Visiting and Fishing Ohio’s West Branch State Park and Kirwan Reservoir
West Branch State Park and Kirwan Reservoir are located in Portage County, Ohio approximately one hour southeast of the City of Cleveland and forty minutes from downtown Akron. Created in 1965 and opened to the public the following year, the reservoir continues to provide a variety of fishing opportunities for differing levels of angling experience and skill.
A part of the Mahoning River Watershed, the 2,650 acre reservoir is split into two sections. The entire portion of the lake west of Rock Springs Road is marked as a no wake zone to boaters. But the area provides an ideal setting for kayaks and canoes to find the hard to reach coves and structure. Two gravel drives, one each on Knapp Road and Rock Springs Road, provide easy access to unload fishing gear in the no wake portion of the reservoir.
Although the no wake zone extends 300 feet from shore throughout the eastern side of the lake, powerboats are typically used to enjoy the fishing east of Rock Springs Road. Two boat ramps, the West Boat Ramp and East Boat Ramp, both provide parking for trucks, trailers, and accompanying vehicles. There is also a marina across the bay from the East Boat Ramp with dock access that is run on an annual lottery system by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. A wheelchair accessible fishing pier is also located at the marina. During the summer months limited concessions and rentals are also available.
Fishing Branch State Park and Kirwan Reservoir
West Branch State Park and Kirwan Reservoir provide a variety of options to suit a range of fishing experience and skill levels. Good populations of panfish like bluegill and large and smallmouth bass can be caught from shore. Largemouth bass often prefer the weed covered inlets and bays and can tolerate warmer waters than their smallmouth cousins. Find the weedy bays and downed trees along shore and you’re likely to find largemouth bass when using a plastic worm or weedless rubber shad bait.
For smallmouth bass, check rocky points with more solid structure and water depth. There are various stretches of shore that have reinforced boulders and rock that make for great habitat for smallmouth bass. Isolated structures in deeper water, such as shallow hazards or rock piles, also create habitat for fish off the shore.
Thinking Like a Fish
Both largemouth and smallmouth bass species will often take jigs baited with nightcrawlers or minnows, and in the early morning and evening, may strike a topwater lure such as a popper, jitterbug, or small torpedo-style lure. Although topwater lures are most effective based on their noise and action, frog patterns in red, white, or fire-tiger colors can also often attract fish in this part of the reservoir. Keep in mind that bass will often strike on a pause between retrieves.
Crappie can often be found off marina docks and throughout the main portion of the reservoir. This species is most often caught with jig style lures. Jigs paired with a larger trailing bait and dropped in deeper water are often effective for finding catfish on the reservoir.
Walleye can be targeted with a worm harness, crankbaits, or tube jigs bounced first off the bottom and then reeled in. Keep in mind that the lake is deeper toward the east end near the dam making it a good starting point for targeting Walleye at depth.
Muskie require larger sized lures, sometimes up to a foot long. On the reservoir they are often found by trolling areas where there are changes in water temperature or where there are drop-offs on the bottom terrain of the reservoir. Muskie are ambush predators with limited feeding windows, so anything that looks like it could hide a fish should be considered. Even a large, half-submerged log can potentially hold a trophy muskie.
Some anglers will often avoid fishing for muskie in hotter months, particularly August, as the water temperature typically is too high for a safe catch and release. However, the late summer months can be productive but may require an adjustment of tactics to fish depths of the reservoir where colder water can be found.
Carp is an additional challenge found in the reservoir. Local anglers will sometimes paddle or use a trolling motor to sneak up on carp cruising the muddy shallows of the coves throughout the lake. Carp feed with their mouth down toward the lakebed and are easily scared off by an angler’s presence. Dark green or black crayfish patterns are popular for catching carp. Try casting the lure out ahead of a cruising school of carp, with slow twitches and a smooth retrieve.
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West Branch State Park includes a campground with its own boat ramp for guests, as well as various hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. The nearby town of Ravenna has various places to fuel up the boat and grab a bite to eat. Whether fishing West Branch State Park and Kirwan Reservoir for the day or staying in the area longer, there is lots of water to cover and fish to be found in one of northeast Ohio’s top fishing locations.