Leesville Lake, Bowerston, OH
Fishing is the primary draw to Leesville Lake. There are other things to do here but the quiet, serene surroundings are more conducive to a day on the water than anything else. Spouses who are along for the ride on the 1,011-acre lake will enjoy the wooded shoreline with a good book in hand.
The Leesville dam was constructed in 1936 by the U.S. Corps of Engineers on McGuire Creek, a tributary of Conotton Creek on the Tuscarawas River. It extends for 1,695 feet with a maximum height of 74 feet and top width of 25 feet.
The fishing crowd hails the muskie as the king of the depths at Leesville Lake. Year after year Leesville produces more muskies than any other muskie lake in Ohio. Most anglers troll big crankbaits, inline spinners and single- or double-bladed spinnerbaits for these feisty fish and go home with a great story about tangling with one or two of the state’s largest predators. Grandmas, AC Shiners, JR13s and Sissons are local favorite baits.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife maintains the angler-reported Muskie Angler Log to keep a finger on the pulse of this exceptional muskie fishery. In 2009 anglers caught 752 muskies with 107 of them measuring at least 42 inches. Two of these whoppers hit the 50-inch mark. Veteran muskie hunters on the lake still play the guessing game on where and how deep to fish and there are no magical formulas. Once the water temperatures begin reaching the 55-degree range in the spring the muskies become more active and aggressive and the fish sometimes follow a lure right up to the side of the boat before smashing it. The Muskie Log can be accessed online at http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/muskielog/welcome.aspx.
Catfishermen are also successful on Leesville. The ODOW ranks the lake’s channel catfishery as excellent and backs up the claim with statistics. Cats are stocked during odd-numbered years at about a year old which makes them harvestable in short order. The 2006 survey indicated that 39 percent of the sampled fish measured at least 24 inches. Chicken livers, stink baits, and homemade smelly concoctions take advantage of the cat’s well-developed sense of smell and preference for culinary delights most other fish won’t touch.
Largemouth bass fishing is also good. A sizable population of 15-inch largemouth bass swims the submerged weedbeds, fallen trees, and shallow inlets. Bass fall for the traditional buzzbaits, plastic worms, minnow-imitating crankbaits and spinnerbaits.
Saugeyes are stocked in the lake by the ODOW but anglers find catch rates less than satisfactory. These fish are the hybrid product of a cross between stripers and white bass and were expected to do well in the lake. The fact that Leesville harbors the highest concentration of muskies per acre in the state puts the saugeyes in an unenviable spot.
The panfishing is excellent. The most recent fisheries survey that measured bluegill harvest rates found that the big ‘gills averaged longer than 7 inches before hitting the stringer. The crappies aren’t particularly huge and the numbers have fluctuated down through the years. The ODOW recently implemented changes in the fishing regulations that reflect the ODOW’s hopes that the new 9-inch minimum length and 30-fish creel limits will make the crappie fishery more stable. Anglers occasionally hook a whopper that hits the 10- or 11-inch mark but they’re not common. Woody and vegetative cover draw minnows and insects and bluegills and crappies follow. Bluegills are taken on earthworms under a bobber and small jigs tipped with minnows and micro-spinnerbaits fool the slabs.
A 10-horsepower boat motor restriction is in place. Two marinas with ramps are available for small watercraft, canoes and sailboats. The motor restriction helps to maintain the peace and quiet.
Area attractions include the Algonquin Mill Festival hosted by the Carroll County Historical Society. Local bands and old-time traditions are showcased with a healthy dose of arts and crafts, tours of reconstructed buildings and antique steam engines included. The McCooks house museum features the civil-war era just nine miles from the dam in Carrollton. Camping in the small MWCD campground is always an option on a seasonal basis.
Bicyclists enjoy cruising area roads and park facilities. Hikers hit the trails across from the campground. Hunters can hunt a variety of game species in season and obtain a hunting map by contacting the MWCD office. The wooded areas and quiet surroundings make a relaxing time for all.
There are no designated swimming areas or horseback trails.
Leesville Lake is managed by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District which can be reached at (330)343-6647 for more information, or visit the MWCD’s website at www.mwcdlakes.com. The lake is 15 miles east of New Philadelphia on State Route 39 and then four miles southeast on State Route 212. For additional information on fishing Leesville Lake and boat rentals contact the Petersburg Marina at (330)627-4270 or Clow’s Marina at (740)269-5371. The ODOW at (330)644-2293 is another good source of fishing information.