Thursday, May 7, 2015

Approaching Middle Age, Fish Ohio program still going strong

A big fish deserves a big award and since 1980 the Ohio Division of wildlife has provided tens of thousands of anglers with exactly that honor.
This venue is state’s Fish Ohio awards program, a gig that now stands at 39 years old - or 35 years from the time the Wildlife Division rebooted the program into what angles more readily identify with today, including the awarding of a really cool hat-style pin.

In brief, the Fish Ohio program recognizes anglers who catch a qualifying specimen from a list of 20 eligible species.

The pinnacle of the annual big fish tribute is the Master Angler segment. This portion of the Fish Ohio program honors those anglers who catch a qualifying specimen from at least four eligible species. But only within a calendar year as the clock restarts on the subsequent arrival of another January 1st.
For 2014 the Wildlife Division handed out 11,082 Fish Ohio awards and honored 503 fishers as being Master Anglers. Though most Master Anglers award winners were Ohioans, 13 were non-residents. And they included fishers from as far away as Florida and California.

By comparison the 2013 Fish Ohio program recognized 12,760 entries and presented Master Angler pins and certificates to 532 fishers.

As for the best-ever year for the program, that tip of the hat goes to 1988. That year the Wildlife Division awarded 37,132 Fish Ohio pins and handed out 691 Master Angler honors.

Functioning as the centerpiece for the program since 1980 when it underwent a significant change is the presentation of a free, colorful hat-style pin. The motif of this pin changes each year and is based upon one of the recognized species with the 2014 honoree having been the yellow perch.
Which, by the way, was the fifth most entered species in the program at 756 entries, and just narrowly edging out the freshwater drum (741 entries) and the largemouth bass (720 entries).
The program’s top stars in descending order were the walleye (2,227 entries), sunfish (including bluegills at 1,457 entries), crappie (1,319 entries), and channel catfish (1,156 entries).

The bottom bunch was confined to fewer than 100 entries each. Among them in 2014 were northern pike (90 entries), sauger (85 entries), blue catfish (69 entries), and at the very cellar, the brown trout (17 entries).

Perhaps most intriguing from the compilation of the year-end statistics was there being only 264 entries for rainbow trout. This entry includes steelhead trout, and given the popularity of spring steelhead fishing one would naturally assume the species would prove more popular with anglers eager to show off their angling abilities with a Fish Ohio pin but it does not.

Other reasonably well-off totals from the list of officially recognized species are the muskie (264 entries), the smallmouth bass (248 entries), and the white bass (297 entries). Even so, the lowly common carp bested each of these three designated species with 428 entries.

Of importance for anglers is determining where best to wet a line for catching a trophy fish. Here the nod easily goes to Lake Erie with a total of 4,194 Fish Ohio award entries. That dwarfs the 2,353 entries for private ponds and the very paltry 404 entries for the Ohio River.

For the top lakes the best of the group was Northeast Ohio’s Mosquito Reservoir with 165 entries. This sub-group of good places to catch a trophy fish included Alum Creek Reservoir (160 entries), Hoover Reservoir (149 entries), Pymatuning Reservoir (134 entries), and Indian Lake (117 entries).

Good streams to angle for a Fish Ohio award - and based on the 2014 Fish Ohio entry numbers - were the Maumee River (186 entries and of which 62 were walleye), Grand River (96 entries and of which 37 were rainbow/steelhead trout), and the Scioto River (also 96 entries and of which 17 were common carp).
Clearly the go-to place for catching a Fish Ohio-qualifying sunfish/bluegill (minimum length being 9 inches) is one the state’s numerous private “farm ponds.” Private/farm ponds were noted for almost one-half the number of the sunfish/bluegill on-line applications at 1,030 entries.

Qualifying largemouth bass also came largely from farm ponds at 446 entries from a 2014 program total of 720 entries, closely followed by crappie at 408 entries and from a 2014 program total of 1,319 entries.

And speaking about on-line, the program is now completely web-based. The details are accessed via the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s web site at and then going to the “Fishing” link under the bar heading of “Recreation.”

Once there it’s just a short mouse tap to “Fish Ohio! Recognition Program” where upon one is directed to “Reserve a Pin/Fish Ohio Application.”
A previous programming bug that prevented a person from entering a qualifying fish for another person – say one’s child, parent or friend – has been corrected. And which is a good thing for the program, too. Even at approaching middle age the state’s Fish Ohio awards program is a worthy catch for any angler.

This year’s Fish Ohio motif will highlight the smallmouth bass, which also graced the 1980 pin. But unlike that pin which was a small oval pewter-type pin the current generation of Fish Ohio pins are larger, feature the fish in full color display.
Costing the Wildlife Division about 50 cents each to make, older Fish Ohio pin versions command top dollar to collectors. These pins can fetch from $10 to $300 each with a complete set of all Master Angler pins being worth up to $1,300.

Now if the Ohio Division of Wildlife would bring back the bullhead as an eligible species the program would be perfect.

 By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Jeff Frischkorn Jeff is the retired News-Herald reporter who covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park systems and the outdoors for the newspaper. During his 30 years with The News-Herald Jeff was the

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