Expected winterkill will chill out Ohio's anglers

Each time I packed up to leave after ice-fishing a small Ashtabula County lake I wondered about – and worried – about the status of its fishes.

Oh, not the ones I caught though. Those went home with a friend who filleted and bagged them for later dinner meals.

No, the bluegills, crappie, bass and even catfish that still were swimming underneath the lake’s 15 to 18 inches of ice were my concern.

And while many Ohio hunters have (and are) fretting over the state of deer, turkeys, rabbits and other critters following one of the most severe winters on record, anglers, too, are looking into their worry boxes.

For good reason, as the Ohio Division of Wildlife is preparing anglers for the potentially strong possibility that a whole bunch of small and privately own lakes and ponds likely experienced some nasty winter kill.

Yet even at least one state-owned lake’s fisheries is in the same ice-locked boat. Spencer Lake in Medina County is believed to have suffered – in the words of the Wildlife Division – “…a substantial winter-kill that has affected many fish species.”

The Wildlife Division’s District Three fish management supervisor Phil Hillman says his staff will assess Spencer’s fish community this spring “and will discuss future management options.”

“It is likely that we will hear more stories this spring of similar winterkill events at other shallow and nutrient-rich smaller lakes and ponds,” Hillman says.

Ratcheting the matter up more than a few notches the parent Ohio Department of Natural Resources is preparing anglers for the worse, too.

“Winterkill is most common in shallow ponds and the situation will become obvious if dead fish are seen along the shoreline,” also says Wildlife Division spokesman John Windau.

Such a susceptibility will almost certainly be noticed in Ohio’s northern counties, both because of this winter’s severity that included record-breaking cold temperatures as well as the fact that many of the region’s lakes and pond are still layered in a mantle of ice.

“However, similar to last year which also included a severe winter, winterkill is possible in any part of the state,” Windau says.

As for Lake Erie and the fact that it was 95-percent covered in ice, winterkill will happen but not for the same reason as for Ohio’s inland lakes and ponds.

Instead of a deprivation of dissolved oxygen caused by rotting vegetation the situation on Lake Erie will come about because of temperature fluctuations. This situation occurs nearly every early spring where countless dead and dying gizzard shad wash up along the Lake Erie shoreline.

Still, the mass of shad and the offensive odor that their decaying flesh produces often scares the bejabbers out of the unknowing but makes for good 6 o’clock news drama.

Even so Ohio’s anglers join their hunting brothers and sisters in saluting the end of a very distressing winter.

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