PORT CLINTON - For a fisherman, Gov. Ted Strickland isn't much of a liar, as he proved here yesterday.
The governor, leading an 18-boat recreational fishing fleet into the walleye waters of western Lake Erie for the 30th annual Governor's Fish Ohio Day, refused to take credit for a walleye he hooked but lost at the last moment at the side of skipper Rick Unger's boat.
"I believe in truth in advertising," the governor stated after losing his first Lake Erie walleye. "If it's not in the boat, I didn't catch it."
To make matters worse, later on the governor was asked to pose "for archival purposes" with a fresh, other-caught walleye.
"Make sure they know I didn't catch it," the state's head man asserted.
It's not that the man did not catch anything, though at one point he said, "I think I've fed dinner to every fish on the lake."
He caught the boat's first fish - a chunky if unwanted white perch, and one of the morning's last fish, an especially dark-colored (charcoal gray rather than olive/yellow) channel fish. It was a muscular five or six-pounder that put up a bulldog of a fight. The governor, intensely focused, landed it without a hitch.
He would have posed with that worthy piscatorial adversary but it spiked Unger in the hand with one of its nasty fins when he was removing it from the net. It flopped overboard with a splash. Unger, president of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, one of the event sponsors, winced and shook his hand.
Nonetheless, the state's No. 1 angler said he had a superb day on the lake, even if the walleye were much less eager than sheepshead and catfish. It was his inaugural angling trip on Lake Erie as governor. He has fished here and sailed here once each previously.
Last summer's Fish Ohio event saw the state's new First Lady, Frances Strickland, standing in for the governor, who was called away to a family medical emergency of a very close friend.
She proceeded to steal the show by landing and readily handling several walleye and baiting her own hook with nightcrawlers.
The governor does, too, without a twitch of hesitation.
"Frances grew up living fish, I grew up hunting," the governor noted.
Indeed, some of his boyhood yarns told while fishing - including catching frogs in the home creek with his brothers and frying them up on old tin cans over wood fires - confirm his rural, outdoorsy roots.
"It was unsanitary," he said. But he did it, and lived.
Amusingly, in later remarks before some 100 gathered state, regional and local political leaders, dignitaries, fish and wildlife staff, and the outdoors press, the governor teased that he was going to go home to his wife and lie like a rug about his walleye success.
"Frances last year said how great the experience was. There is something about her hook - [the fish] like it."
Indeed, a photograph of the Ohio First Lady, unabashedly holding up an Erie walleye in each hand from last year's Fish Ohio event, appears on the cover of the current digest of Ohio fishing regulations.
In all, the walleye action was a mite slow for islands-area casters yesterday, but for a top political figure like the governor, whose life is lived in the constant press of a demanding schedule, a day on the lake was pure therapy, a limit of walleye or not.
"Most people in Ohio have no idea what a resource we have here," he said of Lake Erie during the ride to port. "You could go to Key West and spend a whole lot of money and not get more than what they have here in the islands. It is a resource that needs to be promoted and celebrated."
After Fish Ohio Day festivities, the governor motored to the famous, historic Marblehead Lighthouse nearby for a ceremonial signing of the Great Lakes Water Compact, in which the eight lakes states are banding together with Ontario and Quebec to protect the lakes, 20 percent of Earth's fresh water, from diversion or similar taking.
Strickland said that the compact's thrust was "consistent" with protecting the valuable resource that Lake Erie constitutes for Ohio. Only Pennsylvania legislators have yet to complete action on the protection pact before it goes before Congress. The governor invited former Republican Gov. Bob Taft and Sam Speck, former director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, to the Marblehead signing and he was profuse in his praise of their untiring efforts to see to its development and passage. He cited them and others "who have worked so long and so hard over so many years."
By way of illustration of the compact's political purpose, he noted: "Those who find Arizona and New Mexico attractive may be running back to Ohio and they're going to be thirsty."
He also ran down a familiar checklist of Lake Erie attributes as the most biologically diverse and productive of the Great Lakes. He noted that the seven lake shore counties, from Lucas to Ashtabula, account for $38 billion of Ohio's tourism dollars and support an industry that employs nearly 150,000 people. Recreational boating is worth $900 million a year and fishing "close to $1 billion" in Ohio, the governor noted.
Last evening the governor moved west along the lake shore to Camp Perry, the Ohio National Guard training base and world-renowned shooting ranges, for the First Shot ceremony opening the six-week, 101st National Rifle and Pistol Matches. He spoke highly as well of the matches and the positive economic impact and public exposure they bring to state and region.
In his post-fishing remarks at the assembled Fish Ohio gathering at the Lake Erie Island Regional Welcome Center here, Strickland called the day a "great tradition that emphasizes the link between conservation and economic development. Lake Erie, he added, is "living proof" of it.
Fish Ohio Day was cooperatively sponsored by the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, whose skippers donated their boats and experience for the day; the Welcome Center, Ottawa County Visitors Bureau, Ohio Department of Natural resources and its Division of Wildlife.