At 40 years old the state’s Fish Ohio award program is just getting its second wind.
Likely to climb aboard the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s trophy fish recognition band wagon are five additional fish species with each having their own respective minimum to maximum qualifying length. Once hooked up the Fish Ohio Award program will thus consist of 25 species, up from the present 20 recognized species.
The inclusions are almost assured though the stamp of approval must officially come from the eight-member Ohio Wildlife Council, which certifies such things.
Anticipated for joining the qualification list and their respective slot length eligibility are the bullhead (14 to 20 inches); the long-nosed gar (24 to 50 inches); the bowfin (23 to 36 inches); the sucker/all species (20 to 44 inches); and the Kentucky spotted bass (15 to 22 inches).
The Fish Ohio program began modestly enough in 1976, starting even before the presentation of the ever-popular pin. Originally the state passed out cheap, thin metallic medals in which a tab could be bent over and the presentation clipped to a fishing shirt pocket.
However, the Fish Ohio program really began to grow its legs in 1980. That is when the Wildlife Division began awarding collectable pins. In the case of the first such decoration, the recognition turned out to be a small, oval-shaped pin made of pewter and bearing the likeness of a leaping smallmouth bass.
Beginning the following year the pin took on the much more familiar look that today’s Fish Ohio recipients would recognize: A larger oval shape but the pin being made of base metal and illustrated in a hard-finished product with a color scheme that features one of the program’s qualifying species.
Included too is the year of recognition along with the embossment of the words “Fish Ohio.”
Pin species inclusion cycles about every 10 years or so, the smallmouth bass image next appearing on the 1990 pin while the walleye first showed up in 1981 and then again in 1991. A special 20th year Fish Ohio medallion was launched in 2000 and which featured a leaping smallmouth bass, a fishing outfit, a stylized “Fish Ohio” inscription, and all appearing in the foreground of the state’s shape.
It wasn’t but a few years after the Fish Ohio program’s launch that the Wildlife Division added its “Master Angler” component. Here, an angler catching a qualifying specimen from at least four different eligible species earns the Master Angler status for that particular calendar year. The hardware for this honor is another pin that features that year’s selected species but is decorated with a different and distinctive color rendition along with the added recognition touch of the words “Master Anglers.
A short-lived adjunct to the Fish Ohio program was the Wildlife Division’s “Grand Slam” awards. This Fish Ohio element comprised three distinct categories from which an angler could seek recognition, though each subset possessed a similar requirement. That stipulation spelled out that an angler had to catch one specimen from only three recognized species. Further demanding is that separately a qualifying angler had to catch these fish from one the following specific geographical regions: Lake Erie, inland, the Ohio River.
Receiving a “Grand Slam” award pin was never an easy fishing experience. In fact, so challenging was it that the greatest number of anglers ever to collect a “Grand Slam” in one year was seven, says Vicki Farus, the Wildlife Division official who administers the Fish Ohio program on a daily basis.
That paltry figure is dwarfed by total Fish Ohio entries which numbers about 12,000 to 13,000 with some 500 to 600 annual Master Angler awards being certified.
Almost lost to history have been a few previous attempts by the Wildlife Division to scuttle the program. That idea didn’t float too well with George V. Voinovich, Ohio’s the-then governor and a deeply committed angler and Fish Ohio program supporter/promoter.
Voinovich was so outraged to learn that the Wildlife Division was preparing to stick the fork in the Fish Ohio program and declare that it was done, that the governor threatened to withdraw money from his own campaign fund in order to keep the popular angling playbill from being pitched.
This proved fortuitous for anglers seeking trophy fish recognition as well as for persons desiring to collect the assemblage of colorful – and cool-looking – pins. Today, many of the most commonly found Fish Ohio pins – excluding Master Angler, the 20th Fish Ohio anniversary pin, and any Grand Slam pin – are selling on eBay with a starting figure of around $20 each.
Complete sets of Fish Ohio pins from 1980 to the present have been known to fetch more than $1,000.
As for the program today, prospective applicants no longer have to go postal and mail an entry form and then wait until who-knows-how-long to receive a pin. Much like what else the Wildlife Division does now-a days, the agency has taken the Fish Ohio program into the orbit of the Internet.
Applicants access the Wildlife Division’s web site, scoot around until they find the portal for the Fish Ohio program, log in and enter their respective and qualifying catch. In just a few minutes the catch is entered and recorded; available at any time for review.
Best of all, Farus has the system now spitting out pins to their recipients within a matter of only several days instead of several months.
Anglers can even track how their favorite species or body of water is performing in terms of trophy fish being caught. That information can help an angler decide where and when it is best to fish for a trophy walleye, muskie, steelhead, white bass, or beginning next year – a bullhead or long-nosed gar – and the rest of the other eligible 19 Fish Ohio clan.
Clearly the Wildlife Division’s Fish Ohio program has come a long way since its unpretentious beginnings. And it appears now with the qualifying list expansion that its best days still lay ahead.
By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn