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: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068