Tuesday, April 8, 2014

UPDATED Fish Ohio program undergoes revamping

A good year for anglers in 2013 produced a vintage year for the state’s Fish Ohio program, too.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife’s 37-year-old (started in 1976 but re-launched in  1980 when the agency began adding the pin feature) Fish Ohio awards program saw 12,760 submissions by anglers last year. And the program also accounted for 532 Master Anglers last year.

For the previous year the total (2012) was 12,462 qualifying Fish Ohio entries along with 521 Master Angler awards. In 2011, those figures were 11,278 qualifying Fish Ohio entries and 490 Master Angler awards.

As for the year when the Wildlife Division’s Fish Ohio program maxed out that was in 1988 when 37,132 awards were presented along with 691 Master Angler awards.

Yet the program has undergone a significant submission component change. Beginning this year the program has incorporated an entirely new entry format that includes – among other things – the requirement to establish a log-in password protocol.

The advantages with the new system, says Wildlife Division officials, is the ability to review what species an angler has submitted, when it was caught and its length.

Interesting as well as new the system now allows people to view the approximately to-date data of the entries electronically submitted and for each of the 20 officially recognized species.

For example, an angler can go on line and access either via a PDF or Excel version how many walleye have currently been entered, from what body of water, the date of submission as well as the length for each fish.

“That’s a pretty nice feature we built into the system,” says the Fish Ohio program administrator, Vicki Farus.

To become eligible for a Fish Ohio award consisting of a really cool, colorful and collectable hat pin and a do-it-yourself printed recognition certificate, an angler had to catch a qualifying specimen from one of the aforementioned 20 recognized species.

The Master Angler award requires an angler to catch at least one representative from a minimum of four recognized species. But this pin is even more jazzed up and makes the additional work worth it for many anglers; as mentioned earlier, 532 fishers to be exact.

For a Grand Slam award an angler is challenged with catching no fewer than three eligible species, each of which must come from one of the following specific bodies of water: Lake Erie, the Ohio River, and inland waters. Oh, the three species vary for each specific waterway as well.

The 2013 pin featured a brown trout. The year’s Master Angler pin is a bit fancier that includes a sort-of brushed bronze background along with the standard “Master Angler” embossed on the pin along with the year.

A yellow perch will grace the 2014 Fish Ohio as well as 2014 Master Angler pin. This will be the forth time the yellow perch has appeared on a Fish Ohio pin (1986, 1996, and 2006 were the years the species was depicted).

Some of the recognized species that have yet to appear, Farus says, are the northern pike, the carp and the blue catfish.

“We added the blue cat to the list of recognized species just last year,” Farus said.

Whatever species is depicted, however, the last thing any recipient wants to do is besmirch these somewhat oval in shape base-metal pins with painted fronts.

Such pins often find their way onto Internet auction and for-sale sites. Prices range widely, depending on year and whether the pin is a standard Fish Ohio model or as a step-up Master Angler pin or one of the even much less common “Grand Slam” award.

Thus prices may range from about $10 each to $300 or more with the first-year-issue 1980 pewter model featuring a raised smallmouth bass being among the most valuable.

A complete set of Fish Ohio/Master Angler pins have been known to sell for $650 to more than $1,300, too.

All of which is considerably more than the approximately 50 cents it costs to forge each Fish Ohio pin and a program that sets back the agency less than $20,000 annually.

Even so, many anglers have no interest in parting company with their award pins and sometimes will seek out missing or replacement tokens for their collection.

Thing is, accumulating a collection constitutes a hard several years’ worth of angling. It also typically involves fishing in more than one body of water. After all, while an angler might catch a qualifying 36-inch muskie from Lake Erie the odds are better this will be done in West Branch Reservoir.

Still, Lake Erie stands at the pinnacle of where to seek a trophy, Fish Ohio-qualifying entry. Last year 4,462 Fish Ohio entries were pulled from Lake Erie. That figure is the most for any other body of water, public or private, too.

 In fact, of the 20 recognized Fish Ohio eligible species, Lake Erie led the public bodies of water in fully one-half of the categories. And Lake Erie failed to break into the Top Five public waters in only five categories.

Lake Erie produced 1,915 qualifying walleye, 1,055 yellow perch, 838 freshwater drum (sheepshead), 256 channel catfish, and 168 white bass.

Yet many anglers looked to private lakes and ponds to secure their Fish Ohio awards. Fully 2,703 Fish Ohio qualifying entries came from these private bodies of water. Among them were 1,200 sunfish/bluegill, 501 largemouth bass, 433 crappies (both black and white), 295 channel catfish, and even 82 carp.

Way, way down the list of places where Fish Ohio qualifying species were caught in 2013 was the Ohio River. Only 782 eligible entries were recorded as coming from the Ohio River in 2013. This system’s Top Five entries included 248 hybrid striped bass (wiper), 129 sauger, 77 channel catfish, 72 white bass, and 39 crappies as well as freshwater drum (tied for fifth place).

As for the state’s top lakes and rivers for catching trophy fish in 2013 they were Mosquito Reservoir (264 entries), Buckeye Lake (171 entries), Hoover Reservoir (166 entries), Pymatuning Reservoir (148 entries), Indian Lake (146 entries), and the Maumee River (143 entries).

Yet what is in store for the 2014 Fish Ohio program is a major revamping of how eligible species are entered and recorded. Long gone are the paper applications with even the Internet-based system having undergone considerable revision.

The new rules do require that an applicant follow the instructions specifically. For details, visit the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s web site at: www.fishohio.org.

And still being work on is allowing a person to enter an eligible fish for someone else. This substitution process was permissible under the old system but  the new process’s programing prevents such a buddy approach at the moment, Farus says.

“We’re working on it, though,” Farus says.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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