New species breath new life into state’s Fish Ohio program

Columbus — The addition of five new recognized species and the reduction in the minimum length requirement of three other species when caught from inland waters has helped to breathe new life into the state’s Fish Ohio program.

Fish Ohio was launched in 1976 with only 138 entries. This 42-year-old program recognizes anglers who catch a qualifying specimen from one of 25 different species categories. Last year, new subsets were created regarding the minimum length requirements for five species, dividing them into separate Lake Erie/tributary and inland/Ohio River categories.

The addition of sucker, longnose gar, bowfin, spotted bass, and bullhead also helped clear the way to an increase in the number of successful Fish Ohio applicants in 2017, says Vicki Farus, the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Fish Ohio program administrator.

Farus said that for 2017, the wildlife division accepted 15,242 applications. That is up from the 13,918 accepted entries for 2016, Farus said.

Each successful Fish Ohio recipient on a one-per-year basis receives a colorful lapel pin featuring a preselected member from the program’s recognized list of species. Fish Ohio applicants can also print out on their own home computers certificates honoring their catch during the application processing procedure.

“The addition of the new species added 396 entries with the bullhead leading the way at 137 entries,” Farus said.

Also, says Farus, the new totals represent 1,928 entries for fish species that had their qualifying lengths lowered. Couple that with the 396 accepted entries for new species entries and the total of additions becomes 2,324, Farus said.

“So without those new entries we would have been at 12,918, a figure which is right around the average number of entries per year,” Farus said.

However, said Farus also, “we have no way of knowing how many entries were lost because of the qualifying lengths that we increased.”

Those increases were for carp, which saw the minimum length requirement rise from 26 to 28 inches, muskie from 36 to 40 inches, and freshwater drum (sheepshead when taken from Lake Erie and its tributaries) from 22 inches to 24 inches.

In terms of approved applications for the various recognized Fish Ohio species, the numbers for each in 2017 were (combined totals for any two-segmented species): blue catfish – 91; bowfin – 64; brown trout – 30; bullhead – 137; carp – 497; channel catfish – 1,643; crappie – 1,753; flathead catfish – 265; freshwater drum/sheepshead – 939; hybrid striped bass – 382; largemouth bass – 1,599; long-nosed gar – 57; muskie – 298; northern pike – 126; rainbow trout/steelhead – 296; rock bass – 542; sauger – 140; saugeye – 570; smallmouth bass – 737; spotted bass – 33; sucker – 105; sunfish/bluegill – 2,066; walleye – 1,587; white bass – 699; yellow perch 586.

Although the Fish Ohio program seems to have largely stabilized in terms of total number of entries, several species did post impressive numerical gains between 2010 and 2017. Among them were channel catfish, growing from 974 entries to 1,643, largemouth bass from 751 to 1,599, rock bass from 187 to 737, smallmouth bass from 274 to 737, sunfish/bluegill from 1,575 to 2,066, and white bass from 245 to 699.

Other species, however, have posted declines, such as rainbow trout/steelhead, which dropped from 406 entries in 2010 to 296 entries last year.

None, though, had seen the precipitous drop that befell the yellow perch. Fish Ohio applications for yellow perch dropped from the 1,117 entries in 2010 to 586 entries last year.

As for the walleye, that species’ entries dropped from its eight-year high of 2,430 entries in 2015 to the 1,587 entries in 2017.

In regard to where the Fish Ohio qualifying entries came from, the private pond remains the perennial favorite fishing hole with 3,636 entries, followed by Lake Erie with 3,317, and then the Ohio River at 679.

From there the numbers drop fast with Mosquito Creek Lake at 307, Indian Lake at 305, Scioto River at 294, Portage Lakes at 279, the Maumee River at 276, and Hoover Reservoir at 225.

The wildlife division’s Fish Ohio program also has a Master Angler component. This segment is a step up, recognizing anglers who catch at least one qualifying specimen from a minimum of four different recognized categories.

In 2017 there were 831 qualifying Master Angler recipients, the most ever awarded since this honor began in 1982 with just 35 qualifiers. In 2016 the total number of Master Angler recipients was 613.

Each approved Master Angler receives a modified version of the lapel pin along with a certificate designating his or her Master Angler status.

“I suspect the large increase in the number of Master Anglers recipients was simply because of the addition of those new species and the lowering qualifications of others,” Farus said.

A cost breakdown of the Fish Ohio program shows that the postage required to send out the popular lapel pins is the greatest expense. With the sending of some 9,000 protected mailing envelopes, this expense amounted to $24,525.

The cost of the pins totaled $7,159.50. And this year’s Fish Ohio will again feature a walleye – the fifth time for this species with the last time being in 2010. This is the most appearances by any recognized Fish Ohio species.

Species that have appeared on the pin four times include the largemouth bass, yellow perch, and the smallmouth bass.