Thursday, June 16, 2016

Experts weigh in on which Ohio fish records will stand and which will fall

Catching a falling star and putting it in your pocket may actually be easier than reeling in an Ohio state-record fish and enshrining it on one’s wall.

Few are the anglers who’ve set out on an Ohio angling adventure with the express purpose of catching – or shooting with a bow-and-arrow – a state record fish. Maybe one or two bowfishermen but that’s about it.

Then again, the opportunity for capturing an Ohio state record fish is more plausible for some officially recognized species than for others.

And in some cases concerning Ohio’s various 42 recognized hook-and-line categories and five bow-fishing categories the existing record might as well be chiseled in granite. The reason being the likelihood of it being toppled is nil. Or darn near close enough to fit the description anyway.

Then again, says two Ohio experts on the subject, it’s entirely possible – even probable – that a bigger-than-existing holder for one or more of the state’s record-recognized species has seen the inside of a landing net. Yet such fish in all probability either were returned to the water or else converted into fillets for the fry pan.

Responding to the two-pronged question as to which five listed species categories are most likely to see new records and which five probably won’t encounter pretenders to their respective thrones were Fred Snyder and Scott Hale.

Snyder is a retired Ohio Sea Grand agent and is also the current chairman of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio’s State Record Fish Committee. Hale is one of two Ohio Division of Wildlife assistant chiefs and the person who oversees both of the agency’s fish and game management programs.

Ohio’s state record fish list is maintained by the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and has been for generations. Meanwhile, the Wildlife Division, well, manages the state’s fish stocks and assists the writers group in the application process by identifying the species of potential new record catches.

Not to be ignored either is that both men are also are avid anglers. That being said, each expert is brutally honest in dismissing their respective odds of ever catching a new state record-whatever fish species themselves.

For Hale the five fish species records he believes are at the greatest risk for being broken in the near-term includes the walleye, the freshwater drum, the flathead catfish, the blue catfish and “everything in the bow-fishing group.”

In the case of the drum, Snyder agrees this species is primed for a new state record. He notes he’s even pretty certain that larger specimens have taken the bait but that the enabling angler simply lacked the desire to proceed with filling out the required paperwork.

“The fisherman just put it in a dumpster, though two other fishermen removed the drum and took it to a taxidermist,” Snyder said. “Thing is, there’s now a lot of forage in Lake Erie for the drum to eat; they really do feast on things like zebra mussels and can pack on the weight because of it.”

Snyder’s Top Five picks for breaking the state record glass ceiling also suggests placing wagers on both the walleye and the yellow perch.  Hale is not about to disagree, either.

“I think we’re going to see a new walleye record broken,” Hale said. “You just have to believe there’s one heavier out there in Lake Erie than the current record (of 16.19 pounds, caught Nov. 23, 1999).”

And Hale says as well that the Ohio fishing world ought not to be surprised to see this new record walleye being hauled up through the winter ice in Lake Erie’s Western Basin.

“It will be a female, loaded with eggs so winter could be the time for it to be caught,” Hale says.

As for the blue catfish, Hale says a fish weighing in the triple digits is a distinct possibility.

“The one in the books is truly massive but the blue catfish – and all catfish in general – is getting a lot of angler attention on the Ohio River; so a blue ‘cat in excess of 100 pounds is a definite possibility,” Hale said.

To which it is Snyder’s turn to agree that the blue catfish also makes his Five Best record picks he expects to fall.

Snyder is confident in seconding Hale’s selection because a blue catfish tipping the scales at 100 pounds would represent just a five-percent gain in weight over the current record-holder weighing 96 pounds and caught June 11, 2009 from the Ohio River.

Cheating a little, Hale lumps the entire package of five bowfishing state records as being primed for record-book exchange. And for sort of the same reason the flathead catfish and the blue catfish records credibly stand on the threshold of new angler ownership.

“ “The bowfishing categories are all ripe for picking,” Hale says.

Snyder says he has no doubt that what Hale says regarding bowfishing is true. He notes that while recently visiting a large tackle retailer near Toledo he saw a boat that was decked out as a dedicated bowfishing platform with all of the whistles and bells that distinguishes this sport-fishing sub-culture.

“These bowfishing guys are dedicated, and can be out all night with their gear,” Snyder says.

But there’s one species that Hale may have missed as Snyder rounds out his Top Five picks for good-as-gold chances for replacement honors: That species being the long-ear sunfish. The reason is that the current long-ear sunfish is a Lilliputian-size squirt weighing in wet at only 0.14 pounds so “it wouldn’t take much to see that record fall,” Snyder says.

Snyder does cheat a bit, too, though, with his count. He adds the lake trout to his possibly/maybe/likely-will-be-broken list. He fudges his math to include the lake trout since the Wildlife Division has embarked on a recovery project for the species in Lake Erie.

Thus, time is on the side of this species record eventually toppling, Snyder says of his list’s addendum.

And Snyder and Hale also share some thoughts as to which members on the combined 47-recognized species list will remain etched there until both of them have traded their fishing poles for harps and white robes.

For both biologists the current record largemouth bass will almost certainly never exit the list since “a 13.13-pound largemouth is massive for that species in Ohio,” Hale says.

Also on Snyder’s forever frozen on Ohio’s state record fish list is the chain pickerel; a 6.25-pound fish taken March 25, 1961.

“You just don’t see chain pickerels being caught much in Ohio anymore,” says Snyder.

However, Snyder  doesn’t discount the possibility that sometime between March, 1961 and today an angler has taken a heavier chain pickerel but may have mistook it for a smallish northern pike or even a musky.

That same suspicion is what fuels Hale’s and Synder’s shared belief that the rock bass’s extraordinarily long life on the state record fish list is possibly, a fluke.

Ohio’s state record rock bass holds Ohio’s longest tenured such title. This 1.97-pound record-holder harkens back 84 years to September 3, 1932 and taken from Deer Creek; the stream, not the reservoir.

“If it’s going to be broken, the record fish will come from Lake Erie,” Snyder says. “Really, it’s one for the books that I wonder if anyone has ever caught a larger one and then just tossed it back into the lake.”

That statement mirrors almost word for word Hale’s thoughts about the future of the state record rock bass, particularly since a niche fishery for the species has developed around the Cleveland Harbor, says Hale.

Once again, too, we see both Snyder and Hale finding it difficult to stick with just five of anything. At this point Snyder owns up to having three species on the won’t-be-broken state record fish list: the largemouth bass, the chain pickerel, and (maybe) the rock bass.

Meanwhile, Hale has two: the largemouth bass and (also maybe) the rock bass.

To Snyder’s list add the pink salmon; a non-native species that occasionally appears in a couple of Northeast Ohio streams on a two-year spawning migration cycle: Euclid Creek and Conneaut Creek.

“We just don’t hear or see of this species being caught anymore,” Snyder says, a statement that almost certainly he would find disagreement coming from some Northeast Ohio steelheaders.

Along with Snyder’s choice of the pink salmon is the striped bass. This record should stand the test of angling time, says Snyder, a point shared by Hale who gives as his reason how the Wildlife Division is “no longer in the business of stocking striped bass.”

“Kentucky still stocks stripers in the Ohio River but the fish there struggle to put on weight,” Hale says.

Hale and Snyder’s opinions merge once more, and this time it’s regarding the tiger musky state record.

It’s kind of difficult for an angler to catch a state record anything if a fisheries agency is no longer stocking a species that is incapable of reproducing anyway, both fish biologists say as the biological fact for dismissing much of a chance of a new tiger musky record emerging.

 “I actually think this species should be removed from the list anyway, but I suppose the guy who caught the record (Matt Amedeo of Akron from Turkeyfoot Lake on April 28, 2006, a fish weighing 31.64 pounds) might get upset,” Hale says.

This is where Hale utilizes a little creative ciphering of his own, lumping all three of the state record salmon categories – coho, pink and Chinook/king - together; a three-for-one Mulligan. That combination brings Hale’s five solid-to-stand state records to an actual count of seven: the largemouth bass, the striped bass, the rock bass, the tiger musky, and the pink, coho, and Chinook/king salmon.

Meanwhile, Snyder’s count of fish species records that are locked in as probably unbeatable totals five: the largemouth bass, the striped bass, the rock bass, the tiger musky, and the pink salmon.

Actually, we need to add one more fish species to each of the experts’ respective list. That is the pure-strain musky, the state record specimen representative being the 55.13-pound brute taken April 12, 1972 from Piedmont Reservoir by Joe D. Lykins of Piedmont.

Perhaps no other Ohio state record fish species remains as revered – or as elusive for being supplanted - than does Lykins’ pure-strain musky. Even in spite of the phenomenal rise of Ohio becoming a go-to musky-fishing destination and its intensive musky fisheries management program.

Ohio’s pure-strain musky fish record continues to hold the high ground, says Hale, because the state’s pure-strain muskies grow fast and consequently, die young.

“This one will be a tough one to break,” Hale says. “We do see 50-inch fish caught every year but everything has to fall into place. Fifty-inch muskies are pretty rare.”

Ah, but such is the stuff that angling dreams are made of.

- By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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