Last year the state’s Fish Ohio trophy catch awards program reeled in the most eligible entries since 2009.
In all, the Ohio Division of Wildlife received and electronically processed 13,138 Fish Ohio applications. That figure is 999 more applications than the agency processed in 2015 but still 862 fewer than in 2009.
The most Fish Ohio honors ever awarded by the Wildlife Division since the program began in 1976 were the 37,132 entries the agency processed in 1988.
Meanwhile the program’s Master Angler component saw the second greatest number of qualifying participants since this phase began in 1982: 613 qualifying anglers compared to 517 qualifying anglers in 2015. The most Master Angler honorees were the 691 recipients in 1988.
The Fish Ohio program is handled by a five-person Wildlife Division in-house team, led by Vicki Farus.
Annually, Farus said, the program costs the agency about $6,800 for the pins themselves and another $20,000 or so to ship them to their respective recipients. Consequently, says Farus, it costs more to ship a pin than it does to buy the badge.
Yet the pins and the program continue to remain an important component for anglers of all stripes and not just those fishers who seek out the state’s most heralded big-game species but also the most humble of fishes.
Thus, hand it to the lowly sunfish which saw 61 more all-waters’ entries in 2016 than did the otherwise perennial Fish Ohio program entry leader – the walleye. Last year the Wildlife Division processed an all-waters’ total of 1,963 entries for the sunfish category and an all-waters’ total of 1,902 entries for the walleye category.
The basic Fish Ohio awards program honors anglers who submit in an on-line format an eligible specimen from one of 20 recognized categories (which grows to 25 this year) with length being the sole determining criteria. For a Master Angler eligible honor an angler must catch a qualifying specimen from at least four different recognized categories.
These requirements are different than the Ohio state record fish program. Here, the list is maintained by the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and which honors the largest specimen by weight only in each of the organization’s recognized species categories.
Fish Ohio award winners submit an entry via the Wildlife Division’s web site and then can print a certificate of the catch. The agency will subsequently send a collectable oval-shaped/multi-colored hat/lapel pin to an applicant for the first entry only.
For a qualifying Master Angler recipient the Wildlife Division sends a “souped-up” collectable pin along with a certificate that recognizes the honoree’s distinctive accomplishment.
“We actually ran out of Master Anglers pins and had to order another batch since we typically buy only 600 of them,” said Farus. “Only once before have we seen more than 600 Master Anglers. I was delighted - but surprised – by the number last year.”
In both cases the pins annually feature a different Fish Ohio eligible species. In 2016 that species was the channel catfish. This year’s motif will feature a muskie, and the last time that species appeared on a Fish Ohio pin was 1994, Farus said.
“The committee thought it was time for the muskie to appear again,” Farus said.
Farus said too that the expanded list of eligible species now includes the bullhead, long-nosed gar, bowfin, sucker, and the spotted bass.
Besides compiling lists of eligible species and their respective number of submissions by anglers, the Wildlife Division also dissembles the data in order to reconstruct other useful platforms of information. Among these planks are such items as lists illustrating where the Fish Ohio entries came from in any given year.
Among the findings for 2016 was that Lake Erie far and away was at the head of the leader board with a total of 3,987 Fish Ohio entries for just that body of water and for all eligible species. Leading the way on Lake Erie was – not surprisingly – the walleye with 1,769 entries.
And more Lake Erie angler submitted entries for freshwater drum (sheepshead) than they did for yellow perch: 707 entries for the former and 561 entries for the latter. It may be telling as well that the number of qualifying yellow perch has fallen sharply since 2013 when the number was 1,166, perhaps another sign of the species’ state-of-affairs on Lake Erie.
As for private lakes and ponds – excluding pay-to-fish lakes which are not accepted into the program - the sunfish clearly was the crowning champion last year with 1,289 entries though the largemouth bass saw more entries (732) than for either the crappie (502) or the channel catfish (293). Again, those figures are for fish taken just in private ponds and lakes.
Down along the Ohio River the hybrid striped bass was on top with 120 entries while the flathead catfish was in second with 50 qualifying entries. The total number of entries for the Ohio River last year numbered 372.
The list of the Top Ten lakes and rivers in 2016 - excluding Lake Erie, private ponds and the Ohio River - were the Maumee River (284 entries), Hoover Reservoir (215), Portage Lakes (205), Alum Creek Reservoir (199), Scioto River (197), Mosquito Creek Reservoir (196), Great Miami River (159), Indian Lake (155), West Branch Reservoir (148), and Buckeye Lake (115).
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn