Gov. Bob Taft displays one of the four walleye he caught during the 26th annual Governor's Lake Erie Fish Ohio Day, an annual event started by former Gov. James Rhodes in part to promote preservation of the lake's natural resources.
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MARBLEHEAD, Ohio - For Gov. Bob Taft, success came early and often during the 26th annual Governor's Lake Erie Fish Ohio Day.
Less than an hour after cruising out onto the lake aboard a 27 1/2-foot Sport Craft speedboat yesterday morning, the governor reeled in the first walleye of the day between Kelleys and South Bass islands.
Grinning broadly as charter captain Mike Matta netted the 2 1/2-pound fish, Mr. Taft jokingly told his five fishing mates that he was ready to head for shore.
"We can go home now, guys," the governor said. "Time for lunch."
But Mr. Taft was just getting started. Over the next 3 1/2 hours, he hooked three more of the famous Lake Erie sport fish. "This is the best day of walleye fishing I've ever had on Lake Erie," he said afterward.
All told, more than 75 state and local officials and media representatives participated in yesterday's event, fishing from 15 boats that departed from various docks between Marblehead and Port Clinton.
Fishermen on the governor's boat caught 16 walleye. Laura Jones, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife,
said some boats caught up to 25 in five hours of fishing.
"We did pretty much the average," she said. "It was a good day."
Fish Ohio, an annual event started by former Gov. James Rhodes, promotes sport fishing and preservation of Lake Erie's natural resources.
Mr. Taft and ODNR officials said Lake Erie's ability to sustain walleye and other fish is critical to Ohio's economic health. Lake Erie fishing pumps roughly $1 billion a year into the state's economy.
"Fishing is the cornerstone of the travel and tourism economy up here," Mr. Taft said. "We need to do everything we can to promote this."
Roger Knight, coordinator of Lake Erie programs for the Ohio Division of Wildlife, said the state is trying to encourage interest in fishing through a variety of means. The division posts weekly fishing reports for Lake Erie, the Ohio River, and inland waterways on its Web site, www.dnr.state.oh.us/wildlife.
Anglers also can find maps of fishing spots on the site and buy Ohio fishing licenses online, a program begun this year.
The state sells about 800,000 annual fishing licenses per year, a number that is down from more than 1 million in the late 1980s, though the decline has leveled off, Mr. Knight said.
"When you don't have a multimedia advertising budget, it's tough," Mr. Taft said.
Ohio's tourism budget this year is $7 million, an amount the governor said was increased from $6 million despite an overall decline in state spending. Much of that, he said, focuses on the Lake Erie region.
The governor said he also is focused on trying to protect Lake Erie from environmental threats.
As chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, Mr. Taft is working with officials in other states and Canada to prevent excessive water withdrawals from the lake and stop the spread of invasive species.
The governor said he is pushing his fellow governors to commit $1.8 million to allow construction of an electrical barrier on the Illinois River to stop the destructive Asian carp from reaching Lake Michigan - and eventually, Lake Erie.
Illinois has already pledged $5 million to the project, and legislation to provide the remaining $1.8 million needed for the work is pending in Congress. But Mr. Taft said the Great Lakes states can't afford to wait for federal lawmakers to act.
"There'll be no more Fish Ohio days if the Asian carp get into the Great Lakes," he said. "It's that serious."
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