By Richard Martin
Some boaters like their lakes small, peaceful, and quiet, while others prefer lively and busy with an option for peace and quiet when lively becomes too much. Folk who favor the latter should enjoy West Branch Reservoir, a lake that seems to offer something for everyone. West Branch is located in Portage County about six miles from Ravenna and 40 miles from Cleveland. It's a big lake, 2,350 acres with a whopping 40 miles of shoreline, one that draws LOTS of boaters during the season, partly because it offers big water boating with unlimited horsepower.
Boaters also like this lake because of its many bays and backwaters that often fork and fork again offering plenty of opportunity to spend lazy hours exploring with new sights around every corner. There are boat rentals, gasoline, and supplies at the marina, and four launch ramps to provide plenty of access though the ramps can be busy on fine summer weekends. Docks can be rented on a seasonal basis, and while boaters can race as they like along the main lake, a no-wake zone extends 300 feet from all shorelines, and the area west of Rock Spring causeway is also a no-wake zone.
Fishing can be good at West Branch, not great, but good, and in spring months boaters can find fair action on largemouth bass up the various branches on fish that average a pound or so, but reach four pounds and more. Top water baits around weed beds, plastic worms and pig and jig combinations along the shoreline, and spinnerbaits in white or chartreuse are good choices for bass.
There are walleye here too, and fair fishing for crappie and bluegill. The crappie, as always, can be found near shoreline brush piles and fallen trees in spring, and while they'll average only eight inches or so, some of 12 inches, even more turn up to anglers working the wood with bobbers and minnows. Fishing for channel cats can be excellent at night for those who tight line the bottom with nightcrawlers, cutbait, and fishy smelling commercial offerings.
There are muskie here too, not many, but trophy class, and in fact, the state record tiger muskie came from these waters in 1984, a fish that lost its crown to a later catch at Turkeyfoot Lake. One point for boating anglers to remember is that action for walleye, bass, and muskies is often best at night. The lake can become very roiled with powerboats crisscrossing its length, but at night the waters calm and fish come out to feed, often very near the shoreline.
There are other things to do at West Branch, and camping is just one of them. The campground, usually a busy place, offers 29 full service sites, 155 sites with electrical hookups, and 14 non-electric sites. There are also heated showers, flush toilets, laundry facilities, and a trailer dump station, all (nearly) of the comforts of home, and some campsites at lakeside offer boating access.
Hiking boaters will love this lake, especially those who like to escape busy once in a while and find quiet. There are more than 12 miles of hiking trails in the park along with a portion of the Buckeye Trail that passes through its acreage and is linked to the campground by a two-mile spur. One good walk is along the south side of the reservoir. There's little traffic here, but pretty woodlands of beech, maple, and pine, and nice vistas of the lake.
In spring, hikers will find myriads of lovely flowers along the trails, from trilliums to Dutchman's breeches and bloodroot. They might also catch glimpses of red fox, squirrel, rabbits, wild turkey and deer, as well as woodland birds and shoreline waterfowl. A good place for those with a naturalist bent.
Those that like to branch out will find that the West Branch area was once scoured with glaciers, and as huge blocks of ice broke free and melted, kettle lakes were formed. Eventually, these little lakes filled with sediment leaving boggy wetlands with unique assemblages of plants like buttonbush, alder, skunk cabbage, and swamp white oak.
Boaters who like an occasional session of mountain biking will enjoy this lively spot, too. Mountain biking is permitted on trails in the snowmobile area, and after leaving the parking area and riding up to cable line road, there are six loops that provide about eight miles of single and double track. As one biker said, "It's good biking here, hilly with some mud and obstacles. I like it fine."
A lot of material for Ohio history books came from this area, much of it associated with Indians and early settlers. Indians named the Mahoning River here, calling it mahonick, which means "at the salt lick", and at the west end of the park is a crossroads known as Campbellsport, named for Captain John Campbell who mustered militia for the War of 1812.
There's more to do around this rich area too, like making a visit to Tinker's Creek State Park and state nature preserve northwest of Streetsboro. During the spring migration, the marsh provides food and shelter for thousands of waterfowl. And don't forget Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park northeast of Ravenna where winding foot trails meander around, under, and between spectacular rock formations.
It's a good place for boaters who like plenty to do, and information is waiting at the ODNR website, at the park office (330-296-3239), and at the campground for camping reservations (1-866-644-6727). The next months will be