The famous spring walleye runs on the Maumee and Sandusky rivers are right around the corner - it is still a little cold and a little early - so here is a fisherman's checklist to help bide the time:
Plastic trash bag? Huh?
The foregoing list could be expanded or contracted somewhat and otherwise modified, but please do not forget that last item, the trash bag.
Use it on your way back to the truck after fishing. I know, you didn't do it - the trash and litter lying about, that is. But it gives all of us a bad name. The mountain of mess doesn't come from a picnicker or a birdwatcher or a hiker. Fishermen turn the riverbank into a pigsty each spring.
If you and I do not pick it up, it will accumulate and the phenomenon known as the tragedy of the commons gains traction. It's the everybody's-doing-it excuse. So we gotta do it.
Last week the various wildlife officers and area lawmen who patrol the scene at the rivers got together for a gut-check on the upcoming season and law enforcement challenges. The litter thing was a prominent one.
The lawmen note that plenty of litter barrels will be available, and plans are afoot to assure that the barrels are emptied in a timely fashion - so stuff gets dumped into, not next to, the barrels. But that is not enough. If the barrels are full, knot the bag you have collected, throw it in the back of the pickup, and dispose of it at home.
One frustrated lawman at last week's enforcement meet told a tale from last year, when he watched one lamebrain strip green fluorescent line from his reel as he left the water and walked back to his truck. He left several hundred feet of line strung out and lying along the access-road. Can you imagine? Yeah, the jerk got pinched for it, which is well and good, but surely the fine was not enough by half.
And someone had to collect that line. The lawman relating the story told of lots of birds and small mammals that get fatally and hopelessly entangled in spent, piggishly discarded line. It is maddening.
Mind you, lots of guys who fish these rivers care a whole lot about them. These rivers are life to these guys. They are riverkeepers. They carry their own trash bags and don't even have to be told to leave the riverside cleaner than when they arrived. God bless them. But we need more guys like that. And God can do whatever He wants to with the slobs.
In other river-run news, the special fishing rules, which come into play Wednesday and continue until May 1, largely are the same as a year ago.
Remember to buy a new fishing license by Wednesday, the start of the new license-year. The daily walleye creel-limit for the rivers and all Lake Erie waters for March and April is up one fish this year to four, with the standard six for the rest of the year. The 15-inch minimum keeper-length stays, year-round.
The special-rules river-fishing zones remain the same and the rules remain intact: Fishing sunrise to sunset only during March and April. No treble hooks during the period in the special zones on the Maumee, Sandusky, and Portage rivers - including the usual areas at downtown Fremont and above Maumee-Perrysburg, for instance.
The no-treble-hook zones have been altered somewhat this year. In the Maumee watershed the zone for March and April runs from the Grand Rapids-Providence Dam downstream into Maumee Bay to a line between Little Cedar Point and Turtle Island. In the Sandusky watershed the zone runs roughly from Rodger Young Park at Fremont into Sandusky Bay, to a line running a quarter of a mile east of and parallel to the ConRail Bridge across the bay.
The no-treble-hook zones in the bays are relaxed somewhat from last year.
As for the runs themselves, the Ohio Division of Wildlife forecasts an abundance of 2003 fish, especially males in the 15-inch range. The 2003 year-class is one of the three largest on record, ranking with the famous 1982 and 1986 classes.
Few 2003 female fish are expected to make the run this year. Fish from 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999 should range from 20 to 27 inches with some 30-inch-class fish in the mix from the late 1980s.
Last year more than 90 percent of the catch from the Maumee and more than 85 percent from the Sandusky were male walleyes averaging about 20 inches, the wildlife division says.
In the Maumee, fish can be taken as far upstream as Mary Jane Thurston State Park, near the Grand Rapids dam, though most action should be focused in the rapids above Maumee-Perrysburg. Downtown Fremont is the ticket on the Sandusky.
Although the expected abundance of fish in the runs sets the table, fishing success will depend, as always, on such considerations as water-flow, water temperatures and clarity, and increasing day-length.
Spawning may occur anytime from mid-March to mid-April with peak activity during water temperatures of 42 to 52 degrees. High flows will pull walleye into the rivers, even if fishing access may be reduced, especially when river water is warmer than lake water.