Paul Kurfis leaned forward in the front seat of a plain-colored, nondescript, mid-sized sedan that was parked in the single file gravel lot right where the Maumee River bends around Ewing Island, below Front Street in Perrysburg.
With his binoculars fixed on a single fisherman at the end of a line of guys working the fast water about 20 yards out from shore, the veteran game officer followed the angler's retrieve to look for irregularities in the movement of the fish to indicate it might be foul-hooked.
Kurfis, the law enforcement supervisor for the Division of Wildlife's Findlay office, watched for any of the subtle actions the fisherman might display that hint at possible deception or wrongdoing. Kurfis saw the angler net the fish, and his high-powered field glasses completed the five-minutes of surveillance.
"Good. Right in the mouth," Kurfis said as he lowered the binoculars and watched the fisherman admire his catch. All by the book. All legal.
"If we see a fisherman out here catch one legal, doing things the right way, then we say ‘good for him.' We're happy for the guy," said Kurfis. "We're all hunters and fishermen too."
The robust spring run that has hundreds of thousands of spawning walleyes pushing into the Maumee and Sandusky rivers is the siren's song for winter-weary fishermen who crowd into the waters shoulder-to-shoulder.
The fishing bonanza, unfortunately, also draws in a few miscreants who choose not to play by the very well-publicized and easy to understand guidelines.
"There are two times each year that seem to bring out the worst in some folks — deer season and the walleye run," he said. "There's a few lawbreakers out here, so we have to be here too."
From March 1 until May 1, special guidelines are in place for those sections of the Maumee and Sandusky rivers that are the historical spawning grounds for the walleye. Kurfis brings in reinforcements from around the area and the state to make sure everybody's playing by the same rules.
"As a wildlife officer, you celebrate the 98 percent of the fishermen out here that are doing everything legal, and you want to catch the guys that are doing things wrong," he said. "We want to catch them, and 100 percent of the sportsmen out here want us to catch them."
While the fishermen are catching walleye, the lawmen are catching the crooks.
Last year, there were 196 citations issued during the walleye run, following 1,222 contacts with fishermen. Just over 100 of those were for keeping snagged walleye, while 32 were for over-the-limit catches and 21 were for fishing without a license. Sixteen of the citations involved littering, with eight resulting from violations of the hook rules.
The total from 2011 was down from the 238 citations in 2010, when there were 1,836 wildlife officer-fisherman contacts during the run. Seventy-four of those 2010 citations were for fishermen keeping snagged walleye and 57 came due to over-bagging.
In 2009, the number of citations issued hit 260, as the result of 2,063 contacts. There were 112 fishermen cited for keeping snagged walleye. 34 penalized for possessing more than the daily limit of fish, and 30 for fishing without a license.
Fortunately, the numbers seem to be trending in the right direction. There were more than 500 citations issued in both 2000 and 2002, with nearly 700 total citations those two years for keeping snagged fish. Kurfis credits the increased use of floating jig heads over the traditional lead-headed jigs for helping reduce the instances of fish being snagged.
He said a few of the violators are still resorting to elaborate schemes to try and dupe the wildlife officers and get away with over-bagging or keeping snagged fish, but those tricks are usually just met on the law enforcement side with more resolve and determination to catch the culprits.
"The equipment we use has changed over the years, but this is still like good, old-fashioned game warden work," he said. "It still comes down to getting your boots dirty."
Walleye run rules:
The following rules are in effect until May 1.
- Only fish hooked inside the mouth may be kept
- Snagged fish must be immediately released
- Fishing permitted from sunrise to sunset only
- Single hook only, no larger than one-half inch from shank to point
- No treble hooks allowed
- 15-inch minimum size, daily limit four fish
- Observe restricted areas
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.