"God willin' and the crick don't rise" is a saw, but it is an appropriate one when setting expectations for the upcoming annual walleye spawning runs in the Maumee and Sandusky rivers.
The runs this year should be good ones if the weather cooperates and the river levels are moderate, the experts say.
Some anglers wade for and catch a few "early" walleye even in mid February in mild winters, excepting this year.
"Last year it wasn't as good as it could have been because of the frequent high water we had," summed Larry Goedde, fish management supervisor for Ohio Wildlife District 2. "It seemed like it was too low then too high. But the fish are out there again, so there should be a lot of fish coming up."
The annual spawning runs for walleye occur in earnest in late March and continue into April. The runs usually are triggered by a combination of factors - increasing daylight, river flow, and water temperature.
Ideal spawning temperatures for walleye are 42 to 52 degrees, but Goedde noted, "it will start when the water reaches 40 to 42. Early runs of smaller males or jacks may be angling targets, however, "as soon as you can get on the water."
It is impossible to calculate, but Goedde estimates that "hundreds of thousands of fish" will be in the runs, especially on the Maumee. The Sandusky River run has tapered significantly, because the main spawning grounds at Fremont were torn up and bypassed with the installation of the downtown floodwall and channel more than 30 years ago.
Anglers took only about 1,100 fish on the Sandusky last spring, the lowest on record, or about half of what has been normal in recent years. Compare that to 9,000 to 11,000 fish in 1975. The annual run produced 2,000 to 4,000 fish annually in the 1980s, and reached 4,000 in 2001 and 2002, but only 2,230 in 2006.
In contrast, the Maumee produced 15,000 fish in 1975 but reached 38,000 in 1980 and stayed in the 25,000 to 30,000 range through much of the decade, with peaks of 70,000 in 1987 and 92,000 in 1990. Since 2000 the catch has been in the 27,000 to 32,000 range, with 34,533 in 2006 and just 17,595 in 2007. Goedde said the Maumee catches reflect weather and fishing conditions and normal fluctuations in the overall stock size from year to year.
Tomorrow, special regulations take effect for angling on certain popular stretches of the rivers, which are the region's main streams of interest for annual spawning runs for walleye and later, white bass. The rules are unchanged from 2007.
The popular areas generally include the rapids above Maumee and Perrysburg on up to the Grand Rapids Dam in the Maumee River, and downtown Fremont to Rodger Young Park on the Sandusky. Details are included in the pamphlet, "2008-2009" Ohio Fishing Regulations, available wherever licenses are sold, or on-line at www.ohiodnr.com.
The special regulations ban possession of foul-hooked or snagged fish, prohibit fishing from sunset to sunrise, and allow an angler to rig and use only a single hook of limited size. Remember in March and April the daily walleye creel limit is four, and the minimum keeper-length year-round is 15 inches.
Paul Kurfis, law enforcement supervisor for Wildlife District 2, said that while foul-hooking and hook size or type violations have dropped in the last 10 years, violations for no licenses and especially for keeping too many fish are up. As a result, wildlife officers will be watching for over-limit possession.
Both he and Goedde said that advent and increasing use of floating jigheads instead of older, common leadhead jigs has contributed to far more fair-hooked fish and has greatly reduced snagging.
Kurfis said that stream littering, especially spent fishing line, remains a huge problem. He urges anglers to anonymously report violations on the toll-free, 24-hour hotline, 1-800-POACHER. Kurfis emphasized his officers will pay special attention to anglers who keep too many fish or illegally hooked fish, violations that have increased. Fishermen also are reminded that the license-year begins tomorrow.
Goedde said most fish this spring will be 20 to 24 inches long, coming from the 2003 megaclass. Some larger walleyes also are expected in the mix, including 28-to-30-inch fish from 1999 and 2001.
The Ohio Division of Watercraft also will patrol the rivers, especially the Maumee. conducting boat safety-checks.
Upcoming - The Toledo Bass Club's annual organizational meeting is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Maumee Tackle, 104 West Wayne St., Maumee. Guest speaker is Greg Hartland of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, who will be addressing boat documentation for crossings into Canada. Prospective members are welcome. Call the shop, 419-893-3474.
The Erie-Ottawa-Sandusky Chapter of Pheasants Forever has set its 17th annual fund-raising dinner for March 8 at the Camp Perry clubhouse, off State Rt. 2, west of Port Clinton. The chapter has made more than $500,000 in upland habitat improvements in the counties since 1991. Doors open at 5 p.m.. For tickets or details call Joe Uhinck, 419-898-1595.
A boating education course is set for March 8, at the American Legion Post 320, 320 Illinois Ave., Maumee, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It is presented by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary's 9th Central region. To register call 419-893-0249.
A training session for volunteers at the Sportsmen's Migratory Bird Center at Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area, 13229 West State Rt. 2, Oak Harbor, is scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. on March 8. Call Mary Warren at Magee, 419-898-0960 extension 31.
The Toledo Walleye - A tip of the outdoors cap [or maybe even a hockey team mascot cap?] to the many readers who e-mailed and called in with unanimous support of last Friday's diatribe in this space about the city's historic, chronic lack of attention to the fish that made Lake Erie and the Maumee River famous, the new hockey club aside. Time simply does not allow for individual replies - cuts into the fishing too much.