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By Jack Kiser, Outdoor's columnist for the Record-Courier in Portage County

Once again comes that glorious time of the year when, after still another winter of (general) discontent, we can train our sites on the fishing prospects for the upcoming open-water season.Next week will initiate our first weekly scouting report of the year.I can't tell how gratified I am at the number of readers that have, over the past few years,informed us of their appreciation and emerging loyalty to these weekly guides that are actually just an accumulation of credible data on my part,provided by the most premier and established contacts on our area waters.We hope you continue to support and patronize these vital links to quality up-to-date information who take the time to provide this writer with detailed and thorough reports throughout the year.
For this annual review, we have additionally incorporated the input of trusted area fisherman, historical precedents,and the invaluable data provided by my friends who do the electrofishing surveys and stocking programs administered under the auspices of our servants at the ODNR's Division of Wildlife.Admittedly, the latter data is a little like gauging a person's IQ, the accumulated information reflects potential, not true success rates.For example, how else can one possibly explain the DOW's projection year-after-year of Berlin as an "excellent" bass fishery?After all of the above has been considered,it is,of course, then filtered through the admitted and notorious prejudices and on-the-water experiences of this writer.
As always,I'll take all the blame for any inaccuracies, as long as we might receive half the credit when we again, upon end-of-the-year reflection, pretty much hit it right on the nose.

BREAM (bluegill, pumpkinseed,redears,sunfish)

5.Cuyahoga River-bigger specimens increasingly harder to find in deeper stretches, but for taking out the kids for easy access to major numbers for attention-span challenged youth, here's your ticket.
4.Aquilla Lake-electric-only Geauga County entry a real sleeper, particularly for nice-sized bluegill.
3.Portage Lakes-again,not the most pristine waters for the culinary-oriented, but East Reservoir features a measurable population of genuine 12-inch redears,feasting,one presumes, on this fishery's exploding zebra mussel count.All but overlooked...
2.LaDue Reservoir-big dropoff from #1.Big backbay bluegill are still there, but not in the numbers they once were.Try mid-lake brush piles when weeds choke the bays.
1.MOGADORE RESERVOIR-the great grey lady of Portage County still easily maintains its perch atop area panfisheries, despite '03's slight off-year.


5.Berlin Reservoir-benificiary of recent aggressive stocking programs.Channels very numerous, if rarely of trophy size.Old ramp a favorite haunt.
4.Cuyahoga-limited access fractures overall rating.Edison Reservoir still a cult favorite.
3.Clendenning-not the once(admittedly overpublicized)wonderland it was once revered as.Channel and bullhead populations actually unimpressive.Lond drive from most areas works against it also, but those huge flatheads retain cache'.
2.TIE-Mosquito/Punderson-former in a slight decline mode,latter cited by DOW as increasingly "excellent.''
1.WEST BRANCH-unthinkable as a contender less than a decade ago; whiskered entries least publicized of overall amazing comeback.


5.Mogadore-not the premier year through the ice as last hopefully not a portent for the open-water bite.Deeper-water trenches west of 43 to the dam can provide some wonderful outings.
4.Cuyahoga-new ramp at Waterworks provides easy access to downriver schools.Not like Edison, but not as logistically challenging either.
3.West Branch-least dramatic example of water's overall surge, but steadily improved for 5+years now.
2.Berlin-numbers clearly superior to #3 neighbor, if not average size.
1.MOSQUITO-the crown doth rest precariously;another decline like '03-however slight-and we might well have a new favorite.


5.Walborn Reservoir-no longer an underfished afterthought.Can't sustain a great deal of pressure.Catch-and-release essential in this category here.
4.Portage Lakes-falloff in last three years has been precipitous.Even the staunchest of adherents can any longer deny that this once singular bass factory has been tournamented into obvious decline, as most recent tourny results quickly attest.
3.Mogadore-weedline-edges bite simply won't wear out.Electro-shock results again showed lunker count down again this year, a sad reflection of dearth of release mentality among many here.
2.Nimisila Reservoir-the one "Portage Lake" that has not suffered an obvious recent downturn.Gee, wonder why...
1.LADUE-not a unanimous choice.Benefited largely by declines elsewhere.Still can be woderfully productive,and recent accessibility problems can't hurt in the long run.


5.Berlin-contiues to improve, if very slowly.
4.Lake Milton-lauded by recent surveys.Many officials feel it will surpass all area muskie fisheries by the end of the decade.
3.Piedmont-lengthy drive works against overall attractiveness for many, though relative remoteness from population centers has its obvious upside,too.
2.Pymatuning Reservoir-many of the same pluses and minuses as #3, but appears more in an upswing.
1.WEST BRANCH-again, not an automatic choice.Fell off a shade again last year, though many feel this may have been due to the greater attention increasingly paid now to other lake species


5.Mogadore-southside redworm/minnow bite carried the autumn action here.
4.Highlandtown Lake-Columbiana County favorite remains woefully underfished-and not all that far away.
3.Pymatuning-arguably this much-denigrated fisherie's most reliable biter.
2.LaDue-no, they don't often get very big here-but there's a sizeable mid-lake population that is showing signs of growth stability and is seldom bothered by anglers.
1.LAKE ERIE-no arguing the consistently solid numbers of limit catches the past couple of years, even if evidence of true jumbos seems in decline.


5.Berlin-fall points bite was off last fall,weather may have been an ongoing factor.Some lunkers here.
4.LaDue-words out now, and the adventurous are finding them in more locales than just off the dam.Starting to be evident in the local tournaments, too.
3.Milton-officials now rate the smallie fishery here better than that for largemouth.Unprecedented, and most welcome.
2.Cuyahoga-smallies have all but taken over from the largemouth throughout the river,like red ants from black-except for the expansive Edison Pool, where the battle for dominance still rages, much to the delight of local riverats.
1.LAKE ERIE-as previously noted, when considering cost,time,and conditions uncertainty,an increasing number of smallie afficianados have begun to opt for one or more favored stretches of the Cuyahoga for their smallie fix as the big lake's bronzebacks continue an overall decline in the face of excessive tournaments, irresponsible charter captains, and other increasingly damaging infestations, human and otherwise.


5.Silver Creek Lake-electric-only pond on Summit County's Norton/Barberton border boasts an almost disproportionally large stocking of quality rainbows.
4.Rocky River-remains the big lake's most underrated steelie tributary-clear to Montrose!
3.Lake Erie-the breakwalls,shipping lanes, and open water of the big lake proper are becoming more and more the option of northcoast steelheaders.Methods differ,offending some purists a bit (like me), but the trend is undeniable, and perhaps irreversible.
2.Punderson-Geauga County gem remains arguably the most underfished -per-potential body of water in the state.Nice variety of trout, too.
1.CONNEAUT CREEK-last year solidified status as Erie's premiere steelhead tributary.Proportianate number of Pennsylvania plates in those parking lots no coincidence, folks.


5.Mosquito-and the decline continues...
4.Milton-on the upswing...
3.Nimisila-have replaced saugeye in the state stocking program.Something special could be looming here,and Eddie will keep us posted.
2.West Branch-a close call! Comeback here reminds many of the practical advantages inherent in the inland option.
1.LAKE ERIE-weird year last year may simply reflect the ongoing adjustment process on Erie.Western Basin actually made a relative comeback vis-à-vis the Central last year.

(Jack Kiser is the Outdoor's columnist for the Record-Courier in Portage County.His television program, the "Buckeye Angler",is seen on Sundays at 2:30pm on PBS.You may contact him at the paper, or at buckeyeangler.com)
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