Successful Wheelin' Sportsmen turkey hunters and their guides include, from left, Ben and Crystal Hammond, Gus Franks and guide Jim Steinwand, and guide Rob Fleitz and young hunter Nick Hunt.
Last week's opening day of the spring wild turkey season was a dandy for Ohio hunters, who bagged a preliminary total of 2,874 bearded birds on the first day of the gobbler season, which is open statewide through May 16.
The take was a whopping 68 percent higher than last year's opening day kill of 1,712 birds, and Mike Reynolds, wild turkey biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, knows why. This year, he said, "we had great weather."
Pouring rain and thunderstorms drenched last year's opener, the biologist noted, whereas this year the conditions could not have been better.
In addition, he said, the impact of the 17-year cicada emergence in 2008 along the Ohio River could be seen in the greatly improved bag from Hamilton County on east of Gallia and Lawrence counties and up the Scioto River valley as well.
The cicada-turkey kill connection lies in the fact that emerging cicadas provide excellent protein for turkey poults, which in the critical early weeks of the post-hatch period grow big and strong feeding on the insects. Plenty of food for the young equals plenty of birds later. So the 2008 class of birds in the river country is excellent, and it is reflected in the bag now, Reynolds said.
He added, however, that hunters in each of the state's five wildlife districts did well. He expects a season-long bag to be similar to if not better than 2009, when 20,710 bearded wild turkeys were killed in the third highest bag on record.
Hunters took 11,152 birds in the first seven days of the spring hunting season, the Ohio Division of Wildlife said. Last year, 9,054 birds were harvested during the season's first week.
So far this season, the counties reporting the highest numbers of turkeys checked are: Ashtabula-397, Clermont-378, Adams-354, Guernsey-318, Highland-316, Harrison-315, Monroe-311, Coshocton-296, Washington-293, Athens, and Ross-291. Top counties in northwest Ohio include Defiance-35 (40 in 2009); Williams-30 (24); Fulton-16 (9); Huron-14 (20); Seneca-17 (14); and Putnam-13 (8). Lucas County had a bag of six, compared to nine a year ago.
In a special youth-only hunt for ages 17 and younger last weekend, young hunters killed 2,184 birds, up about 20 percent from 1,814 a year ago.
Part of the turkey hunting included action at Toledo Express Airport, which again was the site last weekend for a group of 14 physically challenged wild turkey hunters and their 14 guides in an annual, nationally recognized Wheelin' Sportsmen event.
This hunt is hosted by the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, Wheelin' Sportsmen/National Wild Turkey Federation and its Maumee Valley Chapter, and the Ohio Division of Wildlife. It aims to team up able-bodied guides with physically challenged hunters to assist the Express Airport in its wildlife hazard management plan.
Among hunters taking turkeys were Crystal Hammond of Rossford, who is six months pregnant and was guided by husband Ben; Gus Franks of Toledo, on his second airport hunt, guided by Jim Steinwand of Maumee, and 15-year-old Nick Hunt of Morenci, Mich., guided by Rob Fleitz.
LAKE AND STREAM: When conditions have allowed, walleye fishing on western Lake Erie has continued to be exceptional, with limits taken by anglers jigging with hair jigs or vibrating blade baits in Maumee Bay, nearshore around Turtle Creek, and on some of the Camp Perry reefs, reports the Ohio Division of Wildlife station at Sandusky.
It may be the latter part of the week, however, given the current northeaster, before favorable conditions return.
Large walleye have been caught by trollers fishing around the outer buoys of the Camp Perry firing range and also around Kelleys Island. Good catches of yellow perch have been reported between Marblehead and Kelleys Island and also east of Kelleys Island.
Anglers Bryan Johnson of Oregon, and Gary Brandburg of Perrysburg Township, have done well for three weeks or more on the jig bite, but decided to "shake things up" last week by trolling between Crane Creek and A-Can.
Johnson said that they caught and released lots of five to eight-pound spawned out female fish, pulling Reef Runners 25 to 50 feet back on a noon-to-4 p.m. trip. They returned to trolling the next day, this time with Gary's 83-year-old dad, Bob Brandburg of Northwood along. Bob landed a 31 1/2-incher, the biggest walleye of his life. Johnson said it pulled 10 pounds on the on-board hand-scales.
On the Maumee River, high water from the recent rains has slowed fishing but some walleye remain and white bass numbers are increasing, if slowly, said Gary Lowry at Maumee Tackle. The stream may be high and muddy for several days.
On the Sandusky River at downtown Fremont, walleye action was very good over the weekend, especially at Walsh and Rodger Young parks, according to Bernie Whitt at Anglers Supply. White bass are in the lower river below downtown and should move into the wadable downtown zone during the next run of higher water, Whitt said. High muddy water there, however, also should slow action for a few days.
In other fishing news, here is one from the head-turning department - a legitimate eight-pound smallmouth bass from western Lake Erie.
Toledo fishing guide Ross Robertson landed the behemoth bass, just a pound-and-a half from the state record, last week. He was on a trip to a spot - undisclosed, naturally - that he had not fished in several years.
"We had to move a lot," the guide said, noting that most traditional haunts were too muddy to fish for bass.
Robertson said the big trophy bass was 22 1/4 inches long and had a girth of 20 1/4 inches. It chased down a Reef Runner Ripshad 400 crankbait in Barbie pattern. Another big bass, 71/8 pounds, jumped on a Ripshad in a Bare Naked pattern. Photos are being posted on the guide's Web site, bigwaterfishing.com.
In all Robertson and his clients took 15 bass of 4 1/2 pounds or larger. He said that most of the fish hit Spro Madeye Shad cranks in fire tiger pattern.
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