ST. MARYS, Ohio -- If they were going to conduct an experiment on the huge and troubled man-made lake that shares its name with this small town in Auglaize County, it would have to be done on a grandiose scale.
So it was.
Grand Lake St. Marys, plagued with toxic algae blooms, swimming bans, and fish consumption advisories in recent years, has received a huge stocking of yellow perch in a move state fisheries biologists hope will recharge the lake's angling prospects for the future.
The lake, which is approximately three miles wide and nine miles long, was constructed as a reservoir to supply water to the Miami and Erie Canal system. When it was completed in 1845, it was the largest reservoir in the world.
Agricultural runoff and sediment buildup in recent years have created major water quality problems for Grand Lake St. Marys, and negatively impacted its status as a sport fishery.
Massive alum treatments have been used to combat the high phosphorus load in the lake, which was causing the explosion of a toxin-producing blue-green algae. Dredging removed close to 300,000 cubic yards of sediment just last year, while efforts by the state and private parties have removed tons of rough fish that disturb the lake bottom, exacerbating the problems linked to the nutrients that have settled there.
The water quality issues have had an expected adverse impact on tourism and recreational fishing in the lake, but 100,000 yellow perch fingerlings have now joined the effort to restore and revitalize the lake, which is located about 90 miles south of Toledo.
"We believe the stocking, in conjunction with improvements in water quality, may promote recovery of yellow perch fishing at Grand Lake St. Marys," said Rich Carter, the executive administrator of fish management and research with the Division of Wildlife.
The recent stocking is the first introduction of hatchery-raised perch into Grand Lake St. Marys in nearly 70 years. It also marks the largest one-time stocking of yellow perch in the lake's history.
The fish are about two inches in length and expected to grow to keeper size within three or four years. The newly stocked perch were marked with a technique that will permit biologists to tell the difference between them and any naturally reproduced perch in the lake. Grand Lake St. Marys has a resident, naturally reproducing population of yellow perch, but its numbers have dwindled during the peak of the pollution-related problems.
"This is an experiment, to see if the existing population can get a little boost from this stocking," said Scott Hale of the Division of Wildlife. "If the treatments done to the lake are successful, then this stocking should take off. This has been a good perch lake in the past, and we believe this type of a jump start might help it get back to that."
Grand Lake St. Marys has a solid history as a sport fishery, producing good numbers of crappie, bass, catfish, and perch. Prior to the recent serious water quality issues, the lake carried a reputation as one of the few inland fisheries where perch catches were consistently strong.
Grand Lake St. Marys is a very old, man-made reservoir that was constructed completely by hand by crews using shovels and axes to clear what once was a vast swamp. A crew of 1,700 men, mostly Irish and German immigrants, took nearly 10 years to complete the project, at a cost of about $600,000.
The lake, which has more than 50 miles of shoreline, straddles the Auglaize-Mercer county line, with the community of Celina on its west end and St. Marys on the east end.
FISHING REPORT: The walleye in Lake Erie's Western Basin have remained in a cooperative mood, despite a weekend dominated by hot temperatures and mostly flat water. Rick Ferguson from Al Szuch Live Bait on Corduroy Road in Curtice said both trolling and drifting approaches are working in the areas that are traditionally productive in the month of June. Ferguson said the average size of the fish is down slightly from the bonanza period earlier this spring, but he is still seeing a lot of 17 to 23 inch fish. A little push from the weather front will enhance the prospects for this week, Ferguson said. "If we get some wind, the bite is generally better, but so far the fishing has been pretty good," he said.
On the inland waters, Maumee Tackle reports that anglers working the rivers are taking good numbers of both flathead and channel catfish on an assortment of live baits, while smallmouth bass have also been hitting with regularity in the rivers. The reservoir fishermen have been using minnows fished under bobbers to connect with decent catches of crappies
Fishermen are reminded that it is illegal to keep any largemouth or smallmouth bass in the Ohio waters of Lake Erie and its tributaries through June 29. The season for black bass opens June 30, with a daily limit of five and a 14-inch minimum size.
COOLEY CANAL REGATTA: The Cooley Canal Yacht Club on Bono Road in Curtice will host a Regatta the weekend of June 15-16. The event includes a roast beef dinner from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, with live music from 8 to midnight. On Saturday, chicken dinners are served from 1-7 p.m. with live music from 8 to midnight. There is also a car show from noon to 4 p.m., with registration from 9 a.m. to noon.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.