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Published: Friday, 4/2/2004

Following the fish: Sandusky River is a walleye producer

BY STEVE POLLICK
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

The Sandusky River at Fremont may be Ohio s second river next to the mighty Maumee when it comes to fishing the popular

spring walleye runs, but that doesn t mean an angler has any

less chance of hanging a limit of fish, or taking a trophy.

Witness the huge female walleye taken recently by a state research crew that was electrofishing for samples of fish to be used in a long-term project to assess the health and status of the separate Lake Erie and river walleye stocks. The fish went 29.75 inches and weighed 13.23 pounds.

I ve seen a fair number of fish, but this one was ... wow, said

Travis Hartman, a biologist on the Ohio Division of Wildlife/Ohio

State University crew. He added that the fish was extraordinarily

large for its length. It looked like a huge carp. Walleye that size

just have a different look to them from smaller walleye.

Bernie Whitt, at Anglers Supply in Fremont, said that the run

is possibly near or at peak now and is stronger than he has seen

in five or six years. The fish are in so heavy I don t know where

they came from.

The river has been high and muddy in recent days because of

steady rain in the watershed, but that only seems to have drawn the

main run upriver. Anglers at the same time have switched to heavier

leadhead jigs and plastic tails to get their rigs down near the bottom

in the fast current.

The main fishing zone on the river is between the State

Street Bridge and the Hayes Avenue Bridge and on upstream

to the corner of Rodger Young Park. Some small-boat fishermen

also work the area from around Brady s Island, below State Street, on up to the area between the bridges. But Whitt said that the current of late has been too high and fast for safe boat-handling there.

Larry Goedde, fish management supervisor for Ohio Wildlife

District 2, said that good numbers of walleye could remain in the

Sandusky through the third week of April, by which time the white

bass spawning run should be under way. [Walleye] should peak

sometime this week, the biologist added, cautioning that a cold

front could delay things.

He agreed that the Sandusky can be a trophy producer. There

have always been some really huge females in there. The stream

trailed only Lake Erie and the Maumee River in production of

Fish Ohio-size walleye, 28 inches or longer, in 2003.

Goedde acknowledged that some anglers still prefer regular

jigs and tails, but he thinks that the newer floating jighead, Carolina-

rigged, is the better choice when it comes to legally hooking

walleye inside the mouth. Foulhooked fish must be released.

The catch on the Sandusky has been erratic over the years, as

evidenced in a state summary of angler harvest since 1975. The

best year on the Sandusky was in 1979, when an estimated 94,400

walleye were taken, this compared to a low last year of 20,705. Since 1990 the catch mainly has been 20,000 to 30,000 range.

In comparison, the spring walleye take on the Maumee River since 1975 has been as high as 250,600 in 1990, but as low as

36,700 in 1976. Most years the Maumee catch has run in the

100,000 to 200,000 range, and since1990 it has produced in the

range of 130,000 to 150,000 fish, including 138,454 last year.

No good explanations account for the ups and downs in the

Sandusky s annual runs, Goedde said, though that is one of the

goals of the sampling and testing under way now. It s a completely

different spawning stock, the biologist explained, compared

to the Maumee River, western Lake Erie reefs, or the Grand

River east of Cleveland.

The electrofishing, which turned up that 13.23-pounder last week, continues weekly on the Sandusky and the other rivers, along with test-netting on the lake reefs. It is part of the research to fingerprint each stock so that management plans eventually can be tailored to each if needed.

Currently the Sandusky River stock is falling prey to two problems:

The long-term loss of gravel spawning beds caused by the

construction in 1971 of the downtown Fremont floodwall by the

army corps of engineers, and the denial of upstream access

to migrating fish created by the old Ballville Dam at Fremont.

The floodwall eliminated a scenic, fish-productive oxbow

in the downtown area, and changed and increased the flow

pattern of the lower river. The old dam, built in 1913, creates a

reservoir pool that serves as the city s water supply. But the pool

is badly silted up, and capacity has been so reduced that the city is

seeking alternatives, such as an upground reservoir.

That project may be years away, however, and even so does

not insure that the dam would be removed. Its removal, however,

would open 22 miles of river for prime spawning areas for walleye

and would be a big shot in the arm for the Sandusky River stock.

We suspect that limited spawning substrate is limiting the [Sandusky] river stock, Goedde said. It would be a big positive if we

didn t have the Ballville Dam.

Several years ago state fish biologist relocated some walleye

upstream of the dam to see if they would spawn successfully. They did.

If the dam were removed carefully, the silt-loading downstream

could be controlled or even minimized. Moreover, the absence of the dam would allow gravel from upstream to replenish depleted areas downstream badly in need of restoration.

In other river-run news, walleye action on the Maumee River

above Maumee-Perrysburg remains excellent, though the

run still is pre-peak. They re really tearing them up, said Gary

Lowry at Maumee Valley Bait and Tackle.

Contact Steve Pollick at: spollick@theblade.com or 419-724-6068



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