Northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan are blessed with water resources that serve as the focal point for outdoors pursuits year-round.
Ice fishing, both on inland lakes and on western Lake Erie, soon will be winding down after one of the generally better seasons in at least several years. Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling along creek and stream corridors will be melting out. The "hard-water'' outdoors season will be breaking up.
But by month's end, and then into March, the first open-water anglers will be venturing into the region's Maumee and Sandusky rivers for the spring walleye runs and a new outdoors season will begin.
The image of fishermen wading into the streams in pursuit of walleye, an annual rite in this region, is a sure sign that spring is on the way and the door is open to all outside recreation, from fishing, hiking, and camping to birding, canoeing, boating, and more.
The walleye runs, which attract anglers from around Ohio and from many states, typically get into full swing at the end of March and into April.
Western Lake Erie, of course, dominates the region and provides a wealth of outdoors recreation opportunities. The first ice fishing in several years on the big lake has taken place this winter, focused around the Bass Islands. But small-boat anglers will be on the lake as soon as the ice is out. Some of the largest walleye of the year are taken in the spring.
The big lake's western basin is internationally known as a world-class fishery for both walleye and smallmouth bass, not to mention a boating mecca. (Boaters and boat-anglers as well should be advised, however, that lowered lake levels this year will be cause for extra caution in shallows and reef areas.)
The lakeshore from Monroe through Toledo on east to Sandusky and Huron is dotted with parks, beaches, camping and picnic areas, and marinas.
Much of the region's outdoors recreation revolves around water sites, including land-based activities. With that in mind, outdoors recreationists would do well to obtain a free copy of Public Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife Viewing Areas, published by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
The guide, known as Publication 77, is in color and well-illustrated. It is full of details about locales and activities.
The northwest region includes more than 150 state sites, county by county, complete with directions.
Each wildlife district is mapped out, accompanied by a guide to "watchable wildlife'' areas that have been selected as prime viewing. In addition the guide includes a narrative about each of the natural features of each region, including general topography, major watersheds, types of habitat, and major lakes and ponds. The guide also lists telephone numbers and addresses, and sources of additional information and publications.
The guide can be obtained by calling, toll-free, 1-800-WILDLIFE, or write: Ohio Division of Wildlife, Publications Center, 1840 Belcher Dr., Columbus, Oh 43224-1329.
Maps of some 75 individual state wildlife areas and 74 public fishing areas also are sold through the Publications Center at the above address. For details on other areas within Ohio Wildlife District 2, contact district headquarters at 952-A Lima Ave., Findlay, OH, 45840, or call 419-424-5000.
Water not only is important in the region for outdoors recreation, it is critical for wildlife, and no place underscores that need more than the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge complex in Ottawa County and eastern Lucas County. Shallow wetlands there are home to a myriad of bird and wildlife species, and the refuge is a major migration resting area for birds, especially waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds.
Encompassing 8,316 acres in five units, the refuge complex is the only national refuge in Ohio, It includes the 2,245-acre Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Lucas County, the 77-acre West Sister Island National Wildlife Refuge nine miles offshore in Lake Erie, the state's only federal wilderness area; the 4,683-acre Ottawa Refuge, centerpiece of the complex, and the 591-acre Navarre Marsh Unit and 520-acre Darby Marsh Unit, both east of the main Ottawa complex along the lake.
Ottawa refuge information and details on recreation opportunities from hiking and birding to some fishing can be obtained by calling 419-898-0014.
Adjacent to Ottawa refuge is the 2,160-acre Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area, which offers similar shallow-water wetlands, hiking trails, and birding venues. Magee managers also oversee other state wildlife areas nearby. For details, call 419-898-0960.
A variety of other state areas that revolve around water themes also lie along the lake east of Toledo. Maumee Bay State Park, for example, not only offers beachfront recreation on the bay, but has inland lakes for fishing and sailing. The Mallard Club and Metzger Marsh state wildlife areas east of the park offer wetlands wildlife viewing, seasonal hunting and fishing opportunities, and other activities, as do an array of smaller lakeshore areas east to Huron and beyond to Old Woman Creek State Nature Preserve and National Estuary. The latter is a rare river-estuary habitat.
Surrounding Toledo is an emerald necklace of nine Metroparks, most of which offer some water-based focal points in their 6,700-plus acres. Side Cut, Farnsworth, Bend View, and Providence metroparks, for example, all lie along the scenic Maumee River and offer access to it and activities related to it. Swan Creek Preserve Metropark follows its namesake stream, which threads on up to Oak Openings Preserve Metropark, which also includes Mallard and Evergreen lakes. Ten-Mile Creek, in addition, winds through the scenic Wildlife Preserve Metropark, and Pearson Metropark has a pond for fishing and paddleboating.
For other details on the Metroparks, call 535-3050.
Some 96 miles of the Maumee River, from the Indiana border to the Maumee-Perrysburg area, are designated a state scenic and recreational river. In addition, 70 miles of the Sandusky River in Wyandot, Seneca, and Sandusky counties form another state scenic river corridor.