BY D’ARCY PATRICK EGAN
The people who live along the shores of Lake Erie know the wide waters are more than something special, providing quality drinking water, recreational boating, outstanding sport fishing, swimming beaches and scenery that lures people to visit or live in the region.
On the 43rd Governor’s Fish Ohio Day on Thursday, July 20, legislators, natural resources administrators, tourism officials and the media flocked to Port Clinton to pay homage to what many say is the greatest of the Great Lakes.
“Fish Ohio Day provides a great opportunity to experience the world-class fishing on Lake Erie, and highlight the partnerships working to keep the lake healthy,” said Gov. Mike DeWine, anxious to spend a morning of walleye fishing with his grandson, Desi, 5, on Blue Sky Chasers with Capt. Peg Van Vleet. The rest of the DeWine family was on another charter boat docked at at Safe Harbor Marina on the west side of Port Clinton.
The annual event begun by Gov. James A. Rhodes in 1979 has stood the test of time, while Lake Erie’s premier walleye fishing has only gotten better each year. Co-sponsored by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW), Lake Erie Charter Boat Association (LECBA) and Shores & Islands Ohio, 21 fishing guides ferried a crowd of anglers all hoping to hook a walleye.
Or preferably six walleye stretching 15 inches long, the daily bag limit.
“Lake Erie is one of the most productive fisheries in the world and one of my favorite places to fish,” said Lt. Gov. Jon Husted during a press conference afterward at the tourism Welcome Center in Port Clinton. “(Fish Ohio Day) offers a chance to celebrate the incredible resource we have in our back yard. It is also a day to renew our commitment to improving water quality in Lake Erie and across the state through the H2Ohio initiative.”
For Capt. VanVleet the special day was the end of an era. She wrapped up her lifetime career as a Lake Erie guide, revealing that she has sold her charter boat, but will continue to serve as Vice President of Environment Issues for the LECBA. VanVleet was the 2016 Captain of the Year, and excels at teaching kids of all ages how to fish.
VanVleet made sure Desi DeWine realized the gentle nibble of a walleye and hooked up with a few fish during the morning’s walleye adventure.
Director Mary Mertz of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Chief Kendra Wecker of the Ohio Division of Wildlife started the celebration a day early on Wednesday, July 19, hosting a ribbon cutting at the new Fish Cleaning Station and restrooms at the Mazurik Fishing Access, a busy boat launch in Marblehead for fishermen chasing walleye, yellow perch and smallmouth bass.
“When we asked sport fishermen what they wanted most from the wildlife agency, the No. 1 request was a fishing cleaning station and brick and mortar restrooms,” said Mertz of the ODNR. “We listened, and installed new facilities to make it more convenient for people to take those Lake Erie catches home to their families.”
The ODNR not only built the $1.1 million facility in Marblehead, but also opened two more state of the art Lake Erie fish cleaning stations this year on the Huron River and at Avon Lake.
“People from around the world come to Lake Erie to fish and enjoy the great outdoors,” said Gov. DeWine at the ribbon cutting. “This new cleaning station is just another example of why Ohio has earned its reputation as the Walleye Capital of the World and a premier destination for anglers.”
ODOW officers at the Governor’s Fishing Day press conference at the Welcome Center also proved that walleye were delectable. As anglers returned from fishing trips to attend the day’s press conference, the officers had an assembly line producing delicious fish tacos and deep-fried fish nuggets, and the fresh walleye dazzled the hungry fishermen.
While walleye have been the focus of Lake Erie fishermen since 1979, when Gov. Rhodes felt the need to spotlight the fishery, fishermen have seen the Lake Erie walleye population soar in recent years. Due to high water levels and exceptional spring walleye hatches in seven of the past nine years, which is unprecedented in modern times, the abundance of Lake Erie walleye has been estimated at almost 100 million fish topping 15-inches in length, the legal length for a “keeper” walleye.