July 7, 2008

Fishing ReCreation Land Lots of Opportunities on American Electric Power’s 42,000 Acres

By Art Holden

Sixty years ago, when the Central Ohio Coal Company was tearing up southeastern Ohio, few could envision what the future would hold for the depressed and distressed area. Farming wasn't profitable, but below the pastures and hillsides were rich deposits of coal.

Central Ohio Coal, a subsidiary of American Electric Power, surface mined the three-county area, stripping it of not only its beauty, but of its trees and grasses, as well as its wildlife.

AEP had a plan, though, and as barren as the land once looked, now few would know it ever was mined. In place of the destruction now is 42,000 acres of ReCreation Land available for the public to hunt, fish and camp on.

Located mainly in Morgan County, and including parts of Muskingum and Noble, the land has been brought back to life as AEP has planted over 63-million trees, created 350 lakes and ponds and 380 campsites for the public's enjoyment.

More than 170 of the ponds are fishable, some so remote you need to hike back to them, while others are easily accessible by state roads. The good ones, though, those that aren't heavily fished, take a bit of work to get to.

My brother Don and I spent all day Wednesday on AEP land, searching out five ponds, mostly in the equestrian area on the western side of the 42,000 acres. We left Doylestown at 4 a.m., and were fishing by 6:45 after driving over 100 miles and traversing some winding and up-and-down roads the final 17 miles.

Towing a canoe behind the truck, we crawled up a gravel road the last three miles, dodging pot holes and puddles of clay to pond No. 141. Probably four or five acres in size, it was the kind of pond you envision when thinking about the perfect water for bass. As the fog was rising off the warm waters, we quickly unloaded and started fishing a paddle or two from where we put in. Don had a strike on a top-water lure within minutes, and we were thinking it was going to be a great day.

It was a great day, but more for the experience than the fishing. That early top-water strike was one of the few bass bites we had all day as the big fish just weren't interested in what we were throwing. We could have caught a thousand bluegill, but on this day we were after bucketmouths.

Statistics show that the bass catch rate at AEP ponds is twice that of public lakes elsewhere in Ohio. You couldn't prove that by us this week, although we were fishing between storms. I think the biggest reason for our lack of success, though, was our presentation. The AEP ponds are pretty much stocked with just two fish -- bass and bluegill. Some also have crappie and catfish, but that's pretty much it.

In the ponds we fished, we found that the abundance of fish were bluegill -- hungry ones at that. Because of that, the ponds that support a bass population, their main diet is bluegill. Had we caught bluegill and fished with live bait, I think we may have had more success.

In an effort to change our luck, we thought we were really going to be smart and hit the jackpot when we worked our way to an off- the-beaten path pond that had no access to the water's edge. If it ever was fished, it was only be fished from shore.

So, we hauled the canoe some 200 yards through the woods, snaking it around trees, over logs and through tick-infested bushes to get to our secret pond. As it turned out, there wasn't a bass in the waters, so if you're going to AEP, cross pond No. 132 off your list, unless you want to bluegill fish. It's beautiful, but not worth the effort to get to.

With over 170 ponds to fish, AEP is a place that has to be experienced more than once. It's not for the faint of heart, though. Some of the driving is tough, and 4-wheel drive is encouraged, but not necessary, especially if the weather has been good for a week or two. A good map, and possibly a Google Earth aerial view, will pay for themselves in time saved. Also, you can download a map from the AEP website that shows camping, fishing, hiking, equestrian and hunting areas.

While use of the AEP land is free, there are some unique rules you need to follow.

First, you must register for a permit. You can do that online (www.aep.com/environmental/recreation/recland/requestpermit.htm), or at any AEP office. The permit is free, and good for a lifetime. There is a 6-HP limit on boat motors (no need for anything more than an electric trolling motor). There's no fishing with floats, jugs or trot lines, and there's no wading, bathing, swimming or scuba diving in AEP ponds.

There are a host of other rules (listed on your permit), most common-sense guidelines that allow AEP to open the property for the public's enjoyment. One thing you won't be able to do on AEP land that you may think allowable is off-roading (no 4-wheelers).

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