Western Lake Erie is to northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan what the Atlantic Ocean is to the Maine coast and the Rockies are to Colorado: the major geographical feature around which outdoor activities revolve.
The region's corner of the big lake, dotted with the picturesque Bass Islands and others, is one of the most productive and popular year-round sportfishing grounds anywhere, and a mecca for recreational boating. In the autumn, the lake zone attracts hundreds of waterfowl hunters.
Though a mild winter has foreclosed on ice fishing for walleye and yellow perch on western Lake Erie, anglers are gearing up for the spring sportfishing season.
Lake action will begin as soon as small-boat anglers start plying near-shore waters to jig with minnows for walleye, which in some years is as soon as early March.
Walleye will continue to lead the fishing parade into autumn. But many anglers also are taking advantage of the tremendous, restored yellow-perch fishery, which provides year-round action. Smallmouth bass fishing, for which Lake Erie is known across North America, will get under way in earnest in April and May, and continue well into October.
Preceding the lake fishing will be the extremely popular walleye spawning runs up the Maumee and Sandusky rivers. Thousands of anglers annually journey to the region to wade the two rivers, some diehards beginning their “wishing,” if not fishing, as early as late February. Fish activity in the river builds through March to a peak in early April.
Walleye remain in the rivers into May. Around mid-April, white bass also begin runs up the Maumee and Sandusky, and the Portage River in between.
And while the lake and its tributaries are big part of outdoors recreation in the region, they're not the only part. The lakeshore itself is dotted with parks, wildlife refuges, wildlife and game areas, beaches, picnic sites, and marinas.
The wetlands refuges along the lake attract birders and naturalists, who flock to the region, especially in the spring, to witness songbird migrations of scores of species from the tropics, en route to northern summer breeding grounds. Indeed, such areas as the sprawling Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge complex in eastern Lucas County and western Ottawa County, and Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area, adjacent to the Ottawa main unit off State Rt. 2 east of Toledo, are internationally renowned birding sites.
Outdoor recreationists unfamiliar with the region 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 is well-illustrated. It is loaded with details on locales and activities, and lists virtually every state park, wildlife area, and nature preserve in Ohio, organized according to the five regional wildlife districts. District 2 covers northwest Ohio.
The guide is available by calling, toll-free, 1-800-WILDLIFE. Or write to: Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Publications Center, 1840 Belcher Dr., Columbus, Ohio 43224-1329. Other information of the region's outdoor sites also is available from Ohio Wildlife District 2, 952-A Lima Ave., Findlay, Ohio 45840, or by calling 419-424-5000.
For information on the Ottawa refuge complex, call 419-898-0014. For information on Magee Marsh, call 419-898-0960.
Another important recreational site in the region is Maumee Bay State Park in eastern Lucas County, on the lakeshore. It offers the region's only state lodge, plus cottages, a fine golf course, beach, marina, inland fishing lake, campgrounds, nature center with 10,000-foot boardwalk into the marshlands, and more. Contact the park office at 419-836-7758.
A necklace of fine Metroparks rings Toledo, with some 7,000 acres of natural habitat, picnic sites, walking and hiking trails, nature centers, and an array of programs. For a brochure and map of the parks, call 419-535-3050.
Finally, northwest Ohio is home to two stretches of officially designated state scenic rivers. Some 96 miles of the Maumee River, from the Indiana border to Maumee-Perrysburg, is a state scenic and recreational river. Some 70 miles of the Sandusky River in Wyandot, Seneca, and Sandusky counties also is a state scenic river corridor.
Both rivers, among others in the region, provide an array of fishing, hiking, canoeing, birding, and other outdoors opportunities.
Other popular streams include the Portage River in Wood and Ottawa counties, the St. Joseph River in Williams County, and the Blanchard River in Hancock and Putnam counties.
In neighboring southeast Michigan, the River Raisin in Lenawee and Monroe counties is a popular fishing and canoeing stream, In addition, the famed Irish Hills in Hillsdale and Lenawee counties are dotted with dozens of lakes popular for fishing and boating.