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Ohio River

©Illinois State Water Survey

Description: The Ohio River, a tributary of the Mississippi River, flows along the shared border of Illinois and Kentucky. Its length along the border is 133 miles, and its major tributaries include the Wabash and Saline rivers. The Ohio River drains to the Mississippi River near Cairo.

The Illinois portion of the Ohio River begins at the mouth of the Wabash River near Uniontown, Kentucky and flows 133 miles to its confluence with the Mississippi River at Fort Defiance. This portion of the Ohio is made up of two lock and dams with two river pools and an open river area. The pool areas, embayments, and open river areas provide diverse habitats, which provide for excellent fishing opportunities. Over 150 different species of fish have been recorded from the Ohio River with many of these being sport species. The river level is regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers for navigation and has a navigation channel marked by buoys running its entire length. Water depths in the channel run from 9 to 90 feet.

Smithland Pool is the largest pool and is formed by the high lift dam near Smithland, Kentucky. The pool begins near Uniontown, Kentucky and runs 72 miles to the Smithland Lock and Dam. Smithland Pool is over 23,000 acres in size and contains several small embayments that provide many fishing opportunities. These embayments are actually small tributaries that were impounded when the dam was built.

Major embayments on the Illinois side include Lusk Creek, Barren Creek, Big Creek, Big Grand Pierre Creek, Bay Creek, Dog Creek, Alcorn Creek and the Saline River. Bluegill, white and black crappie, channel catfish and largemouth bass can be found in lower portion of these areas. The main channel borders and island borders of the Smithland Pool provide excellent fishing for spotted bass, white bass, freshwater drum, flathead catfish, channel catfish and blue catfish. Some smallmouth bass can also be found along portions of the main channel border.

Areas of stronger current in the upper portion of the pool above Old Shawneetown, Illinois provide anglers opportunities to catch additional sport fish, such as sauger, striped bass and hybrid striped bass. The tailwater of the Smithland Dam provides excellent angling opportunities for many different sport fish. Blue catfish, channel catfish, flathead catfish, white bass, striped bass, spotted bass, sauger, and freshwater drum are some of the fish that can be caught in the tailwater. Anglers can also expect to see the exotic bighead, silver and grass carp in Smithland Pool and its tailwater.

map The smaller pool on the lower Ohio is the Olmsted Pool. The Olmsted Lock and Dam replaced the old wicket dams, 52 and 53. The Olmsted Pool starts at the Smithland Tailwater, river mile 915.5, and runs to the Olmsted Lock and Dam at river mile 964.4. The open river portion of the Ohio begins at the Olmsted Tailwater and flows to river mile 981.0 at the confluence of the Mississippi River below Cairo, Illinois. This smaller pool and open river areas provide anglers opportunities to catch channel catfish, blue catfish, flathead catfish, striped bass, hybrid striped bass, and white bass.

River Access: Access to Smithland Pool can be found at its many public and private boat ramps. Some of the public ramps can be found at Old Shawneetown, Elizabethtown, Rosiclare, Golconda Marina, and Lusk Creek in Golconda and Barren Creek. Access to the Smithland tailwater can be obtained by locking through the Smithland Dam or by utilizing the boat ramp in Smithland, Kentucky.

Access to the Olmsted Pool portion can be found at the many public boat ramps. Some public boat ramps to the Olmsted Pool can be found at Brookport, Fort Massac in Metropolis, Joppa, and Grand Chain Lodge. There are also public ramps in Kentucky, such as Smithland and Paducah.

Some public ramps for the open water portion can be found at Olmsted and Mound City.

Status of the Sport Fishery: The Ohio River has an excellent sport fishery, which does and will continue to provide many angling opportunities to the Illinois angler. Please be aware of the consumption advisory on this portion of the Ohio River.

Ohio River Fishing Reports

Ohio River

There were 14 tournaments held on this waterbody in 2022.

Species Total Fish Caught
Crappie 70
Largemouth Bass 414
Smallmouth Bass 6
Spotted Bass 46

Top 5 Largemouth Bass caught on this waterbody in 2022 tournaments:

1     4.68 lbs
2     4.62 lbs
3     4.22 lbs
4     4.19 lbs
5     4.00 lbs

Top 5 Total Tournament Weight of Largemouth Bass caught on this waterbody in 2022 tournaments:

1 102.94 lbs
2 87.88 lbs
3 85.44 lbs
4 85.31 lbs
5 83.13 lbs

Multiple day tournaments are listed with * end date.

Interested in participating in one of these public tournaments? Contact us with tournament ID for more information.

2023 Approved or Pending Tournaments
Start Date ID Approval Ramp Location Bank/Boat
Max Boats Species Youth? Open to Public?
September-2424899ApprovedGolconda Marina boat
30Largemouth Bass
Smallmouth Bass
Spotted Bass
October-2924900ApprovedGolconda Marina boat
30Largemouth Bass
Smallmouth Bass
Spotted Bass