Just about every day, Joe Roecklein casts a line into the Maumee River, and he often catches a variety of fish. The Perrysburg resident really enjoys that time on the waterway.
He also frequently encounters other anglers keeping undersized fish, and offering up a mixed bag of explanations — unaware of the regulations, oblivious to the rules, or indifferent about any laws regarding harvesting fish.
Roecklein doesn’t enjoy that part of his trips to the river nearly as much.
“It bothered me that people were keeping these small fish — sometimes a lot of small fish — and they either didn’t know there was a size limit, or they didn’t seem to care,” said the 74-year-old Roecklein.
“So I took it upon myself to try and educate these fishermen as much as I could, without offending anybody. The fishing is better for everybody if we all follow the rules, and I don’t think anybody wants to get slapped with a fine.”
Ohio’s guidelines for bass fishing are outlined in the regulations brochure each angler receives when they purchase a license, and are also laid out on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Web site.
In order to protect the bass fishery and allow smallmouth and largemouth bass to reach decent size in our lakes and streams, the general fishing guideline in Ohio says that unless bass are at least 12 inches long, they must be released. In the Lake Erie system, the minimum keeper size is 14 inches.
That 14-inch rule applies to the Maumee and Sandusky bays, and also to the Maumee, Sandusky, and Portage rivers up to the first dam. The daily possession limit throughout Ohio and the Lake Erie watershed is five, with the season closed from May 1 to the last Friday in June in the Lake Erie district, to provide bass with a protected spawning period.
Roecklein, a Long Island native who grew up clamming and crabbing in Great South Bay and fishing the lakes and ponds in the Long Island area for trout and bass, relocated to Perrysburg six years ago after retiring from the Brookhaven National Laboratory, a multipurpose research facility connected with the U.S. Department of Energy. Roecklein and his wife wanted to be close to their two daughters who live in this area.
He moved here in the early spring, and was amazed at phenomenon of the walleye run, which brings thousands of fishermen to the Maumee each year. After discovering the smallmouth bass fishing on the river, Roecklein embarked on a one-man campaign to preserve that fishery.
In his home woodworking shop, Roecklein crafted simple measuring sticks that he passes out to anglers, so they know that any bass shorter than the stick is not big enough to keep. He also printed some fliers with photos of the protected species to help people identify the fish they catch.
“I talk to lots of fishermen, and when I ask how they are doing, a lot of times they will show me a stringer with several different types of fish, and I’ll see undersized smallmouth bass on there,” Roecklein said. “Some of them are not even sure what they caught. That’s why I hand out the fliers, so they know what a smallmouth looks like.”
Roecklein said the improving smallmouth fishery on the Maumee has provided him with many evenings of angling. He has caught 10 to 15 smallmouth in one outing, and the majority were under the legal size limit.
“These are great fun to catch, with some of them coming a couple feet out of the water fighting you,” he said. “But the only way we keep this great fishing is if we all follow the rules and release any undersized fish. One guy I saw had 20 some fish in the cooler, all undersized, and most of them dead.”
Paul Kurfis, the Ohio Division of Wildlife law enforcement supervisor for this region, said his officers have issued citations for anglers keeping undersized smallmouth on the Maumee throughout the season, and will continue to monitor the fishery.
In his brief time here, Roecklein said he has grown to love the Maumee, and he and his wife have driven to Fort Wayne to trace the river to its start. One of his favorite fishing sites is Buttonwood Park, just downstream from the I-475/U.S. 23 bridge over the Maumee.
“That area is absolutely gorgeous,” he said. “It’s like you are out in the middle of the woods somewhere. But there are a lot of beautiful places on this river, and I like nothing better than seeing parents taking their children down there for a nice day of fishing. If we all practice conservation as fishermen and take care of this river, we can all keep enjoying it.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.