to catch. A six inch bluegill should be enough to last a single fisherman at least two hours.
Now that you have made your decision on what you are going to do with your catch, it’s time to talk tackle.
It’s important to remember that bluegill are small fish with small mouths. Bluegill will often hit bait over and over until it falls off your hook. This can lead to a frustrating session of “bait nabbing.” In order to avoid having your bait stripped over and over by smaller fish it is important to use a very small hook. An example of this can be found in the pictures from my previous article where I talk about a small ant lure. Couple this lure with a very small piece of nightcrawler or a maggot and you have a recipe for success.
In the case of bluegill you’ll want to use a bobber with about six inches of line from the end of it. Bluegill tend towards the surface to feed and it is here where you will find them the most aggressive towards your bait.
You won’t get much of a chance with bluegill to set your hook because they tend for quick strikes to take small bites out of their target rather than swallowing their food whole like bigger predatory fish do. The plus however is that with bluegill being close to the surface you will be able to easily see them coming and be ready for them.
With a little bit of practice you will quickly learn the opportune moment to set your hook. As I said with bluegill it will be fast so be certain to flick the end of your rod away from the fish the moment your bobber goes under the surface or it will be too late.
On a final note, if you are keeping these fish to eat you will want to plan to catch three to four fish per adult you want to feed at a minimum length of six inches each.
For more species-specific information click here.
Crappie require a bit of a different approach than the bluegill above. While bluegill are technically predatory fish they feed mostly on smaller shads, minnows and insects an will even forage for food. Crappie, on the other hand, are generally ambush predators. They prefer structure and depth to camouflage their presence until they are ready to strike.
Much like bass, the mouth of a crappie opens up to several times the size of when it is closed which means you can use slightly larger hooks when trying to catch them, but don’t go too crazy.
The best bait hands down for catching Crappie are medium-sized minnows. These small baitfish are the natural prey of crappie and will do the most towards enticing them to bite your hook. Crappie can also be caught on nightcrawlers, crickets, maggots, spinbaits and crankbaits.
For this article we are going to discuss minnows for the sake of brevity and the fact that minnows will get you crappie faster than any other bait.
Your technique is going to depend largely on the time of day and the heat. Crappie come to the surface to feed on shads and minnows in the early morning and the evening.
The first rig we are going to talk about is a tight line. There are a variety of ways to make this rig using pre-made snells but the easiest and most durable way by far is to use a simple hook, a metal lead and a 1-2 oz. bank sinker.
To construct this rig tie your metal lead on about a foot up your line and then tie your bank sinker to the bottom of the line. Once this is done attach your hook and you’re ready to go. This rig uses the sinker to hold your line on the bottom while allowing your minnow to swim around just above the bottom. This is where you want to look for crappie during the heat of the day. At Westbranch specifically you will want to drop your line to the bottom about two feet out from the pier.
The second rig is a much simpler bobber setup which you can use to fish for crappie durning the cooler mornings and evenings. For this you will want to set your line about a foot below your bobber.
It might take you sometime to get used to the minnow swimming your bobber around but what you want to watch for is the same as with the bluegill: for the bobber to go completely under the water. If it is just slightly bouncing, it’s just a nibble and you don’t want to scare off potentially productive bites by trying to set your hook too early.
Crappie offer a little more leeway with hook setting on this set up. Being ambush predators, they will creep up from below your bait and make for a quick hit and run. Once your bobber goes down, wait about half a second and set your hook.
The last thing I want to cover here before moving on is how to hook your minnow. There are several ways to do it but what I have found to work best here is running the hook through the mouth of your minnow and out the gills. This allows the fish to swim around more naturally and it will also allow it to live longer than certain other methods. If you happen to notice that you’re minnows are starting to get stripped off your hooks, then hook your bait through the middle of its body just under the dorsal fin. This will make your bait a little more difficult to unhook.
For more species-specific information click here.
There are large numbers of bass swimming around the pier. I’ve personally caught smallmouths and hybrid striped bass at this location, but I have also seen largemouths swimming around and jumping.
Bass here can be caught easily using crankbaits and minnows during most of the day. If you’re using crankbait then you will want to cast off the northeast facing side the pier or the southeast facing side for the most success.
If you’re using minnows to catch them you will experience the most success in the same areas with a bobber and a bait depth of about one foot. For bass you will want to use medium or large minnows hooked through the body as described above. The blood and distress of the bait fish is sure to attract these medium sized predators.
For more species-specific information click on one of the following links.
While I have caught numerous catfish this summer I have yet to pull any out of this area yet, though mostly because I have not spent as much time here as I have in other locations. Just two nights ago I saw another fisher pull a channel catfish upwards of 20 inches out.
Catfish offer more of a variety in both breed and bait selection. Most species of catfish are foraging predators. This means that they prefer to feed on live prey such as smaller fish, crayfish and insects but they will also feed on scavenged remains of dead fish and have been known to eat fruits and berries which fall into the water as well.
For the most success here you are going to want to stick with organic bait either dead or alive. Nightcrawlers, cut bait, chicken livers and chicken will yield the best results when cat fishing.
Depending on the size of the catfish you are planning to catch you will want to beef your tackle up. Flathead catfish, for example, commonly reach lengths of 40 inches weighing in at around 30 pounds. I personally have caught a 32-inch channel catfish this summer that weighed in around 20 pounds.
When cat fishing I use a 6.5-foot pole with 25 lbs test line and a metal lead. Catfish have many rows of minuscule teeth with which they grind their food and they can easily grind through smaller test line during a long fight. Bigger cats can snap your line as well through sheer displays of power when fighting so it’s important to be conscious of the size fish you want to catch and adjust your tackle accordingly.
The most successful setup for cat fishing is the tight line that I mentioned in the crappie section above. Catfish tend towards the bottom of the body of water they live in and are most active at night around moonrise.
Cat fishing is somewhere you also want to address safety concerns. On their dorsal and pectoral fins cat fish have a sharp boney protrusion commonly called a barb. While some people erroneously believe that the whiskers of a cat will sting you, it is these barbs that you want to take the most care with. While on smaller cats these barbs are around a half-inch long, they can reach lengths of up to six inches and in all cases can cause serious injury.
When handling smaller cats that can be held one handed the safest way to hold them is to grab them around the belly and put your thumb under the barb of one pectoral fin and place the other between your index and middle finger. This will allow you to maintain control of the fish and all three of its barbs.
When handling larger cats the first rule of business is never, for any reason, put your hand in their mouth. While other predators such as largemouth bass have comparatively weak structure around their mouth and can be held by their lower jaws, catfish have powerfully muscular jaws. A 20-inch channel cat can bruise your fingers while a 40-inch flathead can crush them. Larger catfish also roll and can easily clamp down on your fingers and cause a fractured wrist when rolling.
If you’re keeping a large cat for eating then you can handle it by its gills. Otherwise, if you are releasing them, you will want to put your arms around their bodies while being mindful of their barbs. A plus about catfish is that they can breathe oxygen from the air and they are very hard to kill. This works to your advantage if you have a particularly feisty monster. You can give it a little bit of time to calm down before returning it to the water.
A good net and a roll of duct tape will also go a long way if you are planning on keeping large cats for eating. Nets can make it much easier to pull large fish from the water and lower the chances of your line snapping while trying to remove it. I personally, when catching large cats, duct tape their dorsal and pectoral fins down to reduce the chances of getting barbed.
For more species-specific information click one of the links below:
There are many other breeds of larger fish in Westbranch as well, from walleye to the ever-sought-after muskellunges, but these fish are very elusive and picky eaters. It is possible to catch them from the pier, but it is a rare occurrence and one that I haven’t gotten the pleasure of taking part in or witnessing, yet.
Whether you are looking for a day of catch and release or an exciting day of sport fishing, the pier at Westbranch Marina is sure to satisfy you. With its high populations of sport fish and the wide variety of baits and lures that produce results, this pier offers a versatile fishing experience that can be fun for the solo fisherman or the whole family.
The fish mentioned in todays article are subject to size and bag limits. While the ODNR imposes statewide limits. Westbranch has its own individual restrictions enforced by park rangers which are as follows.
Crappie: Must be at least nine inches in length and no more than 30 fish per person may be taken from this location in a single day.
Largemouth, smallmouth & spotted bass: Must be at least 12 inches in length and no more than five of these fish in combination per person may be taken from this location in a single day.
Walleye, Saugeye and Sauger: Must be at least 15 inches in length and no more than six of these fish in combination per person may be taken from this location in a single day.
Muskellunge: No limit on size and no more than one per person may be taken in a single day.
Channel Catfish (under 28 inches): No limit on size and no more than six per person may be taken in a single day.
Channel Catfish (28 inchers or larger): No more than one per person may be taken in a single day.
Flathead Catfish (over 35 inches): No more than one per person may be taken in a single day.