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Friday, July 11, 2014
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Published: Friday, 2/22/2008

Toledo should have been touting walleye a long time ago

The Toledo Walleye? OK, I'll bite. I mean, really.

After all, they have conjured up a pretty snappy, feisty-looking hockey mascot. Love the missing tooth and snarly, brawly grin.

But the remaining dentition, it is hoped, may morph into something more pointy, like real walleye, before Toledo's next beloved pro team puts its sticks, on the ice.

If you're going to be a Walleye, you might as well look the part. You'd never confuse this guy with a pickerel, eh?

(Aside: Contests aside, I don't know how this town could vote for anything but "Willys" as the mascot's nickname. You kids out there, Google-up the term and you'll learn some proud hometown Jeep history).

(Aside: Contests aside, I don't know how this town could vote for anything but "Willys" as the mascot's nickname. You kids out there, Google-up the term and you'll learn some proud hometown Jeep history).
(Aside: Contests aside, I don't know how this town could vote for anything but "Willys" as the mascot's nickname. You kids out there, Google-up the term and you'll learn some proud hometown Jeep history).
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OK, OK, the grumpy old outdoors guy is carping.

But there is some carping to do when it comes to real walleye, and Toledo. Like the city's official lack of promotion of sport fishing in general, here on the doorstep of what is arguably one of the best if not the best freshwater fishing lakes in the world.

For years, throughout the recovery and emergence of the fish as Numero Uno, this lakeshore river city has just pretended it knows from walleye - mascot and promo and savvy hockey club owners aside.

Seriously, I am not baiting you.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and his administration don't like fishermen. Says so in great big letters on a couple fancy permanent signs smack on the downtown waterfront - "Boaters Only. No Fishing." And that's just opening the proverbial can of worms.

Oh, we had a walleye tournament downtown years ago - one.

Hizzoner, the first time he was Hizzoner, even came down to the docks to grip and grin with the fishing pros and amateurs in the contest.

But the city hasn't plowed some serious dollars into boosting walleye or fishing or fish.

For one thing, Toledo could have developed Cullen Park out Point Place way into a real fishing-access mecca, with maybe a real marina and serious launch-ramps, with regular channel maintenance for serious boats with a deeper draft than a Cajun pirogue.

Instead, for years we have let little Port Clinton down east steal the show with its 600-pound fiberglass monster Wiley and the New Year's Eve "drop." Not to mention all those money and exposure-making walleye tournaments. (We never had another big tournament downtown because we made competitors idle their boats all the way upriver to The Downtown for weigh-ins and stage-promenading, instead of creating easy lake-access and convenience at Cullen).

The city must think that boaters smell like money and that fishermen, well, just smell, what with the near total lack of attention to fishing access on the riverfront all these years.

Lack of fishing access is apropos especially with regard to those many financially stretched anglers.

They just cannot afford fancy boats for the big lake and are forced to sneak along the riverfront and find a place to huddle and hope they do not get run off while dunking bait for channel catfish, white bass, white perch, carp, maybe even a stray smallmouth or largemouth bass or sunfish.

(Aside: Rowing shells look pretty and do not smell, so we got those on the river downtown, even if they do not makemoney. But this is not to diss rowers, by the way; great sport, great exercise).

All those thousands of walleye that will be running upriver to spawn in the next couple of months? Can't get 'em downtown - no access. And no encouragement by the city over these many years of nationally renowned walleye runs - which pull anglers from dozens of states and Canada - in terms of helping anglers figure out a way or means to catch 'em right here. Got to go up to Perrysburg and Maumee to catch your fish and spend your money. Call it suburban fishing sprawl.

Sadly, state and federal natural resources money is available to help fund fishing access sites, among other such supportive projects. But you have to ask, and compete for the available dollars. All kinds of access and such has been developed along the western lakefront over the years, but not in Toledo.

Funny, we name a hockey team the Walleye like the hometown knows. It simply doesn't. Never even tried to learn. And we wonder why Toledo's empty downtown seems fit for nothing except marine antiterrorist drills. Ooops.

Bass Pro wanted to build a megamillion sporting goods palace in the neighborhood and the mayor literally struck up the band - the Central Catholic marching band, no less - and fluttered about in a borrowed Life Flight chopper with Bass Pro's main man in a last-ditch if hapless attempt to woo BP to a site at, what - an East Toledo brownfields riverside abandoned power plant? Huh? You kiddin' me? That's all ya got?

You ever seen these big-time sporting goods emporiums and their lavish grounds? You see what Bass Pro's throwing up at lightning speed along I-75 at Rossford? City must not have. Not like these places are hiding in the boonies.

Picture that new gleaming sporting goods megaplex next to the old Acme Plant smokestack - and figure out what to do with all the thousands of cars funneling down Front Street each year as the faithful pay homage and slap plastic to get the latest and sparkliest goods.

Yeah, imagine that glimmering woodsy big-sell tribute to all manner of outdoors gadgetry - an in-your-face at Cabela's palace up at Dundee if ever there was one - shoehorned in among all those garish high-tension towers and ugly power-line spaghetti. Yep, there's a fit.

That's all Toledo had to offer for walleye and fishing at the doorstep of what arguably is the best fishing hole in the world. Maybe I mentioned that.

This town is still stuck in a Rust Belt rut. It - aided and abetted by accomplice and neighboring 'burb, Oregon - officially has blessed, and can't wait to see built, what will be a stinking coke plant, right on the doorstep of all those walleye. And the plant will dump 30, 40, 50 pounds [who knows] of mercury into the air every year, so the crap will fall downwind on top of all those wonderful walleye and further mercury-ize them so we maybe can't even eat them. Minus the stuff you suck into your lungs. Neat, huh?

But the coke plant smells of money and JOBS, that sacred mantra that conquers all. Forget the fact the sport fishing industry also is about serious money and small-business jobs. It just doesn't have a gleaming new plant in front of which the suits can smile and mug the cameras in a ribbon-cutting.

But at least we'll have the ice-rink Walleye.

Seriously, I wish the franchise well. And I really do not mean - the admitted sour-grapes sarcasm of commentary aside - to diss the walleye, the incoming team or the kicky mascot. I truly wish all well.

Heck, the walleye's a great fish that has provided untold hours of pure recreational fun, great meals, and wonderful days on the lake, plus tens of millions of dollars in small-business revenue - not to mention helping me keep an outdoors desk since 1982. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

And heck again, the skaters even may put some fight in the mascot fish that nature did not endow the real one with.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear the naysayers already. Admittedly, the walleye is the king fish of at least the Midwest if not beyond. It is the most abundant piscatorial objective with predatory teeth to which we can aspire to angle.

But I dare you to say that a walleye on the end of the line is anything but a couple of twitches and a wind-in. It's no smallmouth bass or steelhead trout, which also call Lake Erie home, when it comes to fight, though the walleye is light-years superior on the dinner plate with fries. Or sandwiched in a bun (light on the tartar sauce, please).

Maybe, just maybe, the Toledo Walleye hockey club will finally awaken this community, by association, to actually both appreciating and capitalizing on the matchless resource at Toledo's doorstep - the Maumee River, Lake Erie and its walleye and other fisheries.

Hey, it is arguably one of the best if not the best freshwater fishing lakes in the world. Or did I say that already?



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