Ohio River Fisheries Management
The Ohio River provides a wide variety of fishing to shore and boat anglers along its 981 miles. Twenty-five types of sport fish are available from its origin at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to where it empties into the Mississippi River, near Cairo, Illinois. Habitat diversity along the river results in a range of fishes, with over 159 species found throughout the river and its tributaries. Fisheries in the river are cooperatively managed by state natural resource agencies bordering the river, including Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois through the Ohio River Fisheries Management Team
Major Ohio River habitats include pools, tailwaters, embayments, and tributaries. The characteristics and quantity of each habitat type differ from the upper to the lower portions of the river, and are affected by 19 lock and dam structures maintained by the United States Army Corps of Engineers to manage navigation. For example, the change in elevation, or drop of the river is greater in the upper portions, resulting in more lock and dam structures. This results in more rapid currents, shorter pools, and fewer embayments. Further downstream, however, river elevation changes less dramatically, resulting in fewer lock and dam structures, slower currents, and larger embayments. These differences affect the fish communities along the river and the quality and diversity of fishing. The most popular sport fish in the river are black bass (largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass), hybrid striped bass, white bass, sauger, walleye, and catfish (channel, flathead, and blue).
Two-thirds of the fish anglers catch in the Ohio River are near tailwaters
, yet these habitats represent less than one percent of the river. Tailwaters are areas directly below dams where fish congregate due to the currents, availability of prey, and the barriers to upstream movement that are created by dams. Some of the best shoreline access along the river can be found in tailwaters, as well. Particularly good fishing in tailwaters can be found for sauger, hybrid striped bass, white bass, and catfish, and in the uppermost tailwaters such as Pike Island and New Cumberland, good fishing for walleye and smallmouth bass can be found as well. Learn more about fishing opportunities in the Ohio River.
Ohio’s 451-mile southern border along the Ohio River is divided into a western management unit and an eastern management unit for the purposes of managing fisheries. When fishing the Ohio River, it is important to know which management unit you are fishing and to check regulations in that unit. The western unit is along the Kentucky-Ohio border. Kentucky and Ohio have shared jurisdiction of the Ohio River since 1985, when the United States Supreme Court made that decision (Ohio v. Kentucky, 471 U.S. 153). However, in the eastern unit along the West Virginia-Ohio border, West Virginia owns the river and jurisdiction is not shared. Agreements between Kentucky and Ohio, and West Virginia and Ohio allow each state to honor the fishing licenses of the adjacent state along their common borders on the mainstem of the Ohio River, but access allowed in embayments and tributaries differs in the western and eastern units. Learn more about Ohio River regulations